Vol. 2- No 36
E-mail newsletter of the
Irish Republican Socialist Party
Saturday May 7th 2005
1) Report from Venezuela
2) Enigma China
a. The disgraceful state of our health service.
4) What’s On
Report from Venezuela
The question is often asked; does Socialism work…… or is there a place for it in today’s world? Many on the right would trumpet the fall of the Soviet Union as the death knell to Socialism/Communism as a working ideology. Some NeoCons go even further and trumpet the end of the USSR as the end of history. As history consists of different ideological, political and economic power struggles, they herald the dominant USA and its socio economic and political system as the only system for the world from now to doomsday.
A startling declaration, for the billions of people suffering devastating poverty and murderous imperialism due to this eternal system. Particularly in Africa Asia and Latin America where the effect have been felt most both today and in the past. Yet it is in Latin America that this “end of history” claim is being shown to be the folly that it is. Countries right across the South American Continent are experiencing an ever growing socialist trend with various land reform, labour and students movements pushing the collective social consciousness’ of the continent further to the left side of the political spectrum. This has resulted in the election of left leaning political leaders, much to the discomfort of the Ultra-Nationalist, Neo Conservative leadership in Washington.
The largest thorn in the side of the US imperialist state is Venezuela and its elected President Hugo Chavez who is using his considerable mandate to reverse the US backed trend of corruption that has blighted the country and to implement sweeping that evenly spread the resources of the oil rich country.
One concrete example of this is the recently nationalized INVEPAL factory complex. INVEPAL is the countries paper making industry that was a privately enterprise until the owners declared the factory bankrupt as an act of economic sabotage by the anti-government owners. Instead of accepting the massive job loss, the workers formally requested the permission to run the factory as a collective in cooperation with the government. The government agreed and the factory now operates successfully in the socialist model of workers control.
Upon visiting the factory however, I discovered that the factory is much more than just a working example of a socialist industrial unit. The factory unit itself produces paper for the books/stationary used in the governments’ education and health missions as well as its official stationary. It also produces other products such as paper bags used by shops and pharmacies and larger bags used for agricultural feeds and cements etc.
One of the democratically elected administration staff had arranged for a tour of the factory for me with one of the workers. The first thing that struck me was how orderly the place looked. I still don’t know why this should have come as a shock to me. I perhaps had a very wrong subconscious misconception of how a factory without bosses would have looked. I can be forgiven for my surprise at the revelations that followed.
Coming out of one of the factory buildings, I noticed three fire engines and an ambulance situated at a depot. I subsequently discovered that these were the property of the factory collective. Not only that, but that the firemen and paramedics had stayed after the workers annex as part of the collective. I was amused to see the old VENEPAL (the name of the factory under private ownership) logo on the sides of the fire engines had been sprayed over with white paint.
A little further and my guide directed me into an extremely large and noisy building that I soon discovered was a gas fuelled electric power station with four huge steam turbines that provide power for the entire factory complex. Again, this was operated by members of the workers collective within.
The factory, as a socialist model, not only works but works more efficiently. Paper production has increased since the workers annex. The workers are contributing to the success of their collective effort with more energy without the exploitation of a private boss. They have realized their potential in collective effort and this has injected a vitality in them that is allowing them to fulfill it. Moreover, they are also working to fulfill the potential of the factory complex as a whole.
The factory complex lies in app.5,600 hectares of what was mostly private, unproductive land. There are also a number of amenities that were once exclusively for the middle management level of the private factory for example a baseball field and small stadium. There is also a swimming pool and a series of chalet housing with a restaurant. Up until a few months ago these amenities along with other structures in the complex had fallen into a state of great disrepair. Using the profits created by the factory, the collective have began an extensive program of refurbishment, opening the complex up to the workers for their use and welfare. The stadium is open for the workers or their children to use for sports as will the pool in a few weeks time. The chalets and other buildings in the complex are receiving refurbishment to the roofs and air-conditioning and are used by workers permanently based here. The restaurant has been refurbished and has been transformed into a canteen for the workers to enjoy a subsidized lunch in cooler surroundings. A shop has been opened offering a wide range of subsidized goods.
Showing admirable imagination and social consciousness, the factory workers have asked the government to provide agricultural experts to come to the site to develop the remaining 5,000+ hectares into productive agricultural land. The government has obliged and sent Venezuelan and Cuban experts to draw up and develop plans to implement irrigation schemes to make the land suitable for crop production, livestock including egg bearing chickens, diary and beef cows, pigs, buffalos. The experts are not planning to do this on their own. They are training people from local towns to take part in their training schemes and to take responsibility of the land in different collectives and make it productive for them. The schemes are aimed at all ages from schoolchildren to adults.
Despite these obvious benefits, the factory complex is also providing more employment than before to the surrounding area. It employs teams of local people to maintain the factory grounds and carry out various repairs to the infrastructure.
The factory complex may be viewed as a microcosm of a socialist society and not only proving that it does work but is also advancing the concept of socialist cooperation throughout Venezuela and other factories are beginning to take inspiration from this shining example. The once private valve making industry for the national petrol company, PDVSA, is in transition towards workers control. As is the countries textile industry which is now known as INVETEX. All of this is being seen by progressives here in Venezuela, not in negative terms, but as the countries industry reawakening.
INVEPAL is proving here in this coastal area of Venezuela that socialism does work, whilst Venezuela as a nation is beginning to embrace the socialist model as the only model that allows all of mankind the ability and space to develop its potential. Moreover, INVEPAL is proving to be at the arrowhead of revolution here in Venezuela whilst Venezuela proves to be at the arrowhead of radical change in Latin America which, if it follows Venezuelas lead, will surely prove to be the catalyst for radical social change in the world.
First- an admission- I have wanted to visit China since I was about 15 years old- which is quite a few years ago. I also have to admit publicly that this ambition was, to a degree, based on a teenage idealism related mainly to the time I was living in. As history, in its often-tenuous way, has long since exposed, it was an idealism based on what I wanted to believe rather than on the reality faced by those living in the situation. At the time I was entranced by what we were hearing of the Chinese people’s struggle led by Mao Tze-Tung, as we in the West referred to him. Even the, somewhat weird, accesses of the Cultural Revolution which we heard about could be justified as attempts by the “paper tigers” of the imperialists to mislead us, or were just another necessary phase in the glorious “peoples revolution”. Indeed, in a second public admission, I still have copies of the little Red Book, and of his Selected Military Writings. It was a romantic, adolescent, optimism based on expectation for an alternative to this insane society, which probably only those who lived during the period can appreciate.
Notwithstanding a growing awareness over the years of the human, and power-affected, imperfections of Mao, allied to the destructive internal personal dynamics within the Chinese Communist Party I still maintained a hope that China offered the possibility of societal change. Despite the growing cynicism which seems to come with age, allied to the sequential collapse of “communism” across the world and the apparent triumphant invulnerability of the neo-liberal models, I continued to be intrigued by the interactions within China. With all its flaws, it still appeared to be an attempt to build and sustain new economic and political structures. This should, hopefully, also allow the growth of the new relationships which should go with them. In as much as our access to information, and our media, would allow I followed each change in policy and leadership with rabid interest.
The student protests of 1985/86 were, to me, a heartening indication of the slow emergence of a new questioning stratum in a society which had previously not been allowed to challenge the rule of the Party. The brutal response to the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in ’89, the continuing repression of those who dared to question, and the Party’s outlawing, and continuing abuse, of Falun Gong adherents some ten years later, did however indicate that, while there were those seeking change, if it was to happen it was going to be a long time in coming. The almost arbitrary use of the death penalty is a prime example of social control by terror. In mid-2004 a senior Chinese legislator suggested that as many as 10,000 criminals are being executed each year.(2) Social and economic management remained totally with the Party and it was exercised across the full mechanisms of the all-powerful state.
This seemed to be particularly true within the policing and justice systems which are a particular interest of mine. China’s Criminal Procedural Law is a prime example. Enacted in 1979, it was given a major overhaul in 1996. Despite this, a U.S. State Department Human Rights report stated it was “less than perfect”, a verdict which was confirmed by China's supreme court president Xiao Yang during a recent visit to America. It is further generally acknowledged that the judiciary is not independent. Lack of due process is a serious problem and government (read Party) pressures make it difficult for Chinese lawyers to represent their clients. Indeed it is alleged that a number of lawyers are themselves detained for representing their clients “ too actively.”
Despite my pessimism however, and the seeming ability of the Chinese Communist Party to “talk the change” but strenuously avoid engaging the process, a number of factors, seemingly unrelated clearly began to impact, very surreptitiously, on China.
On the surface they ranged from the 1980’s agreements by Britain and Portugal to “hand-over” Hong Kong and Macao to China by 1997. This encouraged amendments to the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China allowing “ the private sector of the economy to exist and develop within the limits prescribed by law” under which China began to practice its “ one country, two systems” formula.
There was also the signing of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in 1996 which obliged them to enshrine a Human Rights clause into the Constitution.
Underpinning these however had been the critical return to power of Deng Xiaoping after the chaos of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and his further confrontation and defeat of the “Gang of Four” in 1977. He had consistently argued that it is essential to correctly understand China’s historical stage and suggested that it is now in the primary stage of socialism. He maintained the main task of the party is to engage in economic reform, adopt an open policy and invigorate the economy. As he argued it, at this primary stage of socialism, to accelerate and deepen the economic reform and to build socialism with Chinese characteristics is the main task on which all political, economic and social activities must be focused.
Because 80 per cent of China's population lives in the countryside, it was there that the reform began. It was tried first in the provinces of Sichuan and Anhui, and on the basis of what was promoted as a successful experience in those two places, it was soon introduced throughout the country. Three years later, claiming notable results having been achieved in the countryside, reform began in the cities. Because urban reform was more complicated than rural reform, Deng urged it should be explored boldly but with great care and prudence. On his proposal, four special economic zones were established and 14 coastal cities were opened to the outside world. Despite a series of internal disputes within the CPI the policies designed to generate a “market economy” have generally been sustained since then. Because of this market-oriented reform, it is argued, social fortunes have increased greatly and the living standard of the 1.3 billion people as a whole improved dramatically.
Deng had also proposed that to adapt the political structure to the requirements of economic reform, it too would have to be reformed. He continually stressed the need to expand socialist democracy and strengthen the socialist legal system. The Thirteenth National Congress, convened in October 1987, declared that it was high time to put reform of the political structure on the agenda for the whole Party.
Given the physical abuses by the state forces which still regularly occur in Tiananmen Square - as recently as last year, again to followers of Fulun Gong- it certainly did not appear to me that democracy was expanding, or indeed that the legal system was any more free from the dictates of the Party. There were no obvious infrastructural changes. What, however, was really happening on the ground? It could be that China was in the process of developing an original road toward the building of a new society. Perhaps the “dictatorship of the proletariat” required the short-term negation of some basic human rights in order to, primarily, ensure the provision of human needs and then further encourage additional economic growth.
Perhaps the issue which is being posed is more fundamental to those of us seeking to build a new society. Is it possible to reconcile new social relationships alongside a process of capitalist economic development? In reality do we need the base human drives indulged within the capitalist system in order to guarantee economic growth? Is this the road toward a new society? Can it be found within a system of state control exercised within a one-party structure? If so what are the implications for struggle in our “developed” world? These, and many other questions, pragmatic and theoretical, are being played out in China. They continued to torture myself and others.
One way to see how, indeed if, this new “opening-up”, this new strategy, was affecting, and being reflected in, daily life was to go on that, long desired, personal visit. I could at least talk to people on the ground, explore to some degree both rural and urban conditions and try to sense the atmosphere. Consequently I spent the month of November in China, travelling through Kowloon/Hong Kong and Macau to Beijing, Xi’an, Guangzhou and the countryside around Yangshuo, talking and listening to those living there and trying to assimilate what I was seeing and experiencing.
Change is certainly evident in specific ways in the various places we visited. In the main it relates to the economic conditions, structures and relationships which are unfolding in mainland China. I would suggest that it also applies to a changing perception and behaviour of substantial sections of the population, again mainly, but not only, in the growing urban conurbations within China – even in my short time there I could observe the emergence of a new middle class, and indeed an indigenous, internationally linked, capitalist class. There seems to be little questioning of the existing political structures- but whether this is from a fear, or complacency, or approval, I have little idea. Possibly it is a combination of all three at this stage. There is a consequential impact on the legal system but this seems to apply to business and property law rather than to the overall civil or criminal law.
This is very evident in the Special Administrative Regions of Hong Kong / Kowloon or Macao According to those we spoke to, political, economic or social change was not openly evident in these cities. There undoubtedly was change- they were perceived as the prime economic zones within their Special Administrative Region status and were now the critical gateways between the West and the mainland. Their shopping areas, entertainment and tourist facilities certainly reflect that role. So also does the increasing influence of their business support networks- the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong is the biggest outside of Britain with over one thousand members. The influence of the various Christian churches and sects is also very evident– they have a significant property and business portfolio across these special economic zones- particularly within the hospitality industry- and clearly are a force to be considered. In keeping with the agreements established during the “hand-over” process they are functioning much as usual but are said to be particularly influential within the political opposition groups in the legislature.
Despite the obvious military control by China -the local PLA garrison had its first public military parade a few weeks before we arrived- the right to protest is still clearly apparent as evidenced by the plethora of posters highlighting the physical and legal abuses inflicted on Falun Gong adherents over the past years. This right is still maintained, to a controlled extent it should be said, within the Legislature which maintains an opposition. In July last year an estimated 500,000 people demonstrated in Hong Kong’s biggest pro-democracy demonstration.
Within mainland China the contradictions are more glaring particularly between the urban and rural situations. This is particularly noticeable in the relationships within, and between villages, and cities within those Special Autonomous Regions which we visited.
There has been some economic movement within most rural settings but it is clearly slow and impacting inequitably. In fact the government now admits that the number of farmers living in poverty is rising despite the high economic growth. (1) We visited villages which were reminiscent of Irish rural communities at the end of the nineteenth century. Families were living in one room, conditions were abysmal in many cases – but almost without exception they had a television in the corner. Clothes were washed in the local river and much of the ploughing seemed to be done by bullock. We walked down small alleyways, with only room for the motorised rickshaws and hand-pushed carts which use them, to then hear the sound of English emerging from a newly built primary school operating to full potential for the children of the village. We visited markets where “hygiene” might just as well be a greeting, and yet babies are receiving intravenous infusions outside an open “surgery”. We were told the village doctors are supported primarily on a fee-for-service basis and by profits from the sales of medications which they understandably promote.
In Yangshou we see a expanding town-land fuelled in many ways by tourism. It has grown immeasurably in recent years and indeed we met returned tourists who tell us it did not exist in its present form some ten years ago. We share time with families who have recently moved there to build a new life for themselves, who are “buying” their homes in small lanes without lighting or drainage. We meet those who are now attempting to build their own small businesses. We stay with young families supporting ageing parents and grandparents across three and four generations. They come from rural stock and consequently receive no support from the state because they were, or are still perceived as, farmers.
As we return to Guangzhou on the overnight bus from Yangshuo we are taken off, at five in the morning and asked to go through passport check. They were, in fact, not interested in we “pinkies” but rather in the native Chinese who were on the bus. There is strict control on movement with China particularly with regard to the Autonomous Regions. Even if it is only to visit a relative living there you have to have a permit. To work there, indeed even to visit many places, requires special permission from the Ministry of Public Security. This is a classic example of the difference between “ political speak” and real change in that, despite many public statements almost four years ago announcing major changes to the country's residence permit system, which mainly limits rural people to freely move into cities and gain permanent residence permits, there has been little real benefit for those wishing to move.
In the major cities, however, the adoption of the “ opening-up” strategy is amazing – and the contradictions blatantly glaring. The road and transport infrastructure throughout most of Beijing, Xi’an and other major cities is of the highest quality and still in the developmental stage. Their underpass network is comprehensive and spotlessly clean. The shopping centres can hold their own against any in the world. The mobile phone shops are amazing in their size and stock variety. They are inundated with young people trying the latest model. There is the proliferate growth of the iniquitous McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken eateries and their new linked coffee houses. There is the new aspiring middle class searching for ideas to start their own business. There is the drive to learn English – even the American variety- manifested through children’s television quiz shows or by people stopping you in the street just to have an opportunity to test their language proficiency. We met many western business people who were over to make links with local businesses or to renew contracts that had proven invaluable to them.
And there are the blatant contradictions - the beggar with one arm who comes up to the window of your eating place and pushes her bleeding stump against the window pleading for help – the women and children sleeping on the streets with their begging bowl in front of them – a minority child performing inside a small barrel while his mother begs - the rows of people sitting on their small stools outside the ultra-modern shopping complexes with their signs out offering their services or looking for work of any sort- the women in the streets at their sewing machines doing repairs if the weather allows- the back-bikers clearing out the rubbish bins looking for anything possibly saleable or recyclable.
We did not get to see any of the newly developing workshop areas – nor have the opportunity to talk to anyone working there - perhaps that is for another day. Nor did we get to speak to anyone from within the legal system although we did meet, and have limited discussions, with officers from the PLA and workers from government work units. It is such a vast country and there is so much happening that any realistic assessment as the basis for projections and learning would have to be longitudinally designed with that as the focus. I certainly believe it is putting many long held theoretical positions to the test of reality. This is particularly the case with respect to positions held by the advocates and critics of Marxist legal theory. Was, for instance, Engels correct when he wrote:-
“Men make their history themselves, only in given surroundings which condition it and on the basis of actual relations already existing, among which the economic relations, however much they may be influenced by the other political and ideological ones, are still ultimately the decisive ones….” ( Letter to H. Starkenberg.25-1-1894)
or when he modified this in emphasising the role of the other factors:-
“The economic situation is the basis but the various elements of the superstructure – political forms of the class struggle and its consequences, constitutions established by the victorious class after a successful battle etc. – forms of law- and then even the reflexes of all these actual struggles in the brains of the combatants: political, legal, philosophical theories, religious ideas and their further development into systems of dogma – also exercise their influence upon the course of the historical struggles and in many cases preponderate in determining their form” (Letter to J. Bloch 21-9-1890)
I would suggest that we are about to learn the answers as the contradictions unfold in China over the next few decades. Based on what I experienced there, admittedly meagre, I am not hopeful of the outcome. At present it would appear that the economic relations will, ultimately, be decisive. The influence of Western culture on the young urban generation is glaringly obvious in the music, fashion, coffee and mobile phone shops. The impact of the market economy and the capitalist relations which underpin it is evident in the extensive new office buildings, the growing number of upmarket cars on the road and the flaunted links of the new comprador class with international finance and industrial capital.
It is the hidden aspect- the corruption, the increase in crime, the sweatshops, state management which prohibits any self-organising or campaigning not controlled by the Party, the use of the law as an instrument of party rule, the increasing power of the international financial institutions with the neo-liberal agenda which is worrying. Add to that the lack of any alternative strategy, self-help organisations or campaigning in any part of the mainland system and it is more than worrying. It is frightening.
Oh – and the really pleasurable side of the visit – to experience a very beautiful country lived in by a wonderful, welcoming people.
1. Unreported Year. 2004: p.2: New Internationalist: Oxford. UK: www.newint.org
2. Unreported Year. 2004: p.3: New Internationalist: Oxford. UK: www.newint.org
.I would a suggest that, given the complexity of the situation in China at present, it may not be appropriate for Peter Urban (in private correspondence) to claim that the issues surrounding the sweat shops in China, and there are many, are "absolute proof" that "communist parties are the enemies of working class people": nor indeed for Liam O'Rouric (The Plough Vol 2- 34)to suggest that because there is criticism of the particular position practised by comrades in other countries that this is again "absolute proof" that those who criticise are "enemies of working class people".
We have much to give to, and learn from, each other in our debates, which will, hopefully, often be positively critical. The same is true for the collective and individual actions of each of us and of our comrades throughout the world. I would argue we acknowledge that each of us have different perspectives and beliefs, that none of us is always right, or always wrong, and that we should be prepared to learn from an exploration of those beliefs and indeed accept that they can often be a source of strength. As I see it one critical factor in our relationships, and consequently in our struggle, is that we acknowledge that we are each committed to confronting this insane capitalist society and are working within our respective limitations to build a better one. Absolutism, and personalised / destructive criticism, is a waste of our time and resources and plays into the hands of those who would divide us, seek to undermine our beliefs and prevent us from working together to build a new world system as a matter of increasing urgency.
Jim Mc Corry
I was interested to read in The Plough,Vol.2 No.23 a
brief statement by John Murtagh regarding the disgraceful state of our health service. Most of what comrade Murtagh was saying was correct, but he should remember the IRSP is a revolutionary Marxist party and we should not be expecting any sympathy from the capitalist class. He started off supporting, quite rightly so, the action taken by the nursing organisations and finishes up by thanking the enemy class, the bourgeoisie, by stating "the goodwill of individuals and businessmen who have been so sickened
by the state of our health service that they have pledged to provide, fit out and service pre-fabricated cabins at some of our city hospitals". The business community could not care less about the health of working class people, as far as they are concerned "pre-fabricated cabins" are good enough for us. They sound very benevolent but how many of their families are forced to seek health care in what amount to refurbished air raid shelters?. I know it could be argued that it is better than nothing but that is not the argument. Once these social parasites have got working class people holed up in garden sheds seeking medical treatment they will be more than happy because they won't then have to help fund a proper competent health service.
As socialists/communists we should be arguing for the complete nationalisation of the health service funded from general taxation, a mixed though preferably planned economic system based on either Keynesian or, again preferably Marxist economic theory.
The final part of comrade Murtagh’s statement is something I would expect from Harney or any other fraud in the Dail with perhaps a couple of exceptions. The busness class playing at being philanthropists is not, can not, and will not be an answer to the problems faced by the proleteriat in the health service. Politically the statement begins
progressive but follows a path of digression towards reformism and that is at best.
Premiere of the documentary film
A LIFE FOR THE
By Galip Iyitanir
At the Flax Mill, Derrylane, Dungiven Ireland
Saturday, May 21st, 7 pm
Live Music after the film
ADELE INGRAM &
THE DOMINO EFFECT
02877742655 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Date: Wed, 4 May 2005 08:18:28 EDT
Hello - this is a mass mail out with the final lineup for my birthday concert. greetings to friends, family, workmates, acquaintances and apologies to those to whom this e.mail is of absolutely no interest or pertinence. all the best, Peggy
Celebration of Peggy Seeger's 70th year! Queen Elizabeth Hall , London, England
Sunday, May 29 - 7 p.m.
Booking from inside UK: 08703-800-400
Booking from outside UK: +44-8703-800-400
Guest Artists: Billy Bragg, Eliza Carthy, Martin Carthy, Calum MacColl, Kitty MacColl, Neill MacColl, Irene Pyper-Scott, Mike Seeger, Pete Seeger and Norma Waterson with instrumentalists James McNally, Roy Dodds, Graham Henderson and probably a few more!
London, UK 0870-382-8000
Email for more information
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