Friday, July 22, 2005

Paul Rogers on Iraq: it's getting worse

Paul Rogers continues his regular reports from Iraq in Iraq in the mirror of Fallujah on openDemocracy (July 21st 2005)

"How is the Iraq war related to the wider “war on terror”? The question is of acute political saliency to George W Bush and Tony Blair, though the pressures of domestic politics are currently pulling their answers in opposite directions.

The British prime minister and his government clearly see the London bombings as part of the broader struggle, but cannot admit any connection with the Iraq insurgency. The United States president and his administration, by contrast, is obliged by ideology and the sharp decline in domestic support for the Iraq war to see Iraq as integral to the “war on terror” begun on 11 September 2001.

The problem for both leaders is that events in Iraq itself are answering the question, and in ways that put the respective rhetoric of the two leaders under close scrutiny.

The core issue facing the United States and its dwindling band of coalition partners in Iraq is whether the insurgency there is being or can be brought under control. Many areas in the south and east of the country remain relatively untouched by violence, while the Kurdish northeast operates as a quasi-independent political entity. But in the Sunni-majority areas north and west of Baghdad – including cities like Mosul and Kirkuk where Kurdish-Arab tensions are high – the security problems appear endemic. The past month has seen a high level of attacks in the area often referred to as the “Sunni triangle”, with insurgents acting with increased impunity. Yet the pattern of events even over a short period is less important than the longer-term trends. In this respect three distinct sources of evidence or reporting indicate a marked deterioration in security in Iraq.

The first indicator is this week's dossier on the war's civilian casualties from IraqBodyCount and the Oxford Research Group. Their remarkably careful methodology, based on multiple sources, catalogues 24,865 civilian deaths and 42,500 civilian injuries in the first two years of the war.
The twenty-six page report's conclusion on the levels of civilian casualties since the end of the so-called "invasion phase" in April 2003 is revealing: 6,215 Iraqi civilians died in the first year after that "mission accomplished" event; 11,351 died in the second year.

The second indicator is a report from the BBC's experienced world affairs editor, John Simpson ("Iraq's Descent into Bombing Quagmire", BBC, 18 July 2005). He lists twenty-two car bombs in Baghdad alone last week; ten exploded in a single day, 15 July. Another car bomb that day in the nearby town of Musayyib killed almost 100 Shi’a Muslims.
Simpson comments that while similar peaks in the insurgency occurred in the summers of 2003 and 2004, 2005’s is higher: "the shadowy resistance movements seem to be operating on a new and much more ambitious level." This is Simpson’s eleventh visit to Iraq since May 2003 and his depressing conclusion is that "each time the security situation has been markedly worse than the time before."

Fallujah’s failed lockdown
The third indicator is recent developments in Fallujah, the “city of mosques” west of Baghdad that has endured two large-scale assaults by United States forces (in April and November 2004) in an attempt to subdue insurgency there.

The November operation – against a city seen as the heart of the insurgency, and designed to inflict irreparable damage on it – was the largest undertaken by the US in Iraq since April 2003.
A substantial assault by the US marine corps backed by heavy air power did take control of Fallujah. It was a costly “victory”. Many Iraqis were killed (the IraqBodyCount report estimates 1,874 over the two-year period); most of the 137 US troops killed and 1,400 injured across Iraq in November died in Fallujah. By the assault’s end, half the houses in the city had been destroyed and another quarter were damaged; almost every mosque, school or public building had been destroyed or damaged; the great majority of the 300,000 inhabitants had been forced to become refugees.

The Fallujah operation had very little effect on the Iraqi insurgency – within days there was an upsurge in violence elsewhere in the country, particularly Mosul (see an earlier column in this series, “No direction home”, 25 November 2004). But what is really significant is what has happened in Fallujah since November.

Fallujah should be the most secure city in Iraq. The United States has assigned a force of 4,300 marines to the Fallujah area; they are supplemented by 800 Iraqi paramilitary troops, 2,800 Iraqi army soldiers, and the regular Iraqi police. There is a nightly curfew, and six carefully controlled entry and exit routes to and from the city, where citizens must show identity papers and undergo a search.

In these circumstances, it is extraordinary that the insurgents are staging a comeback (Edward Wong, "8 Months after US-Led Siege, Insurgents Rise Again in Fallujah", New York Times, 15 July 2005. Car bombs are actually being assembled within the city; of the four detonated in the area in recent weeks, one killed six US troops, and another narrowly missed assassinating the Iraqi paramilitary force commander, Mehdi Sabeeh Hashim. Of the five police forts built in Fallujah, two have already been firebombed.

The violence has also impacted at the local political level. Three of the twenty-one members of the new city council have resigned, and a fourth has stopped attending meetings after a car-bomb attack on his house. Even permanent "lockdown" – with one police officer, Iraqi soldier or US marine for every twelve inhabitants – cannot, it seems, contain the Fallujah insurgency.
The combination of the Fallujah experience and the longer-term evidence from IraqBodyCount and the BBC is sobering. The Iraqi insurgency is not under control, nearly two and a half years after the start of the war. A significant shift of language, even in official circles, reflects this: few now talk about a “three-week war” followed by “a period of disorder”. Iraq is now widely seen as an ongoing war, begun in March 2003, whose end is not in sight. Whether domestic political calculations see it as integral to (Bush) or separate from (Blair) the “war on terror”, Iraq is an issue that will not go away.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Norman Geras versus the 'apologists'

The intellectual trajectory of Norman Geras is strange to behold, from the 'militant of the Fourth International' and author of an outstandingly good book on Rosa Luxemburg (among many other important works) to one of the intellectual strong-points and lode-stars of the pro-war Left. His blog is always worth looking at for a bracing encounter (except of course for the cricket stuff) and one of his pieces has made it to The Guardian.

There are apologists amongst us. The 'We told you so' lot have been bleating on about Iraq ever since the atrocities of 7/7 - it is time to fight back. (July 21, 2005 The Guardian)

"Within hours of the bombs going off two weeks ago, the voices that one could have predicted began to make themselves heard with their root-causes explanations for the murder and maiming of a random group of tube and bus passengers in London. It was due to Blair, Iraq, illegal war and the rest of it. The first voices, so far as I know, were those of the SWP and George Galloway, but it wasn't very long - indeed no time at all, taking into account production schedules - before the stuff was spreading like an infestation across the pages of this newspaper, where it has remained.

"No words of dismay, let alone grief, could be allowed to pass some people's lips without the accompaniment of a "We told you so" and an exercise in blaming someone other than the perpetrators. No sense of what such a tragedy might call for or rule out on the first day. Exactly as if you were to hear from a distraught friend that her husband had just been murdered while walking in a "bad" neighbourhood, and to respond by saying you were sorry about this but it was foolish of him to have been walking there by himself. We had the same after 9/11; still, one nurtures the illusion that people learn. Evidently some don't."

Geras's argument is silly. He's accusing people trying to make political judgements of being insensitive. He could well be right about that, but Galloway was right to point out that that was what Tony Blair was doing right from the start. Geras makes a point about the 'first day', but Galloway is the only person who could be said to have spoken in these terms so quickly and I'm still praising him for making even a small break in the establishment political consensus that Iraq was irrelvant and shouldn't be mentioned. If you can't say such things on the first day, when can you say it? And will Geras excoriate British public opinion for coming to the same conclusion?

"It needs to be seen and said clearly: there are, among us, apologists for what the killers do. They make more difficult the fight to defeat them. The plea will be - it always is - that these are not apologists, they are merely honest Joes and Joanies endeavouring to understand the world in which we live. What could be wrong with that? What indeed? Nothing is wrong with genuine efforts at understanding; on these we all depend. But the genuine article is one thing, and root-causes advocacy seeking to dissipate responsibility for atrocity, mass murder, crime against humanity, especially in the immediate aftermath of their occurrence, is something else.

"Note the selectivity in the way root-causes arguments function. Purporting to be about causal explanation rather than excuse-making, they are invariably deployed on behalf of movements or actions for which their proponent wants to engage our indulgence, and in order to direct blame towards some party towards whom he or she is unsympathetic.

"A hypothetical example illustrates the point. Suppose that, on account of the present situation in Zimbabwe, the government decides to halt all scheduled deportations of Zimbabweans. Some BNP thugs are made angry by this and express their anger by beating up a passer-by who happens to be an African immigrant. Can you imagine a single person of left or liberal outlook who would blame this act of violence on the government's decision or urge us to consider sympathetically the root causes of the act? It wouldn't happen, because the anger of the thugs doesn't begin to justify what they have done. The root-causers always plead a desire merely to expand our understanding, but they're very selective in what they want to "understand".
If causes and explanation are indeed a serious enterprise and not merely a convenient partisan game, then it needs to be recognised that causality is one thing and moral responsibility another, though the two are related. The fact that something someone else does contributes causally to a crime or atrocity doesn't show that they, as well as the direct agents, are morally responsible for that crime or atrocity, if what they have contributed causally is not itself wrong and doesn't serve to justify it. Furthermore, even when what someone else has contributed causally to the occurrence of the criminal or atrocious act is wrong, this won't necessarily show they bear any of the blame for it."

Actually I agree with Geras on the relationship between 'causality' and 'moral responsibility' and that it is a serious matter, but disagree with his conclusion (but note that his 'won't necessarily' undermnies the general applicability of his aargument) about not sharing blame. The blame and moral responsibility is at a different level, doesn't remove theresponsibility.

"The "We told you so" crowd all just somehow know that the Iraq war was an effective cause of the deaths in London. How do they know this, these clever people? For what they need to know is not just that Iraq was one of a number of influencing causes, but that it was the specific, and a necessary, motivating cause for the London bombings. If it was only an influencing motivational cause among others, and if, more particularly, another such motivational cause was supplied by the military intervention in Afghanistan, then it's not the case that the London bombings wouldn't have happened but for the Iraq war. "

Geras is taking on a strawman here. Gives us the quotes. But I do have a level of agreement, expressed also by Freedman yesterday, that treating the bombers as the (wrong) armed-wing of the anti-war movement is a mistake. The issue is the linkage between the bombings and Iraq as one of the generalised concerns that form the ongoing and developing background to jihadi politics.

"Ever on the lookout for damning causes, the root-causers never go for the most obvious of these. This is the cause, indeed, which shows, by its absence, why most critics of the Iraq war or of anything else don't murder people when they are angry. It is the fanatical, fundamentalist belief system which teaches hatred and justifies these acts of murder. That cause somehow gets a free pass from the hunters-out of causes."

Again I agree that the belief system must be included in our understanding, but Geras could do well to remember that even cool tolerant technocratic belief-systems can be employed for acts of murder - helicopter gun-ships, high-level bombers and cruise-missiles being the case in point.

"There are apologists among us, and they have to be fought intellectually and politically. They do not help to strengthen the democratic culture and institutions whose benefits we all share. Because we believe in and value these, we have to contend with what such people say. But contend with is precisely it. We have to challenge their excuses without let-up."

A majority of the population are now among the apologists! And sudddenly Geras has transformed himself into a late-period hysterical Sidney Hook!

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Dalrymple: 'A largely bourgeois endeavour'

William Dalrymple is a great writer and worth attending to. Here he is in The Guardian (July 20th) on 'A largely bourgeois endeavour'. Al Qaida-style terrorists are not the type who seek out madrasas

Dalrymple starts with the consensus view that madrasas basically turn out terrorists, very scary if you walk through the streets of Beeston in Leeds and pass on, but badly misleading. The Taliban certainly came out of Pakistan's madrasas, a lot of madrasas do promulgate hardline Islamic radicalism and he quotes a figure of 15% of Pakistan's madrasas preaching violent jihad. But there a vast class difference between most of the graduates of the madrasas and "the sort of middle-class, politically literate, global Salafi jihadis who plan al-Qaida operations around the world. Most of these turn out to have secular scientific or technical backgrounds and very few actually turn out to be madrasa graduates.
"The men who planned and carried out the Islamist attacks on America were confused, but highly educated, middle-class professionals. Mohammed Atta was a town planning expert; Ayman al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden's chief of staff, is a paediatric surgeon; Omar Sheikh, the kidnapper of Daniel Pearl, is the product of the same British public school that produced the film-maker Peter Greenaway.
"Peter Bergen of Johns Hopkins University recently published the conclusions of his in-depth study of 75 Islamist terrorists who had carried out four major anti-western attacks. According to Bergen, "53% of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52% of Americans have been to college."

Dalrymple strikes a bad note when he goes on: "Against this background, the backgrounds of the British bombers should not come as a surprise."

But he gets on track with a reference to Gilles Kepel: "The French authority on Islamists, Gilles Kepel, has arrived at a similar conclusion. The new breed of global jihadis, he writes, are not the urban poor of the third world - as Tony Blair still claims - so much as "the privileged children of an unlikely marriage between Wahhabism and Silicon Valley". Islamic terrorism, like its Christian predecessor, remains a largely bourgeois endeavour.
"It is true that there are exceptions to this thesis. There are several examples of radical madrasa graduates who have become involved with al-Qaida. Maulana Masood Azhar, for example, leader of the banned Islamist group Jaish-e-Muhammad, originally studied in the ultra-militant Binori Town madrasa in Karachi.
By and large, however, madrasa students simply do not have the technical expertise or conceptual imagination necessary to carry out the sort of attacks we have seen al-Qaida pull off in the past few years. Their focus, in other words, is not on opposing the west - the central concern of the Salafi jihadis - so much as fostering what they see as proper Islamic behaviour at home.
"All this highlights how depressingly unsophisticated the debate about the British bombers is in this country. Again and again we are told that terrorism is associated with poverty and the basic, Qur'anic education provided by madrasas. We are told that the men who carry out this work are evil madmen with whom no debate is possible and who, according to Frank Field on last week's Question Time, "aim to wipe us out". All links with Iraq and Afghanistan are vehemently denied.
"In actual fact, al-Qaida operatives tend to be highly educated and their aims clearly and explicitly political. Bin Laden, in his numerous communiques, has always been completely clear about this. In his first public statement, "A declaration of war against the Americans", issued in 1996, he announced he was fighting US foreign policy in the Middle East and, in particular, American support for the House of Saud and the state of Israel. His aim, he stated, is to unleash a clash of civilisations between Islam and the "Zionist crusaders" of the west, and so provoke an American backlash strong enough to radicalise the Muslim world and topple pro-western governments.
"Bush has fulfilled Bin Laden's every hope. Through the invasion of secular Ba'athist Iraq, the abuses in Abu Ghraib, the mass murders in Falluja, America - with Britain's obedient assistance - has turned Iraq into a jihadist playground while alienating all moderate Muslim opinion in the Islamic heartlands and, crucially, in the west. Of course, we must condemn the horrific atrocities these men cause; but condemnation is not enough. Unless we attempt to understand the jihadis, read their statements and honestly analyse what has led these men to blow themselves up, we can never defeat them or even begin to drain the swamp of the grievances in which they continue to flourish."

Not the armed wing of the Stop the War Coalition

It is de rigeur on the left to despise Jonathan Freedland, but also leave a bit of space to quote and congratulate him when he says something agreeable. Here's a link to his Comment today on the vital subject at the moment. And I generally agree with his theme. It is downright stupid and dishonest to say the London bombing had nothing to do with the war in Iraq and subsequent occupation and all its attendant horrors. The lengthening list of Labour politicians getting up and saying '9/11 came befoe the Iraq War' or '1993 came before 2003' is just a depressing sign of how stupid they think we are. On the other hand to say it is all about Iraq seems too simplistic - there is an agenda that predates the Iraq War, the invasion of Afghanistan, etc. The jihadis aren't the armed wing of the anti-war movement. And to ignore that agenda will mean failing to understand what is going on.

Here's most of the article.

It's not only about Iraq The animating ideology of the caliphate helps explain al-Qaida actions that otherwise make no sense

Jonathan Freedland July 20, 2005 The Guardian
"On one side stand Tony Blair, Jack Straw and a good chunk of the media. On the other Chatham House and, according to yesterday's Guardian/ICM poll, two-thirds of the British people. The issue that divides them is, once again, the Iraq war."

The prime minister is insistent: the two have nothing to do with each other. Al-Qaida was at war with the west long before the Iraq adventure; and if al-Qaida cares so much about Iraqi civilians then why is it killing so many of them, including children, through suicide bombings? Turning up the volume, the foreign secretary sought to drown out the Chatham House report - which said the Iraq war had given a "boost" to al-Qaida - by declaring: "The time for excuses for terrorism is over."

Meanwhile, those who see Iraq as a cause of the July 7 atrocities are becoming bolder. In the immediate aftermath of the bombings only George Galloway dared to make the link. He was shouted down, chiefly on grounds of taste, criticised for continuing a political argument when the hour called for mourning. But since then he has found some unexpected allies.

On Monday it was Chatham House. Yesterday it emerged that the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (Jtac) - a group that combines the police, MI5, MI6 and GCHQ - had filed a report three weeks before 7/7 that cited Iraq as a "motivation and a focus of a range of terrorist-related activity in the UK".

Blair could try to wave that aside, noting that the geniuses of Jtac had also concluded that no group in Britain had the "intent and the capability" to mount an attack. More tricky are the 64% of Britons who told our pollsters that they see the PM's decision on Iraq as bearing some responsibility for the London bombings; they can't all be fellow travellers of Osama bin Laden.
And yet it would be a mistake for this current dispute to collapse into a mere rerun of the old Iraq debate. The issues are different now - and more nuanced than either side might like to admit.

For those who opposed the 2003 conflict, it is tempting to cast Iraq and the whole panoply of US-UK actions after 9/11 as the decisive factor in the bombings. There is certainly no shortage of evidence. For one thing, Britain had never been the target of jihadist violence before 9/11 (even if the US had). Second, Britain's own intelligence agencies - not only the anti-war movement - predicted just such a causal link, warning that the threat from al-Qaida would be "heightened" by an invasion. (That threat became sharper because British and American military energies were diverted away from al-Qaida and on to Saddam).

Third is the evidence of our own eyes. Iraq has become what Afghanistan was before 2001, one huge university campus of terror. Analysts used to need a microscope to find links between Saddam's Iraq and international terror - usually lighting upon addresses for retired killers in suburban Baghdad. Now the place is positively crawling with active jihadists planting bombs, beheading hostages and plotting 57 varieties of mayhem for Europe and the west. In trying to root out a couple of weeds, we set the entire garden alight.

Above all, Iraq's connection to the London bombers is the obvious one: it has served to anger and radicalise a generation of young Muslims across the globe. Peter Taylor, the veteran documentary film-maker who spent decades studying Northern Irish terrorism, has just completed a BBC series, The New Al-Qaida, which starts next Monday. After a year spent talking to Muslims in Spain, Morocco, Pakistan, the US and the UK, he says: "The one word that comes out loud and clear is Iraq. There is no question that Iraq is the prime motivating factor."

So Iraq is central. But it is not the whole story. For, as Taylor explains, al-Qaida is not like Eta or the IRA - organisations with a clear, single goal. It is not simply a troops-out movement, demanding nothing more than a withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq and justice for the Palestinians. It is not the armed wing of the Stop the War Coalition.

Its aims are rather different. Central to its ideology is the reintroduction of the caliphate, an Islamic state governed by sharia law that would stretch across all formerly Muslim lands, taking in Spain, Morocco, north Africa, Albania, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Middle East, as well as Pakistan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Plenty on the left tend to skim over this stuff, dismissing it as weird, obscurantist nonsense - and imagining it as somehow secondary to al-Qaida's anti-imperialist mission.

That's a big mistake. For it is this animating idea which helps to explain al-Qaida actions that otherwise make no sense. Why did the Madrid cell that staged last March's train bombings continue to plan attacks, even after Spain's new government had begun withdrawing from Iraq? Perhaps because al-Qaida wants to recapture at least part of Spain for Islamist rule. Why did it bomb a nightclub in Bali? Partly to attack western tourists, of course. (Taylor says the bombers thought the clubbers would be American, not Australian.) But its chief aim was to destabilise Indonesia, which it wants to place under Islamist rule as part of the yearned-for caliphate.
In other words, al-Qaida has a programme that predates and goes beyond Iraq. It seeks to end all western presence in those lands it deems Islamic. That's why it has, over the years, targeted France and Germany as well as the US and the UK. When Tony Blair asks "What was September 11 the reprisal for?" he should know the answer. It was for eight decades of US-led, western meddling in territory that al-Qaida believes should be Muslims' alone.

This is the ideology that defines al-Qaida and which explains why it was in business from 1993 and not just 2001 and after. Tellingly, those who monitor Islamism in Britain say the big surge in growth of extremist groups came not after 9/11 or Iraq but in the mid-1990s - with Bosnia serving as the recruiting sergeant. In the same period Chechnya, Kosovo and Israel-Palestine all came into play - again predating Iraq.

What it adds up to is a more mixed picture than either Blair or the anti-war movement has allowed. Iraq has played a key part - of course it has - in angering large numbers of young Muslims, pulling them towards an extremist message once confined to the lunatic fringe. But that message is not only about Iraq, Afghanistan or even the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza - and we delude ourselves if we think it is

Monday, July 18, 2005

Naomi Klein on UN massacre in Haiti

Naomi Klein reminds us of killings in the rest of the world, only this time it's the 'good guys' doing the deed.

6/7: the massacre of the poor that the world ignored:
The US cannot accept that the Haitian president it ousted still has support

July 18th, 2005 in The Guardian

When terror strikes western capitals, it doesn't just blast bodies and buildings, it also blasts other sites of suffering off the media map. A massacre of Iraqi children, blown up while taking sweets from US soldiers, is banished deep into the inside pages of our newspapers. The outpouring of compassion for the daily deaths of thousands from Aids in Africa is suddenly treated as a frivolous distraction.

In this context, a massacre in Haiti alleged to have taken place the day before the London bombings never stood a chance. Well before July 7, Haiti couldn't compete in the suffering sweepstakes: the US-supported coup that ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide had the misfortune of taking place in late February 2004, just as the occupation of Iraq was reaching a new level of chaos and brutality. The crushing of Haiti's constitutional democracy made headlines for only a couple of weeks.

But the battle over Haiti's future rages on. Most recently, on July 6, 300 UN troops stormed the pro-Aristide slum of Cité Soleil. The UN admits that five were killed, but residents put the number of dead at no fewer than 20. A Reuters correspondent, Joseph Guyler Delva, says he "saw seven bodies in one house alone, including two babies and one older woman in her 60s". Ali Besnaci, head of Médecins Sans Frontières in Haiti, confirmed that on the day of the siege an "unprecedented" 27 people came to the MSF clinic with gunshot wounds, three-quarters of them women and children.

Where news of the siege was reported, it was treated as a necessary measure to control Haiti's violent armed gangs. But the residents of Cité Soleil tell a different story: they say they are being killed not for being violent, but for being militant - for daring to demand the return of their elected president. On the bodies of their dead friends and family members, they place photographs of Aristide.

It was only 10 years ago that President Clinton celebrated Aristide's return to power as "the triumph of freedom over fear". So it seems worth asking: what changed?

Aristide is certainly no saint, but even if the worst of the allegations against him are true, they pale next to the rap sheets of the convicted killers, drug smugglers and arms traders who ousted him. Turning Haiti over to this underworld gang out of concern for Aristide's lack of "good governance" is like escaping an annoying date by accepting a lift home from Charles Manson.
A few weeks ago I visited Aristide in Pretoria, South Africa, where he lives in forced exile. I asked him what was really behind his dramatic falling-out with Washington. He offered an explanation rarely heard in discussions of Haitian politics - actually, he offered three: "Privatisation, privatisation and privatisation."

The dispute dates back to a series of meetings in early 1994, a pivotal moment in Haiti's history that Aristide has rarely discussed. Haitians were living under the barbaric rule of Raoul Cédras, who overthrew Aristide in a 1991 US-backed coup. Aristide was in Washington and, despite popular calls for his return, there was no way he could face down the junta without military back-up.

Increasingly embarrassed by Cédras's abuses, the Clinton administration offered Aristide a deal: US troops would take him back to Haiti - but only after he agreed to a sweeping economic programme with the stated goal to "substantially transform the nature of the Haitian state".
Aristide agreed to pay the debts accumulated under the kleptocratic Duvalier dictatorships, slash the civil service, open up Haiti to "free trade" and cut import tariffs on rice and corn. It was a lousy deal but, Aristide says, he had little choice. "I was out of my country and my country was the poorest in the western hemisphere, so what kind of power did I have at that time?"

But Washington's negotiators made one demand that Aristide could not accept: the immediate sell-off of Haiti's state-owned enterprises, including phones and electricity. Aristide argued that unregulated privatisation would transform state monopolies into private oligarchies, increasing the riches of Haiti's elite and stripping the poor of their national wealth. He says the proposal simply didn't add up: "Being honest means saying two plus two equals four. They wanted us to sing two plus two equals five."

Aristide proposed a compromise: Rather than sell off the firms outright, he would "democratise" them. He defined this as writing anti-trust legislation, ensuring that proceeds from the sales were redistributed to the poor and allowing workers to become shareholders. Washington backed down, and the final text of the agreement called for the "democratisation" of state companies.

But when Aristide announced that no sales could take place until parliament had approved the new laws, Washington cried foul. Aristide says he realised then that what was being attempted was an "economic coup". "The hidden agenda was to tie my hands once I was back and make me give for nothing all the state public enterprises."

He threatened to arrest anyone who went ahead with privatisations. "Washington was very angry at me. They said I didn't respect my word, when they were the ones who didn't respect our common economic policy."

The US cut off more than $500m in promised loans and aid, starving his government, and poured millions into the coffers of opposition groups, culminating ultimately in the February 2004 armed coup.

And the war continues. On June 23 Roger Noriega, US assistant secretary of state for western hemisphere affairs, called on UN troops to take a more "proactive role" in going after armed pro-Aristide gangs. In practice, this has meant a wave of collective punishment inflicted on neighbourhoods known for supporting Aristide, most recently in Cité Soleil on July 6.

Yet despite these attacks, Haitians are still on the streets - rejecting the planned sham elections, opposing privatisation and holding up photographs of their president. And just as Washington's experts could not fathom the possibility that Aristide would reject their advice a decade ago, today they cannot accept that his poor supporters could be acting of their own accord. "We believe that his people are receiving instructions directly from his voice and indirectly through his acolytes that communicate with him personally in South Africa," Noriega said.
Aristide claims no such powers. "The people are bright, the people are intelligent, the people are courageous," he says. They know that two plus two does not equal five.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Wallerstein on the Zapatistas

Immanuel Wallerstein (Fernand Braudel Center, Binghamton University)
Commentary No. 165, July 15, 2005
The Zapatistas: The Second Stage

Since 1994, the Zapatista rebellion in Chiapas has been the most important social movement in the world - the barometer and the igniter of antisystemic movements around the world. How can it be that a small movement of MayanIndians in one of the poorest regions of Mexico can play such a major role?

To answer that, we have to take the story of the antisystemic movements in the world-system back to 1945. From 1945 to the mid-1960's at least, the antisystemic movements (or OldLeft) - the Communist parties, the Social-Democratic parties, the national liberation movements - were on the rise throughout the world, and came topower in a very large gamut of states. They were riding high. But just asthey seemed to be on the cusp of universal triumph, they ran into two road blocks - the world revolution of 1968, and the revival of the worldright.

The world revolutionaries of 1968 were of course protesting everywhere against U.S. imperialism but they were protesting against the movements ofthe Old Left as well. For the students and workers involved in the 1968 movements, the Old Left movements had come to power, yes, but had not then fulfilled their promises of transforming the world in a more egalitarian, more democratic direction. They were found wanting. The 1968ers went on to create new movements (Greens, feminist movements, identity movements) but none of these was able to mobilize the kind of mass support that the traditional movements had acquired in the post-1945 period.

In addition, and in the wake of a major downturn in the world-economy, theworld right caught its breath and reasserted itself. Most notable of course were the neoliberal governments of Mrs. Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. But even more important perhaps was the ability of the IMF and the U.S. Treasury to impose on most of those governments where the Old Left was still in power a major retreat in their economic policies, getting them to shift from import-substitution developmentalism to export-oriented growth.

When the last and strongest of these Old Left governments - the Communist regimes of the USSR and its East-Central European satellites - collapsed in 1989-1991, the growing disarray of the antisystemic movements (both Old Left and New Left) reached an apex of disillusionment and gloominess about their capacity to transform the world.

But just as the tide of neoliberal ideology seemed to reach its peak in the mid-1990s, the tide began to turn. The turning point was the Zapatista rebellion of Jan. 1, 1994. The Zapatistas raised high the banner of the most oppressed segments of the world population, the indigenous peoples, and laid claim to their right to autonomy and well-being. Furthermore, they did it not by demanding to take power in the Mexican state, but by seeking to take power in their own communities, for which they asked the formal recognition by the Mexican state. And while the military side of their rebellion came rapidly to a close with a truce, politically they reached out to the "civil society" in Mexico, and then to that of the entire world. They convened "intergalactic" conferences in the forests of Chiapas, and were able to obtain the attendance of an impressive number of militants and intellectuals from around the world. When a new president came to power in Mexico in 2000 (ousting the decrepit"revolutionary" movement that had been in power for sixty-odd years), theZapatistas marched on Mexico City to demand that the terms of the truce accord of 1996 (the so-called San Andreas Accords) at last be implemented by the Mexican government. And when the Mexican legislature failed to do this, despite the enormous support the Zapatistas were receiving from the "civil society," they returned to their villages in Chiapas and began to implement their autonomy unilaterally by creating - defacto, if not de jure - democratic governments, their own school system, their own health facilities. But the Mexican army remained poised around them, always potentially threatening to dismantle this de facto structure.

The importance of the Zapatistas went way beyond the narrow confines of Chiapas or even of Mexico. They became an example of the possible to others everywhere. If in the last five years, most South American countries have put left or populist governments in power, the Zapatista example was part ofthe igniting forces. If the protestors in Seattle were able to derail the1999 WTO meeting, and were able to follow up with similar demonstrations in Genoa, Quebec City, and other places as well as this year in Gleneagles, they were in no small measure inspired by the Zapatistas. And when the WorldSocial Forum capped this renewal of antisystemic struggle beginning in 2001, the Zapatistas were a heroic model.

But now, suddenly, in June 2005, the Zapatistas proclaimed a red alert, calling all their communities to leave their villages and come into theforest for a massive "consultation" of the base. The reason? They said they could no longer afford simply to wait indefinitely as the Mexican state ignored the promises they had made a decade earlier in the truce agreements.

They declared themselves ready to "risk the little they had gained" (that is, the de facto limited autonomy which had no juridical base) in order to try something new. The Zapatistas declared that they had ended the first phase of their struggle, and that it was time to move on to a second stage, one that would be political and not military, they added.

In the third and last part of the Sixth Declaration of the Lacondona Forest, issued on June 30, 2005, the Zapatistas have given us a clear indication ofthe political line they are advocating. It makes no mention of any politicalparty, either in Mexico or elsewhere. They tell people everywhere who are struggling for their rights, who are on the left, that the Zapatistas are with them. They talk of creating a vast political alliance in Mexico - we are Indians but we are also Mexicans. And they talk of creating a vast political alliance in the world. They use a language that is at once inclusive - inclusive of all strata and all peoples and above all of all oppressed groups - but that is resolutely on the left, not however necessarily tied to any party.

The most important thing about this initiative, in my opinion, is its timing. It is eleven years since the tide began to roll back againneo-liberalism and imperialism. But for the Zapatistas, not enough has been accomplished. I have the sense that they are not the only ones who think this. I have the sense that throughout Latin America, and especially in all those countries where left or populist groups have come to power, there is a similar feeling that this has not been enough, that these governments have had to make too many compromises, that popular enthusiasm is waning. I have the sense that in the World Social Forum, there is the same sentiment that what they have accomplished since they started in 2001 has been remarkable, but is not enough, that the WSF cannot simply continue to do the same things over and over. In Iraq and the Middle East in general there seems also to be a sense that the resistance to the machista interventionism of the United States has been amazingly strong but that even so it has not been enough.

In 1994, the Zapatista rebellion was the barometer of a rejection of the helplessness that had begun to overcome the world antisystemic sentiment. It served also as the igniter of a series of other initiatives. Today, when theZapatistas tell us that the first stage is over and that we cannot linger there, they seem to be again the barometer of a shift in sentiment everywhere. The Zapatistas want to move on to a second stage - political, inclusive, but thus far without having made very detailed objectives. Will they now be the inspiration for a similar reevaluation throughout LatinAmerica, in the World Social Forum, throughout the antisystemic movements all around the globe? And what will be the detailed objectives of the next phase?

New MRzine

Monthly Review has created the MRZine (thanks to Direland for pointing it out) as a new initiative, launched on Bastille Day. Well-worth subscribing too (it's free).

Content includes John Bellamy Foster's 'The Wall Street Journal Meets Marx', taking issue with a recent claim that Marx accepted the 19thC US as the land of opportunity for working men.

Michael Yates has contributed 'Let's Put the Nature of Work back on Labor's Agenda: Part One', addresing issues of alienation in terms of the failure to provide humans with fully human jobs. Lenin is mentioned as a fan of Fredrerick Taylor, which is a bit too simplistic. Lenin attacked Taylorism before the First World War, but after the revolution he gave the idea positive attention (see 'Better Few, but Better'), but in the context of increasing productivity enough to provide more free time for workers.

Richard Vogel writes 'Wal-Mart's End Run around of Organised Labor - aided and abetted by the state of Texas', an important account of the local state engagement with cheap labour and globalization.

Marx is the greatest philospher, official

Karl Marx has been voted the world's greatest philosopher by listeners (and the loyal who were mobilised) of Melvyn Braggg's In Our Our Time on BBC Radio 4. Lord Bragg seemed to have got over his initial incomprehension and horror at the very idea and hosted an interesting discussion today with Francis Wheen, Gareth Stedman Jones and A.C.Grayling - although Bragg's contributions were poor. The programme is available in various formats here.

The top ten:
1. Karl Marx, 27.93%
2. David Hume, 12.67%
3. Ludwig Wittgenstein, 6.80%
4. Friedrich Nietzsche, 6.49%
5. Plato, 5.65%
6. Immanuel Kant, 5.61
7. St. Thomas Aquinas, 4.83%
8. Socrates, 4.82%
9. Aristotle, 4.52%
10. Karl Popper, 4.20%

I voted for Spinoza.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

London Review of Books July 7th 2005

London Review of Books Vol 27, # 13 (July 7th 2005) is led by a lengthy piece by a documentary film-maker and journalist (some stuff in The Guardian, but not familiar with his work) Ed Harriman on the corrupt scandals of where the Iraqi 'reconstruction' money has gone. Unmissable info and available in full, an edited version appeared in The Guardian and is available here.

Amongst much else of interest in this LRB Christian Parenti contributes a fascinating Diary piece about recent struggles in Bolivia. This isn't available on the LRB web-site, so here it is in full (but notice how Parenti employs both 'indigenous' and 'Indian').

Who owns the rain?
The indigenous social movements of Bolivia have ejected another president, the second in less than two years. What they are asking for is a constitutional assembly and the renationalisation of the country’s massive natural gas reserves, the second largest in South America. Bolivian petroleum and gas were state-owned until 1996.

Bolivian gas is more than a source of money in the eyes of many people: it is the country’s last and best chance of escaping underdevelopment. Sixty-four per cent of a population of nine million live in poverty; many have no electricity or running water, or access to schooling or healthcare. For hundreds of years, Bolivian silver from the town of Potosí funded the Spanish Empire; when the silver ran out the local people were left with nothing. The gas will also disappear: 53 trillion cubic feet is a lot, but it is not infinite. If the wealth from the reserves is not equitably distributed and used to further development, the indigenous majority fear that they will be stuck in poverty for ever. One woman I spoke to summed it up: ‘If there is no gas there is no future in Bolivia.’ So the people have taken to the streets again and in huge numbers; many claim they are ready to die before losing this fight.

The rebellion built up slowly with a few road blockades, a march through the highlands towards La Paz, and rumours of a mass mobilisation to come. Then day after day, tens of thousands of protesters marched through La Paz; as the marches grew, activists blockaded the airport, shut down the major highways in and out of the capital, and surrounded the Parliament. The politicians and the middle classes waited for the spasm of rage to subside, but it didn’t. After three weeks several gas fields were seized and a major canal was put out of action. Soon the rebellion held six other major cities in its grip: cut off, blockaded, and surrounded by an angry, well-organised army of protesters.

In early June, La Paz started to run low on food and fuel; buses and taxis were idle; garbage collection stopped; banks, hotels, offices, restaurants and middle-class neighbourhoods felt the pinch. Congress was unable to convene. Outnumbered and often undersupplied, the poorly paid paramilitary police fought highly theatrical but nonetheless violent street battles against tens of thousands of Aymara and Quechua peasants, miners, teachers, bakers, street merchants and students. The weaponry was limited to tear gas and rubber bullets on one side, rocks and dynamite on the other; each day’s combat ended in a handful of wounded and a few arrests.
After three weeks of stalemate the centrist president, Carlos Mesa Gisbert, resigned. He had kept the forces of order on a relatively tight leash: up to his departure no one was killed. One protester, a union leader, was later gunned down by soldiers. Mesa himself had inherited his job during a similar crisis in October 2003, when the issue of natural gas first erupted, and when his neo-liberal, US-educated predecessor, Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada, unleashed the military to kill scores of protesters.

For a few days after Mesa’s resignation, it appeared that the head of the Senate, a right-wing cattle rancher called Hormando Vaca Díez, would become the next president. Vaca Díez represents the gas-rich lowland province of Santa Cruz, which has lately been agitating for a greater share of petroleum revenues and more political autonomy. Vaca Díez warned the protesters in the streets not to push ‘towards confrontation and a blood bath’, unless they wanted it all to ‘end in authoritarian government’. The social movements swore that Vaca Díez would not govern for more than two hours. Bolivia was on the brink of civil war.
In the end, cooler heads prevailed: Vaca Díez gave up his constitutional right to succession, clearing the way for the moderate chief justice of the Supreme Court, Eduardo Rodríguez, to assume power. Rodríguez, acting as a caretaker executive, has said he will hold presidential elections within six months but he cannot legally force Congress to submit to a new vote at the same time. Thus, Evo Morales, the indigenous head of the movement towards Socialism (MAS), and the other leaders of the social movements, such as Abel Mamani of Fejuves, are demanding that the entire Congress resign to make way for new balloting. How this will play out is as yet unclear.

Mesa’s removal was a victory, another measure of Indian power in Bolivia, but it did not bring the crisis much nearer a conclusion. His departure did not lead to nationalisation or a constitutional assembly. For that matter, the removal of Sánchez de Lozada did not much change Bolivia’s political or economic situation.

Despite the crisis, Bolivian elites and their allies in the US embassy have conceded nothing. At a recent meeting at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington, US Foreign Service officers, representatives of the World Bank, and the Bolivian ambassador to the US agreed that nationalisation of Bolivian gas was an ‘extremist non-proposal’. It is almost as if the street battles and the nationwide shutdown had not happened.

In other words, despite having had half a dozen major political rebellions since the late 1990s, and despite possessing the strongest and most radical social movements in the hemisphere, Bolivia has as yet no clear way out of its impasse. The new social movements are powerful enough to close down the nation, seemingly at will, but are too weakened by ideological division, ethnic factionalism (Aymara v. Quechua) and rivalry among their leaders to parlay their power into a definitive, transformative victory. In this Bolivia exemplifies both the strengths and the weaknesses of these new movements that are the object of so much attention on the part of scholars and activists in North America and Europe.

Indeed, the new social movements – with ideologies that go beyond traditional class politics and methods that have nothing to do with either old-fashioned revolutionary armed struggle or social democratic electioneering – have won surprising victories against great odds. Based as much on identity as on economic class, and deeply rooted in indigenous Bolivia’s communitarian culture, the new movements arose as neo-liberalism undermined the social and economic base of the mining and manufacturing unions, and traditional left-wing parties became mired in corruption or dissolved in dead-end elections. In contrast to the caudillo-style of traditional parties and unions, the new movements are ‘networked’, culturally based, highly democratic; their rank and file are poor but politically sophisticated. And for all these reasons they are easily romanticised.

But the Bolivian left also has weaknesses that may ultimately impede its progress. Primary among these is its tendency towards an ultra-left anti-statism, unfortunately encouraged by the NGOs as they almost invariably push for small-scale ‘local’, ‘democratic’, ‘self-sufficient’ initiatives and ‘public-private partnerships’. Now, however, the collective agenda has become so grand, so sweeping that it cannot be presented as merely a set of demands on the traditional political class.

Consider the scale and duration of the crisis. Beginning with the ‘new economic policy’ launched in 1985 by President Paz Estenssoro, a populist leader of the 1952 revolution who eventually turned sharply to the right, Bolivia’s politics and economy have been undergoing radical restructuring. In order to break the back of hyper-inflation, Estenssoro and the rest of the political class unleashed a wave of privatisations, particularly in mining, smelting and manufacturing. They also liberalised protected national markets. The result was mass unemployment. No longer connected to state industries and the unions dependent on them, thousands of workers were cast adrift.

From the ashes of the traditional economy came myriad new forms of organisation, including urban community organisations, reinvigorated peasant unions and, thanks to booming coca production, the rise of a cocaleros union called the Six Federations. The new movements were more horizontal, survival-oriented and pragmatic, and less bureaucratic and ideological, than the traditional left.

Their first big confrontation with the state came in the Chapare, where displaced miners and peasants from the highlands took up coca farming. Before long these cocaleros, formed into a class by US-backed economic policies, confronted US-backed military policies in the shape of a drug war. Millions of dollars poured in from the north to fund coca eradication: this was also an attempt to destroy the Six Federations. The cocaleros fought back with the same tactics that recently brought La Paz to a halt: blockades, marches and sabotage. From these struggles emerged Evo Morales and his party.

It was the Cochabamba water war of 2000, when the San Francisco-based construction giant Bechtel tried to privatise the city’s entire water system, including the rain that feeds it, that brought the movements to the world’s attention. Massive protests and long-term blockades, hand-to-hand combat and international outrage drove Bechtel away. In its wake a restructured Cochabamba water company has been created in which community activists have important managerial functions. Cochabamba was followed by rebellions over the issue of water privatisation in El Alto, and over control of natural gas and debt servicing elsewhere. In the meantime conflict over coca growing has continued in the Chapare.

Now Morales and MAS want to win state power through elections. Most other groups on the left see elections as a trap, where money always wins. As for Morales himself, he is seen by some as ill-prepared, too centrist and high-handed, but even his critics grant that he is not corrupt. Oscar Olivera, hero of the Cochabamba water war, and one of the country’s most respected grassroots leaders, is calling for self-management and self-government. One hears versions of this throughout the left. In a communiqué on the recent crisis Olivera noted the movement’s power to ‘paralyse the entire country’ and at the same time ‘avoid the manoeuvres of the businessmen and bad politicians’. But he also pointed out its inability to impose its ‘own decisions and objectives on these same politicians, who today are in the worst crisis they could possibly confront’. In light of this contradiction he calls on the left to build its capacity for ‘self-government’.

How do self-governing communities control transnational oil companies? When I interviewed Olivera in May the example he gave was the management of water in Cochabamba, an evolving pragmatic transformation of a protest movement into an accountable organ of local governance and resource control. ‘To take power is not so important,’ he explained. ‘But the constitutional assembly, to allow for more local power, that is very important.’ So far the two main currents of the left – basically, local control v. national elections – meet on the question of the constitutional assembly and the demand for a fixed number of congressional seats to be guaranteed to Indian communities who would choose their representatives by traditional means outside of, and independently from, political parties. Another proposal from the indigenous movements is the abolition of the upper house and the creation of a more democratic unicameral body of 130 seats.

For now all is quiet: the movement has called a truce and is using the pause to hash out basic questions. But it seems clear that Bolivia’s new left faces old problems: how to unite, how much to compromise with intransigent enemies, how to use elections and not be used by them, and ultimately how to take state power.

Away, back

Been busy, been away, been negligent, been abject, been stupid; but now, after Edinburgh, after the London bombing, after Marxism 2005 will try to catch up, keep up, shape up an do better