Sunday 30 March 2008


Hosted by Socialist Worker-New Zealand 

T H E T O P I C:  
Do we need a broad left party?  

2pm, Sunday 13 April  
Socialist Centre, 86 Princes Street, Onehunga 

Is history is calling for a broad left party in Aotearoa that fights for the interests of grassroots people against the corporate agenda embraced, to one degree or another, by both Labour and National?

A broad left ticket called RAM (Residents Action Movement) won impressive votes in the last two council elections in Greater Auckland - 87,000 votes in 2004, 100,000 in 2007.

Now RAM has decided to go nationwide and stand for parliament to rally support for a human-focused alternative to market madness and ecological melt-down. Could RAM be a flag-bearer for a broad left party that brings together a range of leftists, workers, ecologists, social justice activists and other grassroots people?

Given the extreme pressure from top union officials for a return to the Labour Party, is this the right time to promote a broad left party? Socialist Worker-New Zealand believes this is one of the most important debates now facing the left in Aotearoa. The answers we give may shape much of our lives for years to come.

Therefore Socialist Worker is hosting a Marxist Forum debate titled: "Do we need a broad left party?"  

Everyone on the left is welcome.

There will be no lead-in speakers. It will be a free-for-all debate with contributions invited from everyone present. As the meeting chair, I will request respect for different points of view, so that everyone gets a fair go. If, at meeting's end, there is a desire for continued engagement, subsequent forums on this topic will be scheduled. I invite you to come along to contribute and mix with others on the left. Afterwards we will all share a cuppa (and maybe something stronger).

For more information, phone the Socialist Centre 634 3984.

Peter Hughes  
National executive Socialist Worker-New Zealand

Understanding the violence in Iraq

Five Things You Need to Know To Understand The Latest Violence in Iraq

By Joshua Holland and Raed Jarrar


Heavy fighting has spread across Shia-dominated enclaves in Iraq over the past two days. The U.S.-backed regime of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has ordered 50,000 Iraqi troops to "crack down" - with coalition air support - on Shiite militias in the oil-rich and strategically important city of Basra, U.S. forces have surrounded Baghdad's Sadr City and fighting has been reported in the southern cities of Kut, Diwaniya, Karbala and Hilla. Basra's main bridge and an oil pipeline connecting it to Amara were destroyed Wednesday. Six cities are under curfew, and acts of civil disobedience have shut down dozens of neighborhoods across the country. Civilian casualties have reportedly overwhelmed poorly equipped medical centers in Baghdad and Basra. There are indications that the unilateral ceasefire declared last year by the nationalist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is collapsing.

"The cease-fire is over; we have been told to fight the Americans," one militiaman loyal to al-Sadr told the Christian Science Monitor's Sam Dagher by telephone from Sadr City. Dagher added that the "same man, when interviewed in January, had stated that he was abiding by the cease-fire and that he was keeping busy running his cellular phone store. A political track is also in play: Sadr has called on his followers to take to the streets to demand Maliki's resignation, and nationalist lawmakers in the Iraqi Parliament, led by al-Sadr's block, are trying to push a no-confidence vote challenging the prime minister's regime.

The conflict is one that the U.S. media appears incapable of describing in a coherent way. The prevailing narrative is that Basra has been ruled by mafia-like militias - which is true - and that Iraqi government forces are now cracking down on the lawlessness in preparation for regional elections, which is not. As independent analyst Reider Visser noted:

On closer inspection, there are problems in these accounts. Perhaps most importantly, there is a discrepancy of Basra as a city ruled by militias (in the plural)... [and the] facts of the ongoing operations, which seem to target only one of these militia groups, the Mahdi Army loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr. Surely, if the aim was to make Basra a safer place, it would have been logical to do something to also stem the influence of the other militias loyal to the local competitors of the Sadrists, the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq [SIIC], as well as the armed groups allied to the Fadhila party (which have dominated the oil protection services for a long time). But so far, only Sadrists have complained about attacks by government forces.

The conflict doesn't conform to the analysis of the roots of Iraqi instability as briefed by U.S. officials in the heavily-fortified Green Zone. It also doesn't fit into the simplistic but popular narrative of a country wrought by sectarian violence, and its nature is obscured by the labels that the commercial media uncritically apply to the disparate centers of Iraqi resistance to the occupation.

The "crackdown" comes on the heels of the approval of a new "provincial law," which will ultimately determine whether Iraq remains a unified state with a strong central government or is divided into sectarian-based regional governates. The measure calls for provincial elections in October, and the winners of those elections will determine the future of the Iraqi state. Control of the country's oil wealth, and how its treasure will be developed, will also be significantly influenced by the outcome of the elections.

It's a relatively straightforward story: Iraq is ablaze today as a result of an attempt to impose Colombian-style democracy on the unstable country: Maliki's goal, shared by the like-minded allies among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities that dominate his administration, and with at least tacit U.S. approval, is to kill off the opposition and then hold a vote.

To better understand the nature of this latest round of conflict, here are five things one needs to know about what's taking place across Iraq.

1. A visible manifestation of Iraq's central-but-under-reported political conflict (not "sectarian violence")

Iraq, which had experienced little or no sectarian-based violence prior to the U.S. invasion, has been plagued with sectarian militias fighting for the streets of Iraq's formerly heterogeneous neighborhoods, and "sectarian violence" has become Americans' primary explanation for the instability that has plagued the country.

But the sectarian-based street-fighting is a symptom of a larger political conflict, one that has been poorly analyzed in the mainstream press. The real source of conflict in Iraq - and the reason political reconciliation has been so difficult - is a fundamental disagreement over what the future of Iraq will look like. Loosely defined, it is a clash of Iraqi nationalists - with Muqtada al-Sadr as their most influential voice - who desire a unified Iraqi state and public-sector management of the country's vast oil reserves and who forcefully reject foreign influence on Iraq's political process, be it from the United States, Iran or other outside forces.

The nationalists now represent a majority in Iraq's parliament but are opposed by what might be called Iraqi separatists, who envision a "soft partition" of Iraq into at least four semi-autonomous and sectarian-based regional entities, welcome the privatization of the Iraqi energy sector (and the rest of the Iraqi economy) and rely on foreign support to maintain their power.

We've written about this long-standing conflict extensively in the past, and now we're seeing it come to a head, as we believed it would at some point.

2. U.S. is propping up unpopular regime; Sadr has support because of his platform

Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and George W Bush

One of the ironies of the reporting out of Iraq is the ubiquitous characterization of Muqtada al-Sadr as a "renegade," "radical" or "militant" cleric, despite the fact that he is the only leader of significance in the country who has ordered his followers to stand down. His ostensible militancy appears to arise primarily from his opposition to the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq.

He has certainly been willing to use violence in the past, but the "firebrand" label belies the fact that Sadr is arguably the most popular leader among a large section of the Iraqi population and that he has forcefully rejected sectarian conflict and sought to bring together representatives of Iraq's various ethnic and sectarian groups in an effort to create real national reconciliation - a process that the highly sectarian Maliki regime has failed to accomplish.

It's vitally important to understand that Sadr's popularity and legitimacy is a result of his having a platform that's favored by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis.

Most Iraqis:

1. Favor a strong central government free of the influence of militias.
2. Oppose, by a 2-1 margin, the privatization of Iraq's energy sector - a "benchmark towards progress" according to the Bush administration.
3. Favor a U.S. withdrawal on a short timeline (most believe the United States plans to build permanent bases - both are issues about which the Sadrists have been vocal.
4. Oppose al Qaeda and the ideology of Osama Bin Laden and, to a lesser degree, Iranian influence on Iraq's internal affairs.

With the exception of their opposition to Al Qaeda, the five major separatist parties - Sunni, Shia and Kurdish - that make up Maliki's governing coalition are on the deeply unpopular side of these issues. A poll conducted last year found that 65 percent of Iraqis think the Iraqi government is doing a poor job, and Maliki himself has a Bush-like 66 percent disapproval rate.

As in Vietnam, the United States is backing an unpopular and decidedly undemocratic government in Iraq, and that simple fact explains much of the violent resistance that's going on in Iraq today.

3. "Iraqi forces" are, in fact, "Iranian- (and U.S.-) backed Shiite militias"

Every headline this week has featured some variation of the storyline of "Iraqi security forces" battling "Shiite militias." But the reality is that it is a battle between Shite militias - separatists and nationalists - with one militia garbed in Iraqi army uniforms and supported by U.S. airpower, and the other in civilian clothes.

It has always been the great irony of the occupation of Iraq that "our" man in Baghdad is also Tehran's. Maliki heads the Dawa Party, which has long enjoyed close ties to Iran, and relies on support from SIIC, a staunchly pro-Iranian party, and its powerful Badr militia. The "government crackdown" is an escalation of a long-simmering conflict in the south between the Badr Brigade, the Sadrists and members of the Fadhila Party, which favors greater autonomy for Basra but rejects SIIC's vision of a larger Shiite-dominated regional entity in Southern Iraq.

4. Colombia-style democracy

Basra has been engulfed in a simmering conflict since before the British pulled their troops back to a remote base near the airport and turned over the city to Iraqi authorities. But the timing of this crackdown is not coincidental; Iraqi separatists - Dawa, SIIC and others - are expected to do poorly in the regional elections, while the Sadrists are widely anticipated to make significant gains. It is widely perceived by those loyal to Sadr that this is an attempt to wipe out the movement he leads prior to the elections and minimize the influence that Iraqi nationalists are poised to gain.

The United States, for its part, continues to take sides in this conflict - in addition to providing airpower, U.S. forces are enforcing the curfew in Sadr City - rather than playing the role of neutral mediator. That's because the interests of the Bush administration and its allies are aligned with Maliki and his coalition. That they are not aligned with the interests of most Iraqis is never mentioned in the Western press, but is a key reason why Bush's definition of "victory" - the emergence of a legitimate and Democratic state that supports U.S. policy in the region - has always been an impossible pipedream.

5. Chip off the old block: Maliki's attempt to criminalize dissent

It's unclear whether Sadr has lifted the cease-fire entirely, or simply freed his fighters to defend themselves. He continues to call for peaceful resistance.Whatever the case may be, it's not entirely accurate to say that he "chose" this conflict. The reality is that while his army was holding the cease-fire, attacks on and detentions of Sadrists have continued unabated. Sadr renewed the cease-fire last month, but he did so over the urging of his top aides, who argued that their movement was threatened with annihilation. He later authorized his followers to carry weapons "for self-defense" to head off a mutiny within his ranks.

Ahmed al-Massoudi, a Sadrist member of Parliament, last week "accused the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, his Dawa Party and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) of planning a military campaign to liquidate the Sadrists."

The lawmaker told Voices of Iraq that Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim's "SIIC and the Dawa Party have held meetings with officers of the militias merged recently into security agencies to launch a military campaign outwardly to impose order and law, but the real objective is to liquidate the Sadrist bloc." "Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is directly supervising this scheme with officers from the Dawa Party and the SIIC," he added. Despite his close ties with Tehran and deep involvement in Shiite militia activity, Hakim has been invited to the White House, where he was feted by Bush himself.

Sadr called for nationwide civil disobedience that would have allowed his followers to flex some political muscle in a nonviolent way. His orders, according to Iraqi reports were to distribute olive branches and copies of the Koran to soldiers at checkpoints.

The Maliki regime responded by saying that individuals joining the nationwide strike would be punished and that those organizing it are in violation of the Iraqi Counter-Terrorism Act issued in 2005. A spokesman for the prime minister promised to punish any government employees who failed to show up for work.

This is consistent with a long-term trend: the U.S.-backed government's obstruction of Iraqi efforts to foster political reconciliation among diverse groups of Iraq nationalists.

Propaganda and the surge

The Maliki regime has set an ultimatum demanding that the militias - the nationalist militias - lay down their arms within the next two days or face "more serious consequences." Al-Sadr has also issued an ultimatum: The government must cease its attacks on his followers, or his followers will escalate. It is an extremely dangerous situation, especially given the fact that the main U.S. resupply routes stretch from Baghdad through the Shia-dominated southern provinces.

But the precariousness of the situation appears to be of little concern to the military command, which issued a statement saying that the violence was a result of the success of the U.S. troop "surge" (Bush called the "crackdown" a "bold decision'' that shows the country's security forces are capable of combating terrorists). It's yet another example of the administration putting U.S. geostrategic (and economic) interests ahead of Iraqi reconciliation and democratic governance.

The much-touted troop "surge" had little to do with the drop in violence in recent months - it didn't even correlate with the lull chronologically and was certainly a minor causal factor at best. A number of factors led to the reduced violence, but Sadr's cease-fire had the greatest impact. Nonetheless, the Maliki regime, backed by the United States, continued a campaign of harassment and intimidation against Sadr's followers, denied them space to peacefully resist the occupation and forced his hand.

Given the degree to which the coalition has continued to stir a hornets' nest, we may be seeing a perfect illustration of the dangers of believing one's own propaganda play out as Iraq is once again set aflame.

Joshua Holland is an AlterNet staff writer. Raed Jarrar is Iraq Consultant to the American Friends Service Committee. He blogs at Raed in the Middle.

Survey of the Political Terrain

Commentary on RAM going nationwide by Eduard Bernstein Any general about to commit his forces must acquire an accurate picture of the ground over which he intends to fight. With elements of the Socialist Worker organisation readying themselves to conduct a nationwide election campaign, it’s important that all the obstacles to its political success be clearly identified. Foremost among these, at least from my perspective, is the rising level of popular dissatisfaction with all kinds of collectivism. After eight relatively prosperous years, New Zealanders appear increasingly anxious to protect, consolidate and, if possible, increase their store of personal wealth. This anxiety may take the form of an obsessive concern about the market value of their family home, or worries about the amount of tax being deducted from their pay packet, but what it adds up to is a growing impatience with all manner of social claims upon the individual citizen’s moral and material reserves. It’s this "I’m all right Jack, keep your hands off of my stack" mood that largely explains the success of John Key and the National Party in the public opinion polls. Key’s personal narrative: the boy who rose from a Christchurch state house to own a flash house in Parnell; matches perfectly the public's mood, and validates their hopes and aspirations for material gain. He is telling the voters: "to become rich is no crime" and promises to apply his personal talent for amassing wealth to the nation as a whole. This is, of course, extremely bad news for the Left. To succeed electorally, left-wing parties require a population which feels that it is being assailed by powerful forces over which individuals and families cannot hope to exert any decisive influence, and that only by joining together with others and acting collectively: in NGOs, trade unions, political parties, and, ultimately, through the agencies of the State itself; will those hostile forces be brought under popular control. The very worst situation the Left can face is one in which the individual feels that all of the entities mentioned above – NGOs, trade unions, political parties, agencies of the State – are conspiring to deny him the success that would, undoubtedly, be his – if only he was given a chance. When the predominant societal drives are to amass personal wealth and elevate one’s social status, the "Rich" are looked upon not as enemies – but as role models. This is true even among the poor – which in the New Zealand context means Maori, Pacific Islanders and recent immigrants without professional or trade qualifications. Acquiring money has always been the primary objective of the poor, and the means employed to get it is of significantly less importance than the fact of its possession. Lacking qualifications, the jobs offered to the poor are almost always highly exploitative and badly paid. Where trade unions are strong, this situation encourages organisation and resistance. But where unions are weak, or non-existent, it simply encourages the individual to view money-making as a necessarily brutal and unforgiving activity. Increasingly, earning a paltry income by legal means comes to be regarded as a mug's game. Unfortunately for all those Leftists who define criminals as essentially social victims and, therefore, potential recruits for the cause of Socialism, crime is a highly individualistic and fundamentally selfish activity. Even admission to collective criminal organisations – gangs – is determined by the individual criminal’s skill, daring and/or ruthlessness. Tender-hearted, weak and ineffectual persons need not apply. This is because the sole purpose of an organised criminal gang is to maximise the opportunities for making money. And the proceeds of criminal activity – far from being shared out equitably – are distributed according to strict hierarchical protocols. It is these profoundly individualistic and reactionary aspects of the criminal sub-culture which has, historically, made gangsters the natural allies of the Right – not the Left. All of which argues strongly against the launch of yet another Pakeha-led, left-wing political party – especially one whose primarily objective is the nationwide mobilisation of the ethnic poor. Such an organisation could not hope to compete for the Maori Vote against the already well-established Maori Party. And, against the deeply entrenched political and religious Pacific Island networks of the Labour Party, a new party would similarly struggle to gain a foothold. Reaching agreed left-wing positions on the social, economic, cultural and, most crucially, religious issues in New Zealand’s polyglot immigrant communities poses political challenges of almost insuperable complexity. There is a world of difference between attracting voter support in the loose political framework of local government elections, and winning electoral recognition at the national level. Partisan allegiances are much stronger in the context of parliamentary elections, and it is much more difficult to win acceptance as a viable political option. While it is certainly true that occasions arise in which a new political party is able to gain immediate political traction: one recalls Bob Jones’s New Zealand Party, Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party and Winston Peters’ New Zealand First; the most common fate of newly formed political parties is electoral annihilation. And even when considering the above examples of successful party formation, two important caveats should be offered. The first is that in each of the three cases cited, the principal political actor was a nationally known figure with considerable financial resources (either private or public) at his disposal. The second is that the NZ Party, NewLabour and NZ First were all what might be called creatures of the zeitgeist: parties conjured out of long-standing and deep-seated public dissatisfaction with the dominant political ideas and institutions of the day. In 2008, when the zeitgeist is all about protecting what one has got from the clutches of an "unrepresentative" minority of "politically correct" collectivists, such a party is most unlikely to emerge from the Left. The other obvious impediment to taking the Residents Action Movement to the national level is its woeful lack of experience. A limited amount of expertise in the conduct of election campaigns has clearly been acquired by a small core of RAM activists since the group entered electoral politics in 2004. However, compared to the organisational horsepower of the established parties, RAM’s political machine is dangerously under-powered – even in its Auckland base. Outside of Auckland, even this rudimentary machinery is lacking. Unlike both NewLabour and NZ First, most of whose members were drawn from the Labour and National parties respectively, RAM lacks a nationwide cadre of experienced election organisers. And, unlike the NZ Party, it does not have a millionaire founder to hire the professional expertise it lacks – not unless Grant Morgan has secretly won Lotto! Any attempt by RAM to break into the national political scene will, therefore, almost certainly end in failure. Thousands of person hours, and tens-of-thousands of dollars, will be expended for what, when all the votes have been counted, is likely to be a tally well short of one percent of the Party Vote. Not only will this outcome prove profoundly demoralising for those candidates/activists who participated in the election campaign, but it will also constitute a significant opportunity cost for the Left as a whole – and for the Far Left in particular. The history of New Zealand elections is studded with examples of Far-Left groups who put their policies to the democratic test and were aggressively rebuffed by the electorate. The consequences of these repeated rejections have been very damaging in at least two important respects. First: the derisory election results powerfully reinforced the entrenched Centre-Left belief that Far-Left parties have no genuine constituency of any size among the New Zealand population. Centre-Leftists were, therefore, further encouraged to write-off "revolutionary" political aspirants as Quixotic – at best, or dangerous nutcases – at worst. Second: among the revolutionaries themselves, poor election results powerfully reinforced the argument that the "masses" were suffering from "false consciousness". They – the "Genuine Left" – had seen the issues all-too-clearly, but, up against the lies of the news media, the schools and universities, and the "treacherous mis-leaders of the working-class" the "truth" was unable gain a hearing. This self-pitying attitude only served to widen the distance between the Far- and Centre-Left, and the electorate as a whole. What then is to be done? Apart from re-reading Lenin’s formidable primer – written for a party which was also languishing on the wrong side of the zeitgeist – I would strongly recommend The Integration of Theory and Practice: A Program for the New Traditionalist Movement, a 12-page paper written by the conservative activist and Christian fundamentalist, Eric Heubeck, in 2001. (Just type "Eric Heubeck" into Google.) This is a masterly (if somewhat chilling) essay on the politics of influence and ideological mobilisation. The techniques Heubeck advocates are mostly borrowed from Lenin and Gramsci, and IMHO it is high time the Left borrowed them back.

Venezuela: Revolution, party and a new international

by Luis Bilbao Translated by Federico Fuentes from LINKS 26 March 2008 Venezuela has entered a decisive phase of its revolutionary process, which has advanced rapidly, and without pause, since 1999. The failed attempt to reform the constitution in the December 2, 2007, referendum opened up a conjuncture of sharp contradictions in the short and medium term and modified the institutional framework in which this period will develop; but it does not modify the content of the confrontation underway. The forces of the revolution will be unleashed, along with those of the counterrevolution. Expressed in 69 articles, the reform had four objectives as its central aim: to transfer political power to the councils of popular power (workers¹ councils, peasant councils, student councils, etc); to promote and institutionalise the existence of popular militias; reorder the national design of the state (new geometry of power); and provoke a new and more dramatic transference of wealth in favour of the working class and the people as a whole. In summary: the dismantling of the bourgeois state and the beginning of the construction of a state of the workers, peasants and the whole of the people. The electoral defeat will change the form and perhaps the rhythm of this march, nevertheless, the transition towards socialism will elevate itself to a qualitatively superior level in relation to what we have lived through during the last eight years. [1] Never so starkly has the dialectic of reform-revolution been evident. Never before has the contradiction between means and ends been so strident. Starting from the certainty that [Venezuela¹s President Hugo] Chavez will maintain a line of intransigent confrontation in the face of the opposition bloc, behind which operates the White House, two unknown factors will become clearer: the importance of the level of abstention (that is, the percentage of the population who remain apathetic and have not joined the ranks of the revolution) and whether the opposition will hold off or not from resorting to the only recourse they have left: violence. Inversely to all other previous examples, the revolution in Venezuela began via the institutional road. Chavez won the December 1998 elections, since which he has advanced, step by step, in the partial solution of social problems, raising the consciousness of society, recuperating national sovereignty and finally, clashing against the foundations of the capitalist system. That was the path taken in order to accumulate forces, with methods and with individuals buried within bourgeois state apparatus, barely offset in some cases by the will of the revolutionary cadres in government functions. With the eruption of the new government, this power entrenched itself in the state as it was composed ­ or, better said, decomposed. Throughout this period the inherent contradictions were expressed through the figure of the head of state and government, Hugo Chavez, in a never before seen situation in the history of social struggles. The reforms as a whole -- often made through pragmatic paths that led in a direction contrary to that sought after ­ were only foundations on which to raise this revolutionary project. In different latitudes, individuals prone to developing concepts elaborated and stated by others for different circumstances, but incapable of taking as their starting point living phenomena, understanding them and responding to them, saw this situation as a repetition of ``dual power¹¹. A repetition sui generis of the situation that Russia lived through between February and October 1917, with the government of the bourgeois state on one side and the workers¹ and social movement on the other. Chavez was only ``infiltrated¹¹ in there, an ally who could be counted on, whilst the workers¹ movement and the popular masses were organised into a revolutionary party. This jovial expression was transformed into a category, a pseudo-theoretical interpretation that inverted reality: it placed tiny groups and charlatans in the role of the vanguard and Chavez as a prisoner of the bourgeois state. It might seem like the tiniest of differences on the theoretical level, but this crucial error (that takes the appearance of a theoretical elaboration, but in almost all cases had as its foundations an unfortunate combination of myopia and cowardice), created a sectarian dynamic that rapidly transformed itself into counterrevolutionary positions, manifested in calls to vote against the constitutional reform, or the height of inconsistency entering as secret fractions, gnashing their teeth, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), the party organised under the impulse and initiative of Chavez. In the least grave cases of this mortal deviation, vanguard groups and cadres stood firmly in the rearguard, playing the role of a deadweight, acting against the revolutionary impulse. No matter how you look at it, the fact is, that the political phenomenon underway in Venezuela is a revolution, without a doubt, whose social roots lie in the Caracazo of 1989, but which, due to the combination of the actual social formation of the country and the historic international moment in which it is situated, has developed within the bourgeois institutional system; with a powerful but atomised social movement, where the workers¹ movement is not present in an organic manner; without a party in a strict sense of the word and with the unusual gravitation around an individual figure to provide definition of sense and rhythm with which the class struggle advances. It is no coincidence that those groups and individuals who, with irresponsible superficiality, condemn a supposed cult of personality on the part of Chavez, are the same ones who refuse to commit themselves to constructing a revolutionary force in the given circumstances, facilitating the intervention of groups and individuals with social and/or political interests contrary to a revolution ... within official political militancy, as well as in the government itself. Considering all differences, an analogy can be made with the conduct of infantile leftists in Argentina who, when the possibility existed to construct a political instrument of the masses out of the Central de Trabajadores de la Argentina (CTA, Argentine Workers Centre), refused to commit themselves to this process, only to afterwards condemn the outcome of that attempt, where the absence of those who call themselves revolutionaries contributed to tipping the balance of forces in favour of the reformist and conciliatory individuals and structures. But the same did not occur in Venezuela: due to the gravitational pull of Hugo Chavez, the forces of revolution have imposed themselves and now the world is witness to the transition of this country towards socialism, via unprecedented paths. Revolution and violence Although there has not been a lack of violent episodes over the last eight years ­ including regular assassinations of peasants, a coup, sabotage of the petroleum industry and innumerable failed attempts against the life of Chavez ­ the transformations that have occurred in the political landscape, the relation of forces between classes, and the state apparatus, have occurred in peace and within the framework of democratic institutions. This prolonged phase, during which profound transformations have occurred, has led to a belief that a revolution can be concluded without clashing frontally with the class enemy that exists within and outside the country¹s borders. But such a similar illusion was not part of the plans of Chavez and his closest team, who from the first moment took up the task of winning ground within the armed forces, renewing armaments, enlisting defence plans in the face of possible invasions and other forms of territorial aggression, and above all, the formation of revolutionary popular militias, known as the reserves, which today organise some one million armed men and women. It is not only legitimate, but absolutely correct, to make the biggest feasible effort to postpone for the maximum time possible a frontal clash with the enemy. Of course, this can only be said if at the same time not a single moment is wasted to raise the political consciousness of society in regards to the constant threat of imperialism and its local partners, at the same time as organising a revolutionary armed force capable of confronting and defeating this inexorable challenge. In this sense, by winning more time, two key factors can be achieved: one, the conquest of more and more popular contingents ­ workers, peasants, students, professionals, small producers and urban and rural traders ­ to the ranks of the revolution or, which in essence is the same thing, diminish to the maximum extent possible the social ranks of the enemy; two, pose the confrontation in the sphere of the Latin American territorial and political terrain, that is, if on the one hand a different relationship of forces against imperialism is created, then on the other there is posed the necessity of making all the necessary tactical steps forward to synchronise the unequal march of the processes that are unfolding in the region. The position adopted by ex-general and former minister of defence Raul Baduel accelerated suddenly the march towards a bellicose confrontation. It is obvious that Baduel¹s identification of the constitutional reform as a coup, along with his call for a No vote, imply a formal alignment with imperialism and its war plans against the socialist Bolivarian Revolution.[2] Even all the effort in the world will not be sufficient to postpone this confrontation. In Venezuela, it is necessary to complete the organisation of the PSUV and with this political instrument undertake with the maximum of energy the tasks put forward by the reform of the constitution. In Latin America, it is necessary to push with a similar will the construction of mass revolutionary parties and advance with an affirmative response towards an international organisation capable of taking up on all terrains a conclusion forgotten by many: that the socialist revolution -- the abolition of capitalism, the construction of a society of free men and women -- supposes a confrontation with imperialism that, due to the logic of its will and necessity, will be necessarily violent. The old debate between ``armed struggle¹¹ or ``peaceful road¹¹ has now been surpassed by this restating in a new international and regional context, summarised in the pressing urgency to organise the masses into revolutionary parties and to prepare ourselves in all spheres so that, due to the massive nature and military capacity of the peoples, the violence is postponed and minimised as much as possible. For reasons everyone should be able to comprehend, Critica has a debt with developing this essential debate at a theoretical level. However, this is not true regarding the political application of this strategy. It should not be necessary to underscore that the historic challenge facing us requires, now more than ever, to put the charlatans, reformists and infantile leftists in their places, through arduous theoretical work, as part of spearheading and being able to guarantee overcoming the formidable tasks ahead. The United Socialist Party of Venezuela Since the beginning of 2007, Chavez has affirmed without evasion the necessity of all revolutionary organisations to dissolve in order to pave the way towards a united party, of the masses, for the socialist revolution. As is known, the three largest organisations that have accompanied Chavez and his Movimiento Quinta República (MVR, Movement for the Fifth Republic) throughout these years, refused to accept the call. One of them (PODEMOS), decimated by the exodus of its ranks to the PSUV, aligned itself, without even worrying about keeping up appearances, with the most reactionary and bellicose opposition. The other two (Partido Comunista y Patria para Todos), who were also reduced to their minimum expression as their militants signed up to the PSUV, nevertheless decided to support, with some disgruntlement, the constitutional reform. [3] The fact is that 5,770,000 citizens signed up as aspirant militants to the PSUV, beginning the process of organising the party over this base. As the November edition of America XXI reads: "The process of election of delegates to the Founding Congress was completed in OctoberŠ [with] 1674 delegates elected from the Socialist Circumscriptions (CS), made up of between 8 and 12 Socialist Battalions, which in turn elected seven members (spokesperson, alternative spokesperson and five heads of commissions) to the CSŠAlthough the realisation [of the congress] will be difficult, the objective is that these three instances act simultaneously, in a never before seen process of exchange between the grassroots and the delegates in order to debate and vote on the essential documents put to the consideration of the Congress: the Declaration of Principles, Program and Statutes. [4] "Through a suitable combination of congress plenaries, meetings in different regions, and report backs from delegates with debates in their corresponding circumscription, plus the simultaneous functioning of the Socialist Battalions, there will be an attempt to reach the maximum possible level of democratic participation of the whole membership. The most modern technologies of communication will contribute to the objective of putting information at the disposition of everyone and channel the debates in both directions: from the grassroots to the delegates and vice versa, who will have at their disposition the use of a web page, email and mobile telephones. "No technical resource will be able to overcome the impact of the absence of the workers¹ movement as an organised force, influencing and imposing its mark as a class in the functioning of this massive organisation. At the same time, no one can dodge the absence of a tradition of revolutionary mass organising, to which has to be added a opposing tradition: that of Accion Democratica (AD, Democratic Action), which for decades was sowed in consciousness through a methodology at the service of capital and an established political structure. The crucial fact that the impulse for the construction of the PSUV came from Chavez, and afterwards was articulated through functionaries from different spheres of government, will also weigh in an ambivalent manner on this historic birth. Nevertheless, until now, the dialectic established firstly between Chavez and the thousands of promoters, then the millions of aspirants and finally the whole of the grassroots and middle cadres has prevailed. All of this will reach a boiling point with the realisation of the congress. Regardless of whatever faults there are in the results that emerge [out of the congress], the workers, the people as whole ­ especially the youth ­ that is, the whole of the country, will have taken an immense leap forward. The championing in word and deed of the notion of the party, at the beginning of the 21st century and following the traumatic collapse of the political apparatuses that at one stage were parties only to be later metamorphosed in order to adapt to the global capitalist system, is probably the most transendental contribution that the Bolivarian Revolution has produced up until now.² In effect, the championing of the notion of the revolutionary party is an immense leap forward, and not only, nor principally, for Venezuelan revolutionaries and the Venezuelan masses. Now, more so than at the beginning of the Bolivarian Revolution, in this conjuncture the full, absolutely transparent participation of all genuine revolutionary militants from any country is vital. Given the conditions in which it is born, the PSUV will immediately face innumerable risks of all types. We are dealing with, no more and no less, the same risks that have beset all and every true revolution. Confronted with this, there is no room for doubt regarding the decision that any Marxist revolutionary should take: confront these risks, armed with their theoretical arsenal, their practical experience and their resolve to relentlessly struggle against capitalism. Therefore, in Latin America, the falseness of the capricious and ridiculous stereotype of the Leninist theory of the party and its defence of the professional revolutionary remains exposed for all to see. This last notion was equally distorted and perverted in order to be utilised as theoretical loincloths by ignorant and inefficient bureaucrats, whose wisdom only served to repeat verses and guarantee their own survival. The true conception expounded by Lenin in all his works and symbolised in What is to be done, is reappearing in the new Latin American scenario. Tens of thousands of militant cadre will comprehend the necessity to join in action with the masses, in organisations where the ideas of scientific socialism needs to win space as a force capable of interpreting, intervening, relating to masses in motion, organising, elaborating, divulging and defending their strategy and tactics through revolutionary praxis. The constant resorting to petitio principii will be of no use, that is, the evocation of some god of revolutionary action in whose name actions are carried out, with the same legitimacy that the pope assumes in acting as the representative of the Holy Spirit. That is why the first condition for coming aboard the Latin American revolutionary torrent from revolutionary Marxist positions is to break all and any nexus with the pseudo-theoretical arguments and sectarian practises of the infantile leftist tendencies. A Latin American international organisation Critica has for a long time set out and defended its ideas regarding a mass revolutionary party.[5] Nevertheless, with the birth of the PSUV, and the revolutionary resolve represented by Chavez, the task of raising the consciousness and organisation of the masses to another level is now posed. In his August 25 intervention, in front of the promoters of the PSUV, President Hugo Chavez said that 2008 would be the moment to ``convoke a meeting of left parties of Latin America and organise a type of International, an organisation of parties and movements of the left in Latin American and the Caribbean¹¹. Chavez explained: "There is a resurgence of the consciousness of the peoples; the movements, leaders and leaderships of this new left, of this new project, need to continue to grow." The last experience of this type was the Foro de Sao Paulo (FSP, Sao Paulo Forum), originally convoked in this Brazilian city, in 1990, by the Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT, Workers Party, Brazil) and the Partido Comunista de Cuba (PCC, Communist Party of Cuba), as an ``Encounter of Parties and Organisations of the Left in Latin America and the Caribbean¹¹. From the beginning, a strong ideological debate existed within this organisation. At the first encounter a condemnation of capitalism and a correct characterisation regarding the structural crisis won out. The following year, in Mexico, held in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union, a shift towards adaptation began, with the FSP taken to the verge of splitting. Two principal blocs formed: those that, faced with this new situation, looked towards finding their place in what at the time was called the ``new world order¹¹, and those who held revolutionary socialist positions. The principal forces of the more than 100 organisations that made up the FSP were the PT, PCC, Frente Farabundo Martí para la Liberación Nacional (FMLN,Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, El Salvador), Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (FSLN, Sandinista National Liberation Front, Nicaragua), Partido de la Revolución Democrática (PRD, Party of the Democratic Revolution, Mexico), Frente Amplio (FA, Broad Front, Uruguay) and the Partido Socialista de Chile (PSCh, Socialist Party of Chile). Despite the fact that a split did not occur in Mexico, and that the resolution of the second encounter did not adopt the position proposed by the rightwing, ever since then the FSP has been systematically pushed towards reformism. The ideological battle was fought out basically between four currents: a) PCC b) social democracy c) social christianism d) diverse organisations who called themselves Trotskyists, each of them very different in regards to each other. As is known, at that time Cuba entered into the ``Special periodŒ¹. The PT had come out of a defeat in the 1989 elections. The FSLN had already incorporated itself into the [social democratic] Socialist International. The FMLN had confirmed that it had reached a strategic military deadlock and began peace negotiations. Meanwhile, the world, and in particular Latin America, entered into the ``neoliberal¹¹ decade. In the ensuing encounters of the FSP, beyond the speeches made and declarations approved, it became clear that the position of two of the four currents had converged: social democracy and social christianism. The Trotskyist tendencies withdrew from the FSP (and became debilitated to the point of extinction). The revolutionary current headed by the PCC (made up of a big majority of the organisations of the whole hemisphere) did not cohere itself, with its role diluted to the point of being limited to a few good speeches at each encounter, without generating any consequences. Today, the FSP is an empty shell in the hands of those most opposed to any revolutionary ideas, and specifically to the Bolivarian Revolution. Beyond individual positions, within the leadership structures of the PT, PRD, FA and PSCh, Chavez is a synonym for Lucifer. It should be specifically pointed out that in November 2001, in the encounter in La Habana, it was not possible to reach an agreement to send a delegation in solidarity with Chavez in the face of the evidence of an escalating coup plot. Recently, the PRD delegate who habitually represents this party in the FSP participated in the congress of the Venezuelan Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS, Movement Towards Socialism) [which is part of the opposition]. This drift of the FSP contributed in a significant manner to the destruction and/or neutralisation of tens of thousands of cadres and middle cadres in Latin America. Conjuncture The dispersal of forces who define themselves as favouring a revolutionary solution ­ and are willing to fight for it ­ is today the principal point that imperialism and the national bourgeoisies count in their favour. Out of those militant sectors dragged towards reformism by their leaderships, we can presume that a percentage is willing to join an alternative that once again proposes what it was that convinced them to enter into political activity. Another contingent coming from that period is dispersed in innumerable organisations, a good part of which should also be in a position to incorporate themselves into an international movement that contributes to the creation, orientation and development of national organisations of important political weight. But it is highly probable that the most important contingent of militants for a new Latin American revolutionary alternative will be unorganised youth who today are politically active, but whose forces are dispersed in social organisations, small newspapers, community radio stations and other expressions of militancy without a strategy to struggle for power. If it is left solely up to the existing political-organisational relations and definitions at the national level, we cannot expect to see, at least for a long time, the recomposition of these militant contingents. The permanence of tens of thousands of cadres and activists in this current state, despite the fact that this immense force today sees itself compelled towards the perspective of Latin American revolution, will assure, in a relative short timeframe, the destruction in high proportions of this revolutionary force. On the contrary, the existence of a general political orientation, of a recognised leadership, could put into action a powerful revolutionary human force that is today inert, saving from degradation and subsequent destruction, hundreds of thousands of militants across Latin America. This capacity for orientation and leadership can only be based on revolutionary leaderships with deep roots, prestige and sufficient energy in front of this collection of revolutionary militants. Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, as symbols and representatives of the revolutions in Cuba and Venezuela, are today the only possible centre that could play this role. Moreover, the long-term attack already put in train by imperialism, with the resolute collaboration of social democracy and social christianism, urgently requires defining positions, marking out a general strategic line of action and organising grand human contingents to impede the counterrevolutionary pincer advancing forward, drowning in blood the growing revolutionary process in Latin America. At the Ibero-American summit in Santiago, this alignment became graphically clear: the social democratic [president of Spain] Jose Rodriguez Zapatero defended the neoliberal strategy and ``social cohesion¹¹ under capitalism. He even tried to impose this on the meeting, with a blatant manoeuvre in this closing speech, violating the methodology of the summit. Faced with the response by Chavez, the Spanish president Zapatero did not hesitate to come out in defence of the fascist Jose Maria Aznar, ex-president of Spain. The social democracy-social christianism-fascism convergence was clear for millions to see during this episode, topped off by the sharp remarks of the king and his later abandonment of the meeting during the denunciation made by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega. At the trade union level, this convergence has already taken an organic form over the last few years, with the coming together of the union confederations of the Vatican and social democracy in the International Trade Union Confederation, that is now beginning to articulate itself in Latin America, where in Argentina it counts on the support of some wings of the CTA.[6] The first step in advancing towards the organisation of a Latin American-Caribbean political structure that, despite the fact that it depends on the decision of Chavez and Fidel to undertake the task, will from the beginning have an international projection. Conceptual bases Throughout history there have been, conceptually and in practice, four anti-capitalist international organisations. The First, in which Karl Marx and Frederick Engels were key figures in its foundation, brought together different anti-capitalist revolutionary currents. It emerged directly out of the impulse of the workers themselves in struggle against the system in Europe; the two principal currents were those who would shortly become known as Marxists and the anarchists. The Second, defined as social democratic (with the meaning that this word had at that time, the inverse of what it is today) was based on the grand mass socialist workers¹ parties which, at the time, had been formed in all of Europe, in the United States and in various Latin American countries. The Third, founded by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, defined itself as communist, counterposing itself to the social democrats, who by then were identified by the position of subordinating the interests of the workers to those of the bourgeoisie of each country; the mass social democratic parties all split paving the way for the emergence of communist parties, which founded the Third International with this name. The Fourth, in reality, never became a truly international organisation deeply rooted in the working class. It was born as a result of the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet Union and the extension of this collapse to the organisation, program and policies of the Third International from its Fifth Congress onwards. Its base of support was the Left Opposition in the Soviet Union and its expression in the different communist parties across the world. It later took the name of its principal promoter, Leon Trotsky, who was assassinated in 1940, with the organisation in turn degenerating, giving rise to innumerable organisations, almost always sectarian and minuscule. Today, due to objective and subjective reasons ­ laid out over the years in these pages and which will not be developed in this article ­ an international organisation cannot pretend to have the ideological homogeneity that the Second, Third and Fourth internationals had. On the contrary, its heterogeneous nature will far surpass that of the First International, apart from the fact that it will not result from the conscious and organised impulse of a workers¹ vanguard with backing from the masses. The point of support for such a heterogeneous organisation will be the explicit decision to struggle against imperialism and for socialism of the 21st century, assuming as its starting point the unknown elements and ambiguities that this definition implies. To this ideological heterogeneity will correspond an organisational criterion that, although obliging in terms of general strategy of each member party or organisation, will allow the participation of different organisations in the same country and will not enforce unanimous criteria for political activity. Nevertheless, the international could not be assimilated into the concept of a united front. It is closer to the criteria of a mass party, with ideological heterogeneity and political homogeneity on central questions regarding hemispheric strategy, and with all the flexibility that this requires given differences of participation in each country. This contradiction will be resolved in favour of cohesion, political homogeneity and international coherence through the organ of the international leadership, which could only be made up of representatives of parties from those countries where no more than one recognised organisation exists. The organisation of a revolutionary international with these characteristics, far from being a distant perspective is an immediate necessity. Defence of the revolutionary processes underway in Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador cannot be postponed, nor can effort towards the recomposition of revolutionary social forces in the rest of the countries in the region. Both tasks are beyond the possibilities of the dispersed and confused militants in Argentina, the country that most needs this Latin American anchor in order to lift, rise up and recuperate its powerful revolutionary force. [This is an updated version of an article first written for the November 2007 edition of Crítica de Nuestro Tiempo N° 36, just prior to the December 2 referendum. The author updated it at the end of February 2008. Critica de Nuestro Tiempo, International Journal of Theory and Practice, was founded in 1991, since which it has regularly defended the cause of socialism. This article was translated exclusively for Links ­ International Journal of Socialist Renewal ( by Federico Fuentes. Luis Bilbao is a journalist, founder and director of Critica de Nuestro Tiempo, and member of the Union of Militants for Socialism (Argentina). Since the end of 2006 Bilbao has temporarily resided in Venezuela, as director of the Latin America-wide magazine America XXI, where he has collaborated in the creation of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the process of building UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations. Among numerous books, he has published two long interviews with President Hugo Chavez through Le Monde Diplomatique.] Notes [1] See reports and analyses about the content of the reforms in America XXI, Issues No 30, 31 and 32, corresponding to the months of September, October and November. [2] It is worth noting in passing that this episode revealed the real role of certain opportunists and pseudo-theoreticians, such as Heinz Dieterich, who without an intermediary period passed over from Stalinism to bourgeois-reformist gibberish, marinated with appropriate resources in order to dazzle a certain disorientated intellectual layer. With a pseudo-revolutionary verbosity, this author cooked up a formula for a supposed new socialism, which is nothing more than a road to take in order to avoid the abolition of capitalism. His alignment with Baduel (worse still disguised under a call to Chavez for reconciliation with Baduel, arguing that the Yes and No vote in the constitutional reform where not antagonistic), revealed the course that this type of itinerant intellectual inexorable takes when the decisive hour of the revolution arrives. [3] On this debate, information can be found principally in issue 24 and 25 of America XXI, in March and April 2007, as well as in the following issues of this magazine. [4] View the draft Declaration of Principles and Program at Links [5] The last contribution in this sense was ``Theory and Practice of the Revolutionary Party¹¹ Critica No 34, October 2006, [6] See the balance sheet of the Ibero-American Summit in ``Argentina no callara¹¹, El Espejo 171, p. 8.

Saturday 29 March 2008

Hot Cross Buns

by Pat O'Dea
On Wednesday before the easter break, our employer informed us that if we were all at the workshop at 7am the next morning, (our normal start time) he would give us all some free hot cross buns.
I wasn't that interested in a free bun, so on Thursday morning at 7am I went to my job site, and started work instead.
After the Easter Break I asked my workmates how it went. "Terrible," they said. First of all the company's order of hot cross buns didn't arrive on time, When the boss noticed all the workers standing in the yard at 7.30. He shouted. "What are you all still doing here. Fuck off."
Gee so much for the Easter spirit.But wait there is more. It seems the boss's initial generous free bun offer, was because that due to March being the end of the financial year the boss was very pleased with a huge rise in the worker productivity revealed in the end of year figures and it was his glee at this free gift from his workforce, that caused the rush of blood to his head, which resulted in his initial overly generous reward of buns for all to workers responsible.
Of course by Tuesday after Easter he had recovered his senses and decided that the proper and traditional way to celebrate the company's good fortune was to give management the next day (Wednesday) an all expenses paid, fishing cruise on the Waitamata harbour (workers not invited).
Hip hip hurray sanity returns to the workplace. And the sun safely returned to its orbit around the earth.

Washington's nasty diplomacy in Pakistan

Washington's nasty diplomacy in Pakistan by GRANT MORGAN and MUHAMMAD UMAR CHAND It is deeply troubling that people inside Pakistan are being labelled as "terrorists" by senior US diplomat John Negroponte. Negroponte has just returned from a top-level mission to Pakistan. His trip was widely interpreted as an attempt to put pressure on the newly-elected government that replaces Washington's former man-in-command, president-general Pervez Musharraf, who rose to power through a military coup. Negroponte is a cold-blooded hatchet man of the US state. During the 1980s, he directed, funded and armed the right-wing death squads that rampaged across Central America to crush grassroots movements. The hands of this state terrorist are stained with the blood of hundreds of thousands of civilians, including Catholic nuns from the United States who were slaughtered in their Central American monastery. Now Negroponte is fronting the US strategy of divide-and-conquer in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Therefore he is bitterly hostile to Pakistan's new government opening peace talks with groups in the country's Northern Tribal Regions that Negroponte labels as "Islamic terrorists". And why? Because these tribal groups oppose the US occupation of Afghanistan and Washington's other crimes against humanity. Yet the US state never had any trouble talking with Musharraf despite him being a military dictator who used state terror to suppress the cause of democracy in his largely Muslim country. Negroponte's double standards expose the imperial agenda of the US state. Diplomats of the Evil Empire are using deceitful propaganda about "Muslim extremism" in a bid to bend unwilling governments to their will and to prevent united resistance to Washington's crusade for global domination. But this crusade is being resisted by the overwhelming majority inside Pakistan and Afghanistan who share not only a common faith and ethnicity, but also a common wish to be free from imperial bullying. Thus not even Musharraf's crackdowns on his own judiciary coupled with a long history of electoral fraud could stop him being dumped at the polls by his own angry citizens early this year. The US state, having lost its main ally in Pakistan, is now casting around for new methods to re-impose control. That's where Negroponte comes in. Having mastered the dirty trade of political de-stabilisation in Central America, he is now attempting to de-stabilise Pakistan's new government by trying to stop peace negotiations with tribal leaders. Washington's un-Christian rejection of the message of Jesus, a promoter of peace in his time, illustrates that their real agenda has nothing to do with religion, but everything to do with power politics. So will peace break out in this turbulent region? No, if the US state can continue to call the shots. Yes, if the wishes of grassroots people can be acted on. The article below, by mainstream journalist Jane Perlez, gives useful and up-to-the-minute background on the unfolding battle for Pakistan. A chill ushers in new diplomatic order in Pakistan by JANE PERLEZ 28 March 2008 ISLAMABAD, Pakistan ‹ If it was not yet clear to Washington that a new political order prevailed here, the three-day visit this week by America¹s chief diplomat dealing with Pakistan should put any doubt to rest. The visit by Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte turned out to be series of indignities and chilly, almost hostile, receptions as he bore the brunt of the full range of complaints that Pakistan is now feel freer to air with the end of military rule by Washington¹s favored ally, President Pervez Musharraf. Faced with a new democratic lineup that is demanding talks, not force, in the fight against terrorism, Mr. Negroponte publicly swallowed a bitter pill at his final news conference on Thursday, acknowledging that there would now be some real differences in strategy between the United States and Pakistan. He was upbraided at an American Embassy residence during a reception in his honor by lawyers furious that the Bush administration had refused to support the restoration of the dismissed judiciary by Mr. Musharraf last year. Mr. Negroponte once told Congress that Mr. Musharraf was an "indispensable" ally, but the diplomat was finally forced to set some distance after months of standing stolidly by his friend. Mr. Musharraf¹s future, he said, would be settled by Pakistan¹s new democratic government. Perhaps the most startling encounter for the 68-year-old career diplomat was the deliberately pointed question by Farrukh Saleem, executive director of the Center for Research and Security Studies, at the reception Wednesday evening. "How is Pakistan different to Honduras?" Mr. Saleem asked, a query clearly intended to tweak Mr. Negroponte about his time as ambassador to Honduras in the 1980s, when he was in charge of the American effort to train and arm a guerrilla force aimed at overthrowing the leftist government in Nicaragua. He was later criticized for meddling in the region and overlooking human rights abuses in pursuit of United States foreign policy goals. The diplomat demurred, according to Mr. Saleem, saying, "You have put me on the spot." Mr. Negroponte had no reply to his next question, either, Mr. Saleem said. "I asked him, 'What do you know about our chief justice that we don't know?' " That question was meant to reflect, Mr. Saleem recounted afterward, that the Bush administration had refused to recognize the illegality of the firing of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, and that many Pakistanis were angered that the United States had signaled it did not favor the reinstatement of Mr. Chaudhry who, it appeared, was too opposed to Mr. Musharraf for Washington's taste. Mr. Negroponte and the Bush administration were tone deaf, Mr. Saleem and others said, to the changes in Pakistan, though the message of the tune seemed inescapable. As they stood on the lawn of a diplomatic residence here in the spring evening, the chairman of the Supreme Court Bar Association, Aitzaz Ahsan, who has led the campaign to restore Mr. Chaudhry, picked up the challenge to Mr. Negroponte. First, Mr. Ahsan said he told the diplomat, the lawyers were miffed that Mr. Negroponte had not included them on his planned round of meetings. When the lawyers asked for an appointment on Tuesday, they were rebuffed by the American Embassy, Mr. Ahsan said. Then, Mr. Ahsan, a graduate of Cambridge and one of Pakistan's most talented orators, gave Mr. Negroponte a 10- to 15-minute discourse on why an independent judiciary was important to fight terrorism. "I told him that the most effective weapon on the war against terror is a people who have enforceable rights ‹ then they have a stake in the system," Mr. Ahsan said of his conversation with Mr. Negroponte. Mr. Ahsan said he argued that an independent judiciary was "a middle ground" between the military and religious fanatics. When Mr. Negroponte countered that the new Parliament had pledged to deal with the question of the restoration of the judges within 30 days, Mr. Ahsan said he retorted: "I said you can't build a Parliament on the debris of the judiciary." In contrast to Mr. Negroponte, a delegation of legislators, led by Rep. John F. Tierney, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the National Security Subcommittee of the House Oversight Committee, visited Mr. Chaudhry at his home on Thursday. They were the first foreigners to see the judge since police barricades were removed Tuesday after four months of house arrest. "He believes the Parliament has a vote in the next 30 days and the judges will go back to work," Mr. Tierney said after talking to Mr. Chaudhry. "That's his position, and they're sticking with it." Although he had little to do with the lawyers or the judiciary, Mr. Negroponte, accustomed to seeing a limited circuit of figures, starting with Mr. Musharraf, had to widen his contact list this time. He met with the leaders of the two main parties in the new coalition government, Nawaz Sharif, and Asif Ali Zardari. They were both in exile for much of Mr. Musharraf¹s rule. He also met with prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gilani, who was an unknown politician until this week, and the speaker of the National Assembly, Dr. Fehmida Mirza. Mr. Zardari and Mr. Sharif have said they want to change the military approach of Mr. Musharraf toward the extremists, and work toward talks. At a news conference in Karachi before leaving, Mr. Negroponte said Washington could work with the new government, but drew the line at negotiations with extremists. "Security measures are obviously necessary when one is dealing with irreconcilable elements who want to destroy our very way of life," he said. "I don't see how you can talk with those kinds of people." There was some hope, however, he said, of working with "reconcilable elements" who "can be persuaded to participate in the democratic political process." In a marked change of tone from the Musharraf era, the new prime minister, Mr. Gilani, said after meeting Mr. Negroponte on Wednesday that Parliament was now the supreme decision-making body. Pakistan supported its long alliance with the United States, but the fight against terrorism would be discussed in the legislature, he said. Mr. Negroponte's visit was generally poorly received. Coming in the week that the government was still being formed ‹ a cabinet has yet to be announced ‹ it was widely interpreted as an act of interference, a last effort to prop up a vastly weakened Mr. Musharraf. One television commentator called the visit "crude diplomacy." Others said Mr. Negroponte did not understand that Mr. Musharraf was a disappearing figure, isolated and with little power. One of his last loyal aides, Attorney General Malik Mohammad Qayyum, resigned Thursday. By the end of his trip, Mr. Negroponte indicated that perhaps Mr. Musharraf's usefulness to Washington had diminished. The future of Mr. Musharraf was up to the Pakistanis. "Any debate or any disposition as regards his status will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process," he said.

Friday 21 March 2008

The 2008 banking crisis

The 2008 banking crisis: Why the housing bubble? Why the crash? by Peter de Waal Over the last three decades the economies of the western world have been driven by an expansion of credit rather than wage growth. And suddenly access to credit is now being switched off overnight as fear grips the rich over the US sub-prime mortgage losses. The house price boom was a global phenomenon coinciding with the low interest rate policies of the central banks of big economies, particularly the US, after the dotcom bust and 11 September 2001. However, a report published by the OECD in 2006 warned that the boom was out of step with economic fundamentals. (See Figure 4 shows how the price to income and price to rent ratios have shot past the trend line since 2001.) As with most other countries you can see that the NZ rents and income curves follow each other closely. So if house prices are rising it does not follow that rents will increase if incomes are static or falling (a fact apparently lost to many amateur property investors).
Typically though, falling rental yields have been masked by asset appreciation. Many landlords who have moved into “property investment” in the last five years have only been breaking even, many have been losing money from day one on the basis that capital appreciation will see them right. However, once the asset class price starts stagnating or falling (e.g. studio apartments in Auckland) the illusion of capital gain can no longer mask the cash drain. Yesterday’s cheery “can’t go wrong with property” speculator is today’s stressed seller, buying food for his family on his credit card because all his income is sucked up by an empty property he can’t let at a rate that covers the mortgage on it...

Declaration of Climate Emergency!

We need a global Declaration of Climate Emergency!

(shortened from original article posted on, 11 Feb 2008)

Climate scientists have discovered that the rate of polar ice loss is accelerating unexpectedly and current atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) has reached a tipping point for complete loss of Arctic sea ice in as little as 5 years.

Positive feedback elements mean that the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets are threatened and the world faces the real possibility of huge sea level rises in the coming decades (6 meters by 2100) and catastrophe for ecosystems, species survival, sustainability and humanity. This is a climate emergency that warrants an immediate world Declaration of Climate Emergency.

In December 2007 the Bali Climate Change Conference attempted to set targets for reduction of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution by developed countries. However the Bali Conference was wrecked by the United States, with the assistance of its allies Canada and Australia. These three climate criminal countries lead the developed world in per capita greenhouse gas pollution but were selfishly and irresponsibly insistent that there should be no greenhouse reduction targets for them.

Recent developments in climatology have made the whole idea of “greenhouse gas emission reduction targets” (e.g. 20% by 2020, 80% by 2050) proposed in the much publicised 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as quite irrelevant.

Just as the melting of polar ice sheets and sea ice is proceeding at an accelerating rate, so is the scientific identification of the acute danger to the planet. According to top US and UK scientists it is no longer a matter even of “zero emissions” but of “negative CO2 emissions” to return the earth to a sustainable and safe atmospheric CO2 concentration of 300-350 ppm (parts per million).

In the last few years scientists have discovered that the rate of melting of the Arctic sea ice and of the Greenland and West Antarctica ice sheets has been much greater than predicted. But this research was not factored into the IPCC’s 2007 report (which many governments, including NZ, are basing their climate change policies on) because the “cut off point” for scientific literature was 2005. This fact, combined with intense pressure from Bush administration meant that the report and its predictions were much too conservative.

Climate scientists such as Dr James Hansen from NASA have found that water from melted ice is lubricating and speeding up the movement of glaciers to the sea. While the so-called “albedo flip” involving converting light-reflecting white ice to light-absorbing dark sea is increasing the temperature in the Arctic and providing a positive feedback to further increase the melting of sea ice and the Greenland ice sheet.

Thus Dr Hansen says that the “tipping point” for the melting of Arctic ice has already been reached at the current 385 ppm atmospheric CO2 and it is apparent that the present atmospheric CO2 concentration is sufficient to completely remove summer-time Arctic sea ice (some scientists say this may be completely gone by as early as 2013, a mere 5 years away).

However most alarming is the potential instability of large ice sheets, especially those of West Antarctica and Greenland. Hansen says: “If disintegration of these ice sheets passes their tipping points, dynamical collapse could proceed out of our control. If it melts completely, West Antarctica alone contains enough water to cause about 20 feet (6 meters) of sea-level rise.”
This expert declaration of a climate emergency means that the December 2007 Bali-wrecking Australian, US and Canadian position of “no 2020 targets” was a gross insult to humanity. However the harsh reality is that even the strongest Bali CO2 emission reduction targets (80% by 2050) won’t be enough.

Unaddressed CO2 pollution and global warming will have a devastating effect on global malnutrition and poverty. Already 16 million people die avoidably each year due to deprivation and deprivation exacerbated disease. However a combination of climate change, decreased agricultural yields in the tropics, peak oil and the US biofuel perversion and competition for global food by India and China have dramatically increased global grain prices. This is already contributing to global avoidable mortality.

Asia and Africa are facing a huge immediate threat from increases in the price of grain, a result of the diversion of grain production into biofuel in response to peak oil, the perception of peak oil and global warming considerations. The horrible actuality is that scientists have recently found that biofuel is not CO2 neutral. According to a study, co-authored by Dr Joe Fargione, “converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a biofuel carbon debt by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace".

The good news is that (a) the solar energy incident upon the Earth is about 10,000 times the amount of energy man presently uses and (b) the latest technologies – concentrated solar, silicon photovoltaics, non-silicon thin-film photovoltaics, wind, wave, tidal power and geothermal technologies – are able to exploit this huge resource.

The politicians refuse to lead - so the people must lead.

Dr Gideon Polya has published some 130 works in a four decade scientific career.

Tuesday 18 March 2008


called by Free Burma Campaign New Zealand "Trade unionists and human rights campaigners will protest in solidarity with the people of Tibet outside Helen Clarke's office on Wednesday at 6pm. We are calling for her to tear up the Free trade deal with the butchers of Tiananmen and Lhasa- there can be no appeasement with the Free trade Stalinists of Beijing. Freedom for Tibet!" Protest outside Helen Clarke's offfice 65 Sandringham Road Auckland 6pm Wednesday March 19th Stop the massacre- Freedom for Tibet! No Free Trade deal with the butchers of Lhasa and Tianenmen. for more info contact Naing Ko Ko: 021 1218 118

Thursday 13 March 2008

Peace March in Auckland

Saturday 15th March – GPJA Peace March on anniversary of invasion of Iraq. Gather Aotea Square, Auckland, 12noon for march to US Consulate. This protest will also highlight the Israeli invasion of Gaza and brutality towards Palestinians by the Israeli armed forces. Bring banners and placards!

National speaking tour by Venezuela's top diplomat

NATIONAL SPEAKING TOUR NELSON DAVILA Venezuela's top diplomat in our region Nelson Davila, Venezuela's Canberra-based charge d'affaires for Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, is not your traditional diplomat. He started out as a student activist during a period of mass mobilisations in Venezuela. He then became an indigenous rights activist, and later was a founding member of Hugo Chavez's revolutionary group Bolivarian Revolutionary Movement inside the Venezuelan armed forces. Nelson will speak at meetings in Wellington, Christchurch, Ruatoki, Rotorua, Hamilton & Auckland about where the Venezuelan revolutionary process is heading, including:
  • The recent formation of the 5 million strong United Socialist Party of Venezuela in response to president Chavez's call for "socialism of the 21st century".
  • The Chavez government's strong support for indigenous rights in Venezuela.
  • The explosive growth of Communal Councils which have the power to decide on local and regional priorities, along with a huge chunk of state funding to implement their own grassroots plans.


SATURDAY MARCH 15 - WELLINGTON 5pm shared dinner with invited friends of Venezuela at Fidels Cafe, Cuba St. Limited seating, if interested, contact Julie or 021 0262 5456. 8.30-10.30pm public meeting at Newtown Community Centre hosted by Latin American Committee.

SUNDAY MARCH 16 - CHRISTCHURCH 2-4pm public meeting at Workers Educational Association, 59 Gloucester St (opposite Art Gallery). 5pm shared dinner with invited friends of Venezuela at Tulsi Cafe, corner of Gloucester & Manchester Sts. Limited seating, if interested, contact Dave or 021 046 2011.

MONDAY MARCH 17 - CHRISTCHURCH & ROTORUA 12 noon-2pm public meeting in the International Room at Canterbury University, If you need directions, contact Dave or 021 046 2011. 8pm shared dinner with invited friends of Venezuela at Kwang Chow Restaurant in Te Ngae, Rotorua. Limited seating, if interested, contact Bernie or (07) 3459 853.

TUESDAY MARCH 18 - RUATOKI & ROTORUA 10am-2pm meet Tuhoe people at Tauarau Marae, Ruatoki. 7pm open meeting at Bernie's home, 61 Isles Rd, Rotorua. If you need directions, contact Bernie or (07) 3459 853.

WEDNESDAY MARCH 19 - HAMILTON & AUCKLAND 1-2pm public meeting at student union building at Waikato University, hosted by Waikato Students Union. 6pm public meeting at Auckland University co-hosted by three student clubs. Venue: lecture theatre LibB28, in the basement of the University Library, Albert St. If you need directions, contact Oliver or 021 072 4647.

THURSDAY MARCH 20 - AUCKLAND 10-11.30am meeting with academics at Auckland University. Limited seating, if interested, contact Kathryn or 021 0613 406. 6pm till late, pot-luck dinner at Unite Workers Union, 6A Western Springs Rd, Kingsland, all friends of Venezuela welcome. If you need directions, contact Mike 027 5254 744.

FRIDAY MARCH 21 - AUCKLAND 12 noon-2pm Question & Answer session with social justice activists over shared pizzas, hosted by RAM. Limited seating, with preference given to RAM members, if interested contact Oliver or 021 072 4647. Meet at main entrance of Auckland University Library, Albert St, to be guided to adjacent venue. 7.30pm till late, public meeting at Trades Hall, 147 Great North Rd, Grey Lynn, co-hosted by VAST (Venezuela Aotearoa Solidarity Team) and GPJA (Global Peace & Justice Auckland). Followed by live music & social. Bring your guitar!

SATURDAY MARCH 22 - AUCKLAND Evening gathering of Latin American friends of Hugo Chavez. If interested, email Esteban at NZ supporters of Venezuela can convey suggestions about building a Venezuela solidarity network to Nelson's tour organiser Grant Morgan, or 021 2544 515.


ZIMBABWE SOLIDARITY APPEAL Grant Morgan, Socialist Worker central committee member and RAM chair, has initiated an urgent appeal to help our comrades in Zimbabwe. The International Socialist Organisation (ISO) is at the cutting edge of a mass movement against the dictatorial rule of Robert Mugabe. The ISO were leading players in the recent People's Convention, whose 3,000+ delegates adopted a People's Charter, which is described as "drawing from the Workers Charter of... New Zealand". The People’s Charter is being taken out to workers, peasants and students across Zimbabwe to act as a rallying point against both Mugabe and the forces of neo-liberalism. In order to fund their important work, the poverty-stricken ISO has made an urgent international appeal for funds. Can you make a donation? Because of their very difficult situation in a dictatorial and chaotic land, the ISO say that the best way for them to receive funds is by a money gram. Grant Morgan will be organising a money gram to send to the poverty-stricken ISO. Mail cheques (made out to Grant Morgan) to 24 Church Rd, Mangere Bridge, Manukau City. Or transfer money directly into Grant's account, details are: Account name: G.C. Morgan Bank: ASB Bank Branch: Green Bay Account number: 12 3070 0123624 50 When the money is collected and sent Grant will email a statement out to all NZ donors. If you have any inquires contact Grant (09) 634 4432 (h+w), 021 2544 515 or Please contribute towards this very worthwhile cause.

Monday 10 March 2008

The Future Of RAM

The Future Of RAM by Oliver Woods The losses that opponents to radical free market economics and economic globalisation in New Zealand have sustained have been huge in the last several years. Indeed, for decades political visionaries and forward thinkers on both the left and the right have fought each other in sectarian conflicts: the pro-corporate politicians have just got on with the job and have built up powerful electoral machines that today seem almost indestructible. The free market right has learned from its mistakes in the 20th century, and has established itself as an utterly formidable campaigning beast. It has brought onboard the best ideas from advertising, marketing, and has stolen many of the organisational and political strategies of its opponents. The ideology of neo-liberalism has moved from what was regarded as an extreme, callous and simply insane prison for frustrated wealthy capitalists and mathematician economists to a force that is regarded as being positive, liberating and highly democratic. Yet we shouldn't be dismayed by any of this. We have got to learn lessons from our enemies. We should do the same exercise of re-branding with our new, moderate brand of positive left-wing politics as the right did with their own set of destructive ideas! RAM has won spectacular numbers of votes in Auckland in two consecutive elections, has built up an extensive activist base that is spreading throughout the country and is beginning to engage frustrated and largely apathetic voters who see little point in casting their ballots for backward thinking individualistic and deceitful corporate politicians. Our networks reach far and wide and we've even gained international notice. We have the opportunity to promote a positive vision of a multi-cultural inclusive society where the Government is by and for the people, where environmentalism isn't just talk and where progress isn't measured by numbers and statistics but by people in jobs, by safe communities and by children growing up out of poverty. Our task now is to turn RAM into a mass membership political party that is capable of campaigning across the country, challenging the established parties in electorate seats and for the party vote in national elections. We must build a movement that mobilises the apathetic and makes useful the frustrated. We need to share our visionary ideas and start to develop a new discourse, set of ideas and policies that can excite New Zealanders. It is important we continue to work with established political forces. The Alliance, despite it's implosion in 2002, is building itself up and we must not let historical divisions and sectarian divides stop us from seriously discussing electoral co-operation. Progressive and grass roots people must put their ideological and personal divisions to one side, and like the neo-liberals and other successful right-wing forces have done in New Zealand and overseas, work together to achieve practical and visionary goals. The Green and Maori parties both could potentially work together with RAM, as well as any emerging parties or non-parliamentary movements. We've got to think strategically, and if we do that, we have the greatest chance at getting our ideas implemented. Our mission is not just a left-wing one either; it is one that is shared by many in the centre of politics and even on the right. We all share the same goals of putting communities, grassroots people and practical reality first, above big business, overseas financial interests and rigid theoretical systems of ideological thought. Many conservatives, like socialists and those on the left, have been dismayed by the neo-liberal reforms that have torn up the social and economic fabric of New Zealand society since 1984. It is my opinion that we must provide a space for these opponents of the hard right within RAM ­ the right has brought onboard many former left-wingers, so we ought to do the same! Going beyond specifics, RAM is a long term project. We cannot halt our progress when we face adversity and challenges on our path toward Parliament. And if it looks like us merging with parties like the Alliance or other political forces will be beneficial to our broad left coalition, or even the formation of a new party out of a collection of existing ones, we should seriously consider such opportunities as they come. We are not in this game for the short term or for personal glory: we want to push for long term; positive change in New Zealand society in whatever way is most effective. My vision of RAM's future is of us as being part of a grass-roots coalition of tens of thousands community activists from around New Zealand who can inside and outside of Parliament replace the mediocrity of two-party politics in New Zealand. We will present a visionary way of understanding society, economics and the environment that allows us to win hundreds of thousands of votes, if not millions, in the coming years. We have humanity and the environment relying on us to complete our mission to change politics in New Zealand. We already have a collection of wonderful supporters and members, and the RAM brand is strong. We have an amazing culture already of acceptance of new ideas and of debate ­ we are a true democracy within our party. These current facts put us past many parties that already have Parliamentary representation! The broad left in New Zealand has a world to win. If things have started as they will continue, that may not be too far away!

A common cause for grassroots visionaries

A common cause for grassroots visionaries by GRANT MORGAN Recently a number of requests have come my way to write down the history of RAM, as the Residents Action Movement is popularly known. Two factors are prompting such requests. The first is the successes of RAM as a broad left campaigning and electioneering movement in Greater Auckland. The second factor is RAM¹s recent decision to go nationwide. This article is a modest start to meeting these requests. My aim is to summarise main facts and conclusions in a sober way. Mass revolt & political mobilisation The dawn of a new millennium saw no resolution of an old problem. For longer than most of us cared to recall, any serious progressive voice in Greater Auckland had been sidelined as wealthy elites shaped the agendas of the regional council, the four city councils and the three district councils. Regardless of whether a council was run by National-backed Citizens & Ratepayers or Labour-backed City Vision or a more informal coalition, corporate Auckland came out ahead of the grassroots majority. Feeling excluded, the majority abstained from voting in ever larger numbers. Protests rumbled away over inequitable water charges, council housing sales, the Eastern Highway, local body commercialisation and the democratic deficit. In mid-2003 a tipping point was reached. Without warning, Auckland Regional Council (ARC) jacked up the rates of struggling homeowners and downsized the bills being sent to big business. Thousands of homeowners faced ARC rate rises above 400%, many thousands above 300%, and tens of thousands above 200%. Meanwhile corporate Auckland basked in a "rates holiday". They no longer had to pay a business differential which had been levied to compensate for companies benefiting from the lion¹s share of council services. The ARC was ruled by a coalition of corporate politicians who relied on low voter turnouts and "free market" propaganda to retain local body power. Only three of the 13 elected members consistently opposed the ARC¹s extremist rating policy. As rates bills reached the letterboxes of homeowners, grassroots rage spilled over into what became known as the Rates Revolt. At its peak, possibly 100,000 homeowners ­ one quarter of the region¹s ratepayers ­ were supporting a "rates strike". No recognised group called this revolt into being. It just exploded in the combustible atmosphere of general contempt for council politicians. In the chaos and challenges of the Rates Revolt, RAM gradually took shape around socialists and other activists who were pursuing a dual strategy: helping the "rates strikers" get organised while showing how a political alternative was also necessary to overturn the ARC¹s corporate agenda. The combined pressure of the Rates Revolt and the rise of RAM in election year scared enough of the corporate politicians to push the ARC into a partial retreat. By a one-vote margin, a watered-down business differential was restored in mid-2004 which gave some relief to hard-pressed homeowners. This demonstration of "people power" provided the backdrop to RAM¹s entry into the ARC election in October 2004. Although by this time the heat had gone out of the Rates Revolt, RAM¹s 600 innovative "message" billboards still struck a popular chord. Reports came in of workers on the job discussing our call to "RAM the ARC" for rates justice, public transport, open democracy and "people before money". RAM candidates stood for eight of the 13 ARC seats. In a spectacular upset, RAM¹s Robyn Hughes unseated ARC chair Gwen Bull in Manukau City. We came close in several other seats, giving RAM a total of 87,000 ARC votes. Not one mainstream political commentator had expected a ticket described as "far left" and "socialist" by the NZ Herald and other media to do so damn well. This remarkable result showed how a broad left movement, given the right conditions and following a believable strategy, can make gains against establishment political elites. Free buses & unfree racism: RAM¹s community campaigning After the 2004 election, RAM embarked on high-profile community campaigns to promote the public good and redefine what grassroots people could win. Here RAM drew on the services of our regional councillor Robyn Hughes to reinforce the credibility of our initiatives. Greater Auckland is choked by car chaos. This imposes big expenses on individual commuters and staggering burdens on the public purse, all the while pumping out more of the greenhouse gases which could cost global humanity our liveable habitat. RAM¹s cut-through solution was to launch a campaign for free and frequent buses running in their own dedicated traffic lanes, and fully funded by a major shift of government cash away from motorway mania. At present, the Labour-led government is seriously looking at wasting upwards of $8 billion on three motorway tunnels in Central Auckland which will merely grow more cars and congestion. This amount of money could instead buy several thousand electric buses and run them fare-free across Greater Auckland for quarter of a century while also expanding electric rail across Waitakere, Auckland and Manukau cities. RAM¹s call for free and frequent public transport was endorsed by over two hundred prominent citizens, while our petition was signed by many thousands of Aucklanders. Our campaign got varying degrees of support from groups as diverse as Cycle Action Auckland, Mangere Community Board, Tramways Union, Auckland Regional Council, Green Party and Poverty Action Coalition. Former Manukau mayor Sir Barry Curtis offered three of his city¹s suburbs for a large-scale free buses trial if the Auckland Regional Transport Authority would climb aboard. As we expected, however, most council politicians and bureaucrats did little to implement RAM¹s boldly realistic vision of a free public transport network. Yet our idea has begun to spread, with a variety of other groups and individuals now advocating free and frequent public transport. This has helped to brand RAM as a "think big" battler for the welfare of the public and our planet. RAM also took an important stand against Islamophobia, a particularly virulent strain of racism being spread by the falsely named "war on terror", that imperial crusade of the US state to impose its will on the world by force of arms. In early 2007 a sudden rise of organised Islamophobia began to threaten New Zealand Muslims, none of whom had ever been charged with any act of "terrorism", let alone convicted. Yet extreme right Christian fundamentalists were organising stridently anti-Muslim conferences entitled "Mosques and Miracles" in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The keynote speakers were professional Islamophobes from Australia, who spread lies about "all mosques" being "centres of war" and Muslims all round the world preparing to "kill", "rape" and "enslave" non-Muslims. With help from other groups, RAM brought radical left British MP George Galloway to Auckland to rally public support for our peaceful Muslim sisters and brothers. 1,500 Aucklanders packed our "Voices of Peace" meetings to hear Galloway, a world-famous peace and justice activist noted for his electrifying imagery, link Islamophobic racism with Washington¹s "war on terror" and Israel¹s occupation of Palestine. At the main meeting, hundreds had to be turned away because the hall was full. By any measure, our "Voices of Peace" initiative was a success. There was extensive and nationwide coverage by the mainstream media. Local Muslims gained a sense of confidence and belonging, instead of feeling isolated and victimised. And as the extreme right fundamentalists saw our campaign for social inclusiveness gaining majority sympathy, most quietly dropped the nastiest elements of their Muslim bashing. The spleen vented at RAM across the spectrum of extreme right publications and websites was a back-handed tribute to the effectiveness of our campaign. Growing out of this important victory, RAM has promoted a slogan and ethos that unites migrant and NZ-born communities alike: "We All Belong Here". RAM has also worked alongside many other groups to mobilise opposition to the US war in Iraq, the Israeli re-invasion of Lebanon and the police "terror" raids on Tuhoe and left-wingers. Holding the line: RAM in the 2007 election The October 2007 council elections across Greater Auckland saw a swing to the right. In the Auckland City Council and, to a lesser degree, the Auckland Regional Council, the balance of power has shifted towards right-wing players like Citizens & Ratepayers and Independents for Manukau. The worst hit taken by RAM was when Robyn Hughes lost her Manukau seat on the regional council. Yet Robyn¹s 2007 vote was close to what she gained in 2004, so the problem wasn¹t any big collapse in support. The main cause was conservative voters in affluent East Manukau uniting behind the Independents for Manukau ticket, whereas in 2004 they had split their votes between an array of competing right-wing candidates. In the rest of Manukau City, RAM, Labour, City Vision and environmental candidates were competing for the grassroots vote. Across the board, RAM held the line against the swing to the right. That¹s clearly seen in the regional council election where RAM increased its average vote per candidate, even if only slightly. In the 2004 ARC election, the average vote per RAM candidate was 10,871, which in 2007 rose marginally to 10,899. (A similar comparison cannot be done for Auckland City Council elections which were not contested by RAM in 2004.) In 2007, RAM¹s 19 candidates in the regional council and Auckland City Council elections gathered a total of over 100,000 votes. The top RAM candidate gained 75% of the winner¹s vote, and no RAM candidate fell below 25%, so our results ranged from credible to close. Yet there was not a single "big name" on the RAM ticket, nor could we match the advertising spend of big budget tickets. 100,000 votes in Auckland council elections is easily the best result for a broad left ticket since the glory days of Jim Anderton¹s Alliance in the early 1990s. Before that, you would probably have to go back to the 1930s to see anything similar. Going by RAM¹s remarkably stable votes over the last two council elections, it would seem that in Greater Auckland a sizeable constituency supports our political challenge to corporate control of the region. That constituency was rallied in 2007 by RAM¹s 800 large "message" billboards across Western, Central and Southern suburbs which promoted free public transport, social inclusiveness and cutting home rates by making the corporates pay. All our 800 billboards were carried on people¹s fences. That meant knocking on many hundreds of doors to ask house occupiers for permission. Getting their okay meant in most cases an endorsement of RAM¹s platform, further evidence that we were in tune with a strong popular mood. Knocking on that number of doors and erecting that number of billboards was a huge job. It was only made possible by an influx of new activists into RAM. The diversity of RAM¹s activist base was reflected in the makeup of our candidates: a good gender balance, Pakeha, Maori, Pasifika and Asian, workers, professionals, small business and students, Christian, Muslim and non-believer, socialists, community activists and former adherents of the Labour, Green and National parties. Coming out of the 2007 council elections, RAM is seen as a serious player in Greater Auckland in terms of our activist base, name recognition and political brand. RAM is going nationwide Now RAM has decided to go nationwide and stand for parliament as well as councils. Under the law, becoming eligible to contest the list vote in general elections requires a party to sign up 500 paid members. So RAM has begun asking sympathisers around the country to become financial members ($1 fee for three years, donations encouraged). Since this process has been underway for just a few weeks as I write these lines, it¹s too soon to be sure how good the response will be to RAM¹s membership drive. All I can say this early is that clusters of people from Labour, Green, socialist, Maori, union, social justice, migrant and student backgrounds have signed up or promised to do so. What RAM activists are sure about is the need to take practical steps towards constructing a nationwide broad left party as a grassroots alternative to the Labour-National duopoly. The quality of life of most New Zealanders has worsened over the last quarter century. We now live in a high-skill, low-wage economy where many working families can never afford their own home. As the prophets of corporate profits swagger across the national stage, their market-driven greed poisons the community values of a past era. The undermining of our social environment is paralleled by the ruination of our natural environment, as climate warming outstrips the market-driven non-solution of emissions trading. It was a Labour government that, in 1984, began the biggest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in our country¹s history. This legal robbery continued unchecked after National was elected in 1990. While Helen Clark¹s current administration has softened some "more market" obscenities, the basic neo-liberal game plan remains intact. Regardless of whether the government is run by Labour or National, our country is increasingly a "democracy" of one dollar, one vote, rather than one person, one vote. We need to popularise an alternative vision if we are to build an alternative party to the ruling duopoly. "Every worker is a human being who deserves the right to dignity. For that right to be at the heart of our society, workers need economic justice and democratic control over our future." So says the opening section of the Workers Charter, which was crafted by well-known activist John Minto and myself and a few other leftists several years ago. RAM has officially embraced the humanistic, co-operative, ecological, egalitarian and democratic vision of the Workers Charter. It is a vision that can appeal to a wide spectrum of workers, students, homemakers, professionals and small business owners who are concerned at what is happening to our society and ecology. Many of these people will have voted for right-wing parties like National in the past, others will be disillusioned Labour supporters. RAM is aiming to unite them all in a people¹s movement for social justice and ecological sanity. The ten points of the Workers Charter, which have been endorsed by the Council of Trade Unions, promote: 1. The right to a job that pays a living wage and gives us time with our families and communities. 2. The right to pay equity for women, youth and casual workers. 3. The right to free public healthcare and education, and to liveable superannuation and welfare. 4. The right to decent housing without crippling mortgages and rents. 5. The right to public control of assets vital to community well-being. 6. The right to protect our environment from corporate greed. 7. The right to express our personal identity free from discrimination. 8. The right to strike in defence of our interests. 9. The right to organise for the transfer of wealth and power from the haves to the have-nots. 10. The right to unite with workers in other lands against corporate globalisation and war. While the Workers Charter gives RAM a reference point as we open a dialogue with others at the grassroots, it will not be treated as set in stone. RAM will keep an open mind to all possibilities of how we might combine with other groups sharing a similar vision. Creating a nationwide broad left party should be a common cause for all grassroots visionaries. The future can be ours if we unite for a new future! -----------------------------------------------------------------------------