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Imperialist Danse Macabre over the Peoples of Ukraine

The USA-led NATO is encircling Russia’s perimeters, as Russia masses troops at Ukraine’s border. Germany, the European Union, and Ukranian oligarchs have all put their oars in. What is behind events and what can we expect?


27/01/2022

For decades Ukraine has been a cauldron. After the 1991 USSR break-up, all players there share blame, nurturing prior distrust where the Eastern more ‘Russian’ side, faced a Western more ‘Polish’ side. Putin’s dictatorship supported its own ruthless supporters inside Ukraine. And the USA and its creature NATO with all European Union (EU) states encircle Russia using West Ukraine as a foil.

Underlying the macabre dance is Ukraine’s strategic value (Map below). It’s the second largest country in size (after Russia) in Europe, ranking eighth in population. Coal-rich, with a heavy industrial base from Soviet times, it has a valued technology literate, educated working class – once the major arms exporter to the USSR.

The march of privatisation profiteering in Russia was matched in Ukraine

Putin led the gangster “Siloviki” (‘strong men’ or so-called KGB Inc) after 1991. They did not sell Russia to the West, as Jeffrey Sachs preached, and Mikhail Khodorkovsky and pro-Western oligarchs wished. They wanted Russian capital for themselves. The Navalny case showed:

“Russia is a capitalist dictatorship, dominated by the clique of oligarchs who surround Putin. Putin’s rule (is) by personal decree, where stooges control all arms of the state including the judiciary, (and) democracy has been stifled.”

In Ukraine, many in the corrupt formerly Soviet state called for independence forming the party ‘Rukh’ in 1989. But in Gorbachev’s referendum on the potential breakup of the USSR in 1991, only Western Ukraine favoured independence. Across Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk’s proposal of sovereignty within a loose ‘Union’, won out at 80%.

Events moved fast after Yeltsin’s coup. Stanlislav Hurenko, of the erstwhile pro-USSR Communist Party (CP), responded: “We must vote for independence (otherwise) we’ll find ourselves up to our ears in shit”. The new popular referendum voted 90.3% for independence.

Competing capitalist factions

Independence in 1991 Ukraine meant freedom for ‘red entrepreneurs’ to make profits. Leading ‘communists’ copied Russian capitalists in privatising (stealing) state resources. ‘Komsomol banks’ included Privatbank, which laundered $150 million via Latvia. In rushing the pig-trough, two great rival blocks of Ukranian oligarchs formed: One in the East steppe region of Ukraine, while one became entrenched in West Ukraine.

The first group in Donetsk, a mining town in the Donbas, linked to Russian ‘Silvoki’, and Putin. Ukraine’s first elected president was Kravchuk, followed by Leonid Kuchma, both former CP leaders. Both ‘privatised’ state resources, but Kuchma allied with Russian gangster Boris Biurshtein, to form ‘Ukraina Company’ to divert state funds. Their ally, Viktor Yanukovych led ‘Party of Regions’, and with Kuchma ruthlessly bribed off or physically eliminated opposition members.

The second group equally ruthless, favoured Western imperialism. Viktor Yushchenko a private banker, controlled the National Bank, and formed ‘Our Ukraine’. Yulia Tymoshenko – or the ‘Gas Princess’ made huge fortunes by corruption. She and Pavlo Lazerenko set up United Energy Systems Ukraine which made shady deals with Russian energy giant Gazprom.

After payoffs to Kuchma, Lazerenko became Prime Minister (PM). But corruption charges led to Lazerenko fleeing to the USA. Yulia Tymoshenko led ‘Hromada’, the ‘dissident’ oligarchs party, but then discovered Western Ukraine nationalism. She learnt Ukranian to form the ‘Fatherland’ party, later becoming PM.

Putin mainly backed the first section of the Ukranian oligarchy and its political representatives. But oligarchs frequently changed allegiance chasing profits.

The ‘Orange Revolution’ Maidan 1.0 to Maidan 2.0

Kuchma and his PM Viktor Yanukovych, entered an orgy of bribery, repression, and murder (of Hryhorri Gongadze, a journalist). In 2002 elections for Rada (Parliament), Yanukovych won by blatant fraud. But the presidential election in 2004 spurred even worse outrages.

Yuschehnko’s ‘Our Ukraine’ allied with Yulia Tymoshenko’s bloc, sweeping Western Ukraine. Yankuovich was heavily funded by Gazprom and Kremlin deputy chief of staff Vladislav Surkov. An attempted murder of Yuschenko using dioxin poison, left him with serious facial scarring. Tapes were revealed showing Kuchma and Yanukovich’s had orchestrated murder, bribery and vote fixing.

But Yanukovich was declared the winner, triggering huge demonstrations in Kiev in 2004. Colin Powell and the West publicly condemned the elections. After a long stand-off, the Supreme Court forced a new vote which Yuschenko won.

Tymoshenko became PM, and began new corrupt ‘re-privatisations’ (she re-nationalised oligarchic industries, to re-sell to other oligarchs). Yuschenko also paid off ‘his’ oligarchs, protecting them despite the RosUkrEnergo scandal. A battle erupted between rival oligarchs with Tymoshenko and Yuschenko as proxies. Russian Gazprom stepped in with price-gouging gas. Yuschenko entered agreements with Gazprom, only to enrich RosUkrEnergo. 3 In a bewildering series of repeated elections, in 2006 Tymoshenko became PM.

We cannot detail all events up to 2022, but 2006 and 2013 the Ukranian state was splintered during ‘Maidan 2.0’. Tymoshenko (and a later successor Petro Poroshenko) adopted racist and restrictive policies against Ukranian Russian speakers. In an interregnum the pro-Russian Donetsk gangster Yanukovych became PM. However his government baulked at ever more egregious demands of the IMF and the EU. 5

Tymoshenko, brought down Yanukovych’s government, in tandem with the US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland (whose recorded indiscretions (“Fuck the EU”) spoke volumes). Open fascists were mobilised against the Russian Ukranians. Rooftop snipers organised by Tymoshenko shot at crowds with 51 deaths. The cursory investigation ignoring evidence of Orange snipers, as Estonia’s Foreign Minster informed EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton. However it served as provocation to blame Yanukovych.

As Yanukovych’s government collapsed, the population in eastern Ukraine moved to demand its own rights. The Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) and the Luhansk People’s Republic (LPR) in the Donbass were proclaimed in May 2014. Both were supported by Russia.

Russia organised a referendum in the Crimea, claiming that an overwhelming majority of 97% voted for annexation to Russia. This was duly carried out on February 22, 2014 by Russian troops. 5 By 2015, a civil war between the East and the Western sections of Crimea had been raging, which in muted form continues till now.

This eventually forced the “Minsk Agreement” in February 2015. This was signed by the Ukraine, the Donestsk and Luhansk leaders, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE); and was to be mediated by France and Germany. This mediation (called the Normandy formula or the Steinmaier formula) has been repetitively stalled either by Ukraine or by Russia. Meanwhile, President Poroshenko further escalated anti-Ukranian-Russian tensions.

Since then, support for the Russian state even in the Eastern Donetsk region has fallen. 6 This despite the Presidency of Volodymyr Zelenesky – who won 75% of the vote against Poroshenko. Likely Zelensky’s support of the oligarch Kolomoisky reduced all peoples’ trust across Ukraine.

As some observers have noted “Ukraine missed the window of opportunity when it would have been much easier to implement the Minsk agreements: when it would have been a question of reintegrating a region that was admittedly hostile, but one that was nevertheless close and understood.” In essence now Russia “sees the DNR and LNR as a useful buffer zone on its western border.”

Putin and USA-NATO understand each other – where does Germany sit?

Naturally the USA denies making commitments to Gorbachev or the USSR. 7 However these are charades, as the LA Times clarified:

“Transcripts of meetings in Moscow on Feb. 9, 1990, Secretary State James Baker suggested (to Mikhail Gorbachev) that in exchange for cooperation on Germany, U.S. could make “iron-clad guarantees” that NATO would not expand “one inch eastward.”..

the quid pro quo was clear: Gorbachev acceded to Germany’s (reunification) and the U.S. would limit NATO’s expansion… by October, U.S. policymakers were contemplating… when to “signal to the new democracies of Eastern Europe NATO’s readiness to contemplate their membership.”

In 2007 at the Munich Security Conference, Putin laid out the problem:

“NATO is not a universal organisation, as opposed to the UN. It is first and foremost a military and political alliance, military and political! Well, ensuring one’s own security is the right of any sovereign state. We are not arguing against this… But why is it necessary to put military infrastructure on our borders during this expansion?”

Meanwhile since German reunification, NATO has added 14 new members. One should ask whether the USA would tolerate Russian troops on the Canadian border?

By 2009 the German military considered division of Ukraine, enabling West Ukraine to join the EU. The Steinmeier plan (or ‘Normandy’ talks) puts an ‘Ostpolotik’ veneer on. 8 Actually this replays Paul Rohrbach, who saw Russia and Ukraine as an ‘orange’ with segments to peel off. His views culminated in Ukranian-Nazi collaboration with Stepan Bandera. Editors of “German-Foreign-Policy.com” service argue this is followed today:

“In 1952, Rohrbach.. wrote.. one must “unleash the centrifugal forces within the Soviet Union.” The “strongest “… is “the national self-consciousness of the Ukrainian people, with its will to obtain national sovereignty.” … Since then Berlin has been systematically working to bring Ukraine into its hegemonic sphere of influence on an exclusive and permanent basis.”

Steinmaier’s Normandy plans for such a division. Other German intellectuals authorities Like Prof. Johannes Varwick, see “Finlandization” of Ukraine as a solution.

What brought the cauldron to boiling point?

In February 2021, Yelsensky ratcheted up tensions, moved further to the Western Ukranian side:

“Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s actions are in sharp contrast with the peacemaker image that he cultivated… he closed down three pro-Russian TV channels, accusing their owner of financing Donbas separatists. This was followed on February 19 by a barrage of sanctions against a number of Ukrainian and Russian individuals and companies on the same charges. The most notorious name on the sanctions list was Viktor Medvedchuk.. (who) heads the Opposition Platform ‘For Life’, the country’s leading pro-Russian party… Vladimir Putin’s right-hand man in Ukraine for the past two decades.”

Increasingly opinion polls see voters becoming disillusioned with Zelensky. Putin frustrated at the inertia of the Normandy talks previously invited US Secretary State John Kerry to participate. But Germany and France vehemently rejected this. Current troop massing is aimed at forcing division of the Ukranian state. Russia and the USA and Germany see this as inevitable, but persuading Ukraine requires brinkmanship.

Where to now?

Well before December 2021, the Ukranian situation was untenable. It was about par economically with the Soviet Union before 1990. Since then GDP per capita halved by 1996, and is now 20 percent lower than in 1990.

The Ukranian national vacillations, opposed to Russian desire for a ‘safety zone’ division – blocked progress in Normandy talks. The former US former U.S. National Security Council official Fiona Hill acknowledged to ‘Der Speigel, that German ‘responsibility’ for today’s situation is visible:

Der Spiegel: The US government is open to supporting a Ukrainian insurgency with arms in the event of a Russian invasion. The federal German government refuses arms deliveries. Doesn’t that undermine a powerful anti-Putin coalition?

Hill: What we need is a coordinated response. Because it is Russia’s goal to play everyone off against each other. If the German government does not want to supply weapons for historical reasons, it could help launch a much more powerful diplomatic initiative. Germany shares responsibility for the situation we are in now. It was Angela Merkel who opposed an action plan for the accession of Georgia and Ukraine at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest. At the same time, however, it did not prevent a compromise that held out the prospect of both countries joining at some point, albeit without a concrete timetable. I believe our problems can be traced back directly to 2008, when everyone involved was trying to find a face-saving compromise.” 9

The USA has suffered withdrawal from Afghanistan, following evident failure in Iraq, and is seriously internally divided. Hill recognises that Russia tries to take advantage of this:

Hill: I think Putin sees that the USA – also due to the withdrawal from Afghanistan – gives a weak picture. Britain is at odds with France and most of the EU. Poland is at odds with Brussels… Of course, Putin knows that there are many in Germany who sympathize with the Russian perspective…. The Iraq war in 2003 was a real turning point for Russia. I think the US invasion was a serious strategic mistake.”

Conclusions

Predictions are often tricky. However it does seem unlikely – for now – that either Russia or NATO-USA want a war immediately. As for the EU – France has long called for an ‘independent’ European military force. Germany has been more cautious trying to ride several horses. But with the increasingly tense race between USA and Chinese imperialism, as tensions rise Germany will have to choose. That choice will pull on the EU.

Marxists see that a new world re-division is in the works. The world’s powers grappled with capitalist crisis after the great crash of 2008. Invariably rivalries become clearer.

US imperialism will face off at some time in the coming decades against a coalition of the two imperialisms of China and Russia. Probably now is not that time. Yet, it is ever clearer also – that the working class – has no independent party of strength in either those countries or in Europe.

 

“A longer particle on this issue will appear shortly at Marxism-Leninism Currents Today

Footnotes

1 Andrew Wilson, ‘Ukraine’s Orange revolution’; New Haven 2005; p.8-24; p.31-37.

2 Wilson Ibid p.39; p. 118; 135; 2.

3 Wilson 2009; p. 329.

4 Edward S. Herman and David Peterson ‘The Ukranian crisis & the propaganda system”; in Ed: Stephen Lendman ‘Flashpoint In Ukraine”; Atlanta GA; 2014; p.178-180

5 Guy Chazan & Courtney Weaver, ‘Russia’s return’; Financial Times March 22, 2014.

6 Bikus, Z. Gallup Poll (2019, March 26); cited Joseph Jack Place, “Zelensky”; in Carsten Sander Christensen, ‘Analyzing Political Tensions Between Ukraine, Russia, and the EU’; 2020, Billund Denmark.; p. 270

7 Peter Baker, ‘In Ukraine Conflict, Putin Relies on a Promise That Ultimately Wasn’t’; 9 January 2022; New York Times.

8 Patricia Daehnhardt & Vladimír Handl (2018) Germany’s Eastern Challenge and the Russia–Ukraine Crisis: A New Ostpolitik in the Making?, German Politics, 27:4, 445-459,

9 Kriegsgefahr in Osteuropa – “Wir sollten uns nicht beluegen und glauben Putin bluffe nur”; Interivew Rene Pfister with Fiona Hill, Der Spiegel 21.01.2022

Film Review – Time of Pandemics

A new South African film shows how millions died from AIDS because of the priorities of Big Pharma and how we are repeating the experience under Covid


26/01/2022

Time of Pandemics is the new film by Rehad Desai, South African director of award-winning films about the Marikana massacre (Miners Shot Down) and the Rhodes Must Fall campaign. This film looks at two pandemics which have ravaged sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades – HIV/AIDS and Covid.

AIDS and HIV in South Africa

When the AIDS epidemic emerged in the 1980s, Western media coverage initially concentrated on the USA and Western Europe, but it was Africans who suffered the most. 35 Million have died worldwide from AIDS-related illnesses. Most infections have been in sub-Saharan Africa. At present, 9 million South Africans are HIV positive.

The high incidence of HIV in South Africa was largely down to two factors. Firstly, leading politicians denied that the disease could be fought. In parliament, president Thabo Mbeki rejected the possibility of effective treatment, saying: “when you ask the question, does HIV cause AIDS, the question is, does a virus cause a syndrome? How does a virus cause a syndrome? It can’t”.

South African AIDS victims had much more to deal with than obstinate politicians. Even without the obstruction of people like Mbeki, there was simply a lack of available antiretroviral drugs, which allow you to live with HIV and reduce the risk of transmission. Western pharmaceutical companies refused to allow these drugs to be used in the Global South if they could not bring a profit. South Africans had to wait 18 years for life saving medicine, resulting in 10 million deaths.

This combination of blaming the people who were suffering from AIDS and a lack of sufficient drugs led to health workers having to make impossible decisions. Human Rights lawyer Fatima Hassan explains how doctors were asked to decide who was “innocent” enough to be saved. This meant that infected nurses and rape victims were given medicine, but men who had sex with other men were not. As a result, infections increased.

Epidemiologist Rob Wallace explains how the development of HIV/AIDS and many other pandemics is linked to colonialism and capitalism. The original SIV virus (the precursor to HIV) was transmitted from chimpanzees to workers who had been sent to the rain forests to gain more profit for capital, then transmitted through trade routes to Kinshasha. It is not a coincidence that the main hotspots for disease and epidemics are now global trade centres like London and Hong Kong.

Wherever HIV became endemic in Africa, there was a rise in tuberculosis (TB). The two diseases both affected each other and also strained the health service. People with HIV are ten times more likely to develop active TB, and TB is the leading cause of death of people with HIV worldwide. The increase in HIV led to an increase in TB, and hospital infrastructure was not able to handle this. This also led to the development of drug resistant mutations in both HIV and TB. What this means is that every new epidemic does not just endanger the local population, it also brings the danger of a pandemic that can potentially spread globally.

Local activists formed the Treatment Action Campaign, which won the active support of former president Nelson Mandela. They put AIDS in South Africa on the international agenda. But the old power disparities remained. One pharma company felt compelled to voluntarily drop its patents, leading to much lower priced antiretroviral drugs – but these were only made available at the cheaper price in the developed world.

In 1986/1987, South African doctors joined their Western counterparts to work on an HIV vaccine. We are only now approaching the possibility of an effective vaccine against HIV and AIDS. Doctor Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to the US president, calls this “definitely worth the investment, particularly among women in South Africa, who were at enormous risk.”

AIDS and Covid in the USA

South Africa was not the only country which had to deal with reactionary politicians. In a parliamentary debate, US Senator Jesse Helms claimed that “the subject matter is so obscene, so revolting that until we are ready to eliminate the types of activities which have caused the spread of the AIDS epidemic, I don’t think we’re ever going to stop it.”

President Ronald Reagan denied migrants with AIDS entry into the US. Reagan was not alone. In the mid-1980s, 81 countries passed legislation restricting the movement of HIV positive people. Migrants, gay men and Black people were all scapegoated for the failure of governments to adequately deal with a problem which could not be solved by a system based on profit.

Many of us remember how the AIDS epidemic was used to stigmatise gay men. But Black people were also demonised. Fauci explains how in the USA, African Americans, Latinx and Asian Americans have been disproportionately hit by Covid – largely because these are the groups most likely to be affected by poverty. As Fauci says: “ if you don’t understand that, you’re not going to get your arms around the disease.”

Despite not having HIV himself, Justin Lofton joined trials trying to find a cure, because as a black, gay man, he knows that he has a 50% chance of contracting HIV in his lifetime. In the film he explains that being black and gay in the Southern States is a double whammy which makes him a particular target for prejudice, facing discrimination in the housing market and even eviction.

With the emergence of Covid, we have experienced some familiar patterns. As with AIDS; this is partly to do with victim blaming from above. We are shown footage of then-president Trump railing against the so-called “China virus”. Trump also claimed that Covid will “just go away”. This helps explains why the greatest number of Covid deaths have been registered in the USA.

But Covid has also brought some new problems. Firstly, as AIDS was primarily transmitted by sexual contact, it could be severely reduced by safer sex (although is easier said than done and many women are faced with belligerent husbands who refuse to wear a condom). It is much easier to transmit Covid through everyday contact, making it even more dangerous.

But the problem is more systemic and international than just Trump’s racism. There has been a systematic disinvestment from public health spending. 28 million US Americans still have no health insurance, and 24 million are under-insured – despite the alleged benefits brought by Obamacare. New Public Private Partnership means that although Fauci says that “we were considered the best prepared country for the epidemic”, politics was allowed to intervene.

There is also the problem of lockdown. Towards the beginning of the pandemic South Africa implemented one of the most severe lockdowns that was seen worldwide. The main victims were the poor, who just could not afford to stockpile food. One of the side-effects of Covid in South Africa is that malnourishment has now reached epidemic proportions. This is not just a problem of the Global South.

How the WTO causes millions of deaths

And yet the problem is not simply caused by the US or South African governments, it is systemic. Chief Offender is the World Trade Organisation (WTO) which in the mid-1990s was able to implement Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property, better known as TRIPS. Simply put, TRIPS made unpatented generic drugs illegal. Big Pharma was able to set the prices for the drugs that were literally a matter of life and death for millions of people.

When the ANC government took over in South Africa in the early 1990s, the first question that the WTO put to them was whether they would respect patent rights (ie whether they would allow pharmaceutical companies set the price for anti-HIV – and later anti-Covid – drugs at a price that most people could not afford). Until the early 2000s, antiretroviral drugs in South Africa cost $15 thousand per year, even though much cheaper generic drugs from India were available.

As a response to TRIPS, countries in the Global South had some hope in COVAX, which was set up by the World Health Organisatoin to ensure that all countries get equal access to Covid vaccines. Yet, as medical journal The Lancet reported: “COVAX was a beautiful idea, born out of solidarity. Unfortunately it didn’t work … Rich countries behaved worse than anyone’s worst nightmares.” When the Delta version of Covid hit South Africa, only 2% of the population had been vaccinated.

Poor countries requested a TRIPS waiver during the Covid pandemic, which would allow them to use generic drugs. World leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Joe Biden made self-important speeches supporting this demand. And yet, the 2021 G7 summit in Cornwall – attended by Macron and Biden – rejected it. Many people in poor countries died as a result.

There was resistance to the WTO and to TRIPS, most notably at the WTO Conference in Seattle in 1999. Massive protests outside shut down the conference, giving countries that didn’t want TRIPS the confidence to make a stand. Protests shut down the WTO. Over the following years, lower and middle income countries won concessions to produce generic drugs. Fifteen years later, a WTO amendment on Intellectual Property Rights was a great gain for the poor countries.

These have been minor victories, but the war continues. In 2020, the US-American Federal Drugs Agency allowed emergency use of the Covid vaccine from BioNTech. In principle, this would mean free drugs for the Global South. And yet Vaccine Nationalism means that the rich countries who account for 13% of the world’s population have already bought up over half of the available vaccines.

What is the problem? And how can we solve it?

Director Rehad Desai describes the problem as “Zombie capitalism, marching us towards our mutual destruction.” Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the South African Public Health Forum explains: “Big Pharma is not owned by pharmacists. It’s owned by the hedge funds which require a return on investment. To make huge profits you need to be sole supplier.” Whether people live or die is simply not relevant unless it can be represented by an entry on the balance sheet.

The film ends with Desai accurately summarizing where we are:

“So, what has society learned from this Time of Pandemics? That we have encroached upon nature to the extent that it’s now only a matter of time before we face another threat? That seems clear enough. But what about the more difficult issue of how prepared we are for what’s to come?

Covid has revealed that our current approach to public health is simply not working. Maybe this is our last chance to go back to an older path we once travelled – health as a basic right, not letting the market determine who gets access to innovation. Not treating the Global South as a charity case and turning us into a petri dish of variants. Not letting the quest for profit lead us all further into catastrophe.

Is it really such a radical idea to put people first?

This is an angry film, which has a very real reason for its anger. And yet it is not without hope. The focus on our victories – on Seattle, on the brave doctors and patients who might make HIV/AIDS a disease of the past – means that it does not fall into mawkish cynicism. At the same time, it issues a clarion call: if we want to save lives, we need fundamental changes, and we need them now.

Times of Pandemics now has a German distributor and will hopefully be released later this year in Germany. When it does, you should go and see it, take your friends and colleagues, and discuss its serious implications. Many lives were lost to AIDS due to the policies of international governments and Big Business. We must not allow history to repeat itself.

For more information about Time of Pandemics, see its website. You can view the trailer here.

Greece seven years after the left’s electoral challenge

7 years ago today, SYRIZA won a historic election in Greece. What has happened since?


25/01/2022

This week in Greece marks a bitter anniversary. Parliamentary elections held on 25 January 2015 ended a series of right-wing governments and opened up the chance for a coalition headed by a broad left party, SYRIZA, standing on a clear mandate to “tear up” all memoranda and austerity measures imposed by the so called stabilization programs, defend the working-class and the poor and deliver democracy. That SYRIZA failed to deliver as well as spread disillusionment is beyond doubt and has been analyzed elsewhere – on this webpage as well. So where do the people of Greece stand now?

Seven years later the official picture at first glance looks rather dim. Right wing New Democracy is in office since 2019, implementing a full pro-capitalist program: Hard neoliberal measures (more austerity, job “flexibility”, confinement of trade union activity, further privatization of key sectors (ports, electricity, water-supply), and privatizing public space. It is combined with attacks on democratic rights (more police forces, “normalizing” the eternally insurgent university campuses), more institutional racism (patrol police leaving refugees to drown in the Aegean Sea), nationalism and huge arms spending. And this goes hand in hand with ideological attacks, as well as smearing the Left and any idea of socialism and solidarity as utterly bankrupt. Greek capitalists expect that their party in office can make the Greek state work for their interests. The right wing’s absolute control of mainstream media facilitates the control of public opinion so the failures of the government will never be revealed, and polls describe prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as more and more popular. However this is only the surface.

Has New Democracy succeeded in its goals?

Far from the success story headlines, the Greek economy remains one of the weakest links in the EU chain, and this practically means that Mitsotakis’s government is not getting close to the end of the tunnel. On the contrary, all relieving measures taken during the pandemic by the EU institutions are coming to an end and Greece has to pay its debt, which has gone out of control.

According to the experts of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), Greek public debt must be steadily reduced from the heights it was allowed to reach during the pandemic and this demands drastic primary surpluses for at least the next twenty years. A primary surplus isthe difference between incoming minus outcoming (expenses), without borrowing from outer sources

In 2020 Greece had the highest debt in the Eurozone as it stood at 205.65% of GDP, (followed by Italy with 155.81% of GDP). The plan foresees that in order for the Greek debt be reduced to 100% of GDP, primary surpluses of 4.5% are required for the next 20 years, while reducing it to the current threshold (60% of GDP) will require primary surpluses of 6.5% of GDP per year for 20 years! To have a sense of the scale, the previous memorandum had a surplus target of 3.5%. It is easy to see how ferocious the cuts should be in public spending in order to reach these targets! Obviously the cuts will not be implemented on arms spending, police and the notorious coastguards, but will butcher public sector wages and pensions, public health, education and social services.

Last week Athens welcomed six more Rafale combat aircrafts purchased from France, with the support of the government of Emmanuel Macron. While the airplanes were flying over Acropolis to cheering from mainstream media, everyone could make the comparisons for the cost of these political decisions to the expense of Special Care Units, hospitals and schools, not to mention inflation and soaring prices in basic goods, which are consuming wages and the living standard of the vast majority.

Additionally, one shouldn’t discount the debacle of the government’s strategy with Covid. New Democracy’s catastrophic management of the pandemic crises, in correlation with the abandoning of public health has brought Greece to the top in mortality figures within the E.U.

These are only a few aspects of the right wing attacks and failures. Corruption, scandals and institutional sexism is everyday practice of New Democracy. So there is a legitimate question: Are these policies tolerated by the Greek people? The answer is that there has been resistance from the first day of Mitsotaki’s government.

Who’s afraid of the working class?

“Dear Rider, in the context of increasing fleet productivity and according to the company’s broader strategy, we would like to propose you to join the freelancing partnership scheme… We would like to continue our cooperation, but based on the above and on your batch (resulting from various factors), we consider that it would be better for you to continue working as a freelancer… In other case, we would like to inform you that there is no possibility of renewing the existing contract…”

This message was sent via sms to 115 delivery workers of efood , the country’s biggest online delivery company (subsidiary of German “Delivery Hero”), on 15 September 2021. Until then, efood employees had enjoyed full insurance, paid holidays, allowances, night shift and public holiday bonuses, as well as 15% of their basic salary for the operation and maintenance of their self-owned two-wheeled vehicles. This was stipulated by Law 4611/2019, which was won through the motorcycle riders union’s struggles and the support of thousands of workers, culminating to a magnificent strike in April 2019. But the newly voted “Chatzidaki’s law” on labor affairs, named after the notorious right-wing minister who compiled it, opened all possible ways for scraping such achievements.

What was amazing was not the attack but the response from the workers of efood and the Greek society. Right after receiving the message, there were strike announcements from both trade unions in charge (Tourism, Catering and Motorcycle delivery riders – ΣΒΕΟΔ), despite their political differences. Within hours from the news hitting social media, a number of efood clients estimated between 100,000 and half million cancelled their subscriptions and uninstalled the app, while social media was flooded with denouncements of efood and with solidarity to the workers. Two days later the management of the company made a public statement, apologizing for a “misunderstood statement” and clarifying that nothing will be changed in the contracts and conditions of work. It was a humiliating defeat with strong conclusions: It showed that the bosses are not all-powerful, that reactionary laws may be voted on in parliament but can be cancelled in the streets. In addition, it refuted popular theories (even within the Left) about the weakness of the new “precarious” workers to organize and resist, about “great walls” dividing the working class. Not only did efood workers win, but their victory put pressure on the rest of delivery companies to offer full contracts and benefits to their crew. And the thousands of people who suspended their accounts did so as co-workers and fellows and not as consumers, their power lay in solidarity and that was a message of hope for everyone.

Efood is not a unique story. One month later it was the turn of the workers of COSCO, the Chinese giant which has purchased the port of Piraeus after its privatization. In the afternoon of Monday, 25 October 2021, Dimitris Danglis, a 45-year-old worker of subcontractor company DPort encountered a horrible death on his counter shift – a shift following a 12-hour shift with an 8-hour break. He got trapped on the rails of a travelling crane, which evidently ran over him. The response from the trade union ENEDEP was immediate, calling a general 24-hour strike from midnight that Monday and a rally the next morning at the gate of the Container Terminal. Following a powerful strike that shut down the port for seven consecutive days against intensified work and inadequate safety measures, COSCO was forced to sit at the table to negotiate. They committed themselves in writing to the abolishment of inhumane “counter shifts”, as well as to the formation of a Health and Safety Committee with the participation of members of the union. They also recognized the union officially.

During those days, in addition to the daily assemblies, large mobilizations and marches took place with the participation of unions all over the country: at the Port, at COSCO headquarters, at the Ministry of Maritime affairs and at the Courts. The Piraeus Port Workers’ Union held a support strike, the Piraeus Labour Centre organized a solidarity event and a mobilization at the Ministry of Labour, while the Tourism and Catering Trade Union cooked in solidarity with the strikers at the port.

Resistance is here

What happened with efood and COSCO is only a sample of resistance from below, from the almost forgotten sections of the working class, and is only a part of the picture. The overall sheet of balance has been shaped by strikes and working class militancy which, despite bureaucratic maneuvers from the trade union leadership has never ceased to resist measures of the government. The workers in public health have been on the front lines since the outburst of the pandemic to defend health care for all, challenge the cuts and demand new jobs instead of redundancies. Art workers, despite being scattered across numerous workplaces came to protests and succeeded in obtaining compensations for all during the lockdowns.

This is where inspiration for younger sections of the working class to come out and fight originates, as well as from a long record of political struggles against racism and fascism, and from protests for democratic rights.

Opposition?

Under such circumstances of discontent and polarization it was expected that the opposition would grasp the chances to challenge the hegemony of New Democracy and propose an alternative. Unfortunately, the parties in the parliamentary opposition have so far failed to do so. The main reason is that no party wants to stand for an angry working class and take the risk to commit to a break with the bosses. This includes SYRIZA, which is the main opposition party, and also PASOK, the socialist party that governed Greece for almost two decades in the 1980s and 1990s.

For Alexis Tsipras, the main concern is to appear as a “responsible” political force, one that will not challenge the interests of Greek capitalism. The “lesson” from last time in office is that despite SYRIZA’s U-turn and compromises, its government still never had the support of the Greek ruling class and media moguls. Although the establishment was relieved at Tsipras’ capitulation to memoranda and the exhaustion of people’s anger, they slaughtered SYRIZA as incompetent and unstable and clung to their traditionally favorite party, New Democracy. So the reformist strategy now is not a militant opposition, but instead to let the government rot and disintegrate by itself, leaving a gap for SYRIZA to come back and fill.

The effects are disappointing: SYRIZA has fully conceded to the “national” strategy of pursuing Greece’s geopolitical interests against Turkey, including arms spending and dangerous war rehearsals. Under the same “responsible” pretext they tolerated New Democracy’s failure with the pandemic. Tsipras recently expelled an MP from the party, for calling the government “killers”, on the ground that this is not the time for populism! This policy only legitimizes New Democracy and blurs the lines that separates it from SYRIZA.

Consequently, the party’s orientation has been set towards the centre left, targeting cadres who had left social democratic PASOK after the latter’s electoral collapse. Even the party’s name has been updated to “SYRIZA – Progressive alliance” to suit the new priorities. Inside this peculiar constellation, the left fraction, namely “Umbrella” is a confused versatile minority. But it seems that SYRIZA’s further approach to social democracy benefits its official political expression, PASOK, and introduces another vicious circle of right-wing shift.

In the last weeks a lot has been written about PASOK’s comeback following the election of a new leader, N.Androulakis, after the sudden death of center-left president F.Gennimata. Asked about participation in a future coalition government, the new leadership would not put its cards on the table, obviously waiting for the winner between New Democracy and SYRIZA! Needless to say that PASOK’s new face, despite efforts to appeal to the followers of “old good social democracy”, lacks serious bonds with the working class and its organizations. Oscillating between left and right will not do any good to rebuild them. However, in the context of New Democracy’s failure and SYRIZA’s pale opposition, there is some space for PASOK, who would like to follow the SPD’s example without having their roots as deep in society.

What now?

While this article was being written a snow storm hit Greece, resulting in horrible chaos in transport electric supply, and public safety. Cars were trapped on motorways and people were freezing out there, while it took half a day for the government to …call for the army to help remove the snow. This once more exposed the incapacity of New Democracy. The dominant slogan in the streets is “Mitsotaki fuck off!”, and this is a sign that the people are angrier and more radicalized than the parties that represent them, at least inside the parliament. It is also a call for the political organizations to the left of SYRIZA, including the anticapitalist left, to support and give expression to this potential, and not just wait for the “correct vote” in the next elections, because it might be too late. The time for getting rid of the government and halting its catastrophic plans is now, and this could be the real vindication for our struggles.

Don’t Blame Each Other. Build Solidarity

Germany is obsessed with the wrongdoings of individuals. Would the pandemic be over if more people took individual responsibility?


24/01/2022

So a mum from Leo’s Kita recently told me a story about her sister who works in a test centre. One day, after a hard day at work, she went into Edeka on her way home. She saw someone there who had tested positive that very same day – and should have been in quarantine! She went to the branch manager and told him about it. The manager promptly made an announcement over the tannoy: “Can anyone who tested positive today please leave the store”. And five people left the building.

I don’t really believe this story, by the way. I’ve heard it often – sometimes it was in Lidl, sometimes in Aldi, one time it was even in Rewe. Each time exactly five people leave the supermarket after the manager’s announcement. I just don’t believe it. If I had broken quarantine because I needed to buy food, I wouldn’t go home without what I’d just bought. I’d have stood firm.

And me, personally, I would have been more worried about my leaving the store announcing my guilt to the whole neighbourhood, than just staying put and – should anyone ask me about it – claim that I must have a Doppelgänger who tested positive.

But I’m like that, you know, lots of things are more embarrassing to me than they would be to Germans. Every time when I mistakenly press the button in the Straßenbahn, I leave the tram and walk. And walk. And secretly think: no-one in the Straßenbahn knows that I made a mistake. That’s just what I’m like.

But you know what I do believe? I fully believe that there are people who are in quarantine, or even in isolation who break the rules, break the law, even. Because they need to get something to eat, man.

I still haven’t really understood what people in Germany are meant to do when they’re in quarantine but they need to eat? After all, the only thing seen as worse than popping to the shops in quarantine is the dreadful “hamstering”. People who hamster have no solidarity but breaking quarantine is illegal.

I keep on hearing German fantasies about friendly, helpful neighbours who bring grocery shopping round to grannies and single mums. Well, I don’t know about you guys, but this famous neighbour-quarantine-voluntary-delivery service agency hasn’t contacted me yet. (Bit of a shame really!) I live outside the city centre – there’s no Gorillas or Flink here. What should you do? What should I do? What are people meant to do, exactly?

I now know single mothers who may not have broken isolation, but have broken quarantine rules out of mix of necessity and desperation. And there are some people who have done even worse things than that: I, for example, have drunk tea with coconut milk. And yep, it tastes as bad as it sounds. I drank it all up and I hated myself.

Germany is obsessed with the idea that individual people fuck up a lot. The breathlessly disapproving anecdote about Edeka is about five individuals who have sinned, they have fucked up, they have failed, they are total losers. They should have gone shopping BEFORE they got tested (which, by the way, wouldn’t have actually put less people at risk of infection) or maybe they should have signed up for Gorillas. Or they should have stocked up on enough food for exactly ten days (and not a day longer, or else they’d be hamstering!). Or maybe they should have just spent their entire quarantine ordering food on Lieferando. Or I dunno: maybe they should have used the quarantine as an excuse to lose weight.

In Germany, individual people are always failing. They travel too much, their kids have too many parties, they get vaccinated too soon like a selfish, vaccine-hungry helicopter mamas – or else not soon enough like the uneducated people from “certain” communities. “Do you know…”, people ask, “…what the problem is in this country? No sense of responsibility! This pandemic would have been over long ago if there had been a greater sense of responsibility!”

But those five people in that Edeka are like cigarette butts in an Agatha Christie novel – they’re just red herrings. Disapproving of them comforts us. The truth is, staying alive during a deadly pandemic is fucking hard. It’s difficult enough for people who have money, a steady partner, good mental health. And for those people who were struggling already, it’s almost impossible.

I’m writing this text standing up by the way –just like Goethe. My back hurts, yesterday I had to carry my youngest child through Aldi. He refused to move, so I carried him on my hip with one arm, and pushed the pushchair with the other, and he’s just too heavy for that kind of shit. After shopping, I sat with him on the floor and hugged him. He slowly calmed down, his breathing slowing down, his body getting heavier.

I gave him some chocolate and watched his cheeks get redder. An old lady, a granny, who’d already had a go at us in the supermarket bawled me out. She spat out: “A great way to reward him for bad behaviour!”

“I’m not rewarding him, actually” I answered. “I’m distracting him.”

We’re obsessed by the failures of individual people: holidaymakers, Party-People, quarantine breakers, and the greatest public enemies – Anti-Vaxxers. Look, I’m not saying that these people aren’t selfish. What I’m saying is that precisely because these people are selfish, because people ARE selfish, and because life in a pandemic is pretty fucking difficult, we need to build a system that allows us to behave with solidarity.

To be honest, I don’t believe that individual people in Germany should be shopping more for the grannies and grandpas and single mothers who live in their apartment buildings. If you do feel that you need to do this, then yeah, go ahead, be my guest, just do it. Von mir aus, as we say in German. But I personally feel everyone in Germany is pretty fucking exhausted.

I don’t feel that German people, that individuals living in Germany, the individuals who make up the German nation, are particularly irresponsible or lacking in solidarity. I believe that people in Germany find it hard to admit that life is difficult – and that some people’s lives are much harder than others. To be honest, I think Germans are in total denial about this.

The health insurance – or, as far as I’m concerned the social services – should send food to people in quarantine – above all, to old people and single parents, people like that, but really, let’s be honest, to everyone. More child benefit should be made available to people who voluntarily want their kids to leave the Kita until the pandemic is over. We should abolish the punitive compulsory school attendance laws. And there should be more (and not less!) free PCR tests.

The plural of individual responsibility is not individual responsibilities but shared responsibility. We should try to forget the five people in Edeka. Yeah, yeah, yeah, they shouldn’t have been there. But maybe they were just hungry.

This article first appeared in German in analyse & kritik nr. 678. Translation: Phil Butland. Reproduced with permission.

 

US fascism – the view from Europe

Fascism is a real threat in the USA. But we still have time to organise the mass resistance needed to stop it


23/01/2022

Almost a year to the day after the assault on the US Capitol Building by an insurgent right-wing Trump-supporting mob, prospects for the continuation of US democracy – such as it is – after the Biden administration are looking bleak in the extreme.

Not only have the main instigators of the attempted coup not been punished (in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing towards the deliberate nature of the act) but a majority of the Republican party remain convinced that the 2021 election was stolen and that the current government is illegitimate.

The Republican response to the lost election was to double down on the myth of the Big Steal, and to repudiate the validity of the electoral process. Dissenters within the ranks have been purged and electoral officials who carried out their duty in the last elections (to the displeasure of the Trump faction) have been replaced across the country by Trump loyalists. This sets the scene for a very different outcome in the next election.

In its purging of moderate elements the Trump Republicans fully embraced an anti-democratic, insurgent agenda. This sees violent resistance against any other outcome than a Trump win as being fully acceptable. The result is a dangerous alliance between ultra-conservative, Christian fundamentalist and openly fascist elements . It represents a grave and growing danger to women, people of colour, the immigrant and LGBTQI communities and the working class in general.

The Trump agenda is openly billed as the “revenge tour”. From a European perspective at least – the historical parallels to periods preceding the fascist coups in 20th-century Germany and Spain are too stark to ignore.

How should the Left respond to the Trump agenda?

So what should the response of progressive and democratic forces be in the face of a gerrymandered Trump win in 2025? Or the renewed threat of a coup in the event that the electoral process holds up and the Republicans lose once again? To put it another way: with the Republicans now so openly manipulating the democratic process, how can a Republican win be taken at face value?

By way of historical analogy, it is worth comparing the responses of the Spanish and German labour movements in the face of a fascist takeover. The leaders of German Social Democracy acquiesced in the electoral victory of the Nazis in 1932, only to find themselves banned, arrested and sent to concentration camps in the weeks and months that followed. That fact surely counts as one of history’s greatest failures of judgement.

By contrast, in 1936 Spanish workers poured onto the streets on hearing the news of Franco’s putsch, confronting insurgent troops and fascist militia. They went on to implement bold social reforms in the areas under democratic control in the civil war that followed.

And although there’s a lot of talk right now in the US media about the threat of civil war, perhaps it’s the prospect of a peaceful handover of power to a nakedly anti-democratic Republican party that is more worrying.

It was certainly a peaceful transition to a fascist government that spelt the end of the German Weimar Republic, and led to the smashing of the labour movement, persecution of minorities, war, genocide, Holocaust and the deaths of up to 75 million people in World War II.

The gravity of the situation in the USA is beyond doubt. President Biden has described it as “a dagger at the throat of democracy”. Former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich recently called for a “war to save American democracy”. The Democrats are making efforts to counter Republican gerrymandering by enacting voting reform at federal level. However it would be a mistake to count on mere parliamentary manoevers as an effective strategy against a nascent, broad-based and militant fascist movement.

The role of the Democrats

In the fight against fascism, illusions in the class interests of the Democratic Party are no substitute for the self-activity – including self-defence – of the working class and the oppressed. As Democratic senator Bernie Sanders put it recently: “It is no great secret that the Republican party is winning more and more support from working people… It’s not because the Republican party has anything to say to them. It’s because in too many ways the Democratic party has turned its back on the working class.”

In this respect, Sanders is right. The response of the working class and allied progressive forces cannot be subordinated to the inherently conservative agenda of the Democratic Party nor to the supine position of the trade union leadership. In contrast it must be an independent response, based in workplace, union and community organizing. It must be committed to mutual self-defence in the face of any form of fascist aggression, whether at neighbourhood, city, state or national level.

The coming mid-term elections in 2022 and the presidential election 2024 mark key threats to existing democratic and civil rights gains in the United States. Progressive forces and democracy defenders should use the current breathing space to mobilise, make their presence felt and create a genuine united front against the fascist threat. In spite of all the bluster and the current hype around the Trumpist insurgency, in overall terms the extreme white-power right are still a minority.

Progressive change is possible

Rebecca Solnit argued in the Guardian

“While the right has become far more extreme and has its tens of millions of true believers, it is morphing into a minority sect. This has prompted their desperate scramble to overturn free and fair elections and other democratic processes. White Christians, who were 80% of the population in 1976, are now 44%. Mixed-race and non-white people are rapidly becoming the majority. On issues such as climate, people of colour are far more progressive; if we can make it through the huge backlash of the present moment, the possibilities are dazzling.”

The United States has a rich heritage of militancy for progressive causes and movements. Its mass struggles for justice have been inspirational to peoples around the world. America is not just the country of slavery, Jim Crow and the KKK. It is the country of rebellion and resistance both militant and peaceful, of MLK and BLM, the Women’s March on Washington and Christopher Street, of Blair Mountain and the West Coast Waterfront Strike.

If white-power Trumpist Republicans return to power unopposed in 2024, it will surely mean the end of the universal franchise in the USA, the end of American democracy for at least a generation. It will mean incarceration and terror for thousands, if not millions.

Fascism is not something that can be solved by appeasement. It can only be opposed by mass mobilisation and mass resistance.

So at this historical juncture, what’s it to be, America? What path will you take: Germany ‘32, or Spain ‘36?