2009年7月28日

Debate: How Should Anti-Imperialists Respond to Iran’s Political Crisis?

Socialist Voice
July 28, 2009

A recent Socialist Voice article, Iranian Workers in Action for Democratic Rights, by Robert Johnson and John Riddell, provoked an online debate about how anti-imperialist activists should defend Iranian sovereignty in response to the political crisis there. Because this debate reflects broader disagreements in the left around the world, we are publishing two submissions by Stansfield Smith, together with responses from Johnson and Riddell.

All four contributions originally appeared as comments to the Socialist Voice article:

* “A poorly veiled way of taking sides in Iran” (Stansfield Smith)

* “Self-determination and democratic rights are two aspects of the same question” (Robert Johnson and John Riddell)

* “Support workers movements – but not regardless of the context” (Stansfield Smith)

* “Siding with Ahmedinejad against imperialism does not mean siding with him in his repression” (Robert Johnson and John Riddell)

We welcome further comments on the issues raised in this discussion.
* * * * *

A poorly veiled way of taking sides in Iran
Stansfield Smith
June 29, 2009

Your statement is better than what I have seen in Links, the RCP paper, ISO paper, CP, or IMT, but it still not very good.

1. The most important activity people in imperialist countries should be doing is exposing the imperialist campaign against Iran. You now consider this incidental. The CIA and NED, as you must know, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize Iran. Iran is surrounded by countries with U.S. troops. It is blockaded by the U.S. The Big Business media, as you must know, was not simply reporting on they called Iran’s democracy movement, but was instigating it.

These are examples of the primary issues Marxists should be exposing to the public.

2. So far there has never been presented evidence of election fraud on the scale that would overturn Ahmadinejad’s vote. As the protestors against him were calling for the overthrow of the government, should the Iranian government, which was just approved by a large majority vote, simply let them do that? Should a government chosen by the majority in an election just surrender to the forces of the losing candidate? I am sure the Big Business media would call that a victory for the “democracy movement.” As the losing candidate was the choice of imperialism to be president of Iran, and neither he or the movement behind him, denounced the role that imperialism was playing in his campaign, it certainly is reasonable that any anti-imperialist nationalist government should take repressive measures once they warned demonstrators to stop. (And this repression, if the number is still 17, includes eight government police killed by anti-government people.)

3. We should normally support workers movements, but not regardless of the context of the whole class struggle. Any progressive workers movement that does not denounce its being used in an imperialist campaign against an anti-imperialist government is forfeiting its legitimacy and credibility.

We have seen events somewhat reminiscent of this, probably Poland in the 1980s being the most well-known, Walesa never denounced the imperialist role in Poland, and moved steadily to the right over time. Solidarity discredited itself, and Poland became a de facto U.S. colony, all accomplished via a democratic revolution.

Similarly, your printing of articles from workers struggles against the government of Iran right in the middle of an imperialist campaign against Iran strikes me as quite insincere. Is this not participating in the imperialist campaign in a back-handed way?

4. You state, “Progressive activists in Canada should not take sides between the competing factions in Iran ’s capitalist class, nor should we try to instruct the Iranian people on how the present crisis might be resolved. These questions can only be settled by the Iranian people themselves.”

But then you state the following, which is nothing but a poorly veiled way of taking sides in Iran:

“We should, however, support the right of the Iranian people to communicate freely, to demonstrate, and to form trade unions and other popular associations independent of government supervision or control. We should support calls for freeing political prisoners and for an end to the repression.”

Your first paragraph quoted here would sound more sincere if you eliminated the second and then followed it with this:

“At the same time, we should strongly oppose attempts by imperialism to take advantage of this crisis, and call for an end to sanctions and other forms of foreign oppression of the Iranian people.”

However, you do make it seem like the attempts by imperialism to interfere in Iran are hypothetical, while in fact imperialism is intimately involved. Again, the primary task for us in imperialist countries is to oppose the imperialist campaign against the gains of the Iranian revolution. That is the most effective way we can ensure the democratic rights of the Iranian people.

* * * * *

Self-determination and democratic rights are two aspects of the same question
Robert Johnson and John Riddell
July 11, 2009

Thanks to Stansfield Smith for a thoughtful comment on our article, Iranian Workers in Action for Democratic Rights1.

We heartily agree with his main point, that the central activity regarding Iran in imperialist countries must be to oppose the imperialist campaign against Iran. This activity has gained new urgency as the imperialist powers renew their campaign against Iran, taking diplomatic reprisals, planning new sanctions, and revving up for a possible Iraq-style campaign of “regime change.”

U.S. Vice-President Joseph Biden has now declared that Washington may not restrain Israel from a military attack on Iran – an obvious threat of a U.S.-sponsored aggression in one form or another. It should be a wake-up call as to the real stakes in the Iran question.

We also agree that we in the imperialist countries should not support the media campaign to overturn Iran’s election results or line up behind the Mousavi opposition faction among Iran’s capitalist rulers. Nor should we support the pro-Ahmadinejad faction in its dispute with what is clearly a substantial proportion of the Iranian people. The Iranian people must be allowed to decide these matters, free of foreign interference.

We stated these points strongly in our article. What, then, are Stansfield Smith’s objections?

Many issues here are worth discussion. But in our opinion, the central issue relates to our advocacy of support to “the right of the Iranian people to communicate freely, to demonstrate, and to form trade unions and other popular associations independent of government supervision or control. We should support calls for freeing political prisoners and for an end to the repression.”

Quoting this passage, Stansfield Smith states that it is “nothing but a poorly veiled way of taking sides in Iran.”

Yes, supporting democratic rights for the popular masses is a way of taking sides – but not for imperialism, as Smith implies, but for Iranian sovereignty. During the 30 years since the Iranian revolution, the Iranian popular masses have been the main bulwark of resistance to imperialism, leading the people’s defense against the imperialist-backed invasion of the 1980s and holding firm against the continued imperialist sanctions and conspiracies to this day.

To be an effective force for Iran’s defense, Iran’s masses need to be able to speak, organize, and assemble – including, when they wish, to raise criticisms of the present government or defend themselves against exploitation.

This fact must be apparent in Iranians’ intensive utilization of the democratic rights which they already possess, which are more extensive than in U.S. client states in the region such as Jordan, Kuwait or Egypt. We are confident that Stansfield Smith joins us in defending the democratic rights that exist in Iran today.

Elections in all capitalist countries are channelled and manipulated by the wealthy and powerful. That is true of Iran as well as of Canada, to say nothing of Canada’s ally Saudi Arabia, an absolute monarchy with no elections at all. Canada’s rulers have no right to preach to Iran about democracy.

But democratic rights in Iran are restricted in ways that are harmful to working people in Iran and that have led to considerable disaffection. In the statements we reprinted, workers call for the right to form unions freely and for these unions to function without mass arrests and police persecution. Such a reform would strengthen Iranian popular sovereignty and improve its defenses against imperialism.

Moreover, workers in Iran, just as in Canada, need freedom to defend themselves against the impact of capitalist exploitation in the neoliberal era. Expansion of worker rights should be supported in Iran as in Canada.

Venezuela today provides us with a striking example of how to organize defense against imperialism by building a dense network of unions and popular committees to draw working people into political action.

Of course Iran must take firm action against imperialist plots and disruption. But this must not become an excuse for anti-worker repression. When workers strike to receive back pay, for example, this cannot be dismissed as an imperialist plot.

To repeat: our main responsibility toward Iran is to oppose imperialist threats against its sovereignty and the hypocritical media campaign aiming to demonize the country and its institutions. However, in defending Iran, we must recognize that national self-determination and democratic rights for the people are two aspects of the same question: popular sovereignty. Defense of Iran includes speaking out against repression that bears down on Iranian working people and weakens the country’s ramparts against imperialist attack.

* * * * *
Support workers movements – but not regardless of the context
Stansfield Smith
July 15, 2009

John Riddell in reply states, “We also agree that we in the imperialist countries should not support the media campaign to overturn Iran’s election results or line up behind the Mousavi opposition faction among Iran’s capitalist rulers.”

Does this mean that you now repudiate what was in your article, where you take Teachers union statement and print it without criticism:

“The Teachers’ Organization of Iran, further, supports the goals of Messrs. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi and calls on the election authorities to annul this election and undertake a free election.”

If you recognize that you should not support the media campaign to overturn Iran’s elections, what do you think you were doing by printing that Teachers Organization statement?

You approve of the Vancouver group, which states they:

“sends warm greetings and solidarity to all those who are rallying for democracy and justice in Iran and abroad this week. We share your commitment to a peaceful and just resolution of the disputes brought to the surface by the recent presidential election in Iran, and your desire for Iranians themselves to determine the future of their country.”

The Mousavi supporters are rallying for “democracy and justice” and the Ahmadinejad supporters were not? That view is taken straight from the corporate media. If there was no fraud more substantial in any bourgeois election, and if there is no fraud of such a size to show that Mousavi won the election – and there has been no evidence of that yet, then the Iranian people have spoken in their election.

And the interests of democracy and justice would mean we respect the will of the Iranian people to overwhelmingly re-elect Ahmadinejad. Why are the supporters of the losers in the election the supporters of “democracy and justice”? That is the view of the corporate media, not the view of Iranians. If that is not the case, where is the evidence Mousavi won the election?

The Vancouver group goes on:

“We demand the release of all arrested workers, students, and political prisoners.” In their statement, they do not mention that 7 volunteer government militia members were killed by protesters. The Vancouver group does not qualify their statement by saying “except for those guilty of crimes, which included murder.” They demand that ALL those arrested be released.

There is no other way to regard their statement except as one that gives legitimacy to the imperialist campaign against Iran.

In addition, I will repeat what I wrote in my first letter, which you did not address:

3. We should normally support workers movements, but not regardless of the context of the whole class struggle. Any progressive workers movement that does not denounce its being used in an imperialist campaign against an anti-imperialist government is forfeiting its legitimacy and credibility.

As I said before, your statement is better than what I have seen in Links, the RCP paper, ISO paper, CP, or IMT, but it still not very good.

* * * * *
Siding with Ahmedinejad against imperialism does not mean siding with him in his repression
Robert Johnson and John Riddell
July 27, 2009

Thanks again to Stansfield Smith for his penetrating questions.

To reiterate, for us in Canada, the central issue posed here is the necessity of supporting Iran against imperialism – and that includes supporting its government, headed by President Ahmedinejad, in that confrontation.

But we have no cause to take sides in the present dispute among Iran’s rulers. Nor do we have cause to condemn Iranians who have taken a position for one side or the other.

Stansfield Smith’s comments focus on the need to differentiate between the world’s imperialist countries and countries, like Iran, that suffer imperialist oppression. We agree that it is necessary to forge alliances of countries prepared to resist imperialism, on whatever level, and to defend them against Empire. This is certainly the ABC of revolutionary politics in today’s world. It is the essence of the policies of revolutionary Cuba and its ALBA allies, and explains their firm defense of Iran in the present context. Their policy applies the spirit of socialism at a governmental level.

It is disturbing that many socialists in imperialist countries do not grasp this principle.

However, siding with Ahmedinejad in Iran’s struggle with imperialism does not mean siding with him in his repression of the recent protests. In our opinion this was a spontaneous outpouring of protest, initially not planned or organized by the Mousavi leadership. It is false to claim, as the Iranian government does, that the protests were inspired and organized by U.S. and British imperialism – although we do not doubt that they have made every effort to take advantage of the situation. The crisis that erupted last month over the election results is only the latest in a series of crisis that have occurred in Iran in recent years as working people have attempted to defend and extend their democratic rights. The struggle to form independent unions has been an important aspect of this broader trend.

The current crisis is deeper and more sustained than its predecessors, reflecting the profound challenges facing Iranian society. Although the movement has been heavily repressed and driven from the streets, the strivings that it expressed remain an weighty factor in Iranian political life.

At present, two factions within the Iranian leadership appear to be waging an extended struggle for power. One faction is headed by President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the other by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They are conducting their struggle mainly behind closed doors; we know very little about the substance of their differences. But each of these leading figures has a long history as a leader of the Iranian government. There is no evidence that any of them have acted as a Trojan horse for imperialism; their policies on the issue of Iranian sovereignty have been essentially similar. During their rule each of them has repressed political dissent, labour organizing, and pro-democracy movements. They have acted to safeguard the interests of Iranian capitalists at the expense of the working people.

Smith states that a workers’ movement that permits itself to be used in an imperialist campaign forfeits its credibility. If we wish to apply that concept, surely the place to start is right here in Canada, where our Labour Congress shares responsibility for Canadian government crimes in Palestine, Haiti, and elsewhere. Yet no one suggests we should withdraw support for struggles by workers in Canada for union rights.

We have no cause to lecture Iranian workers about anti-imperialism. They have stood firm against imperialism for 30 years, and if they protest now, it is not in favour of fraudulent U.S.-style “democracy” but for basic rights of speech, assembly, and unionization. It goes without saying that if these rights are persistently denied, in the name of defending national sovereignty, this casts discredit on the national movement and creates an opening for the CIA.

Smith objects to us publishing the position of the Iranian teachers’ union. We think that the voice of Iranian workers on the crisis deserves to be heard. We published statements by three different workers’ organizations, presenting a range of views. We stated our own position in the introduction to the article.

Smith also objects to the call of the Vancouver antiwar coalition Stopwar.ca for “the release of all arrested workers, students, and political prisoners.” He states that this gives “legitimacy to the imperialist campaign against Iran.” But in its statement Stopwar – which unites a wide range of political currents – unambiguously opposes imperialism’s attempts to use the crisis to undermine Iran’s right to decide its own future. This appeal remains one of the very few statements on Iran to combine respect for the democratic rights of working people with a firm axis of opposition to imperialist intervention. This is an example of effective defense of Iranian sovereignty that is well worth emulating.

2009年7月26日

The Story of North Korea

Adam Ritscher
Socialist Action
July 2009

The capitalist press is full of horror stories about North Korea of late. Almost every day we are bombarded with sensational stories about North Korea's nuclear program, the test firing of its ballistic missiles and its reclusive leader, Kim Jong-Il. And hand in glove with these sensational stories, is a steady drum beat from Washington calling the use of any means necessary to bring this rogue state to heel.

Treading a path well worn by Clinton and Bush before him, President Obama has eagerly picked up the war baton, and is enthusiastically waving it at Pyongyang. Rare is the Democratic or Republican politician who passes up an opportunity to denounce North Korea as an source of pure evil.

Despite all of the press coverage and all of the politicians warmongering speeches, very little truth has been uttered, and to date many American workers are probably very much in the dark about what is really happening in Northeast Asia. What are Washington's real goals for beating the war drums? How did this current nuclear stand off between the U.S. and North Korea come about? What is the story of North Korea? Because you won't find answers to those questions on CNN or in your daily newspaper, we are going to try and share them with you.

Korea's History
To understand the current conflict, you have to understand something about Korea's history. The story of the Koreans people is a long and rich one, but one of the prevailing themes of their history has been their centuries old struggle against foreign domination. To many Koreans, the current stand off is yet another chapter in a long book of foreign meddling.

For centuries, the Koreans have fought to free their country from the rule of their more powerful neighbors, namely China and Japan. While originally China was the main aggressor, in modern history it was Japan that most actively sought to colonize the Koreans.

Japan's first major invasion of Korea took place in 1592. However, it wasn't until the early 1900s that Japan was able to definitively conquer Korea. By this time Japan had become a rising industrial power, and in the wake of its defeat of czarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan was given the nod by the other imperial powers to gobble up Korea as war booty. By 1910 Japan had subjugated Korea, and turned it into a colony. While a small layer of the Korean elite were groomed to be local lackeys for the Japanese occupiers, the vast majority of Koreans were treated like mere slaves â€" forced to grow food, mine minerals and manufacture cheap goods for the Japanese homeland.

This brutal occupation was met by a number of popular rebellions, that unfortunately were all ultimately unsuccessful.

In 1925, in the wake of the inspiring Bolshevik revolution in 1917, the Korean resistance gave birth to an embryonic communist movement. Forced to work underground, many of its early activists were killed by the Japanese occupiers. The brutal repression by the authorities forced the young communist movement to take up arms in self-defense. Small bands of revolutionaries around the country came together to try and defend their communities, and from time to time to strike out at police and military installations. The Japanese response was to organize sweeping military offensives that drove many of these revolutionaries to the far north of the country, and over the border into neighboring Manchuria â€" a region in China.

While hundreds of thousands of Koreans found themselves in Manchuria, it provided no refuge, as the advancing Japanese imperialists were hot on their heals. Using the deposed ruling family of the old Chinese empire as their puppets, the Japanese set up a puppet state in Manchuria that they dubbed Manchukuo. The presence of hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers, and a government filled with Japanese rather than Manchurian officials, made clear who really ruled “Manchukuo†.

The Korean resistance to Japanese occupation though continued, both within the Korean peninsula, and in Manchuria. Within Manchuria Korean communists, soon found themselves not only hounded by the Japanese, but also often by the Chinese Communists, who looked on Koreans as possible collaborators of the Japanese, and who killed thousands of them in various purges. Despite this, the Stalin led Communist International insisted that the Korean communists submit to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party, and as a result the bands of Korean resistance fighters in Manchuria came under Mao Zedong's nominal control.

One of the most important leaders of these Korean resistance bands was Kim Il-Sung - the future leader of North Korea. While Kim Il-Sung's feats were later grossly exaggerated when he become North Korea's leader, it is true that he led one of the more successful bands of revolutionaries, and engaged in a number of armed actions with the Japanese.

By the end of the 1930s Kim Il-Sung, and most Korean communist leaders, found themselves forced to take refuge in Soviet Siberia after a series of massive Japanese military offensives against them. Here the Korean fighters would sit out most of the rest of the Second World War, as the Soviets were hesitant to anger the Japanese by letting the Koreans use the USSR as a base of operations. Not until the Soviet Union declared war on Japan in August of 1945 did Kim Il-Sung and company get to cross the border again, and then it was as part of the baggage train of the Soviet armies that quickly occupied Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean peninsula in the final few weeks of the war before Japan surrendered.

Creation of North Korea
Once the war ended, the Allied powers decided to divide the Korean peninsula between the North, which would be occupied by the Soviets, and the South, that would be occupied by the United States. No consideration was given to the will of the Korean people, and despite their decades of heroic resistance against the Japanese, they weren't even nominally consulted on the matter.

Both the Soviets and the U.S. quickly set about creating puppet governments in their new protectorates. Unlike the U.S. though, the Soviet army soon withdrew from North Korea, leaving a new regime headed by Kim Il-Sung in place.

Kim Il-Sung's regime in many ways resembled the new Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe. Ostensibly they were multi-party “people's democracies†in which the Communist Parties were simply part of coalition governments, but in reality the Stalinists were in firm control. The other parties that made up the North Korean government, such as the Chongdois Chongu Party and the Social Democratic Party were soon reduced to hollow shells with little autonomy and even less influence. They became little more than window dressings. Similarly, within the Korean Communist Party (later renamed the Korean Workers' Party), Kim Il-Sung quickly pushed out any potential rivals and assumed undisputed control of the party and the government.

Despite the growing repressiveness of the Stalinist regime in the North, the Communist Party continued to have broad support in the U.S. puppet state in the South. The Communist Party counted hundreds of thousands of members and sympathizers, and despite the U.S. occupiers best efforts to ban and repress the party, it continued to grow. Already beginning in 1945 it was organizing armed resistance in a number of parts of the country. Some of these guerilla battles involved more up to tens of thousands of South Korean revolutionaries taking on U.S. occupation forces and attacking pro-Japanese landlords and other collaborators.

Back in the North, with Stalin's active support, Kim Il-Sung was rapidly building up his military forces. In 1950, in a bid to re-unite the Korean people, the North Korean army invaded the South. This attack come on the heals of a series of skirmishes and incursions between the North and South Korean militaries. At the same time the North invaded, hundreds of thousands of South Koreans rose up against the U.S. occupation. The result was the near total collapse of the Syngman Rhee regime in Seoul which was forced to flee while the U.S. military itself was nearly ejected from the peninsula. Within the span of only a few weeks U.S. forces had been pushed back to a tiny corner of the peninsula around the city of Pusan.

While one can criticize the tactics used by the North Koreans to re-unify their people, the fact remains that re-unification was nearly universally supported. The Syngman Rhee regime, comprised of numerous Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese occupation, was extremely unpopular. It ruled only through U.S. military backing. The rejection of the majority of the South Korean people of this state of affairs was powerfully demonstrated by the popular uprising in support of the Northern invasion, and the large scale defections of many South Korean soldiers to the North.

The will of the Korean people however mattered little to the imperialists holding court in Washington D.C. President Truman and his generals quickly mobilized reinforcements for the beleaguered troops trapped in Pusan, and then launched a massive amphibious landing behind North Korean lines, forcing the North Koreans to retreat. The U.S. military, joined by a number of other pro-imperialist armies (British, South African, Turkish, French, Canadian, Australian, Greek, Dutch, Thai, Belgian, New Zealander, Luxembourgian, Columbian, Ethiopian and Filipino) under the guise of the United Nations, pursued the North Koreans past the former border and into the North. Aided by devastating carpet bombings and massive use of napalm, the United Nations forces literally devastated the North. Its cities were literally leveled â€" with whole neighborhoods left with no buildings standing. Tens of thousands were killed, and hundreds of thousands fled in terror before the advancing U.N. forces.

Intending to completely conquer North Korea, the imperialists were dealt a stunning blow in 1951 when an army of Chinese soldiers came to the aid of the North Koreans, and changed the course of the war yet again. U.S. and U.N. forces were pushed back down the peninsula, back to a line near the original border â€" where the war would drag on for another two years in the form of bloody trench warfare.

In the end the imperialists had to cry “uncle†and agree to a ceasefire. This represented a partial victory for the Korean people â€" but the cost in lives and destruction had been astronomical â€" the peninsula and its people were left divided.

In the wake of the war, the U.S. poured significant resources into rebuilding South Korea, and supported a string of brutal dictators who vigorously repressed the labor, socialist and student movements. The North Koreans, in comparison, received far less reconstruction aid from the Soviets and Chinese. Nevertheless the North was able to slowly rebuild. Benefiting from having most of the peninsula's mineral resources, and having been the site of most of the industries that the Japanese had built during their occupation, the North Korean economy was able to boast significantly higher growth and output compared to the South throughout the 50s, 60s and into the 1970s.

During this time North Korea as also careful to remain neutral in the political rift that developed between the Chinese and Russian Stalinists during the Sino-Soviet split that began in the late 1950s.

It was during this time that Kim Il-Sung and his co-horts first put forth their famous "Juche" theory (主體思想) in 1955. Juche preached self-reliance and independence at all costs. It made a virtue out of autarky. While initially it was described as a Korean addition to Marxist thought, by 1972 Kim Il-Sung replaced all references to Marxism-Leninism in North Korea's constitution with Juche, and it was soon described as having "superceded" Marxism-Leninism. While still referring to themselves as socialists, the North Korean Stalinists rejected Marxism and Leninism as European notions. In essence Juche became the ideological framework for a particularly nationalistic, and even xenophobic, form of Stalinism.

Despite what it called itself though, North Korea remained a degenerated workers' state. Capitalism had been expropriated, but the workers had been denied democratic control of the society by a self-serving, parasitic bureaucracy surrounding Kim Il-Sung.

North Korean Famine
By the 1980s it had become clear that South Korea had economically surpassed North Korea. By brutally repressing labor and students, often at the point of gunpoint, the South Korean ruling class had succeeded in turning their country into an up and coming economic power â€" one of the so called "Asian Tigers". South Korean capitalists, taking advantage of cheap labor, generous U.S. aid and Japanese investment, were able to become major producers in the field of steel, ship building, automobiles and electronics, among other things.

Meanwhile North Korean industry was unable to advance beyond a 1960s level of technology. Internationally isolated, things went from bad to worse when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. Cut off from the subsidized oil that the Soviets had provided, energy poor North Korea went into a serious crisis. Many factories were idled for lack of energy, and electricity blackouts became common. Agriculture was similarly affected by a decrease in the amount of fertilizer and other chemical inputs that North Korea's failing industries were able to provide. But these problems would be dwarfed by the natural disasters that were to follow.

In 1995 a devastating series of floods destroyed thousands of acres of crop land, knocked out roads, dams and railroad tracks. There was a drop of 50% to 75% in the nation's harvest, and matters were made worse by an ensuing drought. Food, which had already become scarce in the early 90s as a result of the economic crisis, now became almost impossible to obtain. By 1996 the country was in the grips of full on famine, and it's estimated that between 1996 and 1999 anywhere from 200,000 to 3 million people died.

The response of the international community was slow and woefully inadequate. The U.S. likes to brag that when news of the famine hit, only China stepped forward and offered more aid. Given that the total amount of aid given in 1995 amounted to only $8 million dollars, less then the cost of half a dozen cruise missiles, the U.S. should be ashamed. Despite their claims to the contrary, the slow and checkered reaction of the imperialists to this devastating human catastrophe was clearly a case of using food as a weapon.

Nuclear & Missile Stand Off
Kim Il-Sung, who had ruled North Korea since its founding, died in 1994 at the beginning of the crisis. He was succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-Il, who continued his father's absurd cult of personality which reached such extremes that it would have made even Joseph Stalin or Mao Zedong blush.

Kim Jong-Il inherited a state in near total economic ruin. The state run economy had broken down to such a point that the state no longer even bothered to try and nationally distribute food, requiring instead that each local area become completely self-sufficient in food production or starve.

Kim Jong-Il's response to this crisis was to rely almost exclusively on the military. He put forth a new ideology called Songun (先軍). Songun, which is meant to supercede the old Juche philosophy, is based on the notion that the military, not the working class, is the revolutionary foundation of the state, and that all resources necessary should go to it.

It was during this time that North Korea began to accelerate its nuclear program. Begun in 1980s with a small Soviet research reactor, the North Koreans went on to build their own primitive reactor in Yongbyon in an attempt to reduce their need to import petroleum.

It was also during this time that the North Korean regime dramatically ramped up its arms sales. North Korea had built up a significant arms industry way back in the aftermath of the Korean War. While much of their output was of obsolete Soviet and Chinese designs, much of it reverse engineered with little support from either, they came to produce a wide range of military equipment â€" from small arms all the way up to tanks and even submarines. They also succeeded in reverse engineering old Soviet Scud missiles, from which they went on to produce a whole family of single and multi-stage missiles.

While crude by modern standards, North Korean missiles were cheap, and available to any regime willing to pay for them. As a result, during the 1990s the North Koreans became one of the world's leading exporters of short and medium range ballistic missiles, with many of them going to countries on the U.S. bad side, like Iran and Syria.

The combination of North Korea developing a nuclear industry, together with ballistic missiles, sent Washington into a tizzy. Nothing infuriates imperialists more than when third world countries dare to arm themselves with weapons that might actually be able to deter imperialist bullying. Despite the fact that the U.S. has for decades openly kept nuclear weapons in South Korea, and on naval vessels in the region, the U.S. hypocritically denounced the North Koreans for their nuclear program.

The North Koreans insisted that they had the right to defend themselves, and indicated that what they were after was a non-aggression pact from the U.S., a nuclear free Korean peninsula, and energy aid.

For our part, Socialist Action agrees that North Korea has the right to develop nuclear energy, and nuclear weapons for the matter, as much as we find both things distasteful. Given the threat that the U.S. poses, North Korea has the right to defend itself, and to create a deterrent to possible aggression.

The imperialists could not disagree more though! They cried bloody murder. After a whole series of United Nations resolutions and attempts to further isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically, in 1994 the Clinton administration however agreed to sit down with the North Koreans and work out a compromise. Frustrated by its inability to stop the North Korean regime, the U.S. imperialists offered them a deal. In exchange for shutting down their nuclear reactor, and agreeing to allow inspectors in, the U.S. would provide a certain amount of petroleum and assistance in providing alternative nuclear technology that could be used for generating electricity, but not weapons grade material.

This deal held for several years, but then the U.S. broke the deal. It began to reduce the amount of oil delivered to North Korea, Then under the Bush administration the spigot was eventually cut off completely. The North Koreans then restarted work on their reactor, and in 2006 tested a nuclear bomb.

What has followed since then has basically been a broken record where the U.S. screams and hollers, and the North Koreans holler back. Very little new is ever said or proposed. Since 2009 the North Koreans have tested another bomb, and have test fired a number of missiles, and the U.S. has responded with more efforts to tighten the noose around North Korea's neck.

The U.S. Campaign Against North Korea
The recent escalation has resulted in the U.S. and U.N. saying that they will begin boarding and searching North Korean ships suspected of transporting arms for export, which the U.N. sanctions now prohibit. The North Koreans have stated that any boardings of its ships will be taken as a declaration of war.

Meanwhile back home, American workers are being fed a steady diet of anti-North Korean horror stories. While careful to never mention the U.S. violations of its agreements with North Korea, or the presence of U.S. nukes in the region, we hear a steady torrent of stories about North Korea's threats and deceptions. A considerable degree of fear is being drummed up about North Korean missiles, and a possible nuclear attack, reminiscent of the war mongering carried about against Iraq in 2001, and against Iran today.

Also, the capitalist press has taken a particular fancy to running stories about the personal life and lifestyle of Kim Jong-Il. We have been regaled with stories ranging from his alleged love for orgies and Swedish blondes, to claims that he is personally the world's largest purchaser of Hennessey brandy. Some of these stories are rather dubious â€" (The Hennessey brandy claim is questionable. North Korea is one of the few nations that still maintains an old tradition of giving and expecting expensive gifts during diplomatic missions, and as such it imports a considerable amount of luxury wines and other goods that it then givens out as gifts to foreign leaders and diplomats on their birthdays, or on other special occasions. This is a more likely explanation of North Korea's brandy imports than some insatiable appetite for it by Kim Jong-Il). It's worth keeping in mind that one of the stock and trades of U.S. imperialism is to demonize the leaders of rival nations. And at the end of the day, regardless of whether these stories are true of not, they are a distraction from the real issues, and in no way constitute a legitimate justification for Washington's unrelenting campaign against North Korea.

There is no denying the fact that North Korea is indeed a brutal Stalinist dictatorship that represses its own people and puts the interest of the ruling bureaucracy and its armed forces above all else. Nevertheless, it is not the job of the United States to police the Korean peninsula. The world's major manufacturer, distributor and user of weapons of mass destruction, of the nuclear, chemical and biological varieties, has no standing in our view to make demands on any nation. It has no right to dictate the internal policy of any country, period. Only the Korean people themselves have the right to determine their country's policies, and overthrow their government â€" both North and South. It is the Korean people alone who can create a just solution to the problems they face, on both sides of the DMZ.

And it also needs to be pointed out that not only does U.S. imperialism not have the right to intervene, but that its bully tactics are not meant to improve the lot of the Korean people, or protect them from nuclear war. Rather its policies are geared towards increasing its own power and position in East Asia to the detriment of the working people of the region.

While we do not lend any political support to the North Korean regime, Socialist Action unconditionally defends North Korea against any and all U.S. aggression. We reject the notion that imperialism has any role to play what so ever in the region. We call on all anti-war activists to join us in opposing all U.S. and U.N. military, economic and diplomatic moves against North Korea. Hands Off North Korea! Self-determination for the Korean People!

2009年7月25日

加州議會通過大幅削減預算方案

BBC中文网
2009年7月25日

加利福尼亞州議員同意將州政府開支削減240億美元,以對付加利福尼亞的金融危機。目前通過的議案要等到州長施瓦辛格簽署後生效。

加利福尼亞的經濟規模占世界第八。加州議會經過通宵會議,最後達成協議,為減少教育,福利,監獄和醫療保健方面的開支鋪平了道路。

教育和醫療衛生方面削減開支幅度多達150億美元。削減開支將意味著教師裁員,大學學費上漲,許多人享受的社會服務被削減。

不過州議會拒絕了兩項有爭議的措施,其中有允許海上開採石油。另外一項被否決的建議是向地方政府徵收汽油稅。

這次削減開支計劃等於修改了二月的預算計劃。美國經濟衰退急劇減少了加州的收入,迫使加州給許多為州政府提供服務的承包商打白條。

本月早些時候,施瓦辛格宣佈財政危機。記者說,加州州長施瓦辛格很可能會進一步削減政府開支。

2009年7月22日

Japan: an awesome warning

Will Hutton
May 20, 2009
William Nicholas Hutton is a British writer, weekly columnist, former editor-in-chief for The Observer and a famous Keynesian and soical democratic economist. He is currently executive vice-chair of The Work Foundation (formerly the Industrial Society). His most influential works are The State We're In and The World We're In. Hutton's most recent book The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century was released in the UK in January 2007.

Japan's brutal economic decline has been brought about by circumstances very similar to those now emerging in Britain

Japan, the world's second largest economy, by the end of this year will have experienced a decline in its national output of 10% from the peak in 2008. Figures announced yesterday show that in the first three months of this year output fell by 4%. This is the fastest rate of decline since the war; overall it is the biggest decline of any major economy since the US economy contracted by a quarter during the Great Depression.

Japan's travails closely impact on us. It is a major locomotive of the world economy; its problems are everyone's. Japan's output has now fallen so far that it has lost all the gains it made since 1992. Brutally, it has lost two decades. You have to shake your head at the horror of it – another sobering example of the dark times in which we are living.

Economists comfort themselves that the worst is behind. A lot of Japan's recent problems arose from a cataclysmic 26% decline in its exports over the quarter as retailers and distributors around the credit-crunch-suffering globe stopped ordering, and met what demand there was from stocks. Japan, uniquely dependent on industrial exports for its prosperity, was hit very hard. But now there are signs orders are picking up again as the "destocking" stops. Exports are steadying.

On top there is a colossal £97bn stimulus package, focusing on stimulating demand for green products. The big car firms report a surge of orders. Even the IMF believes the Japanese economy will decline less rapidly as the year wears on. The Japanese stockmarket, expecting the news, was hardly affected. Perhaps the crisis is yesterday's story.

Wrong. The explanations for Japan's problems are unlikely to evaporate soon. The first is that its economy was crippled during the 1990s and the first part of the 2000s by a drawn-out credit crunch. Banks had lent too much and were crippled by losses as the property market collapsed. With bank and corporate balance sheets badly hit, the economy got stuck in low investment, low growth, low confidence doldrums. It is an awesome warning of what may happen to Britain, similarly stricken.

Matters improved over the last few years, thanks to Japan's powerful industrial exporters and the pick-up in demand from Asia and the US. But crisis-hit America is no longer a big buyer of Japanese and Asian exports. As treasury secretary Tim Geithner has said, over-indebted America is unlikely to become a big consumer again any time soon. Nor can Europe, beset by unemployment, fill the gap.

Which presents Asia and Japan with an enormous challenge. Japan has been the economy Asia has copied – high ­saving, high investment and high exports – along with a government which closely directs economic activity. This is the Asian model. But who is now going to buy all those TVs, cars, cameras and video games? The only answer is the Asians themselves.

Which means they will have to save less and spend more – a diagnosis easier to make than to execute. Asians save because they don't have confidence in their governments, the tax base on which welfare is financed or on the stability of property rights. There are even fears about the region's political stability.

So governments have to spend to compensate, which is what Japan's is doing on an epic scale. But this can only be a short-term solution. Over the next five years Japan and Asia face the economic fight of their lives, with protracted stagnation and social unrest very real prospects. The solution is an Asian Enlightenment, a more transparent, consumer-oriented capitalism. The biggest worry of all is that so few in Asia recognise the problem. Unless it changes, the next 20 years will be even more dominated by the US and Europe than the last.

2009年7月19日

何時應該結束金融危機驅動方案

—— 西方學界對當前經濟如何走出衰退的分析
段俊
深圳特區報網絡版
2009年06月29日

新科諾貝爾獎獲得者克魯格曼,稱現在是「凱恩斯時刻」。金融危機爆發後,奧巴馬政府等西方各國政府基本上都採用了凱恩斯主義的刺激政策,一時間「人人都打凱恩斯牌」。

凱恩斯認為,經濟衰退的根源是總需求不足。對商品和服務的需求下降,銷量下滑,企業減產,工人失業。就業減少,收入下降,又進一步抑制需求,形成惡性循環。這時候,市場自身無法糾錯,必須靠政府干預,通過增加公共開支,帶動私人投資和消費,增加總需求,形成良性循環。

正是基於這個理論,西方各國政府大力出手干預經濟,施行積極的財政政策和寬鬆的貨幣政策。像美國奧巴馬政府,推出了7870億美元的經濟刺激方案,同時還推行了金融行業救助計劃以及房市拯救計劃。除了投資於橋樑、公路、醫院等基礎建設以及科研教育等方面,增加失業救濟金和醫療保險等項目的支出,還出手救助通用汽車等大企業、大銀行。

美聯儲則不斷降低利率,把聯邦基準利率保持在接近於零的水平,同時,通過購買美國國債等公開市場操作,向市場投放大量貨幣。據統計,美聯儲迄今為止已向市場注入超過2萬億美元的流動性。

復甦尚未定論 通脹陰雲已現
近幾個月來,數據面凸顯全球經濟狀況改善,世界經濟是否回暖,美國經濟是否出現「春芽」,開始為人所關注。但令人擔心的事也越來越多。

國際市場上,伴隨著美元的貶值,原油等大宗商品的價格大幅上漲。國際原油價格5月漲幅甚至達到29.7%,創下1999年3月以來最大單月漲幅,近來一直穩定在每桶70美元以上。大宗商品價格上漲,反映了人們的通脹預期,有可能引發成本推動型的通脹。

另外一些關鍵指標近期的變化也引人注目,像短期和長期的美國國債價格開始下跌,收益率逐步上升。而一般來說,短期美國國債收益率走勢,反映了市場對美聯儲目標利率走勢的預期;而長期國債收益率,通常被視為長期利率的基準,反映了市場對未來通脹的預期。

通縮威脅還沒有過去,通脹的陰雲又開始出現。堪薩斯城聯邦儲備銀行行長霍利格就表示,雖然對美國經濟好轉抱有信心,但不確定美國經濟何時復甦。如果美聯儲任由流動性留在金融體系中而不作為,通脹很可能會在未來三四年中出現。

如何為我們的兒孫們保護資產
經濟難以復甦,通脹威脅卻不斷增大,這不能不讓人擔心滯脹的發生。

4月30日,在紐約一次公開研討會上,克魯格曼和哈佛大學歷史學家弗格森,就財政刺激政策展開了辯論。弗格森認為,凱恩斯主義刺激政策,沒有刺激效果,公共支出反而會「擠出」私人支出,並造成巨額財政赤字,加上大量發行新債,會推高長期利率,這與美聯儲想保持低利率的貨幣政策正好衝突。而克魯格曼則認為,全球範圍的儲蓄過剩,使利率不存在上行壓力。

5月30日,弗格森撰文《給執著於凱恩斯的經濟學家上歷史課》。他首先指出,長期利率上升的事實,已驗證了自己的觀點。事實證明,全球化進程並未像上世紀30年代那樣土崩瓦解,當前危機並不像克魯格曼所說,是「上世紀30年代的翻版」,而更接近1973年至1975年間的情況。

現在,美國躲過第二次大蕭條,固然有大規模經濟刺激方案的作用,但更重要的是,實行了接近於零的短期利率以及定量寬鬆的政策。但美國未來的赤字規模將相當龐大。即使樂觀預期,2017年,聯邦債務淨額也將超過GDP的100%。為了給龐大財政赤字融資,美聯儲大量購入美國國債,這近乎於印鈔票。上世紀70年代,許多國家的政府都曾嘗試這種政策,最終引發通脹。

有類似觀點的人還不少。以發明「拉弗曲線」著稱於世的阿瑟·拉弗就警告說,美聯儲的政策將導致極其嚴重的通貨膨脹。他建議,盡可能地提升銀行法定準備金比率,雖然這會帶來短期陣痛,但如果不這麼做,兩位數通脹將會帶來毀滅性的長期後果。現在,必須考慮的是,如何為我們的兒孫們保護資產。

凱恩斯主義者眼中的歷史
克魯格曼毫不讓步。他在博客上回應,凱恩斯早已證明,「擠出效應」只有在充分就業狀態下才會發生,如果存在閒置資源,財政赤字就不會推高利率。目前,長期利率的大幅上漲,是樂觀情緒導致,而不是因為對赤字的擔憂。他甚至認為,散佈通脹恐慌,部分和政治陰謀相關,是對奧巴馬政府的政治恐嚇。

克魯格曼認為,應將經濟刺激計劃進行到底。他警告說,大蕭條和日本的歷史教訓都說明,在危機中過早的回歸常軌,可能是致命的。1936年至1937年,經濟增長迅速,羅斯福總統嘗試平衡預算,結果,美國經濟再次陷入衰退。1996年,日本經濟局部復甦,政府開始提高稅率、削減開支,結果,扼殺了經濟復甦。

他認為,通脹恐慌沒有必要。當經濟深陷流動性陷阱時,不斷增長的基礎貨幣,並不會引發通脹。歷史上,1929年至1939年,美國的基礎貨幣翻了一番,而物價下跌了19%。1997年至2003年,日本的基礎貨幣增長了85%,但卻一直通縮。

也有不少學者同意克魯格曼的觀點。他們認為在實體經濟方面,較高的產能閒置率,使得需求拉動型通脹的可能性較小;失業率居高不下,則使成本推動型通脹難以形成。他們認為,債券收益率上揚,是恐慌之後心態恢復正常的理想表現,說明通縮的擔憂終於可以消解。但經濟趨勢是否反轉,還有待時間考驗,撤回刺激計劃還為時太早。

如果凱恩斯還活著,他會怎樣
6月12日,英國華威大學榮譽教授斯基德爾斯基,為了支持克魯格曼,撰寫了名為《假如凱恩斯還活著》的文章,為凱恩斯主義辯護。

斯基德爾斯基積30年功力撰寫了著名的《凱恩斯傳》。這本厚厚的傳記,使他成為「20世紀最偉大的傳記作家之一」,享譽國際學術界,並被英國女王封為勳爵。他的新書《凱恩斯:大師歸來》將於9月份出版。由他來代言凱恩斯,似乎再合適不過了。

斯基德爾斯基的辯護策略是,把經濟學等社會科學和自然科學區別開來。自然科學的論戰,常以科學戰勝愚昧結束。但經濟學等社會科學,論戰則往往毫無結果。論戰不斷重複,各種觀點輪番流行,各領風騷數十年,頗有「三十年河東、三十年河西」之感。大蕭條後,「凱恩斯革命」掀翻了古典經濟學,上世紀60年代起,弗裡德曼等芝加哥學派又掀起「新古典革命」,把凱恩斯主義拉下馬,恢復了古典理論的地位。

當下這場論戰,是「新古典經濟學家與新凱恩斯主義者」之間的論爭,但幾乎也是1929-1930年凱恩斯與英國財政部爭論的重演。「新古典經濟學家」相信自由市場,反對政府干預。「新凱恩斯主義者」基本贊同凱恩斯,支持政府適度干預。曼昆、克魯格曼和斯蒂格利茨等人,都可以籠統地歸於這一類。

那麼凱恩斯會如何看現在的論爭呢?斯基德爾斯基著重指出,凱恩斯從不把經濟學當作自然科學,而是堅持在不同時期,需要不同的經濟學模型。他的《就業、利息和貨幣通論》,就包羅了種種適用於不同條件的模型。所以,與其說凱恩斯革命是「優秀的科學戰勝了愚昧的科學」,不如說是「良好的判斷戰勝了糟糕的判斷」。凱恩斯的主張是,不管市場怎麼變,重要的是隨時對錯誤的判斷和行為保持警惕。

如何選擇合適的退出策略
凱恩斯本人曾說過一句很有名的話:「長期來看,人都是會死的」,這是他「相機抉擇」理論最好的寫照。凱恩斯似乎只注重政策的短期效果,所以「新凱恩斯主義者」都在這一點上作了彌補。

像曼昆、斯蒂格利茨等人,就都強調凱恩斯主義的刺激政策必須是短期性的、有針對性的、有限的,必須對刺激政策的長期副作用保持警惕,要防止凱恩斯被濫用,不要讓子孫背上龐大的財政赤字。曼昆甚至幽默地提醒,凱恩斯本人並無子女。

這種觀點,也得到了越來越多的呼應。在6月13日結束的G8財長會議上,「合適的退出策略」成為熱議的焦點。英國央行行長默文·金在6月17日的一次講話中也提到,「現在可以研究一下如何退出財政刺激計劃了」。

6月18日,在韓國首爾舉行的WEF東亞峰會上,在實施大規模的財政刺激政策之後,如何尋找退出策略,也成為東亞各國經濟要員與金融機構高管關注的話題。

6月25日,經濟合作與發展組織(OECD),在半年度經濟展望報告中,上調了經濟預測。OECD秘書長安吉爾·葛利亞表示,現在的關鍵問題是,為了阻止未來經濟中的新風險,應考慮退出策略。

美聯儲主席伯克南近日也表示美聯儲需要準備結束危機驅動方案。在6月4日美國國會的證詞中,他表示有信心可以終止貨幣刺激計劃,並避免引發通脹。

不過,6月24日,美聯儲最近一次的議息會議,宣佈將基準利率維持在0%到0.25%目標區間不變,表示會維持這種低利率水平,同時維持原有的債券購買計劃。

這表明,美國政府仍然認為短期內通脹將維持較低水平,凱恩斯主義的政策還將繼續維持下去。

2009年7月14日

奧巴馬為何對第二輪財政刺激計劃說「不」

劉濤
第一財經日報
2009年07月14日


7月2日,美國勞工部公佈了6月份全美就業報告。數據顯示,當月美國非農業部門就業崗位減少46.7萬個,遠高於前一個月的32.2萬個;失業率從5月份的9.4%升至9.5%,為26年來的最高點。如果加上900萬「非自願性」半失業勞工,6月份美國失業率將高達16.5%。此外,美國大企業聯合會6月份消費者信心指數也終結了最近幾個月以來的連續升勢,掉頭向下降至49.3。

這些關鍵數據的惡化程度大大超出了此前市場的預期,猶如一盆涼水,為今年3月以來美國和全球對經濟復甦的期盼降了溫。隨著美元避險功能的回歸和原油等大宗商品價格的回落,關於「W」或「L」形走勢的悲觀看法重新佔據上風。

更為迫在眉睫的是,繼加州7月1日宣佈進入財政緊急狀態後,目前至少還有18個州也面臨著下一財年無米下鍋的窘境,其中一些州已處於破產邊緣。但這還不算最糟的。由於無法說服美國聯邦儲蓄保險公司(FDIC)批准其發行政府擔保債券,美國最大的商業貸款公司CIT集團隨時可能走向破產保護。而一旦其倒下,將迅速波及近百萬家美國中小型企業,破壞性不亞於去年7月的雷曼兄弟事件和9月的AIG事件,傳說中的第二波金融海嘯或許真要降臨。

在此情況下,奧巴馬應對經濟危機顧問小組成員勞拉·泰森公開提出,今年2月份出台的7870億美元財政刺激計劃規模有限,顯現出來的效果不明顯,應考慮起草新一輪財政刺激計劃以備必要時穩定經濟;同時,「股神」沃倫·巴菲特和諾貝爾經濟學獎得主保羅·克魯格曼都呼籲奧巴馬政府應考慮第二輪財政刺激方案。

對此,7月11日奧巴馬在對美國民眾發表每週電台演講時,明確否定了這種可能性。

如何解讀奧巴馬團隊內部的這種分歧呢?

首先,如果現在就談第二輪刺激計劃,無異於奧巴馬承認第一輪財政刺激方案的失敗。早在2月簽訂刺激方案時,奧巴馬的經濟顧問委員們預計,要把失業率控制在8%以內。然而實際情況比預計的要糟糕得多。對此,奧巴馬強調,僅憑過去四個多月就下斷言過於草率,整個刺激計劃作用完全顯現至少需要兩年時間。

其次,奧巴馬政府第一輪7870億美元財政刺激計劃的資金發放速度過慢,目前僅支出11%,且主要是減稅和轉移支付部分,基礎設施建設、新能源等政府投資項目進展緩慢。根據計劃,這筆錢有可能要用到2010年底甚至2011年以後。

再次,奧巴馬深知,眼下要想在國會中討論並通過第二輪財政刺激計劃,勢必遭遇層層阻力。不僅共和黨議員將站出來堅決反對,一些民主黨內保守派也對此顧慮重重。更要命的是,目前美國輿論普遍不買賬。《華爾街日報》日前對51位經濟學家進行了調查,除8人表示有必要推出更多刺激舉措外,多數經濟學家認為儘管明年失業率可能創出新高,但當前並不需要新一輪的刺激計劃。

最後,奧巴馬政府再要透支或舉債,國內外壓力都很大。一方面,中國、日本、俄羅斯和中東產油國在繼續購買美國國債問題上日趨謹慎,並督促美國採取負責任態度對美債價值作出擔保;另一方面,很可能再次出現謝國忠所擔心的「債券義和團」(bond vigilantes)現象,即美國國內債市投資者由於不滿政府過於擴張的財政貨幣政策推高通脹而罷買國債,迫使國債利率大幅上升。

當然,細讀奧巴馬最近的幾次發言,會發現他其實並未把話完全說死。美國白宮財政問題高級顧問戴維·阿克塞爾羅德在6月底的一次表態更耐人尋味,他表示如有必要,奧巴馬可能會討論第二輪刺激計劃;但在此之前,應先觀察一下此前舉措的成效,「到秋天再看看情況如何」。

筆者認為,某種程度上這或許代表奧巴馬的真實想法。也就是說,今年四季度當失業率突破10%,加之國內民意對於進一步刺激經濟的緊迫感凝聚成共識後,奧巴馬還是可能再次推出第二輪刺激計劃的。

2009年7月11日

If Socialism Fails: The Spectre of 21st Century Barbarism

Ian Angus
Climate and Capitalism
July 27, 2008

Ian Angus is a socialist and ecosocialist activist in Canada. He joined the New Democratic Party (NDP) in 1962 and then the Young Socialists in Ottawa in 1964. He was active in the YS and the League for Socialist Action into the 1970s. Angus is the founder and director of Socialist History Project and the managing editor of Socialist Voice and the editor of Climate and Capitalism. He is also a founding member and Coordinating Committee Member of Ecosocialist International Network and is a member of Canadian Dimension editorial collective. His writings include Canadian Bolsheviks: The Early Years of the Communist Party of Canada.

The following is an article in the book The Global Fight for Climate Justice Anticapitalist Responses to Global Warming and Environmental Destruction , edited by Angus.

From the first day it appeared online, Climate and Capitalism’s masthead has carried the slogan “Ecosocialism or Barbarism: there is no third way.” We’ve been quite clear that ecosocialism is not a new theory or brand of socialism – it is socialism with Marx’s important insights on ecology restored, socialism committed to the fight against ecological destruction. But why do we say that the alternative to ecosocialism is barbarism?

Marxists have used the word “barbarism” in various ways, but most often to describe actions or social conditions that are grossly inhumane, brutal, and violent. It is not a word we use lightly, because it implies not just bad behaviour but violations of the most important norms of human solidarity and civilized life.[1]

The slogan “Socialism or Barbarism” originated with the great German revolutionary socialist leader Rosa Luxemburg, who repeatedly raised it during World War I. It was a profound concept, one that has become ever more relevant as the years have passed.

Rosa Luxemburg spent her entire adult life organizing and educating the working class to fight for socialism. She was convinced that if socialism didn’t triumph, capitalism would become ever more barbaric, wiping out centuries of gains in civilization. In a major 1915 antiwar polemic, she referred to Friedrich Engels’ view that society must advance to socialism or revert to barbarism and then asked, “What does a ‘reversion to barbarism’ mean at the present stage of European civilization?”

She gave two related answers.

In the long run, she said, a continuation of capitalism would lead to the literal collapse of civilized society and the coming of a new Dark Age, similar to Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire: “The collapse of all civilization as in ancient Rome, depopulation, desolation, degeneration – a great cemetery.” (The Junius Pamphlet) [2]

By saying this, Rosa Luxemburg was reminding the revolutionary left that socialism is not inevitable, that if the socialist movement failed, capitalism might destroy modern civilization, leaving behind a much poorer and much harsher world. That wasn’t a new concept – it has been part of Marxist thought from its very beginning. In 1848, in The Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels wrote: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. … that each time ended, either in the revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes.” (emphasis added)

In Luxemburg’s words: “Humanity is facing the alternative: Dissolution and downfall in capitalist anarchy, or regeneration through the social revolution.” (A Call to the Workers of the World)

Capitalism’s two faces
But Luxemburg, again following the example of Marx and Engels, also used the term “barbarism” another way, to contrast capitalism’s loudly proclaimed noble ideals with its actual practice of torture, starvation, murder and war.

Marx many times described the two-sided nature of capitalist “progress.” In 1853, writing about the British colonial regime in India, he described the “profound hypocrisy and inherent barbarism of bourgeois civilization [that] lies unveiled before our eyes, turning from its home, where it assumes respectable forms, to the colonies, where it goes naked.” Capitalist progress, he said, resembled a “hideous, pagan idol, who would not drink the nectar but from the skulls of the slain.” (The Future Results of British Rule in India)

Similarly, in a speech to radical workers in London in 1856, he said:
On the one hand, there have started into life industrial and scientific forces, which no epoch of the former human history had ever suspected. On the other hand, there exist symptoms of decay, far surpassing the horrors recorded of the latter times of the Roman Empire. (Speech at the Anniversary of the People’s Paper)
Immense improvements to the human condition have been made under capitalism – in health, culture, philosophy, literature, music and more. But capitalism has also led to starvation, destitution, mass violence, torture and even genocide – all on an unprecedented scale. As capitalism has expanded and aged, the barbarous side of its nature has come ever more to the fore.

Bourgeois society, which came to power promising equality, democracy, and human rights, has never had any compunction about throwing those ideals overboard to expand and protect its wealth and profits. That’s the view of barbarism that Rosa Luxemburg was primarily concerned about during World War I. She wrote:
Shamed, dishonoured, wading in blood and dripping in filth, this capitalist society stands. Not as we usually see it, playing the roles of peace and righteousness, of order, of philosophy, of ethics – as a roaring beast, as an orgy of anarchy, as pestilential breath, devastating culture and humanity – so it appears in all its hideous nakedness …

A look around us at this moment shows what the regression of bourgeois society into barbarism means. This world war is a regression into barbarism. (The Junius Pamphlet)
For Luxemburg, barbarism wasn’t a future possibility. It was the present reality of imperialism, a reality that was destined to get much worse if socialism failed to stop it. Tragically, she was proven correct. The defeat of the German revolutions of 1919 to 1923, coupled with the isolation and degeneration of the Russian Revolution, opened the way to a century of genocide and constant war.

In 1933, Leon Trotsky described the rise of fascism as “capitalist society … puking up undigested barbarism.” (What is National Socialism?)

Later he wrote: “The delay of the socialist revolution engenders the indubitable phenomena of barbarism – chronic unemployment, pauperization of the petty bourgeoisie, fascism, finally wars of extermination which do not open up any new road.” (In Defense of Marxism)

More than 250 million people, most of them civilians, were killed in the wars of extermination and mass atrocities of the 20th Century. The 21st century continues that record: in less than eight years over three million people have died in wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Third World, and at least 700,000 have died in “natural” disasters.

As Luxemburg and Trotsky warned, barbarism is already upon us. Only mass action can stop barbarism from advancing, and only socialism can definitively defeat it. Their call to action is even more important today, when capitalism has added massive ecological destruction, primarily affecting the poor, to the wars and other horrors of the 20th Century.

That view has been expressed repeatedly and forcefully by Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. Speaking in Vienna in May 2006, he referred explicitly to Luxemburg’s words:
The choice before humanity is socialism or barbarism. … When Rosa Luxemburg made this statement, she was speaking of a relatively distant future. But now the situation of the world is so bad that the threat to the human race is not in the future, but now. [3]
A few months earlier, in Caracas, he argued that capitalism’s destruction of the environment gives particular urgency to the fight against barbarism today:
I was remembering Karl Marx and Rosa Luxemburg and the phrase that each one of them, in their particular time and context put forward; the dilemma “socialism or barbarism.” …
I believe it is time that we take up with courage and clarity a political, social, collective and ideological offensive across the world – a real offensive that permits us to move progressively, over the next years, the next decades, leaving behind the perverse, destructive, destroyer, capitalist model and go forward in constructing the socialist model to avoid barbarism and beyond that the annihilation of life on this planet.

I believe this idea has a strong connection with reality. I don’t think we have much time. Fidel Castro said in one of his speeches I read not so long ago, “tomorrow could be too late, let’s do now what we need to do.” I don’t believe that this is an exaggeration. The environment is suffering damage that could be irreversible – global warming, the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice caps, the rising sea level, hurricanes – with terrible social consequences that will shake life on this planet. [4]
Chavez and the revolutionary Bolivarian movement in Venezuela have proudly raised the banner of 21st Century Socialism to describe their goals. As these comments show, they are also raising a warning flag, that the alternative to socialism is 21st Century Barbarism – the barbarism of the previous century amplified and intensified by ecological crisis.

Climate change and ‘barbarization’
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been studying and reporting on climate change for two decades. Recently the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, gave a lecture at Cambridge University that described “a dystopic possible future world in which social problems are made much worse by the environmental consequences of rising greenhouse gas emissions.”

He said: “Climate change is, or could be, the additional factor which will exacerbate the existing problems of poverty, environmental degradation, social polarisation and terrorism and it could lead to a very chaotic situation.”

“Barbarization,” Munasinghe said, is already underway. We face “a situation where the rich live in enclaves, protected, and the poor live outside in unsustainable conditions.” [5]

A common criticism of the IPCC is that its reports are too conservative, that they understate how fast climate change is occurring and how disastrous the effects may be. So when the Vice-Chair of the IPCC says that “barbarization” is already happening, no one should suggest that it’s an exaggeration.

The present reality of barbarism
The idea of 21st Century Barbarism may seem farfetched. Even with food and fuel inflation, growing unemployment and housing crises, many working people in the advanced capitalist countries still enjoy a considerable degree of comfort and security.

But outside the protected enclaves of the global north, the reality of “barbarization” is all too evident.
  • 2.5 billion people, nearly half of the world’s population, survive on less than two dollars a day.
  • Over 850 million people are chronically undernourished and three times that many frequently go hungry.
  • Every hour of every day, 180 children die of hunger and 1200 die of preventable diseases.
  • Over half a million women die every year from complications of pregnancy and childbirth. 99% of them are in the global south.
  • Over a billion people live in vast urban slums, without sanitation, sufficient living space, or durable housing.
  • 1.3 billion people have no safe water. 3 million die of water-related diseases every year.
The United Nations Human Development Report 2007-2008 warns that unmitigated climate change will lock the world’s poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats, and a loss of livelihoods. [6]

In UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervi’s words: “Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs.” [7]

Among the 21st Century threats identified by the Human Development Report:

  • The breakdown of agricultural systems as a result of increased exposure to drought, rising temperatures, and more erratic rainfall, leaving up to 600 million more people facing malnutrition.
  • An additional 1.8 billion people facing water stress by 2080, with large areas of South Asia and northern China facing a grave ecological crisis as a result of glacial retreat and changed rainfall patterns.
  • Displacement through flooding and tropical storm activity of up to 332 million people in coastal and low-lying areas. Over 70 million Bangladeshis, 22 million Vietnamese, and six million Egyptians could be affected by global warming-related flooding.
  • Expanding health risks, including up to 400 million more people facing the risk of malaria.
To these we can add the certainty that at least 100 million people will be added to the ranks of the permanently hungry this year as a result of food price inflation.

In the UN report, former South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu echoes Munasinghe’s prediction of protected enclaves for the rich within a world of ecological destruction:
While the citizens of the rich world are protected from harm, the poor, the vulnerable and the hungry are exposed to the harsh reality of climate change in their everyday lives…. We are drifting into a world of “adaptation apartheid.”
As capitalism continues with business as usual, climate change is fast expanding the gap between rich and poor between and within nations, and imposing unparalleled suffering on those least able to protect themselves. That is the reality of 21st Century Barbarism.

No society that permits that to happen can be called civilized. No social order that causes it to happen deserves to survive.

Notes
1 In “Empire of Barbarism” (Monthly Review, December 2004), John Bellamy Foster and Brett Clark provide an excellent account of the evolution of the word “barbarism” and its present-day implications.

The best discussion of Rosa Luxemburg’s use of the word is in Norman Geras, The Legacy of Rosa Luxemburg (NLB 1976), which unfortunately is out of print.

2 The works of Marx, Engels, Luxemburg and Trotsky that are quoted in this article can be found online in the Marxists Internet Archive, www.marxists.org/

3 Hands Off Venezuela, May 13, 2006

4 Green Left Weekly, August 31, 2005

5 “Expert warns climate change will lead to ‘barbarisation’” Guardian, May 15, 2008

6 United Nations Development Program, Human Development Report 2007/2008

7 “Climate change threatens unprecedented human development reversals.” UNDP News Release, Nov. 27, 2007

Iran's Revolution

Mehrdad F. Samadzadeh
Z Net /ZSpace
July 10, 2009
URL: http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/21944
Mehrdad F. Samadzadeh is native Iranian and a PhD student at the University of Toronto, Canada.
The massive protest movement that erupted in the wake of Iran's presidential election on June 12 took many by surprise. The vivacity and vigor with which millions of people took to the street to oppose the allegedly fraudulent re-election of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is unprecedented in the entire history of the Islamic regime.

Whether the charges of voter fraud as claimed by Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, the other presidential contenders, are true or false are immaterial. What is relevant is that the controversy surrounding the election has given vent to a deep-seated popular resentment which is unlikely to disappear any time soon. For one thing, the movement which has taken shape around Mousavi, the reformist and pragmatic candidate, shows the potential to take on a broader dimension. It is against this current that soon after the election a statement issued by Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps warned: "‘the argument over the election and the number of votes and the winner, have only been a pretext for generating insecurity and riot." There is some truth in what the statement reveals in so far as the words ‘insecurity' and' riot' are translated as manifestations of a popular will for a major transformation in the country's political structure. This was echoed in one of the slogans chanted during the street demonstrations: "Mousavi bahaneh ast, hokomat neshaneh ast" (Mousavi is a pretext; the regime itself is the target).

To be sure, Mousavi's promise of reform on the cultural front galvanized a large section of the population, especially women and the middle-class professionals, who have been chafing under thirty years of repressive clerical rule. But the initiative for so widespread a movement was undoubtedly theirs, with the added incentive that the worsening economic conditions in recent years have witnessed an unemployment rate of 20 per cent for male university graduates and 40 per cent for their female counterparts. By thus rallying behind Mousavi, the disenchanted middle-class led by its youth created an historic moment to press for change. It is this popular initiative that in the immediate aftermath of the election led to a national uproar, a situation which was beyond what Mousavi could envisage. As one protester told the Financial Times in a rather lighthearted manner: "Poor Mousavi, we took the easel away from his hands and gave him a gun".

Today's Iran, with a nation in turmoil, is reminiscent of the revolutionary upheavals of the 1978-79 that brought down the Shah's regime, a phenomenon that has led many observers to wonder if the country is at the threshold of yet another revolution. This specter of revolution gains currency in light of the fact that the slogans on the streets of Tehran and other major cities have been directly targeting Ayatollah Khamenei, the supreme leader, who in his Friday prayer on June 19 almost unequivocally endorsed Mahmud Ahmadinejad's presidency. Rahbar-i ma ghateleh velayatesh bateleh (our leader is a murderer and his leadership is void) is now one of the main slogans chanted on the rooftops and on the streets throughout Iran. If unabated, the ongoing popular unrest could expand into a formidable political movement capable of putting an end to the Islamic regime altogether.

Yet, others fear that with the intensification of government crackdown and the decline in revolutionary zeal the country may plunge into an abyss of political repression. The detention of hundreds of reformists, religious and political figures alike, and the closure of the dissident newspapers followed by the mass arrest of ordinary citizens in the days after the mass protest point to this direction. This is further indicated in a repeated call on the part of the political right for the arrest of Mousavi on charges of conspiracy. The most daunting of all came from Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the influential Kayhan newspaper and the supreme leader's media representative. In his editorial on Saturday July 4 he relentlessly lambasted both Mousavi and Mohammad Khatami for acting as ‘America's fifth column' and ‘committing horrible crimes', including ‘the killings of innocent people' and ‘causing riots'. He then went on to call for their trial upon arrest "in an open court in front of the people's eyes". Such threats may serve as a warning sign that preparations are well underway for a wave of Stalinist-style purge and the formation of a police state in which the ruling elite is none other than the supreme leader surrounded by a handful of top military commanders.

Whatever the outcome, it all depends on how the balance of power on the levels of popular and elite politics is played out in the days or months ahead. This is a crucial factor in any assessment of the current political crisis in Iran. For, beneath the crisis lies a class war which is fought on cultural and ideological fronts. On one side of it, there are the ruling clerics who by virtue of their leading role in the 1979 Islamic Revolution have been transformed into oligarchs, thanks to their monopoly over the state and economy. On the other side, there is the defiant middle-class with women and the youth in the forefront venting out their frustration against a system that has denied them their basic rights and yet failed to deliver what the revolution stood for.

The young men and women who have poured into the streets echo the voice of a new generation of middle-class which increasingly finds it difficult to reconcile theocracy with its social aspirations. They belong to the age of modern communication technology with secularly inspired demands that directly threaten to undermine the theological base of the current Iranian oligarchy upon which their claim to political legitimacy rests. This is precisely why the intransigent ruling clerics represented by the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi, the ideological architect of ‘The Just Islamic Government', have been highly reluctant to concede to such demands, simply because any concession of this sort would mark the beginning of their demise.

Yet, what we are witnessing in Iran is not a class war in its conventional sense. The power struggle between the competing factions of the clerical establishment over the nature of the Islamic government on the one hand, and the cultural divide between the Western-educated middle class and the religiously inclined lower-middle class and the poor on the other complicate the situation. While the middle class has the blessing of many moderate and disenchanted clerics outside the government, the power elite has the backing of many urban poor who make up the core of Ahmadinejad's electoral support. Given the deployment of the social forces in the equation between the two warring camps, it is unlikely that one could easily oust the other.

Certainly, the state's apparatus of repression, including the die-hard supporters of Ahmadinejad, may find it increasingly difficult to stop the rising tide of a movement set off by a deep-seated hatred for the totalitarian nature of the Islamic regime. There is a limit to what violence can achieve, for in the end it will prove counter-productive, as the revolutionary experience of 1978-79 has shown. There are already reports indicating that support for Ahmadinejad is diminishing as fresh news of government brutalities against the detainees are spread.

On the other hand, the cry for freedom by the middle-class has its own limitations to successfully lead a revolutionary movement. It has little to offer to the balk of the urban poor. As a Financial Times editorial noted on June 15, "Change for the poor means food and jobs, not a relaxed dress code or mixed recreation." Insensitivity to such concerns by the reform movement has given Ahmadinejad the upper hand to manipulate the working poor with his right-wing populist agenda. His self-projection as the protector of the poor and his concept of ‘moral economy' versus free market were for the most part propagandist tools which only aim to undermine his political opponents. His ruthless suppression of organized worker unions and his pursuit of policies designed to privative important sectors of the economy for the sole benefit of the elite Revolutionary Guards Corps and the security officials speak for themselves.

The artfulness of the reform leaders in combating this right-wing agenda will help neutralize if not completely win over a good section of the impoverished masses who are often incited to violence by the religious right against those who are seen as defiling the faith. This is of immense importance in the creation of a culture of resistance that brings people together for a common cause. Certainly, the poor and the underclass do not necessarily share a single political ideology. They too have an inherent desire for democratic rights, and are as such disposed to secular ideological influences which embrace social justice. Some raise doubt as to whether Mousavi is capable of playing such a unifying role. He may or may not. But the left-leaning intellectuals with a vision of social justice could extend their hands to their worse off compatriots by including their grievances in their program of action. After all, the Iranian middle-class has history on its side. Its demands, limited as they are, represent the will of a nation that looks forward to a society in which each and every section of its population will have an equal right. It is this dynamic aspect of the current movement that has led many unionized workers like the union of the autobus drivers in Tehran to join forces with the rest.

The political assertion of the middle-class has also had its impact on the nature of the elite politics. It is for the most part seen in the deepening rift in the clerical establishment, a rift that has undeniably confronted the Islamic state with a crisis of legitimacy. While the hard line clerics who wield the state power are on the path to lose their legitimacy by further allying themselves with the military and security forces, their reformist opponents seeks theirs in voicing the popular sentiment. To a lesser degree, this latter movement is also true of some pragmatic clerics from within the conservative order. Sensing that their wealth and power are at stake with the collapse of the regime, they are on an expedition to restore the legitimacy of the Islamic state by persistently trying to forge a compromise between the two factions. In their effort to preserve the status quo, the go-between pragmatists are equally prompted by a fear that they too might be the target of a systematic purge, once the hard liners take full control. Their self-motive notwithstanding, the course of action pursued by the conservative pragmatists has distinctly brought them closer to the reform camp. Rafsanjani's campaign among the influential clerics of Qum soon after the election for the formation of a national reconciliation government, though unsuccessful, may serve as an indication that he cast in his lot with Mousavi. This would have meant a setback for the supreme leader, since the proposed government was to be entrusted with the task of overseeing a new election to be held within six months or a year. Likewise, in his recent visit to the families of those detained, while still urging for unity, Rafsanjani broke the silence by telling them of some sinister plots which have resulted in the current state of affairs.

The announcement on June 29 by the Guardian Council that dismissed the charges of vote riggings has not necessarily brought a closure to the crisis surrounding the election. Nor has it dissuaded Mousavi to advance his political campaign, despite mounting pressures from various centers of power to isolate him. In fact, in a 25-page document released on Saturday July 4, Mousavi reiterated his refusal to accept the election result as he detailed specific irregularities and abuses carried out both before and during the election. Its repercussion was serious enough to draw the attention of the Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qum, the country's most influential body of clergy who in a statement issued on the same day not only denounced the re-election of Ahmadinejad as illegitimate, but also went so far as to reprimand the supreme leader for failing to adequately investigate complaints of vote riggings. The statement also strongly condemned the government's use of violence against peaceful protesters that resulted in the killings of 20 people and the arrest of countless others. Finally, it urged other clerics to speak out, and demanded the immediate release of all those detained in weeks past. Although, this body of independent clerics did not favor any one particular candidate, the message it delivered certainly placed it on the side of the reform movement.

In the meantime, the chorus of Allah-o Akbar (Good is Great) continues to be heard from the rooftops in the middle of nights throughout Tehran and several other cities. In retrospect, this was a powerful slogan that ushered in the downfall of the Shah's regime. It now seems as if the chanting of Allah-o Akbar portends the demise of the very regime it once brought to power. It has a different sound and a different connotation; it is directed against Allah Himself.

This clearly is a moment of disenchantment in contemporary history of Iran which is far more significant than what happened in 1979. Then it was a revolution looking backward even as it rid the masses of a truly oppressive regime and gave them a sense of national dignity. In contrast, the one we are now experiencing is a forward looking movement with an altogether different sense of national dignity. Painful as it may seem it is the only path humanity has open to it if only it must do away with all forms of authoritarian ideologies that privilege one section of society over all the rest.

What seems very clear both then and now is the inability of the clergy to meaningfully engage with modernity in the specific context of Iran. The contradictions inherent in this engagement must surface sooner or later, and nowhere is this more vividly expressed than the kind of transformations that have occurred within the women population in Iranian society. The conditions of women throughout Islamic societies have often drawn severe criticism from feminist and women rights groups both in the West and the Islamic societies. One of the most spectacle changes that one witnesses in Iranian society over the past few decades is the increasing number of women who have availed of education. So much so that in today's Iran there is in fact a female intelligentsia that has decided to stand up for its freedoms and rights. There is all likelihood that a right wing backlash would make such women its first targets. The killing of Neda Agha Soltan may well be seen as a symbolic manifestation of such a backlash, a trend that had actually begun with the election of Ahmadinejad in 2005. One could hope that there is enough courage and support from all quarters to help the women's movement to resist the hidden patriarchal oppression of the conservatives often dressed up as religious diktats. After all, the next Iranian revolution belongs to women who alongside men will bring down the current authoritarian regime in Iran. It will be a color revolution no doubt, but one tainted with blood.

Finally, the crowd in the coming revolution will consist of the same social forces which were present during the Constitutional Revolution of 1905-1909 and the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Each one is drawn to the revolutionary movement for its own specific reason and each try to stamp its own brand on it. As usual, there will be opportunists, defectors, foreign collaborators mixed with the crown. But the crowd for the most part are millions men and women, old and young, who love the revolution, even if it does not love them back.

Toronto, July 2009

2009年7月10日

The Tragedy of the Left's Discourse on Iran

Saeed Rahnema
ZSpace / Z Net
July 10, 2009
(http://www.zcommunications.org/znet/viewArticle/21948)
Saeed Rahnema is Professor of Political Science at York University, Canada. His books include Selected Communities of Islamic Cultures in Canada: A Statistical Profile; Rebirth of Social Democracy in the Iranian Left Movement; (with S. Behdad); Iran After the Revolution: Crisis of an Islamic State; Organization Structure: A Systemic Approach.

The electoral coup and the subsequent uprising and suppression of the revolting voters in Iran have prompted all sorts of analyses in Western media from both the Right and the Left. The Right, mostly inspired by the neo-con ideology and reactionary perspectives, dreams of the re-creation of the Shah's Iran, looks for pro-American/pro-Israeli allies among the disgruntled Iranian public, and seeks an Eastern European type velvet revolution. As there is very little substance to these analyses, they are hardly worth much critical review; and one cannot expect them to try to understand the complexities of Iranian politics and society.

As for the Left in the West, confusions abound. The progressive left, from the beginning openly supported the Iranian civil society movement. ZNet, Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Bullet, and some other media provided sound analysis to help others understand the complexities of the Iranian situation (see, for example, here). Some intellectuals signed petitions along with their Iranian counterparts, while others chose to remain silent. But disturbingly, like in the situations in Gaza or Lebanon, where Hamas and Hezbollah uncritically became champions of anti-imperialism, for some other people on the left, Ahmadinejad has become a champion because of his seemingly firm rhetoric against Israel and the US. Based on a crude class analysis, he is also directly or indirectly praised by some for his supposed campaign against the rich and imagined support of the working poor. These analyses also undermine the genuine movement within the vibrant Iranian civil society, and denigrate their demands for democracy, and political and individual freedoms as middle class concerns, instigated by western propaganda (a view shared by Khamenei, Ahmadinejad and his supporters).

MRZine and Islamists
The most bizarre case is the on-line journal MRZine, the offshoot of Monthly Review, which in some instances even publicized the propaganda of the Basij (Islamic militia) hooligans and criminals. The website has given ample room to pro-Islamist contributors; while they can hardly be considered to be on the left, their words are appreciated by the leftists editing the site. One writer claims that the battle in Iran is about "welfare reform and private property rights," and that Ahmadinejad "has enraged the managerial class," as he is "the least enthusiastic about neo-liberal reforms demanded by Iran's corporate interests," and that he is under attack by "Iran's fiscal conservative candidates." The author conveniently fails to mention that there are also much "corporate interests" controlled by Ahmadinejad's friends and allies in the Islamic Guards and his conservative cleric supporters, and that he has staunchly followed "privatization" policies by handing over state holdings to his cronies.

During the 1979 revolution, the late Tudeh Party, under the direction of the Soviet Union, was unsuccessfully digging deep and looking hard for "non-capitalists" among the Islamic regime's elements to follow a "non-capitalist path" and a "socialist orientation." Now it seems that MRZine magazine is beginning a new excavation for such a breed among Islamists, not understanding that all factions of the Islamic regime have always been staunch capitalists.

Azmi Bishara's imagined Iran
In "Iran: An Alternative Reading" (reproduced in MRZine), Azmi Bishara argues that Iran's totalitarian system of government differs from other totalitarian systems in two definitive ways: Firstly, it has incorporated "such a high degree [of] constitutionally codified democratic competition in the ruling order and its ideology." Bishara does not explain however that these "competitions" are just for the insider Islamists, and all others, including moderate Muslims or the wide spectrum of secular liberals and the left are excluded by the anti-democratic institutions within the regime.

The second differentiation Bishara makes is that "... the official ideology that permeates institutions of government ... is a real religion embraced by the vast majority of the people." He is right if he means the majority of Iranians are Muslim and Shi'i, but it is wrong to assume that all are religious and share the same obscurantist fundamentalist version as those in power. He also fails to recognize the existence of a large number of secular people in Iran, one of the highest percentages among Muslim-majority countries.

He praises "such tolerance of political diversity," "tolerance of criticism," and "peaceful rotation of authority" in Iran. One wonders if our prominent Palestinian politician is writing about an imaginary Iran, or the real one. Could it be that Bishara has not heard of the massacres of thousands of political prisoners, chain killings of intellectuals, and silencing of the most able and progressive voices in the country? Doesn't he know that a non-elected 12-member conservative body (The Guardianship Council) only allows a few trusted individuals to run for President or the Parliament, and that the real 'authority,' the Supreme Leader, does not rotate, and is selected by an all-Mullah Assembly of Experts for life? The unelected Leader leads the suppressive apparatuses of the state, and since 1993 has created his own "Special Guards of Velayat" (NOPO) for quick suppressive operations. So much for tolerance and democracy.

Bishara undermines the genuine massive reform movement and claims that "expectations regarding the power of the reform trend ... were created by Western and non-Western media opposed to Ahmadinejad...." Had Bishara done his homework, he would have learned about the massive campaigns led by large number of womens' organizations, the youth, teachers and select groups of workers. He warns us of "elitism" and of having an "arrogant classist edge," and implicitly dismisses these movements of "middle class backgrounds" and claims that "these people are not the majority of young people but rather the majority of young people from a particular class." It is unclear on what basis he makes the assertion that most of the youth from poor sectors of the society support Ahmadinejad.

James Petras' message: freedom is not "vital"!
One of the most shocking pieces is by the renowned controversial Left writer and academic, James Petras. In his piece "Iranian Elections: 'The Stolen Elections' Hoax," Petras conclusively denies any wrongdoings in the Iranian elections and confidently goes into the detail of the demographics of some small Iranian towns, with no credibility or expertise in the subject.

The abundant facts pointing to massive electoral fraud speak for themselves, so I will not waste time refuting his evidence and 'sources,' but will rather focus on his analysis. The most stunning aspect of the Petras piece is the total absence of any sympathy for all the brave women, youth, teachers, civil servants and workers who have been so vigorously campaigning for democracy, human rights, and political freedoms, risking their lives by spontaneously pouring into the streets when they realized they were cheated. Instead we see sporadic references to "comfortable upper class enclave," "well-dressed and fluent in English" youth, etc. Women are not mentioned even once, nor is there any recognition of their amazing struggle against the most obscurantist policies such as stoning, polygamy, and legal gender discriminations. Neither is there any reference to trade union activists, writers, and artists, many of whom are in jail.

Instead, the emphasis is on crude class analysis: "[t]he demography of voting reveals a real class polarization pitting high income, free market oriented capitalist individuals against working class, low income, community based supporters of a 'moral economy' in which usury and profiteering are limited by religious precepts." Petras could not be more misguided and misleading. Of course this would fit well within the perceived traditional class conflict paradigm (with an added touch of imagined Islamic economics!). However, the reality is far more complex. The Ayatollahs on both sides are "market-oriented capitalists," so are the leaders of the Islamic Guards, who run industries, control trade monopolies, and are major land developers. There are also workers on both sides. Failed economic policies, the rising 30% inflation rate, growing unemployment and the suppression of trade unions turned many workers against Ahmadinejad. The communiqués of Workers of Iran Khodrow (auto industry) against the government's heavy-handed tactics, the long strikes and confrontations of the workers of Tehran Public Transport and the participation of workers in the post-election revolts, are all examples of opposition to Ahmadinejad by workers. It would also be simplistic to talk of the Islamists' 'moral economy,' when both sides have been involved in embezzlement and corruption, much of which was exposed during the debates fiasco in which they exposed each other.

On the basis of his limited understanding of the situation, Petras declares that "[t]he scale of the opposition's electoral deficit should tell us how out of touch it is with its own people's vital concerns." Firstly, like many others he cannot distinguish among different groups and categories of this "opposition," and worse, is telling Iranian women, youth, union activists, intellectuals and artists, that their demands and "concerns" for political and individual freedoms, human rights, democracy, gender equity and labour rights are not "vital." It seems he's telling the Iranian left: rofagha (comrades), if you are being tortured and rotting in prisons, your books are burned and you are expelled from your profession, don't worry, because the "working class" is receiving subsidies and handouts from the government! Professor Petras and those like him would not be as forgiving if their own freedoms and privileges were at issue.

The left has historically been rooted in solidarity with progressive movements, women's rights and rights for unions and its voice has been first and foremost a call for freedom. The voices that we hear today from part of the Left are tragically reactionary. Siding with religious fundamentalists with the wrong assumptions that they are anti-imperialists and anti-capitalists, is aligning with the most reactionary forces of history. This is a reactionary left, different from the progressive left which has always been on the side of the forces of progress.

Zizek also misses an important point
In a much admired and distributed piece , Slavoj Zizek, the prominent voice of the new left, refers to versions of events in Iran. Zizek explains that "Moussavi supporters... see their activity as the repetition of the 1979 Khomeini revolution, as the return to its roots, the undoing of the revolution's later corruption." He adds "[w]e are dealing with a genuine popular uprising of the deceived partisans of the Khomeini revolution," "'the return of the repressed' of the Khomeini revolution."

Zizek does not differentiate between the "partisans of Khomeini" during the 1979 revolution, and the non-religious, secular elements, both liberals and Left, who actually started the revolution and in the absence of other alternatives, accepted Khomeini's leadership. Lack of recognition of this reality, that sometimes draws us to despair, is a big mistake. Along the same line, Zizek, wrongly attributes all of today's movement to support for Moussavi: "Moussavi ... stands for the genuine resuscitation of the popular dream which sustained the Khomeini revolution." On this basis he concludes that "the 1979 Khomeini revolution cannot be reduced to a hard line Islamist takeover." To substantiate his point, Zizek refers to the "incredible effervescence of the first year of the revolution...." In fact much of the 'effervescence' of the first year, or before the hostage taking at the American Embassy, was because of the actions of the non-partisans of Khomeini; from the workers councils movement, to confrontations of Fedais and other left organizations in Kurdistan and in Gonbad, to the women's and university-based movements. It was a period when Khomeini and his supporters had not consolidated their power. After the hostage crisis and beginning of the Iran-Iraq war "the Islam establishment" took over.

All these draws Zizek to conclude that "what this means is that there is genuine liberating potential in Islam." Zizek does not recognize that Moussavi is a conservative Islamist, and this "liberating potential" can hardly be applied to him. For sure, there exists a new breed of Muslim intellectuals, the likes of Mohamad Shabestari, Mohsen Kadivar, Reza Alijani, and Hassan Eshkevari, who believe in the separation of religion and state, and can be the champions of such liberating potentials, but definitely not the likes of Khomeini and Moussavi.

There is no doubt that the Iranian 1979 revolution is an unfinished business and its main demands for democracy and political freedoms, and social equity have remained unfulfilled. But these were not Khomeini's demands, in the same manner that not all today's demands are those of Moussavi.

What is happening in Iran is a spontaneous, ingenious and independent revolt by a people frustrated with thirty years of obscurantist tyrannical religious rule, triggered by electoral fraud but rooted in more substantial demands. Much to the dismay of the clerical regime and their supporters inside and outside the country, the ever expanding Iranian civil society brilliantly seized the moment of the election to take strong steps forward. They have no illusions about the Islamist regime, or about their own capabilities. Their strategy is to gradually and non-violently replace the Islamic regime and its hegemony with a secular democratic one. This is a hugely significant, delicate and protracted confrontation. It is essential that they get the wide-ranging effective support from the left in the West so that they don't fall prey to the misleading conception of the left not having concerns for democracy and civil liberties.