Saturday 7 July 2007

The Plough Vol 04 No 16

The Plough

Vol. 4- No 16
Saturday 7th July 2007

E-mail newsletter of the
Irish Republican Socialist Party

1) Editorial

2) Imperialism not neutral

3) Response to Sunday Times article.

4) IRSP Statements

5) The case of Róisín McAliskey

6) An interview on the Venezuelan revolution

7) From the media
a. The fire this time


This edition carries a statement from two members of the IRSP who were named in an article in the Sunday Times (Irish edition) on July 1st. The statement speaks for itself and is set against a background where two members of the IRSP in Waterford when being questioned by the Garda Special Branch were told that they, the Special Branch saw no difference between membership of the IRSP and the INLA. When our comrades confirmed they were members of the IRSP they were charged with membership of the INLA.

Part of the reason for this is the coming together of republicans in a united march at the grave of Wolfe Tone recently. This has obviously sent a few shock waves among all those who have endorsed or supported the recent British imposed settlement in the North. No doubt other republicans and socialists are looking at ways to maximise opposition to the current capitalist set up. The main article “Imperialism Not Neutral” states one position. We would be glad to hear from others who might have a different position.

Repression by state forces is a cross all republicans have to bear. If one believes that the road we travel on is the right road then there is no need to deviate when the state puts up a bloackade. Simply ask what would Seamus Costello, TA power or Gino Gallagher have done and do likewise!

Imperialism not neutral

With the end of the Blair era in Britain there has been much praise heaped on the former prime minister for the work he did in bringing “peace” to
the North of Ireland. Much of the newspaper comments have been based on a false premise that Britain played a role in bringing two warring factions to the peace table.

The British state has not been and will not be neutral in this. It has always sided with the Unionists when they try to force more concessions from Sinn Fein. It used the RUC/PSNI in this process. And it has always employed dirty tricks. After all it is an imperialist power

It should be remembered that it was the police that raided Sinn Fein's offices in 2002 and triggered the suspension of Stormont. Three years later, the British state offered no evidence whatsoever to back up their charges, and Dennis Donaldson, one of the accused, admitted to being a British spy all along. Spies, double agents, lies and murders: British rule, ie the mailed fist, has always been present, just below the surface, during the peace process.

Nor has The Good Friday Agreement led to the community drawing closer together. All the elected MLA’s have to register as Protestant, Catholic or Other, and important legislation, including the status of the union with Britain, has to command support from each community. In other words, it entrenches the Orange veto against a united Ireland.

All of the above is well recognised by republicans. Even some socialists recognise it tho’ there are many in organisations that proclaim themselves the vanguard of the working class who in practice deny the reality of Imperialism. They never take up issues that could in any way be seen as republican even when these issues involve democratic rights such as the right to organise politically.

Recently the IRSP in the South of Ireland has come under attack from political policing. False charges of INLA membership have been laid against two IRSP members in an effort to crush the growth of our party. False stories have been printed in the media about non existing INLA activity in an attempt to get the INLA ceasefire de-recognised by the Free state Government. The IRSP wait patiently for the so called far left to jump in defence of our right to organise. It will be a long wait.

What many on the left fail to recognize that the major contradiction in Ireland is the continued existence of the national question. The denial of full self-determination by Britain using the fears of the mainly unionist people in the north as a bulwark against the completion of the national struggle is the fundamentally main contradiction. The ruling class in the South while aware of this have no desire to see the issue of the national question raise its head because what it needs most of all is stability. Stability means profits for the capitalist class. That is why Bertie Ahearn worked so hard with Blair to forge a settlement that would effectively emasculate the main body fighting for the completion of the national question, the provisional IRA. At the same time he made sure that the so called ‘republican” credentials of Fianna Fail were to the fore so that they could not be outflanked by Sinn Fein (provisional). Both Ahearn and his designated successor as leader of Fianna Fail, Brian Cowen, are perceived to be “strong” on the republican issue.

But saying that does not change anything. We now have a settlement of sorts in the North that has taken the pressure from the British. The power –sharing regime of Sinn Fein and the DUP is inherently unstable. Of course it will not collapse tomorrow for they both need each other if they are to retain power. The vast majority of people on the island probably think that the “settlement “ in the North will work and that things can only get better. There is little chance of that.

British interest rates have just gone up to 5.75% adding more to the mortgages many have to pay out monthly. This at a time when first time buyers have been priced out of the housing market by property speculators buying all round them with a view to buy to let. Traditional housing has been replace by apartment blocks discouraging family or community life. The Northern Ireland executive will have to make a decision in Autumn on water charges and many householders have now difficulty making ends meet to pay the rates which are due to continuously rise over the next six years.

In the south of Ireland house prices fell for the third month in a row in May. The average house price is now €304,166, 2.1% below where it was at the start of this year. There have been eight rate rises already since the end of 2005. The ECB base rate now stands at 4%, with most analysts predicting 4.5% at least by the end of the year.

A recent report by University College Dublin economist Morgan Kelly looked at house prices across the OECD since 1970 and found that the higher house prices rise, the harder the fall. He believes that real house prices give up 70% of what they gained in a boom during the bust that follows. That would devastate many families
Figures from the Irish Exchequer showed that revenues from property-related taxes such as capital gains tax and stamp duty, were €215m below target.

More than 1,000 foreign companies since the mid 1990’s have come to Ireland and unemployment had fallen from 15% to 4.4%.. But Unions are demanding even higher wages, as inflation rises above 5%. In the face of higher wages and lower wage economies in Eastern Europe, those foreign companies could soon leave.

According to data released by the Central Statistics Office (CSO), the number of people signing on the Live Register (The Live Register does not measure unemployment as it includes people on benefits who work part-time, seasonally or are casually employed.) in June rose to its highest level in almost three years,
The CSO report also found that the standard rate of unemployment is now at its highest point since September 2003. Employers’ representative body IBEC, said that the data showed the Irish labour market is beginning to weaken for the first time in a number of years. The construction sector is likely to feel the brunt of any slowdown.
IBEC economist Fergal O'Brien said: " the scale of the June increase confirms that the Irish labour market is experiencing some deterioration."
For Ireland to continue to prosper under capitalism, it has to become less reliant on consumer spending, and house price growth. But if people have their backs to the wall, with their house prices falling and their home loan payments rising, it’s going to be difficult to convince them not to keep demanding higher wages.

Now there are some republicans who see the raising of class issues such as these as a distraction, somehow taking away from the purity of the national struggle. And on the other hand there are some who allegedly on the left, who see the mere mention of the class struggle as some kind of retreat into economism or the type of labourist politics epitomised by William Walker that James Connolly argued so strongly against.

Lest there be any misunderstanding the issue of the national question in Ireland is at heart a class question. The division of the country into two separate states has encouraged sectarianism, seriously dividing the working class and allowing the continued exploitation of all workers. When working class people get more upset about the flying of flags, and the marching of bands and banners past their estates than they do about the scandalous abuse of cheap labour, the daily exploitation of both migrant and young workers and the spread of landlordism and the selling off of state owned resources then the reasons for partition are evident.

Since the foundation of the Northern state the republican strategy to end partition has abysmally failed. Despite the existence of the most effective guerrilla army in Western Europe the provisional movement failed in their objective and had to make peace with the enemy whilst selling that peace as a victory. The armed campaign of the INLA hampered by internal divisions, spiked by British agents and without a coherent clear political direction drifted into failure despite the heroic efforts of its genuinely revolutionary members.

Many republicans are now beginning to come to terms with the scale of the defeat suffered by anti-imperialists. Over the past years there has been an increase in the number of organisations that call themselves republican. Some dialogue and debate has taken place within and between these organisations. The IRSP has always been willing to talk to anyone. But talking is not the same thing as working with others in some new kind of talking shop. Too often in the past, so-called revolutionary organisations have spent more time examining their entrails than actually doing things to persuade the people that their politics are right.

The way ahead lies in analysing the mistakes of the past, actively engaging in all manifestations of discontent in society and above all fighting to achieve leadership in the developing class conflicts that undoubtedly lie ahead. Part of that will involve republican socialism reaching out to progressive elements in both the catholic and protestant working classes. If dialogue with other republicans is along these lines then well and good. If on the other hand it is merely an attempt to recreate the old republican model that serves the Irish working class so badly in the past then it is doomed to failure and the IRSP should be very clear that that is a road we have no intention of going down. Our task is to link the fight against the sectarian Northern statelet and the subservient Free state to the struggle for a fundamental transformation in pay, jobs, housing, social services, and control in the workplace, opening the way to working class control and power. Let us build a revolutionary party that fights for a workers' republic in the many struggles against capitalism and British imperialism that will emerge in the future.
(Gerry Ruddy)

Response to Sunday Times article.

In response to an article in the Sunday Times 8th July by John Mooney we wish to state the following:

At no time did either of us portray to speak on behalf of INLA We are not members of INLA. At no time did we infer that INLA were involved in a dispute with criminals in Dublin
The reporter John Mooney called to Declan Duffy's home and asked him
if it were true that he had been informed by Gardai that his life was
under serious threat, Declan replied that it was. Declan gave a no comment to a series of questions that Mooney put to him and closed the door.

Eddie Mc Garrigle was telephoned by John Mooney on two occasions.
Eddie confirmed to Mooney that there was always a level of tension between republicans and drug gangs in the Dublin area and that this was nothing new, however this has not resulted in violence. Eddie stated his belief that in no way would he believe that INLA would resort to throwing hand grenades in Dublin, He reminded him that it is public knowledge that drug gangs are currently involved in disputes with each other and that this has seen many gangland murders and grenade and pipe bomb attacks. Eddie pointed out that whilst the Gardai were briefing journalists telling them INLA were involved that in reality they knew this was a falsehood and that the person arrested by them has no link whatsoever with the RSM. Eddie also stated that he had been in many delegations to the Irish Government over the years and that no-one from the Government had raised any concerns about the INLA cease-fire, on the contrary Bertie Ahern has publicly praised the leadership shown by the RSM.

Eddie Mc Garrigle
Declan Duffy

IRSP Ard Comhairle statement 20/6/07

The IRSP Ard Comhairle condemn the activities of Gardai special branch in the Waterford area following the arrest and charging under section thirty of two local IRSP members James Butler and John O’Donoghue.

The IRSP views these arrests as a crude attempt to disrupt and hinder the continuing development of the IRSP in the twenty-six counties.

Ard Comhairle member Pól Little stated that the latest events highlighted the draconian nature of the southern criminal justice system.

“This is clearly an attack on the IRSP as well as radical political agitation within the 26 Counties.
Today we have two individuals who face substantial prison terms on the word of a single Gardai officer, all because of their political orientation.”

“It is clear that Section 30 must be scrapped and we will be flagging this plight of the two individuals with all appropriate Human Rights bodies.”

Statement Ends

Irish Republican Socialist Party
PSNI helicopter activity

Following recent low flying helicopter activity in the Andersonstown area of west Belfast the Irish Republican Socialist Party has issued a statement challenging the PSNI over their use of this crude method of surveillance.

Gerard Foster said "Low flying helicopters are renowned for the structural damage they cause to property and in rural areas they have been known to cause of the death of livestock. They have been used by British army soldiers to intimidate the community in the past. We would then pose the question as to why a PSNI helicopter would constantly circle a residential area at low altitude for any length of time."
Mr. Foster continued "It's the view of the IRSP that British army helicopters have been replaced with PSNI helicopters to further implement the British policy of normalising their rule in Ireland."
Mr. Foster concluded by saying "Certainly if the arguments that we have entered a new policing dispensation are to have any credit, the PSNI mustn't pick up were the British army left off."

Friday 6 July, 2007. Statement ends.

The case of Róisín McAliskey

Róisín McAliskey is a 35 year old mother of two children aged ten and two. She is the daughter of Civil Rights activist and former MP Bernadette McAliskey. Róisín has been involved in community development work for nearly 20 years. She currently works with vulnerable young adults and survivors of trauma and conflict.

Róisín was arrested in 1996 in relation to a mortar bomb attack carried out by the Irish Republican Army on a British Army base in Osnabruck, Germany. There is substantial evidence that Róisín was at home in Ireland at the time of the attack. Within a few months of the attack a principal prosecution witness was unable to identify her from a recent photograph. There was also controversy over evidence gathered by German authorities.

Despite this Róisín was flown to London and detained for over a year but was never charged with any offence. Although pregnant at the time of her arrest in 1996 Róisín was categorised as a Category A prisoner and held in Holloway Women’s Prison, before being transferred to the high security all male prison at Belmarsh.

The detention of Róisín McAliskey was recognised by Amnesty International as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment”

For Amnesty's Report on the detention of Róisín please click on link below:-

In 1998 the then British Home Secretary Jack Straw refused the extradition of Róisín on the grounds that it would be “unjust and oppressive” and Róisín returned home to Ireland.

Subsequently in July 2000 the Solicitor General reported to the British House of Commons as follows:

Mr Goggins: To ask the Solicitor-General if he will make a statement concerning the possible prosecution of Róisín McAliskey.

The Solicitor-General: Further to the statement of the Home Secretary on 10 March 1998, Offical Report, column 133W, that he would not order the extradition of Róisín McAliskey to Germany, the Crown Prosecution Service, in accordance with this this country’s obligations under Article 7 of the European Convention on the Suppression of Terrorism, has considered whether to prosecute Róisín McAliskey in this country for the offences allegedly committed in Germany in relation to the Osnabruck bombing of 28 June 1996.

The test applied by the Crown Prosecution Service is the test set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors that applies to all prosecution will be commenced or proceeded with only if there is sufficient evidence to afford a realistic prospect of conviction and that prosecution is in the public interest.

The Crown Prosecution Service, having taken the advice of Senior Treasury Counsel, has concluded that there is not a realistic prospect of convicting Miss McAliskey for any offence arising out of the Osnabruck bombing. It has reached that conclusion having taken into account the available evidence and the likely result of any argument that may be put forward by Miss McAliskey that to prosecute her now would be an abuse of process.
The Law Officers have been consulted and we agree with the conclusion reached by the Crown Prosectution Service.

“It is not usual for the Law Officers to make announcements concerning consideration of individual cases. In this instance, the Home Secretary, in a written reply, 20 March 1998, Offical report, column 742W, said that this matter would be considered for prosecution in the United Kingdom. It is right that the House should be informed of the outcome of those considerations.”

On 21 May 2007 officers from PSNI, C.I.D and European Mutual Assistance Unit sealed off access to the Cul-de-Sac where Róisín lives with her two young children, and arrested her at 8.12am.
Róisín was handed a copy of a “European Arrest Warrant” issued by Dr Diemer, the Prosecutor General at the Federal German Court of Justice on 12 October 2006. The warrant was received by SOCA (Serious Organised Crime Agency) on 6 November 2006.
No explanation has been given for the seven month delay.
Immediately a number of questions arise:

1. Why (given the authoritative statement by the Solicitor General that there is no evidence which could sustain any charge) have the Germans abused the Extradition Act (2003) to fast track Roisin’s removal to Germany?

2. Given the “fast track” purpose of the European Extradition Warrant, why did it “disappear” in the UK from Nov 2006 to May 2007?

3. Given its “assisted disappearance”, for what reason and by whose authority was it acted upon in May 2007?
An interview with Alan Woods on the Venezuelan revolution today
By Humania del Sur

Monday, 18 June 2007

Q.John Riddell, in his review of your book “The Venezuelan Revolution, a Marxist perspective”, wonders if a small Marxist current like the one you lead can influence the course of events in the world and says that at least you have the merit of going part of the way together with the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela. How was this possible? How did you manage it? Did they contact you? Tell us how your first meeting with Chavez was and how the relation between the International Marxist tendency, the government of Hugo Chávez and the sectors that support it are developing. Do you really believe you can influence events in Venezuela in some way?

A.History shows that a small group with clear ideas can play a decisive role in certain historical situations, while a big mass party with incorrect ideas can be transformed in a given moment into a great zero. It is sufficient to recall on the one hand the Bolshevik Party which, at the beginning of 1917 was a small minority in Russia, and on the other hand the collapse of the Social Democratic and Communist parties in Germany in 1933.

It is true that the Corriente Marxista Revolucionaria is as yet very small in Venezuela, but we are very strong in ideas, and that in the last instance is the only guarantee of success. I might add that it was precisely the strength of our ideas that led to my first encounter with President Chávez, who had read my book Reason in Revolt, which he liked and which he has been so kind as to recommend on several occasions.

As to the influence we might have in Venezuela, that depends in part on the work of the Venezuelan Marxists, in part on the experience of the masses. In general the masses do not learn from books but from experience. But in a revolution the masses learn more in one week than in a decade of normal life. Lenin used to say that for the masses an ounce of experience is worth a ton of theory - and he was a great theoretician.

The masses have already learnt many things in this decade of revolution. They know how to distinguish their real friends from their enemies (even when these wear a red shirt). We could put it this way: although the masses may not know exactly what they want, they know full well what they do not want. The development of consciousness continues: the influence of the reformists is declining and that of the most revolutionary wing, together with that of the Marxist tendency that I have the honour of representing is growing.

Q.You have openly expressed your admiration for President Chávez. However, you have said that you consider that the Bolivarian Revolution is “incomplete”. What do you mean by this?

A.The Bolivarian Revolution is a revolution in the sense that Trotsky explained in The History of the Russian Revolution, that is, a situation in which the masses participate actively in politics and try to take their destiny into their own hands and change society from the bottom. But it is unfinished because it has not yet succeeded in expropriating totally the oligarchy and the old state apparatus remains more or less intact. As long as things continue like this, it cannot be said that the revolution is irreversible. President Chávez once compared it to the myth of Sisyphus, who was condemned to roll a heavy boulder to the top of a hill, at which point it always rolled back to the starting-point. The problem is that if this particular rock rolls backwards, it will crush a lot of people.

Trotsky once said: “truth and not lies is the motor-force of history”. What, in your opinion, is the truth of the Bolivarian Revolution? And what are the lies? Are we in the presence of a real transformation of Venezuelan reality, heading for socialism of the xxi century or is it all a deception that will end in the consolidation of a new political and economic elite that has nothing in common with revolution or socialism?

The great truth is that in a revolution - that means also the Bolivarian - in the end one class has to win and the other lose, and that throughout history no ruling class has ever surrendered without a pitiless struggle. The great lie consists in empty and vainglorious declarations to the effect that the Bolivarian Revolution “is irreversible” and other such stupid and irresponsible nonsense which merely attempts to deceive the people and lull it to sleep instead of arousing it to struggle against the danger of counter-revolution.

As for the so-called theory of socialism of the XXI century, I think it is an attempt to distort the ideas of President Chávez and to divert the process towards reformism. People like Heinz Dieterich are striving by all means to water down the revolutionary message of the President and fill it with a completely reformist one. They are opposed to nationalisations, they preach reconciliation between the classes, that is, they are trying to teach the tiger to eat lettuce. And they call this nonsense “realism”! I am writing a book against the ideas of Dieterich and the reformists, and I hope to make clear the difference between Marxism - the authentically revolutionary theory - and this caricature.

Q.What other criticisms would you make of the Bolivarian Revolution, apart from the fact that you consider it to be incomplete?

A.Some time ago Hugo Chávez asked me the same question. I replied in the following way. Your revolution is a real source of inspiration for millions. That is the most important thing. But it does have some weak points, for example, the absence of a clearly defined programme and policy, and the lack of politically educated cadres; in other words, the lack of a revolutionary party, the lack of a revolutionary leadership.

It is true that later there have been attempts to remedy some of these failings. For example, the President has proclaimed the socialist character of the Revolution - something that our Tendency has been advocating from the very beginning. But this idea is meeting with stubborn resistance from the reformists and Stalinists. The battle is not yet won.

Q. What do you think of the criticisms of the Venezuelan opposition that the President has displayed authoritarian attitudes and that his condition as a military man does not favour the democratic rules of play? For example, what is your opinion about his declared intention of remaining in power for an unlimited term and his comments about a “peaceful but not unarmed” revolution? Are socialism and democracy incompatible?

Why should they be? Socialism is democratic or it is nothing! Of course, when I speak of democracy I do not refer to the vulgar caricature of bourgeois democracy - which is only another name for the dictatorship of big Capital. What democracy exists in the USA, where there are supposed to be two parties that, as Gore Vidal explains very well, are really only one party representing different wings of the bourgeoisie. In order to be President of the USA one has to be a millionaire. What kind of a democracy is that?

The protests of the Venezuelan opposition are pure hypocrisy. They have lost the elections and referendums, one after another. They lost again last December when Chávez obtained the biggest majority in the history of Venezuela. And they cannot say that this was a fraud! These elections were the most highly scrutinized in the history of the world! They were all out there in Caracas, searching with a magnifying glass for even the smallest evidence of fraud. If they had found any they would have shouted it from the rooftops. But they did not find anything.

These elections provide a very clear mandate to the Bolivarian government - a mandate for fundamental change in society. That is what the masses are really demanding! Hugo Chávez must carry out the wishes of those who voted for him, the workers and peasants, the poor people and the youth, ignoring completely the howling of the counterrevolutionary opposition, which is nothing but the mouthpiece of the corrupt and reactionary oligarchy and its master in Washington. We must take drastic and urgent measures. It is high time to carry out the expropriation of the oligarchy!

Q. Concerning the question of the media and information in Venezuela, ever since Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías assumed the Presidency of the Republic in December 1998, the government has been reducing the freedom of the press, which is defined as “the guarantee by the government of freedom of expression for citizens and associations, including those dedicated to the collection and broadcasting of information” while strengthening the media owned by the state, which are dedicated to the transmission of programmes of an “ideological” character. Isn’t this contrary to human rights? Is socialism against rights?

A. Come on, now! How can we speak of freedom of the media, of the means of communication, when all these are owned by a handful of rich men like Rupert Murdoch? The so-called freedom of expression in Britain and the USA is a joke in very bad taste!

Of course, socialism must respect human rights. But let us start by defending the rights of the overwhelming majority of the population who, until now, never had any real rights or a voice to express their opinions. What we should do is to nationalise the press, the radio and television, but not leave these things in the hands of the state (we do not want a totalitarian state as in the USSR) but to guarantee access to the media to any party, social or trade union organization according to the number of members, votes in elections, etc. they have. Thus, the PSUV would have several daily papers and more than one TV station, and the owners of RCTV could have a small monthly journal like El Militante which they would be free to sell at the bus stops... That is to say, we would give the bourgeois the same rights they give to us, neither more nor less.

Q. What do you think of the case of Radio Caracas Televisión, a company with more than 50 years of history, which had its licence cancelled by the government in May?

A. As far as RCTV is concerned, everybody knows that this was a counterrevolutionary (“golpista”) station. If I were to criticize the President, I would say he should have acted a lot sooner against this nest of vipers. And he should not only have closed them down but he should have arrested the bosses and put them on trial.

Yet again, the orchestrated campaign over this issue is just plain hypocrisy. I can assure you that if a British TV company had attacked Blair in the same way that this lot did to Chávez, advocating a coup and even the assassination of the head of state, they would be in prison before their feet could touch the ground. No! The problem here is not that we “have gone too far”, as Heinz Dieterich and others think, but that we have been too soft. For example, how many of the April 2002 conspirators are behind bars? As far as I know, not one. This would not be the case in the USA, I can assure you!

Q. Many chavistas are sceptical about the President’s appeal to form the PSUV, because they fear that it may be an attempt to control and silence internal dissent. What do you think about this? Is a single party an instrument suitable for promoting a “revolution within the revolution” which is what you support?

A. On the one hand, it is evident that the working class needs a political party and also that the old parties that made up the MVR were very bad, totally taken over by the bureaucracy and the reformists. Therefore, it seems to me that the proclamation of the PSUV could be an important step forward, but only on condition that it is a genuinely revolutionary party, that is, a democratic and class party, controlled by the working class rank and file and not just another bureaucratic apparatus for the careerists and opportunists. Here also the presence of a strong Marxist tendency is absolutely necessary.

Q. Your book on Venezuela has been translated into various languages, including Urdu. This has made Chávez and the Bolivarian Revolution known in countries like India and Pakistan. Do you really think that what is happening in Venezuela is an example for the world? If so, why?

A. It is true that my book has been a great success because it fills a vacuum. Unfortunately, a great part of the Left internationally has not understood the significance of the Bolivarian Revolution, although this situation is changing rapidly, as people begin to find out what is going on in Venezuela. In all this a very important role has been played, and is still being played, by our international campaign Hands off Venezuela.

Why is the Venezuelan revolution important for the rest of the world? Well, in the first place, all this should not be happening! After the fall of the USSR the bourgeoisie succumbed to a mood of euphoria. They spoke of the end of socialism, the end of communism, of revolution, even the end of history. Now Venezuela has turned all these delusions on their head! The Bolivarian Revolution is like an echo of those famous last words of Galileo: “Eppur si muove!” (And yet, it moves!).

In the last period capitalism has demonstrated that it is incapable of satisfying the most basic necessities of the masses. On all sides we see more hunger, more diseases, more misery, more wars. But there is also an increasing reaction by the people. Classical physics says: every action produces an equal and opposite reaction. That is also true in politics! The mass movement increasingly tends to question the capitalist system - even in the USA. And Venezuela offers a point of reference for these movements. That is why the imperialists are hell-bent on destroying the Bolivarian Revolution at all costs, because it gives an example to millions of exploited and oppressed people in America and further afield.

In Venezuela there is a class struggle that has an increasingly sharp and ferocious character. We still do not know how it will end. But we do know on what side of the barricades we are! With the workers and peasants and against the bourgeois, bankers and landowners! With the revolutionary youth and the vanguard that wants to carry the revolution forward, striking hard blows against the counter-revolutionaries, and against the timid reformists and cowardly and treacherous bureaucrats!

If anyone had any doubt about whether we should support the Bolivarian Revolution, it is only necessary to see the attitude of US imperialism, which does not conceal its plans to overthrow Chávez and is backing the counter-revolution. This detail is sufficient to convince anyone of the necessity to rally to the defence of the Bolivarian Revolution. But in order to defend it seriously, it is absolutely necessary to go further, liquidating the economic power of the oligarchy. It is not sufficient to talk about socialism; it is necessary to make it a reality! And this can only be done when the working class takes power into its hands.

Once the working class takes power into its hands, the Bolivarian Revolution will lose its ambiguous and indecisive character and will acquire an irresistible strength, passing beyond the narrow national frontiers and transforming itself rapidly into a continental revolutionary movement. The conditions are more than ripe for this! Today there is not a single stable bourgeois regime in all Latin America - from Tierra del Fuego to the Rio Grande. The great vision of the Libertador, Simon Bolivar, of the revolutionary unification of Latin America, would be feasible for the first time. But it would only be possible in a Socialist Federation of Latin America, which in turn would be the first step towards world socialism.

London, 6 June, 2007

[Note: to be published shortly in Revista Humania del Sur, Revista de
Estudios Latinoamericanos Africanos y Asiáticos de la Facultad de
Humanidades y Educación de la Universidad de Los Andes, Mérida -
Venezuela, ]


The fire this time

The government has been ineffectual in closing the country's vast poverty gap

Sara Mampane has been waiting for the African National Congress to fulfil its promise of a new home - what she calls a "proper house", where the only corrugated iron is on the roof and the walls are made of brick - since the party came to power with the collapse of apartheid 13 years ago.

The 43-year-old mother of three watched from her rickety two-room shack with no electricity in a squatter camp on the edge of Mamelodi township as others moved to one of the new box houses built by the government. She was content to wait her turn and be grateful for what did arrive, principally access to clean water and a health clinic for her children. But her patience snapped last month when men in red boiler suits came to demolish her home.

The feared "red ants" descended on the camp to remove the thousands of illegally built corrugated iron shacks that have spread out from the edge of the township in recent years. The residents were so incensed that they stoned one of the men to death and injured others, and set fire to four trucks.

"They promised me a house but they say wait, wait, wait," said Ms Mampane. "So I am waiting. But it is not right to come and knock down the house I have before they build me a new one. This is what we expected from apartheid, not from our own government. I think they have forgotten us."

Weeks of on and off rioting in Mamelodi over the demolitions and lack of services have rekindled memories of the township as a hotbed of protest against the apartheid regime two decades ago. Last week hundreds of angry protesters threw up barricades and burned tyres in clashes with police. Last month the residents set fire to local council offices.

The disturbances are not limited to Mamelodi. Hundreds of similar protests have spread across South Africa, fuelled by anger at the slow pace of change.

Thirteen years after the end of apartheid, the poverty gap in South Africa remains among the largest in the world - second only to Brazil by some measurements. More than 40% of South Africans live on less than eight rand (59p) a day. More than one third of the working-age population is unemployed.

But it is the evident wealth of others, mostly white but including a small newly enriched black elite, that has contributed to bitter divisions within the ANC over the government's economic strategy. The issue is expected to dominate a party conference this week.

Time bomb

Some in the ANC are warning that the wealth gap is a time bomb for the country and the party, which is losing touch with the mass of its voters and "betraying the national democratic revolution" with too much focus on creating a liberal business climate.

Trade unions are leading the attack on economic priorities they say have principally benefited the emerging black elite, and the old white one, at the expense of the poor. "It's like a doctor saying an operation has been successful when the patient is dead," Zwelinzima Vavi, secretary general of the Congress of South African Trade Unions, a partner in the ruling alliance with the ANC, told a rally in the Free State this month.

Few deny that the ANC has taken significant strides toward reducing poverty. According to figures released last week, the government has built more than 2m new homes since 1994, although the numbers of people living in squatter camps has risen by half over the same period.

About 85% of households have access to fresh water, up from 61% when the ANC came to power. More than 71% have inside toilets attached to the sewage system, up from about 50%. More than 4m homes have been connected to mains electricity over the same period, although the price of power has quadrupled and many people have been cut off because they cannot pay the bills.

South Africa's minister of provincial and local government, Sydney Mufamadi, has said the protests reflect the government's successes. "As we make progress in some municipalities, the residents in other municipalities become impatient: they expect their public representatives to deliver in the same way as progress is made in other municipalities," he told a UN news agency.

Unshared growth

The government's latest strategy, the accelerated and shared growth initiative, seeks to halve poverty and unemployment by 2014 by continuing the significant economic growth of recent years and creating millions of new jobs.

Charles Meth, a respected researcher on poverty at Cape Town university, says the government is working on "over-optimistic" predictions, and that though economic growth is crucial it will take decades to eradicate endemic poverty. "The treasury is driving an agenda that says growth is going to rescue us," he says. "It's nonsense.

"Within the state there's a huge amount of tension over poverty policy. On the one hand you've got the minister of social development, Zola Skweyiya, very sensibly saying this is not going to be enough and we have to have some kind of basic grant for those people who are going to be left out by these anti-poverty policies and growth policies that you're looking at. The cabinet rounds on him and says 'bollocks'."

The government concedes that though poverty has decreased since 2000, the gap between rich and poor has not narrowed.

The poor can see it only too well. Where the fault line between the haves and the have nots once ran almost exclusively along racial lines, the ANC's policy of black economic empowerment has created a new class of super-rich blacks driving the most expensive cars and living in mansions with servants and swimming pools. Many of the new elite have links to the ruling party.

The policy's defenders say that it is forcing a shift in economic power to the black majority that will trickle down to the poor. Some of its critics say that all too often blacks have merely become the public face of white interests.

Smuts Ngonyama, a former spokesman for President Thabo Mbeki asked to explain why he received shares in a private company while working for the government, said he did not join the struggle against apartheid to remain poor. Tokyo Sexwale, one of the few ANC leaders to have declared he is running to succeed Mr Mbeki, has also been forced to defend his extraordinary accumulation of wealth.

The unions and ANC left have an uphill struggle to change the policy at this week's party conference. The leadership wants an endorsement of a document that Johannesburg's Centre for Policy Studies has described as so "bland, uncritical and vague" that it leaves the impression that the ANC "just doesn't care for the poor and socially marginalised groups".

But Max Sisulu, one of the party's economic policy strategists, says the ANC is not disturbed by the criticism.

"We are not worried about differences. We welcome them," he says. "We can only benefit from differences."

BEE bumbling: The rise of the new elite

The Black Economic Empowerment affirmative action policy to break the white stranglehold on the economy is either the fast track to addressing past wrongs or another get-rich-quick scheme in a country where a greed-is-good culture pervades.

BEE's supporters say the shift in political power after apartheid is compromised by continued white control of the economy. Companies with a significant black stake control just 5% of the Johannesburg stock exchange. Empowerment laws require larger white-owned businesses to sell a 25% stake to black partners.

But BEE is also seen as just jobs for some of the ANC boys (and girls). Critics say the policy has encouraged black people to set up companies that serve no other purpose than to help white-owned firms meet their obligations. There have been a number of scandals, perhaps most notably that involving the woman known as the "Queen of BEE", Danisa Baloyi, who had to resign from more than a dozen company boards after two people were arrested on fraud allegations at one of the companies
Chris McGreal in Mamelodi Tuesday June 26, 2007 The Guardian