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Saturday, February 4, 2012

China, Russia veto UNSC resolution against Assad

India along with the U.S. and 12 others, backs Arab League move

Russia and China on Saturday vetoed an Arab League-backed resolution at the United Nations Security Council that called on Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down, while India, along with the U.S. and 12 others, backed the move.

France, Britain and Pakistan also voted in favour of the resolution aimed at putting pressure on Syria to end its 11-month crackdown on anti-government protests that have killed more than 200 people in one of the bloodiest episodes of the uprising against the Assad regime.

This is the second time Russia and China have carried out their double veto after the first one on October 5 last.

Ahead of the vote, President Barack Obama blamed the Syrian government for the “unspeakable assault” on its civilians in the city of Homs, as he demanded that Mr. Assad step down.

“I offer my deepest sympathy to those who have lost loved ones,” Mr. Obama said in Washington. Mr. Assad had “no right to lead Syria, and has lost all legitimacy with his people and the international community.”

Human Rights Watch condemned the UNSC resolution, terming the Russian and Chinese decision irresponsible and praised India, which so far was seen siding with Moscow and Beijing on this issue, for voting in favour of the failed resolution.

“Vetoes by Russia and China are not only a slap in the face of the Arab League, they are also a betrayal of the Syrian people,” it added.

“In the end, by supporting this resolution, South Africa, India and Pakistan, rose to the occasion. They finally saw through Mr. Assad's lies and sided with the Syrian people,” the rights watchdog said.

HRW said the failure of this resolution should not provide illusory comfort to the Assad government as most countries around the world and in Syria's neighbourhood were repulsed by its “bloody repression campaign.”

“The Russian government is not only unapologetically arming a government that is killing its own people, but also providing it with diplomatic cover,” it alleged.


O'CAPITALISM-Meeting the 'new homeless' on Greece's freezing streets

In the heart of central Athens, a stone's throw from the city's glorious ancient sites, another face of today's Greece is on show.

Hundreds weave their way around the small, bare courtyard of the municipal soup kitchen, queuing patiently.

Visitors have gone up by a quarter in the past few months as homelessness here reaches new heights.

"This centre was founded years ago to face the problems that exist in every big city - people addicted to drugs, alcohol and so on," says Dimitra Nousi, the director of the project.

"But suddenly it became somewhere that has to face the poverty of the crisis.

"It's a completely different phenomenon - we're still shocked about it."

'A different poverty'

Homelessness has soared by an estimated 25% since 2009 as Greece spirals further into its worst post-war economic crisis.

The country is now in its fifth straight year of recession and the official unemployment rate is nudging 20%, exacerbated by the austerity measures being pushed through in return for more bail-out money.

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Greek former journalist Vicky Kolozi, who now goes to a soup kitchen in Athens

I have dreams and when you come here, the dreams go out of yourself”

Vicky Kolozi Former journalist

Greeks now speak of another section of society: the "new homeless".

"They don't have the 'traditional profile' of homeless people," says Ms Nousi.

"They are well dressed and well educated. Until last year they had a good flat or a nice car - and now they have nothing.

"So it's another kind of misery - another kind of poverty. We were not prepared for this poverty, but it exists."

One of the new regulars at the kitchen is Vicky Kolozi.

A former journalist with the state broadcaster ERT, she lost her job a year ago and now cannot afford to feed herself and her daughter.

"It is hard to feel that I have to depend on this now," she tells me.

"I have dreams and when you come here, the dreams go out of yourself. You must accept reality - and the reality is very difficult."

Nowhere to go

And that reality is particularly harsh at the moment as Greece shivers in freezing temperatures.

Snow has blanketed much of the north, where at least one homeless man died, and those out on the streets are finding it hard to cope.

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Spiros in his sleeping bag

Sleeping out here feels like I'm already in my grave”

Spiros Rough-sleeper

Spiros, 82, is left huddling beneath his blankets next to Monastiraki square in central Athens.

"It's an intense, ugly cold," he says, coughing violently. "But where else can I go?

"The shelters are full of drug-abusers and my leg is too bad to move. Sleeping out here feels like I'm already in my grave."

As temperatures have plummeted, various charities have swung into action with emergency night-time deliveries.

The Red Cross is one - despatching teams across the capital, armed with blankets and food supplies.

With the sense that a humanitarian crisis is now growing, as well as an economic one, charities are reinforcing their operations in Greece.

Another organisation, Doctors of the World, has recently recalled Greek staff posted elsewhere in the world to help back home.

The Red Cross team works steadily until the early hours, combing the streets of the city for those sleeping outside.

Many homeless people are clearly visible, propped up against banks and other symbols of affluence, but some lie buried behind subway tunnels and in parks.

As we work our way through a cobbled pedestrian street, the volunteers are stopped by a couple who hand over jackets they want to contribute.

It is yet another side of this economic crisis: the solidarity between ordinary people.

There is a sense of a nation pulling together in adversity - of the traditional Greek hospitality growing ever more urgent.

But winter is marching on here, and so is Greece's economic crisis. And it is a toxic mix for those left to suffer.


Moscow: Thousands join pro- and anti-Putin protests

Thousands of people are marching in Russia's capital Moscow in protest at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's grip on power.

It is the third rally since December's parliamentary election was marred by allegations of vote-rigging.

But supporters of Mr Putin, who will stand in next month's presidential election, are holding their own rally at a different location.

People at the rallies will be braving temperatures as low as -19C.

Both the organisers of the "For Honest Elections" march and Mr Putin are hoping the freezing temperatures do not affect the turn-out, but urged their respective supporters to wrap up warmly.

"The main thing is for people not to catch pneumonia... Three hours in the cold is a serious thing," said liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, an organiser of the opposition rally.


Moscow's Kaluzhskaya Square was filling up with protesters carrying white balloons - the colour adopted by the protest movement - for the start of the march.

The turnout is seen as a key indicator of whether the protest movement against Mr Putin still has momentum, observers say.

As many as 50,000 people turned out in Moscow for the first rally, following 4 December elections, which were won by Mr Putin's party.

Despite government denials of widespread vote-rigging, protests spread to other cities.

The organisers of Saturday's protest are demanding a re-run of December's election, and calling on people to vote against Mr Putin in March's presidential election.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says the organisers do not expect to be able to stop Mr Putin from winning March's election, but they hope they can pile the pressure on him to institute political reform.


Friday, February 3, 2012

The Challenges of the Time and the task before the Left---- Prakash Karat

This is a very wide subject and I shall try to take up some of the major issues which we should be concerned with at this present juncture and how the Left should respond to these major issues and challenges.

We are witnessing very major changes in the world today. Exactly two decades ago, when the Soviet Union disintegrated all over the world there was the triumphant call that capitalism has won and that socialism, or the goal of socialism is no more relevant. And this capitalist triumphalism also proclaimed that for humanity, the eternal future is capitalism. Today if you go to the United States or to the advanced capitalist countries in Europe you find that this triumphant mood of capitalism has completely evaporated.

Today the discussion is about the uncertain future of capitalism. I read in the ‘Financial Times’ of London, which is the biggest business paper, an article written by a banker that said, “We are experiencing a very Marxist crisis today.”

What is happening today, what we had been saying earlier as well, is that this finance capital driven globalisation is unsustainable. And the fact that for four years this crisis has gone on, from 2007, and the ruling classes in Europe and America are not being able to find a solution to this crisis – they are trying all sorts of methods. First they bailed out the big banks and corporates, billions of dollars were spent to bail out the very people who created this crisis by speculation, excessive spending, etc. Once the bankers and corporates got the money and started making profits again, they said, stop this bailout and now impose austerity on the people. And that is what is going on in Europe and America today.

What we are seeing is cuts in jobs, cuts in wages, cuts in social security benefits – all the gains made by the working class and the working people in the second half of the 20th century. What is known as the social welfare State, where unemployment benefits, free health care, pensions were given – all this is being taken away now.

And people are now coming out in the streets in protest, students are protesting. In Britain, tuition fees have been tripled in universities. No student can afford an education; they have to take big loans from the banks. And after getting a job, for the rest of their life they will be paying back the loan taken for their education. So that is why the students are protesting. In Greece every month there is a general strike by the workers, because Greece is the epicentre of this crisis, it is in deep debt.

Even in America, which is a country without a strong Left movement, or a strong working class movement, you’ll find movements like the Occupy Wall Street which gives the slogan, ‘we are the 99 percent, you the one percent’ are the ones responsible for this crisis whom the government has bailed out.

The future of this finance capital driven system where inequalities have grown is uncertain. In America the middle class has one asset, they have their own house. They borrow money, mortgage and have their own house. In the last four years, three million houses have been taken back because these people could not pay their loans

So this is the depth of the crisis and it will affect us also eventually, but we have in India not suffered the same extent in the crisis. Why is that?

Firstly, because of the Left in India had never allowed the Central government to open up our financial sector to speculative foreign capital. None of the banks in India collapsed in 2008 or 2009 because the bulk of it is still in the nationalised sector and we have prevented the foreign banks buying up our Indian banks. It is because the Left parties during the first term of the UPA government refused to allow it to amend the law which would have allowed foreign banks to buy up Indian banks, refused to allow increase in foreign direct investment in the insurance sector, refused to allow privatisation pension funds. All this is there in the Western countries and that is why banks collapsed, financial sector collapsed, pensions were wiped out, savings were wiped out – that crisis India has not faced. That is because the Left in India could prevent the UPA government, which wanted to do it. Dr. Manmohan Singh & Company even now wants to do it. They are still trying to open up our financial sector.

So what has happened in the world today, our ruling classes have not drawn any lesson from it. Dr. Manmohan Singh and Finance Minister Shri Pranab Mukherjee still say, yes we will increase FDI in banks, we will increase FDI in insurance. Unfortunately in Parliament many of these parties do not support us. If they support us, we can pass this.

So they are determined to carry on the neo-liberal agenda. This is the paradox. All over the world the neo-liberal policies are getting discredited. Even in America, the people are saying these policies have ruined us. They are not Marxists, these people. They are ordinary people, who have experience of neo-liberal capitalism. They are rejecting these policies, but our government and our ruling classes want to push through these policies.

If these policies continue in India, what will happen? That is the first major challenge we have.

In our country we have had economic growth for the last one-and-half to two decades after liberalisation. That economic growth has been of benefit to the big capitalists, the big corporates, the foreign multinationals and the urban and rural rich – only they have benefited.

So India can now boast of the highest rate of billionaires. Today there are 55 billionaires in India, and one billionaire means somebody having at least Rs. 5,000 crores of property. So you have 55 people in India owning one lakh crores or two lakh crores in property and assets. So we can claim that we have increased the number of billionaires in India; that is one product of liberalisation.

On the other hand, class exploitation of the working people has increased. I have the latest figures, which show that in the 1980s, before liberalisation, the total share of profits as part of the net value added was lower than the share of wages. The total share of wages, which was there in the value produced was more than the share of profits, share of profit was only 20 % of the net value. In 1990, the first decade of liberalisation for the first time the share of profits was more than the share of wages; it went up to 30 %. And now, from 2001 to 2008, the profits share has gone up to 60 percent. From 20% in 1980s, it has now reached 60%. The share of wages has come down accordingly.

This is the rate of exploitation and this is a challenge we are facing. Neo-liberal policies, have created new types of exploitations and new differentiations among the working people. When we talk about the working class, today everybody knows 86 % of the working people are in the unorganised sector – either contractual, casual or self-employed people. The Arjun Sengupta Commission’s report gave those statistics.

Now this section which isi not there in the organised sector, they are the most exploited by neo-liberal capitalism. Neo-liberal economics and capitalism creates a section of the working class which is outside the sphere of any protection, outside the sphere of any legislation or labour laws. They have no income security, no job security, no social security. Now this has become the bulk of your working class today and it is up to us to organise them.

This is the first challenge – under neo-liberal capitalism, to organise the working people, the bulk of whom are not in the organised sector, who are subject to the most ruthless exploitation. For them there is no question of protecting their social security benefits because they never had those benefits.

Organising them by trade unions, bringing them into the fold of the organisational movement – this is a big task before us. Because of the nature of this employment because it a scattered, because it is casual, because it is precarious – the jobs that they have – we have to find ways to organise them and bring them into the working class movement.

The earlier we do it, the more effectively we can fight these neo-liberal policies. We cannot do it with organising the workers in the organised sector alone. Of course we have to organise the working classes in the organised sector, but this large section of people who are today in various forms of contractual and casual work and who are not easily brought under the purview of the benefits are rights legally there for workers, how do we organise them? This is going to be the major issue for us in the coming days.

Here there are some positive developments. For the first time the central trade unions in our country, ranging from the INTUC to the BMS including the CITU, AITUC, Hind Mazdoor Sabha – all these trade unions have for the first time forged a joint platform. There was a general strike in September 2010, in which INTUC participated but BMS did not participate. Now we are going to have a strike in February 28 in which all trade unions have given the call jointly. One of the demands of that platform and that strike is exactly this demand to protect the rights of this contractual labour, to end this contractualisation of labour this process of casualisation of labour.

This is a movement not only in India, you go to any capitalist country in the world today, go to Japan, go to Germany, go to the United States – the working class is fighting against this major attack on its livelihood and their rights by this contractualisation and casualisation of labour. And this applies not only to industrial workers, it applies to all sections – service sector workers, etc.

This fight against neo-liberal policies and neo-liberal capitalism requires first of all this major urgent task of bringing into the organised movement all these sections of the working people.

The second major issue that I want to focus on is that in our country today still 50% of the workforce is in agriculture and agriculture related activities. And neo-liberal policies have caused havoc in agriculture. For the farmers, for the peasants the very basis for remunerative livelihood by producing crops – because of the high cost of inputs, because of the privatisation of all inputs, whether it is seeds, whether it is fertilisers whether it is electricity, whether it is water with the multinationals coming into these sectors and the price they get for their produce – it is becoming unviable for many small and medium farmers to continue with their agricultural pursuits.

We have seen large scale agrarian distress in the 90s, in the decade of liberalisation. The figures are there – from 1995 to 2010, according to the national crime bureau statistics 2,56,913 farmers have committed suicide in our country. It is most rampant in Andhra Pradesh, in Karnataka and in Maharashtra.

This distress is a feature we have experienced in most parts of India, but it was not experienced in West Bengal earlier. When the Left Front government was there we did not see the spectacle of farmers committing suicide because of agrarian distress, because of indebtedness or because of crop failure.

I’m told at least 21 farmers have committed suicides in the recent weeks in West Bengal. And that is also related to the policies of the State government. If you do not intervene to see that farmers get a minimum price through procurement, if you do not take steps to alleviate their indebtedness – this will happen.

I recall what happened in Kerala. Till 2006, there were a number of suicides in Kerala by farmers in one district called Wayanad. The Left Democratic Front came to power in May 2006 and took some measures. They passed a law in the Assembly whereby they set up a Commission for indebtedness. Farmers could apply to get relief from their debt, if they went to that Commission. Immediately the suicides stopped. By the end of 2006, there were no suicides in Wayanad and till 2011 there were no suicides.

Seven suicides have taken place in that district in the recent period after the Congress-led government has come to power.

Suicides are not natural disasters; they are man-made. Because of man-made policies, suicides happen and 2.5 lakhs farmers committing suicides is a telling commentary on the nature of Neo-liberal policies that were pursued in the last two decades in India. So we have this vast mass of people whose livelihood is threatened in India–those who are engaged in agricultural pursuits and the worst off are the agricultural workers, who do not get even minimum number of days work in agricultural operations.

So organising them and linking up this movement of the working class to build a powerful worker-peasant alliance is I think the most important task before the Left today.

The third area that I’d like to talk to you about is that why is it that our ruling classes – the UPA government or earlier the NDA government of the BJP – why are they pursuing these policies? When it is blatantly clear that if you pursue the policy of liberalisation, you can have high GDP growth, but that growth will only be beneficial to small strata of people, but will cause deprivation for the vast mass of the people, why are they pursuing these policies?

And there I would like to take up the third issue which is that the way capitalism is developing in our country. We have a very powerful stratum of Capitalists – the big Capitalists, the big Bourgeoisie. You have people like the Ambanis, who are some of the richest people in the world; their companies are some of the biggest companies in the world today. Now they have got completely interlinked with international capitalism and finance capital and their interests are more in tune with the interests of this international capital, not in tune with the interests of the people.

So you find that our ruling classes are more and more allying themselves with Imperialism, particularly United States – whether it is in our foreign policy, whether it is in our strategic alliances or our domestic policies.

I can give you an example. A few weeks ago, the government announced its decision on FDI in retail trade. I know that Dr. Manmohan Singh has been trying to get this policy implemented since around 2005. The first time I met him as the General Secretary of the Party, he told me, why are you opposing foreign companies coming in for retail trade? I said we can’t accept it. He said the Wal-Mart chief is coming and I’ve told him to go to Kolkata and meet Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee to persuade him.

And that man came here to Kolkata, the Chief of Wal-Mart, and met Comrade Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee at Writers Buildings.

After the meeting I telephoned Buddhadeb and asked him what happened. He said he came here and told me it will be very good if Wal-Mart comes, there will be more employment and he told him that so many people will lose their livelihoods – from small traders, to intermediaries to shopkeepers. So that we cannot accept.

So from 2005 to 2009, they could not bring this policy, because we were strongly opposed to it. Of course now I find that Ms. Mamata Banerjee has also become an opponent of FDI in retail, I don’t know where she was all these days, sleeping. Suddenly she has woken up. As long was we are supporting this government, there is no question of FDI in retail.

But they still want to bring it. Again they have said, once the Assembly elections are over, we will implement it. Everyone else is opposed to it; the people in this country are opposed to it, but why do they want to bring it? Because the United States of America has said that you have to do it.

This is an agenda they gave the UPA government in 2004, when they came to power. When Obama comes, Hillary Clinton comes they ask what have you done about retail. Bringing Wal-Mart to India is on the priority list of the American government because that is their biggest Multi-national company and they want it to enter India.

So, when we say we are opposed to American Imperialism’s influence in India or when we say we are opposed to the pro-US policies of India it is not abstract. It is because it directly affects the lives of the people in this country.

If Wal-Mart comes, lakhs of small shopkeepers and trades will lose their livelihoods. It has happened in other countries. FDI in agriculture, FDI in Higher education, FDI in Banking – all these we are opposing because it will have a disastrous effect on the lives of the people of this country. And that is why we say that this foreign policy which is a reflection of the internal domestic policies of tying up with the United States of America, that has to be fought – whether it is the Nuclear deal, whether it is FDI in retail, whether it is America pressurising us to give up our own interests.

We have to get oil from Iran. We purchase 12 percent of our oil from Iran. America says you cannot buy from Iran. They are pressurising us now. They’ve stopped the pipeline from Iran. We gave that up that. So this affects our own national interest.

The third area – in the coming days, the Left has to mobilise the people on a large scale against this pro-imperialist foreign policy, which also has a direct impact on the domestic policies and the livelihood of the people.

Another challenge that we face is the growing influence of identity politics. Identity politics means, politics based on the identity of caste, religion, ethnic community and so on – this sort of identity politics is being fostered and encouraged in our country. This is encouraged both by the ruling classes and imperialists.

We have seen after the fall of the Soviet Union, many countries were destabilised and Balkanised with the direct support of imperialism on the basis of identity politics. It started with Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia was a federation of six Republics – all of them were living in peace and harmony together. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, suddenly the Croats remembered they are Croats and the Serbians saw the Croats as their enemy and the Slovenians said we don’t want to be a part of this country. Everybody, based on their ethnic nationalism or their religious identity, eventually fought each other and it led to the disintegration and break up of Yugoslavia. It happened in many other parts of the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

And today that identity politics has become globalised. It is being promoted. People are told that this is the way you must organise and mobilise, based on your identity of caste, identity of religion, identity of community and new ethnic identities are being manufactured, which did not exist before.

So many people face some oppression in our society. There is a lot of social oppression. Some communities, some groups and some castes – they suffer from oppression. But in the name of fighting that oppression, they are told only you should organise on the basis of your identity – no one else should join with you. Only people of one identity should combine to fight for your rights, and in the process you must also demarcate from others. And that is happening in many places.

If you go to the North-East, you will find ethnic groups and ethnic nationalisms have arisen which are pitted against each other. There is bloodshed, there is fratricide. The most deprived, the poorest the most wretched people are organising to fight an equally poorer and wretched people, who are now considered an enemy because they belong to another tribal or ethnic identity.

And that politics just leads to fragmenting people. People who are facing common oppression or exploitation get divided on identity lines. That identity politics is being utilised all over our country today to disrupt broader democratic movements, to disrupt the class based solidarity movements which have been built up over the years.

In West Bengal too we find that such identity politics has been utilised in the recent period to try to divide people, to pit people against each another.

This identity politics gets its backing from fashionable ideologies. In the West, Post-modernism is the basis for identity politics. It tells a worker in America, you are from the working class, but you are black first, organise only as blacks. It tells a woman worker, you are a woman. You may be a worker, but you are a woman, organise as women. It tells a male white worker that you are different from all these people, your interests are not common to any of these people in the working class with you, organise separately.

This politics has grown in the advanced Capitalist countries. It is now being spread, through the usual imperialist and ideological apparatuses, into our countries. You have NGOs spreading this in various places, many of which are foreign funded.

When I used to go to UP 20 years ago there used to be what is generally called the Other Backward Classes (OBC) mobilisation. Today that does not exist. That OBC has been broken up another dozen sub-castes and a dozen political parties have sprung up, representing each caste or sub-caste.

This is the politics of identity which is dividing people and it is the way to fight the Left – to break up the class based movements, to divide the class solidarity of people who face a common exploitation and oppression. We have to fight this identity politics.

To start believing that identity politics is a movement of only oppressed sections, minority groups and oppressed people and therefore is a progressive phenomenon, will be to fall into the trap set by imperialism and the ruling classes. We have to patiently counter identity politics.

Identity politics can only be effectively countered when we take up those genuine issues of oppression that is faced by those sections – whether it is caste oppression, whether it is gender oppression, whether it is oppression of the tribal people, who face a social oppression which distinct from class exploitation. If the Left does not take up those issues and fight, you will not be able to rally these people and bring them out of the influence of identity politics. That task will have to be waged by us in the coming days.

Increasingly in the globalised capitalism and finance capitalism which is imposing its hegemony in the rest of the world, you will find that in order to capture markets, in order to dominate those markets they find identity politics is a very convenient instrument. Because people are divided on ethnic, caste and religious lines but the market is homogenous. They will all go and buy coco-cola from the market.

So we have to take up this challenge. The old political slogans and methods will not do to counter identity politics. Understand the basis of the oppression of these communities which attracts them to identity politics, take up that cause, champion that cause and try to isolate those who purvey identity politics.

These are some of the immediate challenges we face in India. We should also look at the way forward. How do we take up the struggle against Neo-liberal capitalism, which is creating havoc with the lives of ordinary people? How do we counter identity politics? How do we prevent the steady erosion of our national sovereignty and the increasing influence of imperialist capital and ideologies?

In the world today no more is there a talk about the death of Socialism and Marxism. In fact, what is in the dock today is the future of Capitalism.

The alternative to capitalism today still is and can only be socialism. Today in the world, all progressive forces, all Marxists, all Left forces are discussing this – what can be the socialism that we can strive for in the 21st century? Can it be the exactly the same type of socialism that existed or was practiced in the 20th century?

Different ideas are coming up. That itself is a positive sign. That today in the world people are discussing, what is the alternative to capitalism? But if socialism is that alternative, how do we build that socialist alternative?

We have to learn from the experience of the 20th century. Starting with the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union and the socialism that existed in the countries after that, there were tremendous achievements and historic gains made by the working people in the history of the 20th century, which cannot be erased.

It was also a new system, that was charting a new course travelling on unchartered waters. There were mistakes made, there were errors and sometimes wrong turnings were taken in this journey. We have to identify the errors and mistakes that were made and learn from them so that we do not repeat them. That is why I say that we have to talk about fashioning socialism in the 21st century.

In one part of the world today, Latin America, we have seen the success of the Left movement. Amidst the setback to socialism and Left forces worldwide after to the fall of the Soviet Union, the change has come, the turn has come in Latin America – where country after country the Left has advanced through various struggles of the people against liberalisation, privatisation and imperialist hegemony. They have won elections and in some countries not once, but repeatedly like Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Nicaragua.

Particularly, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador are countries where the government has implemented policies which are different from neo-liberal policies and shown that an alternative to neo-liberalism and imperialist hegemony is possible.

Unlike many other countries in the world, Venezuela has renationalised industries. The power industry had been privatised, now it has been renationalised. Telecom industry had been privatised, now it has been renationalised. All of the Oil and Gas resources – and Venezuela is the richest Oil and Gas country in Latin America – has now been brought under State control.

Same thing in Bolivia – they have brought oil and gas under State control. They have implemented land reforms. In West Bengal, we are proud to have distributed 11 lakh acres of surplus land to landless people. In Bolivia, in the last three years, they have distributed one crore acres of land – because there were huge landed estates with big landlords and companies, they have just taken it over. Here of course it was on a different scale as there were smaller land holdings.

They are moving in a different direction and that is why they are talking about a ‘21st century socialism’. This socialism is not the same type. They say, we will maintain a democratic system; we will contest elections and establish our hegemony through democratic politics.

In Venezuela, Hugo Chavez has won three presidential elections so far, the fourth one is now coming up and they have won 13 elections at different levels – in provinces, in Parliament, etc. Evo Morales in Bolivia has increased his vote in his second election, he has crossed 60 percent. He represents the majority indigenous Indian community there, so he says our socialism will be based on how to bring up this indigenous community – that socialism will be different from what it was in the Soviet Union.

How do we go towards socialism, learning from the experience of the 20th century? Yes, certain steps were taken in the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, where they thought socialism can come very quickly. Once we capture State power, we will pass certain resolutions, the party implements it and socialism will come.

It does not happen that way. There is a process. You have to develop the productive forces, you have to ensure the redistribution of income and wealth, you have to bring about basic changes in the State structure, it takes time. So that socialism will go through many phases and after the experience of 20th century socialism, we will make corrections.

Yes, there will be planned economy, there will be central planning, but market will not be eliminated. The market will be utilised, incorporated within the central planning. Because without the market we cannot get correct indicators in a modern economy of how much is to be produced, what is to be produced and how you can price that product.

Bringing in the market does not mean bringing in capitalism and development of capital in a big way. Within a planned economy, the market will have to play a role at various stages under socialism too. This is what is now being done in many of the socialist countries too, the most recent being Cuba, which has adopted it. Before that China and Vietnam had adopted it.

So, we will have to go through different phases of development of socialism, but I am confident that what is happening today in this world – the churning up that is taking place – out of this prolonged capitalist crisis, new contradictions will develop. The world cannot be the same again because America’s economic decline has set in – it is in a period of long term decline. China is going to emerge by 2025 as the world’s largest and most powerful economy, overtaking the United States of America.

There are going to be new contradictions. You can see that even today. When America, France, Britain and Japan are in crisis, you don’t find the same economic crisis in the major developing countries. China has no such crisis, India had very little of that crisis, Brazil, Indonesia and Turkey had very little of that crisis.

So within the capitalist world, the balance of forces is going to change. New capitalist economies will mean new contradictions. But that does not mean that the people of these countries will benefit. Even in these countries, India or Turkey or Brazil the working class exploitation has become more intense, there is unemployment, there is farmers’ distress – so the contradiction between the people of these developing countries and the imperialist countries, the big bourgeoisie along with the imperialist countries on one side and the people of these developing countries – these contradictions are going to increase and intensify in the coming days.

Our ruling classes are going to be with them, not with us in this fight. They are siding with imperialism. But the people of these countries and their contradictions with imperialism are going to intensify.

In this period the scope is increasing for developing the revolutionary movement, for utilising these contradictions to see that we are able to defend our national sovereignty, ensure that our country departs from this new-liberal path, adopts a new path. For that, how we rally all the forces in our country will show the way forward.

And the essential element of this new strategy and path will be how far we are successful in meeting these challenges that I told you about, how far we can successfully fight the neo-liberal capitalism and exploitation by mobilising and organising the working class, how we will fight against the increasing imperialist influence in our country and how we counter identity politics.

Since the Left has been the most consistent fighter against neo-liberal policies and this strategic alliance with the United States, it has invited the wrath of the ruling classes and imperialism.

And that is why we have seen in West Bengal, this attack has been very concentrated and severe against the CPI (M) and the Left. Because they feel that only by weakening the Left can their path to go ahead with these neo-liberal policies can be smoothened. Their alliance with the United States can go ahead, but the Left is the stumbling block.

It is our task to fight back these attacks, to counter these attacks by relying on the people and mobilising more and more forces to join us in the fight against neo-liberal capitalism and against the oppression and exploitation of the Indian people which is now so widespread.

I hope we will be able to meet these challenges in the coming days successfully.

(Full text of the speech given on the subject “Challenges of the time and the task before the Left” at a seminar on 17th January, 2012, organised by the CPI (M) North 24 Parganas District committee at Unnayan Bhavan Auditorium, Bidhannagar.)

Draft resolution on Syria watered down, but Russian veto still looms

Arab and Western diplomats in the United Nations drafted a new resolution on Syria that dropped demands for arms embargo and sanctions against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, but there were yet no guarantees that the veto-wielding Russia and China will not vote against it.

Moscow has been a strategic ally of Syria through its decades under Assad dynastic rule and a major arms supplier to Damascus, and so bristles at outsiders trying to dictate internal political change in Damascus.

Pakistan’s U.N. envoy said on Thursday the council was “two words away” from agreement and the council chairman from Togo said a consensus was near on an amended version of a draft backing an Arab League plan for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

But Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told a closed-door session of the world body that Moscow would veto the draft if it were submitted on Friday with a phrase saying the council “fully supports” the plan, several Western diplomats told Reuters.

European and Arab drafters of the text planned to revise the text in a last-ditch attempt to allay Russian concerns and submit an amended version of the resolution to the council later on Thursday, diplomats said.

Churkin told reporters that Thursday’s inconclusive negotiations were “something of a roller-coaster.”

“We have a text which we are going to report to our capitals,” he said. He declined to provide details but suggested how Russia might vote remained an open question. He said the fact that the draft could reach the council “does not pre-judge anything in any way.”

Russia has balked at any language that would open to door to “regime change” in Syria, its most important Middle Eastern ally over the almost half-century that Assad’s family has ruled it.

In Moscow, a top defense ministry official said Russia will not halt its arms exports to Syria despite the violence, as there are no UN sanctions restricting such deliveries. There is, however, an EU arms embargo.

“As of today there are no restrictions on the delivery of weapons and we must fulfil our obligations” said Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, quoted by Russian news agencies. “And this what we are doing.”

Assad has been locked in struggle with a revolt against his rule for the past 11 months, with at least 5,000 deaths by a United Nations count.

Russia and China joined forces in October to veto a Western-drafted U.N. resolution that would have condemned Assad’s government and threatened possible sanctions.

The latest resolution text includes changes made by Arab and European negotiators to meet some of Russia’s concerns. It no longer spells out details of what the Arab plan entails, such as Assad giving up power, although it still “fully supports” the plan.

But those changes were not enough for Moscow. Diplomats said the language in that paragraph would have to be revised in a way that satisfies Russia without diluting the basic idea of the resolution - to have the council endorse the Arab League plan.

Libyan precedent

Russia says the West exploited what it says was fuzzy wording in a March 2011 Security Council resolution on Libya to turn a mandate to protect civilians in the North African country’s uprising into a push to oust the government, backed by NATO air strikes, that led to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi.

Moscow has also demanded language explicitly ruling out the use of external force in Syria, though the current draft makes clear the council wants the crisis resolved peacefully and the resolution could not be used as the basis for military intervention as in Libya’s uprising last year.

The draft does not threaten Syria with sanctions, also rejected by Russia, but includes a vague reference to possible “further measures” in the event of Syrian non-compliance.

The Syria resolution came to the global body after the Arab League suspended its monitoring mission in Syria on Jan. 28 as violence surged. Jordan said on Thursday it was pulling its monitors from that mission, joining the departure of Gulf Arab observers, in response to the league’s move.

Hama Massacre

On the ground in Syria, opposition protesters plan to hold mass rallies across the country on Friday to mark 30 years since the Hama massacre.

Protests would be held in memory of the estimated 10,000 to 40,000 people who perished in February 1982 when president Hafez al-Assad, father of the current president, launched a fierce assault on the central city of Hama to crush an Islamist revolt.

Activists in Hama itself defiantly painted roads red to symbolise blood and staged a general strike, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The city’s famed waterwheels carried a message that read “Hafez is dead while Hama has not disappeared,” the Britain-based Observatory said.


Supreme Court scraps UPA's 'illegal' 2G sale

Declaring the allocation of 2G spectrum by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government “illegal” and an example of the arbitrary exercise of power, the Supreme Court on Thursday cancelled all 122 telecom licences allotted on or after January 10, 2008 to 11 companies during the tenure of the former telecom minister, A. Raja.

Click here for a .pdf of the Supreme Court order

Holding that spectrum was a natural resource, the court said natural resources “are vested with the government as a matter of trust in the name of the people of India, and it is the solemn duty of the state to protect the national interest, and natural resources must always be used in the interests of the country and not private interests.”

Allowing writ petitions filed by the Centre for Public Interest Litigation and others and Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy seeking the cancellation of the licences, a Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly said: “The licences granted to the private respondents — Etisalat DB Telecom (Swan Telecom); Unitech Wireless; Loop Telecom; Videocon Telecommunications; S-Tel Ltd; Allianz Infratech; Idea Cellular and Aditya Birla Telecom (Space Communications); Tata Teleservices; Sistema Shyam Tele Services (Shyam Telelink); Dishnet Wireless; [and] Vodafone Essar South — on or after January 10, 2008, pursuant to two press releases issued on January 10, 2008, and the subsequent allocation of spectrum to the licensees are declared illegal and are quashed.”

The licences cancelled include 21 of Videocon, 22 of Unitech Wireless Ltd. (Uninor), nine of Idea, 21 of Loop, six of S-Tel, 21 of Sistema, three of Tatas, 13 of Swan and two of Allianz.

The Bench did not order a CBI probe against P. Chidambaram, then Union Finance Minister (now Home Minister), as demanded by Dr. Swamy, taking note of the fact that he had already filed a private complaint in a special CBI court which had reserved orders.

It was Dr. Swamy's contention that Mr. Chidambaram had played a major role in fixing the prices for the spectrum licence, along with Mr. Raja, and in the dilution of shares by two telecom companies to foreign firms. The Bench asked the special court to decide the matter uninfluenced by the proceedings in the Supreme Court.

The court rejected the plea for setting up a special investigation team (SIT) to monitor the probe in the 2G case. Instead, it asked the CBI to submit its probe report to the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) for scrutiny. The CVC would then file its report to the Supreme Court. The Bench said the Supreme Court would continue monitoring the probe.

The Bench made it clear that the cancellation of the licences would become operative only after four months. “Within two months, the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) shall make fresh recommendations for [the] grant of licence and [the] allocation of spectrum in [the] 2G band in 22 service areas by auction, as was done for the allocation of spectrum in [the] 3G band. The Central government shall consider the recommendations of the TRAI and take an appropriate decision within the next one month, and fresh licences be granted by auction.

“While Etisalat; Unitech and Tatas who were benefited by a wholly arbitrary and unconstitutional action taken by the DoT [Department of Telecom] for grant of UAS licences and allocation of spectrum in [the] 2G band and who off-loaded their stakes for many thousand crores in the name of fresh infusion of equity or transfer of equity shall pay cost of Rs.5 crore each, respondent Nos. 4 [Loop Telecom], 6 [S-Tel], 7 [Allianz Infratech] and 10 [Shyam Telelink] shall pay cost of Rs.50 lakh each, because they too had been benefited by the wholly arbitrary and unconstitutional exercise undertaken by the DoT for the grant of UAS licences and allocation of spectrum in [the] 2G band.”

The Bench held that there was a fundamental flaw in the first-come, first-served principle, inasmuch as it “involves an element of pure chance or accident.”

It said: “In matters involving award of contracts or grant of licence or permission to use public property, the invocation of the first-come, first-served principle has inherently dangerous implications.”

The Hindu

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

From food security to food justice ----Ananya Mukherjee

A quarter of a million women in Kerala are showing us how to earn livelihoods with dignity.

If the malnourished in India formed a country, it would be the world's fifth largest — almost the size of Indonesia. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 237.7 million Indians are currently undernourished (up from 224.6 million in 2008). And it is far worse if we use the minimal calorie intake norms accepted officially in India. By those counts (2200 rural/2100 urban), the number of Indians who cannot afford the daily minimum could equal the entire population of Europe.

Yet, the Indian elite shrieks at the prospect of formalising a universal right to food. Notwithstanding the collective moral deficit this reveals, it also shows that the millions of Indians whose food rights are so flagrantly violated are completely voiceless in the policy space. India's problem is not only to secure food, but to secure food justice.

What can food justice practically mean? First, to prevent situations where grains rot while people die — a very basic principle of distributive justice. But it has to mean a lot more: people must have the right to produce food with dignity, have control over the parameters of production, get just value for their labour and their produce. Mainstream notions of food security ignore this dimension.

Food justice must entail both production and distribution. Its fundamental premise must be that governments have a non-negotiable obligation to address food insecurity. They must also address the structural factors that engender that insecurity. Most governments, however, appear neither willing nor able to deliver food justice. It needs therefore the devolution of power and resources to the local level, where millions of protagonists, with their knowledge of local needs and situations, can create a just food economy.

Collective struggle

This is not quite as utopian as it may sound. Something on these lines has been unfolding in Kerala — a collective struggle of close to a quarter million women who are farming nearly 10 million acres of land. The experiment, “Sangha Krishi,” or group farming, is part of Kerala's anti-poverty programme “Kudumbashree.” Initiated in 2007, it was seen as a means to enhance local food production. Kerala's women embraced this vision enthusiastically. As many as 44, 225 collectives of women farmers have sprung up across the State. These collectives lease fallow land, rejuvenate it, farm it and then either sell the produce or use it for consumption, depending on the needs of members. On an average, Kudumbashree farmers earn Rs.15,000-25,000 per year (sometimes higher, depending on the crops and the number of yields annually).

Kudumbashree is a network of 4 million women, mostly below the poverty line. It is not a mere ‘project' or a ‘programme' but a social space where marginalised women can collectively pursue their needs and aspirations. The primary unit of Kudumbashree is the neighbourhood group (NHG). Each NHG consists of 10-20 women; for an overwhelming majority, the NHG is their first ever space outside the home. NHGs are federated into an Area Development Society (ADS) and these are in turn federated into Community Development Societies (CDSs) at the panchayat level. Today, there are 213,000 NHGs all over Kerala. Kudumbashree office-bearers are elected, a crucial process for its members. “We are poor. We don't have money or connections to get elected — only our service,” is a common refrain. These elections bring women into politics. And they bring with them a different set of values that can change politics.

The NHG is very different from a self-help group (SHG) in that it is structurally linked to the State (through the institutions of local self-government). This ensures that local development reflects the needs and aspirations of communities, who are not reduced to mere “executors” of government programmes. What is sought is a synergy between democratisation and poverty reduction; with Kudumbashree, this occurs through the mobilisation of poor women's leadership and solidarity. “Sangha Krishi” or group farming is just one example of how this works. It is transforming the socio-political space that women inhabit — who in turn transform that space in vital ways.

This experiment is having three major consequences. First, there is a palpable shift in the role of women in Kerala's agriculture. This was earlier limited to daily wage work in plantations — at wages much lower than those earned by men. Thousands of Kudumbashree women — hitherto underpaid agricultural labourers — have abandoned wage work to become independent producers. Many others combine wage work with farming. With independent production comes control over one's time and labour, over crops and production methods and, most significantly, over the produce. Since the farmers are primarily poor women, they often decide to use a part of their produce to meet their own needs, rather than selling it. Every group takes this decision democratically, depending on levels of food insecurity of their members. In Idukki, where the terrain prevents easy market access and food insecurity is higher, farmers take more of their produce home — as opposed to Thiruvananthapuram where market access is better and returns are higher.

Sangha Krishi

Second, “Sangha Krishi” has enabled women to salvage their dignity and livelihoods amidst immense adversity. Take the story of Subaida in Malappuram. Once widowed and once deserted, with three young children, she found no means of survival other than cleaning dead bodies. Hardly adequate as a livelihood, it also brought her unbearable social ostracism. Now Subaida is a proud member of a farming collective and wants to enter politics. In the nine districts this writer visited, there was a visible, passionate commitment to social inclusion amongst Kudumbashree farmers.

Our survey of 100 collectives across 14 districts found that 15 per cent of the farmers were Dalits and Adivasis and 32 per cent came from the minority communities.

Third, “Sangha Krishi” is producing important consequences for the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme in Kerala. Because of Kerala's high wages for men, the MGNREGS in Kerala has become predominantly a space for women (93 per cent of the employment generated has gone to women where the national average is 50). From the beginning, synergies were sought between the MGNREGS, the People's Plan and Kudumbashree. Kudumbashree farmers strongly feel this has transformed MGNREGS work.

“We have created life … and food, which gives life, not just 100 days of manual labour,” said a Perambra farmer. In Perambra, Kudumbashree women, working with the panchayat, have rejuvenated 140 acres that lay fallow for 26 years. It now grows rice, vegetables and tapioca. Farmers also receive two special incentives — an ‘area incentive' for developing land and a ‘production incentive' for achieving certain levels of productivity. These amounted to over Rs.200 million in 2009-10. They were combined with subsidised loans from banks and the State, and seeds, input and equipment from Krishi Bhavan and the panchayats.


However, serious challenges remain. Kudumbashree farmers are predominantly landless women working on leased land; there is no certainty of tenure. Lack of ownership also restricts access to credit, since they cannot offer formal guarantees on the land they farm. Whenever possible, Kudumbashree collectives have started buying land to overcome this uncertainty. But an alternative institutional solution is clearly needed. It is also difficult for women to access resources and technical know-how — the relevant institutions (such as crop committees) are oriented towards male farmers. There is also no mechanism of risk insurance.

Is this a sustainable, replicable model of food security? It is certainly one worth serious analysis. First, this concerted effort to encourage agriculture is occurring when farmers elsewhere are forced to exit farming — in large numbers. It re-connects food security to livelihoods, as any serious food policy must. But more importantly, the value of Sangha Krishi lies in that it has become the manifestation of a deep-rooted consciousness about food justice amongst Kerala's women. Kannyama, the president of Idamalakudy, Kerala's first tribal panchayat, says she wants to make her community entirely self-sufficient in food. She wants Sangha Krishi produce to feed every school and anganwadi in her panchayat — to ensure that children get local, chemical-free food. Elsewhere, Kudumbashree farmers plan to protest the commercialisation of land. Even in the tough terrain of Idukki's Vathikudy panchayat, women were taking a census of fallow land in the area that they could cultivate. Some 100,000 women practise organic farming and more wish to. Kudumbashree farmers speak passionately about preventing ecological devastation through alternative farming methods.

In the world of Sangha Krishi, food is a reflection of social relations. And only new social relations of food, not political manoeuvres, can combat the twin violence of hunger and injustice.

(Ananya Mukherjee is Professor and Chair of Political Science at York University, Toronto. Her latest work is a co-edited volume in collaboration with UNRISD, Geneva (Business Regulation and Non-state actors: Whose Standards? Whose Development? Routledge Studies in Development Economics, 2012.))

The Hindu