Sunday, February 26, 2017

Ten proposals to beat the European Union and avoid a repetition of the Greek capitulation

A collective document from across the European left on how to challenge the EU’s stranglehold on economic and social justice.

By Eric Toussaint, Miguel Urbán Crespo, Teresa Rodríguez, Angela Klein, Stathis Kouvelakis, Costas Lapavitsas, Zoe Konstantopoulou, Marina Albiol, Olivier Besancenot, Rommy Arce

February 21, 2017


This collective text (full list of signatories here) initiated by Eric Toussaint of the CADTM campaign for the abolition of the debt of the global South, has been collectively discussed and co-signed by personalities and activists from more than 15 European countries representing a wide range of forces of the radical and anticapitalist Left: Podemos and Izquierda Unida in Spain, the Portuguese Left Bloc, the Left Party in Britain, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste and Ensemble in France, Popular Unity and Antarsya in Greece, the radical Danish left and activists from countries such as Cyprus, Slovenia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Hungary. It is signed by Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) from different parties and countries, by the head of finance of the City of Madrid, by the former president of the Greek Parliament, by a series of members of the Commission For the Truth on the Greek Debt. All the signatories are involved in the ongoing discussions about a “plan B” for Europe.

The aim of this text is to analyze the balance of power in the European Union and elaborate a series of radical but necessary proposals against austerity, neoliberal policies and for an alternative to the existing form of European integration.

The ten proposals put forward in this text are the outcome of an analysis of the situation in Europe since 2010. It takes into account the experience of the confrontation between Syriza and the Troika in the first half of 2015 and of the defeat that followed, but also the Spanish, Irish or Cypriot experiences. Recent events have clearly demonstrated the need for a left-wing government to have the courage to disobey the injunctions of European authorities and break decisively with the framework of the founding treaties of the EU. This must be accompanied by a popular mobilization triggered by the initiatives of the left-wing government and by a series of robust measures to be implemented immediately: organize a debt audit with citizen participation, put in place a control of capital flows, socialize the financial sector and the energy sector, reform radically the tax system. And of course, the inevitable debate on the euro area needs to be publicly conducted, with exit as an option that must be defended at least in some countries.

The cold analysis of the European policies of recent years invariably leads to this conclusion: only strong sovereign and unilateral self-defense measures will enable any progressive national government and the social forces who back it to break with austerity and neoliberalism and address the issue of the illegitimate debt.

Since May 2010, the question of national debt has become a central concern for Greece and for the rest of the eurozone. The first program of €110 billion, imposed by the troika — comprised of the European Central Bank (ECB), the European Commission, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) — for the purpose of elaborating and executing this program, provoked a brutal increase in Greek public debt. This was also the case in various forms in Ireland (2010), Portugal (2011), Cyprus (2013), and Spain.

This program had the following fundamental objectives:

  • Bail out the private banks with public funds so that they may avoid the damaging consequences of their own private credit bubble, averting a new major international financial crisis.
  • Give to the new public creditors, who replaced the private creditors, enormous coercive powers over the governments and institutions of the peripheral countries in order to impose policies of radical austerity, deregulation (eroding large numbers of labor and welfare benefits), privatizations, and stricter authoritarian controls (see the last point).
  • Preserve the eurozone perimeter (in other words, keep Greece and the other peripheral countries within the eurozone), which is a powerful instrument in the hands of the multinational corporations and the major economies of the zone.
  • Bring neoliberal policies to bear more heavily on Greece, in particular, but also on the other eurozone peripheral countries as an example for all the European populations.
  • Reinforce a Europe-wide (as much for the European Union generally as for each member state) authoritarian form of governance, without resorting to new experiments resembling fascist or Nazi regimes or that of Franco, Salazar, or the Greek colonels (1967-1974). This aspect is insufficiently taken into account because the accent is placed on the economic and social repercussions. The authoritarian tendency within the European Union and the eurozone is a key issue and goal of the European Commission and the big corporations. This touches on executive powers, expeditious voting procedures, limiting or violating many rights, disregarding electors’ choices and, among other things, increased repression of dissent.

There are lessons to be learned from the failure of the policies adopted by the government of Alexis Tsipras in 2015 to break the bonds of austerity. It is also necessary to realize the limits of the socialist minority government of Antonio Costa in Portugal.

Alternative policies in the people’s interest must at the same time address austerity, public debt, private banks, the eurozone, and oppose authoritarian tendencies. The experiences in the eurozone over the 2010-16 period clearly show that it is impossible to break with austerity unless responses to the above-mentioned problems at the least are put forward. Of course, the climate and ecological crises must also be addressed. So must we confront the humanitarian crisis caused by Europe’s fortified-borders policy, the Middle East crisis, and the rise of racism and the far right, responsible for the death of so many immigration and asylum seekers in the Mediterranean.

Since the election of Trump, and also since the appearance of the radical movements that gathered around the Bernie Sanders candidacy, now called into the front line of opposition against Trump and his program, the European radical left, trade unions, feminists, and ecologists must create links with the forces of resistance in the United States.

A large part of the radical left forces who have sitting members of parliament had and still have a mistaken idea of what EU integration and the eurozone are. To put it simply, they seem to see more advantages than disadvantages in the European Union. They consider that the European Union, as much as the eurozone, is compatible with a return of social-democratic policies, somewhat less injustice, and a Keynesian-style relaunching of the economy.

Considering the experiences of 2015, it is fundamental that those who have no illusions about the European Union or the eurozone, and are proposing authentic ecological and socialist perspectives in rupture with the European Union, as it exists, be reinforced. It is clear that neither the European Union nor the eurozone can be reformed. It was demonstrated that it is impossible, on the basis of the legitimacy of universal suffrage and democratic debate, to persuade the European Commission, the IMF, the ECB, and the conservative governments in power over most of Europe to agree to measures that are respectful of the rights of the Greek people, or of any other population.

The July 5 referendum, which the European institutions fought tooth and nail by means of blackmail and coercion (such as forcing the Greek banks to close for five days preceding the referendum), did not bring them to make any concessions. On the contrary, totally ignoring all democratic principles, their demands became considerably more oppressive.

Certainly, there are many measures that could and should be taken at the European level to stimulate the economy, reduce social injustice, make the debt sustainable, and invigorate democracy. In February 2015, Yanis Varoufakis, while serving as Greek minister of the economy, presented proposals in this sense, suggesting that Greek debt be exchanged for two new kinds of bonds — either growth indexed obligations or “perpetual” obligations — which would never be reimbursed but would be paid out, interest only, perpetually. These proposals, although moderate and perfectly achievable, had no chance at all of being accepted by the European authorities.

This is the case with many proposals aiming to ease Greece’s and numerous other countries’ debt (joint debt recognition, euro-denominated mutual bonds, etc.). Technically these proposals are all viable but, in the present political context and balance of power in the European Union, the will to put them into practice is lacking. A progressive government cannot hope to be heard, respected and, even less, assisted by the European Commission, the ECB, and the European Stability Mechanism.

The ECB can paralyze a eurozone country’s banking system by cutting off its banks’ access to liquidities. The ECB’s arbitrary power and the banking union reinforce the coercive powers the European institutions can use to counter any experience of progressive policy in Europe.

The treaties have become extremely restrictive on matters of debt and deficit. The European authorities, in control of policies, could easily decide to derogate to these regulations by taking into consideration the state of crisis (actually they do this for “friendly” governments), but they clearly had no intention of doing so.

On the contrary, all the negotiating parties fiercely fought the Greek government even though it gave proof of great moderation (to say the least). The mainstream media and numerous European leaders treated Alexis Tsipras and Yanis Varoufakis as rebels, or even as radical anti-Europeans. Between January and July 2015, the troika launched a fight against the Greek government, in order show to the peoples of Europe that there is no alternative to neoliberal capitalism.

The capitulation of the first Tsipras government was not enough to satisfy the IMF or the European leaders. Pressure continued to be laid on the second Tsipras government to apply ever more neoliberal policies, especially attacking public property, the welfare and retirement systems, and assisting big capital through the introduction of further judicial and legal frameworks favoring privatization and fundamental structural regression. All these new measures lead to increased injustice and precariousness.

If the creditors agree to a new restructuring of the debt, it will be under the condition that the same kind of policies be continued. In this case, a reduction of the debt will not at all be a victory or even a consolation. It will be no more than a measure to ensure continual reimbursements while seeking to dampen any social struggles that arise.

This is the first lesson: unless they take strong sovereign and unilateral measures of self-defense, the people and the governments they bring to office to break with austerity programs cannot put an end to the human rights violations perpetrated by the creditors and the big corporations.

Some would argue that should a leftist government come to power in Madrid, it could use the weight of the Spanish economy (the fourth in the eurozone in terms of GDP) to negotiate concessions that Tsipras was unable to obtain. But what would be those concessions? Relaunch production and employment through heavy public spending and deficits? The ECB and Berlin along with at least five or six other capitals would oppose such policies! Taking strong measures against the banks? The ECB, with the support of the European Commission, would reject such policies.

What is also certain is that if the radical left entered the government of a country like Cyprus, Ireland, Portugal, Slovenia, or one of the three Baltic states, they would not have the weight, facing an unyielding European Commission or ECB board, to convince these institutions to let them renounce austerity, stop privatizations, develop public services, and drastically reduce the debt. These countries will have to resist and take unilateral measures in the interest of their populations. Could several progressive governments of eurozone countries form a common front for renegotiations? It would certainly be very welcome if this could happen, but the possibility is remote, if only for reasons of electoral agenda.

Should Jean-Luc Mélenchon win the upcoming presidential election in France, and his coalition win the following general election, could a French left-wing government achieve a reform of the euro? Mélenchon and the staff of his campaign believe so. It is reasonable to have doubts about this possibility. Let’s suppose that Mélenchon does win and forms a government intending to introduce social policies and to reform the euro. What would be the options?

It is quite likely that a French government could afford to disobey the current treaties, but it could not achieve a far-reaching reform of the entire eurozone. To do this would take simultaneous progressive electoral victories in the major countries as well as in peripheral countries. That said, it is clear that a government of a defiant France, and its allies, taking measures in favor of the French population and the peoples of the world (for instance, by abolishing Greece’s and developing countries’ debts towards France) could have a positive effect throughout Europe.

Having said that, the way out of the crisis is not of a nationalist nature. As much as in the past it is necessary to adopt an internationalist strategy and aim for a European integration that brings together the peoples opposed to the present form of integration, totally dominated by the interests of big capital.

The weak links in the inter-European chain of domination are to be found in the peripheral countries. If Syriza had adopted a correct strategy in 2015 it could well have been a turning point. It didn’t happen.

Other weak links where the radical left may gain power in the not-so-distant future are Portugal and Spain, and perhaps Cyprus, Ireland, and Slovenia. A progressive move ahead would depend on the capacity of the radical left to learn the lessons of 2015 and thus make anticapitalist and democratic proposals that will trigger popular support. Without doubt, the force of popular mobilization will be a decisive factor. If the pressure for real uncompromising change does not invade the streets, the neighborhoods, and the workplaces, the future will be very dark.

* * *

To avoid what we saw in Greece in 2015, here are ten proposals for social mobilization and actions to be taken immediately and simultaneously by any government that is truly operating in the interests of the people.

1. A left-wing government must disobey the European Commission in a very transparent manner and in line with its prior commitments.

The party or coalition of parties (the example of Spain comes to mind) that claim to govern should from the outset refuse to conform to austerity measures, and pledge to refuse measures aiming solely at balancing the budget. They should announce: “We will not yield to the European treaties’ diktat of a balanced budget because we want to increase public expenditures to fight anti-social and austerity measures and embark on the ecological transition.”

Therefore, the first step is to begin disobeying in a clear and determined way. The Greek capitulation has shown us why we must shed the illusion that the EC and other European governments respect the popular mandate. This illusion can only lead to disaster. We must disobey.

2. Call for popular mobilization both at the national and the European level.

In 2015, such an initiative proved unsuccessful in Greece and elsewhere in Europe. It is obvious that the European social movements did not achieve great success in calling for demonstrations, which did take place but were not at the level required by the need for solidarity with the Greek people.

However, it is also true that Syriza’s strategy did not include calls for popular mobilization in Europe, or even in Greece. And when the Tsipras government did call for mobilization by means of the referendum of July 5, 2015, the will of the 61.5 percent of Greeks who refused to accept the creditors’ demands was not respected.

Let’s remember that starting in late February 2015 and up until the end of June 2015, Yanis Varoufakis and Alexis Tsipras made statements aimed at convincing public opinion that an agreement was in sight and that the situation was improving.

Imagine that instead, after each important negotiation, they had explained what was at stake through press releases, statements to the media, and declarations in public places — in front of the headquarters of the European institutions in Brussels and elsewhere. Imagine that they had revealed what was really going on. It would have led to gatherings of thousands or tens of thousands of people, and the social networks would have relayed this alternative discourse to hundreds of thousands or millions of citizens.

3. Launch a debt audit with citizens’ participation.

The situations in the twenty-eight EU countries, and of course within the eurozone, are diverse. In some European countries — as in Greece — it is a matter of utmost necessity and priority to suspend debt repayments, in order to make the satisfaction of social needs and basic human rights an absolute priority. It is also a key element of a self-defense strategy.

In Spain, in Portugal, in Cyprus, and in Ireland, such a move depends on the balance of power and the current economic picture. In other countries, it is possible to carry out the audit first and then decide on the suspension of repayments. The specific situation of each country must be weighed before implementing these measures.

4. Establish control of capital flows.

We must clarify what this means. It does not mean that people cannot transfer a few hundred euros abroad. Obviously international financial transactions would be allowed up to a certain amount. On the other hand, it is important to enforce strict control over capital flows beyond a certain threshold.

5. Socialize the financial sector and the energy sector.

Socializing the financial sector does not merely mean developing a public banking hub. It implies decreeing a public monopoly on the financial sector, i.e. the banks, building societies and insurance companies. That is, a socialization of the financial sector under citizen control; turning the financial sector into a public service. Of course, socializing the energy sector will also be a priority during the ecological transition. Ecological transition cannot take place without a public monopoly over the energy sector, both in terms of production and distribution.

6. Create a complementary, non-convertible currency and defend the right to leave the eurozone.

Whether it is a case of exiting the eurozone or remaining in it, it is necessary to create a non-convertible complementary currency. In other words, a currency that is used locally, for exchanges within the country — for example, for paying increased pensions, salary increases for civil servants, taxes, public services, etc. The use of a complementary currency enables partial relief from the dictatorship of the euro and the European Central Bank.

Of course, we cannot avoid the debate on the eurozone. In several countries, exiting the eurozone is an option that must be defended by political parties, trade unions, and other social movements. Several eurozone countries will not be able to truly break away from austerity and launch an ecosocialist transition without leaving the eurozone. A redistributive monetary reform, or the levying of a special progressive tax on incomes above €200,000, should be implemented in the case of an exit. That proposal would apply only to cash assets, and not to personal property (principal residence, etc.).

By applying a progressive exchange rate when moving from the euro to the new currency, the amount of cash in the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent would be reduced and wealth redistributed to households.

7. Implement radical tax reform.

Remove VAT on basic consumer goods and services, such as food, electricity, and water (up to a certain level of consumption per individual), as well as other basic utilities. On the other hand, increase VAT on luxury goods and services, etc. We also need to increase the taxes on corporate profits and incomes above a certain level — in other words, a progressive tax on income, wealth, and luxury residences. The reform of taxation must produce immediate effects: a very significant decrease in indirect and direct taxes for the majority of the population and a very significant increase for the wealthiest 10 percent and for major corporations. Also, strict new measures will be taken against fraud and tax evasion.

8. Deprivatize — “buy back” — privatized companies for a symbolic euro.

Paying no more than a symbolic euro to those who have benefited from privatizations would be an appropriate gesture and would strengthen and extend public services under citizen control.

9. Implement a broad emergency plan for creating socially useful jobs and for economic justice.

Reduce working hours with no reduction in wages. Repeal antisocial laws and adopt laws to remedy the situation of abusive mortgage debt; countries such as Spain, Ireland, Greece, etc. are the most concerned. This could well be fixed by adopting adequate legislation, to avoid court actions (since many households have to face legal action requested by banks).

For example, a parliament could pass a law to cancel mortgage debts below €150,000 and thus bring such cases to an end. A vast program of public expenditure would be implemented in order to stimulate employment and socially useful activity by encouraging circuits of local production and distribution.

10. Initiate a genuine constituent process.

This does not imply constitutional changes within the framework of the existing parliamentary institutions. It involves dissolving the parliament and electing a constituent assembly by direct vote.

These are ten basic proposals for discussion. But one thing is certain: the measures to be taken must go to the root of the problems, and must be applied simultaneously, since a coherent program is needed. Breaking away from austerity policies cannot be achieved if, from the very start, radical measures against big capital are not taken.

Those who want us to believe that it’s possible to achieve this objective without going down that road just create confusion and block any real progress. The architecture of Europe and the magnitude of the capitalist crisis leave no room for neo-Keynesian or productivist politics. Ecosocialism must be put at the heart of the debate, not left aside. Immediate and concrete proposals must emerge. We must carry out the anti-austerity struggle and embark on the path of an ecosocialist transition. It is an absolute and urgent necessity.

This text has also been published on Jacobin.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The new balance of terror in Syria – the situation after Aleppo

Interview with a Syrian socialist activist

The scorched-earth war of the Assad dictatorship, backed by allies Russia and Iran, against the Syrian Revolution has attained a critical victory with the conquest of the rebellion stronghold of Eastern Aleppo. Now the left must place a premium on understanding the lessons of what happened — and what it will mean for the region.

Joseph Daher is a Swiss-Syrian socialist activist and founder of the Syria Freedom Forever blog. He toured the U.S. and Canada February 9-17 to speak about his recent book Hezbollah: Political Economy of Lebanon’s Party of God. Ashley Smith interviewed Daher about conditions in Syria and the situation for the remnants of revolutionaries after Aleppo, as well as the role that Hezbollah, Lebanon’s Shia fundamentalist party, has played.

The interview is republished from, where the full text includes a discussion of Daher’s book on Hezbollah, omitted here.

* * *

AFTER THE conquest of Aleppo, Assad’s counterrevolution seems to have decisively set back the Syrian Revolution. What impact will this have on the remnants of genuine revolutionaries? Also, how have the Islamic fundamentalist forces that came to predominate in the opposition to Assad’s regime responded?

THE LOSS of Eastern Aleppo is, of course, a big blow for the various opposition forces, but especially for the democratic opposition forces. The regime and its allies targeted Eastern Aleppo because of its political and economic significance.

We must remember today that the Syrian Revolution began as a mass popular uprising against the dictatorship. Just like everywhere in the region of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), the people rose up for democracy and liberation. And in Syria, the people liberated whole sections of the country from Assad’s regime.

The revolution faced both Assad’s counterrevolution, backed by Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, as well as a counterrevolution waged by Islamic fundamentalist forces like al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, now renamed Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

Regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Turkey backed many of the fundamentalist forces, while the U.S. tried to manipulate and steer the rebellion into an orderly transition to preserve the regime without Assad, although they have progressively abandoned even this position.

Eastern Aleppo was the most significant of all the liberated cities that had begun to create a popular democratic alternative to the dictatorship. The regime has most feared progressive and democratic organizations and activists, even with all their imperfections.

All the global and regional powers also want to liquidate the Syrian revolution’s democratic aspirations in the name of the “war on terror.” Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. elections will most likely lead to some grand coalition to prosecute this aim.

Tragically, each defeat of the democratic resistance has strengthened and benefited the Islamic fundamentalist forces on the ground. The fall of Aleppo has produced the same results. But this time, it has also produced splits and conflicts between different Islamic fundamentalist forces in the countryside around Idlib and Aleppo.

On January 23, Fateh al-Sham, the former al-Qaeda affiliate, launched attacks on armed opposition groups, first on the [Free Syrian Army, or FSA] coalition of Jaysh al-Mujahideen and then other Islamic fundamentalist groups such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam and Suqur al-Sham.

Fateh al-Sham justified this new offensive as preemptive acts to “thwart conspiracies” against it by the armed opposition forces attending the negotiations held in Kazakhstan. In response, several armed opposition groups, including other Islamic fundamentalist movements, expelled Fateh al-Sham from areas around Aleppo and Idlib.

In a defensive move, Jaysh al-Mujahideen and six other armed opposition groups announced their merger with Ahrar Sham in northwestern Syria in order to fend off the assault by Fateh al-Sham. A few days later, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham responded by announcing the formation of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a coalition composed of Jabhet Fateh al-Sham, Nour al-Din al-Zinki and three other Islamic factions.

The establishment of the two rival coalitions was accompanied by a series of defections from Ahrar a-Sham to HTS, including Abu Jaber Hashem al-Shakh, the former general commander of Ahrar a-Sham. Since then, dozens of armed opposition battalions and their leaders have chosen a side, either merging with Ahrar a-Sham or HTS.

Since the mergers, infighting was nearly completely ended, continuing only through propaganda and official statements. The unaligned Free Syrian Army (FSA) brigades are pressured to join one of the two coalitions, at the risk of being repressed if they don’t.

The local populations, which have long opposed the fundamentalists, have expressed anger about these internal clashes, and many even staged protests calling for an end to them.

The future of the struggle for liberation against the regime by Arabs, Kurds and others for a better Syria is getting darker every day, and there are no grounds for optimism in the short term. Nevertheless, even in these dire circumstances, there remain some local and democratic popular struggles against both the regime and its reactionary Islamic fundamentalist opponents.

WHAT WILL be the likely outcome of the Russian-backed negotiations? What is the role of the various imperial and regional powers in imposing a settlement and could it hold?

FIRST OF all, it is important to say that these negotiations are really between different wings of the counterrevolution. On one side, you have Assad’s regime and its backers, Russia and Iran.

On the other, you have Turkey, along with armed opposition groups, both the FSA networks and Islamic fundamentalist groups. Mohammed Alloush, a representative of Jaysh al-Islam, a Salafist group supported by Saudi Arabia, is leading them.

Turkey has reached a rapprochement with Moscow and no longer demands the departure of Bashar al-Assad. Now it is solely focused on preventing any form of Kurdish autonomy in northern Syria.

The democratic and civilian components of the popular movement are completely sidelined in the negotiations, and with that, so are the initial objectives of the revolution for democracy, social justice and equality.

There have been no clear outcomes from the negotiations in Kazakhstan, despite a public relations coup for the three powers sponsoring the talks. They reaffirmed and reasserted their influence in Syria and on various actors in the country.

Assad, Russia and Iran have successfully recast their counterrevolution as a fight against “terrorism” in Syria. Turkey has now joined that chorus, as has the U.S. under Trump.

In a new development, Russia and Turkey are now engaged in joint military acts. At the end of December, Russian jets assisted Turkish military forces and its allies in attacking ISIS targets around the northern Syrian town of al-Bab. In mid January, the Russian and Turkish air forces conducted their first joint air operation to strike ISIS fighters in the suburbs of al-Bab.

Even the U.S. backed the Syria peace talks in Astana and hoped they would produce a settlement. There is now, and has been for a while, a near consensus between all international and regional powers around some key points: to liquidate the remnants of the revolutionary popular movement; stabilize the regime in Damascus and retain Bashar al-Assad at least for the short to medium term; oppose Kurdish autonomy; and wage joint war to defeat ISIS and Fateh al-Sham.

I don’t think any real change on the ground can occur without the departure of Assad and his clique. Without, there is unlikely to be an end of the war, let alone any kind of transition towards a democratic system.

As a result, the war will likely continue in some form, with a catastrophic impact on Syrian civilians. Assad’s regime and its allies will continue to crush everything opposing them.

WHAT’S YOUR explanation for why so many left and antiwar organizations have betrayed the Syrian Revolution?

SOME SECTIONS of the left and antiwar organizations have analyzed the Syrian revolutionary process only in geopolitical terms. They looked at it from above, as a contest between various states, and ignored the revolution from below entirely.

Of course, imperial and regional powers did intervene in the revolution for their own purposes. On one side, the Western states, Gulf monarchies and Turkey attempted to manipulate and use the uprising.

On the other, Iran, Russia and Hezbollah backed Assad to the hilt. Much of the left wrongly considered the latter an “anti-imperialist” bloc. This analysis led some to deny or ignore the revolutionary dynamic.

The truth, however, is that the Syrian Revolution was not a cat’s paw of other powers. It began as a genuine mass movement from below for the overthrow of the regime and for freedom and dignity, just like all the revolts in the Middle East and North Africa.

Sections of the left that discount the revolution and only see it as a contest between imperialism and so-called anti-imperialism ignore the fact that the major powers allegedly opposed to Assad have also collaborated with him. For example, Assad and the U.S. collaborated during the so-called “war on terror.” Turkey and Qatar enjoyed very close relations with Syria’s regime before the uprising. And Saudi Arabia was the main foreign investor in the country before 2011.

And after the revolution started, the U.S. was not committed to regime change, but an orderly transition to preserve the regime minus Assad. But the U.S. even abandoned this stance, striking de facto collaboration with Assad against ISIS.

Both sides of the imperial and regional rivalry share one commitment in common — the defeat of the popular revolution in Syria and throughout the region. The last thing any of them want is radical democracy anywhere in the Middle East.

So many sections of the left dismissed the Syrian Revolution. That only intensified after the expansion of ISIS and its terrorist attacks in Europe and Turkey. Since then, the right and this section of the “left” agree on the need to preserve Assad’s regime and the other dictatorships in the region in order to defeat ISIS.

Ironically, this puts both the right and this section of the “left” in agreement with the Trump administration and American imperialism. So much for the so-called anti-imperialist left’s anti-imperialism!

The various imperialist and regional powers’ adoption of this so-called realist policy toward Assad in the hopes of getting rid of ISIS will fail. We have to remember that Assad and the other powers fueled the development of ISIS and similar sister organizations.

They emerged as the result of authoritarian regimes crushing popular movements linked to the 2011 uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa. The interventions of regional and international states have contributed to ISIS’s development as well.

Finally, neoliberal policies that have impoverished the popular classes, together with the repression of democratic social and trade union forces, have been key in providing ISIS and Islamic fundamentalist forces the space to grow.

The left must understand that only by getting rid of these conditions can we resolve the crisis. That means we have to side with the democratic and progressive groups on the ground fighting to overthrow authoritarian regimes, defeat the counterrevolutionary Islamic fundamentalists, and replace neoliberalism with a more egalitarian social order in Syria and the region.

But there is a deeper problem on much of the left that predates the Syrian uprising. Too many who call themselves socialists looked to states like Stalin’s Russia in the past or other similar regimes today as either representatives of a better society, or at least as opponents of American imperialism.

That led them to turn a blind eye to those societies’ structures of exploitation and oppression. And in the cases of China and Russia today, it leads them to deny the reality of those societies’ capitalist and imperialist policies.

I think what is at stake on the left is how we understand socialism, anti-imperialism and solidarity. As leftists, I believe our support must go to the revolutionary people struggling for freedom and emancipation from below, and not authoritarian and capitalist states, or any regional and international imperialists.

Only through their own collective action can workers and oppressed people achieve their goals. This concept, which is at the heart of revolutionary politics, tragically faces profound skepticism on some sections of the left. This is the real problem, and it must be overcome by a new generation of socialists.

WHAT SHOULD Syrian radicals do now to prepare for the next round of struggle in the coming years?

FIRST, SYRIAN radicals should call for an end to the war, which has created terrible suffering. It has led to massive displacement of people within the country and driven millions out of it as refugees. The war only benefits the counterrevolutionary forces on all sides.

From both a political and humanitarian perspective, the end of the war in Syria is an absolute necessity. It is the only way to give space for the democratic and progressive forces to reorganize and return to playing a leading role in the struggle for a new and democratic Syria.

Likewise, we must reject all the attempts to legitimize Assad’s regime, and we must oppose all agreements that enable it to play any role in the country’s future. A blank cheque given to Assad today will encourage future attempts by other authoritarian states to crush their populations if they came to revolt.

Assad and his various partners in the regime must be held accountable for their crimes. The same goes for the Islamic fundamentalist forces and other armed groups.

We need to gather and unite the democratic and progressive actors and movements against both sides of the counterrevolution — the regime and its Islamic fundamentalist opponents. We have to build an independent front based on opposition to all forms of discrimination.

We have to rekindle the popular movement for radical change of society from below. We have to rebuild coalitions like “al-Watan,” established in February 2012 by 14 progressive and democratic organizations.

It was involved in the popular movement to overthrow the regime and replace it with a democratic state. The regime repressed it and it has since disappeared. But it is a precedent on which we can rebuild the mass movement in the coming years.

Further reading:

Socialists and wars in the 21st century – The case of Syria

The defeat of Aleppo – Some harsh lessons for the international left

Also, Links, International Journal of Socialist Renewal, has compiled a dossier of articles on the conflict in Syria, presenting various viewpoints. Well worth consulting:

For detailed analysis of the Syrian revolutionary democratic uprising, see the blog by Michael Karadjis.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Wave of protests throughout United States challenges Trump agenda

women's march Washington January 2017


I recently returned from a month-long cycling trip through South-East Asia, from Hanoi to Bangkok, followed by a couple of weeks visiting comrades in Australia, hence the silence of this blog since year-end 2016. During this period some important developments have occurred in global politics.

During the following days, I will reproduce on this site a number of articles published during the last month that follow up on issues some of which I have previously addressed here and that in my opinion are especially worthy of reproduction.

I start with an article by US socialist Barry Sheppard on the massive Women’s March in protest against the agenda threatened by the newly-inaugurated President Donald Trump. The Washington march was accompanied by parallel marches in many countries, many drawing large numbers of participants. Sheppard’s analysis of the significance of these demonstrations is borne out by the “Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles” of the march organizers, appended to his article.

The wave of opposition in the streets to the Trump agenda, touched off by the women’s marches, has continued since then throughout the United States — posing the possibility that the rightward shift in US official politics may prompt the formation in response of progressive coalitions and more informal alliances among newly radicalized social forces that build in part on the massive popular support for a “socialist” alternative registered in Bernie Sanders’ campaign in the 2016 primaries.

– Richard Fidler


Huge Women’s March Against Trump Attacks

By Barry Sheppard

The first thing to note about the massive women’s march on the day after the inaugural of Trump was that while it centered on fighting against his agenda to roll back women’s rights and dignity, it also expressly included fightback against his anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Native American, anti-Arab, anti-immigrant, anti-Latino, anti-climate change, anti-LGBT, anti-health care etc. policies he championed throughout his election campaign. (See accompanying Defining Vision and Definition of Principles of the March.)

The second thing to note was its size. While initially projected as a March on Washington, solidarity demonstrations were held in 600-700 cities and towns across the country. In Washington the police estimated over 500,000 took part. From a list compiled by experts that included only a fraction of those places, and which had estimated figures (low and high), and looking only at places that had 1,000 demonstrators or more using the low estimates, I counted over four million and one hundred thousand participants.

This demonstration was the largest in U.S. history.

The majority of marchers were women, with a significant minority of male supporters. Many interviewed by news media indicated that this was their first protest, ever.

Marchers were angry and determined to oppose Trump’s agenda on many different issues. Some utilized satire. Many women came with homemade knitted hats that featured cats’ ears. Household cats are called “pussycats”, and this was a reference to Trump’s infamous remarks that his exalted status entitled him to grab any women by the genitals. Posters and speakers alluded to the same reference. Some speakers identified themselves as “nasty women,” a reference to Trump’s misogynistic attack on Hillary Clinton as a “nasty woman.”

Speakers hammered away on particular issues, from healthcare to trans rights. All noted the huge size of the demonstrations and how they and everyone present felt greatly empowered by seeing so many others who felt as they do. Different speakers addressed through their own personal experience the issues raised in the “Defining Vision.”

Another major theme was that the energy of the action should continue in the days ahead, through local organizing, discussion and reaching out to new people.

The march was projected by a few women on social media the day after the election, and kept snowballing. Young women of color were in the lead. This recalls the leadership role of young women in the Black Lives Matter demonstrations. The leadership was broadened out to include women leaders of all races and from many organizations, who issued the Guiding Vision for the march.

The New York Times earlier interviewed some white women who pulled out of the march because the “Vision” included “race.” Nevertheless, large numbers of white women joined.

White women predominated in the Washington march and the other cities, although women of all races participated. While this fact demonstrates the need to reach out better to women of color, there is another important side.

These white women marched together with Black, Brown and Yellow women. They cheered the many women of color on the stage. They cheered the Muslim women in hijabs who spoke and chaired, the Black trans woman who spoke, as well as the speakers from the other categories of women the “Vision” listed. These white women came out and demonstrated against Trump, whatever they thought about all the demands.

There is no question that all of these white women, including those for whom this was their first protest, were exposed to a great educational experience, and they learned a lot from whom they were marching with, and from the explanations from the stage. The same is true of many of the Black and other colored women present.

All the women on the demonstrations also learned that the best way to fight for whatever particular issues they were most concerned about is to unite with all women under attack by the Trump authoritarian administration. Trump was the great unifier of this historic action.

The “Guiding Vision and Defining Principles” moved well beyond narrow “identity” politics to an understanding that all forms of oppression in this society are related. To fight one aspect means to fight on all these fronts. This statement complements the platform issued by Black Lives Matter some months ago.

Marxists have an important role to play in this discussion. We can explain how all these forms of oppression have their roots in the history and functioning of U.S. capitalism, and their relation to the fundamental division in capitalist society between the ruling capitalist class and the exploited working class. Our vision of a working class revolution to overturn capitalism is not a narrow one of simply ending the exploitation of the working class, but ending all forms of oppression, injustice, humiliation, violence and war — to be a champion of all and every fight against all the wrongs of this capitalist society.

Given the very low level of working class struggle in the U.S. at present, this can appear as very abstract. But it charts a road forward, as we participate as the best fighters we can be in the immediate struggles ahead.

This leads to a final point, unfortunately a negative one. While some unions, especially teachers, endorsed the Women’s March, the majority of unions did not, and that includes the AFL-CIO, the major union federation.

Marxists have a role to play in our unions, too, to fight against this self-defeating trend and bring into all these struggles the power of organized workers — a big job. But a necessary one. If the present unions do not reach out to support all the oppressed, they will continue to shrivel and be less and less a factor in U.S. politics — let alone win support for their own struggles against the bosses and the bosses’ government, now personified by Donald Trump.

January 25, 2017


Women’s March Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles

  • We believe that Women’s Rights are Human Rights and Human Rights are Women’s Rights. This is the basic and original tenet from which all our values stem.
  • We believe Gender Justice is Racial Justice is Economic Justice. We must create a society in which women — in particular Black women, Native women, poor women, immigrant women, Muslim women, and queer and trans women — are free and able to care for and nurture their families, however they are formed, in safe and healthy environments free from structural impediments.
  • Women deserve to live full and healthy lives, free of violence against our bodies. One in three women have been victims of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner within their lifetime; and one in five women have been raped. Further, each year, thousands of women and girls, particularly Black, indigenous and transgender women and girls, are kidnapped, trafficked, or murdered. We honor the lives of those women who were taken before their time and we affirm that we work for a day when all forms of violence against women are eliminated.
  • We believe in accountability and justice for police brutality and ending racial profiling and targeting of communities of color. Women of color are killed in police custody at greater rates than white women, and are more likely to be sexually assaulted by police. We also call for an immediate end to arming police with the military grade weapons and military tactics that are wreaking havoc on communities of color. No woman or mother should have to fear that her loved ones will be harmed at the hands of those sworn to protect.
  • We believe it is our moral imperative to dismantle the gender and racial inequities within the criminal justice system. The rate of imprisonment has grown faster for women than men, increasing by 700% since 1980, and the majority of women in prison have a child under the age of 18. Incarcerated women also face a high rate of violence and sexual assault. We are committed to ensuring access to gender-responsive programming and dedicated healthcare including substance abuse treatment, mental and maternal health services for women in prison. We believe in the promise of restorative justice and alternatives to incarceration. We are also committed to disrupting the school-to-prison pipeline that prioritizes incarceration over education by systematically funneling our children — particularly children of color, queer and trans youth, foster care children, and girls — into the justice system.
  • We believe in Reproductive Freedom. We do not accept any federal, state or local rollbacks, cuts or restrictions on our ability to access quality reproductive healthcare services, birth control, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, or medically accurate sexuality education. This means open access to safe, legal, affordable abortion and birth control for all people, regardless of income, location or education. We understand that we can only have reproductive justice when reproductive health care is accessible to all people regardless of income, location or education.
  • We believe in Gender Justice. We must have the power to control our bodies and be free from gender norms, expectations and stereotypes. We must free ourselves and our society from the institution of awarding power, agency and resources disproportionately to masculinity to the exclusion of others.
  • We firmly declare that LGBTQIA Rights are Human Rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans or gender non-conforming brothers, sisters and siblings. This includes access to non-judgmental, comprehensive healthcare with no exceptions or limitations; access to name and gender changes on identity documents; full anti- discrimination protections; access to education, employment, housing and benefits; and an end to police and state violence.
  • We believe in an economy powered by transparency, accountability, security and equity. We believe that creating workforce opportunities that reduce discrimination against women and mothers allow economies to thrive. Nations and industries that support and invest in caregiving and basic workplace protections — including benefits like paid family leave, access to affordable childcare, sick days, healthcare, fair pay, vacation time, and healthy work environments — have shown growth and increased capacity.
  • We believe in equal pay for equal work and the right of all women to be paid equitably. We must end the pay and hiring discrimination that women, particularly mothers, women of color, lesbian, queer and trans women still face each day in our nation. Many mothers have always worked and are in our modern labor force; and women are now 50% of all family breadwinners. We stand for the 82% of women who become moms, particularly moms of color, being paid, judged, and treated fairly. Equal pay for equal work will lift families out of poverty and boost our nation’s economy.
  • We recognize that women of color carry the heaviest burden in the global and domestic economic landscape, particularly in the care economy. We further affirm that all care work — caring for the elderly, caring for the chronically ill, caring for children and supporting independence for people with disabilities — is work, and that the burden of care falls disproportionately on the shoulders of women, particularly women of color. We stand for the rights, dignity, and fair treatment of all unpaid and paid caregivers. We must repair and replace the systemic disparities that permeate caregiving at every level of society.
  • We believe that all workers — including domestic and farm workers — must have the right to organize and fight for a living minimum wage, and that unions and other labor associations are critical to a healthy and thriving economy for all. Undocumented and migrant workers must be included in our labor protections, and we stand in solidarity with sex workers’ rights movements.
  • We believe Civil Rights are our birthright. Our Constitutional government establishes a framework to provide and expand rights and freedom — not restrict them. To this end, we must protect and restore all the Constitutionally-mandated rights to all our citizens, including voting rights, freedom to worship without fear of intimidation or harassment, freedom of speech, and protections for all citizens regardless of race, gender, age or disability.
  • We believe it is time for an all-inclusive Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Most Americans believe the Constitution guarantees equal rights, but it does not. The 14th Amendment has been undermined by courts and cannot produce real equity on the basis of race and/or sex. And in a true democracy, each citizen’s vote should count equally. All Americans deserve equality guarantees in the Constitution that cannot be taken away or disregarded, recognizing the reality that inequalities intersect, interconnect and overlap.
  • Rooted in the promise of America’s call for huddled masses yearning to breathe free, we believe in immigrant and refugee rights regardless of status or country of origin. It is our moral duty to keep families together and empower all aspiring Americans to fully participate in, and contribute to, our economy and society. We reject mass deportation, family detention, violations of due process and violence against queer and trans migrants. Immigration reform must establish a roadmap to citizenship, and provide equal opportunities and workplace protections for all. We recognize that the call to action to love our neighbor is not limited to the United States, because there is a global migration crisis. We believe migration is a human right and that no human being is illegal.
  • We believe that every person and every community in our nation has the right to clean water, clean air, and access to and enjoyment of public lands. We believe that our environment and our climate must be protected, and that our land and natural resources cannot be exploited for corporate gain or greed — especially at the risk of public safety and health.