15 April 2003

NEO-CONS AND THE LEFT – 1

State Department socialist writes:

There’s a lot of garbage doing the rounds on this. Michael Lind, in a peculiarly daft piece in the New Statesman (click here), got it going in the UK, claiming that the neo-cons of today are, er, their dads.

"They are products of the largely Jewish-American Trotskyist movement of the 1930s and 1940s, which morphed into anti-communist liberalism between the 1950s and 1970s and finally into a kind of militaristic and imperial right with no precedents in American culture or political history."

This is very poor intellectual history. It's true that some of the key neo-con intellectuals of the 1970s and 1980s - notably Sidney Hook and Irving Kristol - were Trots in the 1930s or 1940s: see any history of the New York Intellectuals for that. (For what it's worth, my recommended reading list is Russell Jacoby's The Last Intellectuals, Alan Wald's The New York Intellectuals and Hugh Wilford's The New York Intellectuals.) It's true that some of the neo-cons of that period - notably Kristol - are still alive. It's even true that Wiliam Kristol is the son of Irving - a "product" maybe.

But the idea that most of the neo-cons of the 1970s and 1980s were former Trotskyists is bunkum, and the idea that the current Dubya adviser mob was schooled in Trotskyism in the 1950s is bollocks. A couple of them might have been youthful adherents of Max Shatchtman at some point late in his career - and very early in theirs. So what. Rather more of the current neo-con intellectual crew used to be Stalinists of the old school, third worldist New Leftists, cold war liberals or never associated with any current that could be considered remotely on the left.
More to come on this

9 April 2003

UBA SOLIDARITY - 2

This comes from AP: again more to come on this:

Anita Snow, Associated Press writer
HAVANA - Human rights groups and the U.S. government condemned Cuba for sentencing critics of the regime to long prison terms in a crackdown that showed communist leaders were more worried about internal control than international contempt.

Fidel Castro's government on Monday sentenced activists, journalists and an economist to up to 27 years in prison for allegedly collaborating with U.S. diplomats to undermine the socialist state.

"We are witnessing the harshest political trials of the past decade," said veteran human rights activist Elizardo Sanchez, one of the few leading opponents of the regime not arrested last month.
U.S. officials also criticized the sentences.

"The Castro government is persecuting journalists for acting like journalists," State Department spokesman Philip Reeker said. "They're persecuting economists for acting like economists, and peaceful activists for seeking a solution to Cuba's growing political and economic crisis."

Sanchez's non-governmental Cuban Commission on Human Rights and National Reconciliation said prosecutors originally sought life sentences for a dozen of the dissidents, among 80 facing closed trials that began Thursday.

It was unclear how many dissidents have been sentenced so far, but Sanchez said he and other activists have been unable to confirm any life sentences. The shortest was 15 years.

The longest sentence confirmed as of late Monday was 27 years for independent journalist Omar Rodriguez Saludes. With his camera hanging from a strap around his neck, Rodriguez Saludes arrived on his bicycle to cover former U.S. President Jimmy Carter's meeting with dissidents during his visit to Cuba last May.

Opposition political party leader Hector Palacios, among those originally recommended for a life sentence, received 25 years, said his wife, Gisela Delgado.

Palacios is a leading organizer of the Varela Project, which gathered more than 11,000 signatures supporting a referendum on new laws to guarantee civil liberties such as freedom of speech and private business ownership. The island's parliament shelved the request.

Palacios was among dissidents who met with Carter, who used a live speech to the Cuban people to bluntly describe the country as undemocratic and to publicize the Varela project.

"This is an injustice," Delgado said after learning her husband's sentence Monday morning. "We are as Cuban as members of the Communist Party."

The communist government accuses the dissidents of being on Washington's payroll and collaborating with U.S. diplomats to harm Cuba and its economy. Jose Miguel Vivanco, of Human Rights Watch, urged the United Nations Human Rights Commission meeting in Geneva to condemn Cuba the sentences.

In Stockholm, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh warned that the crackdown could Cuba's prospects for increased cooperation with members of the European Union.

"I view the developments in Cuba with great concern," Lindh said. "The mass arrests of dissidents that have taken place lately are one more example of the human rights violations being committed in Cuba."

The crackdown, which ended several years of relative tolerance, began when Cuban officials criticized the head of the American mission in Havana, James Cason, for actively supporting the island's opposition.

"This is an attempt for them to squash down and put the policemen back in the person's head that many of the Cubans were getting out of their head," Cason said Monday in a speech at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida.

Cason said journalists were being punished for having such books as "Who Moved My Cheese?" by Spencer Johnson, and others written by Groucho Marx and Stephen King.

Cason denied accusations that the U.S. mission had local dissidents on its payroll, saying the mission operates no differently than embassies in other countries.

"Change will come to Cuba. In fact, it is already under way," Cason said. "Cubans will decide how the Cuba of tomorrow takes shape, and more importantly, the role that each and every Cuban will have in it."

The last trials reportedly wrapped up Monday, with all sentences expected by week's end.

Among those tried Monday was Dr. Oscar Elias Biscet, a physician jailed since he was arrested during a December protest. Prosecutors reportedly sought a 25-year sentence.

Biscet in October completed three years in prison for displaying national flags upside down in an act of civil disobedience.

Also sentenced Monday was independent journalist Raul Rivero, who received the full 20 years prosecutors sought, said his wife, Blanca Reyes. "This is a crime for a man who has only written the truth," Reyes said.

Dissident economist Marta Beatriz Roque and independent journalist Oscar Espinosa Chepe each received 20-year sentences, their relatives said.

8 April 2003

CUBA SOLIDARITY - 1

While the world is looking elsewhere, Comrade Fidel's idyllic socialist utopia has gaoled the core of its critical democratic intelligentsia. Here's Reuters' report today: there's more to come on this.

Cuba sentences dissidents to 15 to 25 years
By Anthony Boadle


HAVANA, April 7 (Reuters) - Communist Cuba sentenced seven dissidents charged with opposing President Fidel Castro to 15 to 25 years in prison in the toughest political crackdown in decades.

In a clear message to the Bush administration that Cuba will not tolerate its efforts to build up a dissident movement on the island, a court convicted seven people of "working with a foreign power to undermined the government" and gave them prison sentences that ranged from 15 to 25 years.

Seventy-one other people are also charged but their trials are not yet complete.

Despite the tough sentences, the Havana Province Tribunal rejected prosecutors' requests for life sentences for leading dissident Hector Palacios and Ricardo Gonzalez, editor of Cuba's only dissident magazine, their wives said. Palacios was sentenced to 25 years and Gonzalez to 20 years.

Cuba's best known opposition writer, poet and journalist, 57-year-old Raul Rivero, was sentenced to 20 years in jail.

"This is so arbitrary for a man whose only crime is to write what he thinks," his wife Blanca Reyes told reporters after the sentence was given behind closed doors. "What they found on him was a tape recorder, not a grenade."

In other sentences on Monday, economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe got 20 years,Hector Maseda 20 years, Osvaldo Alfonso 18 years and Marcelo Lopez 15 years.

The crackdown began on March 18 with arrests and house searches. That was followed last week by one-day trials in court rooms filled with Communist Party members and security agents while only three close relatives of the prisoners could attend, the wives said.

Government informants who had infiltrated dissident groups testified against the prisoners.

"The trial was unfair. He met his lawyer five minutes before it started and had no time to study the charges," said Claudia Marquez, wife of Osvaldo Alfonso. She said the court reduced Alfonso's sentence from a life term sought by prosecutors because he accepted the charges and said in court that he had been manipulated by U.S. diplomats.

The wives have three days to appeal, but said they were not hopeful the sentences could be shortened.

"These terms were dictated by President Castro. In Cuba there is only one voice," said Reyes.

WORLD CRITICISM OF TRIALS

Western diplomats and foreign journalists were barred from the trials, which were criticized in Europe. The U.S. State Department said the dissidents were being tried in "kangaroo courts."

International human rights organizations accused Castro of trying to knock out his political opponents while world attention was focused on Baghdad.

Half of the 78 dissidents on trial had organized a signature drive to petition for reforms to Cuba's one-party socialist state. The effort was known as the Varela Project, which united Cuba's small, divided dissident movement into the first major internal challenge to Castro's rule in four decades.

The Bush administration stepped up active support for the dissidents, who would meet in the residence of the top U.S. diplomat in Havana, James Cason.

Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution, denounced Cason last month for turning the American mission into an "incubator of counterrevolution" and threatened to close the U.S. Interests Section. Havana and Washington do not have formal diplomatic relations.

U.S. diplomats were surprised to learn that Manuel David Orrio, who had led a meeting of opposition journalists at Cason's house last month, testified against Rivero and said in court testimony that he was a state security agent.

Prosecutors have asked for life sentences for dissident economist Martha Beatriz Roque; opposition labor activist Pedro Pablo Alvarez; and civil disobedience advocate Oscar Elias Biscet. Those sentences are expected on Tuesday.

The trials went virtually unnoticed in Cuba. There was no mention in Cuba's state-run media and few Cubans were aware of the dissident round-up.

"The social and economic decay in Cuba is so great and the government knows there is widespread discontent," said Miriam Leiva, a former diplomat who lost her job and was expelled from the Communist Party in 1992 for not divorcing her dissident husband Espinosa Chepe.

"That is why the sentences are so harsh, to repress people calling for change and intimidate others," she said.

5 April 2003

UNITED FOR PEACE - 4

The British Socialist Workers' Party has come out this week as revolutionary defeatist: yes, they really want Saddam Hussein to win the war. Click here for the party line in a Socialist Worker leader and here for a signed piece by Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman. Meanwhile, the chair of the Stop the War Coalition, Andrew Murray, has been forced to defend his politics in the Daily Telegraph (click here) by a letter from Julian Lewis (click here: funny how the same old names keep cropping up); and Nick Cohen has taken up the role of the Lenininists in the anti-war movement in a piece in the New Statesman (click here: unfortunately you have to pay to read the whole thing).

1 April 2003

MIKE KIDRON 1931-2003

Michael Kidron, the most prominent of the many leading lights of the British International Socialists who left them in the few years before they became the Socialist Workers' Party, has died at the age of 72. Click here for Richard Kuper's obituary in the Guardian. Kidron was the brains behind the IS, the editor of International Socialism for many years and the author of several of the key texts that marked the group's break from orthodox Trotskyism, in particular from the idea that capitalism had entered a phase of terminal crisis.

From the early 1960s, Kidron emphasised how spending by the advanced western capitalist economies on arms had created a level of bouyant demand that postponed crisis perhaps indefinitely - the "permanent arms economy", as he called it - and as such was one of the first British Marxists to recognise just how far Keynesian economics had transformed the prospects of capitalism. IS and Kidron never went a far as Cornelius Castoriadis and Socialisme ou Barbarie in France in challenging the tenets of left orthodoxy (for which see here), but they played an honourable part in creating a vibrant British libertarian Marxism. In the 1970s and 1980s, Kidron played a key role in Pluto Press, the radical publisher that was for a dozen or more years the jewel in the British intellectual left's crown. He is best known for putting together The State of the World Atlas, a pioneering reference work that (together with various spin-offs) has been a massively important reference work for several generations of students, researchers and journalists.

A few of Kidron’s key articles from his IS and immediately post-IS days are online. Click here for "Imperialism - highest stage but one" (1962), here for "A permanent arms economy" (1967) and here for "Two insights don't make a theory" (1977).

25 March 2003

EUROPEAN SOCIAL DEMOCRACY AND THE WAR - 1

The following interview with German foreign minister Joschka Fischer on Sunday March 23 by Der Spiegel was not reported in the UK press. So here are the key quotes, courtesy of Reuters:

BERLIN, March 23 (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer criticised the United States on Sunday for starting a war framed by its national interests and said the same standards should apply for all nations regardless of their size or might.

"A world order will not work if the national interests of the most powerful nation define the criteria for the use of the military potency of this country," Fischer said in an interview with Der Spiegel news magazine.

"At the end of the day the same rules have to apply for the big, medium-sized and small countries," said Fischer, whose government has long opposed the U.S.-led military buildup in the Gulf and war against Iraq.

"The United States was always the strongest when it linked its might to the power of forming coalitions and international rules that were accepted by everyone."

Fischer also said he could not accept a vision, as he said was sketched out to him in late September 2001 by U.S. deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz, in which the United States would use force to eliminate "terrorist governments" in a number of countries.

"I cannot and will not accept the idea we are on the verge of a series of disarmament wars," he said. "It's not acceptable that we are faced with the alternative: either to allow a terrible danger to exist or be forced into a disarmament war."

He said the United Nations should be the place to resolve conflicts.

Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was the first Western leader to speak out against war in Iraq, saying last year Germany would not participate in any "military adventure" in Iraq, even though Berlin is one of the biggest contributors to the US-led "Enduring Freedom" anti-terror campaign with close to 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, Kuwait and the Horn of Africa.

"There is nothing cowardly if you pursue the aim of resolving conflicts peacefully," Fischer said. Addressing US criticism of Germany, he said being able to accept that an ally had a different view was "a sign of maturity in a democracy".


A similar position has been taken by the Swedish Social Democrats. Click here for prime minister Goran Persson's reaction to the outbreak of war and here for the official Swedish government statement.

24 March 2003

VICTOR ALBA 1916-2003

Victor Alba, journalist, militant and historian of the Catalan POUM in the Spanish civil war, novelist, political scientist and all-round awkward-squad member, is dead at 86. See Stephen Schwarz's obituary in Reforma here and Michael Mullan's in the Guardian here.