In the third part of a three-part series guest blogger John Moore examines the latest crisis in Thailand. Here he asks what is the likely trajectory of the Thai crisis and argues that the anti-government Red Shirt movement needs to split along class and political lines for there to be a progressive outcome to the continuing conflict. Furthermore, he argues that although the current chapter of the Thai political crisis may have ended, deep seated political and economic divisions in this country mean we will see further examples of conflict involving mass mobilisations of people. The intransigent positions on both sides of the red/yellow divide, and the underlying clash of classes, will mean that this crisis will not be resolved through mere political maneuvering and manipulation from high. The growing republican sentiments amongst the Red Shirts also points to the escalation of divisions in Thai society. [Read more below]
In the second part of a three-part series guest blogger John Moore examines the latest crisis in Thailand and asks why the organised working class seem absent from the recent political conflicts that have engulfed Thailand. Undoubtedly thousands of working class Thais have been involved in the current mobilisations against the government. The propaganda of the Red Shirt leaders have targeted both the rural and urban poor, calling for a defence of the social policies, including universal health care, enacted by the former Thaksin led government, and for a ‘people’s revolution’ against the ‘elite’. However, Thailand has a large and significant trade union movement that seems conspicuously absent from the current conflict and mass rallies and protests. A number of historical and political factors account for the absence of organised labour from the current events unfolding in Thailand. [Read more below]
In a three-part series guest blogger John Moore examines the latest crisis in Thailand and argues that the conflict between the Red Shirts and the government represents a deformed version of class war. He argues that although a class war is escalating in Thailand, most western commentators seem bamboozled by the array of divisions and groups clashing against each other in the latest round of the political crisis that has engulfed this country for the last few years. Scenes of thousands of militant and defiant protesters wearing either yellow, red and now blue shirts has led many to view the current strive as irrational political squabbling. Much of the media have viewed the deepening divisions in Thailand with confusion and their reporting has lacked any analysis that goes beyond surface appearances. A careful examination of the clashing groups, and their links to antagonistic social groups and classes, offers a deeper reading of these events. [Read more below]
While it might sometimes appear that the Drinking Liberally political project has been hijacked in New Zealand by the Labour and Green parties for their own partisan purposes, it doesn’t have to be that way. In Dunedin we’re lucky enough to be starting our branch of the project (Tuesday 7pm, Velvet Underground), and hopefully we can be sure not to let its potential be siphoned off by politicians for their blatant permanent electioneering. If the project is to survive as a credible and useful project for the left, it needs to be protected from such partisan abuse and top down elitist speech making from MPs and party hacks. After all the Drinking Liberally project imported from the US is a potentially exciting development for politics in New Zealand – or at least for the small politerrati involved in activism, blogging, etc – as well as also for the search for new ways of ‘doing politics’. Yet there are a number of significant problems with the project – many relating to the highly contested definition of the term ‘liberal’. [Read more below]
Italy’s former Communist Party has shifted further to the right, in an attempt to create a ‘broad church’ centre-left party similar to the US Democratic Party. The Italian CP was once the biggest CP in the West, with 1.8m members. In the early 1990s it ditched its (Stalinist) communism, renaming itself the Democratic Left Party. Now it is ditching the ‘left’ part altogether and merging with the Catholic Democracy and Freedom party (or ‘Margherita’), to be just the Democratic Party. The new party will be the biggest in Italy – in the last election ex-communist party gained 17.5% of the vote, and Margherita (led by Francesco Rutelli) won 10.7% - and will have a majority of ministers in the Romano Prodi Government. In fact, Prodi is the driving force behind the project, and is also advancing the merger of centre and left parties at the European level – essentially wanting the European left to take the form of the American democrats. However it’s interesting that even The Economist points out the de-radicalised nature of the new formation: ‘Mr Prodi wants the Democratic Party to be like its American namesake, but it will not be. Its leftmost tip may match the Democrats; but on the right it takes in members of Mr Rutelli's party who look more Republican.’ See also: Financial Times: Italian centre-left parties merge; and WSWS: Italy’s former Communist Party has shifted further to the right
During the last week Venezuela has quit the IMF and World Bank. President Hugo Chávez paid off his country's debts with the IMF a few years ago, and now says it wants nothing more to do with 'institutions dominated by US imperialism'. Instead he plans to set up The Bank of the South (or Banco del Sur) which will lend to Latin American countries. Chávez is also threatening to nationalise all the other private banks as well as Venezuela's biggest steel firm unless they operate on with more social objectives. Earlier in the week he took control of the last privately run oil operations - effectively forcing the multi-national oil giants to accept a minority stake in joint ventures. Meanwhile, in nearby Brazil, 'Red April' has just taken place. According to the Economist article on Agrarian reform in Brazil, the Landless Rural Workers' Movement (or MST), 'sponsor a nationwide bout of land invasions, takeovers of buildings and other protests' every April. Apparently, 'In the past the main targets were local land barons. More and more they are big companies, be they Brazilian or foreign'. This 'championship of the downtrodden has something like 1,500 full-time organisers who focus on expropriating resources that are not fulfilling their 'social function'. The Economist says that in Brazil '1% of owners controlled 45% of farmland'.
What is there to learn from the recent presidential campaign in France? There have been no shortage of commentators that have celebrated the supposed return to an ‘exhilarating’ and clear left versus right battle. But rather than being a return to traditional politics, the election actually represented more of the same: a continued decline of class politics, an increased erosion of political difference, an increased personality-obsession, and further increase in the decrepit state of the established left forces in France. [Read more below for an analysis of modern French politics]
Radio NZ National is broadcasting one of this year’s BBC Reith Lectures by Professor Jeffery Sachs, who is the celebrity economist behind such glorious projects as privatisation/theft in Russia, Bono's politics, Make Poverty History, and UN aid programmes. Not only is he one of the most influential economists alive, he's a friend of Geri Halliwell's, and somewhat more importantly, he's said to have 'done more to shape contemporary low horizons on global poverty than any other individual'. In the Reith Lectures he argues in favour of the fashionable views that 1) industrialisation is killing the planet, and 2) scientific and technological advances are destabilising the planet, and 3) rising population is destroying the planet. For a critique of these lectures, try Dominic Lawson in the Independent - Jeffrey Sachs is wrong again - or Daniel Ben-Ami on Sachs sucks. You can tune in to hear the Sachs broadcast on Sunday 29 April at 4:06 pm - or of course listen on the BBC website.
The race is on to replace French President Jacques Chirac - who has been the most unpopular president since polling began - with a recent popularity rating of just 29%. Added to this, there are massive social and economic problems in the country, with 54% of the French think their country is in decline. In this context, the French Socialist Party presidential candidate should be the almost unstoppable. Yet Ségolène Royal's campaign has been a bit of a disaster, and her programme has been far from convincing to voters, as she lurches from left to right and back again. The Guardian has pointed out that her failings in opinion polls might be related to the conservative nature of the French electorate, but the newspaper also adds that although Royal complains of sexism, her support base is actually heavily male, with women supporters being the least loyal. [Read more below]
Recently I read that New Zealanders give $1.27bn in donations each year, and that this compares very poorly to other countries. I thought it was maybe a good thing to find that we give only 0.81% of our national income compared to 2.2% in the US (where they obviously have a strong philanthropic culture). But then I was also impressed to read elsewhere that Latin American emigrants sent home about NZ$100bn to their families last year. Apparently such remittances are typically sent home by 'fruit pickers, nannies and cleaners' earning NZ$150-450 a month, and keep about 10m families out of poverty. This money actually exceeds the combined flow of aid and foreign direct investment' to Latin America. But why do I feel so differently about the two different examples above? [Read more below]
Cuba is set to become the most socially liberal country in the Americas by legalising gay marriage and making sex change operations free of charge under Cuba's world leading health service. The country abolished its anti-gay laws in 1979, well before most US states (many of which retain various laws against forms of sexual activity usually associated with male homosexuality), and well before New Zealand. NZ too, has only adopted a half-way-house approach to gay marriage whereby gay and lesbians can only get Civil Unions (because Helen Clark and co thought that the sanctity of marriage meant that it should remain a heterosexual-only institution).
According to a Guardian opinion piece, Havana now has a lively and vibrant gay scene, and the days of official repression and machista cultural societal oppression are over. It quotes the president of Cuba's national assembly, Ricardo Alarcon, saying that 'We have to redefine the concept of marriage. Socialism should be a society that does not exclude anybody.' This is a huge advance on the Cuban revolution's early homophobia. The Guardian says that the change has come about primarily due to pressure within Cuba, but also significantly from Cuba's external supporters of the revolution that have encouraged progressive social-political change in the island. See also, the USA Today article, When it comes to gay rights, is Cuba inching ahead of USA?
As the Cuban revolution gets closer to celebrating its 50th year, and the wave of progressive change continues to sweep Latin America, there is more focus on the precarious triumphs of the country. On Saturday the Guardian ran an article by an ex-CIA officer based in Latin America who reminds us of the unjust dirty methods that the US has used to fight against Cuba. He says that 'No country has suffered terrorism as long and consistently as Cuba' and that the cost of the US's economic warfare has been more than US$80b to the small island.
And a few weeks ago, there was another good opinion piece that challenged the idea that the Cuban revolution would fall when Castro dies. Apparently the Cuban economy is doing very well, growing by about 12% annually. A recent Gallup poll found very high satisfaction rates amongst Cubans for the island's socialised health and education services.
Tariq Ali has written a good Guardian comment piece on the state of the left and the establishment in Italy - in relation to the unravelling Italian Government. He gives a run down on how the latest dispute has centred on the Government's unpopular support for the war in Afghanistan. The bulk of Italians want their troops removed from the country. Ali writes that 'Increasingly, official politics in the west ignores public opinion at will' and that it is this 'increasing distance between rulers and ruled that threatens the functioning of democracy and leads to desperation.' Politics on both left and right in Italy 'exude the stench of putrefaction'.
The title says it all: "The Trouble with Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality". This is a new book recently published in America that makes a very strong argument against identity politics in favour of a more class-oriented leftwing project. A very good review of the book can be read in the US Observer newspaper online in part one and part two. [Read more below]
So Hugo Chavez now calls himself a communist, quotes Leon Trotsky, and has announced his plans to nationalise the telecommunications and electricity industries. This is strong stuff, and the left should be impressed with the continued 'turn to the left' in Latin America. However, in reporting on recent events, both the the Economist and the World Socialist Web Site are seemingly in agreement that Chavez's rhetoric is still well ahead of his reality, and when you look at much of the detail there is less for the right to be alarmed at and less for the left to celebrate about. The Economist admit that Chavez can claim a mandate for implementing 'socialism', but it thinks that private business has little to fear from his regime. Still they seem to be bemused that Chavez tells Venezuelan bishops that they should read Marx, Lenin and the Bible because 'Christ was an authentic communist, anti-imperialist and enemy of the oligarchy'. The WSWS are still very tough on Chavez, suggesting that an examination of what his government is about shows that his policies 'far from signaling a resurgence of socialism, represent an echo of the kind of economic nationalism and military populism associated with figures such as Juan Peron in Argentina'. The Guardian gives a more sympathetic hearing.
In commenting on recent election victories for the left in Latin America, the Economist magazine says that the plethora of elections has produced a vote for moderate change. This approach conflicts with many commentators of both left and right who seem to be view a 'red tide' sweeping Latin America. In the eyes of the Economist: 'the elections confirmed the ascendancy not of tub-thumping anti-American populists but of the moderate centre-left. Such candidates won in six countries, including Brazil, Chile and Peru. In another two of the bigger countries, Colombia and Mexico, the centre-right was victorious. Mr Chávez's victory and the election of Evo Morales in Bolivia were the only clear triumphs for the far left. Mr Ortega won fewer votes than at the previous election, but profited from a split in the ruling Liberal party. Mr Correa [of Ecuador] won a run-off only after he moved sharply to the centre.' Rather than jumping up and down about the red menance, the Economist there is actually 'a new consensus' in the region that 'keeps the emphasis on low inflation and open market economies along the lines of the “Washington consensus”, and adds to that activist social policies'.
The Democrats may be victorious in the US, but according to spiked-online they are lame ducks like the President. The party has expressed few principles during the campaign, and the mid-terms in general have 'confirmed the peculiar situation in which American society appears deeply polarized yet without experiencing any discernable political divide'. Meanwhile the Guardian points out that the new intake of Democrats include a large proportion of 'neo-Dems' who are pro-gun, anti-abortion and fiscally conservative.
UPDATE: See also, the NY Times article Incoming Democrats put Populism before Ideology.
A German theatre group has brought Karl Marx's lengthy classic treatise on the division of labour and capitalist modes of production to the stage. And it's popular! Every lucky theatre goer walks away with a copy of Volume 23 of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels.
The Sandinistas are back in power in Nicaragua with Daniel Ortega's victory in the presidential poll. Much of the international left will be joyous, but unfortunately there's not all that much to cheer about. Ortega's shift from radical/revolutionary to opportunist populist was complete when he signed up for new anti-abortion laws, courted the Catholic church, and opted for renowned Contra supporter Jaime Morales as his vice presidential running mate. Ex-coffee picking brigadier, Andrew Anthony, has had a couple of good pieces on Ortega in the Observer and the Guardian, showing how founding Sandinistas have abandoned their party and the presidential campaign, which essentially represents a new coalition between the old oligarchy and the new Sandinista oligarchy that in power will continue to manage poverty in Nicaragua.
UPDATE: here's the WSWS analysis of Ortega's Victory and the Dead-end of Sandinismo