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Nelson Mandela, Free Market Capitalism and the South African Crisis December 28, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, South Africa.
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Roger’s note:

“Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor.

Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.”

If you want more than that feel-good notion of Nelson Mandela as a champion of non-violent (i.e non. revolutionary) change, then read the article below.  Although I believe the author mistakes nationalization  for socialism, the article does give a credible analysis of why the South African masses, post-Apartheid, still live in miserable poverty.  Nationalization may be a necessary step towards socialism, but it is not sufficient.  Genuine socialism is not where the government rather than private interests are the owners of production.  Such as that exists in Vietnam and China and is functionally speaking nothing more than state capitalism.  Single party vanguards such as existed in the former Soviet Union and in China and Vietnam today by nature devolve into state tyranny over labor in order to maximize profit.  Genuine democratic socialism demands direct worker control over production, but that is another and much longer story.

 


by Anthony Monteiro

The veil must be lifted from the deliberations and machinations that led Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress to discard the people’s Freedom Charter in favor of an accommodation with white capital, in the early Nineties. Why, at South Africa’s most critical juncture, did the ANC make a pact with the Devil? And why did they keep it?

 

“The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994.”Why and when did Mandela change his mind about nationalization of the wealth of South Africa? And what have been the results? I find the mainstream media’s accounts, citing Mandela’s claim that he changed his mind at Davos, Switzerland, in 1992 implausible. More troubling is why when Mandela and the ANC led government saw things going so badly for the people they didn’t change course? These questions arise as we try to make sense of Mandela’s legacy. This is especially important in light of the catastrophic crisis of poverty, hunger, unemployment, education and health care besetting the South African people. The decision against nationalization has left the people worse off than when Mandela was elected in 1994. White economic privilege remains the same, and their wealth exponentially increased, a tiny, rich and mostly parasitic black bourgeoisie and a black middle class have been created. For 90 percent of the African population things have not improved.

The New York Times reported on December 10 that Nelson Mandela’s change of thinking occurred at Davos, Switzerland, at the World Economic Forum (the annual meeting of the major bankers, capitalist, entrepreneurs, celebrities, politicians and intellectuals tied to the neo liberal globalist model of the world economy) in January 1992. Tito Mboweni, a former governor of the South African Reserve Bank (that nation’s Central Bank), who accompanied Mandela to Davos, says when Mandela and the ANC delegation arrived Mandela had a speech written by the ANC that focused on nationalization. Mboweni says “we discussed this at some length and decided that its content was inappropriate for a Davos audience.” Mboweni drafts another speech that was friendly to the Davos crowd. The speech was vague and filled with clichés and platitudes and assured the audience that they had nothing to fear from Mandela or the ANC.

In a letter to the Sunday Independent last January Mboweni says it was meetings with representatives of the Communist parties of China and Vietnam that changed Madiba’s mind completely. According to Mboweni the Chinese and Vietnamese told Mandela “We are currently striving to privatize state enterprises and invite private enterprise into our economies. We are Communists Party governments, and you are a leader of a national liberation movement. Why are you talking about nationalization?” According to Anthony Sampson, the author of Mandela: The Authorized Biography, Mandela told him “They changed my views altogether. I came home to say: ‘Chaps we have to choose. We either keep nationalization and get no investment, or we modify our own attitude and get investment.’”

”The path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.”

It is obvious that the ANC, the South African national liberation struggle and the nation as a whole were at a critical juncture. They were faced with problems of consolidating political power and moving the nation towards economic emancipation. On the other side, the white regime and its backers in the West were concerned with making concessions to black South Africans that would not disturb western corporate control of this mineral rich and strategically located economy. However I find the accounts of Mr. Sampson and Mr. Mboweni implausible. In other words, the path to Mandela’s radical change of mind involved more than conversations during a five-day meeting in Davos in 1992.

The first question is about the representatives of China and Vietnam. Both nations in 1992 were at different levels of economic development. Vietnam was still in the social and economic reconstruction phase after 25 years of war against foreign aggression. China was a socialist economy that twelve years earlier had entered upon a path of reform within its socialist economy. China at that time had about 80 to 90% of the strategic parts of its economy under state control. Vietnam was similar with the state controlling economic reconstruction. Even today close to 70% of China’s economy is under state control. The most technologically dynamic and profitable sector of the Chinese economy is the state, or nationalized sector. The facts are that China and Vietnam are heavily state dominated economies and each says the objective of their economic planning is to build advanced socialism. Even if we accept that the Chinese and Vietnamese representatives at Davos said what Mboweni says, the next question is who were they and did they represent the official positions of their governments? If we accept the mainstream media’s accounts, they must have been saying, “do as we say, not as we do.” Of course this would have been an instance of unbelievable bad faith, even cynicism. But on this matter, rather than looking to the Chinese and Vietnamese delegates, I think we should question Mr. Mboweni ‘s and Mr. Sampson’s account.

The second point is that when Mandela emerges from prison two of his and the ANC’s most important allies were Cuba and Libya, two nations whose economies were heavily nationalized. Why did Mandela not consult Fidel Castro and Muammar Gadaffi among others to get a more complete view on how well nationalization was working or not working in their nations?

”The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact.”

The third point, any nation emerging from a long period of civil war and national liberation, experiencing a radical transfer of power, necessarily goes through a period of transition. It is ludicrous to think that sober minds, especially those with the training of most of the ANC, could underestimate a transition where something like a New Deal for the people, including a jobs and infrastructure programs, an anti-poverty crusade, health care, housing and political education, would not be considered necessary. No clear thinking person could have imagined an overnight great leap forward from a ravaged apartheid economy to an advanced socialist one. There would be a transition period of at least a decade where the groundwork would be laid for a new democratic and socialist economy. The forms of this transition would have many layers, even ambiguities, but its direction would be firmly established and based on the Freedom Charter and its call for nationalization. The decisions made by Mandela and the ANC thwarted a robust transition and allowed the old system to remain pretty much intact and thereby recklessly undermined the future of South Africa.

The more plausible scenario, from my perspective, is that Mandela and a small circle around him, long before Davos, perhaps in the last year or so of Mandela’s imprisonment, cut a deal. As we know Mandela entered into secret talks with the white regime before being released. These talks were kept secret from the ANC leadership. There were others in and outside of the ANC who were involved in secret talks about the economy well before 1990. By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization. The question for Mandela and those in the ANC who supported him, was to get an appropriate time and place for Mandela to announce his change of position. There had to also be a plausible explanation of why such a drastic change. The Davos story fulfills both requirements, an appropriate place and a plausible story.

The fact that Mr. Mboweni, a free market capitalist, accompanied Mandela to Davos and had such power that he was allowed to trash the ANC speech and substitute for it his own, should raise further troubling questions about the behind scenes operations among the ANC elite. Why weren’t other views present in the ANC delegation at Davos? Or were they dismissed as “too radical” even before Davos?

”By the time Mandela is released an agreement had been reached with the regime against nationalization.”

Not long after the Davos announcement the ANC (or the free market and neo liberal elements within the ANC) announced that the first black government would assume the entire debt of the white regime. A sum of close to $25 billion. The ANC took an IMF loan to pay the debt, which came with severe strings attached that protected white control of the post apartheid economy. (see my article in BAR Dec 11 2013 for a further discussion of this). Mandela’s claim that he was turned around at Davos is questionable and his turn against the Freedom Charter and the aspirations of the masses of South Africa (who cherished the Freedom Charter as their manifesto of freedom and reflective of their freedom aspirations) is problematic.

Winnie Mandela has said repeatedly that when Mandela emerged from prison he was not the same man. She says his revolutionary resolve was different. What she probably meant is his change of heart on economic policy and his willingness to, as she saw it, make unnecessary compromises with white South Africans and Western interests. Ronnie Kasrils, former minister in ANC governments, a member of the ANC executive and a leader of Umkonto weSizwe recently wrote (The Guardian, June 23, 2013) that the decision against nationalization was a “Faustian bargain” with the white world that sold out the South African poor. Naomi Klein in her book The Shock Doctrine suggests the bargain was that in return for the ANC turning against The Freedom Charter and nationalization, the West would make Mandela a living saint.

In my BAR article “Nelson Mandela, The Contradictions of his Life and Legacies” I argue there are four stages in Mandela’s life. The fourth is 1990 to 2013. This is the most contradictory in terms of his previous revolutionary activity. However, it is as significant to understanding his legacy and life as the previous ones are. The burning question is in power what did he and his ANC colleagues do to liberate the nation from economic apartheid and foreign corporate control. At this point the answer is in power the ANC failed. The problem is not important only to South Africans or Africans, but for how humanity, especially its impoverished and destitute majority, imagines the future world and how we fight for it.

Anthony Monteiro is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University. He can be contacted at tmon@comcast.net.

Bolivian Women Rise Up March 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America, Women.
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Written by Lisa Macdonald   
Friday, 05 March 2010 12:33
Source: Green Left Weekly

In January, Bolivia’s left-wing President Evo Morales began his second term by appointing a new cabinet in which women are equally represented for the first time.

Morales, Bolivia’s first president from the nation’s long-oppressed indigenous majority, is leading a revolutionary process of transformation.

The 10 women ministers are from a wide range of backgrounds, and three of them are indigenous. Introducing the new ministers, Morales said: “My great dream has come true — half the cabinet seats are held by women.

“This is a homage to my mother, my sister and my daughter.”

In the December 6 national elections, in which there was the highest-ever voter participation in Bolivia, Morales and his Movement to Socialism (MAS) party won a resounding victory. Morales was re-elected with a record 64.2% of the vote and the MAS secured the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to pass legislation to advance its pro-people program.

The proportion of women in Bolivia’s new parliament doubled, from 14% to 28%. Women now hold 47% of Senate seats and Ana Maria Romero from MAS has been elected Senate president.

This is a remarkable achievement in the poorest country in South America. It was not until the 1952 national revolution that either women or the 60% of Bolivia’s population that are indigenous were even entitled to vote.

Until 1996, women were largely prohibited from owning or inheriting land.

MAS senator Gabriela Montano told the BBC on January 29: “This is the fruit of the women’s fight: the tangible proofs of this new state, of this new Bolivia, are the increasing participation of the indigenous peoples and the increasing participation of women in the decision-making process of this country.”

Morales was first elected in 2005 on the back of five years of massive protests and uprisings — in particular against the privatisation of Bolivia’s gas.

Morales’ government has implemented some of the key demands of the people’s struggle — in particular the partial nationalisation of gas and the convening of an elected constituent assembly to draft a new constitution based on justice and equality for the indigenous peoples.

The new constitution — passed in a national referendum in January 2009 — guarantees equal rights for women and men, and empowers women and Bolivia’s indigenous majority in all areas of society.

Morales and MAS have stated that their goal, reflecting the will of the people, is to build a new state “from below” that is based on three pillars: “plurinationality” (recognition of indigenous equality); regional and indigenous autonomy within the framework of “a democratic decentralisation of power”; and a mixed economy in which the state plays the central role in strategic sectors.

At his January 21 inauguration, Morales argued for the need to build a “communitarian socialism” in Bolivia — to replace capitalism’s destruction of life and the planet.

Despite women’s traditional exclusion from politics, they were at the centre of the process that brought Morales to power and, with most to gain from the radical changes under way, have become a driving force in the revolutionary process.

Thousands of campesino (peasant) women were the backbone of the roadblocks, marches and demonstrations against the neoliberal policies implemented by pre-Morales governments.

They played a key role in the huge protests in 2000 and 2003 against foreign corporate ownership and further privatisation of Bolivia’s natural resources. Their leadership in the coca growers’ movement and for indigenous land rights has been a motor force of the revolution.

Montano told the BBC: “The awakening of women has been brewing for a while. Women have been a key element in the consolidation of this process of change led by President Morales, from the rallies, the protests, the fights.

“Now, they will be a key element in affairs of national interest.”

Bolivia’s women’s movement still has many big battles to win. The power of the Catholic Church means that women are still unable to access safe and legal abortions, and Bolivia has the highest maternal mortality rate in Latin America.

Female illiteracy is still around 20% and domestic violence is a major problem, Bolivia’s women’s rights organisations say.

Bolivia’s laws establishing women farmers’ right to land ownership are among the most advanced in Latin America. The Morales government allocated property deeds for 164,401 hectares of land to 10,299 women between January 2006 and January 2009 (compared with only 4125 such deeds between 1997 and 2005).

However, illiteracy and traditional cultural practices mean that many rural women are still unaware of their rights under the new constitution.

Morales and the social movements are striving to overcome the legacies of centuries of colonial and imperialist oppression.

Equal gender representation in government, although a significant achievement in any country, is far from a guarantee of equality and freedom for all women.

But when that representation is the product of, and embodies leaders of, mass struggles by the poorest and most oppressed women, it takes on deep significance.

It is a central part of the broader struggle by the oppressed in Bolivia to create a new society

The women of Bolivia are proving that women can fight and win — for their rights as women and for a radically new type of society based on equality and self-determination by the people.

The courageous and inspiring struggles of women and other sectors of the oppressed in Bolivia are part of a global struggle.

Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia Linera used his January 21 inauguration speech to call for global socialist revolutions: “No revolution can triumph if it is not supported by other revolutions in the world. The empire is a global demon, and the only way to defeat it is [by] globalising the power of the people.”

Marxists Must Stand Firm Against Ahmadinejad July 16, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Labor, Latin America, Revolution, Venezuela.
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By Maziar Razi

London Progessive Journal (http://www.londonprogressivejournal.com/issue/show/78?article_id=481), July 10-16, 2009

Open letter to the workers of Venezuela on Hugo Chávez’s support for Ahmadinejad

Honourable workers of Venezuela,

The Revolutionary Marxists of Iran are aware of your achievements as part of the Bolivarian Movement and have always supported this movement against the widespread lies and the open and covert interference of imperialism. In order to defend your invaluable movement and to confront the attacks and interference of US imperialism in Venezuela, labour and student activists in Iran have set up the ‘Hands Off Venezuela’ campaign in Iran and during the past few years have stood together with you in confronting the imperialist attacks. It is obvious that your achievements were gained under the leadership of Hugo Chávez and, for this reason, you reserve deep respect for him.

In terms of his foreign policy, however, Chávez has made a mistake. With his support for Ahmadinejad he has ignored the solidarity of the workers and students of Iran with your revolution, and in a word, made it look worthless. Most are aware that two weeks ago Ahmadinejad, with the direct support of Khamenei, committed the biggest fraud in the history of presidential elections in Iran and then, with great ferocity, spilt the blood of those protesting against this fraud. You just have to take notice of the international media reports to be aware of the depths of this tragedy. All over the world millions of workers and students, and also those of Marxist and revolutionary tendencies (which mostly are the supporters of the Bolivarian revolution), protested against these attacks.

In of spite this, Chávez was one of the first people to support Ahmadinejad. In his weekly TV speech he said: “Ahmadinejad’s triumph is a total victory. They’re trying to stain Ahmadinejad’s victory, and by doing so they aim to weaken the government and the Islamic revolution. I know they won’t be able to do it.” And that “We ask the world for respect.” These rash and baseless remarks from your President are a great and direct insult to the millions of youth who in recent days rose up against tyranny. Some of them even lost their lives. Many of these youths came out on the streets spontaneously and without becoming infected with the regime’s internal disputes, or becoming aligned with the policy that US imperialism is following for taking over the movement. In addition, the remarks of your President are an insult to millions of workers in Iran. Workers whose leaders are today being tortured in the prisons of the Ahmadinejad government and some of them are even believed to be being punished with flogging. Workers who were brutally repressed by the mercenaries of the Ahmadinejad government for commemorating May Day in Tehran this year are still in prison.

So far Chávez has travelled to Iran seven times and each time he has hugged one of the most hated people in this country and called him his “brother”. He does not realise that the economic, social and political situations of Venezuela and Iran are going in opposite directions. Although both countries have seen a similarly significant boost to their oil (and gas) revenues the contrast between the ways in which this extra money has been used by the two governments could not be more marked. In Venezuela this income is used for building hospitals, schools, universities and other infrastructure of the country, but in Iran it is used for lining the pockets of just a few parasitic capitalists.

On the one hand, in Venezuela, we have seen the nationalisation of an increasing number of companies and factories, the free provision of healthcare, education, civil liberties and so on. By contrast in Iran privatisation is on the government’s agenda, even at the cost of trampling on Article 44 of the Constitution of the country and using the excuse of inefficiency and low productivity of state companies and factories. All these advances of the workers and the poor in Venezuela have given them greater control over the way they work and the way they live. Most importantly, the expropriation of factories and the encouragement of workers’ control and participation have transformed the character of the workers’ movement in Venezuela, advancing it by many stages. The Bolivarian movement and the policies of the government have brought about a huge shift in the balance of class forces in Venezuela in favour of the working class. Not only has the government encouraged the Venezuelan workers to build the Unión Nacional de los Trabajadores as an alternative to the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela (CTV), but the workers have become involved in running and managing factories and other enterprises. The whole world knows that your government has even drawn up a list of 1,149 closed-down factories and given their owners an ultimatum: re-open them under workers’ control or the government will expropriate them.

In Iran, on the other hand, on top of the lack of many basic democratic rights, the workers are also without any independent trade union rights. Today the workers of Iran do not even have a confederation like the Confederación de Trabajadores de Venezuela. All they have are the Labour House, the Islamic Labour Councils and other anti-working class bodies tied to the state.

But this has not always been so: the overthrow of the Shah brought about many freedoms for workers including, in some cases, control over production and even distribution. Then, however, through repression the Islamic hierarchy managed to take back all the workers’ gains. The leaders that your President hugs killed thousands of workers, destroyed the workers’ movement and pushed it back by several decades. In Iranian society even the ‘yellow’ pro-boss unions – that the Shah had tolerated – became and remain illegal. Even a CTV-style trade union confederation is illegal in Iran.

In Iran the official (and underestimated) unemployment rate stands at 10.85 per cent, with unemployment among the youth (15-24 year-olds) standing at 22.35 per cent. Even when workers are employed they are often not paid – in many cases for more than a year. Even those who get their wages face an impossible task in paying for the basic necessities of life, because their wage is not enough for living costs. For example, with the rent for a two-bedroom flat at $422 a month, a civil servant on $120 wages, or a teacher on $180, or even a doctor on $600 a month struggle to survive. It is no wonder that some 90 per cent of the population live below the poverty line.

The capitalist government of Iran has no fundamental disagreements or contradictions with US imperialism. It is in a ‘cold war’ with America and when it receives enough concessions, it will quickly enter into political dealings with the US and will turn its back on you. Indeed, the Iran regime has already helped the Americans in their military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq – and installing the puppet regimes of Karzai and Maliki through significant trade, security and other deals. The capitalist government of Iran, despite the current apparent differences, is busy in close negotiations with the Obama government on resolving the problems of Afghanistan. This government, despite the “anti-imperialist” rhetoric, is heading towards re-establishing old links with the US. Ahmadinejad’s selection demonstrates the final turn of the regime towards resolving its problems with imperialism. Despite all the “enmity” and “anti-imperialist” gestures the regime is ready to resolve all its differences with America. The government of Iran wants to turn Iran into a society like Colombia (in Colombia thousands of trade unionists have been killed so that multinational companies can exploit workers and plunder the country’s natural resources without any obstacles). It is not without reason that the Iranian government has been implementing the bankrupt neo-liberal prescriptions of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund and counting the minutes until it joins the World Trade Organisation.

The close and regular links of your leader, Chávez, with the leaders of this regime will eventually make the Iranian masses turn their back on the great lessons of the revolutionary process in Venezuela. Winning the hearts and minds of the masses in Iran and similar countries is the best long-term solution to breaking Washington’s stranglehold on Latin America. Your leader’s closeness with the capitalist government of Iran, a government that has the blood of thousands of workers and youth on its hands, shows that his anti-imperialist foreign policy has a major flaw. Being close to reactionary regimes will never be able to bring the anti-imperialist foreign policy to a successful conclusion. Only the unity of the real representatives of the workers and toilers can confront imperialism.

Stand together with the Iranian workers and condemn the foreign policy of your leaders. Support for Ahmadinejad means support for the repression of Iranian workers and youth. Challenge the flawed positions of Chávez and reject them. Support for the government of Ahmadinejad, especially after the recent events, is at worst an open betrayal of the toilers of Iran and at best a political blunder in foreign policy.

 

Obama’s No Socialist. I Should Know. March 15, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis, Media, Revolution.
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by Billy Wharton

It took a massive global financial crisis, a failed military adventure and a popular repudiation of the Republican Party to make my national television debut possible. After 15 years of socialist political organizing — everything from licking envelopes and handing out leaflets to the more romantic task of speaking at street demonstrations — I found myself in the midtown Manhattan studio of the Fox Business Network on a cold February evening. Who ever thought that being the editor of the Socialist magazine, circulation 3,000, would launch me on a cable news career?

The media whirlwind began in October with a call from a New York Times writer. He wanted a tour of the Socialist Party USA’s national office. Although he was more interested in how much paper we used in our “socialist cubby hole” than in our politics, our media profile exploded. Next up, a pleasant interview by Swedish National Radio. Then Brian Moore, our 2008 presidential candidate, sparred with Stephen Colbert. Even the Wall Street Journal wanted a socialist to quote after the first bailout bill failed last fall. Traffic to our Web site multiplied, e-mail inquiries increased and meetings with potential recruits to the Socialist Party yielded more new members than ever before. Socialism — an idea with a long history — suddenly seemed to have a bright future in 21st-century America.

Whom did we have to thank for this moment in the spotlight? Oddly enough, Republican politicians such as Mike Huckabee and John McCain had become our most effective promoters. During his campaign, the ever-desperate McCain, his hard-charging running mate Sarah Palin and even a plumber named Joe lined up to call Barack Obama a “socialist.” Last month, Huckabee even exclaimed that, “The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics may be dead, but the Union of American Socialist Republics is being born.”

We appreciated the newfound attention. But we also cringed as the debate took on the hysterical tone of a farcical McCarthyism. The question “Is Obama a socialist?” spread rapidly through a network of rightwing blogs, conservative television outlets and alarmist radio talk shows and quickly moved into the mainstream. “We Are All Socialists Now,” declared a Newsweek cover last month. A New York Times reporter recently pinned Obama down with the question, “Are you a socialist, as some people have suggested?” The normally unflappable politician stumbled through a response so unconvincing that it required a follow-up call in which Obama claimed impeccable free market credentials.

All this speculation over whether our current president is a socialist led me into the sea of business suits, BlackBerrys and self-promoters in the studio at Fox Business News. I quickly realized that the antagonistic anchor David Asman had little interest in exploring socialist ideas on bank nationalization. For Asman, nationalization was merely a code word for socialism. Using logic borrowed from the 1964 thriller “The Manchurian Candidate,” he portrayed Obama as a secret socialist, so far undercover that not even he understood that his policies were de facto socialist. I was merely a cudgel to be wielded against the president — a physical embodiment of guilt by association.

The funny thing is, of course, that socialists know that Barack Obama is not one of us. Not only is he not a socialist, he may in fact not even be a liberal. Socialists understand him more as a hedge-fund Democrat — one of a generation of neoliberal politicians firmly committed to free-market policies.

The first clear indication that Obama is not, in fact, a socialist, is the way his administration is avoiding structural changes to the financial system. Nationalization is simply not in the playbook of Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and his team. They favor costly, temporary measures that can easily be dismantled should the economy stabilize. Socialists support nationalization and see it as a means of creating a banking system that acts like a highly regulated public utility. The banks would then cease to be sinkholes for public funds or financial versions of casinos and would become essential to reenergizing productive sectors of the economy.

The same holds true for health care. A national health insurance system as embodied in the single-payer health plan reintroduced in legislation this year by Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), makes perfect sense to us. That bill would provide comprehensive coverage, offer a full range of choice of doctors and services and eliminate the primary cause of personal bankruptcy — health-care bills. Obama’s plan would do the opposite. By mandating that every person be insured, ObamaCare would give private health insurance companies license to systematically underinsure policyholders while cashing in on the moral currency of universal coverage. If Obama is a socialist, then on health care, he’s doing a fairly good job of concealing it.

Issues of war and peace further weaken the commander in chief’s socialist credentials. Obama announced that all U.S. combat brigades will be removed from Iraq by August 2010, but he still intends to leave as many as 50,000 troops in Iraq and wishes to expand the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. A socialist foreign policy would call for the immediate removal of all troops. It would seek to follow the proposal made recently by an Afghan parliamentarian, which called for the United States to send 30,000 scholars or engineers instead of more fighting forces.

Yet the president remains “the world’s best salesman of socialism,” according to Republican Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. DeMint encouraged supporters “to take to the streets to stop America’s slide into socialism.” Despite the fact that billions of dollars of public wealth are being transferred to private corporations, Huckabee still felt confident in proposing that “Lenin and Stalin would love” Obama’s bank bailout plan.

Huckabee is clearly no socialist scholar, and I doubt that any of Obama’s policies will someday appear in the annals of socialist history. The president has, however, been assigned the unenviable task of salvaging a capitalist system intent on devouring itself. The question is whether he can do so without addressing the deep inequalities that have become fundamental features of American society. So, President Obama, what I want to know is this: Can you lend legitimacy to a society in which 5 percent of the population controls 85 percent of the wealth? Can you sell a health-care reform package that will only end up enriching a private health insurance industry? Will you continue to favor military spending over infrastructure development and social services?

My guess is that the president will avoid these questions, further confirming that he is not a socialist except, perhaps, in the imaginations of an odd assortment of conservatives. Yet as the unemployment lines grow longer, the food pantries emptier and health care scarcer, socialism may be poised for a comeback in America. The doors of our “socialist cubby-hole” are open to anyone, including Obama. I encourage him to stop by for one of our monthly membership meetings. Be sure to arrive early to get a seat — we’re more popular than ever lately.

Obama Financial Team to Taxpayers: You’ll Get Nothing, and Like It February 3, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Economic Crisis.
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by Jane Hamsher

As a business person, Warren Buffet quite rightly wanted something for his money when he bought up failed banks that couldn’t get help anywhere else. In fact, he wanted a lot. He expected to have the ability to make sure the same crooks executives weren’t pulling down the same salaries for making the same mistakes, and that the business plan changed. It was pretty basic, a bedrock principle of capitalism, the ability to exercise control appropriate to one’s share of ownership.

We’re about to buy ourselves some failed banks, but we can’t get what Warren Buffet gets because nobody wants to mention the “n” word, nationalization:

One part of that strategy will be addressing the toxic assets that are clogging lenders’ balance sheets and preventing them from expanding credit, people familiar with the matter said last week. Likely approaches include a government-run bad bank to buy and hold some of the securities, and insurance of other assets that remain on banks’ books.

As Dean Baker says, “many, if not most, of our banks are in fact bankrupt… the scope of the toxic asset ‘problem’ has reached $2 trillion… this sum vastly exceeds the capital of the banking system.”

But our money somehow isn’t as good as Warren Buffet’s — all we get for it is the “toxic assets”:

[T]he Obama administration is looking to hand taxpayer dollars to the banks through a variety of complex mechanisms. The main reason for using complex mechanisms (rather than simply seizing bankrupt institutions) seems to be to conceal the fact that we are handing taxpayer dollars to bank shareholders and the wealthy executives who run them.

Krugman calls it “lemon socialism”: “taxpayers bear the cost if things go wrong, but stockholders and executives get the benefits if things go right.” Or as Joseph Stiglitz says, it’s “trash for cash.”

It’s almost inconceivable that anyone would try to sell this as a good deal for taxpayers, but that’s where we are. Krugman:

“We have a financial system that is run by private shareholders, managed by private institutions, and we’d like to do our best to preserve that system,” says Timothy Geithner, the Treasury secretary – as he prepares to put taxpayers on the hook for that system’s immense losses.

Meanwhile, a Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” – as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.

And this prejudice in favor of private control, even when the government is putting up all the money, seems to be warping the administration’s response to the financial crisis.

So Ronald Reagan tells us that government is the “problem,” and George Bush proves it’s true by running the country into the ground. What that really means is that you should never put people in charge of something who philosophically don’t believe that it’s possible to do their jobs well. It doesn’t mean we should be making irrational business deals out of a commitment to the failed ideologies of people who, you know, failed.

We’re paying to nationalize the banks all right, we just can’t talk about it — nor can we profit from it — because the very idea is “socialist” and sits firmly within Jay Rosen’s “sphere of deviance.”

According to Rebecca Christie at Bloomberg, they’ll try to put a few band aids on the bill limiting executive “pay” (not compensation) and dividends, and require banks to step-up lending. But when Timothy Geitner appears before the Senate Banking Committee on February 10, or the House Financial Services Committee shortly thereafter, don’t expect anyone to be offering the Americans footing the bill for this deal anything other than the unwanted detritus of the banks. Our representatives don’t think we deserve to get for our money what Warren Buffet gets for his.

If his banks make money, Warren Buffet makes money. He gets to be richer and his shareholders get to be richer. If our banks get richer, we don’t get to have the schools and green energy and healthcare and SUPERTRAINS that the profits could (and should) pay for — that goes to fois gras and Cristal and Gulf Stream jets for the bankers who created this mess. We just get to keep a big pile of shit. Because suggesting anything else is “deviant.”

Jane Hamsher is the founder of firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on The Daily Beat, AlterNet, The Nation and The American Prospect.

Spilling Ink Instead of Blood: Bolivia Votes on a New Constitution January 25, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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bolivia-voteIn Walata Chico, Bolivia, Aymara Indian men cast their ballots for a new constitution. (Photo: Juan Karita / AP)

www.truthout.org

25 January 2009Andean Information Network, indigenous organizations advocating a constituyente “sought greater participation in the political decisions regarding the use and distribution of land and natural resources, the allocation of state resources, and national development policies.” In fact, these demands correspond to many of the unapplied rights and guarantees made by previous constitutions. ¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution By Benjamin Dangl The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email Bendangl@gmail.com

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

Dozens of marches and rallies in support of Bolivia’s new constitution, being voted on today, have filled the streets of the La Paz in recent days. On Tuesday, at a rally for the constitution and to celebrate Venezuela’s donation of 300 tons of asphalt to the city of La Paz, President Evo Morales took the stage, covered in confetti and with a coca leaf wreath around his neck. The crowd cheered and waved signs, one of them saying, “Thanks for the asphalt and the progress.”

    The new constitution, written in a diverse assembly which first convened in 2006, is expected to pass in the January 25 national referendum. Other governments led by left-leaning leaders in the region have also passed new constitutions in recent years, including Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 and Rafael Correa in Ecuador in 2008. In varying degrees, Bolivia’s new constitution is expected to play an important role in the implementation of progressive policies developed by the Morales administration and his party, the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS).

    At the Tuesday rally in La Paz, the sun was strong as drums and roman candles pounded at the air. The screech of packing tape shot out as one bearded participant secured his indigenous wiphala flag to a plastic pole. A group of women blocked off the expanse of one street with a banner that said, “The right wing will not pass – Yes to Evo.”

    A giant blown-up balloon statue of Evo Morales – present in nearly every La Paz rally in the days leading up the referendum – stood over the crowd. On his chest was the ballot voters were to face on Sunday: the “Si” box was checked, and, on two boxes regarding what hectare amounts to limit new land purchases at, the 5,000 hectare box was checked, the 10,000 hectare box left blank.

    During his speech, Morales sounded a bit tired, no doubt from the nearly endless campaigning he’s been involved in for the new constitution. After the applause died down, he thanked various groups for arriving and urged people to vote for the new constitution. “Brothers and sisters, we believe in you, we believe in the people of Bolivia, so that democratically we can transform Bolivia for all Bolivians,” Morales said. He listed some of the highlights of his three years in office so far, which he said included the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas and the fight against corruption. “But we need to constitutionalize these changes,” he continued.

    Morales pointed out that in the new constitution, basic services – such as water, sewer, gas and electricity – would be a human right, as would education and health care. Morales also reflected on the recent history of US intervention in the country and pointed out that the new constitution prohibits the creation of US bases in Bolivia. He clarified that, in spite of the right wing’s claims, the new constitution does not (unfortunately) legalize abortion and gay marriage. Above all, he explained, indigenous rights and indigenous representation in government would be empowered.

    At this point in Morales’s speech, one security guard was already starting to yawn. A light rain began to fall, women pulled plastic bags over their bowler hats, and the “Viva La Nueva Constitución” cheers became weaker as people returned to work from their lunch breaks.

    History and Division

    Bolivian social movements have for decades been demanding that a constituent assembly be organized to rewrite the constitution. According to the book, “Impasse in Bolivia,” by Benjamin Kohl and Linda Farthing, from 1826 to 2004, Bolivia has had 16 constitutions and six reforms. The first constitution, drafted by Simón Bolívar himself in 1826, promised to create the “world’s most liberal constitution.” However, even the most liberal of constitutions is ineffective if its dictates are not enforced, which has been the case throughout Bolivian history. Kohl and Farthing also point out that, “Until 1945, all constitutions made a distinction between being a Bolivian – a person born in the country or married to a Bolivian – and being a citizen: a status restricted to literate, propertied men that specifically excluded domestic servants, regardless of income.”

    Calls for a new constitution as a tool to create a more egalitarian society re-emerged most recently in the 1990’s when indigenous groups in the east of Bolivia demanded a constituent assembly to open new space for their political participation in decision-making at the government level. According to the

    It’s this sense of overdue justice that is leading many people to support the new constitution. As university student Leidy Castro told Prensa Latina, “We will be in favor of a Constitution that for the first time includes all Bolivians, no matter how much money people have. In addition, it protects sectors that have been marginalized for a long time.”

    None the less, right-wing opponents to the constitution have been active in recent weeks as well, organizing marches and campaigns across the country parallel to the activities of those supporting the constitution. Recently, when these groups collided, there have been some violent confrontations, or at least some strong words exchanged.

    Around noon on Wednesday, January 21, a march against the constitution went down the central Prado street in La Paz. Participants were waving the pink flags of the right-wing Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) party with the message “Vamos por el No” written on them. They arrived in the Plaza de Estudiantes where the ever-present Evo Morales balloon was situated along with a giant “Sí” balloon. A crowd of supporters of the new constitution had already gathered there; one of them had a microphone through which he broadcasted his attacks on the right wing with comments such as “You traitors don’t have a real plan! We have a real plan with our new constitution!”

    The tension escalated, and the two groups began tossing their ample literature and pamphlets at each other, yelling opposing chants. On one side were the blue flags of the MAS, and the multicolored wiphala flag, and on the other were the pink flags of the MNR. After some spirited verbal battles and a few scuffles and pushing matches, the MNR contingent marched back up the street, while the MAS supporters remained in the plaza, giving speeches and firing off roman candles into the evening. At a nearby university, revolutionary folk music blasted throughout the day from a speaker next to Palestinian flags and literature about Israel’s attacks on Gaza. (Morales recently expelled Israel’s ambassador to Bolivia in protest of the bombings in Gaza.) The university’s students have been hosting almost nightly marches and torch-filled, bonfire rallies in support of the new constitution.

    Media and Change

    There have been numerous street battles throughout the process of re-writing and approving the new constitution. But another battle has been waged in the country’s media. Major newspapers in Bolivia seem almost unanimously critical of the constitution and the MAS, spreading regular misinformation about both. For example, a recent headline in El Diario newspaper said, “Bolivia Will Return To Barbarism With Community Justice.” (Community justice, practiced by many indigenous groups across the country, is officially recognized in the new constitution.) In numerous papers, opinion articles and pieces that draw exclusively from right-wing politicians and civic leaders are regularly passed off as straight news, with headlines full of outright lies about the new constitution’s contents.

    Edwin, a La Paz taxi driver who used to work hauling furniture and goods on his back at local markets, agreed that most media in Bolivia are against Morales and the new constitution. “But who cares what they say? The journalists are few, but we, the Bolivian people, are many.”

    In response to the media’s attacks against the government, Morales has announced the launch of a new state newspaper called “Cambio” (Change), which was released January 22. “We are organizing ourselves, we are preparing ourselves with media to broadcast the truth to the Bolivian people,” Morales said in a recent speech. “This new newspaper will be launched, that won’t humiliate anyone, but will inform and educate us.”

    Regardless of the extent to which the changes in the new constitution are applied, the document is significant in that it has been a central part of the political battleground for the bulk of Morales’s time in office. The constitution is also a kind of mirror held up to Bolivian politics, representing the hopes, contradictions and shortcomings of various sides of the political divide.

    There are many valid criticisms of the constitution from the left – that the document won’t allow for the breakup of existing large land holdings, that it won’t legalize abortion, that it doesn’t go far enough in combating neoliberalism, that there exists a lot of vague language about how these changes will be implemented, and more. But of the many people who will cast their ballot for the constitution today, a significant number won’t be voting specifically for the new document, or even the MAS government, but against the right wing and the racism, poverty and conflicts the right has exacerbated in recent years.

    In any case, passage of the constitution will open up a new phase for the Morales government, as well as a new period of electoral campaigning: if the constitution passes, general elections will be held on December 6 of this year. As Alfredo Rada, the Minister of the Government, said in an interview with Telesur, “The government is optimistic and believes that this Sunday we will win a majority triumph with the “Yes” vote, and with this open a new chapter in Bolivian history.”

    For more analysis on the new constitution and upcoming vote, see this previous article:

    ——-

     Benjamin Dangl is based in Bolivia and is the author of “

¿Sí o No? Bolivians Mobilize for National Vote on New Constitution January 23, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Bolivia, Latin America.
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Bolivia ReferendumA Bolivian vendor in front of graffiti art reading, “Yes.” The wall refers to the upcoming vote on a new constitution. (Photo: Dado Galdieri / AP)

22 January 2009, www.truthout.org violent one. One key event in this process was the July 2, 2006, election of assembly members to the constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution. Later, in December 2007, the new constitution was passed in an assembly meeting in Oruro that was boycotted by opposition members. After months of street battles and political meetings, the Bolivian Congress ratified a new draft of the constitution last October 21. In many ways, these various steps will culminate in the January 25 vote.»The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia” (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events, and UpsideDownWorld.org, a web site on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl@gmail.com

by: Benjamin Dangl, t r u t h o u t | Perspective

 La Paz – In the morning on Sunday, January 18, after a heavy rain fell on La Paz, Bolivia, the sun came out, drying the umbrellas of thousands of marchers winding through the city streets. The mobilization was in support of a new constitution to be voted on this January 25.

    Eddie Mamani, a resident of La Paz with an indigenous wiphala flag draped around his neck, spoke loudly to be heard over the brass band playing behind him. “For too many years we have been exploited by right-wing politicians who do not govern for all Bolivians. We are marching today for our children and our grandchildren.”

    The march, which stretched for some five blocks, was filled with the white, blue and black flags of the Movement Toward Socialism (MAS), the party of President Evo Morales. The sound of fireworks mixed with honking horns from cars and buses waiting for the march to pass. While posters of Morales bobbed up and down in the crowd and copies of the new constitution were handed out to onlookers, marchers yelled “Sí, Sí, Sí! Vamos por el Sí,” urging voters to cast a “Yes” ballot in the upcoming vote. Polls indicate that the constitution will be approved.

    Along with the nationalization of Bolivia’s gas reserves, rewriting the constitution was a major promise of Morales during his 2005 presidential campaign. The road to this new constitution has been a long, complicated and often

    Among other significant changes, the new constitution allows for a broader involvement of the state in the Bolivian economy, including the state’s participation in the gas and oil industry. It establishes the Bolivian state as plurinacional to reflect the diversity of indigenous and Afro-Bolivian groups in the country. It formally promotes the official use of the country’s 36 indigenous languages. The new constitution also grants autonomy to indigenous groups across the nation, enabling them to govern their own communities. This autonomy for indigenous communities may undermine the power of right-wing prefects in opposition-led departments. The current constitution also expands the number of seats in the recently opposition-controlled Senate, and other seats are reserved specifically for senators elected from indigenous communities.

    Like many of the constitution’s critics, Rolando, a thirty-something resident of La Paz, was not enthusiastic about the extended rights granted to indigenous people. Rolando, sporting a beard and baseball cap, said he wouldn’t be voting in support of the new constitution because “it was not written for all Bolivians. It just takes into account the rights of rural and indigenous communities.” This is an often-heard critique of the constitution. Yet it doesn’t fully take into account that 62 percent of the population self-identify as indigenous, and about the same percentage live under the poverty line. Many who support the new constitution are doing so because the document grants long overdue rights to the “originarios,” indigenous Bolivians who have been marginalized for centuries.

    Another point of contention is the way the constitution deals with religion. The current constitution says, “The State recognizes and upholds the apostolic Roman Catholic religion. [It] guarantees the exercise of every other cult.” The new constitution says, “The State respects and guarantees the liberty of religion and spiritual beliefs, in accord with one’s cosmovisiones. The State is independent of religion.” Many critics, besides fearing the separation of church and state, say this change opens the window for the government to allow gay marriage and legalize abortion. Unfortunately, nothing indicates that pushing for such much-needed policy changes is on the current government’s agenda.

    Under the new constitution, land deemed productive will not be broken up by the government, but unproductive land will be redistributed, and a cap on new land purchases – set either at 5,000 or 10,000 hectares – will be voted on separately. Land reform is an area of the constitution which has been highly criticized from the Bolivian left. Critics say the constitution should go further in addressing the fact that most of Bolivia’s land is in the hands of just a few wealthy families. These weak land reforms are considered a major concession to the right wing; much of Bolivia’s fertile land is in the eastern departments, currently controlled by opposition prefects.

    In what appears to have been another concession to the opposition, the draft constitution was also changed to prevent Morales from running for two additional terms, as an earlier draft of the constitution allowed. If the new constitution is approved, Morales will run for his last consecutive term in general elections in December 2009.

    The coming days will be full of marches across the country for and against the new constitution. Sunday’s mobilization was a preview of things to come. Max, a participant in the march waving a MAS flag, and who described himself as “just another Bolivian citizen,” said he is supporting the new constitution because, of the many constitutions which Bolivia has had throughout its history, “this is the best one.” He also approved of the way the constitution was developed in the constituent assembly and believed it was “written for all Bolivians” and will “help keep our leaders honest.”

    One section of this march ended up in a park with a giant blown-up balloon figure of Evo Morales in the middle of it, and dozens of people handing out pamphlets on the new constitution and MAS calendars for the new year. While one group of people slapped “Sí” bumper stickers on cars in the area, another woman methodically peeled the same stickers off the guard rail of a nearby bridge.

    Lourdes Calla, a brown-haired activist in the MAS, wove a wiphala flag and jumped to the rhythm of a nearby chant. “I am voting in support of the constitution for the equality of all Bolivians – there should be no upper and lower economic class, we’re all Bolivians,” she said. “This new constitution has been created through a historically democratic process, and defends the rights of indigenous and rural communities. Now is the time to put these rights into practice.”

 


Benjamin Dangl is currently based in Bolivia, and is the author of “