Friday 26 October 2007

Is It Emancipation Or Elimination Of The Scavengers In Laar Town (Deoria)

In March 2007, I visited Laar town and met many persons from the scavenger community. Many of the sweepers who came and narrated their plight had not got their salaries since the appointment in the Nagar Palika. Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, the then chief minister was on a spree to announce various schemes and one of them was 'jobs' 'reserved' of sweepers for the Valmikis or scavenger community. In the eastern Uttar-Pradesh, they do not use the term Balmikis/Valmiks for the sweeper. Instead there are people from the communities of Rawats, Bansfors, Helas, Mehtars who are engaged in scavenging work. Many of the women narrated their plight and how they wish to get out of the scavenging hell.
A report was submitted to National Human Rights Commission and after which the commission, it seems, issued notices to the state government. We realized that after it the municipal authorities approached the Sweepers and those who were engaged in scavenging to leave their work otherwise face severe consequences in the form of dismissal or jail. It was like the victims themselves were being victimized for the century old exploitation they faced without any dilution.
Pain of contract workers
That time too, all those working on contract had not got their salaries for seven months. Those who joined the municipality in the hope it would ultimately relieve them from indignity of manual scavenging later felt betrayed, for they not only lost their earlier work but now had no chance to go another work.
To find out what was the latest happening there, I visited Laar last month to find out the condition of the people and their depressing condition. As being reported here that manual scavenging is still going despite the denial by Nagar Palika. In fact, we have not only recorded the entire event in video but also got affidavit from the families and large part of text is being produced here. It is unfortunate that all the government's measures to eliminate scavenging are half hearted and lack sincerity and conviction. That time too our investigations revealed how the Swachchakar Vimukti programme has failed and gone in the hand of middlemen. The officers have got a new tool to exploit people.
It is unfortunate that the Safai Karmcharis had to resort to strike for their legitimate right just a few days ago, which ended after administration's highhandedness and duplicity. The administration played its dubious role. One month salary was paid last month but ultimately till date it has now been informed that over 8 months salary is still due and the Nagar Palika has done very little to repair the damage. Instead, the Safai Karmcharis were threatened and we are informed Rs 500/- was given to each of the karmcharis to keep away from striking further. A small penny therefore divided the community, which has lost all hope.
What will happen to a community, which does not get its legitimate amount even when that is much below the 'normal limit' of decency? Why are the safai karmcharis at the receiving end at each nagar palikas. When the work on contract was publicized by Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav, in many municipalities we received complaint or even appreciation that even the backward and upper castes were applying for sweeper's job. It has now been revealed that all these OBCs or Upper castes, working in municipalities in the name of sweeper do not really mix up with the sweeper community and some of them are benami sweepers. When the sweeper community does not get paid up salary for over 7 months, it reverse back to scavenging, a profession that government and nagar-palikas claims to have vanished. In Laar and other towns and villages of India, it is still prevalent and we have not only recorded evidence but also people on affidavit claiming they are engaged in the work.
Back to scavenging
In the Laar town the Mehtar community is still carrying the nightsoil. Around 10 women are still involved in the work. The national Scavenger Liberation Scheme has failed because of malfunctioning and corruption in the scheme, which never reach the poor. These 10 women are doing the manual scavenging work in nearly 110 houses.
As you may be aware of the fact that Social Development Foundation had earlier also given a report regarding Laar but so far we do not know what action has been taken. We have been given the impression by the scavenger community that after the report was send by NHRC, the Nagar Palika official went to the locality and threatened those who were allegedly involved in the scavenging work.
Rehabilitation of scavenger should be the utmost priority of the government but elimination of scavenging cannot be done by half hearted publicity measures, which the authorities are involved in. It will require lot of commitment and sincerity on part of bureaucracy and the officers. Unfortunately, that seems to be lacking in most of the towns in Uttar-Pradesh. If removal of scavenging is forcefully prohibited without providing an amicable and dignified solution, then we are afraid the situation would go out of control.
The municipality officials not only threatened the husbands of the women involved in scavenging but also did not give them any other opportunity of survival with dignity. No action is normally taken against the municipalities who have failed with the compliance. Women are not being given any job opportunity by the Nagar Palikas resulting in their returning to old profession. Further, none of those who are working with the municipality have got any salary for the past seven months. We are still amused as why the authorities find it difficult to pay to those who keep their cities clean. It is said that the government is providing an alternative to scavenging in the form of providing employment to those who are involved in scavenging. Yet, as our report suggest, women have got no employment as well as those who got appointment on contract basis have not got any salary for the past seven month. The result is that their wives have started returning to their traditional occupation. The condition of the scavenger community is a matter of grave concern but our governments and civil society organizations have failed to respond to the issue. They are virtually suffering in indignity and humiliation. On the one hand the municipal officials threaten them with dire consequences, on the other side, there is no way they will get a job. It is a usual phenomena in Uttar-Pradesh that the Safai-Karmcharis never get their salary on time. Normally it takes six months to get their salaries. Government expects them to be rehabilitated. Their children do not get opportunity to sit with upper caste students. The women folks later resort to manual scavenging because it help them get not only a peanut for their survival but mainly they are able to get loans for local people for running their families.
According to report appeared in local newspaper Dainik Jagaran that 46 people were charged under this. For the financial year 2006-2007 about Rs 58 lakh came to the municipality but only Rs 9 lakh were used. No one knows about other Rs 49 lakh. More than 110 houses have still dry latrines. In January, it was reported that FIR was lodged against 17 persons. In March 2006, DUDA has lodged FIR against 29 persons (Dainik Jagaran, Gorakhpur, September 8 th, 2007).
Work without payment
In his affidavit Krishna s/o Vishwnath said that he was given appointment on contract by the Laar Nagarpalika. But more than 7 months have passed and yet they have got no salary. Whenever she tried to contact the chairman of the Nagar Panchayat, he has been thrown away and is being threatened of being dismissal from the job. It is very difficult to run the family on credit. In the absence of no salary for the past seven months, his family and children are suffering in indignity, hunger and depression.
Sadabriksha has three children who do not go to school. For seven months of work, he was unable to get any salary. They go early morning at six and return at 10. Again for the day shift they go at 2.00 pm and return at 6 pm.
Gita, wife of Dilip has on record mentioned that she is still doing the manual scavenging work in more than 10 houses of Laar town. Mr Bakhsi in the Nagar Panchayat is forcing us to leave this work and got her signed at a blank paper. She was promised work under contract in Nagar Palika but never got it. However, her husband is a sweeper on contract in the Nagar-Palika and have got no salary for the past seven months. How do the government expect them to get rid of this vicious circle when they are not interested. Now, Gita claims that the municipality is threatening her husband with dire consequences if she does not leave her work.
Basanti wife of Krishna charged the municipality of threatening her to leave the manual scavenging work. ' I was promised work on contract but till date, I have got nothing. My husband was given work on contract and now it is over 7 month that we are without any money. I cannot open a shop and start selling things. One we do not have the money and second no body would buy any product from us. When people keep away distances from us how are they going to accept us other than sweeping and cleaning. But we are ready to any other work if alternative is given. Though I have left the work but what is the option. How do my children go to school in the absence of any income, she said.
Kanhaiya is a sweeper on contract at the Nagar Palika but because of non-payment of salaries his condition is worsening. He is a student of 12 th standard but unfortunately he got no work. He is married and unable to run his family. Now, even the shopkeepers do not give us things on credit.
Subhawati wife of Ram Pyare is engaged in the manual scavenging work in nearly 15 houses in Laar. She charge municipal corporations officer Mr Bakhsi for taking her signature in plain paper under the pretext that she would get work. So far she has got nothing. Instead she is being threatened that her husband would be dismissed. 'My husband is working in the municipality on contract yet nothing has been paid to him in the past seven months. Now the government says that you leave manual scavenging but what is it giving to us for our survival', she said.
Gaura Devi wife of Bechu works in 10-15 houses. She gets rupees 10 per months for her work, which cannot survive her along with her three children. Unfortunately, because of the economy of indebtedness has an important role in the community's inability to get out of the profession. Nowhere the municipalities are known to be paying salaries to sweepers on time. Most of the time they get their salaries after six to seven months. Therefore the women folks have to resort to manual scavenging as they remain in the good books of the upper castes and can extract some cash credit in the time of emergency.
Vidyawati w/o Harinder is also engaged in six to seven homes. She has the same argument that when the government does not provide them anything, how can they leave the work. Nagar Palika has promised them work but so far nothing has materialized.
Sushila Devi w/o Ramchander said that she was called by the municipality for a job but later denied me a job because my son got a job in the municipality. It is difficult to run the family and in the absence of salaried paid for over seven months. Now, we are in difficult condition as our children are virtually starving. Who will think of sending them to schools? I will have to resort to manual scavenging again to get food on credit to run my family says, Sushila.
Lilawati Devi has no work. Her husband Om Prakash is also jobless. They have four children and all starving at the moment. Municipal officials asked us to leave this work but provided no alternative. What do we do? After all, we have to work for our livelihood and we do not get anything else.
Kamala Devi wife of Basant was doing work previously but after the municipality promised them work, she left manual scavenging. I was asked to sign on a blank paper and informed that my job has been confirmed. When she went to the municipality she was told to get out. She has big family of 10 people to support and her husband has no work at the moment.
Rajan Kumar is working in the municipality on contract and is depressed at the moment as he can not go to any other job in the absence of non payment of salaries for past seven Months.
Shambhunath is a permanent sweeper in Nagarpalika, working for over 25 years. At the moment he is getting Rs 7000/- per month. He says on the discrimination against his community that he never got promotion in the municipality as a Safai Nayak. Till date not a single person from the Balmiki community has been appointed as supervisor. The other community people who never get involved in sweeping and cleaning are appointed as supervisor. We all clean dirty lanes, Nalis, sever etc but without any mask, globe or shoes. Whenever we tried to ask question regarding our safety, we have been threatened away.
According to Basant, there are number of Safai Karmacharis who can be termed as 'benami'. Many people from upper caste Muslims and backward communities have been appointed in the sweepers job on contract but they never come along with us to clean and sweep the street. They normally do office work and later many of them got promoted as supervisors.
Conclusion: The aim of this write up is to bring to the notice the persistently denigrating conditions of the swachchakar community in various parts of Uttar-Pradesh. We will continue to bring out reports on prevailing situation and where has our governance failed. We would warn the authorities not to go on exploiting our report and torturing the people who are in the profession. Aim is that the authorities should introspect and provide decent employment to people from this community. There should be income generation programme for the community and special school targeted to help the community's new young children. Most importantly municipalities must be penalized for not being able to rehabilitate the community and holding up their salaries for so many months . Special focus should be given to women, as it is they are one hundred percent involved in scavenging. Swachchakar Vimukti Yojana needs to be channalised through Non Governmental Organisations and not through the government officials. All the scavenger women should be provided alternative and decent employment. The Swachchakar community needs special treatment. May be government can fix a quota for the educated youth of Swachchakar community in the jobs other than sweeping and scavenging. That would be the first step from the government side to delink the community from its traditional occupation, a burden it still is carrying on its vast soldiers. It is time we wake up and bring dignity to our work and fellow workers and stop this greatest sin of our time.
The Swachchakar community needs to be liberated from this living hell at the moment. Their locality has no water supply. Dirt everywhere and in the absence any proper sewage system, they throw the human excreta in the stale water. I was amazed to find the same women after doing their work washed their hand in the same water they threw the garbage. It needs to be seen how this community is surviving in filth. It reflect of our betrayal to the community that even fifty years after independence we have not been able to modernize our life style and most importantly our thoughts remain completely out of date and racist in nature. That a community is made to clean your dirt and this thing is still happening in India is a shame which we all have ourselves to blame, most importantly the political class for whom they become a 'vote bank'. It is time we get out of this mindset, involve ourselves in the national mission of liberation of manual scavengers and the first thing could be penalizing the officials and Nagar Palikas if they do not rehabilitate the community and exploit them.

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

(P.S: Copies of affidavits of some of the swachchakars from Laar town are being send to National Human Rights Commission, National Scheduled Caste Commission as well as Chief Minister of Uttar-Pradesh, along with our previous report and list of people.)

The Marked People

In today’s world, many things have been globalised. One of these is prejudice. In the name of the global war on terrorism, an entire community has been labelled and demonised. Terror attacks, whether in Washington, London or Madrid, are followed by paranoid surveillance, strip searches and prolonged detentions of large numbers of Muslim youth, often without even tenuous evidence or respect for their elementary human rights.
The latest to join this global assault on democratic rights — in the wake of the three bomb blasts that hit Hyderabad this year — is the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh. The state Minorities Commission has reported the abduction and illegal detention and torture by the police of a large number of Muslim youth within days of the blasts on August 25, 2007. I have heard from several terrified families of many youth who “disappeared” for several days without legal trace, chilling testimonies similar to those made by youth incarcerated in Cheraiapally Jail before the fact-finding committee established by the Commission. The committee comprised advocate Ravi Chandran, Professor of forensic sciences Mahender Reddy, and activists Nirmala Gopalakrishnan, K. Anuradha and Afsar.
What emerges is that tens of — it is feared hundreds — Muslim youth have been forcibly picked up from their homes, and more often while they are on way to work or the market or to worship, without legal arrest. These detentions have been forced by men in civilian clothes presumed to be policemen. Among those illegally arrested is an autorickshaw driver, an embroiderer, a medical student and a software engineer. Almost none have criminal records.
As they struggle against their abductors, they are bundled into vehicles without number plates, their eyes covered with blindfolds that they are not allowed to remove throughout their detention, their hands bound and their mouths gagged. They are then driven to unknown destinations, possibly farm houses in the periphery of the city. In these locations they, and other youth, are subjected to various forms of torture, including denial of food for long periods, electric shocks and beatings on the soles of their feet. Their eyes continuously masked, they lose track of night and day. They are driven every few days to new torture chambers, grilled about their role in the bomb blasts and coerced to agree about their alleged role in the blasts and their sympathies with international jehad. They are continuously battered with communally-charged taunts by the interrogating policemen. Some succumb by signing blank confession papers; others stoutly resist.
Their hapless families are, of course, not informed by the police about the detention. They are sometimes informed by witnesses of the police abduction. Many are poorly educated and impoverished, desperate, but unable to comprehend how to set about finding their loved ones. They contact the police, who deny any knowledge of the missing men. Others frantically contact lawyers and human rights organisations to file habeas corpus petitions in the high court. These are heard without urgency by the judges, and the police routinely deny, in court, that the missing men are in their custody. However, in a few days, they are indeed produced by the same police before magistrates, claiming that they were arrested just a day earlier. It is not possible that the habeas corpus petitions by the families of the youth could have been filed before their arrest by the police, in anticipation of their future arrest by the police.The fact-finding committee found “tell-tale signs of bodily abuse obviously not self inflicted” in the incarcerated youth, including “noticeable small scars of 1 cm diameter noted on external ears” and “1 mm to 2 mm scars noted around nipples indicative of electricity or needle entry”. Even jail records in three cases acknowledge injuries. They were visibly traumatised, some vomited blood, and others were severely dehydrated with swollen limbs and barely able to walk. The Commission observed that since these injuries “are not self inflicted, these obviously arose during police custody... [therefore] custodial atrocities on young detainees, all minority persons, stand proved”.
What is even more worrying is that the magistrates abdicated their duties by wantonly ignoring the visible signs of torture (some even noted later in jail records), when the detained youth were presented before them. Even the high court judges ignored Supreme Court guidelines by listing habeas corpus matters for hearing only once a week, unmindful of the imminent threats to the survival of the youth.
It is remarkable that even after legal production, following prolonged interrogation under torture, the police could still not charge most youth with involvement in the bomb blasts. Instead, the police alleged the youths’ support for international jehad been ‘proved’ by possession and propagation of ‘inflammatory’ CDs and pamphlets. The remand case diaries that I have in my possession describe these CDs as containing “Gujarat communal incidents like showing burnt bodies, damaged houses, the statements of victims as well as their relatives” and the other “clippings like shooting and beheading of… western forces by jehadis”. I possess and exhibit at least the former. Is that evidence to detain me for waging war against the State, in the way that these unfortunate youth have been charged?
The dazed families of the detained men live with their loss in intense social isolation. They are not just stigmatised by people of the ‘other’ community, even their neighbours, friends and relatives avoid contact with them, for fear that they too will be suspected by the authorities to harbour sympathies with terrorism. The larger community, especially poorer Muslims in the city, subsist with the daily cold dread that their own loved one may be the next target of the police.
An agonised young woman related to one of the detained youth cried out in a solidarity rally, “We are also Indians; we love India. Why are we seen as ISI agents and traitors?” Speaking from the heart, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned recently against the dangers of precisely such ‘labelling’ of communities as unpatriotic or violent. It is a warning that governments led by his own party, in Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Assam, do not seem to heed. He recalled that his own community of Sikhs was similarly labelled in the 1980s. What he did not mention was that thousands of youth were similarly abducted by the police in Punjab in those times, exterminated and cremated in mass graves. The story is hardly different for thousands of young people alleged to be Naxalites in Andhra, who are similarly abducted and eliminated.After terror incidents, a hamstrung police are under unbearable pressure to perform. But crippled by ramshackle intelligence, poor investigative skills, demoralised and untrained forces and the crumbling fibre of police leadership, it resorts to shortcuts like the illegal abductions and torture that Hyderabad has witnessed. As the advocate appointed by the Commission, Ravi Chandran, concludes, “What is at stake is not just the lives of 20 odd young boys living in resigned solitariness in a cell tucked away somewhere on the periphery of the modern city. What is at stake is the functioning of a healthy democracy. If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”

By Harsh Mander

Friday 5 October 2007

Advanced US Preparations For War On Iran

A lengthy article by veteran journalist Seymour Hersh published in the New Yorker on Sunday provides further confirmation of the Bush administration’s well-developed military and political preparations for attacking Iran. According to Hersh, the Pentagon has drawn up new war plans, the CIA has allocated substantial extra resources and the White House has already sounded out US allies, including Israel, Britain and Australia, for support in any military strike.
The article “Shifting Targets: The Administration’s plan for Iran” focusses on the changing pretext for war: from allegations that Tehran is building a nuclear bomb to a new propaganda campaign claiming that Iran is arming, training and supporting insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan who are killing US troops. The cynical ease with which the White House has switched from one unsubstantiated claim to another underscores the fact that a US attack will have nothing to do with any threat posed by Iran, but will aim at furthering US ambitions for the domination of the resource-rich region.
Like the lies that were used to justify the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration is casting around for a casus belli to try to stampede public opinion behind an attack on Iran. At the same time, however, the White House confronts deep-seated suspicion, hostility and opposition—in the US and internationally—to any new US military adventure.
Hersh told CNN on Sunday: “The name of the game used to be, they’re a nuclear threat... Sort of the same game we had before the war in Iraq. And what’s happened is in the last few months, they’ve come to the realisation they’re not selling it. It isn’t working... So they switched really.”
According to Hersh, the new bombing plan targets the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp (IRGC), which Washington alleges has been assisting Shiite militias in Iraq. “The strategy calls for the use of sea-launched cruise missiles and more precisely targetted ground attacks and bombing strikes, including plans to destroy the most important Revolutionary Guard training camps, supply depots, and command and control facilities,” he wrote in the New Yorker.
A former senior American intelligence official told Hersh: “[Vice President Dick] Cheney’s option is now for a fast in and out—for surgical strikes. The Navy’s planes, ships, and cruise missiles are in place in the Gulf and operating daily. They’ve got everything they need—even AWACS are in place and the targets in Iran have been programmed. The Navy is flying FA-18 missions every day in the Gulf.”
Hersh also cited a Pentagon consultant who explained that the air war would be accompanied by “short, sharp incursions” by Special Forces units against suspected Iranian training sites. “Cheney is devoted to this, no question,” he said. Ominously, the consultant also explained that while the initial bombing campaign might be limited, there was an “escalation special” that could also include attacks on Iran’s ally Syria, as well as against the Hezbollah militia in Lebanon. “[A]dd-ons are always there in strike planning,” he said.
In the early northern summer, Hersh reports in the New Yorker, President Bush told Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador to Iraq, via a secure videoconference that he was thinking of attacking Iranian targets across the border and that the British “were on board”. Bush concluded by instructing Crocker to tell Iran to stop interfering in Iraq or it would face American retribution. In a separate interview with DemocracyNow, Hersh admitted that Bush had been even blunter. “The President was very clear that he is interested in going across the border and whacking the Iranians,” he said.
The New Yorker article presents the new war plans as limited, precision strikes against specific IRGC targets, but such acts of aggression always entail the danger of rapid escalation into all-out war for which military planners prepare. Moreover, other recent articles in the British press have pointed to a discussion in Washington of a far more extensive “shock and awe” bombardment aimed at levelling Iran’s military, industrial capacity, transport and communications.
As Hersh acknowledged in an interview with DemocracyNow, a limited military strike appeared to be a tactical factional compromise in the White House between Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has previously advocated extended diplomatic moves. “She [Rice] favours a limited bombing, so I hear,” Hersh said. “If you want to really get a dark scenario, Cheney has gone along with the limited bombing. Basically, they call the limited bombing the third option, because there’s one option to do nothing, the other is to bring in the Air Force and rake...everything.”
Not only the military, but the CIA has now made Iran the top priority. A recently retired CIA official explained: “They’re moving everybody to the Iran desk. They’re dragging in a lot of analysts and ramping up everything. It’s just like the fall of 2002 [prior to the invasion of Iraq]... The guys now running the Iranian program have limited direct experience with Iran. In the event of an attack, how will the Iranians react? They will react, and the Administration has not thought it all the way through.”
Hersh told CNN that the CIA has established “something called the Iranian Operations Group. We had the same kind of a group for the Iraq war... It’s suddenly exploded in manpower. And they have been going around, just dragging a dozen people here, a dozen there. They built it up into a large, large operational group.” He also explained that “the National Security Council inside the White House is focussed much more on attacking Iran and what’s going on in Iran than it has been before.”
Diplomatic feelers have already been put out to a number of countries. But as Hersh explained, even among close US allies there is scepticism and resistance. One of the reasons for scaling back the attack plans and shifting emphasis is to secure backing in Europe in particular, where few believe that Iran will have the capacity to construct a nuclear bomb, even if it wanted to, in less than five years. Plans for a strike have received the “most positive reception” from the British government. Hersh explained to CNN that the White House had received “expressions of interest” from Australia and other countries. While backing the strikes, Israel is still insisting on a more extensive war that includes the destruction of Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The new casus belli
The Bush administration’s new justification for war is just as riddled with holes as the previous one. Beyond repeated bald assertions that Iran is helping to kill US troops and lurid stories fed to a compliant American media about the sinister activities of the IRGC’s elite Quds Force in Iraq, the only publicly presented “evidence” has been the occasional display of Iranian manufactured weapons. No attempt has been made to rule out other obvious sources for such arms, including the region’s extensive blackmarket in weapons and the huge stockpiles of arms that existed in Iraq prior to the 2003 invasion.
In his interview with DemocracyNow, Hersh pointed to the scepticism in US military and intelligence circles over the Bush administration’s claims. “There is a tremendous dispute about all of those assertions inside the American government. There’s just a lot of questions about it inside the government. They don’t see the case as being nearly as strong as the White House is saying in public,” he said.
Some of the most telling comments have been those of David Kay, former CIA adviser, UN weapons inspector and the man who headed the large US team hunting for evidence of WMDs following the 2003 invasion. Even though he was a vigorous proponent of the pre-invasion lies about Iraqi WMDs, Kay was forced to conclude that Saddam Hussein’s regime had no biological, nuclear or chemical weapons, their precursors or any plans for their future construction. To deflect attention from the lies concocted by the Bush administration, Kay attributed his findings to a massive “intelligence failure”.
Kay told Hersh that his inspection teams had been astonished, in the aftermath of the two Iraq wars, by “the huge amounts of arms” it had found. “He recalled seeing stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators, as well as charges that had been recovered from unexploded cluster bombs. Arms also had been supplied years ago by the Iranians to their Shiite allies in southern Iraq,” Hersh explained. The existence of “stockpiles of explosively formed penetrators” or EFPs, is particularly significant as one of the Pentagon’s chief accusations is that Tehran is currently supplying EFPs to Iraqi insurgents. It raises the possibility that these weapons were looted during the US invasion and obtained by militias, either directly or through the blackmarket.
Commenting on Bush’s campaign, Kay told Hersh: “When the White House started its anti-Iran campaign six months ago, I thought it was all craziness.” Even as he repeats the current White House line, Kay is cautious in his assessment: “Now it looks like there is some selective smuggling by Iran, but much of it has been in response to American pressure and American threats—more a shot across the bow sort of thing, to let Washington know that it was not going to get away with its threats so freely. Iran is not giving the Iraqis the good stuff—the anti-aircraft missiles that can shoot down American planes and its advanced anti-tank weapons.”
Well aware of public scepticism, Patrick Clawson, from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, advised the Bush administration to provide some evidence for its increasingly improbable claims. “If you are going to attack, you have to prepare the groundwork, and you have to be prepared to show some evidence,” he told Hersh. Clawson also cautioned that an attack on Iran could compound US problems in Iraq, where it relies on a government headed by Shiite parties with longstanding ties to Tehran. “What is the attitude of Iraq going to be if we hit Iran? Such an attack would put a strain on the Iraqi government,” he said.
Hersh noted that the Bush administration would not be deterred from war by the potential impact on the Republican Party. A former intelligence official explained: “There is a desperate attempt by Cheney et al. to bring military action to Iran as soon as possible. Meanwhile the politicians are saying, ‘You can’t do it, because every Republican is going to be defeated, and we’re only one fact from going over the cliff in Iraq.’ But Cheney doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the Republican worries, and neither does the President.”
The New Yorker article explained that the Bush administrated planned to counter any objections from the Democrats by pointing to the record of the Clinton administration in unilaterally bombing Afghanistan, Sudan and Iraq during the 1990s. But there is already ample evidence that the Democrats would support a new war on Iran. The main Democratic presidential candidates—Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Edwards—have already declared that all options are on the table. A majority of Democrats supported a Senate amendment last week calling on the administration to provocatively declare the entire 125,000-strong Iranian Revolutionary Guard to be a “terrorist organisation”.
Even the support of the Democrats, however, will not halt the eruption of mass antiwar opposition. To energise its own rightwing base, the Bush administration desperately needs to goad the Iranian regime into a confrontation, or, failing that, to concoct an incident that can be blamed on Tehran. Asked about his assessment of the new US war plans, a retired four-star general candidly told Hersh that the revised bombing plan “could work—if it’s in response to an Iranian attack. The British may want to do it to get even, but the more reasonable people are saying, ‘Let’s do it if the Iranians stage a cross-border attack inside Iraq.’ It’s got to be ten dead American soldiers and four burned trucks.”
All of Hersh’s sources stressed that the President had not yet issued a final, formal “execute order”. But in emphasising that the US military is not about to attack Iran tomorrow, their comments only confirm that the administration’s plans for war are far advanced and can be executed at short notice.

By Peter Symonds

My Last Conversation WithAung San Suu Kyi

As the people of Burma rise up again, we have had a rare sighting of Aung San Suu Kyi. There she stood, at the back gate of her lakeside home in Rangoon, where she is under house arrest. She looked very thin. For years, people would brave the roadblocks just to pass by her house and be reassured by the sound of her playing the piano. She told me she would lie awake listening for voices outside and to the thumping of her heart. "I found it difficult to breathe lying on my back after I became ill, she said."
That was a decade ago. Stealing into her house, as I did then, required all the ingenuity of the Burmese underground. My film-making partner David Munro and I were greeted by her assistant, Win Htein, who had spent six years in prison, five of them in solitary confinement. Yet his face was open and his handshake warm. He led us into the house, a stately pile fallen on hard times. The garden with its ragged palms falls down to Inya Lake and to a trip wire, a reminder that this was the prison of a woman elected by a landslide in 1990, a democratic act extinguished by generals in ludicrous uniforms.
Aung San Suu Kyi wore silk and had orchids in her hair. She is a striking, glamorous figure whose face in repose shows the resolve that has seen her along her heroic journey.
We sat in a room dominated by a wall-length portrait of Aung San, independent Burma's assassinated liberation fighter, the father she never knew.
"What do I call you?" I asked. "Well, if you can't manage the whole thing, friends call me Suu."
"The regime is always saying you are finished, but here you are, hardly finished. How is that?"
"It's because democracy is not finished in Burma . . . Look at the courage of the people [on the streets], of those who go on working for democracy, those who have already been to prison. They know that any day they are likely to be put back there and yet they do not give up."
"But how do you reclaim the power you won at the ballot box with brute power confronting you?" I asked.
"In Buddhism we are taught there are four basic ingredients for success. The first is the will to want it, then you must have the right kind of attitude, then perseverance, then wisdom . . ." "But the other side has all the guns?"
"Yes, but it's becoming more and more difficult to resolve problems by military means. It's no longer acceptable."
We talked about the willingness of foreign business to come to Burma, especially tour companies, and of the hypocrisy of "friends" in the West. I read her a British Foreign Office press release: "Through commercial contacts with democratic nations such as Britain, the Burmese people will gain experience of democratic principles."
"Not in the least bit," she responded, "because new investments only help a small elite to get richer and richer. Forced labour goes on all over the country, and a lot of the projects are aimed at the tourist trade and are worked by children."
"People I've spoken to regard you as something of a saint, a miracle worker."
"I'm not a saint and you'd better tell the world that!"
"Where are your sinful qualities, then?"
"Er, I've got a short temper."
"What happened to your piano?"
"You mean when the string broke? In this climate pianos do deteriorate and some of the keys were getting stuck, so I broke a string because I was pumping the pedal too hard."
"You lost it ... you exploded?"
"I did."
"It's a very moving scene. Here you are, all alone, and you get so angry you break the piano."
"I told you, I have a hot temper."
"Weren't there times when, surrounded by a hostile force, cut off from your family and friends you were actually terrified?"
"No, because I didn't feel hostile towards the guards surrounding me. Fear comes out of hostility and I felt none towards them."
"But didn't that produce a terrible aloneness ...?"
"Oh, I have my meditation, and I did have a radio . . . And loneliness comes from inside, you know. People who are free and who live in big cities suffer from it, because it comes from inside."
"What were the small pleasures you'd look forward to?"
"I'd look forward to a good book being read on 'Off the Shelf' on the BBC and of course to my meditation .... I didn't enjoy my exercises so much; I'd never been a very athletic type."
"Was there a point when you had to conquer fear?"
"Yes. When I was small in this house. I wandered around in the darkness until I knew where all the demons might be . . . and they weren't there."
For several years after that encounter with Aung San Suu Kyi I tried to phone the number she gave me. The phone would ring, then go dead. One day I got through.
"Thank you so much for the books," she said. "It has been a joy to read widely again." (I had sent her a collection of T S Eliot, her favourite, and Jonathan Coe's political romp What a Carve Up!.) I asked her what was happening outside her house. "Oh, the road is blocked and they [the military] are all over the street . . ."
"Do you worry that you might be trapped in a terrible stalemate?"
"I am really not fond of that expression," she replied rather sternly. "People have been on the streets. That's not a stalemate. Ethnic people, like the Karen, are fighting back. That's not a stalemate. The defiance is there in people's lives, day after day. You know, even when things seem still on the surface, there's always movement underneath. It's like a frozen lake; and beneath our lake, we are progressing, bit by bit."
"What do you mean exactly?"
"What I am saying is that, no matter the regime's physical power, in the end they can't stop the people; they can't stop freedom. We shall have our time."

By John Pilger

"Capitalism Is The Worst Enemy Of Humanity"

I would like greet the panel, and on behalf of the Bolivian peoples, I want to say that I am pleased that there is such a great gathering to debate global warming and climate change.
Today in our discussions, we must be very sincere and very realistic about the problems faced by our peoples, humanity and the entire planet.
I feel that we are not speaking truthfully if we talk about life and the future of humanity, while each day we are destroying the future of humanity. It is important to pinpoint who our enemies are, what the causes are of the damage being done to the planet, damage that may put an end to humanity.
I’d like to sincerely apologize if some countries or some groups are affected by the survival of my country, the survival of the indigenous people. I think that that capitalism is the worst enemy of humanity and if we do not change the model, change the system, then our presence, our debate, our exchange, and the proposals that we make in these meetings at the United Nations will be totally in vain.
Capitalism has twins, the market and war. The market converts life into commodities, it converts land into a commodity. And when capitalists cannot sustain this economic model based on looting, on exploitation, on marginalisation, on exclusion and, above all, on the accumulation of capital, they rely on war, the arms race. If we ask ourselves how much money is spent on the arms race — we are never concerned about that.
This is why I feel that it is important to change economic models, development models, and economic systems, particularly those in the western world. And if we do not understand and thoroughly discuss the very survival of our peoples, then we certainly not will not be addressing the problem of climate change, the problem of life, the problem for humanity.
It is important that we learn lessons from some sectors, from some regions. Let me avail myself of this opportunity: I come from a culture based on peace, from a lifestyle based on equality, of living not only in solidarity with all people, but also living in harmony with Mother Earth. For the indigenous movement, land cannot be a commodity; it is a mother that gives us life, so how could we convert it into a commodity as the western model does?
This is a profound lesson which we must learn in order to resolve the problems of humanity that are being discussed here, climate change and pollution. Where does this pollution come from? It comes from, and is generated by, the unsustainable development of a system which destroys the planet: in other words, capitalism.
I want to use this opportunity to call on sectors, groups and nations to abandon luxury, to abandon over-consumption, to think not only about money but about life, to not only think about accumulating capital but to think in wider terms about humanity. Only then can we begin to solve the root causes of these problems facing humanity.
Because if we don’t think that way, if we do not change, it won’t matter if business owners have a lot of money, no matter if they are a multinational or even a country — no one can escape these ecological problems, environment problems, and climate change. No one will be spared, and the wealth that some country, some region or some capitalist may have will be useless.
I feel that it is important to organise an international movement to deal with the environment, a movement that will be above institutions, businesses and countries that just talk about commerce, that only think about accumulating capital. We have to organize a movement that will defend life, defend humanity, and save the earth.
I think that it is important to think about some regions, some sectors and some countries repaying what has often been called the ecological debt.
If we do not think about how this ecological debt will be paid, how are we going to solve the problems of life and humanity?
I want to say, dear colleagues and friends, that we must assume the responsibility as leaders or as presidents, as governments — we must save life, we must save humanity, we must save the entire planet.
Thank you very much.

By Evo Morales
(Speech by Bolivian President Evo Morales Ayma during the United Nations meeting on Climate Change, New York, September 24, 2007)



Socialism, and economic liberalism, paradoxically share the same intellectual origin, namely Adam Smith’s idea of the bourgeois society as a self-acting, self-driven economic order (1). Any restrictions placed on the functioning of this order by meddlesome sovereigns or governments is at best futile and at worst pernicious since it destroys the coherence of its functioning. Adam Smith saw this order as being in conformity with the laws of nature, and, in its consequences, benign and productive of “progress”, in the sense of an augmentation of the “wealth of nations”. He and his followers therefore drew the implicit conclusion that nothing lay beyond capitalism, that we had come to the end of history. As Marx was to say of classical political economy (1976, 174): “…there has been history, but there is no longer any.” (2)
While accepting the fact however that bourgeois society constitutes a self-acting, self-driven order, if we see this order analytically not as being benign and productive of progress, but as being antagonistic and exploitative, giving rise to the growth of wealth at one pole and of misery at another, then the quest for human freedom, precisely because government intervention cannot mend it, must require a transcendence of this order. The same “spontaneity” (to use Oskar Lange’s (1963) term) which underlies the bourgeois economic order and constitutes the case for economic liberalism if its consequences are seen to be benign, gives rise to the very opposite conclusion, of the need for a revolutionary overthrow of this order, if its consequences are seen as destructive and de-humanizing.
This of course was Marx’s argument. His case for socialism was “scientific” in the sense that it took classical political economy as its starting point but came to different conclusions precisely by re-examining classical questions at greater depth. It did not entail placing a capitalist and an imaginary socialist order side by side and establishing the comparative superiority of the latter; it did not entail asking questions like: “what is the justification for a separate group of persons, the capitalists, earning profits, when the society could function just as well if the means of production are collectively owned?” (3) In short, it did not make out an ethical case for socialism, a case based on an abstract extrinsic comparison between systems on ethical grounds. True, it took mankind’s quest for freedom as given, but it showed that this quest necessarily entailed going beyond capitalism. This is also why Marxism must not be confused with a theory of the inevitability of socialism (4). To say that the quest for freedom cannot be satisfied within capitalism is not the same as saying that socialism is inevitable. The matter in short is one of praxis, not of prediction.
Marx’s argument however was not just this; it went deeper. Capitalism is inimical to human freedom not just because it spontaneously produces wealth at one pole and misery at another as a condition for its self-reproduction, and not just because inequality, insecurity, and the non-availability of the means to satisfy a certain minimum level of material needs (which may itself be changing over time), all of which are conditions for freedom in the sense of the realization of one’s creative potential, are incapable of being achieved under capitalism; it is inimical to human freedom precisely because within it mankind is trapped in a self-acting and self-driven order where individuals become the objects of external coercive forces. This is true not just of workers, but even of the capitalists whom Marx in Capital (Volume I), described as “capital personified”, that is, as human agents through whom the immanent tendencies of capital are mediated.
Not only is it the case that the outcome of the functioning of the system is different from the intentions of the individuals participating in it, but these intentions themselves are neither a matter of individual volition, nor autonomously sociologically caused (like the desire to “keep up with the Joneses” etc.). The very logic of the functioning of the order imparts to the different individuals specific motivations which they can ignore at their own peril, the peril of getting displaced from their positions within the economic order. For instance, a capitalist who chooses to opt out of the Darwinian struggle of survival, in which all capitalists are caught, will get displaced as a capitalist; and so on.
In his discussion of commodity fetishism, Marx had talked of the fact that social relations within capitalism appeared as the relations between things, and that the outcome of social relations appeared as the inherent property of things (such as for instance the “fantastic” notion of bourgeois economics that profits arise because of the productivity of “capital”, seen as a set of means of production detached from its relational aspect). In fact however his analysis went further: human beings under capitalism were actually indistinguishable from things; human beings under capitalism became “objectified”. As against the criticism made of Ricardo that his theory of wages rested on a view of workers as if they were no different from animals, Marx argued that this was actually the case under capitalism and that Ricardo’s greatness lay precisely in the fact that he did not flinch from speaking the truth about capitalism.
This “objectification” is different from, though related to, “reification” and “alienation”, both of which are phenomena characterizing capitalism. “Objectification” refers neither to how things appear under capitalism, nor to the fact of the products of labour appearing in the alienated form of capital; it refers to the phenomenon of capitalism being a self-driven self-acting order, in which the immanent tendencies of capital are mediated through human beings, who therefore cease to be subjects and are reduced to the status of mere objects. This objectification is a denial of freedom: capitalism is incompatible with human freedom because it objectifies human beings. The case for socialism is that it alone creates the condition for human freedom by overcoming this objectification, for which a necessary condition is the social ownership of the means of production.


The above argument for socialism differs in a basic sense from the arguments usually advanced in favour of socialism. And it is important to emphasize this difference because from these different arguments different visions of socialism follow. The usual arguments are of two kinds: “productivist” arguments and “distributivist” arguments. Let us consider the former. A very common argument for socialism is that it carries forward the development of productive forces which at a certain stage gets arrested by the relations of production characterizing capitalism. This “march-of-the-productive-forces” argument for socialism, can at first sight derive sustenance from several of Marx’s writings, notably his famous preface to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy; but it represents a superficial reading of Marx, especially when, as is usually the case, “productive forces” are defined exclusively in material terms. This superficial reading which informs a good deal of current official Chinese literature on socialism, was epitomized by the former Soviet Prime Minister Alexei Kosygin’s remark that socialism was synonymous with a 7 percent growth rate(5)!
Marx did not see productive forces exclusively in material terms. And his remark that a mode of production becomes obsolete when it has developed the productive forces to the highest level it is capable of, should not be given a crude and exclusively material interpretation. This is borne out by his own statement in The Poverty of Philosophy (1976, 211): “Of all the instruments of production the greatest productive power is the revolutionary class itself. The organization of revolutionary elements as a class supposes the existence of all the productive forces which could be engendered in the bosom of the old society.” A “revolutionary proletariat” in short is not just a productive force, but represents the highest level of development of the productive forces in a bourgeois society.
This statement however is in keeping with Marx’s perception of socialism as essential for human freedom. The break from the human condition of unfreedom under capitalism, starts with our knowledge of this unfreedom, i.e. starts with a scientific as opposed to an ideological understanding of the roots of this unfreedom. “Freedom”, Engels had said in Anti-Duhring echoing Hegel, “is the recognition of necessity”. The immanent laws of motion of the capitalist mode of production constitute, in this context, this realm of necessity. Freedom from these laws begins with the knowledge of these laws and culminates in the formation of a revolutionary proletariat in which this knowledge has developed to a point where it can break into revolutionary praxis.
In the process of the development of this knowledge, particular episodes in the development of capitalism, such as crises and stagnation, no doubt play an important role, in providing practical proof of the validity of this knowledge, but this is not the same as saying that the existence of crises and stagnation is what constitutes the case for socialism or that there is some final phase of stagnation which constitutes the denouement for capitalism (which is what Bernstein had interpreted Marx as saying and which Lenin had explicitly attacked by saying that “there was no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation for capitalism”).
The same goes for the “distributivist” argument. While no doubt egalitarianism and “distributive justice” cannot be achieved under capitalism, and require socialism for their realization, they are not synonymous with socialism, which, to repeat, seeks to end the objectification of human beings and constitutes a major step towards human freedom.


The objectification of individuals in bourgeois society is not a matter relating exclusively to the esoteric realm of the political economy of such societies; it permeates their very being. The realm of the economic after all does not stand alone, in isolation from the other realms; it is embedded within the whole. The realization of the immanent tendencies of capital requires therefore that the functioning of these other realms must also be in conformity with what is needed for such realization. The State in a bourgeois society, for instance, must be such that it aids the realization of its immanent tendencies. It may of course under certain exceptional circumstances, slow down such realization in the interests of the system as a whole, by placing temporary restrictions upon it; but it cannot altogether prevent the realization of the immanent tendencies of capital.
It is for this reason that bourgeois society is fundamentally anti-democratic. Human beings cannot be objects in the realm of the economy and subjects in the realm of the polity, save in very exceptional situations, which are invariably transitory, where there is a disjunction between the economy and the State.
To say that bourgeois society is fundamentally anti-democratic may appear odd at first sight, since its own claim has always been that it alone can guarantee democracy. But implicit in the notion of a self-acting and self-driven economic order functioning independently of human will and consciousness, is not just a denial of freedom but also a denial of democracy. This denial however is camouflaged in various ways. Formal bourgeois democracy invariably operates under layers and layers of insulation against the possibility of the people actually intervening actively in the political process as subjects.
The process of putting in place of these insulations becomes especially transparent in societies like ours for a specific reason. Bourgeois democracy with universal adult franchise was introduced in our country shortly after independence itself, prior to the consolidation of bourgeois rule, unlike in countries like Britain and France where universal adult franchise came nearly three quarters of a century after the climacteric marking the start of the consolidation of bourgeois rule. The process of consolidation of bourgeois rule in countries like ours therefore requires, as it were, a “counter-revolution” against the existing democratic institutions and practices. This counter-revolution of course also entails inter alia a change in the relationship between the big bourgeoisie and imperialism, for without the latter’s help the consolidation of bourgeois rule cannot be carried out (one of the visible symptoms of this change at present being the Indo-US Nuclear Agreement); but the counter-revolution in the realm of democracy, involving efforts to snuff out the political activism of the people, is quite evident (with the judiciary, which is neither directly nor indirectly accountable to the people, playing a leading role in it).
The means of attenuation of democracy in a bourgeois society are several: the first, which Lenin had emphasized, is the ossification of the State where the bureaucracy and the standing army become the core of the State apparatus, and the elected governments become increasingly ornamental. The second is the fragmentation of the people into ethnic, linguistic, or even religious groups, or even into sheer atomized individuals incapable of collective praxis. (The invoking of Christian fundamentalism on issues like abortion and gay rights has been a potent weapon in recent years in the hands of the Republican Right in the United States for obtaining majorities which have then been used to serve corporate interests). The third is the denial of meaningful choices to the electorate, since the agendas of the different political Parties, each trying to appease a middle-class constituency in thraldom to the bourgeois order, tend to converge ( a fact used with great effect of late in India where the imperative of so-called “development” has made Parties belonging to very different segments of the political spectrum adopt almost identical pro-capitalist policies). The very fact that despite the opposition to the Iraq war by the majority of people in each of the advanced capitalist countries engaged in the war, the war still drags on, shows the scant respect shown to popular opinion in capitalist democracies; and a major factor explaining this phenomenon is the absence of any significant difference among the political Parties. The fourth is the inculcation of insecurity among the people, which encourages mutual distrust among them, prevents united action and creates a favourable ground for the maintenance of status quo through violence. Given the fact that resistance, no matter in what form, is ever-present in any bourgeois society and its periphery, to capitalist and imperialist exploitation, the inculcation of such insecurity is by no means difficult. One segment of the people can always be made to feel insecure through demonizing another segment which happens at the time to be engaged in such actions of resistance. The fifth is the deliberate promotion of mindlessness among the people by the media and the peddlers of popular culture. One can go on listing such factors and much has been written on this subject anyway. The basic point is the incompatibility of authentic democracy where the people are the political subjects with capitalism where they are the objects.
Socialism, it follows, constitutes a necessary condition for the authentic realization of democracy. The proposition that socialism and democracy are incompatible is part of the propaganda of capitalism. On the contrary, socialism which aims to overcome the objectification of the people in bourgeois society, is alone compatible with democracy; it alone can create the conditions for the full flowering of democracy. But more than that, socialism is the full flowering of democracy, a proposition which we shall examine later. Since the claim that socialism and democracy are incompatible is usually supported with reference to the actual practice of former socialist countries, a brief discussion of that experience is in order here.


Old socialism came as a result of revolutionary expediency, through seizing an opportunity created by the war, in order to save mankind from the barbarism of that and other similar wars. It appeared in a relatively backward country; it appeared abruptly; it did not spread, as was originally expected, to other countries, especially to the relatively more advanced countries; and it was encircled, and isolated and had to fight for its very survival against vastly superior forces throughout its existence. As a Communist character puts it apropos the Soviet Union in Graham Greene’s last great novel The Human Factor: “My country has been at war since 1917”. It is within this context of isolation, of desperate efforts to develop the productive forces to overcome the challenge of encirclement, including increasingly from Nazi Germany, and of the estrangement from the peasantry arising from this desperate bid for raising the productive capacity of the country, that the political institutions of the Soviet State were formed. And these institutionalized a dictatorship of the Party in the name of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
True, this isolation of the Soviet Union was overcome in the post-second world war years when the socialist camp became much larger, but the new entrants to this camp were also relatively backward countries, and in the case of many even the entry was a result of the Soviet Red Army’s victorious march against Nazism. Far from providing succour to the Soviet Union they were often a source of strain on it; and far from contributing to a reconfiguring of Soviet political institutions, they themselves imported the Soviet political “model”.
The fact that this “model” represented a far cry from the vision of the Soviet State which had informed the revolution is obvious. On the eve of the revolution itself Lenin had said: “we can at once set in motion a state apparatus consisting of ten if not twenty million people.” The vision clearly was of a State that had got dissolved into the class itself; a State that was an association of workers, vastly different from the bureaucratized, ossified bourgeois State, where a tiny coterie of persons takes crucial decisions behind closed doors affecting the lives of millions of people, without the people having any say in the matter; a State that unleashed the political praxis of the working class. But the actual political institution that came into being was a highly centralized dictatorship of the Party, which eventually brought about a de-politicization not only of the working class but also of the Party itself (where, as we know in retrospect, a person could become the General Secretary of the CPSU without believing in socialism).
To what extent this was the result of specific mistakes, or of “personality factors”, whether, even within the constraints of the circumstances, a different course could have been taken, are matters that need not detain us here. The basic point is that old socialism, even while it overcame the “spontaneity” of capitalism, even while it got rid of the old problem of capitalist “objectification”, ensured full employment, and set up the most gigantic Welfare State the world had even seen, introduced a very different and altogether novel form objectification itself. The substitution of private ownership of the means of production by State ownership (which is supposed to express social ownership) and the accompanying substitution of commodity production by national planning, may overcome bourgeois objectification, but the only way that the people can acquire the role of being subjects in a socialist society is through political praxis. (The old Yugoslav model, reminiscent of the syndicalist position, which believed that subjectivity can be restored to the people in the realm of the economy itself by having worker-managed factories, did not overcome commodity production and hence bourgeois objectification.) The de-politicization of the working class meant that this subject-role was never acquired by the people. They escaped bourgeois objectification, but got trapped into another kind of objectification in a society which also had its own form of fetishism. This latter objectification is lucidly captured by Jean-Paul Sartre (1965) in his satirical remark: “Budapest’s subway is in Rakosi’s mind; if the subsoil does not allow it, then the sub-soil must be counter-revolutionary!”
The foregoing must not detract in any way from the enormous historic achievements of old socialism. Leaving aside what it achieved internally in those societies where it prevailed, it was responsible for the defeat of fascism, for making possible the entire process of decolonization, and for putting a check on the depredations of imperialism for well over half a century. As Professor Joan Robinson used to say in her Cambridge seminars, “we would not be sitting here today but for the Soviet Union”. Nonetheless, the fact remains that old socialism was a product of its times. Apart from anything else, the times today are vastly different. For instance, inter-imperialist rivalries which played such an important role in Lenin’s thinking, are far more muted today. The socialist project today must be based on very different foundations for this reason at least, if not for the more basic reason that the realization of its vision of overcoming the objectification of human beings requires such a re-foundation.


Central to any such re-foundation must be the people’s political praxis. Since authentic democracy consists in unleashing this praxis, socialism must be seen as the full flowering of democracy. An economistic perception of socialism as consisting essentially in State ownership of the means of production is not enough; socialism must mean the unleashing of authentic democracy in the sense of political praxis of the people. This praxis is limited at any time by lack of understanding of the conjuncture. The role of the revolutionary Party is to provide this understanding. The revolutionary Party locates and opens doors when no doors are visible. It points the way forward for people’s political praxis at every stage, so that the process of unleashing of democracy, which constitutes the essence of socialism, does not get stymied. The role of the revolutionary Party is not to substitute itself for the people, not to de-politicize them as a counterpart of the establishment of its own dictatorship; it is on the contrary to politicize them, to ensure that their political praxis is not thwarted, by pointing at every stage the way forward.
This however requires not just a right set of institutions through which the relations between the Party and the people, the relations between the Party and other Parties etc. are mediated, but also the right approach to Marxism. The old socialist view canonized Marxism, saw it as a closed and complete system, which only had to be grasped, like a religious text, through perseverance, and “applied” to specific contexts. According to old socialism there was a “thing” called Marxism (or rather Marxism-Leninism, since Lenin too was canonized in hyphenated splendour), and Mao “applied” it to China, and we have to apply it to India. This fundamentally erroneous attitude has been a predominant characteristic of Left thinking to this day.
It is erroneous because it arbitrarily separates “theory” from its “applications” and does not recognize that “application” too is theory. It is erroneous because via this separation it implicitly presents a religious attitude to Marxism, as a closed complete theory. It is erroneous because it refuses to recognize the progress of knowledge which mankind acquires and which should be a source of enrichment of Marxism; instead it arbitrarily and unjustifiably selects only those strands of the advance of knowledge which in its view support canonical Marxism, and treats the rest as inconsequential if not reactionary. And it is erroneous because in the process it devalues theoretical endeavor on the Left, and discourages creativity. (The attitude becomes: “Since Marx has said everything of importance that there is to say, what more can I say except simply finding more evidence of his correctness?”).
All this is usually sought to be justified by saying that if we abandon the “texts” then we will be in a world of theoretical free-for-all which would stand in the way of praxis. To believe this however is to believe that people cannot act except with reference to canonical texts, i.e. they cannot act except when inspired by a religion, which itself constitutes a fundamental epistemological negation of socialism. The people cannot acquire the role of subjects in social and political life, if they do not acquire the role of subjects in the theoretical domain. To say this is not to applaud half-educated cocky self-assurance; it is simply to break the religious approach to Marxism, to treat it as essentially an open system.
There is in other words at every moment an attempt to understand the present through a reconstruction of Marxism(7).Every attempt at understanding the present is a theoretical endeavor, based not on an “application” of a given closed set of doctrines, but a creative effort to reconstruct Marxism. Its validity has to be judged, as in all theoretical efforts, not with reference to whether or not it deviates from the “text”, but whether or not it is correct, i.e. whether or not it enables us to understand the present. Every person who thinks, every person who wants to carry the cause of socialism forward, is thus engaged in reconstructing Marxism. Debates in society are inter alia debates among alternative reconstructions of Marxism, each seeking to make the present comprehensible through the use, in different ways, of concepts left to us by Marx, Lenin, and others, but not necessarily confined to these concepts alone (which is another way of saying that Marxism must be continuously nourished by advances in knowledge).
It is in this rich atmosphere of discussion that the revolutionary Party must function, for this alone can provide a check against its going horribly wrong in its assessment of the present. Free scientific discussion is like oxygen for a revolutionary Party; without such discussion it cannot survive. But such free discussion in turn requires not just complete intellectual freedom, but also the existence of a multiplicity of opinions (which in turn entails a multiplicity of political Parties), and a redefinition of the concept of “democratic centralism” as the organizing principle of a revolutionary Party. It is not often appreciated that Bukharin and other “Left-Wing Communists” who opposed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk were freely bringing out their own newspaper even during the most difficult post-revolutionary times, which argued against the official position of the Bolshevik Party. And while Lenin, the strong advocate of “democratic centralism” as the organizing principle of the Bolshevik Party, entered into fierce polemics with the Left-Wing Communists, the question of silencing them through disciplinary action never arose. Such silencing of dissent was a later and altogether unwholesome development.
The dictatorship of the Party under old socialism was typically justified through a dichotomy between “science” or “theory” which was the preserve of the few, who happened to be in leading positions, and “politics”, where the masses participated, increasingly without enthusiasm, in conformity with this “theory”. The “theory” in this conception was necessarily a closed system. Once we see theory as open, once we eliminate the dichotomy between theory and “politics” or theory and “applications”, or “theoreticians” and “activists”, the intellectual ground for any dictatorship of the Party would have been removed.


A basic question which has been raised in the context of socialism relates to the motivation for work in a socialist society (8). In a feudal society, people work because of the pressure of customs and traditions, backed by force; if the serf does not put in his labour in the lord’s field or does not hand over product rent (where labour rent has been so commuted), then he will be physically punished, and if he does not work in his own field sufficiently hard, then his income net of rent will force him to starve. In a capitalist society, people work because of the existence of the reserve army of labour, which acts as a coercive, disciplining device. If a worker is suspected to be a “laggard” or a “troublemaker”, then he is dismissed and some one else takes his place, such substitutes being always available owing to the existence of the reserve army. But in a socialist society, where there is neither the fear of the Monseigneur’s whip, nor the fear of being unemployed, since the economy is operating at full employment and in any case substantial Welfare State measures are available to all, what will be the source of the motivation for work? Some would even suggest that political authoritarianism, as expressed through the dictatorship of the Party, becomes indispensable for the functioning of a socialist society, precisely because it operates close to full employment and has an array of Welfare State measures, i.e. the modus operandi of such a society must include an element of coercion.
The old Yugoslav answer to this, which paralleled something tried briefly in the Soviet Union during the Gorbachov era, was to make peer pressure an instrument for work discipline. In worker-managed factories, the workers’ collective itself would take on the role of pulling up laggard workers, and this social pressure from one’s own fellow workers would be sufficient to inculcate work motivation among workers. In Gorbachov’s time when contracts were signed between the State and workers’ collectives, again the question of imparting work motivation was relegated from the domain of the State to that of the workers’ collectives which could bring peer pressure to bear on workers. But Yugoslav socialism was afflicted with substantial unemployment even in the heyday of self-management, so that while peer pressure was dubious, the fear of the “sack” was very real. And the Soviet experiment did not last long, quite apart from the fact that had it continued, it might have reproduced features of the Yugoslav system, based as it was on similar syndicalist perceptions.
The Yugoslavs always said that workers’ management did not negate social property, that it was workers’ management of social property; it simply entrusted the management of social property to individual factory-based workers’ groups. The system does nevertheless mean a fragmentation of the working class, not into atomized individuals but into atomized groups of factory workers. Since the relations between the different worker-groups managing different factories are mediated through the market, “market socialism” is a form of commodity production which reproduces the well-known features of commodity-producing bourgeois societies, such as inflation, unemployment, and huge inequalities. “Market socialism” of this sort is a contradiction in terms, a negation of socialism (from which it follows that the concept of “socialist commodity production” which China has been talking about of late is equally untenable, though the idea of using markets for certain specific purposes in socialist societies is not).
A socialist society clearly needs social commitment as the basis of work-motivation (apart from the fact that work must itself become a source of joy). All the solutions to the problem of work-motivation discussed so far take it for granted that the workers are motivated exclusively by individual self-interest, and then examine how to coerce them into work despite this. This may have been an accurate reflection of the reality of old socialism, especially in its later years, but it cannot form the basis of a socialist society. Such a society clearly needs social commitment and an overcoming of the exclusive pre-occupation with individual self-interest which bourgeois society tries to inculcate. Indeed the overcoming of such exclusive pre-occupation with individual self-interest is what underlies combinations among workers (9) within bourgeois society itself, and hence constitutes the starting point of the journey to socialism. And the journey to socialism which begins with the overcoming of the exclusive pre-occupation with individual self-interest among workers, culminates in the formation of a revolutionary proletariat.
Marx clearly therefore saw in politics, in the fact of struggle of which politics is the expression, a means of overcoming the individual self-interest that characterizes bourgeois society. Old socialism de-politicized the workers. Our vision of the socialism of the future must entail a resurrection of politics, a perennial engagement with politics on the part of the working class, which will also provide the answer to the problem of work motivation in socialist societies.


The two and a half decades after the second world war witnessed the most ambitious effort to “reform” capitalism that has ever been undertaken. Keynesian demand management by capitalist States brought down unemployment rates to unprecedented low levels. The boost to demand created a strong inducement to invest and hence rates of growth unprecedented in the history of capitalism. These were accompanied by high rates of labour productivity growth, because of which, in the context of near-full employment conditions, the workers succeeded in obtaining high rates of growth of real wages. These, together with social security measures introduced by Social Democratic governments, made capitalism appear as a humane system. On the other side, decolonization rid capitalism of the stigma of keeping the majority of the world’s people under its oppressive political yoke. It seemed for a while that capitalism had indeed changed, and made the case for socialism redundant, exactly as Keynes had wanted, predicted and theorized about : “a somewhat comprehensive socialization of investment will prove the only means of securing an approximation to full employment…It is not the ownership of the instruments of production which it is important for the State to assume” (1949, 378).
The end of this long boom, which has been called the “Golden Age of Capitalism”, constitutes proof that the “spontaneity” of the system cannot be overcome, save temporarily and that too under exceptional circumstances. The hegemony of capital over labour gets undermined by the near full employment conditions that prevail: the “sack” loses its power, and inflation gathers momentum over time as workers feel emboldened to press higher wage claims,(10) which in turn creates pressures from capital for the restoration of a substantial reserve army of labour. Adding to these pressures is another fact, namely the capacity of the State, which naturally is a nation-State, to carry out Keynesian demand management, gets undermined as the immanent tendency towards centralization of capital gives rise to globalization of finance and hence an international finance capital. Since ignoring the caprices of this international finance capital, including its preference for government-expenditure deflation, entails the risk of capital flight, the nation-States willy-nilly have to fall in line and eschew Keynesian demand management.
Keynesianism in retrospect therefore must be seen as a transient phenomenon, based on an exceptional post-war conjuncture. As the conjuncture passed, undermined inter alia by the immanent tendencies of capital, the programme of “reformed capitalism” was given a quiet burial. Not only did growth rates in world capitalism plummet, not only did unemployment in the advanced capitalist countries approach double-digit figures and remain stuck there, not only did the absolute real wage rate of the workers show a virtual stagnation in the post-“Golden Age” period, but even the tendency towards decolonization got reversed, with imperialism making a determined attempt to re-appropriate the world’s natural resources, especially oil, for itself.
In this re-colonization attempt it enjoys the backing of the third world big bourgeoisie, which has done a volte face, from leading the people against imperialism, to collaborating with imperialism against the people’s interests. And the people are back to a situation reminiscent of the pre-decolonization experience: of an acute agrarian crisis, of secularly adverse movements in the terms of trade against primary commodity producers, of expropriation of peasants’ land by corporate interests, of the grinding down of petty production, and in general of an unleashing of primitive accumulation of capital, or what I would prefer to call “accumulation through encroachment” in the periphery. Since all this is not accompanied by any significant increases in employment in the modern capitalist sector within the periphery, the outcome is growing unemployment, destitution, hunger, poverty, and insecurity. In short, all talk about the “reform” of capitalism has come to naught.
The socialist agenda therefore remains as relevant today as ever. And unless the socialist movement gathers momentum, the anger against imperialism will continue to take the most violent, destructive, inhuman and unproductive forms, like terrorism. The choice before us today, as it was at the time of Lenin and Luxemburg, is between socialism and barbarism, between a situation where a predatory imperialism remains locked in perennial combat with equally ruthless groups of terrorists, thus threatening the very survival of our civilization, and one where the very system that produces both imperialism and its terrorist “other”, is overthrown.
This revival of socialism of course will take time. The old Comintern perception of a “general crisis of capitalism” giving rise, within a comparatively short period of time, to the overthrow of the system, lacks relevance in today’s context, where, apart from anything else, the inter-imperialist rivalries that had produced such a prognosis, are far more muted. George Lukacs’ view, expressed in an interview in the New Left Review, that just as the transition from feudalism to capitalism was a long drawn-out one, spanning almost three hundred years, likewise the transition from capitalism to socialism is likely to be a long drawn out one, appears more plausible at this moment. If this perspective is accepted, then the collapse of the Soviet Union or the recent distortions in China would appear simply as episodes in this long transition. But anyone who has faith in the future of mankind, cannot remain skeptical about the occurrence of this transition.
The precise mode of this transition, and the precise problems that would arise in the course of this transition are issues whose discussion must await another occasion. What is important however is the overall vision that we have of the socialism that will emerge. That can only be of a socialism which accords centrality to human freedom, which remains continuously “open” and untainted by ossification in any form, and which constitutes an unleashing of democracy and a perennial engagement of the people with politics.

Althusser L. (2003) The Humanist Controversy and Other Writings, Verso, London.
Dobb M.H. (1973) Theories of value and Distribution Since Adam Smith, CUP, Cambridge.
Kalecki M. (1971) “Political Aspects of Full Employment” in Selected Essays on the Dynamics of Capitalist Economies 1933-1970, CUP, Cambridge.
Keynes J.M. (1949) The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, Macmillan, London.
Lange O. (1963) Political Economy Volume 1, Pergamon Press, Warsaw and Oxford.
Marx K. and Engels F. (1976) Collected Works, Volume 6, Progress Publishers, Moscow.
Patnaik P. (1990) Economics and Egalitarianism, OUP, Delhi.
Patnaik P. (1998) “The Communist Manifesto After 150 Years” in Prakash Karat ed. A World to Win, Leftword Books, Delhi.
Sartre Jean Paul (1965) The Problem of Method, London.
Schram S. (1973) ed. Mao Zedong Unrehearsed, Pelican, Harmondsworth.
Zizek Slavoj (2006) edited (with an Introduction) Revolution at the Gates: Lenin’s Writings in 1917, Verso, London.
1. On this Smithian conception see Dobb (1973).
2. Marx was to add, by way of explanation (1976, 174): “There has been history, since there were the institutions of feudalism, and in these institutions of feudalism we find quite different relations of production from those of bourgeois society which the economists try to pass off as natural and as such, eternal.”
3. This is how “Ricardian socialists” like Hodgskin and Bray argued for socialism.
4. The notion of the “inevitability” of socialism has been criticized strongly by Althusser (2003).
5. Quoted by Mao Zedong in an interview published in Schram (1973).
6. Quoted in the Introduction to Zizek (2006)
7. This point has been argued at length in Patnaik (1998).
8. A fuller discussion of this issue can be found in Patnaik (1990).
9. See Marx’s (1976, 206-11) discussion on this subject.
10. This is lucidly discussed in a prescient essay by Kalecki written in 1943 and republished in Kalecki (1971)

By Prabhat Patnaik