Lair Of A Squirrel Red


Oh well… by korakious
February 17, 2008, 6:22 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, NATO, Russia, Yugoslavia

Kosovo declared independence.

That’s Georgia done as a viable state then.

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Tension increases in Venezuela by korakious
November 29, 2007, 2:34 am
Filed under: Chavez, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela

Venezuelanalysis carries two very important articles today. One is about a CIA plot named Operation Pliers, involving a number of prominent opposition groups, leaders, media outlets and students which came to light after the Venezuelan counterintelligence service intercepted a CIA memorandum, dated November 20th. The memorandum predicts a clear Yes mandate for the constitutional referendum taking place on Sunday and goes on to propose a plan of action for the opposition after the referendum, including challenging its authenticity, inciting unrest and distabilisation with the purpose of throwing the country into a state of ungovernability preparing the way for another attempt to violently overthrow the Bolivarian government; textbook imperialist tactics that is, from Mozambique to Vietnam. Importantly, the memorandum also confirms the large scale clandestine campaign against Bolivarianism that has been conducted by the CIA for some time:

Officer Steere emphasizes the importance and success of the public relations and propaganda campaign that the CIA has been funding with more than $8 million during the past month – funds that the CIA confirms are transfered through the USAID contracted company, Development Alternatives, Inc., which set up operations in June 2002 to run the USAID Office for Transition Initiatives that funds and advises opposition NGOs and political parties in Venezuela. The CIA memo specifically refers to these propaganda initiatives as “psychological operations” (PSYOPS), that include contracting polling companies to create fraudulent polls that show the NO vote with an advantage over the SI vote, which is false. The CIA also confirms in the memo that it is working with international press agencies to distort the data and information about the referendum, and that it coordinates in Venezuela with a team of journalists and media organized and directed by the President of Globovision, Alberto Federico Ravell.

The other article reports on the murder of José Anibal Oliveros Yépez, a Chavez supporter, by a group of anti-reform protesters on Monday. After documenting the entirely unprovoked attack, the article goes on to mention that violence by opposition group is not a collection of isolated incidents but instead, a consistent part of a quasi fascist campaign of bullying that is typical of middle class mobilisation:

National Assembly Deputy Francisco Ameliach and the Mayor of Guacara, José Manuel Flores, who visited the neighborhood to pay their respects to the Oliveros’ family, reported that opposition groups in Ciudad Alianza that claim to represent “civil society” have marked the houses of Chavez supporters, or those they believe to be Chavez supporters, with red paint and “have said they are going to kill them.”

What this goes to show is that the Bolivarian process is one powered by irreconcilable class contradictions within Venezuelan society, rather than merely a national bourgeois project. As the reforms instituted by Chavez increasingly weaken the power of global capital and its domestic crutches, we can only expect an intensification of the struggle as the bourgeoisie tries to overturn the process while it still has some political power left. As the heat rises, class contradictions will be laid in increasingly more stark terms as bourgeois and petty-bourgeois ideology will be unable to provide a satisfactory explanatory framework for the rapidly developing (and thus changing) circumstances in Venezuela. Chavez himself demonstrated this shift when, addressing a pro-amendment work place representatives’ meeting Caracas, he explicitly stated that “the working class has to be the vanguard of the revolutionary process for socialist power.”, cautioning against the dangers of bureaucratic degeneration as happened in the Soviet Union. Chavez also went on to speak about the irreconcilable conflict of interests between the working class on the one hand, and capitalism and the bourgeois state on the other. From the IMT website:

The Cuban revolution has lasted a long time due to a deep relationship with the masses. In Nicaragua the road of reformism led to tragic results. You cannot adapt to capitalism. It doesn’t work. No to reformism, No to Bureaucracy! […]He emphasized again and again that the working class is the vanguard but he also castigated many trade unions for not being able to rise above the arena of purely trade union demands. If this does not happen then the political level of the working class won’t rise to the level needed to carry out the task of being the motor force of the revolution. This process will determine the timing and direction of the revolution. We should pass onto the offensive as under capitalism we use defensive actions to protect conditions. The only way to guarantee Popular Power is if the working class plays the leading role.

Under the constitutional changes, he continues, the workers councils in the factories will establish relations with peasant, student and community councils [in effect setting up embryonic soviets – DC]. If this happens then what happened in the Soviet Union and Nicaragua won’t happen. The aim of all of this is to establish Socialism in the country of Bolivar and – in response to a cry from the audience – in all of the Americas.

Yet the devil is in the detail. On the one hand Chavez sees the councils in different areas as alternative organs of power more closely related to the people and therefore theoretically more responsive. This is also a way to bypass the cumbersome and obstructive State bureaucracy. As he stated, “…workers councils will come into being in the factories, in the workplaces, but they should reach out to the communities and be fused into other councils of popular power: community councils, students councils, etc… What for? To shout slogans? To go around shouting long live Chavez? No!… To change the relationships in the workplace, to plan production, to take over piece by piece the functions of the government and to finish up by destroying the bourgeois state.

The current stage of the class struggle in Venezuela will have to come to a decisive political outcome one way or another sooner than later; this dual-poweresque fragile balance of class powers is not a sustainable social equilibrium. The division and increasing weakness of the bourgeoisie makes it ever more difficult for them to defend against the advancing working class, but it should be kept in mind that the proletariat too does not yet have a unified political leadership with a clear programme, ready to seize power and embark on the construction of socialism. The PSUV might come to play that role, but that will depend upon the programme and the organisational structure that will be adopted by its coming founding conference. We can only hope that the majority of principled socialists in Venezuela have joined the party and have not been carried away by the calls for ideological purity by the WRP clones of this world.

Until the foundation of the PSUV however, it is imperative that the Bolivarian movement takes whatever measures necessary to safeguard itself from reaction. Extreme attention must be paid to the tactics of the opposition and resources of all kinds will have to be mobilised to ensure that Operation Pliers does not come to fruition. This will necessarily include state crackdowns (although I am sure that those who lamented the suppression of RCTV’s “democratic” right to support fascist coups will cry “authoritarianism” here as well) but it is of crucial importance that there is also grassroots working class political organisation in the form of demos, counter demos and patrols among other things. As Chavez (and Lenin) said, the workers (to the last cook) must gradually take over the functions of the state.



An Interview with FARC Commander Simón Trinidad by korakious
November 27, 2007, 12:54 am
Filed under: Human Rights, Imperialism, Latin America, Venezuela

FARC is an organisation about which not many people know a lot or even a bit. It is old enough (it’s been almost 40 years since the armed struggle in Colombia started) to have receded from the spotlight, but it is still active and thus cannot be studied in a standard academic historical manner. What is more, its case is quite interesting in that it creates much division amongst the left over whether it should be supported or not with accusations of it being a drug trafficking cartel without any politics left after four decades of guerilla warfare often thrown around. With the opportunity provided by the Colombian government’s decision to terminate Venezuela’s role as a mediator in hostage exchange negotiations, the Lair republishes the following interview with FARC commander Simón Trinidad, originally published in Columbia Report. It is an interesting read and provides some counterbalance to the First World’s narrative about the organisation.

An Interview with FARC Commander Simón Trinidad

by Garry Leech

In January 1999, newly elected Colombian president Andres Pastrana ceded an area of southern Colombia the size of Switzerland to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas as part of an agreement to begin peace talks. Although there is no cease-fire agreement while the talks are being carried out, the Colombian Armed Forces and the National Police have withdrawn all their forces from the region known as the Zona de Despeje (Clearance Zone).

The FARC’s headquarters in Los Pozos, a small village located 18 miles from San Vicente del Caguan in the Zona de Despeje, has been host to the peace talks as well as public conferences where all sectors of Colombian society can come to participate in discussions about Colombia’s future. On June 14, 2000, I traveled to Los Pozos to interview Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and a spokesman for the guerrilla organization. Trinidad was a professor of economics and a banker before joining the FARC 16 years ago.

Q. What is the current status of the ongoing peace process?

A. In May 1999, the FARC and the Colombian government established a common agenda consisting of twelve points. This agenda was created with an agreement that both parties would bring their proposals to the negotiating table–things that they considered important in the discussion and in the search for a resolution to the conflict and to make the changes that Colombia needs.

At the moment, they are only discussing one item: unemployment. There have been 13 or 14 public conferences here in Los Pozos about this topic featuring businessmen, workers, university students, teachers and rectors. This Friday there will be a conference with the African-Colombian communities. On June 25 there will be a conference with unemployed women and on June 29 there will be one on illicit crops and the environment. The FARC and the government are discussing all these items that they consider important in the search for a political solution to the social conflict in Colombia.

Q. Why do you think the United States is focusing on the FARC and campesinos that cultivate coca here in southern Colombia instead of the paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers?

A. That’s a good question. Because the FARC is the only political organization that is in opposition to the Colombian oligarchy that keeps Colombians in poverty, misery and a state of underdevelopment. We are fighting for a change in the Colombian economic model and for a new state. For a state that has at its center the men and women of Colombia and to provide a better life and social justice for Colombians. With the riches in this country and after 180 years of republic living, Colombians must live better. We’ll make better use of the natural resources and provide jobs, healthcare, education and housing so that 40 million Colombians can live well.

Who are those that are opposed to these social, economic and political changes? They are the people who monopolize the riches and resources in Colombia. A small group that monopolizes the banks, the industries, the mines, agriculture and international commerce, including some foreign companies, especially North Americans. For these reasons we are the principal target in the war against narco-traffickers. But we aren’t narco-traffickers and the campesinos aren’t narco-traffickers, they are using it as an excuse for fighting against us.

If the United States government really intends to combat narco-traffickers, all the people in Colombia know where the narco-traffickers live. They live in Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Barranquilla. Therefore, to seize the narco-traffickers the police have to do certain things. They have to leave their houses and search for them in order to put them in prison. But no, they confront the poor campesino with repression that not only hurts the illicit crops, but also legal crops like yucca, bananas, and chickens and pigs because the fumigation kills everything. It damages the earth, the vegetation, the water and the animals.

Those responsible for making Colombia a producer of narcotics are the people who have become rich from this business: the narco-traffickers, and they are happy. Who else benefits from narco-trafficking? The bankers and those who distribute the drugs in the cities, universities, high schools and discos of North America, Europe and Asia, the greatest consumers of marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Who else benefits? The companies that make the chemicals for processing cocaine and heroin. These companies are German and North American. They are industries in the developed countries. It’s a great business for the chemical companies.

The poor campesino has lived in misery for many years and will continue to do so. The war is for them and for us. We are planning a different solution for the problem of narco-trafficking. It consists of providing a better life for the poor campesino through agrarian reform, by giving them good lands, technical assistance and low-interest loans to change from growing illicit crops to legal crops; such as, coffee, yucca, bananas, sugarcane and ranching. An alternative development that facilitates commercialization for these products. But it’s a slow process to change them, it´s not just destroying the illicit crops and then telling them to grow different ones. We have to educate the campesinos about how to produce them. Give them tools, credits and time so they can make a living from these crops and become a different kind of campesino.

Q. Last year, FARC spokesman Raul Reyes claimed that the FARC could eradicate coca cultivation in the regions it controls in five years. However, there have been accusations that the FARC is forcing campesinos to grow more coca here in the Zona de Despeje.

A. This is the story of the police, the army and the narco-traffickers. We live in the country, and it is in the country that the coca, marijuana and the poppy have been grown for thirty years. We know that the campesinos grow illicit crops out of necessity. It is specifically a socio-economic situation. They are obligated to cultivate illicit crops because of a government that has neglected them for many years. We have made it clear that we will not take the food out of the mouth of the poor campesino. We will not leave them without jobs. They work with the marijuana and coca leaf because they don’t have any other work. This problem is caused by the economic model of the Colombian state, and it is the state that has to fix the problem. We are the state’s enemy, not their anti-narcotics police. The state has to offer people employment, honest work, and social justice to improve their lives.

Q. The FARC has introduced its own system of justice in the Zona de Despeje. What are the codes of justice and how are they implemented?

A. It’s not true! We haven’t introduced a justice system in the Zona de Despeje. For 36 years we have been working to solve the social problems of the campesinos that have a relationship with us. For many years the state hasn’t been present in many regions. There have been no state judges, no justice system and no public administration in many regions of the country. The society has had to resolve their own problems because they don’t believe in the ministry of work, they don’t believe in Colombian justice, they don’t believe in the Colombian army and police. They came to us and we were there for them in the country.

For example, there was a conflict between two people regarding land and cows. The cows belonging to one of them entered the other person’s land and destroyed his crops. He came to us looking for a solution to this problem. They don’t go looking for a state functionary because they don’t come to the country. So we told him to come here tomorrow with his neighbor to talk about the problem. We listened to both versions and we asked them for a solution. If they don’t find a solution, we propose some solutions in an attempt to apply justice. We want to see that they can resolve their own problems. We are a witness to their agreements.

Another example is a bad marriage. When the husband drinks all the money, hits the wife and leaves his wife and children. They don’t have the money to travel to a city where the family court is located in order to resolve this problem. The process takes one, two or three years before he is told to provide milk for his children. We call the mother and father and tell them that he has to give part of his salary to his wife and children and that he can’t drink too much anymore. We come to an agreement.

Workers in factories in the cities that were dismissed from their job without reason and without severance benefits go to the jungle in search of the guerrillas to resolve this problem. We send a note to the administrator, boss or owner telling them they have to come and talk with the guerrillas to resolve the problem. Some don’t come, but others do come and we listen to them. We don’t always believe the workers, we listen to the businessmen because maybe the worker is lazy, or a drunk, or a liar, or irresponsible. We resolve these kinds of problems for people who live in the country and the cities. We do this in other regions of the country where the guerrillas are.

Here in San Vicente del Caguan, when we created the Zona de Despeje, the campesinos stopped the guerrillas in the street for solutions to their problems. Now, people have to go to the Oficina de quejas y reclamos (Office of Claims and Complaints) and we listen to both sides of the problem. We didn’t create this system now in the Zona de Despeje, historically the FARC has done this where the state has lacked a system of justice and where a majority of people don’t believe in the Colombian justice system. We are doing it in the Zona de Despeje in an office. The people come and the guerrillas listen to them and find a solution. It is not only about money.

For example, who gets custody of the children when parents get separated? If the mother is a prostitute, doesn’t care about her children and consumes drugs, then the care of the children is given to the father. These are the types of problems we resolve. This office also resolves problems concerning guerrillas when they are bad. For example, if they go out and get drunk. Sometimes we make mistakes and we like it when other people tell us where we failed.

Q. What will happen if the United States Congress authorizes increased military aid to the Colombian Armed Forces and they launch an offensive against the FARC here in southern Colombia?

A. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to think about it. We have more faith in a peace process with dialogue. I don’t want to think about a war in this region of the country. The war won’t resolve Colombia’s problems. Colombia has 18 million people living in absolute poverty. These people don’t have electricity, water, jobs, land, education and healthcare. Another 18 million Colombians are poor with a salary that doesn’t cover all their necessities. They live restricted lives. In many cases the mother, father and one or two sons have to work to provide transport, housing and clothes.

We are 36 million Colombians living poorly out of a total of 40 million Colombians. Of the other four million Colombians, some are rich and others have a good life working in industries, businesses and farms. They have a solution to their problems of healthcare, education, vacation, work and social benefits. Is the war going to resolve these problems?

If this is about the narco-trafficker problem then you know where the narco-traffickers are. For example, the governor of the department of Cesar, Lucas, is a narco-trafficker and he is governor for the second time. His brother is a senator in the National Congress and is in alliance with the president of the Congressional Assembly, Pomanico, who is being investigated for stealing $4.5 million from congress. There is an alliance between narco-traffickers and common politicians, both Liberals and Conservatives. Also, between paramilitaries and the narco-traffickers, everybody knows this.

If you go to Barranquilla the people will tell you where the narco-traffickers are. The police and the commanders of the army battalions and brigades know this. Will the war waged against poor campesinos solve these problems? The war won’t resolve the problems for the hungry and unemployed in Colombia.

Q. How will the FARC effectively implement its new political front, the Bolivariano Movement, if its members remain anonymous?

A. The idea of the Bolivariano Movement is not ours, it doesn’t come from us. It was born with many Colombians 16 years ago when the members of the Patriotic Union were assassinated. It was a legal movement, a democratic movement that participated in the presidential, congressional and municipal elections. And then they began to get assassinated.

When the armed forces, police and paramilitaries began to kill the members of the Patriotic Union they came to us and said, ‘We want to work with you, we like the FARC’s policies. But because of this they will kill us.’ They wanted to work with us, but alone. But the FARC said, ‘No, you can’t work alone. You have to work with your father, your mother, your brother, your neighbor, your girlfriend, your wife, your co-workers, and your classmates. You have to organize, because if we are divided we can’t win.’

But to work in secret? They are right. At this moment was born the idea for the political movement. A political movement that works to recover Colombian society in secret, a movement that’s militant and clandestine. There will be campesinos, students, workers, women and intellectuals who will fight the political confrontation without saying they belong to the Bolivariano Movement. They will not participate in elections because there are no guarantees and conditions that they will not be killed.

First we have to change many customs in this country, like the oligarchy killing political contradictors. This is Colombian history. The world doesn’t know of another country where political contradictors are killed like in Colombia. All of them since we gained independence from Spain. They assassinated Sucre, they tried to assassinate Bolivar, and they assassinated many leaders of the nineteenth century in civil wars. They killed Rafael Uribe Uribe. They assassinated Jorge Eliecer Gaitan, Jaime Pardo Leal, and the Liberal guerrillas that laid down their arms under the government of the dictator Rojas Pinilla. They assassinated 4,000 members of the Patriotic Union, cleansed the Patriotic Union with bullets, and they have followed this practice to kill labor leaders, student leaders, campesino leaders, everybody that has opposed this tyrannic regime. For this reason the Bolivariano Movement remains clandestine.

Q. Many international human rights organizations have demanded that the FARC stop recruiting children. Where does the FARC stand on this issue?

A. In our statutes we have decided that we can recruit 15 year-olds and up. In some fronts there may have been some younger, but a short time ago we decided to send them back home. But what is the cost? In the last year a girl arrived at the office in San Vicente, 14 years-old and wanting to join the guerrillas. When the mother found out that she had joined she contacted the guerrillas and cried and said her daughter is only 14 years-old. In March she was sent back home because the FARC’s Central Command said they would return to their parents all those younger than fifteen. Two weeks ago I met this girl and asked her what she was doing. She said she was working in a bar from 6pm until sunrise. I asked what she was doing in this bar and she said, ‘I attend to the customers.’ When I asked in what way does she attend to the customers, she lowered her head and started to cry. She is a whore. She is 14 years old. A child prostitute. She was better in the guerrillas. In the guerrillas we have dignity, respect and we provide them with clothes, food and education.

And there are millions of others like this girl in Colombia that are exploited in the coal mines, the gold mines, the emerald mines, in the coca and poppy fields. They prefer that children work in the coca and poppy fields because they pay them less and they work more. It sounds beautiful when you say that children shouldn’t be guerrillas, but the children are in the streets of the cities doing drugs, inhaling gasoline and glue. They are highly exploited.

According to the United Nations: 41% of Colombians are children; 6.5 million children live in conditions of poverty, add to this 1.2 million children living in absolute poverty; 30,000 children live in the streets without mothers, fathers and brothers; 47% of children are abused by their parents; and 2.5 million work in high risk jobs. These children meet the guerrillas and they don’t have parents because the military or the paramilitaries killed them and they ask the guerrillas to let them join. We are executing the norm that no children younger than 15 years of age join.

Q. How many women are there in the FARC and what happens when they become pregnant?

A. Aproximately 30% of the guerrillas are women and the number is increasing all the time. The women guerillas are treated the same as the men. Some FARC units have female commandantes and the FARC office in San Vicente is run by a female guerrilla named Nora. Some of the women have relationships with male guerrillas and we provide contraceptives because we do not want pregnant women in the guerrillas. But some do get pregnant and if they don’t have an abortion it is necessary that they leave the guerrillas.

Q. What does the government have to do for the FARC to agree to a cease-fire during negotiations?

A. Stop the fighting on both sides. This cease-fire must be established for a specific time: a month or two months. And besides, it must be verified for both sides. This we understand to be a cease-fire. It was tried many times. Seventeen years ago with Belasario Betancur’s government, when we signed a cease-fire Manuel Marulanda Velez gave the order to all guerrilla fronts to suspend fighting on May 28, 1984, and the president did the same. But the next day, there was an opposing order from the Commander of the Army, General Vega Uribe, saying they won’t comply with the cease-fire order because they have to abide by the Constitution.

We have many times during this presidential period called unilateral cease-fires for Christmas, Easter, elections, many times. The most recent unilateral cease-fire was December 20, 1999 until January 5, 2000. But if we are going to discuss this theme it would be under bilateral proposals with defined times and mechanisms of control and verification. To verify who broke the agreement and why.

This article originally appeared in Colombia Report, an online journal that was published by the Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).



Historical Materialism Conference 2007 by korakious
November 12, 2007, 12:13 am
Filed under: Historical Materialism Conference, Imperialism, Marxism, Neoliberalism, Rob, Theory
As you probably already know, this weekend was the annual Historical Materialism Conference, which I had the good fortune to attend. Unfortunately I missed Friday’s sessions (prior commitments) which meant I didn’t get to see Zizek (damn, damn, damn, damn) but the rest of the Conference was pretty damn good. The first thing to say is that despite the current poisonous climate on the left (and particularly as between the SWP and everyone else) the atmosphere at the Conference was really good (bearing in mind there was a mix of people from different traditions there), everything felt very comradely (although of course the interventions were occasionally slightly cutting) and everyone seemed to get along well enough. So, as is usual in the old blogosphere I thought I’d give a [not so brief] summation of those sessions which I did attend.

Saturday

I rolled in a bit late on Saturday, so I missed the first session of the day. Not that I would really have listened to it much. The next session I attended was on ‘Marxism, Pashukanis and the Law’. In this session I actually ‘presented a paper’ on Pashukanis, Legal Nihilism and Legal Strategy, which I will probably put up here at some time (once I’ve cleaned it up a bit – the notes were really only intended for my consumption only). There weren’t too many people here (although there were a few), which was kind of predictable, as law is not a particularly glamorous topic for Marxist analysis. There were two other contributors aside from me – Andreas Harms presented a paper on ‘Commodity Form and Legal Form’ and Bill Bowring presented a paper on ‘International Law, Lenin and Self-Determination’. Both of the papers were of high quality and we got some good discussion in as well. It feels kind of weird summarising this session, so I’ll leave it for the atendees to do so (hopefully some of them blog).

There weren’t any more ‘sessions’ for the day, as it extended into a ‘meet the editors’ session and a lunchbreak, I did have some pretty interesting conversation during this period, so it was all to the good.

The next ‘session’ was a plenary one, featuring some rather big hitters, the talk was on ‘Neo-liberalism and Neo-imperialism’ and the speakers were Alex Callinicos, Robert Brenner and David McNally.

Robert Brenner
The central thrust of Brenner’s argument was the relationship between the war in Iraq and the US’ geopolitical strategy. Brenner argued that the Iraq war was a puzzling phenomenon which represented a real rupture with previous US strategy in content if not form. Brenner argued that during the 2000 election no one would have predicted that the Iraq war would come around in the time that it did. The Republicans seemed to have a fairly low-key foreign policy, certainly not the type of messianism that seemed to characterise them post-9/11. Furthermore, it was argued that the US had fulfilled its three key strategic aims (which it had held since World War 2); these aims were

  1. To freeze and weaken ‘communism’, third world statist nationalism and statism more generally so as to allow the free movement of [US] capital throughout the globe.
  2. Consolidate US hegemony in Japan and Europe – depriving them of their ability to disrupt the framework of international capitalism; key to this aim was depriving them of their military power and compensate them for this by providing them with security.
  3. As a consequence of the above two aims the US intended to implement a neo-liberal agenda throughout the world, with all the consequences thereof

Brenner argued that the US was willing to do this since US capital was so powerful that it didn’t require the formal protection of the US state. So on this reading the US had – according to Brenner – recognised the essential validity of the Leninist critique of imperialism – namely that monopoly-capital imperialist states vying for domination of the world’s resources inevitably culminated in war, which was not conducive to the continued position of the US and global capitalism. To combat this the US entered into a ‘radical Kautskyite’ project of restructuring the global situation as above – the only question was whether the US was disciplined enough to continue enforcing the consensus.

All of this was encapsulated in the term ‘New World Order’ as used by Bush et al. This meant that there was a new approach to the international use of force:

  • Don’t use force unless you can use massive amounts of force
  • Other conflicts should just be ‘policing’ or assymetrical conflict
  • Avoid committing ground troops if you can – use cruise missiles, bombs etc.

All of ths as summarised in a phrase by Madeline Allbright that ‘military force’ but not war should be used (which got a big laugh from the audience, but really the distinction isn’t as ridicoulous as it first, certainly international law tends to distinguish between the use of military force and an armed attack or war). This was basically a neo-liberal form of imperialism and one in which generally states toed the line (the thrid world accepted the neo-liberal consensus the [not yet] axis of evil was going to the table, etc.).

So US policy in Iraq has to be understood in relation to this. It is therefore necessary to view US policy towards Iraq in this context. What the context what seem to suggest is that no US adminstration would really want regime change in Iraq, as this would be internationally counterproductive – it would be costly, destabilising and could whip up Arab resistance across the Middle East. Futhermore, the Shia could not be trusted to serve as a counterweight to Iran. This is why Saddam was not overthrown following the first Gulf War and a policy of ‘containment’ was pursued in relation to Iraq.

Against this backdrop the recent war in Iraq does seem to be a break (and to a lesser extent so does Afghanistan). Brenner’s next task is to explain how this could happen. Brenner traces the strategic rupture to the ascendence of the neo-conservative movement within the American state apparatus and their huge influence within the State Department. It was only with 9/11 that they were able to gain control over foreign policy.

Brenner then gave an internal examination of this movement. According to Brenner the key theoretical position for the neo-conservatives is the ‘fungibility of force’. By this they mean that American military domination can be used to do anything, and the neo-conservatives were interested in ‘harvesting the fruits of military dominance’.

It is then necessary to understand how the neo-conservatives gained this power. Brenner roots the neo-conservative movement in the Republican far-right, who had taken over Congress in 1994. They had always had trouble gaining power and were only able to do so by pushing the foreign policy aspect. Once they had gained power they acted as a ‘Shadow Cabinet’ that pushed Clinton into all sort of things (like passing the Iraq Liberation Act) but they could only achieve limited success and certainly couldn’t impose their domestic agenda. But 9/11 changed all of this and gave the neo-conservatives the pre-text they needed to actualise both their domestic and international agenda.

Brenner’s analysis was pretty damn interesting (he’s also a very good speaker). I quite liked his focus on concrete, ‘micro’ US politics and the way in which they interact with the global sphere, a Gramsci quote seems particularly relevant here:

Do international relations precede or follow (logically) fundamental social relations? There can be no doubt that they follow. Any organic innovation in the social structure, through its technical-military expressions, modifies organically absolute and relative relations in the international field too. Even the geographical position of a national State does not precede but follows (logically) structural changes, although it also reacts back upon them to a certain extent (to the extent precisely to which superstructures react back upon the structure, politics on economics, etc.). However, international relations react both passively and actively on political relations (of hegemony among the parties). The more the immediate economic life of a nation is subordinated to international relations, the more a particular party will come to represent this situation and to exploit it, with the aim of preventing rival parties gaining the upper hand (recall Nitti’s famous speech on the technical impossibility of revolution in Italy).
Gramsci, The Modern Prince

So I actually thought that Brenner’s analysis was a niecly dialectical one, similar in the way that Gramsci presented it. I also see nothing a priori wrong with the ascription of such a decisive role to a ‘subjective’ factors. Especially as these subjective factors are in a dialectical relationship with the objective situation (Lukacs comes immediately to mind on this point). This isn’t to say that I think Brenner is entirely right, but I don’t think we dismiss his analysis out of hand.

Alex Callinicos
Callinicos delivered another pretty awesome speech (you will hear this a lot, because I thought the quality of this session was absolutely stellar, even if the sweltering heat of the lecture theatre left much to be desired!). Alex presented his argument as one diametrically opposed to Brenner’s. He argued that Brenner had only given us description, but no analysis – we can’t just see Iraq as a random event we need a larger perpective and so must look at the historical connection between liberalism and imperialism.

Callinicos noted that the US has always eschewed formal imperialism – and continuously legitimated itself with reference to this. He looks back to the ‘imperialism of the open door’ – in which the role of military power was only to enforce the conditions of a liberal world economy, this of course should not – as a rule – involve the use of ground troops. The predecessor of this type of imperialism was the ‘imperialism of free trade’ practiced by the British Empire in the 19th century and Britain relied heavily on informal empire in Canada and China. The US has a consistent, radical version of this.

Following World War 2 the US dominated the advanced capitalist world and built up a series of institutions, but this liberalism was only ever transnational. After the collapse of the Soviet Union the US was able to convert this transnationalism into global liberalism. This means that for Callinicos there was no fundamental break in the project – and it was one vigorously pursued by the Clinton administration. For Callinicos therefore, Clinton was the true pioneer of the fungibility of military power.

But of course hegemony is always about force and consent, and they are always combined in different ways. The manner in which these methods are combined is what differentiates the neo-cons from Clinton. Thus, for Callinicos this is a matter of quantity not quality there is no rupture. Callinicos further argues that the Bush administration was radicalised post-9/11 and that in this context the neo-cons cannot be considered ‘mad’. He argues that in the face of the increasing threat of China’s economic power a rational argument could certainly be made out for the US using its only comparative advantage in this conjuncture that of military force. Iraq was therefore important because rising captialist powers were dependent on its oil and the US needed to assert this.

The question Callinicos thinks we need to ask is ‘what are the interests of US imperialism’? When we do this we understand that the US ruling class is complex and the best strategy is always a contested question – we have to look at te question of the imposition of ideology on a world scale, and the geo-political is central to this.

All well and good – but I think Brenner responded pretty well by saying ‘we don’t really disagree on much’. I think this is probably the case – all they really disagree is whether there is a qualitative or quantitiative difference between Clinton and Bush (which sounds big but – meh – scales). Brenner just helps us to understand why it is that one side won the argument. But I’d actually go further than this. Callinicos seems to argue two contradictory things. On the one hand he argues that there is no rupture between Clinton and Bush, but on the other hand he seems to argue that China posed a qualitatively new threat to the US. Because of course post-WW2 there has been no capitalist power that posed a threat to the US in the way China has (although I guess the state-cap people would argue the USSR was a rival capitalist power, so maybe change the reference to post-1989?), since every other ‘threat’ was pretty damn friendly to the US, and were happy to allow the US maintain Pax Americana. So, on this reading, Alex seems to be arguing that the emergence of China has disrupted the ‘radical-Kautskyism’ of the US, since it doesn’t accept the US’ managerial role. But surely this would indicate a rupture, in line with Brenner.

David McNally
Although I really liked the first two talks David McNally’s was far and away my favourite (I think much of the audience agreed with this too). In contradistinction to the first two McNally’s position was to start from a general theoretical analysis and proceed from there. So for McNally the central point of depature was that of Marxist value theory. We need to begin from this perspective – so McNally argues – because we live in a world of alienated social relations and theory must de-fetishise them.

McNally’s talk revolved around 5 arguments:

  • Neo-liberalism involves radically extending and intensifying the commodity form
  • This is achieved through ‘monetarising’ more and more aspects of human life
  • This involves the extension of primitive accumulation
  • This occurs on a variety of levels and entails imperialism
  • World money becomes decisive

So McNally’s basic argument is that the phenomenon we call ‘neo-liberalism’ must be understood as the extension of the commodity form – not a conscious project of the capitalist class but a result of the value form itself. It is fundamentally connected to new forms of discipline, and is primarily exercised through the discipline of money – the IMF, the World Bank etc. This leads to a reversal of the partial decommodification of labour.

Dispossession is also fundamental to this (hence the importance of primitive accumulation) because land has to be converted into capital. But since this land is occupied by other people, they have to be turfed off. For this reason there is a nexus of land, violence and dispossession – which gives rise to new enclosures and modalities of class struggle arise against this. Furthermore, ecological disaster is incorporated into this, so disasters which displace people are taken advantage off (Hurricane Mitch was used to get rid of the Honduran indigenous population).

McNally further linked this process to militarisation – war is of course central in ‘clearing out’ areas of land, be that through death or fleeing. All of this has also led to a great rise in the industrial reserve army, which has grown massively as people have been forced out of their land in the process of dispossession.

McNally went on to criticise the approaches of David Harvey and Rosa Luxemborg, who he thinks failed to properly elaborate the ‘laws’ of this economic process – meaning they cannot properly theorise it. Instead they often remain at the level of (very powerful) description. [He also made a really interesting point about dialectics and subjects positing their own presuppositions – but I’ll ignore that]. Further, his problem with Rosa’s approach is that she assumes this form of imperialism requires permanent occupation, which is clearly not the case, as the discipline of money suffices to compel national elites to implement dispossesion.

McNally then went on to focus heavily on what he called ‘world money’. By this he means the currency which serves as the ‘global’ medium for exchange. He argues that there has beeen an intensification of unequal currecny exchange, with the global South losing out on this. But the concept has been under theorised, and it is important, because the state that issues ‘world money’ will get the surplus on exchange, and so can appropriate value. This means that different nation states struggle over who is to issue world money.

McNally argues that this can be illustrated by the Euro project in the European Union, where the states of the European Union have tried to create a currency with all the characteristics of world money. McNally describes this as a form of inter-imperialist rivalry and denies that such rivalry need be militarised.

McNally ended with the argument that we need to emphasise anti-neo-liberalism and anti-imperialism highlight the need for a de-commodification of labour – that is to say the socialist revolution (which earnt him a rousing cheer).

What I really liked about McNally’s talk was the way that he was able to articulate linkages between his theoretical paradigm and our practical trajectory. His analysis does explain rather well a lot of contemporary phenomena in a basic theoretical way, and I think this is to be welcomed.

Ultimately, I think all of these talks worked well, and frankly if we could have combined them all into one big talk it would have been awesome. So David sets the economic-theoretical scene for us, Alex embedded it in a broader historical context and Bob examined the specific way in which ruling classes responded to the broader need for the expansion of value. Each therefore had the merit of contributing to a totalising perspective, and with a little work we could trace the analysis of value directly into Alex’s and Bob’s talk. Of course this is the inherent weakness of the short talk format, but nonetheless I was impressed by this session.

OK, I’ve clearly gone on long enough, so I’ll stop now, and do something else. Tomorrow (maybe?) I want to at least outline the talk on ‘Global Flashpoints’ that was also on Saturday, particualrly as I felt it offered a really interesting perspective on the Palestinian resistance.



Income disparity in the US reaches record levels by korakious
October 12, 2007, 4:22 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, poverty, US

According to a report released by the Internal Revenue Service, concentration of wealth amongst the richest 1% of the population in the United States has climbed to unprecedented heights by post-war standards. From Yahoo news:

The richest one percent of Americans earned a postwar record of 21.2 percent of all income in 2005, up from 19 percent a year earlier, reflecting a widening income disparity among different classes in the nation, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing new Internal Revenue Service data.

The data showed that the fortunes of the bottom 50 percent of Americans are worsening, with that group earning 12.8 percent of all income in 2005, down from 13.4 percent the year before, the paper said.

It said that while the IRS data goes back only to 1986, academic research suggests that the last time wealthy Americans had such a high percentage of the national income pie was in the 1920s.

The article cited an interview with President Bush, who attributed income inequality to “skills gaps” among various classes. It said the IRS didn’t identify the source of rising income for the affluent, but said a boom on Wall Street has likely played a part.

The contradiction between the overall increase of wealth and the simultaneous increase in poverty is of course a fundamental characteristic of capitalism as Marxists have been pointing out for decades. With the neo-liberal hegemony having displaced the formerly commonly accepted Keynesian economics, this contradiction becomes of course even more sharp. The political weakness of the working class after a series of defeats, from the failure of the Miners’ Strike to the catastrophic fall of the Soviet, which have resulted in the collapse more or less of the socialist movement as a strong antagonist to the bourgeoisie, has only strengthened the latter and facilitated its offensives against the workers of the world.

Of course the increasing brutality of our most absurd mode of production makes it easier for the exploited masses to see it for what it really is, a crime against human progress, and thus provides more opportunities for the building of class consciousness. On the downside (as if there weren’t enough already) it seems rather improbable to me that the working classes of imperialist metropolises will develop this consciousness before a large scale collapse of global imperialism.



Capital Inferno. Wildfires in Greece by korakious
September 2, 2007, 2:00 pm
Filed under: environment, Greece, Guest posts, Imperialism

The Lair is now open. The Squirrel Vanguard decided to bring you quite a bombastic opener for this year; we hope you will appreciate it.

The following article I found somewhere in the endless dusty corridors of the world wide web. It deals with the recent wildfires that ravaged (and are still ravaging) a great part of Greece, burning villages and killing more than 65 people. The author used a number of sources to put together the puzzle of what can only be described as a coordinated offensive by capital, foreign and domestic. References are to articles in Greek. Remember folks, the Lair never lies to you.

Greece under attack by tourist-developer cartels

In the last week of August of 2007, Greece underwent the most enormous catastrophe in her history since the restoration of Parliamentary Democracy in 1974. Western and Southern Peloponnese, the “heart” of both ancient and modern Greece, as well as other places like Athens’ suburbs and Evia Island, have been totally destroyed by wildfires. 65 people have been killed (among them was a mother with her four young children), several more are missing, numerous villages have been wiped off the map and millions of acres of forest or agricultural land have been converted into ashes.

Apart from the loss of human lives, the destruction wrought by the arsonists will have far reaching effects that will surface in due time. The devastation of forests will result in an overall rise of temperature, floods in the winter, corrosion of the ground and landslides. Furthermore, the razed areas will be affected economically by a tremendous rise of unemployment, a huge emigration of their native population to Athens or other big cities, while the whole of Greece will face an overall decline in agricultural output, since those areas were key producers of vegetables, fruits and, most importantly, olive oil.

Undoubtedly, a major crime has been committed. A crime, however, that is not spontaneous, but premeditated. The 290 different centers of fires that broke out in Peloponnese definitely point to arson.

In order to locate the arsonists, one has to look at the strong financial interests which have been pressuring for the “development” of the destroyed areas for several years up to now.

The Ionian Road

The construction of a national highway in Peloponnese under the name “Ionian Road” – specifically the south part of Ionian Road, as Ionian Road is extended in Central and Northern Greece too – connecting her four major cities, Korinthos, Patra, Pirgos, and Kalamata, was conceived as an idea in 1996, but it was postponed mainly due to the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens which absorbed most of the state’s resources. The new right-wing government of Nea Dimokratia promised in 2004 to start building the highway soon. At last, its construction was auctioned in July of 2007 to the native and multinational construction companies Vinci–El.Technodomiki–TEV, Aktor, J&P Avax, Hochtief and Athina, and it was supposed to start right away, with the prospect of being completed in 2011[1].

The Ionian Road would secure road access to the enormous tourist facilities that were being built in Western Peloponnese, and those that were still being planned at the time. The completion of the Ionian Road ought obviously not to take more than the required time; therefore, its construction shouldn’t be interrupted by “aggravating” forests, biotopes and ecosystems as well as environmental and community activists. the Nea Dimokratia MP for the Elea region of Western Peloponese G. Kontogiannis, had stated clearly, as early as 2004: “The political leadership of the Ministry of Public Works believes that the Ionian Road has to proceed rapidly so as to make up for the delays of the last few years…”[2].

Ionian Road was originally scheduled to cross over places of high environmental significance, such as Lake Kaiafa in Zaharo area, which had been included in the Natura 2000 European catalogue. As the chairman of Zaharo’s Environmental Protection League, Mr. Agrapidas said in July, “The combination of ground and lacustrine ecosystems as well as their co-existence with antiquities, mythological places and the thermal fountain renders Lake Kaiafa ecosystem a unique cluster that has been declared an archaeological site and a landscape of special natural beauty”.

The prefectorial council of Elea, in which the aforementioned area falls under, refused to cede Lake Kaiafa for the construction of Ionian Road, despite the strong pressure by the Ministry of Public Works. According to Mr. Agrapidas’s claims, there was an alternative route for the highway, not crossing the area; nevertheless it might have been longer and of higher cost[3]. At last, the Ministry succumbed to the demands of the locals and decided on the 24th of July to divert Ionian Road towards another direction, far away from the lake, so that its fragile ecosystem would not be harmed[4]. However, a mere month later, the area around Lake Kaiafa was burned to the ground. The constructors of the highway will now face little resistance in their exploitation of the devastated area.

Strangely enough, the centers of most of the fires that broke out there coincide perfectly with the original plan for the Ionian Road! Compare the NASA satellite photograph of the Peloponese burning to the Ionian Road plan.

Other Interests in the Western Peloponese

Lake Kaiafa had also attracted the attention of other benevolent investors and developers. In 2003, the former Deputy Minister of Economics D. Georgakopoulos of the former government of the “socialist” PASOK, was charged with pressuring the Domanial Service of Elea, the region that he was elected in, to declassify Lake Kaiafa as a protected territory in order for it to be granted to big tourist corporations for the development of hotel complexes and golf courses. He had also presented a relevant report according to which an investment of 150 million euros would be made on Lake Kaiafa for the “modernization” of spas and other facilities of the area[5], which referred to the ecologists who protested against the plans as “ecoterrorists”[6]. Now that the beautiful biotope around the lake has been burnt up, the “investors” and their political agents won’t need to counter any bureaucratic barrier or “ecoterrorism” in order to declassify it.

Apart from Lake Kaiafa, many other places in Western Peloponnese through which the Ionian Road will pass, are also considered to be “ideal” for the development of tourist businesses. For instance, in the Messinia region in the South-West of Peloponnese more than one billion euros are going to be invested in 11 big hotel blocks of 5 stars, luxurious summerhouses, sea therapy and spa facilities, a seasonal center as well as 4 huge golf courses. The major investor in this area seems to be a notorious Greek ship-owner, V. Konstantakopoulos, who runs Costamare Shipping SA, based in Panama, but strong multinational corporations seem to operate alongside him; Kempinski multinational corporation which is mostly active in South-Eastern Asia is going to exploit the sea therapy and spa facilities and a famous American company has undertaken the exploitation of the golf courses[7]. Konstantakopoulos has appropriated enormous areas of agricultural land with olive trees, some times without the consent of their owners, as well as land in areas alongside the Navarino lagoon (also protected by NATURA 2000) openly defying the law. The few “bureaucratic” problems considering the permissions of Archeological and Forest Service that had remained were overcome after his visit to the presidential palace and his meeting with the Prime Minister K. Karamanlis, in 2005. He also secured 45% subsidization by the state for his investments[8]! And now, that much of the Messinia district has been consumed by the (not so) wildfires, he definitely feels even luckier as he can extend his business to the devastated area expropriating the land he needs in depreciated prices.

Another place in Western Peloponnese that is considered by the “investors” to be a bargain is Katakolo in Elea district. In late August, the famous international business association World Trade Center Group sent their representative, David H. Lee, to Katakolo and ratified an agreement with state officials for the “development” of the area[9].

The region around ancient Olympia has also been the subject of potentional exploitation. Many domestic and foreign “investors” have proposed deploying the surrounding area by building modern stadiums, hotels and other facilities and even use this place for organizing the Olympic Games[10]! One of the reasons that they were not permitted to implement their plan was that this surrounding area was forestland. After the fire though, there is no more forest surrounding Olympia so that barrier is no longer present.

Most people in Greece know that Western Peloponnese has the most magnificent coasts and beaches in the whole country. Nevertheless, her people were very traditional and closely linked to their land and property and with the agricultural sector of the area being particularly strong, they had never desired to exploit their region in a tourists-industry fashion. The tourist “investors” had good knowledge of this fact and in order to successfully exploit the area, they first needed to preemptively destroy any popular resistance to their plans and they couldn’t care less if then of people there died in flames. As for the people who survived, most of them will move to Athens to seek a job, while the few remaining there, will apparently work as waiters or security guards to the huge hotel block that will spring soon. The investors seem to have achieved what they had intended.

The Germans’ special role

Mountain Taygetos and Parnonas in Central and Southern Peloponnese respectively, were also burned. It was common knowledge among those local communities that powerful German interest groups desired avidly to transform the mountains into ski resorts and chalets. The Germans had in the past been interested in exploiting Mountain Grammos in Northern Greece, which was partially burned this summer in July. German capital has also been active in Western Peloponnese and Evia buying enormous pieces of land, either as private investors or under the cover of offshore companies. Not surprisingly, one of the contractors that will participate in the construction of Ionian Road in Peloponnese, Hochtief, is German and interestingly enough it is owned by Kaitel, the son of the homonymic notorious Nazi general. It seems that while German imperialism failed to occupy Greece in World War II having been beaten and humiliated by her strong resistance movement, it succeeds in 2007 without military invasion, just with some fires and the help of their modern collaborators; not the security battalions, but the regional and central bureaucrats ruling the Greek state.

Yet, the similarly crucial role of British and American interests should not be ignored. Having almost fully “occupied” Corfu and Crete Island with their hotels and golf courses, they coveted Peloponnese as well, buying huge swathes of land to be used for tourist developments. Indeed, they are very loyal to their colonialist traditions of 1944 when the British bombed Athens and killed 40.000 civilians in order to crash the resistance movement, which had achieved to liberate Greece before they came in, and of 1967, when the U.S. imposed a seven-year fascist dictatorship, which totally destroyed the country.

The golf lobby

One of the strongest blocks of interests, if not the strongest, which desire the “resortisation”, so to speak, of the Greek coasts are the prospective constructors of golf courses. The huge level of environmental destruction that the construction of golf courses will lead to, such as waste of water, use of enormous quantities of artificial fertilizers and disruption of the nearby ecosystems doesn’t seem to concern the Greek government which does everything possible to grant large areas in the countryside to golf investors. The Minister of Public Works, G. Souflias, claimed in May of 2007 that “considering the golf issue there are many deficiencies, as Greece has just 6 golf courses whereas France has more than 500, Italy more than 200, Spain more than 300 and Portugal 36”. Moreover, another high-rank officer of the ruling party, the Deputy Minister of Economics, P. Doukas, is at the same time the president of the Greek Golf Association, and had publicly declared in 2005 that even more golf courses are necessary. It should be noted however that the main opposition party, PASOK, before the elections of 2004, had promoted the support and the expansion of the golf industry in Greece, and after the elections, which it lost, it hasn’t been opposed to golf policy of the Nea Dimokratia government at all[11].

As expected, all the environmental studies and reports that warn about the destruction that golf courses will cause have been deliberately ignored. “Who passes by those studies in favor of tourist development?” wanders Mrs. E. Mpriasouli, professor in the Department of Geography in the Aegean University. “They think that this way they are going to get the hotels full of people. 70% of global tourism is manipulated by a single organization (i.e. Global Tourist Organization). They promote the golfer cluster and they blackmail us to accept this model. The same happened with the pools. […] This model of tourism concerns the foreigners who stay and do everything inside the tourist facility. They don’t go outside of it, they don’t consume any domestic products, and of course everything is produced and constructed by big companies”[12].

Western Peloponnese’s long coastline was ideal for the golf industry to construct several golf courses. By 2005, the International Golf Association was very optimistic that in 2006 and 2007 there would be a very big golf ‘boom’[13]. However, so far the locals and the environmentalists struggled hard against this prospect. Now that there is no environmental value in the devastated areas, that ‘boom’ will face little resistance. In confirmation of that, the aforementioned Deputy Minister of Economics, who is renowned in Greece for his cynicism, appeared on national TV two days after the disaster, and he attempted to soothe the pain of the people living in the disaster areas by promising that a development plan, considering tourism and especially golf courses, will start being implemented there right away! Of course, the sold out Greek Mass Media, both public and private, branded the plan as a great benefaction.

Government’s and main opposition’s complicity

The government of Nea Dimokratia, which has been ruling from March 2004, has devoted itself in the tourist development of the countryside and coasts in order to increase the annual influx of tourists. “There are one million Europeans who are interested in buying a summerhouse in Greece” was one of the main arguments of government officials, who used to refer to tourism as Greece’s heavy industry[14]! Thus, the Ministries of Civil Works and Tourism put up a plan of tourist “development”, under the name of New Zoning Framework for Tourism, which blatantly offered land and water to the tourist cartels.

According to the abovementioned framework, an “investor” can buy land everywhere, and simply by naming the investment as a “tourist” one, get a big subsidization and build four times more than a privateer, as long as they sell the 70% of the houses to privateers and run the rest 30% as a hotel. They have also the right to build in environmentally protected areas or skerries provided they name them “tourist”! This situation is aggravated by the inexistence of a National Cadastral Register, which would at least classify some forestlands or biotopes as such and might prevent them from being built[15].

However, for this plan to be successful an overall reconsideration of zoning in the country needed to take place, that is to say, permissions for appropriating forestland should be awarded. Therefore, in early 2007, the government tabled a constitutional amendment according to which, article 24, stating that construction in forestland is strictly forbidden, would be practically abolished. The official opposition, PASOK strongly condemned the amendment and blocked the ratification of it by withdrawing from the voting – the funny thing is that, in 2003, when PASOK was in power, it tried to pass an identical amendment, but Nea Dimokratia, then the official opposition, refused to support it. Although, finally, article 24 was not abolished, the prospective arsonists were encouraged to hasten their plans, and consequently, in the summer of 2007, Greece suffered the greatest number of wildfires in her modern history.

Furthermore, the Sub-Ministry of Environment, which happens to fall under the Ministry of Public Works and is responsible for using the state funds provided to the latter for the protection of the forests and biotopes, did very little on this. Most of the, already few, resources for environmental protection were transferred back to the Ministry of Public Works in order to support works already under way, using the ridiculous excuse that the Sub-Ministry of Environment was unable to spend it all[16].

Another way in which the government is responsible for the holocaust is that it caused the collapse of the Fire Brigade. The Ministry of Public Order, under whose jurisdiction the Fire Brigade falls, hadn’t recruited the required number of firemen, preferring instead to hire thousands of policemen! In addition to this, the virulently right wing Minister of Public Order, V. Polidoras, transferred incompetent officers, who were eventually proven to be completely incapable to combat the numerous wildfires, to key positions simply because they were members of the ruling party[17].

The tourist-developer cartels soon realized the incapacity of the Fire Brigade and the insufficient measures for the protection of the forests, and therefore, aided by the high temperatures and the strong winds in this area, obviously decided it was a very convenient time for them to put their plan into action.

The scapegoats

When the first fires in the Peloponnese broke out, everybody thought it would be the ordinary land developers who casually burn pieces of forestland every year in order to build on them. Yet, when several new fires broke out which, unprecedentedly, burned whole villages to the ground, killing tens of people, the public started suspecting an organized plot by strong native entrepreneurs or even multinational companies. Greece was apparently under attack, and since the fire brigade and their political chiefs in the Ministry of Public Order were proved to be totally incapable to put down the fires, the government tried to spin the mayhem unleashed by global capital and its domestic lackeys to its own advantage. Two days after the first fires, the Prime Minister, following the advice of his image-makers, appeared on National Television wearing an ordinary jacket, like George Bush did right after September 11th, and stated that Greece faces an asymmetric threat. Nevertheless, he obviously didn’t name those actually responsible for the fires, whose identities he most definitely knows. On the contrary, his colleagues in the government secretly or even openly blamed anarchists and political extremists for the arsons claiming that “they want to destabilize democracy”!

The mass media which support the government invented new imaginary enemies like the Turks, the Albanians or even PASOK, blaming them for the wildfires! PASOK, of course, condemned these scenarios as conspiracy theories, but on the other hand, it just put the blame on the government accusing it of incompetence. It is more than obvious that PASOK knew that the arsonists were the tourist-industry cartels, but it didn’t want to stand up to them, as, when in government, it was (and will be) tightly intertwined with them.

The police and its dependent secret services, all of them being famous on a world scale for their incompetence and stupidity, but very effective at beating up defenceless immigrants and protestors, did their best to find the perpetrators of the terrible crime. The result was the arrest of an old woman in Zaharo for causing the fire by negligence while she was cooking in her backyard, an Albanian immigrant who was misleadingly presented as the one having put some fires in order to take revenge from his Greeks employers for mistreating him, and a 62 year old pensioner arrested in Aeropoli of Lakonia who was a former member of PASOK and was forced to admit that he was one of the arsonists[18]. Yet, in this case the police needn’t have necessarily acted as stupidly as always; the mission surely assigned to them by the government was to cover up the actual arsonists.

Conclusion

As days pass and more evidence comes to the surface, it becomes more and more obvious that the instigators of this recent destruction in Greece are the multinational tourist-sector cartels. Nevertheless, the implementation of that arson attack was not something that ordinary arsonists (usually foreigners hired by petty developers) could have done; on the contrary, it required perfect organization, planning and coordination. Thus, the perpetrators of it are definitely the cartels’ instruments, that is to say foreign secret services.

It is widely accepted that tourist cartels of Western Europe and America with the collaboration of their Greek business representatives, and the tolerance of the corrupted local politicians, have been trying to convert Greece into a huge tourist resort for well-off Europeans and Americans and her people into waiters. For decades, the E.U. has been using economic violence, forbidding Greece to subsidize her own industry and agricultural production or to impose import duties to their products while the U.S. have been blackmailing her to buy their weapons exploiting and inflaming the tension between her and neighbouring Turkey (also a great customer of the US weapons industry), in a manner reminiscent of Italian mafia “protection”. However, this kind of violence didn’t bring swift results and they decided to resort to physical violence, like the one that they regularly used to exert in their colonies.

So far, the Euro-American cartels seem to have achieved their target to devastate a big part of Greece. But her people have not said their last world yet. They will definitely claim their land back.

[1] Corinth, Patra, Pirgos, Motorway to be ready by summer 2011, GoWest.Gr, 24/7/07, http://www.gowest.gr/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=9777&pop=1&page=0&Itemid=1585

[2] ND will end PASOK’s fiasco over the Ionian motorway, Indymedia Athens, 27/8/07, http://athens.indymedia.org/front.php3?lang=el&article_id=752934

[3] The road can be moved, the lake, not quite, Kathimerini, 08/07/2007.

[4] Statement of Public Works Minister, Mr Yeorgios Souflias, on the signing of the contract re the North-West Road of the Peloponese, 24/7/07, http://www.minenv.gr/download/2007-07-24.dilosis.g.souflia.gia.ypografi.symbasis.elefsina-korinthos-patra-pyrgos-tsakona.doc

[5] Kayafa healing springs; investors needed, Rizospastis, 15/4/2003.

[6] 18- hole crime, Golf construction hysteria in Greece, Eleutherotypia, 3/4/2005.

[7]Tourism for Global Capital,Aristera! http://www.koel.gr/index2.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=964&pop=1&page=0&Itemid=34

[8] 18 holes in a forest, Apiganias: Development or Destruction? Eleftherotypia, 1/5/2005

[9] Meeting of Sp. Spyridonas with International Entrepreneurial Delegation. Press release, 21/08/2005.

[10] Olympia is Reborn, Kathimerini, 6/8/05.

[11] 18- hole crime, Golf construction hysteria in Greece, Eleftherotypia, 3/4/2005.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Their country? Sold. Eleftherotypia, 17/6/2007.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Hypocrisy – Environment and Public Works Ministry tried to cut back 30 million euros on “protected areas”. Eleftherotypia, 21/7/2007.

[17] From Karamanlis’s promises to… Souflias’s palpitations, Eleftherotypia, 28/7/07.

[18] Questions over 62 y.o.’s arrest in Aeropoli for arson. In.gr, 30/8/07, http://www.in.gr/news/article.asp?lngEntityID=827585&lngDtrID=244



The arrogant Eagle and the pissed off Bear. by korakious
June 5, 2007, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Imperialism, NATO, Russia


A few days ago there was yet another demonstration in Prague against the proposed installation of a US radar station within the framework of the American missile defense system being set up in Central Europe, allegedly in order to protect US (and Europe) against a hypothetical nuclear missile launch from Iran. As the BBC article comments, the Czech people are overwhelmingly against the building of the station, for both health and security reasons. The current ruling party does not have an absolute majority in parliament, and it seems that the opposition forces are against the move (whether on principle or to capitalize on its unpopularity) meaning that Mr Topolanek might not be able to fulfill his promise to Dubya. Without meaning to sound like a new leftie movementist, I believe it is good to see some sort of political activism – even if it doesn’t have an explicitly working class character – in a country of the former Eastern Bloc. It indicates that the people are gradually overcoming the atomization caused by Stalinism, as well as challenging the hegemony of liberal ideology and building an oppositional political culture. Should the radar proposal fall, it is likely that the Czech people will be heartened enough to start mobilizing over other issues as well. Demonstrations have already been organized for Bush’s visit tomorrow; hopefully, they will be sizable. [I started writing this post a couple of days ago. Bush’s visit has since been completed; if you have any idea as to how successful the planned protests where, please let me know]

As the title implies however, this post is not about the level of class struggle and political consciousness in the Czech republic but rather, the international context and implications of the US drive to establish missile installations in that very troubled part of the world.

The implications are, I believe, rather evident. Russia is getting pissed off at having American missile systems in her backyard. It is rather obvious to anyone with basic knowledge of geography that said complexes are more useful against Russia than Iran. There is absolutely no reason for an Iranian missile headed to the US to fly over anywhere near Poland or the Czech Republic, unless of course the hypothetical missile decided to do zigzag maneuvers on the way. If the US were really worried about an Iranian attack, they would be better off building their radars and whatnot on the north coast of Africa. Indeed, the only way that a projectile from Iran would go over Poland or the Czech Republic was if it was headed to… Greenland. Unless my memory is failing, I believe that Iran does not have any grudges against the Inuit people.

Russia’s response

Vladimir Putin has been quite vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction with what he referred to in Munich as the US overstepping its national borders. A well schooled security bureaucrat, Putin is understandably worried at what he sees as a preemptive measure against the imperialist aspirations of Russian capitalism.

Putin’s response to America’s increasingly antagonistic foreign policy is almost Bismarckian in the extent to which it dovetails with Russia’s general strategic interests. The Judo practitioner, in his speech to parliament on April the 26th, declared a moratorium on Russia’s commitment to the Treaty on Conventional Weapons. The treaty, first signed in 1990, aimed to reduce the number of conventional military forces scattered around Europe within the context of the Cold War. It was amended in 1999 to take note of geopolitical changes affected by the dissolution of the USSR, however, the US and other NATO members have refused to ratify it before Russia withdraws her troops from Georgia and Moldova. Russia of course is not going to have any of this crap, hence Putin arguing that Russian presence in the former SSRs is a matter without relevance to the treaty and declaring it void until the NATO members ratify it. This is hardly surprising. The Treaty was originally signed when the Soviet Union was on its death bed and amended when Russia was in the middle of the devastating crisis that followed the dissolution. Now, the Russian state has to an extent pulled itself together, balancing itself on the wave of rising energy prices and is gradually stabilizing the almost shattered Russian society.

What is even more indicative of Russia’s willingness to pursue a confrontational foreign policy is Putin’s hint – during his speech at the Munich Conference – that Russia was not happy with the restrictions imposed on her by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty within the current global political framework. This was followed by further, more intense dick-waving sabre-rattling when Russia announced the successful testing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile which, according to The Guardian, can carry multiple warheads, all of which can lock onto different targets, posing thus a significant challenge to intercepting systems. This of course is just part of the increasingly high-pace Russian rearmament, rather than a shocking development, but its timing, only a few days before Bush’s visit to Prague, is quite telling.

Prospects

Only one thing is sure. The interests of Russian and American imperialism are on a collision trajectory, for various reasons. Not only is Russia threatening to break global US hegemony if she does indeed manage to harness her internal chaos, but she is also obviously interested in (and capable of) regaining dominance in hertraditional spheres of influence which have been usurped by the US. The War on Terror is not helping Kremlin-White House relations much either, as it fuels Islamic radicalism which in turns fuels Chechnyan separatism.

The extent and magnitude of the conflict between American and Russian interests depends on how much the two states are prepared to and can sustain their politics of confrontation.

It seems to me that the US is in a far more difficult position as far as political sustainability is concerned. The foreign and internal politics of the US (on which I’ll admit I am no expert) are marked by irreconcilable contradictions. The soon to end Bush administration is based on an alliance of the intensely ideological Christian Right groups, corporate interests and whathaveyou. The War in Iraq and occupation of Afghanistan is a huge drain on state funds which are already being depleted by far going tax cuts. As the Cedar Lounge Revolution puts it:

And of course the point is that the Bush administration is intensely ideological. But in a weirdly splintered way, with competing interests, commercial, sociopolitical/religious and foreign policy having spent the last seven years vying for pole position and the Presidents ear. These interests are by no means mutually compatible.

I could argue that Bush represents the triumph of the oligarchies, or perhaps the triumph of oligarchies who have cynically utilised the right religious vote. But perhaps that would be to attribute to Bush more guile, or even project management, than he deserves. Perhaps the project was simply about being in power. And perhaps that tells us why the project has failed. If one has no instinctive interest in affairs of state, indeed an antipathy to the very concept of the state or perhaps more particularly the public welfare (in it’s broadest sense), it tends to lead to – at the very least – a sense of dislocation. And that’s all fine, except the state functions in a very real way only due to the collective affirmation by citizens and the input of taxation from citizens. In other words other peoples money.

Said War is to the interests of only some sections of American capital, hence the opposition to the War by certain interest groups. Then there are also disagreements on methods to tackle climate change, with the energy lobby vehemently fighting any marginally progressive proposals while bourgeois leaders like Al Gore have painted themselves green, realising that there are green votes to be won, as well as understanding the bourgeoisie is not immune to environmental destruction. And of course, there’s the repoliticisation of the American public itself as a result of both the war and the influx of immigrants from Latin America who are gradually starting to become class conscious.

Bush himself seems to be unsure as to what approach to Russia is best. First, he tries to reassure the Bear by vowing that the installations are of no danger to her, even going as far as to invite Russian officials over. Then, he goes on to criticise the Putin administrationon rolling back “freedoms”. With such a degree of policy instability, it is impossible to predict how the US will behave in dealings with Russia after the election next year.

As regards Russia, matters are far simpler. Even though Putin cannot run for reelection again in 2008, there is little evidence to suggest that any of the potential future Russian presidents will follow a different political trajectory. The only challenge faced by Russia is, as I said earlier, her internal socio-economic chaos byusing high energy prices to expand the economic base of the country and invest in programmes of social development. None of the opposition parties can hope to defeat Edinaya Rossya and even if they did, there would be no change with respect to the structure and functioning of the state which is entirely dominated by (both state and private) corporate interests in a manner rather different than in other capitalist states. As Tony Wood argues, business and state have become almost fused, with businesses recruiting from state ministries and vice versa:

Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev is also chairman of Gazprom; Putin’s deputy chief of staff, Igor Sechin, is also chairman of Rosneft. Taking the Presidential Administration as a whole, ‘11 members chaired 6 state companies and had 12 further state directorships; 15 senior government officials held 6 chairmanships and 24 other board seats.’ Many members of the government are also rumoured to have significant, undisclosed business interests—such as the Communications Minister, Leonid Reiman, who allegedly still holds a stake in the phone company he co-founded, Telekominvest

It is obvious thus that the political trajectory of Russia will be far more stable in the long run than that of the US, as long as she avoids another economic crisis like that of the 90s.

With Iran and China also rising to global prominence, it is certain that we live in interesting -and dangerous- times. I am only hoping that the dormant (for different reasons) working classes of Russia and the US will soon reestablish themselves as powerful enough political actors to put a break to their national bourgeoisies’ mortal pissing contest.