Archive for February, 2010

Dutch government collapsed: a most welcome event

February 23, 2010

The Dutch government has collapsed, amongst acrimonious debates between members of the government coalition, and after a parliamentary debate  in which mmbers of both left wing and right wing opposition parties attacked the goverment forcefully.

The government tore itself apart in a conflict about the Dutch military mission in the Afghan province Uruzgan. The Netherlands has a military force of 1,906 troops in Uruzgan, it is the ‘leading country’, in NATO parlance, of the NATO mission in that province.

The coalition goverment consisted of three parties. CDA, Christian Democrats, led by prime Minister Balkenende, is one of the main right wing parties. CU, Christian Union, are another Chritstian party, much smaller, also basically right wing. The PvdA, Party of Labour, is a social democratic party. CDA and CU wanted to extend theUruzgan mission, in a somewhat smaller form. PvdA wanted to stop the mission in 2010.

Now, in 2007, the government promised that the Dutch troops would end the mission in 2010, after which they would be withdrawn. The PvdA position was: we should stick to that promise. CDA said; now, with a new US president, a new strategy, a new situation, we should be open for an extention of the Dutch military role in Uruzgan. They put pressure on the PvdA. 

That party, not at all a principled opponent of the NATO mission, sent contradictory signals. They stuck to the agreed end date of the mission. At the same time they took an attidude of we-can-talk-things-over. This opened space for the CDA, expecially Maxime Verhagen, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, to keep on the pressure and work for extension of the mission.

in February, NATO sent a formal request in that direction. PvdA Vice-Prmier Bos said, basically: no way, I did’nt even know this letter was coming. CDA insisted that PvdA shuld at least be prepared to discuss it. Verhagen also said: Bos must have known that this NATO letter would come, and its outlines could’nt have been a surprise for him. Confusion all around.

It is highly unlikely that Bos indeed knew nothing. NATO only sends a formal request when  the government is more or less certain to agree, after consultation between government and NATO. Either Verhagen has not communicated the PvdA rejection very clarly. Or  else, Bos is only acting surprised, without really being surprised. Or both.

During the parliamentary debate, last Thursday, CDA and PvdA did’t even make a serious effort to hide their differences. On last Friday, the government met in an endless session lasting deep into the night. CDA demanded that PvdA drop its ‘NO’ against the NATO request. PvdA stuck to its position, insisting that they only said what was evident to everyone: there was no Parliamentary majority for an extented mission in Uruzgan, and besides, the mission was supposed to end in 2010, as was agreed in 2007. The break became final, the government fell apart.

This means that an extension of the mission in Uruzgan now is highly unlikely. Those 1.906 soldiers will probably come home in 2010. NATO is upset, it fears contagion of the Afghan withdrawal syndrome. This may hep the rather prominent coverage of the Dutch governmental crisis in international media. I have seen extensive articles on Aljazeera, on the BBC, in Le Monde (translated, found via MR Zine). As an opponent of the whole military intervention and NATO occupation in Afghanistan, I can only be pleased by this development. The more trouble for the NATO occupiers to find soldiers to send there, the better.

This does not mean that we should be especially supportive of the PVDA fo saying no to the mission. The party has supported the current mission. The  party is not against operations like these, it is  no anti-war party. Their rejection of  the extention of the mission was partly for electoral reasons; Ducth military operatons in Aghanistan have cost the lives of 21 Dutch sldiers, the mission is not popular. Also, the Dutch military is a bit overstretched by this mission, it neads a break, to fight another day. That may also have played a part in PvdA opinion.

The collapse of the government is, on the whole, postive. This was a governmnt preparing drastic  austerity measures, this was a government busy changing the retiremant age from 65 to 67. It was a colition between Right and  an teenyweeny bit Left – but the policies were right wing, only softened somewhat to ake the population swallow it. No tears should be shed for them.

However, the coming period will not be easy for workers and the left. Opinion polls show weakness  of the  left wing Socialist Party (SP). Opinion polls also show the strength of the radical  Right; the PVV, a party with fascist leanings, led by islaophobe demagogue Geert Wilders. And the workers’ movement in the Netherlands is not exactly in good shape. The fall of the government was most enjoyable, but the prospcts are not good.

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The Russian experience, 1917-1929: preliminary notes

February 19, 2010

For many years, I have basically accepted the analysis that Trotskyists made of the Russian revolution and its aftermath.  The outline of that analysis combines a number of things.

  1. There was a true working class revolution in 1917; 
  2. Basing themselves on that revolution, the Bolshevik party led the workers’, soldiers’and peasant councils (soviets) to power, establishing a workers’ state and beginning the buiding of a socialist society; 
  3. The regime that ensued stood for the defence of that revolution and was, from a revolutionary point of view, basically legitimate;
  4. The regime evolved in an authoritarian fashion: soviet democracy collapsed, opposition parties were banned, trade union autonomy undermined and worse; but the basis reason of this degeneration of revolutionary democracy lies in the terrible circumstances: economc collapse, civil war combined with foreign intervention. Authoritarian measures imposed by the Bolshevik regime were generally understandable considering the circumstances, not without specific criticisms of specific measures; the outline of Bolshevik policies in the period 1917-1921, however, are defended in general in Trotskyist analyses;
  5. The Bolshevik attitude – we do whatever we consider necessary to hold on to power to defend the revolution while we count on the international socialist revolution to come to the rescue – was basically valid;
  6. During the 1920s a proces af degeneration, amounting to a partial or total – depending on whicht version of Trotskyism one adheres to – counterrevolution, led to the totalitarian dictatorship led by Joseph Stalin.

Now,  this analysis has its strengths; it is not to be discarded lightly. It gives weight to factors that are indeed important: circumstances did not exactly help  to create a flourishing workers’ and peasants’ democracy. It doesn’t capitulate for the right wing versions, in which the whole revolution was a Bad Idea; it does not simplify things by blaming the Bolshevik lust for power for all or most of what went wrong; it is a coherent effort to defend a revololutionary heritage and to use the lessons of that heritage to help change the wold now and in the future.

But, while it shuld not be discarded lightly, discard it we should. Essential parts of the analysis break with that central idea of  revolutionary theory and practice: self-emancipation, libertion from below. Bolshevik policies can partly be explained by difficult circumstances, but there was more to it than that. Bolshevik priorities and policies played their part.

And in the whole proces the question that should be asked again and again is not the questions  Trotskyist tend to ask, however critically: what should the Bolshevik regime have done? What was correct, what were erroneous decisions? Rather, the main question is: how to defend and extend revolutionary gains from below, against ALL threats, from whatever sides they come?

Asking this question helps in finding a way to another analysis of the Russion experience, one that is more consistent with revolutionary principles, and more helpful for revolutionaries today and tomorrow. In coming articles, I will try to explore the history and politics of the revolutionary experience of that country in those crucial and tragic years.

(These are preliminary notes; I am working on a larger text dealing with these matters; coming articles on the subject can be seen as efforts to explore what directions to  take towards the kind of  analysis that is, in my opinion,  needed)

(edited/changed 19 february, 2.40)

NATO’s Afghan offensive: already failing

February 14, 2010

The big NATO offensive in the Afghnan province Helmand is “going very well”, according t U.S. Security advisor James Jones. A British general, on a Ministry of Defence briefing in London, says the opreation has “gone to plan”.

Well, indeed. The offensive is barele two days old. Already, three NATO soldiers have died. The 15.000 British, American and Afghan soldiers managed to kill  “(a)t least 27 fighters” , if indeed they are  fighters. Eleven Taliban fighters “have been detained”. If this is supposed to be ‘the plan’ which is ‘going well’ , the plan is not very ambitous, and does not include victory. A few more days like this, and the number of NATO deaths wil run into the dozens.

The Taliban will suffer more deaths, but they are on home ground, will find replacements, and will fight on. Besides, they will probably evade big battles and just disappear if NATO pressure becomes too strong. Then they will turn up somewhere alse with new attacks. In a few weeks, the whole offensive, whether or not NATO succeeds in taking the Afghan town Marjah, will run out of steam, wit not much to show for the serious losses NATO will by then have suffered. NATO is losing this war, and this offensive will not change that fact.

But in th meantime, it is not just NATO and Taliban that will suffer. Already today there were 12 civilians reported dead – victims of a NATO rocket landing in the wrong place. There have already been US apologies. But these kinds of errors are built into these kind of grand-scale offensieve operations. More rockets, more civilian deaths will undoubtedly follow during the offensive. And each of these deaths will fire the anger of Afghan people. Each death like this will help turn  Afghan attitudes more against the Western occupiers. Each death will be an argument for strengthened resistence.

This war should stop. NATO does nog have the right to decide who rules Afghanistan, in what fashion. Afghans should finally be allowed to decide their own fate – and British, American and other Western soldiers should no longer be sacrificed for the economic and political ambitions and interests of their rulers.

(edited within five minutes after publishing)

Greece: class battles

February 11, 2010

From all the countries of Europe, Greece is probably the most unstable. And it’s a kind of instability that brings hope to workers and their allies. There are strikes and demonstration, again and again. Workers are protesting aginst severe austerity policies, imposed by the Greek goverment, at the behest of Greek and international capital (1).

For instance, yesterday: a big strike in public services. Schools, air traffic, other services wer  brought to a halt for the day. BBC has a report. Bu there was more action than this public sector action. Libcom.com mentions strikes held by an Communist Party-affiliated union in parts of the private sector. There has also been strike action held by autonomous unions. building workers, telecom workers and lift elevator employees were involved in both these strike initiatives.

The austerity policies imposed by the government are quite draconic. A wage freeze for public employees, a higher age of retirement, higher taxes on gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. Only one in 5 civil servants who leaves will be replaced. All this is supposedly necessary to bring public debt and the deficit – 12,7 per cent – under control, to fulfill demands made by the US, of which Greece is a member. High debts and deficits mean that tge Greek government has to pay high interest when borrowing money. There are doubts that the greek state will be able to pay the moneyback, doubts wicht make the financial  wordl quite nervous.

But public debt and defiits are not made by the workers who are now ‘asked’ to pay for them. Even now, the government spends money on ridiculous, sometimes openly anti-social things. Libcom.org mentions examples: a new website forthe Forestry Department, for the price of 1,6 million euros.  Bigger money: 6 warships, to be bougt in France, for the price of 2,5 billion euros.

The money is clearly there. But the Greek government thinks that preparation for war is a priority, more important than keeping up workers’ living standard (no  surprise there), and more important than controlling public spending. If they continue with their attacks on the working class, they may get their war sooner rather than later. But in that prticular war, even the biggest battleships will be of little use.

(1) An interesting piece on the Greek social and economic crisis can be readat Socialistworker.org: “Europan capitalism’s weak link?”, written by ntonis Davenellos, member of one of the Trotskyist organisations in Greece.

Back again

February 9, 2010

Well, well, back again after a terribly long hiatus. Been busy with my Dutch-language weblog, with music, with enjoying life for a change. But the silence over here has lasted more than long enough, it’s time te reactivate matters here.

There has been change in my views, my ideas have evolved, quite drastically in some respects, to what Trotskyists tend to call “ultraleftism”. I am no longer a Trotskyist, having been moving closer to anarchist politics in recent months without losing the core of marxist analysis as I see it. More about this soon, I hope.

I don’t know whether I’ll manage to write regularly over here. I hope to write both articles on daily events that are relevant for class struggle and revolutionary change, and more theoretical pieces on the kind of revolutionary theory I think is needed, plus relevant bits of history and so on. I’ll be back later this week, if all goes as planned (or improvised).