donderdag, juni 30, 2005

Make Poverty History, Inc.

If you haven't picked them up already, both the New Statesman and Red Pepper this last week have had great exposes of the luvvy-frotting, Brownite goings-on in the upper echelons of Oxfam and the Make Poverty History campaign. The RP article, by Stuart Hodkinson, is really quite, quite good, with not a few scoops about MPH, Richard Curtis, et al, that beat even the Telegraph's juicy discovery that the MPH campaign's white wristbands were produced in a Chinese sweatshop with Oxfam's knowledge. In fact, the whole of Red Pepper this month is indispensable.

Hodkinson uncovers the revolving door separating Oxfam's leadership and New Labour and even the World Bank and the creepy empressario role played by key organiser and sectarian Brownite Richard Curtis in bringing on board capitalist leeches like Scottish business tycoon Sir Tom Hunter and fashion house and sweatshop doyen Tommy Hilfiger.

He also highlights how Blair and Brown's new 'Marshall Plan' for Africa is, surprise, surprise, just the same-old, same-old neo-liberal anal rape without lube of Africa that has been going on for years, with front-loaded aid that, as Meaders and the World Development Movement point out, will actually result in a net loss in aid of $108bn.

Hodkinson also shows how, so in hock to New Labour is MPH, that any other voices, most especially anti-war campaigners, are not merely being marginalised ahead of Gleneagles by organisers, but their work is being actively undermined and sabotaged.

'MPH’s website fails to even acknowledge the other protests and events that are being planned by Trident Ploughshares, CND and G8Alternatives, and through the Dissent! network. The MPH coordinating team, which includes Oxfam, Comic Relief and the TUC, has also twice unanimously
vetoed the Stop the War Coalition’s (STWC) application to join MPH on the grounds that the issues of economic justice are separate from those of war, and STWC participation in Edinburgh on 2 July would confuse the message.'

'STWC has been banned from even having a stall at the MPH rally. A leaked e-mail in late May to MPH from Milipedia, the ‘ethical’ events management company helping to organise the MPH rally, asks the coalition to "consider the desirability/ strategy for removing people from our event who are setting up unwanted stalls, ad hoc events, facilities, etc" and to draw up a list ‘of the likely infiltrators and decide what we’re prepared to tolerate and at what point we draw the line and what action we want to take’. This followed a tip-off that the Socialist Party (formerly Militant Tendency) is planning to sell its newspaper on the Edinburgh rally and wear red MakeCapitalismHistory T-shirts.

'The email contains a giveaway reference to retaining ‘our ownership of the event and our key messaging’. To preserve its monopoly MPH has bought a market trader’s licence for 2 July that empowers the coalition to move illegal traders, including political activists, off the site. Comic Relief has also registered the MakePovertyHistory slogan as a trademark with the EU and is threatening to take action against "any misuse or alleged misuse of the trademark".'

Last night meanwhile, development charity War on Want and Red Pepper organised a 'Make the G8 History' rally in London, with Victoria Brittain, Tariq Ali and George Monbiot. The Red Pepper blog has a
report from the rally, highlighting Monbiot's decision to march against not merely the G8, but that giant tit, Bono, and Bob Geldof too, as well as journo Paul Kingsnorth's snowballingly popular 'Make Richard Curtis History' campaign.

On the Socialist Unity Network website, Hodkinson and Kingsnorth also have a
review of what looks to have been a gurningly awful piece of Curtis-ite New Labour propaganda, the The Girl In The Cafe, also known as a tenderly funny and poignant love story for BBC One shown over the weekend in advance of the whole Make Poverty History sham-a-lama-ding-dong.

And just in case after having read all those links, you're still some wet well-at-least-they're-doing-something liberal daisy, Patrick Bond, Dennis Brutus and Virginia Setshedi - all South Africa-based activists (What, actually involve the oppressed in their own emancipation? Nah. That's crazy talk.) - at
Counterpunch bring together all the criticisms from a perspective from the Global South.

I'll not be hiking up to Gleneagles next week, I'm afraid. I've got work and can't get the time off this time. Say 'hi' to all the G8 for me, though.

Carlo to them for me as well.

woensdag, juni 29, 2005

Mugs of hot water be-teabagged in the kitchen left to go cold

I often leave mugs of hot water be-teabagged in the kitchen to go cold; eggs boiling away on the stove until all the water is gone; 'live' basil plants on my balcony dying a slow, companionless, unwatered death - all while something else otherwise engrossing has caught my promiscuous attention.

I have now, it seems, delivered a perfectly eclatant and v. Twenty-first Century addition to this pantheon of acts of expert pre-senile forgettery: I posted a picture of Don Rumsfeld on the blog [Given Blogger's tempermentality, I find it easiest to post a picture, then write around it afterward], then ran off to, oh, I can't remember now, possibly have a wank or iron a patch on my new shorts or something, and then promptly forgot what I had intended to write about Rum-tum-bum. Worse, I forgot I'd even posted the bleeding picture of the septuagenarian war criminal, and now y'all've had a cryptically unbecommented mugshot of him to gaze on for the last forty-eight hours.

I cannot for the life of me remember what sparkling epistle I had in mind that was to accompany the shot of the Secretary of Defense [sic].

Well, you can return from behind the sofa, I've removed the piccy now, along with the comments it attracted in the comment box, including the one where
Lenin tells me I have 'pinchable little cheeks'.

woensdag, juni 22, 2005

Froot Loops and other weapons of mass destruction

Dude, I am so with Saddam Hussein on this whole Froot Loops business. They are fucking gross. They stick to your teeth like Cap'n Crunch, which is also positively noxious and I swear cancerous, or at least perilously cavity-expediting, and taste so not like fruit in any way - or rather they do, but in the same way that that banana-flavoured childhood-ear-infection-retarding gelatinous goop tastes like bananas.

I do think he goes too far in his endorsement of Raisin Bran, Doritos and Cheetos, mind. The latter two leave your fingers coated in this radioactive orange powder shit - and who wants that? - and, if we're honest here, just taste like corn-coated nothing anyway. And two scoops of raisins? Yeah, so what? That's two scoops too many for me, buddy.

But really, who cares? The Froot Loop aspect - sure it makes for a quirky hook for a lazy sub-editor or journo plagiarising the famous GQ
interview with former guards of the Butcher of Baghdad, but dig a little deeper comrades. Did no one else find it curious that Saddo also said to the guards that he hated the two Bush presidents, thought Clinton was 'Okay', but pined for good ol' Gipper? Could it quite possibly be that the reason he looks fondly on the Reagan years, just as the neo-cons do, is because it was on Ronnie's watch that the Yanks supplied him with high-tech equipment, chemical and biological weapons and millions of dollars' worth of their conventional cousins that he used against the Iranians and Kurds, backed him diplomatically and passed on high-value military intelligence to help him target the aforementioned Iranians and Kurds, including information from US satellites?

dinsdag, juni 21, 2005

Ritter: 'War on Iran already begun'

Former U.N. weapons inspector Scott Ritter had an opinion piece on al-Jazeera yesterday, suggesting that, just as we now know that the war against Iraq actually began with bombing as early as Autumn 2002, so the U.S. is already effectively in Iran via its clients, the Mujahadeen el-Khalq, or MEK, who are, as Ritter says, 'an Iranian opposition group, once run by Saddam Hussein's dreaded intelligence services, but now working exclusively for the CIA's Directorate of Operations.' Some Iran commentators have suggested the MEK might be responsible for the recent pre-election bombings in the country. The MEK itself has denied any role in the bombings, however.

'[T]he CIA is using a group still labelled as a terrorist organisation, a group trained in the art of explosive assassination by the same intelligence units of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, who are slaughtering American soldiers in Iraq today, to carry out remote bombings in Iran of the sort that the Bush administration condemns on a daily basis inside Iraq.'
He also highlights developments in Azerbaijan, Iran's northern neighbour, where the U.S. 'is preparing a base of operations for a massive military presence that will foretell a major land-based campaign designed to capture Tehran.'

'The ethnic links between the Azeri of northern Iran and Azerbaijan were long exploited by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and this vehicle for internal manipulation has been seized upon by CIA paramilitary operatives and US Special Operations units who are training with Azerbaijan forces to form special units capable of operating inside Iran for the purpose of intelligence gathering, direct action, and mobilising indigenous opposition to the Mullahs in Tehran.

'But this is only one use the US has planned for Azerbaijan. American military aircraft, operating from forward bases in Azerbaijan, will have a much shorter distance to fly when striking targets in and around Tehran. 'In fact, US air power should be able to maintain a nearly 24-hour a day presence over Tehran airspace once military hostilities commence.'

Worryingly, comments made by Seymour Hersh, the New Yorker hack who broke the Abu Ghraib story (and My Lai, a generation ago) and who has extensive contacts in the U.S. government, at a recent speaking engagement seem to corroborate Ritter's allegations. Paraphrasing Hersh's talk, someone who spoke to someone who attended his talk [admittedly this is not the most impressive of sources] recounted his words, later posted on the Marxmail listserve:

'[T]hey're [the U.S. gov] going to bomb the shit out of Iran, but there aren't enough free ground troops to mount an invasion.'

maandag, juni 20, 2005

Nudists for Public Broadcasting

Too...hot...to...blog. Must reach...cheesy Portuguese bar...across road...before...die of...thirst...

If where you're reading this from isn't as stickily humid as BXL and you still want to faff about on the computer, you might want to have a gander over at Lenin's Tomb, where Lenny's taken note of the return of fragging to the U.S. armed forces. Len's also done a tidy little bit of investigative blogging (well, if the newspapers aren't going to do it, someone has to, even if it's a long dead revolutionary socialist) on a fraudulent piece of black propaganda that appeared in Scotland on Sunday. It appears the Scottish National Blood Transfusion Service was asking for 20,000 extra pints of blood on account of the expected mass slaughter at the upcoming anti-G8 protests when the Jubilee 2000 nuns and Nudists for Public Broadcasting get out their Samurai swords and get all combative-like (no, wait, it was Samurai swords we were supposed to be bringing to May Day 2001, wasn't it? I get confused so easily in this sort of weather) - or rather, as Vlad's found out, they weren't asking anything of the sort.

Meanwhile, back in Metropolis, the Bionic Octopus has posted a stout defence of rudeness:

Recently I tried to short-circuit this hideous cycle by responding first to one of these idiots, and suggesting that instead of wasting everyone's time spouting unexamined shite based on no information at all, she do some reading and inform herself as to the barest characteristics of the systems in question. I wasn't terribly polite. I didn't call her a fatheaded ignorant fuckpig as I would have liked, but my tone was both stern and dismissive; she in fact merited dismissal.

You can imagine the result. Offended, reprimanding posts from all corners, earnestly invoking the Need To Hear All Sides, Need To Respect Each Other, Need To Maintain Civil Debate, &c. And on they plunged heedless, headlong into a completely fucking useless rondo with this necrotic tart, which has been raging full-on for four days and shows no sign of abating.

The bellowing termagant mollusc is quite right. Sometimes there's no thrill of the chase, no cut and thrust that one sometimes, sometimes enjoys when sparring with conservatives. Sometimes they just have to be jabbed in their fat-cat pudding belly and told to shut their dribbling cock holster.

And with that, comrades and friends, I'll shut mine.

vrijdag, juni 17, 2005

Dual power in Bolivia

In Bolivia last week, we saw a much more thoroughgoing revolutionary upheaval than we have seen in Eastern Europe over the last few years. The country's poor indigenous, peasant and working class majority had managed to bring all Bolivia to a halt with an open-ended general strike and a total of 120 road blockades at strategic points in the national roads and highways system. Workers had seized 13 per cent of the country's oil and gas fields, including three fields belonging to BP, four belonging to Spain's Repsol, and a pipeline station on the border with Chile. Battles between protestors and police saw massive tear gassing and repression, and miners responding by hurling dynamite. At one point the masses came within 60 feet of the Congress building before snipers were installed on the surrounding buildings. Congress was forced to meet in Sucre, the old colonial capital, for the first time in over a century, instead of La Paz. Legislators were flown by military airplanes to Sucre and security forces attempted to seal of the city from the protestors, but broke through nonetheless, battling police in the town centre. The conservative senator, Hernando Vaca Diez, constitutionally next in succession following President Carlos Mesa's resignation, had begun the day with the full support of the American embassy and every intention of assuming the presidency. Jim Schulz, of the Bolivia-based Democracy Center, and the author of Blog from Bolivia, said in an interview on Democracy Now that on the evening of the eighth, that people were preparing for where they were going to sleep away from their homes in fear of the coup they were sure was to occur at any minute. Vaca Diez had in the previous months repeatedly called for Mesa 'to govern', which was widely taken as a call for a military crackdown on the rebellion. Everyone knew that if Vaca Diez took power, he would be a twenty-first century and Bolivian Augusto Pinochet.

However, reportedly, Vaca Diez had lost the support of all sections of the armed forces barring the air force. According to Tom

'with this round, [the Santa Cruz bourgeois elites] have learned the limits to their power today; will respond with a kinder, gentler and less regional politics; another that they will (also?) try to get a clearer hold on some part of the armed forces. On this point: one source tells me the armed forces told the Santa Cruz elite that if they sent out their shock troops (the Juventud Crucenista, et al.), the army would respond with fire. According to this version, today the military is not interested in the emergence of Colombian style paramilitaries.'
Luis Gomez, of Narco News, reported:

'The Bolivian military leaders, though they defended the Constitution and said they would accept any constitutional successor to the presidency, also left this very clear: “the demands of the demonstrations,” which have occurred every day for nearly four weeks, “should be heard.”'
Meanwhile, the Bolivian working class were taking over factories and other workplaces, their consciousness rapidly advancing, overtaking that of their leaders. Jorge Martin reported:

'At the demonstration in La Paz there is strong presence of factory workers. Max Tola, workers leader at Cervecería brewery, one of the largest factories in La Paz said: "There is no political way out between themselves, amongst the bourgeois. What we are talking about here is nationalisation and the taking of power by the workers. Our slogan is workers and peasants to power.

'Francisco Quispe, leader of the La Paz Factory Workers Federation said: "if there is no nationalisation we will continue with the mobilisation. Nationalisation is the only way forward to create more sources of employment, to end the hunger and misery that is killing us. The only solution is for us workers to take power."'

'By the time the session was supposed to start there was a huge mass of people in the streets (including miners, peasants, teachers, workers, etc). After a while the masses blockaded the airport as well, so that members of parliament (who had had to fly in, as all main roads are blockaded) would not be able to leave Sucre without permission from the masses. The session was suspended.'
Vaca Diez was stranded, quite literally. He renounced his right to succession, and, the presidency passed to Eduardo Rodríguez, the head of the Supreme Court, skipping over the next in line, who had already said he too would not accept the presidency. Rodriquez is a caretaker president, required to call elections within five months.

Most of the blockades were subsequently lifted, workers returned to work, and the gas and oil refineries were returned to their owners. Although the two key demands that had originally prompted the uprising - nationalisation of the gas industry and the convening of a constituent assembly representative of the people - remain unmet, the leader of the largest force amongst the social movements, the Movement towards Socialism political party (MAS), Evo Morales, has offered the government an indefinite truce. At the same time, other sections, particularly those in El Alto and the Altiplano - the plateau above La Paz - the radical, deeply impoverished heart of the rebellion - have said their demands have not gone away and are currently in the midst of internal discussions on how to proceed. In the last 48 hours, a few sizeable protests seemed to have reappeared, but it remains to be seen whether this is a tailing off of the protests or a return to battle.

There is a widespread feeling amongst the now physically exhausted protestors that while their goals have yet to be achieved, the strikes and blockades had so crippled the country that they were running out of food and other supplies. The commitment remains, but there is an acknowledgement that the popular forces need to recover their strength. Perfectly logical lessons have also been learnt: the strikes - as all successful general strikes will do - starved not only their opponents but themselves as well. Next time, the protestors say, they will strike, but they have to make the various enterprises work for popular benefit, co-ordinating the distribution of food and transportation and so on. At the same, some social movements have said they will not be demobilised. Edgar Patana of the Bolivian Workers’ Federation has said the demonstrations and blockades will continue.

Nonetheless, a half-time break for recuperation makes sense whatever Evo Morales' electoralist aims in calling a truce.

However, it is clear that Morales sees further mobilisations as a threat to his presidential ambitions in the 2007 elections. As Jean Friedsky notes at Narco News: 'The MAS will most likely accept this compromise because nationalization was never their true agenda and because new elections gives them an opportunity to increase their party's political power.'

Tom Lewis, the co-author with Bolivian social movement leader Oscar Oliviera of a history of the successful water anti-privatisation struggles of a few years ago
¡Cochabamba! Water War in Bolivia, interviewed in Counterpunch, concurs:

'Many people outside of Bolivia think that the Evo Morales's MAS represents the country's salvation from capitalism's chokehold. But a glance at the MAS's actions during and after the Gas War shows this is not the case.

'The MAS could have led or formed part of a new anti-neoliberal government in the wake of October 2003. Instead, it lobbied for Mesa's succession, knowing full well that Mesa differed not one whit from Sánchez de Lozada on economic policy. During the Mesa administration, the MAS has, in fact, acted as a pillar of support for the Mesa government at key moments.

'Unlike the rest of the left, for example, Morales campaigned in favor of the July 2004 gas referendum, telling people that voting "yes" on the two key questions would mean imposing 50 percent royalties on transnational oil companies. Of course, Morales was wrong, and it is hard to believe that he didn't know this beforehand.

'The only thing that explains the behaviour of Morales and the MAS is their slide into electoralism. Ever since Morales garnered second place and 22 percent of the vote in the 2002 presidential elections, the MAS has directed almost all of its energies into Morales's upcoming bid for the presidency in 2007.

'This means that the MAS has repeatedly sought to contain Bolivia's social rebellion. If the MAS were thrust into power on the wave of popular revolt, it would risk a dangerous confrontation with U.S. imperialism. The MAS wants to be voted into office instead.'
However, this electoralist slide has cost the party considerably. There is no guarantee that the MAS would even win the 2007 elections. In recent municipal elections, the party won just eleven per cent of the vote, half its 2002 levels of support. Thus as the popular forces began to mobilise again, Morales has attempted to jump to the head of the movement. Even so, he still refuses to support the call for gas nationalisation. As with Lula in Brazil, the essentially social democratic Morales - whatever Hugo Chavez' pronouncements that he is his protégé - is acting as a break on the struggle.

The problem is that social democracy is simply not viable any longer. The ease with which capital can punish a single country should it choose the social democratic road is precisely what has pushed Schöder, Lula, provincial NDP governments in Canada - take your pick from the pantheon of social democratic betrayal of the last decade - to adopt neo-liberal measures. It is not that the parties are led by weak characters - certainly this is not the case in Brazil - but social democracy cannot be built in one country. The only hope is to go still further. If the bosses attempt to move their capital, their equipment, their factories elsewhere, they must be seized.

And, crucially, there was, on the eighth of June, the launch of a People's Assembly, representing 60 different organisations throughout the country, which resolved the following:

1) That the city of El Alto be the General Headquarters of the Bolivian Revolution in the XXI century.

2) To create a United Leadership of the Indigenous National Peoples' Assembly as an INSTRUMENT OF POWER, at the head of the Federation of Neighbourhood Juntas of El Alto (FEJUVE), the Regional Workers Union of El Alto (COR), the Bolivian Workers Union (COB), the United Trade Union Confederation of Peasant Workers of Bolivia (CSUTCB), the Trade Union Confederation of Artisan Workers, Small Traders of Bolivia, the Trade Union Federation of Mine Workers of Bolivia, the Interprovincial Transport Federation of La Paz and the other mobilised social organisations in the interior of the country.

3) To create SUPPLY, SELF DEFENCE, PRESS AND POLITICAL Committees whose aim is to guarantee the success of the organised peoples' organisations.

4) We reiterate that our struggle for the NATIONALISATION AND INDUSTRIALISATION OF HYDROCARBONS is non-negotiable.

To organise the formation of Peoples' Assemblies in every department under the leadership of the COB [the main trade union central], the Departmental Workers Federation, and the delegates elected from the rank and file in mass meetings and cabildos [local mass assemblies].

6) To reject all manoeuvres of the ruling class either through a constitutional succession or elections involving the same old politicians.

[Translation from here]

In the course of the development of a revolutionary or pre-revolutionary situation, throughout history, it has been common for there to appear on the national stage a parallel 'government' or counter-power. The frequent expression of this is the workers' council, or soviet, but there are other forms more geographically based as well. And what are these Popular Assemblies, these Calbidos, but an embryonic dual power? But the counter-power is not merely expressed in terms of a popular representation of the masses parallel to that of the discredited or partially discredited parliament, but through the insurgant masses themselves, when they become historical actors, rather than observers of history. The check on power by the masses that we have seen in Bolivia - the inability of Carlos Mesa to continue to rule, and especially the inability of Vaca Diez to assume power - due to the immoveable rock that has been the poor of Bolivia is this counter-power. Even the international oil and gas companies are adjusting their projections, believing some form of nationalisation is inevitable.

First described by Lenin as 'dual power', such as situation cannot last for long. Either there is a re-establishment of bourgeois power, or a seizure of power by the masses. When the situation gets so extremely acute, the masses really have no choice but to aim for the seizure of power, for if they do not, there is certain to follow the most dolorous of bloody repressions.

There is a history of such things and one that is largely hidden from view, but there is a cycle to it all nonetheless that every popular movement that has ever existed has not failed to repeat*, to its sorrow.

The cycle can be broken if there is a group of individuals who know this history, who have studied the victories and defeats of the sad history of the left, and are able to lead the movement away from paths that have been proven not to work in the past - the living embodiment of the memory of the working class.

This all sounds eminently logical. One needs to learn to cook from someone who has cooked before. One cannot expect to enter a kitchen for the very first time and know how to bake a souflee.

However, the history of such 'Red Teachers' - the self-appointed vanguard parties, and in particular the last 60 years of Trotskyism - would be unintentionally comedic if the stakes were not so high.

All the same, to cut against the equivocations and tergiversations of the MAS and the attempts by Evo Morales to keep a lid on the rebellion, to provide the correct way forward, there does need to be people on the ground to come together and constructively strategise and offer such leadership within the struggle. There are organisations in Bolivia to the left of the MAS, but they are small revolutionary parties, which, according to Tom Lewis:

'…have made important contributions to the ideas and debates that have emerged in the course of struggle. Most still have difficulty communicating effectively within the social movements, however, because of decades of working in isolation.

'The main weakness of Bolivia's "anti-capitalist" forces has been the lack of clarity about the need to fight for and win state power outside the electoral arena. This seems to be changing rapidly at present. The electoral road is clearly seen as a dead end by large numbers of the rank and file of the social movements today, as well as by movement leaders such as Abel Mamani, Jaime Solares, Roberto de la Cruz and Oscar Olivera.'

Lewis also points out that:

'…unlike [i] most other Latin American countries, the unions and large sections of the organized working class are deeply involved with the struggles of the social movements. The COB and de la Cruz's wing of the COR are among the most revolutionary sectors in Bolivia. This is a relatively recent development, arising from the ouster back in April 2003 of a corrupt union leadership in bed with the government.'

Above all, the movement must aim for state power, but outside the traditional, compromising electoral road. There is a great danger that the secondary power, this wonderful popular energy - that of the streets and in the mines and gas and oil refineries - will be channelled into potentially distractionary electoral forms, and a quick end to the dual power situation will result, a restoration of the bourgeois order, even if some gains are won.

There is at least some recognition that this is what needs to be done, as Oscar Oliviera said in his latest

'It is important, also, to reflect upon the following. In this May-June mobilisation we have seen two things. On one hand, the great force that we are capable of deploying: we, the diverse social movements, are capable of paralyzing the entire country, and of avoiding the maneuvers of the businessmen and bad politicians. On the other hand, we have not been capable of imposing our own decisions and objectives on these same politicians, who today are in the worst crisis they could possibly confront. Based on these two considerations, we have opened a wide debate in all the neighbourhoods and communities of Cochabamba and the country, about the need to build, little by little, our own capacity for SELF GOVERNMENT, to push for that in the next mobilisation'
There must also be clarity on what is meant by 'nationalisation'. Oil and gas companies have been nationalised in the past in various countries around the world, but have only served a clientelist domestic elite. Nationalisation must be under workers' control, and not a reimplantation of the state capitalism common to Latin America in the forties and fifties.

This, unavoidably, is socialism.

But even socialism, at least in one country, is not enough. No one country has all the resources to supply its population with all its needs. Venezuela has managed to ignore the slings and arrows of international approbation and capital flight by having the luck to be sitting atop lakes and lakes of the devil's excrement. But this is not sustainable - financially or ecologically. Any sharp drop in oil prices would immediately force a retreat from Chavez' impressive portfolio of social spending. And while Bolivia also has extensive gas reserves, they are only estimated to be worth a total of $50bn. Enough for a few years of new social provision, but not much more than that.

There is also the question of how much longer the regional hegemon will suffer these challenges to its dominance gladly. A fortnight ago, the Congress of neighbouring Paraguay, convened in secret, after midnight, and rushed through a law 'that will permit United States troops to enter this South American country for 18 months, with immunity for all personnel that participate in activities of training and advising, including civilian personnel.'

Last week, the chief U.S. diplomat, for Latin America, Roger Noriega, had a bit of a diplomatic hissy fit, screaming that the turmoil in Bolivia was the result of infiltration by Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. The U.S. is trying to paint the rebellion as a terrorist movement, or one led by narco-traffickers. The head of the U.S. Southern Command recently testified before the U.S. Congress that it Bolivia could become a narco state. The media, as ever, is doing their part, hysterically issuing horror stories of Indian socialist terrorist narco-traffickers chucking dynamite at police. The Economist, cheerleader of the McRevolutions of Eastern Europe, has reverted to cliché, describing the result in Bolivia as 'mob rule'.

One country alone cannot withstand the pressure of international capital and the American military juggernaut. The only hope is an expansion of a revolutionary socialism throughout South America. Something which, again, requires organisational co-ordination throughout the region. The term 'vanguard party' has acquired a very bad reputation over the years, and rightfully so, but no matter the numerous faults of far left parties these last decades, there is nonetheless a fundamental need for revolutionary organisation.

woensdag, juni 15, 2005

Goonies never say die

I was going to write another windy piece about Bolivia, the waffling moderation of Evo Morales, dual power, and the unhealthy absence of revolutionary organisations on the ground, but I'm having a bad case of the I-Can't-Be-Arsed's today, so here's a little pop culture round-up instead.

Radio 1's celebrating thirty years of punk [I'm not pellucidly clear hear - help me out Justin, Darren, Kara - thirty years since Patti Smith's Horses is the anniversary we're talking about, yes?] (Interesting trivia: Hip-Hop is also thirty years old, as will I be this September) with a list of the top thirty punk tracks evah. Enragingly, but predictably, the muppets with the attention spans of tsetse flies that voted for this list have anointed Green Day's admittedly not entirely dreadful but hardly classic Basket Case as the number one. Indeed, the SoCal originators of wretched, Bambi-fied punk-pop even manage to capture this list's eighth and tenth chart positions with the M.O.R. hits American Idiot and LongView [sic] respectively as well. Even more vulgarly, The Prodigy's Firestarter (NB. Not punk) grabbed number four, and Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (Also not punk, however great the song is) won the number five position. Some track by emo onanists Jimmy Eat World is, criminally, ahead of Stiff Little Fingers' Alternative Ulster, and the chart is absent of Siouxie and the Banshees, Sham 69, X-Ray Spex, and (!) The Jam. I could go on, but suffice it to say the whole exercise is thoroughly, sadly, typical of the output of cringeworthy pop-star felchers Zane Low and Mike Davies. Kill Zane Low Now.

Elsewhere on Radio 1, mind, Huw Stephens - one of the triptych of bright young things with which Radio 1 has replaced the late John Peel - recently did a cracking little radio documentary subtlely undermining the idea that there is any such thing as British pop, or that any one should be proud of it. A nice bit of guerilla radiophonic anti-nationalism, and there's an interesting little tidbit he has about the adoption of that semi-Jamaican patois amongst British rappers too. It's a few months old now, but I only came across it last night and you can stream it from Radio 1 right here.

Also celebrating a birthday - and I can't believe I missed this - is The Goonies, which, disturbingly, turned twenty at the beginning of the month. I remember going to see it with my mum and little brother at the Oshawa Centre Famous Players cinema when I was nine and coming out wishing there were a hidden pirate ship I could discover across the creek or under the construction site at the end of our street. It was one of my favourite films growing up, but it seems some spods have taken their fandom a little further, having organised a 20th Anniversary jamboree in Astoria, Oregon, where it was originally filmed. TheGoonies.org has snaps of the anoraks' expedition to the Pacific Northwest and a fairly uncomfortable-looking Sean Astin. Jeff Cohen, A.K.A. Chunk - who, by the way, has lost his chunkiness (only to be rediscovered, abandoned-pirate-ship-like, by Sean Astin) and is working as a lawyer in Hollywood - however, seems to be loving it.

Across the world, considerably out-Geldoffing Chris Martin and Bono, Scottish twee merchants Belle and Sebastian have gone and visited the occupied territories in Palestine, and my friend Nick, the jammy git, went along with them. You can read all about it at Counterpunch.

I'll get to Bolivia tomorrow. I should think. In the meantime, check out the Run The Road grime compilation if you can. Best comp I've picked up in ages.


Apropos only of the Goonies comment - there aren't anywhere near enough pirate or pirate-related films, yes?

donderdag, juni 09, 2005

Authentic journalists

I should apologise: in linking to Narco News, I failed to mention the names of a couple of the great journalists in Bolivia writing amidst these days of love and rage. Make sure you check out the superb work these brave hacks are doing: Luis Gomez and Jean Friedsky .

From Jean Friedsky's latest report:
'Here, "the revolution" is anything but a party. Dancing hippies, drum circles and four-story high puppets are notably absent from the recent mass mobilizations that have rocked Bolivia for the past two weeks. There are no breaks for concerts, no hemp clothing for sale. You are not an individual, but a part of your contingent, and from them you do not stray. In stark contrast to the large-scale demonstrations in the US that have characterized the burgeoning anti-globalization movement, marches here in Bolivia are supreme examples of discipline and seriousness. Rigidity replaces fluidity; unity replaces individualism; rash actions are rare. The marchers have anger and determination in their hearts but reign that in for the sake of the long-term struggle. Their intensity is in their expressions, chants and willpower - not in violent behavior. Sure, some bring their whips, dynamite is abundant, and I saw one man yesterday wielding a cactus. But most of the time these are symbols of strength, rather than weapons for destruction.

'It is this type of controlled persistence that enables me to write to you again today about the complete takeover of La Paz by campesinos, miners, workers and students. It was another day with over 100,000 people on the streets, demonstrating a solidarity and discipline that amazes me daily...'

woensdag, juni 08, 2005

A quick and dirty alternative primer on events in Bolivia

'Ahhh! Riots! Blockades! Chaos! Darkies throwing dynamite! The sky is falling! The sky is falling!'

Such is, in an abbreviated fashion, more or less the narrative of the indigenous uprising in Bolivia over the past month that one reads in the New York Times or Washington Post, and even the BBC and Guardian.

The situation is indeed acute, but this world turned upside down, in which the natives, oppressed for nigh on 500 years, rise up against the IMF and their comprador gangsters in the domestic bourgeoisie to take their just share in the country's natural gas wealth, is an event to be welcomed as devoutly as I as an eight-year-old welcomed Christmas morning and the box that hopefully contained Optimus Prime or Megatron.

Beyond the expected mendacity of the newspapers of record, we should also be wary of the NGO-style analysis that seeks to distance itself from such eclatant grassroots direct action: The analysis that takes on the IMF by saying, 'Look, see, the IMF is part of a global economic system that instigates this sort of violence.'

It may be true that the depredations of structural adjustment instituted by IMF blackmail are the catalyst for this resistance, but it is only this sort of resistance that will overthrow such an economic system, and when the resistance is met with the repression of tear gas, beatings and bullets, we have the right to defend ourselves, violently if necessary. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America, with around thirty per cent of the population living on incomes of less than $1 a day. I'll not shed any tears for the hurlers of tear gas hurt by the miners hurling dynamite to defend themselves.

Timorous, middle class Nervous Nellies talk of 'restoring order' and 'preserving democracy', but it is the very protests on the street who are by their actions restoring an order, but one that is just and not exploitative, and are fighting for genuine, participatory, economic democracy, not the chimera of democracy we see in bourgeois parliaments the world over.


The short version of events is that the poor, working class and indigenous of Bolivia - the country's majority - angered with their natural-resource-rich country having been plundered for hundreds of years refused to see their patrimony plundered one more time. Incensed at the minimal royalties and taxes foreign companies would return to Bolivia in return for the theft of the country's considerable natural gas reserves and inspired by the transformation that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez has shown is possible if resource revenues are invested in social programmes and development, protestors have essentially shut the country down.

The social movements from across the country at first demanded companies involved in gas extraction be taxed fifty per cent. Emboldened by the experience of their own power in the streets of La Paz, and weeks of blockades and protests throughout the country (61 peasant blockades have halted the transportation of commodities throughout the country, with an estimated $5,000,000 in exports lost per day), the protestors now say taxation is not enough, and demand full nationalisation of the gas industry, with some protestors saying the government must go entirely. '¡Afuera todos!' 'Out with the lot of them!' they shout, demanding the convening of a constitutional assembly, free of neo-liberal pocketliners, to resolve these issues.

Meanwhile, there are many different organisations involved in the protests. The largest, the Movement towards Socialism (MAS), led by coca-grower and bête noire of the United States, Evo Morales, is uncomfortable with much of the extra-parliamentary activity, as he came within a whisker of winning the last presidential elections, and is sure to win those scheduled for 2007. Legalistically oriented, he does not want anything to threaten his electoral ambitions. Nonetheless, he is trapped by the rapidly advancing consciousness in the streets and cannot lose his position at the head of the movement.

Elsewhere, worried that the government will capitulate to the protestors, the wealthy, right-wing inhabitants of Santa Cruz, the region that contains many of the gas reserves, are demanding autonomy from the country.

In the last 24 hours, President Carlos Mesa, who took over from Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada after he was ousted by the same protestors in the fall of 2003, has himself resigned. According to the constitution, the President of the Senate, Hormando Vaca Diez, now assumes power. However, Vaca Diez, a Santa Cruz politician, has in recent months repeatedly demanded that Mesa 'start governing', which, as Jim Schulz, of the local Democracy Center and who maintains a very good blog of the events ongoing in Bolivia, says: 'is shorthand here for sending out the military to deal with protesters.' Forrest Hylton, writing in Counterpunch, says that there are rumours (at such times, rumours simultaneously cannot be trusted and must be trusted) of a coming 'State of Siege', and an 'attempt at a Pinochet-like beheading of the social movements'.

Alternately, there is the possibility that the government will resign en masse, prompting early elections. The Catholic Church was attempting to broker just such a deal over the weekend, according to Schulz. If this happens, although the demand for full nationalisation will not yet have been met, there is a good likelihood that this will channel resistance into electoral activity. At the same time, as Schulz

'The issue in the streets is not who is President; it is who controls the nation’s oil and gas, along with calls for rewriting the Constitution through a national constituent assembly. A snap election in October will be run through the same political rules that people are in the streets protesting against. I don’t see how new elections satisfies anyone.'If the voices in the street spoke to the country’s national leaders in the language of my homestate of California, the message might be, “What part of we want to take back the oil and rewrite the constitution didn’t you understand?”

'There is a saying here in Bolivia, ¡Hasta las ultimas consequencias! Literally translated it means, until the final consequences. Politically translated it means, once the people have mobilized past a certain point there is no turning back. The people who are in the streets in La Paz, who are piling up rocks by the kilometer to block roads in and out of Cochabamba, poor farmers who took over a Shell/Enron pumping station earlier today – I don’t see them backing down. Not a Presidential resignation, not a promise of new elections, not even a state of martial law will send them quietly home.'

The United States however is not abounding with jouissance at the way the tide is turning in Latin America, according to campaigning journo Al Giordano of Narco News (the very best source on the web for news on Latin America, even if Al was a bit of a Kerry-loving Democrat 'pragmatist' last summer), and, following the rebuke the gringos received at the Organization of American States meeting on the weekend attempting to impose mechanisms that would allow the O.A.S. (read: the U.S.) interfere in the affairs of other states (read: Venezuela), the Yanks are now accusing Chavez of fomenting the rebellion in Bolivia. The proof? Evo Morales had invited Chavez to Bolivia last May.

On the other hand, Julio Mamani Conde, also of Narco News has found some proof of American interference:

'Leaders of remote neighborhoods of the city of El Alto have complained that representatives of the government agency Democratic Initiatives, who work with resources from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), offered much needed equipment for their neighborhood committees’ social centers, on the condition that their committee presidents lift the general civic strike now in its 15th day.'

'According to the leaders, people working for the current administration offered some of the leaders between 200 and 500 bolivianos ($25 to $65 dollars, several weeks’ income for many El Alto families) if they would propose the suspension of the indefinite civic/labor strike.' Jim Schulz
today reported that 'A very reliable source told me this afternoon that the Embassy here is in talks with Vaca Diez, helping pave the way for his succession.'

Giordano himself has his own gaggle of Bolivian Deep Throats who have let him in on what the White House would like to see happen in La Paz:

'According to well placed sources in La Paz, yesterday, prior to the resignation of Bolivia's president, heir apparent to the Bolivian throne, Congressional leader Hormando Vaca Diez, had gone to Bolivia's military brass with a plan already written for how the military will declare martial law and ruthlessly stamp out the social movements when Vaca Diez becomes president. (Who wrote that plan, Mr. Noriega?).

'But the Bolivian generals told Vaca Diez to pound sand: They said, according to our sources, that they were tired of being the villains of history, causing coup after coup, massacring their own people. (This - and perhaps copious amounts of alcohol - explains Vaca Diez's crestfallen voice during his Monday night press conference, heard around the world via Radio Erbol.)

'US Ambassador [to the O.A.S.] Roger Noriega is red-faced angry that the Bolivian military won't get to work assassinating Evo Morales, Felipe Quispe, Oscar Olivera, the entire city of El Alto, and Authentic Journalists [Giordano's crew] who are covering the story. And Noriega blames Chavez!

'Noriega blames Chavez because Chavez - a military soldier admired by many just like him across the hemisphere - has set the gold standard of how to put an Armed Forces to work on behalf of the people instead of against them.'

I think Giordano is perhaps a little too sunny about the benign impulses of the Bolivian military, but if his sources are accurate, what is more probable is that sections of the military, as has historically been common at times of peaked civil unrest, are unsure as to which side to support. This is both good news and bad news. It means that come a successful push, and the military, or proportions of it, will side with the people. However, it also means that the only thing that is holding back a Pinochet-style crushing of the revolt is indecision within the army.

Even so, the poor on the streets of La Paz and indeed across Latin America are tearing down the economic and political consensus of the last thirty years - something the United States cannot permit. Bolivia, and the rest of the continent, have not only their domestic armed forces to fear: The dreadnoughts of American Manifest Destiny have surely already set sail for the Southern Hemisphere.


Events will undoubtedly have unfolded subsequent to my writing this by the time you have read it. The best English-language sources on the net you'll find on the rebellion are:

- Narco News
- The Narcosphere (related to Narco News)
- Blog From Bolivia
- Indymedia Bolivia (Spanish)
- Forrest Hylton writing in
Counterpunch; in particular these two articles
- Democracy Now, in particular these downloadable interviews with Jim Schulz of Blog From Bolivia and the Democracy Center

maandag, juni 06, 2005

Look! Up in the sky! It's a bird, it's a plane, no...it's a blasted blogging meme.

Despite my best efforts with this blog to be contemplative and sober (well, scratch that last one if you feel that the two Jamesons I've recently poured myself counterveils such a comportment), I have just been tagged in the way that bloggers are from time to time. The Bionic Octopus is attempting to proliferate a 'meme', as I believe these things are depicted, and I have been caught in her six-million-dollar tentacles.

The theme is comic books, something that were once dear to my heart, but then were not for a long time, but which have now once more found themselves to be of some assistance to me as I exploit them to (attempt to) advance my French, here in Brussels, the global capital of comics (Didn't know that? It's

Suped Up: The Post-Human Quiz

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why? (Assume you also get baseline superhero enhancements like moderately increased strength, endurance and agility.)

As much as flight or invisibility or being able to fart nuclear fireballs would be pretty neat-o, I reckon mind control has to be the sweetest superpower. I would with my supersonic mentalism instantly wash away all the timidity, disillusionment and apathy within the working class.

Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you fancy, and why?

I haven't read the X-men for years, so I don't know if she's still 'existing', but when I was around eleven or twelve I remember being decidedly stirred, in the way that twelve-year-old boys tend to be stirred, by the way that John Byrne drew Rogue in the eighties. Make that Storm and her Tina-Turner-out-of-Mad-Max-Beyond-Thunderdome haircut as well. Oh, and now that I think about it, Havoc, too.

Which, if any, 'existing' superhero(es) do you hate?

All of them. They're superheroes, right? So powerful they could battle Galactus, the Swallower of Worlds, yeah? But they couldn't take on pantywaist slapheads John Negroponte and Otto Reich, Swallowers of Central American Countries That Dared to Elect Progressive Governments? (I'm still stuck in this eighties time-warp, here) Well, what use are they, then?

The conception of or need for superheroes thus can only be an expression of the fascist impulse: A pessimistic rejection of the possibility our own collective power as an international working class to 'put things right'. Ahem.

OK, here's the tough one. What would your superhero name be? (No prefab porn-name formulas here, you have to make up the name you think you'd be proud to mask under.)

Okay, you're all gonna kill me for the fromage factor here, but, how about The Worker!

For extra credit: Is there an 'existing' superhero with whom you identify/whom you would like to be?

Well, that's easy. I always wanted to be Tintin, also of Brussels. You say he is not a superhero? Pshaw. He has the plainly superhuman ability to be employed by a broadsheet as a foreign correspondent before the age of thirty.

I guess in a way I am living the Tintin life I wanted: I'm overseas and attempting to make a living as a journalist. It's not a bad life, really, although I do wish I could afford a place with plumbing that worked. A talking dog would come in handy too.

Oh, and by the way, I'm totally down with
Magneto, who's supposedly a supervillain. But he's like the Malcolm X or Stokely Carmichael of mutants, to dripping daisy Professor X's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bit of a pussy. If the humans are oppressing the mutants, surely they have the right to fight back - By Any Means Necessary.

Up the Brotherhood of Mutants!

Pass it on. Three people please, and why they're the wind beneath your wings.

Erm, Darren of
Inveresk Street Ingrate - because while he may be an impossiblist member of the SPGB, he's got cracking taste in music; Doug, of If There Is Hope - because most Canadian leftie bloggers are NDP wets, but he ain't; and John of Counago & Spaves - because there are almost no anarchist bloggers, and, dammit, there should be.

Update: It seems somebody else is hot for Rogue.

zaterdag, juni 04, 2005

***Emergency action to stop Vlaams Belang broadcast from Dorset***

My friend Justin has alerted me to the rather disconcerting news that the Vlaams Belang - the renamed Vlaams Blok - the far-right Flemish nationalists and, sadly, the most popular party in Flanders - are due to transmit the first broadcast of their radio programme, ZwartofVit (Black or White) tomorrow. Domestic broadcasters have been sensibly wary of offering these fascist scum airtime, as have their German counterparts when the Vlaams Belang tried to broadcast from Germany instead. U.K. broadcasters have not been so squeamish, reports my amigo:

'According to the Media Network Weblog, the Vlaams Belang broadcast is set to be transmitted this Sunday from Rampisham, Dorset, a site owned by the VT Group's VT Communications division.'

First of all, if you're reading this from the U.K., while there isn't much time to stop these vermin from going ahead with the distribution of their propaganda, as the show is set to go out tomorrow, please call, fax and e-mail the VT Group to demand they halt the broadcast:

Tel: (023) 8083 9001
Fax: (023) 8083 9002

Or, call the VT Communications subsidiary directly:

Tel: (0)20 7969 0000
Fax: (0)20 7396 6223

Also, please make sure you complain to Ofcom, the communications regulator:


Ofcom contact centre numbers: 020 7981 3040 or 0845 456 3000

Fax: 0845 456 3333

Main Ofcom switchboard: 020 7981 3000

Main Ofcom Fax: 020 7981 3333

And, of course, if you're in or near Rampisham, you might actually want to pay them a visit, anti-Nazi placards in hand, should you have any lying around: The transmitter site itself is owned by a VT Communications division, Merlin Communications and is located alongside the A356.

Update: Obviously, most of the numbers above will only offer you voicemail, as it's the weekend. Still, leave a message. Even if nobody reacts to them in time, at least if there is a number of complaints, perhaps the company will be more reluctant in the future to broadcast Vlaams Belang programmes.

vrijdag, juni 03, 2005

Luxembourg PM a big girl's blouse

From the Guardian:

'Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxembourg prime minister who holds the rotating EU presidency and who was said to have been on the verge of tears when he heard news of the Dutch vote, summoned Gerhard Schröder for emergency talks.'

Oh boo fucking hoo.

Are you on the verge of tears when you hear of a profitable company closed down, its assets stripped and thousands of workers thrown on the scrap heap so some rich vampiric little sociopath can now afford to make another ultimately failed attempt to circumnavigate Neptune in a caviar-encrusted hot-air balloon designed by the Japanese Space Agency? When you hear of hospitals and schools being shut down or privatised, do you well up like a maudlin singleton listening to Dido after a bottle and a half of ropey chardonnay? When you heard that French (and Canadian) troops have presided over a U.S.-backed coup in Haiti, throwing the country into fucked-up chaos, with dozens massacred, did you sob quietly at your desk like you did after the other boys pulled your pants down in the changing room in some Luxembourgeois lycée forty years ago? Each time you hear the youth unemployment figures in eastern Germany, can you taste the salty tears on your lips as you make your nose red wiping it with a rough Kleenex? When you gaze at the crowded, washing-line-entwined tower blocks that line the road from the Barcelona airport or smell urine in the corner as you walk past a London council estate, or read the neo-Nazi graffiti daubed on the door of a Rostok refugee apartment complex, do you weep, do you lament, do you howl?

No? Well fuck you. Fuck you.

donderdag, juni 02, 2005

Nee! to the 'capitalist locusts'

Dutch voters have rejected the ECT even more emphatically than the French - 63 per cent against on a 62 per cent turnout, according to an exit poll projection broadcast by NOS television.

Anyone got a fork? This turkey is done.


Salvaging what they can from the French referendum, the blinkered inhabitants of Planet Mandelson - where they breathe not oxygen but unfiltered, vanilla-scented and compressed neo-liberalism sponsored by Evian - are trumpeting the fact that while it may be true that all but nine départements in the country voted Non, urbaine, cosmopolitaine, educated Paris voted Oui! Ah hah!

Demographic maps have appeared in Libération shading the various regions according to the strength of the Oui or Non votes that, I think, are intended to echo those fearsomely-red-with-a-few-tiny-blue-speckly-bits maps that appeared shortly after the U.S. presidential election last November showing the progressive metropolitan archipelago amid the sea of red-state Bush voters.

This is an oversimplification (as indeed was the U.S. Democrat hipster-vs-bumpkin analysis, but for different reasons) that only elites consciously untethered to reality can produce. It may be true that (wealthy) centre/centre-west Paris strongly voted Oui - 66 per cent in favour. But Paris has not been the city of starving artists and budding Hemingways for decades. It is increasingly a city of the haute bourgeoisie. Nonetheless, Paris' impoverished banlieue - suburbs - emphatically voted against the ECT. In the north-east, in Seine-Saint-Denis, a traditionally working class region, the Non gained a clear 61.52 per cent. Further, in the rest of France - and let's just remind ourselves quickly that while it may be the capital of the world, Paris is not France - two thirds of salaried workers voted Non and three quarters of waged workers voted Non. Low-wage workers overwhelmingly voted Non. Young people overwhelmingly voted Non. Single parents overwhelmingly voted Non. The unemployed overwhelmingly voted Non. Unemployed women overwhelmingly voted Non. The majority of Socialist Party members and supporters voted Non. In fact, the sole sector of society where there was a majority in favour of this door-stopper of a constitution was the elderly, and even this can be rapidly dispatched in any case: They are, of course, the war generation, and their commitment to peace in Europe - between France and Germany - displaces all other considerations; whatever a constitution's problems, nothing can be as bad as war. Understandable, I reckon. Still, even amongst the blue rinse brigade it was close.

It is these elites - both main parties, all the major newspapers, business and trade union leaders all called for a Oui vote - in France and abroad, who are the ones who are living on another planet. Where the discontent comes from is manifest. It is as plain as kedgeree (Ever had kedgeree? Very plain. Very bland. I would eat it despite the peas because I was the good child. My little brother, nose be-wrinkled, steadfastly refused the Scottish breakfast our family would on sadistic occasion have for supper) But they cannot see it. They dismiss it as reactionary nonsense. The response of uneducated hicks.

Across Europe, neo-liberal ideology is in crisis. The west of the continent - in particular France and Italy - are wracked with militant strikes that often go on to victory while large-scale demonstrations quotidiennement fill the piazzas and boulevards. Berlusconi's right-wing coalition collapsed following the victory of the left (and considerable advances by the PRC [admittedly in coalition with the neo-liberal left]) in the recent regional elections. No one doubts he will lose next year's general election. It is only a question of by how much.

The struggle has not reached such a fever pitch in the UK, but New Labour is uniformly reviled. Those who do vote Labour, for the most part, do not do so out of strong conviction, as they have no love of PFI or war either, but out of the belief that there is no viable alternative. Meanwhile, the left of the left - Respect, the Scottish Socialists and the Greens to some extent - are on the move.

Spain has calmed down, but only after a leftish social democrat - who was only ever intended by Partido Socialista grandees to be a place holder while they got their act together to find a suitable candidate for the following elections they thought they could win - was swept into office by a volcanic eruption of anger at Aznar's exploitation of the Atocha Station bombing in which 191 people were killed.

The German elite too, are shaken. Three years ago, the unpopular SPD Chancellor and Teutonic proponent of the Third Way, Gerhard Schröder, pulled an electoral rabbit out of the hat by opposing Bush's war on Iraq. As unemployment bites and a entire generation wonders aloud if they will ever achieve the middle class life of their parents, all that Herr Schröder offers is more structural adjustment. Desperate to at least win the regional elections in the country's most populous state, North Rhine-Westphalia, traditionally an SPD stronghold, the party attempts three weeks ago a repeat performance of this trick: The chairman of the SPD, Franz Müntefering, accuses international investors of being 'capitalist locusts' who chew up companies and spit them out again.

'I am criticising all those who think they can pick whatever they need out of any company,' Müntefering said. 'And they do it without thinking about the employees and all the people who are affected by their decisions.'

What is notable here is that, while there was never any question that the SPD is not committed to neo-liberalism, and that they too, like their brethren in the Commission and amongst French elites, dismiss the left of the left as economic luddites, they KNOW that anti-capitalist rhetoric is popular. As indeed it proved. Müntefering's words opened up a grand debate throughout the country on not merely neo-liberalism or labour market 'reform' or globalisation, but capitalism itself, by God. The antikapitalismus debate exploded across the German media, with the usual suspects foreign and domestic - the Economist, the Financial Times and Wall Street Journal - as aghast as a pursed-lipped spinster at Müntefering's fart in church.

Some fifteen years after the pronounced 'End of History', anti-capitalism is not merely not dismissed out of hand but is used as a ploy of a decadent social democratic party desperate to cling onto power. Socialism, red in tooth and claw - as Tommy Sheridan didn't say first - is back, baby.

Although Müntefering's gambit did shore up some of their traditional supporters, the Social Democrats went down to defeat in the state for the first time in 39 years.

Now, voters are sometimes not a terribly rational lot. They regularly vote for conservatives because they are fed up with social democrats who sell them out - as if conservatives would be any better. And indeed, Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats are certain to win the general election, brought forward to this autumn by the despondent Schröder in a bit of a last-ditch gamble. Not five years ago, remember, 12 out of the then 15 European governments were headed by social democratic parties, in what was comprehensively viewed as a reaction to the monetarist governments of the eighties and nineties. Electorates were disappointed, but they have not all uniformly moved further leftward. And elsewhere, the far right is as capable as the left of making hay of the current economic malaise.

However, interestingly, just as when liberals talk about getting tough on immigration it is Tories who benefit, and when Tories talk tough on immigration, it is the BNP that benefits - why vote for the imitation, when you can vote for the Real Thing? - similarly, why vote for Social Democrats playing at anti-capitalism when you can vote for genuine anti-capitalists? And so it proved in North Rhine-Westphalia. Die Wahlalternative - Arbeit & Soziale Gerechtigkeit (WASG) - the new German far left regroupment project, bringing together the far left and left-wing ('Old Labour'-type) social democrats on the model of the SSP, the Left Bloc and the (remaining) Socialist Alliances around the world - had not formed but weeks before the election. They campaigned, but only as much as any political party that is a only handful of fortnights old can campaign, but yet, with neither time nor money on their side, they won an average of 2.2 per cent of the vote.

Further, in the wake of the state elections, Oskar Lafontaine, the popular SPD left-winger who resigned as finance minister and quit Schröder's government in 1999, disappointed at the rightward trajectory of his party, has called on the new WASG to run on a joint ticket with the PDS, the former communists, refounded as left-ish social democrats (who, nonetheless, when in coalition with the SPD on the Berlin city council, are as committed as any Blairite to privatisation and cutbacks), and said if such a pact were achieved, he would join them to run against Schröder.

The key for us within the next ten years is to link up across the nations of Europe on the electoral level. A common party or alliance for European Parliament elections, is of course necessary - and we have this already to a very, very limited extent in the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) - but a common electoral formation that fights elections as the same party across borders, with the same platform - tailored to local conditions, natch - should be the ultimate goal.

Capital is mobile, so should we be.


Meanwhile, across the world, in the landlocked little country of Bolivia, the locals are having what, and I my eyes may yet be deceiving me, looks remarkably like a socialist revolution. But more on that mañana

N.B. I've been following the French referendum for some time in the French press, and, of course, it's unavoidable in the conversation here in Brussels, but I'm afraid I can only just about order a beer and ask for directions to the toilets in Dutch, so if people have details on the nature of the Nee vote in the Netherlands, I would appreciate the analysis or links (Martin? Any ideas? Also - why did Groen Links back the constitution?)