As you may notice, this blog is hartdly maintained at the moment. You can find my writings on my general blog, http://peterstormschrijft.wordpress.com . Most of it is in Dutch, some of it in English (which you can find in Category “In English“, in the list at the right of the blog). I also blog on Libcom: http://libcom.org/blog/rooieravotr What I write there, also ends up on my generl blog. See you womewhere there!
Last Friday, January 21, the Netherlands saw student action on a massive scale. Fifteen thousand students and sympathisers, maybe more, came together for a protest rally on the Malieveld in The Hague, the city in which the Dutch government is located. The action was called by student unions.
The rally was preceded by a demonstration in which left wing groups and individuals participated. Rood, the youth branch of the Socialist Party (left wing social democrats) was there; the youth branch of the PvdA (Labour party) was there as well. And the Internationale Socialisten participated, as did anti-authoriarian groups like the Kritische Studenten Utrecht and a radical initiative against austerity, Greece Is Everywhere (GIE), in which I have been involved and to which I remain close (1).
The demonstration brought between 600 and thousand people on the street, accompanied by an large and quite intimidating police presence: cops on horseback, police vans, etcetera. We got to the Malieveld safely, however, where we joined the rally that was still growing, with al large stream of students from Central Station to the muddy field. There, we got speeches by politicians – even by the Secretary of Education responsible for the attacks that students were protesting against…
The attacks that triggered the protests mainly consist of a big raise in student fees for those who take much time to finish their studies. At the same time, funding for universities is under pressure. Students and sympathizers argue that higher education will become less accessible for students from poorer background: college will become an elite thing once again. Students with rich parents willing to pay can take ther time for study; students without rich parents are forced to go even deeper in debt. One of the slogans on a banner I saw was: “Rich parents for everyone”: ) That made the point quite nicely.
The attacks are part of an austerity program forced upon Dutch society by a right wing government, made up of Liberals (VVD) and Christian Democrats (CDA) with extreme right wing support from the side of the islamophobic racists of the PVV, led by Geert Wilders. Other sectors of society have already been protesting as well: the art and culture sector, for instance, in a protest that brought several tens of thousands on the streets on 20 November last year. There have been student protests as well: several demonstrations on 10 December 2010 sawsizeble crowds, about 5000 all together.
After the big rally of January 21, several hundreds of students and sympathizers marched in several groups, one to the vicinity of the governmental center, one to the Ministry of Education. Riot police attacked at both actions, there were clashes, some people got badly beaten,or bitten by police dogs (of the four foot variety, of course; I will not insult other animals by comparing them to police); cops arrested 28 people, five of them will stand on rushed trial this week.
The actions combined were an expression of a growing mood of struggle in various sectors of society. The police violence is an expression of a more and more openly authoritarian trend drom the direction of the state. We will see if and how struggle will grow nevertheless, but I think students can be pwoud of what they did so far, and we all can feel encopuraged by their spirit and example.
Some pieces on the student struggle:
On Dear Kitty: “Dutch Students fight education cuts” (with a video of a student occupation on the Monday preceding last Friday’s rally);
On the website of Greece Is Everywhere: “De Strijd van Studenten is een Strijd van ons Allen – The Struggle of Students is a Struggle of All of Us” (in Dutch and in English)
(1): I quit GIE, mainly for health reasons; I couldn’t handle organisational pressures, especially in combination with my writing activity. However, the comradeship between me and GIE will remain and has, if anything, only gotten stronger).
Well, okay, then, I admit it. This blog has been neglected for quite long. However, time has come to reactivate it once again. I have had a quite busy time, especially the second half of last year; so I didn’t manage to keep things active right here. But now, I am slowing down here and there. And that means: more writing time, and part of that writing time may just as well be spent on my English-language blog, I would think. So, here goes…
However, I will not make big promises. My Dutch-language blog wil have priority. But I will try to write something here, now and then.
The publication by Wikileaks of 91.000 ducuments on the Afghanwar has attracted a large amount of attention. Of course, the US national security establishment did’nt like the leaking and publishing of intelligence reports. On the other hand, some people consider the publication as verrrry, verrry important in exposing the horrors of this war that is endlessly and destructively dragging on. The first reaction can be understood, from their enemy perspective. The second reaction is a bit strange.
First, the official reaction. “The US government criticized the publication of the material and said it could threaten national security.” Well, of course! Governments do not like the publishing of their cherished state secrets. They prefer to plan and execute their criminal wars in secret. Otherwise, people might start asking questions and raising objections. The government’s fear is our hope: long live the leaking of state secrets!
And what about national security? The more secure ther national state, the less secure the people living under the mighty arms of that state, whether they be Afghan people or American people or anyone else. If state security is harmed by the leaking of documents, I am all in favor of that. The fact that military or intelligence personnel may be at risk by publication of intelligence reports is, well, bad luck. It is part of the professional risk of complicity in criminal wars. If Obama is truly concerned with the safety of these people, he should withdraw US military and intelligence forces from Afghanistan and stop the US war there.
But what of the docuements itself? From what I see in reports – a useful summary of which can be found in The Guardian – it basically says what anybody following this war already kne, only a bit more so. The war is not being won by the West, the Taliban gets stronger, Western forces killing civilians and covering up the killing only adds to popular resentment and to Taliban support, Pakistan intelligence helps the Taliban, unmanned drones kill people by the score. Things like that are hardly news. The Wikileak reports show that all this has been going on, somewhat more so than we already knew. Any qualitative news here? Not really. Chris Floyd makes that point in his usual excellent way on his blog Empire Burlesque, and I agree.
Floyd makes another point: some of the content of the leaked reports can be quite useful for the US military and national security establishent. That is especially true for reports blaming Iran for supporting the Taliban. The whole thing is, als Floyd sarcastically explains, not very logical. The Shia regime in Iran is not exactly good friends with the Sunni Taliban, whicht makes the idea of close cooperation somewhat weird. Then again, Taliban and Iran have an opponent in common: the US empire waging war in Afghanistan and pushiong for war against Iran. Some tactical cooperation betweet Taliban or related factions in Afghanistan and forces within the Iran regime cannnot be entirely excluded.
But there is another problem here that Floyd also points to. Journalists and others tend to treat the Wikileak reports as hard, factual evidence of what is happening there. It is not. Soldiers or intelligence officers reporting to superiors of colleagues, how reliable is that? Sometimes, such people will tell what they have seen. Sometimes they will tell what they think superiors want to hear. How can we know which is the case in this report, or that? Even less convincing are reports on conferences between functionaries. They may show what these functionaries think is going on, and what they would like to be done and so on. But there is, for the readers, no clear way of telling what is truth, what is deception, what is self-deception, and what is sheer illusion. We know how ‘intelligence’ reporting worked in the running-up to the Iraq war. Floyd’s suggestion that the leaks may have something to do with preparing a similar war of aggression against Iran should be taken seriously.
What of the Pakistan connection to the Taliban? That has not been exactly the biggest secret in recent months and years. But here, also, caution is in order. Juan Cole gives space on his weblog to Brian Cloughly, who thinks substantial Pakistani support to the Taliban unlikely. His reasoning goes like this: if the US supports Pakistan, which supports Taliban fighters killing US and Pakistan soldiers, this would amount to treason. Than t cannot be, so Pakistan does not support the Taliban in a substantioal way. This reasoning is not very convincing: sometimes these kind of ‘treasonous’ things do sometimes happen, however distasteful it may be in Cloughley’s eyes.
Be that as it may, the highlighting of the Pakistan-Taliban-link can also be useful for parts of the national security elite, the war planners in Washington. Just as with the Iran link, it strenghens the idea that resistance to US occupation of Afghanistan is not homegrown, but mostly a product of outside agitators, foreignd meddling – against the biggest foreign meddler of all, the US itself. If only the outside interference would stop, the US could manage its Afghan troubles without too much trouble.
This is an illusion: resistance in Afghanistan has local roots and reasons. It is not, in essence, a product of Pakistan and Iran. It is most of all a reaction to what the US itself is doing there: occupying a country and oppressing its inhabitants. But it is a useful illusion for the powers-that-be desperately seeking a way to, wel not to winning the war, but at least not openly losing it. Arm-twisting Pakistan and intimidating, possibly attacking, Iran, just might do – so some folks in high places perobably hope – what 150.000 Western soldiers in Afghanistan are manifestly failing to do: crushing an Afghan insurgency growing stronger and stronger.
The Wikileaks documents may show something of the horrors of this endless war. But parts of its contents can also contribute in the preparation of even bigger wars. We should applaud the fact of the leaking: there can never be enough openness, there is no such thing as a legitimate state secret. But we should not take a single word in it at face value. There are lies, there are big lies – and then there is intelligence reporting.
Last weekend saw scenes that have become familiar: a summit of world leaders gathers. A big ‘security operation’, with special police powers, is put into operation. Crowds of protesters gather, for different but related causes, be it labour rights or the environment, in opposition to a set of prioriteis that puts the profits of corporations above the needs and demands of ordinary people and the world we inhabit. The protests, rowdy but mostly though not exclusively peaceful, are confronted by riot cops. Soon afterwards, we get the stories of arrests, police violence and abuse.
THis timem, the scene was Toronto, Canada, a gathering of representative leaders of the G20 countries. This G20 can be seen as a broadening of the earlier, still existing, G8 of most powerful states. The G20 has become more prominent as a combination that influential governments use to coordinate a kind of an answer to the financial and economic crisis that is raging since 2007.
On the summit itself I can be brief. There has been quarrel. On the one hand European states that want austerity and budget cuts, more austeruiity and more budget cuts. On the other hand Obama’s US, that is wary of too mich austerity± all these cuts, bu hurtingh demand foor goods, can hurt exports and production as well. This risks destroying the economic revival and might the much-feared double dip-recession closerr.
As usual in the last ten years, there were protests. As usual, authorities use the cngances of violence from a minority of protestersd as a pretext for police-state measures. canada was no exception. It spent a billion on security. It created a security zone around the conference headquarters, guarded by a fence. The government pushed through a measure that gave police authority to aks people what they were doing there as soon as they were within five meters of the fence, and ask for identification as well. Also, testimony the police gave were, in this security operation, to beconsidered as conclusive evidence. Any semblance of fair trial and rule of law was hereby discarded. This measure was decided upoon by the government itself, without even consulting parliament. Any semblance of even limited, parliamentary democracy was hereby put aside. The measure wass temporary. But it creates a dangerous authoritarian precedent.
The protests around the summit were of the usual kind. Large crowds – 10.000, according to an estimate from the authorities’ side, which means the real size was probably bigger – demonstrated. Smaller groups destroyed some police cars, papparently left unguarded as if to provoke demonstrators to do exactly this, as Al Giordiani – of whom more later – writes. There was more street action. Police attacked a peaceful demonstration . Journalist Steve Paikin telss the story: “As I was escorted away from the demonstyration, I saw two officers hold a jopurnaliost. The journalist identified himself as working for ‘the Guardian’. He talked too much and pissed the police off. Two iofficers held him and a third punched him in the stomach.” Paikin also said: “Police on one side screamed at the crowd to leave only one way. Then police on the other side said leave the other way. There was no way out.” And, making matters even clearer: “So the police just started arresting people. I stress, this was a peaceful, middle class, diverse cload. No anarchists.” By the way, you see, anarchists are, ovviously, not peaceful people, according to this very meainstream journalist, hereby reflecting his prejudices. But that makes his testimony no less useful. Anyway, Paiker continues: “Literally more than 100 officers with guns pointing at the crowd. Rubber bullets and smoke bombs ready to be fo ired. Rubber bullets fired.”
There were more horror stories. “A newspaper photographer was shot with a plastic bullet in the backside, while another had an officer pointing a gun in his face despite identifying himself as a member of the media.” Clearly, the police wanted not just to use repression against the crowds as they saw fit, to intimidate the protesters; they wanted to intimidate people who witnessed what was happening as well. An attack on both the right to demonstrate and the right to freely gather and spread information, buth fundamental democratic liberties.
150 people were arrested . Soon, there were stories of what detained people had to endure. Here is what Amy Miller, working for the Alternative Media Center, told. She was arrested and thrown in a cage where she was held for 13 hours. “I was told I was going to be raped, I was told I was going to be gang-banged. I was told that I was never going to want to act as a journalist again by making sure that I would be repeatedly raped while I was in jail.” She had been violently arrested while she was “trying to record a confrontation between police and protesters”, according to a report in Raw Story. You want more stories about the ferocious repression that the riot police enfiorced in Toronto? You can find more in, for instance, “The mass repression at the G20 summit in Toronto”, on the World Socialist Website (wsws) on 30 June.
There has been a number of interesting comments on left wing websites on the events. Unfortunately, they focus mostly on the violent tactics of some of the demonstrators. For instance, Louis Proyect’s blog “Unrepentent Marxist” has a guest column by a certain Ritch: “An analysis of the G20 protests and the Black Bloc”. It mentions the gross violations of democratic rights, thepolice violence. But is basically blames activists using the Black Bloc tactic of confronting both police and destroyingh capitalist objects – business buildings, for instance – while mingling with the rest of the crowds, for provoking the police.
Some of the criticism is valid. I did not like it very much when I was in Genoa 2001, protesting aginst the G8 summit, when something was thrown from behind, over the head of a militant but non-violent gropuop of people to which I belonged, basically using us as a shelter. When the police attacked, we were the ones being beten and kicked; the one throwing something had amle opportunity to get away. The report describes instances like that, and worse, in Toronto, and such things should be criticized.
Where the article goes wrong is in using these things to dismiss all that goes under the Black Bloc-rubric. Not all forceful confrontations on demonstrations, not even offensive ones, should be discarded. I have seen groups of Black-Bloc-like activists on the streets in Straatsburg, last year, around the NATO summit there, slowly fighting their – and our! -way across a bridge towards the place where the big demonstration was supposed to start.
Sometimes Black-Bloc-tactics hurt the rest of the actions; at other times, they help the whole action along. As with any other tactical concept, the Black Bllock thing should bne used with a wisdom and a carefulnes that is quite often lacking. There is debate within anarchist/ Black Block circles about these kind of things. All these nuances are lacking in the dismissive piece on Louis Proyect’s blog.
Even worse was a piece by Al Giordiani, an otherwise often impressive journalist connected to The Narco News, a source of ghood information on struggles, especially in Latin America. He basically says the Black Bloc, whether police provocateurs or genuine activists, basically helps the police in giving pretexts for repression, and hurts the action by the disrespectful way they operate towards other activit sts. He blames groups organising big summit protests for not rejecting any space for Black Bloc-type activism, but tolerating their actions. Again, not all specific complains about specific actions are wrong; unfortunately not. Bust the whole dismissibe attitude towards this form of activism – an activims that at its best is much more than just uncontrolled rage by middel class spoiled kids, as is how Proyect and Giordiani apparently see it – is wrongheaded.
Just as wrongheaded is another conclusion Giordiani has drawn: summit protests are, according to him, an irrelevance, and his journalistic project will no longer pay attention to them. He goes through the developent of ‘summit-hopping’: a relatively succesfull mass protest in Seattel 1999 against the WTO, followed by less and less succesfol protest the years after that – protest disfigured by this Black Bloc-thing, protests that dont build serious opposition as well’, protests of which it is less and less clear what the protest is actually about. Community organising! That is the thing! No more of this fruitless summit hopping!
Now, yes, there is a problem with the summit protests. The surprise effect is basically gone. The one-sided-stress on it, at the expense of a other forms of activism, can and sometimes hurt local resistance which ternds to get neglected while actrivists are frantically building the next international demonstration. But that does not mean these kinds of protest have become irrelevant. Even after more than ten years after Seattle, protest like in Toronto, or the climate summit in Copenhagen last year, attract attention, not just to police repression and violent tactics, but to the issues that motivate people to protest as well. The whole world may not be watching, but a significant part of it is.
And it is still the case that many of the protesters themselves return to become or remain active in the place where they come d from after they took party in the summit protest. Community organising and ‘summit hopping’ are not mutually exclusive forms of activism. And the feeling of being together with thousands on the streets against the big and powerful who have to shelter behind thousands of police to preceed with their conference is in itself empowering.
The overview of theseries of summit protests that Giordiani offers is, by the way, faulty. He talks about “hundreds of thousands” of protesters in Seattle. This gives him space to be dismissive of later protests, which gathered ‘only’ tens of thousands of demonstrators. But Seattle, while massive in its effects, was not that big. Most estimates talk about tens of thousands, maybe 60.000 to 80.000 people on the streets.
Later summit actions werer sometimes smaller, but sometimes bigger, much bigger. I was in Evian, in 2003, in one of the less significant mobilisations, against a G8 summit there: 100.000 people on a demonstration. No mention in Giordiani’s piece. And then there was Genoa, the G8 summit in 2001. Eeighty thousand people on a demonstration before the summit started; tens of thousands the day after that blockading the security zone, sometimes attacking the fence around it; 300.000 demonstrators on the final day; violent police attacks on demonstrators, killing one of them, attacking buildings whre demonstrators gathered and slept, provoking new protests the weeks after that. Most of the demonstrators, by the way, came from Italy itself. The whole Genoa series of events is not even mentioned in Giordiani’s article.
Another example: the G8 in 2008, in the German town of Heiligendamm, near Rostock. For more than a day, thousands of demonstrators blockaded the entrance to the summit, and made the riot police look very foolish because they could not stop them. The police blocked the roads against activists, so demonstrators crossed the cornfielfds and meadows in kilometers long walks. For some time, the G8 had to have its catering brought in by boat. What a humiliation for the authorities! Now, I would call this a rather effective, if mainly symbolic, victory for this form of activism. Again, no mention by Giordiani.
Yes, I think the glory days of the big summit protests are behind us. Yes, I think it is right to build locally, put our priority in community and labour action in the places where we live, to work towards revolution based on the struggles around us. But going now and there to big, international actions aroudn summits has not lost all usefullness. And using the presence and activity of the Black Bloc, and tolerance towards theu ir activities from the side of organisators of protests, as an excuse not to pay attention to summit protests anymore seems to me? I think it is counterproductuve sillyness. Of course, if Narco News and Giordiani refuse to cover these protests from now on, that is their right. But I do not tremble with fear of these protests being neglected by critical journalists. Others will cover what Giordiano refuses to cover. A large part of the world will still be watching – and part of that part will be participating as well.
Change you can belive in, yes indeed! We are at the end of a week in which continuity, not change, was the name of the Obama game. Continuity in war and in war crimes, that is.
Firsdt, we had the high-profile quarrel about general McChristal, ending in his dismissal as commander of the Western troops in Afghanistan. The general and his aides had made a number of unflattering remarks about president Obama and high civilian officials in his administration. Rolling Stone magazine published them in a profile of the general, written with his cooperation. This was – so the liberal commentarocracy commented – insubordination, contempt for civilian elected leadership, and so on and on. The general had to go.
Of course, this is hardly cause for relief. There goes the general, but the war remains. And the president insisted: there will not be a change in strategy. “This is a change in personnel, not in policy. We will not miss a beat because of the change of command in the Afghan theatre.” Thus spoke the President of Change. The new Afghan commander? General Petraeus, (in)famous for his presumed ‘successes’ in the Iraq ‘theatre’, ‘successes’ on which Juan Cole has some interesting observations. By the way, you see, war is played out in ‘theatres’, these days. There is no bloodier busines than this bloody show business.
Yes, much more can be said about the fall of the general. It says something about relationship between civilian and military authorities, about the way power is working in high circles, and about the impasse in which America’s war inm Afghanistan has landed. But that is for another place and time. For now, I’ll just quote Arthur Silber, from one of his perceptive pieces on his weblog: “I don’t give a glimmer of a shadow of the faintest damn about the outcome of incidents of this kind, because the major participants are all war criminals.” The whole article, in which he explains why he is saying this, is well worth reading.
The poor general had barely left the scene when another highly symbolic announcement attracted some attention. Guantanamo Bay wil stay, for much longer than Obama promised. Remember the promise? He would close that concentration camp, that symbol of the horrors of the so-calles War on Terror, that place with cages for human beings, from which stories of mistreatment and outright torture dripped like blood from the bodies of its prisoners.
Within a few mothns after becoming president, Obama let go of his own deadline, after resistance from Congress. And now, we read in the New York Times: “Stymied by political opposition and focused on other priorities, the Obama administration has sidelined efforts to close the Guantanamo prison, making it unlikely that President Obama will fulfill his promise to close it before his term ends in 2013.” THe NY Times bases this conclusion on what priminent senators, presumably with inside knowledge, are saying.
Changing priorities, resistance age against policies, that is the story. Let’s just say this. Committing new and continuing crimes seems to be a much higher priority for Obama than ending earlier, but still ongoing, crimes. Where’s the change in that?
This Saturday evening, I went to see “The Shock Doctrine”, here in the Filmfoyer in Tilburg (1), a documentary based on Naomi Klein’s book of the same title. It was a worthwhile experience. The move is a clear exposition of how the neoliberal version of capitalism came to dominate many parts of the world, the harm this capitalism is doing, and both the possibility and the necessity of resistance.
The story is built around a lecture Naomi Klein is giving. We see her speak clearly, for a short while. Then we are taken out of the lectuere hall, to be shown the realities that illustrate her story. These realities – footage of psychological experiments, coup détats, wars, enonomic disasters, with explanatory comments – take up the bulk of the film. But again and again we are taken back to the lecture hall, and in this way we are reminded of the the function of all the footage: illustrating the talk by Naomi Klein, the argument she is making.
The first episode is about medical-psychological experiments in the US, later taken over by the CIA: people are made into a kind of mental blank, which makes it possible fo fill the mind with an endlessly repeated message. We see one of the victims of this shock treatment, for this is literally what it is. This is, as it were, the metaphoric message of the whole movie: you shock people into accepting things they would not otherwise tolerate.
Then we get to the essence of the movie: neoliberal economics conquers the world. Enter Milton Friedman, economist, an outsider in the Fifties, with his strange message of privatisation, free markets, dismantling state protection. However, his kind of policies came to dominate many parts of the world. The way that happened is a road full of violence.
For instance, violence in Chili. There, social protections became part of society during the sixties of the twentieth century. A left wing government was elected into office in 1970. The US government did not like it, a military coup ubnder Pinochet took over, torture an death were imposed upon people who resisted, trade unionists, leftists. What policies were imposed by the new gevernment? Naked neoliberalism, leading to more poverty and unemployment. Who advised the government? Milton Friedman and people who had been his students. A similar military victory for neoloberalism happened in Argentine. In Britain and the US, similar economic policies were imposed by right wing giocvernments under Thatcher and Reagan. We see vivid pictures of the resistance Thatcher’s government provoked in Britain. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, especially Russia became the victom of a ferocious experiment in imposed l neoliberal free market fundamentalist policies.
Again and again we are made aware of how a shock – military couop, in Thatcher’s case a war with Argentine about the Falklands – waused to shock the popular tion, after which a new dose of neolobaralism follows. The same happened in 2001 after nine- eleven, the terror attacks. Wars against Afghanistan and Iraq followed. In Iraq, the US occupation impsed far-going privatisation, war profiteering through contractors, the dismantling of large parts of the state and the civil service. The shock of war was followed by the ‘therapy’ of neoliberalism. Then there was ther tsunami in Asia, and the hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, used in a similar way: Sri Lankan people preventing afterwards to return to their places of living on the coast, to make room for luctrative sale of coastal areas, for instance.
Ans so it went, again and again. But Klein leaves us with messages of hope. Near the end of the movie, the women hathat endured the shock experiments in the Fifties, was shown again. W She had forced the government to recogbnise the wrong that she had to suffer. A small but significant, of which she was righly proud.
The end of the movie was significant as well. Klein told an anecdote about president Roosevelt – whole New Deal was part of the trend to welfare capitalism which later was replaced by the neoliberal victories . She told how a progressive gropup once visited Roosevelt and made a proposal. The president listened, and then said, in essence: “Now go home, and force me to do it.” She mentioned how many strikes there were in the year 1937, under Roosevelts presidency: a good way to indeed forcefully bringing about change. The message: things change if we don’t wait for politicians, but move ourselves, take action, and make things change. The movie ended with sounds of what must have been a large demonstration. The slogans were audible. I heard the familiar : “A-Anti-Anticapitalista!”…
The move leaves a strong impression, and is well worth watching. This review does onluy mention parts of the threads Klein is weaving to make her argument. There are weaknesses in her analysis, however. I think Klein is a bit too positive about the welfare capitalism that went before neolaiberal capitalism, too positive for instance about Roosevelt and his New Deal, and maybe even under the illusion that we should return to something like that. I think we deserve better.
Her sketch of the dominance of neoliberalism is clear, but her explanation is not totally convincing. She makes it seem as if the victory of neoliberal doctrines, its march from a small currency in economic science to dominant ideology from Britain to Chile, is a product of clever peoplen in high places conspiring cvery affectively. There is, however, much more to in than that. At the root of it is the fact that the economic model of the Fifties – let’s call it welfare capitalism – suited the capitalist class very well in those years. Relatively high wages and a system of sopcial benefits meant hign consumtion, high sales and high profits. This was well worth the relatively high taxes and relatively strong trade unions that came along with it, as far as most capitalists were concerned .
However, this system entered into crisis of profitali bility, partly because of overproduction and unsaleable products, partly because the working class became to strong. Capitalist circles were in need for a restructuring of the economy that weakened the working class and restored profits. Neoliberalism offered a way to do it. That is why a doctrine that was marginal in 1951 became hegemonous from the seventies onwards. This is the kind of background that is needed to understand the shift that Klein sketches in the, otherwise very valuable, documentary “The Shock Doctrine”.
(1). Thanks, Riekie and Ardin, for taking me along 🙂
Dutch elections on June 9 have resulted in a shocking victory of right wing parties. The political Right, however, will not find it easy to form a government. Divisions and conflicts between them hinders the quick formation for a coalition government between them. Meanwhile, the Left – divided as well, and battered by defeat – is clinging to the kind of parliamentary illusions that helped to bring that defeat. At the same time, the number of non-voters – a sign of deep disaffection with all the parties – has grown. An aggressive, triumphant but fragmented Right; a weakened Left; budget cuts from whatever government will ben formed; an economic crisis that is dragging on; and a workers’ movement showing signs of reviving miltancy (see earlier article on this blog); it is an explosive mix, with great dangers as well as small but significant opportunities for workers who want to fight back.
The right wing liberal VVD became the biggest party, with 31 seats in a 150-seat Second Chamber of Parliament (lower house, basically, or house of representatives if one prefers). The extreme right PVV, led by islamophobic racist Geert Wilders, grew from 9 to 24 seats, much more thatn opinion polls in recent weeks indicated. Another right wing party, the christian democrat CDA, lost badly. Their voters deserted this party to the other big right wing parties. Bad leadership by prime minister J.P. Balkenende played a part in this. At least as important was the fact that the CDA was part of a rather weak government, together with the social democratic PvdA. VVD and PVV were in opposition, and succeeded in drawing disaffected voters – to the right.
The PvdA social democrats lost, but not that much. Bigger losers were the somewhat more left wing Socialist Party, who lost 10 of its 25 seats. Eagerness to govern meant that they diluted their earlier radical posture. The difference with PvdA became less and less visible, voters – afraid of the VVD becoming the biggest party – were tactically drawn to the PvdA who became almost as big as the VVD. A third left wing party, the Green Left (GL), gained three seats, partly, no doubt, because they took a rather strongh anti-racist line aginst Wilders. On the whole, however, GL is drifting rightwards, accepting the need of ‘flexible labour markets’, and not really opposing a probable raise in retirement years.
Formation of a government is going to be difficult. VVD, PVV and CDA – an open right wing coalition, a horror scenario – has a narrow parliamentary majority. But especially the CDA is not keen on PVV participation. They probably remember the party of Pim Fortuyn which participated in a government with CDA and VVD in 2002, after the murder of its leader. That government became a laughing stock, a permanet cabaret on tour, because of all the quarrels and little scandals, before collapsing withing eight months. CDA politicians want stability and harmony, not a repeat performance of this vaudeville.
Another problem is the First Chamber of Parliament, the upper house or senate, which constitutionally has to pass bills after the more important second chamber has passed them. That chamber is indirectly elected – but not at the same time as the second chamber. Senate elections will only come in 2011. Until that moment, the victorious PVV has no seats in the first chamber, and the VVD-CDA-PVV coalition lacks a majority there. Another factor opening the road to instability and uncertainty. Business circles are wary of PVV participation as well. They fear adverse reactions against Geert Wilders, who has a habit of insulting moslim people – including , for instance, the Turkish prime minister. That is bad for business, bosses’ boss Wientjes has sternly warned.
Other coalitions are not easy as well. VVD, PvdA, D66 and GL is a possibility. D66, by the way, is another neoliberal party, but more relaxed than the VVD on issues like immigration and Islam. What they have in common, all four of them, is the acceptance op neoliberal policies. However, on the issue of how big the coming budget cust should be, they are quite far apart. And on issues like immigration, VVD and especially GL are not close as well, although eagerness to govern may soften any principled attitude that GL still has. An unlikely coalition it certainly is. An impossible coalition it is not.
Is there anything to choose between them, from a left wing perspective? I don’t think so. First, both coalitions will go for very severe austerity policies. Capital, business forces, the financial markets will simply force any government that might hesitate. Diofferent coalitions, almost same policies, in this regard.
Yes, a right wing coalition whcih includes the PVV is a horrible prospect. It would legitimise Wilders’party – a party which expresses a form of fascism-in-the-making. One shudders if Geert Wilders or one of his clones becomes minister of Security or something like that. If, in such an event, riots break ouit in protest, I will not only understand and agree with the rioters. I might become one of them.
But a weak and divided coalition without the PVV is extremely dangerous as well. It will allow the PVV even more time and space to continue their right wing opposition. In case that government falls – as it might do quickly, considering the divisions within such a government – the PVV can look forward to an even biggen electoral victory, maybe encouraged by a beginning PVV street movement. One PVV member is already talking about creating a youth section of the PVV. We should be extremely careful.
There is reason for serious worry and concern. However, panic isn’t called for. Recent strikes show that there is a mood to fight among groups of workers. This mood can grow and translate itself in much bigger protests when the size and content of coming austerity policies of the next gevernments become clear. Dark times, indeed, but not hopeless times.
“The Netherlands shifts to the right”, NRC, 10 June (the NRC is one of the important Dutch mainstream newspapers, with an English-language section)
Peter Schwartz, “Right wing shift in Dutch elections”, World Socialist Website (WSWS), 12 June; WSWS is a Trotsyist website that often contains ghood news summmaries with a bit of sensible analysis. In this case the comparison between Ducth and among others, Hungarian electons (also resulting in a shift to the right). The article warns of the danger of the extreme right. The last sentence, calling for the buiulding of a Trotskyite party and so on, can safely be ignored. The rest is worth taking reading.
Class struggle, in the Netherlands? Yes, class struggle in the Netherlands, that is the subject for today – workers’ struggles in this country that is not especially known for its militant workers’ struggles. However, in recent months there have been a number of serious strikes, bringing serious results.
Two strike campaigns are especially important. First, their was a long and succesful campaign of cleaning workers for a wage rise and better treatment. The campaign culminated in an nine-week-long strike – the longest strike the country has experienced since 1933. Cleaners stopped cleaning in train stations, at Schiphol airport and in several offices. In this way, they put pressure on the companies that buy cleaning services from cleaning companies. The cleaning sector works as follows: Schiphol, for instance, wants cleaning done. Several cleaning firms offer their services. Schiphol takes the cheapest offer. Wages and conditions suffer from this competition. When workers and trade union functionaries demanded a rise, cleaning services said: we can’t afford a rise, the companies buying our services force us to cut things to the bone. That is why it made sense for the campaigners to pressurize not just the cleaning companies, but the big companies and institutions contracting out cleaning services to those cleaning companies. Besides pressurizing the companies, the campaign raaised the profile of the lowly-paid cleaning workers with public action which helped rally broad sympathy to the struggling cleaners.
The strike was held in quite a militant fashion. Therer were demonstrative actions, there was a sit-in of cleaning workers and sympathizers in Utyrecht central station that lasted five days. The cleaning sector has a low trade union membership; one noticeable aspect of the strike is the use of trade union organisers, first listening to cleaners, encouraging their initiative and taking the struggle from there. The union machine needed a bit of militancy to get a foothold, in the form of new members.
The strategy worked: the union gained a lot of new members. Whether a stronger, stable union will encourage quite this form of militant action in the future is open to doubt. A strong, well-organised union tends to be a bureaucratic union as well, and that is not an accidental coincidence. That is one reason why cleaning workers will need to defend their struggle as their own struggle.
More important, for now at least: the militant insistancy of the core of cleaning workers on strike won the day. In the end, a wage rise close to the demand was won, and more concessions. The Commune has a good article on the campaign, written by one of the trade union organisers, and containing an interview with one of the trade union organisers.
This strike ended in April. In the weeks after that,, another wage campaign grew to a climax. Municipal, provincial and other local authority personnel struggled for anew labour contract. Local authority refused any pay rise; the trade union demanded lifting of this ceiling, which would have meant lower buying power, because prices did not stop rising.
The campaign started with symbolic action, Near the end of April, municipal workers started strikes, especially the dustbin workers. First, the strikes were limited in duration. In May, however, workers in Utrecht and Amsterdam decided that they would continue strike action until there was a new contract. Rubbish took over the streets. Still, there was public sympathy for the strikes. After the second week of May, local authorities had enough: a wage rise was granted. The strikers were victorious, not completely – the rise was not especially big – but victorious nevertheless.
The repercussions of all this are serious, and positive. No doubt related to this: the civil servants’ union, ABVA KABO, has seen a leadership struggle in recent weeks, with a new leadership more to the left, more in sympathy with militant actions. How this translates in practice, remains to be seen, and even a trade union bureaucracy somwhat more to the left is still a trade union bureaucracy, whose profession is negotiation and containing struggles. I think the article in International Viewpoint on this development, useful as it is, exaggerates the positive news. Still, the shift is a symptom.
The main things are the strikes themselves. We have now seen two succesful and rather high-profile strike campaigns, following cosely behind eacht other. This may well encourage other groups of workers demanding more and fighting for it. That would be a most welcome development, in these times when political parties are planning and annopuncing ferocious budget cuts. A workers’ movement flexing its muscles, a political establishment preparing for social war, elections coming next week – tense times may be ahead in the usually oh-so-quite Netherlands. Revolutionary-minded people have reasons to be on the alert – but the succesful strikes give reasons to be in a good mood as well.
The state of Israel is preparing its next crime, announcing it in broad daylight. Victims of this crime will be – agian – the people living ont h the Gaza strip, and other people trying to help the Gaza Palestinian population. A whole assortment of gangster states, better known as ‘the international community’, basically looks the other way while the crime is in preparation.
What am I talking about? A flottilla of boats, shipped with humanitarian aid, is preparing to sail to Gaza to help the Palestinian population there. The Gaza Palestinians are suffering from an Israeli blockade that brings those people permanently close to starvation. That, of course, is a crime in itself, juist as the so-called war that Israel fought against Gaza, December 2008-January 2009 – basically, a one-sided massacre – was a crime.
The aid flottilla wil try to bring items like wheelchairs and systems for water purification to Gaza. Israel will have none of that, however. It threatens to block the flottilla, it has warships ready for that job. That is – after the massacre, after the ongoing blockade – the third crime against the Gaza population. The whole Israeli attitude is despicable and cries out for the strongest condemnation. The fact that Gaza is ruled by Hamas, a movement that, as such, does not deserve support, does not change the need of this condemnation. The fact that Israel claims that both itself and Egypt have offered to bring in the aid, does not change things. You hardly tcan rust wolves when they start promising to feed the sheep they have been hunting.
What reasons does Israel give for preventing the aid flottilla? According to Israel, this is part of a “provocation intended to delegitimise Israel”. Well, a state occupying, massacring and staring a civilian population badly needs as much “delegitimation” it can possibly get. And if Israel does not want to be ‘provoked”‘ it better stop its nmurderous blockade of Gaza itself.
There is another reason Israel ggives for blocking the aid convoy. Aljazeera: “It asserted that the flottilla would be braking international law by landing in Gaza”. It takes one’s breath away, doesn’t it? The state of Israel is ignoring UN resolution after UN resolution aginst the occupation of Palestinian lands. The state of Israel ignores international regulations and treaties against, for instance, possession of nuclear weapons. The state of Israel would not recognise ‘International Law’ if it bumped right into it. The whole thing can only provoke hollow laughter. Even so, Israel is now welcome as a member of an influentual club of rich and powerful countries: the OECD. Why not indeed? They are not the only occupying state there.
But in the meantime, Israel is about to commit its next crime. The world is watching. So are the governments, those other upholders of ‘International Law’ besides Israel itself. And they are doing, in essence, nothing. They are not even seriously objecting to this Israeli crime. So much for ‘International Law’.