Northern Lights for January 2016 SA newspaper

Lessons of the Massacre in Indonesia 50 Years Ago

From Jakarta to Caracas

The fiftieth anniversary of one of the biggest political massacres of the twentieth century passed in the west almost without notice. In 1965 a military coup in Indonesia, backed by the United States, unleashed a slaughter that consumed over one million lives. The aim of the insurgent generals was annihilation of the Communist Party of Indonesia (PKI).

Two articles* in the December 2015 edition of the New York-based Monthly Review magazine remind us of that gargantuan tragedy. The PKI was then the largest CP in the world. Like its sister Stalinist parties globally, it rejected revolution. The PKI adhered strictly, one could say dogmatically, to the parliamentary path to socialism. It embraced Joseph Stalin’s infamous two-stage theory. Bourgeois democracy and sovereignty, the so-called first stage, became its entire agenda. That meant slavish support for liberal nationalist Sukarno, whose soaring political rhetoric appealed to a radical working class base.

Sukarno was a fire-brand left nationalist. He was the architect of the anti-colonial Non-Aligned Movement founded in Bandung in 1956. Transnational corporations and imperialist governments had no reason to fear fundamental system change at the hands of the PKI, or Sukarno. Nonetheless, big business wanted them gone – if only to reduce organized resistance to the exploitation of rural and urban workers in the ports, and on the rubber and tin estates.

For fifty years American politicians and conservative academics denied Washington’s complicity with the massacre of masses of communist militants, their families and innocent bystanders.

By endorsing the manufactured threat of a left wing military coup (i.e. the inept September 30 Movement), and covertly supplying arms to rightist General Nasution, U.S. Ambassador Marshall Green, and Secretary of State Dean Rusk fuelled the annihilation of the peaceful PKI. The American Embassy, in an effort to make sure the bloody job was completed, turned over lists identifying thousands of PKI leaders and activists to Indonesian army intermediaries. Time magazine in 1966 called it “The West’s best news for years in Asia.”

The sadistic political scheme was much like what Washington and Henry Kissinger did for General Augusto Pinochet in 1973 Chile. Kissinger was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 1973, ostensibly for his part in winding down the lost U.S. war in Vietnam.

Those were heinous acts, high crimes against humanity, a political holocaust. But the tragedy is that a huge and powerful workers’ party in Indonesia put its faith in a patently false strategy for power – reliance on the capitalist state. The PKI presumed that Capital would abide by democratic constitutionality and the due process of law. Salvador Allende’s Popular Unity government made the same presumption.

Is this tragedy repeating now in Venezuela?

Of course, no two political situations are the same. Jakarta and Caracas are separated by a by a great big ocean and a half century of class struggle.

Still, comparisons can be instructive. In fact, they are a vital way to learn from history.

Venezuela, for nearly eighteen years, has been at the forefront of a wave of left populism across Latin America. It led in re-distributing wealth and raising living standards of the poor and working people. Oil revenues funded free health care, free university education, and cheap food sold at government supermarkets.

But when Capital went on strike, hoarded food and other vital commodities, and spurred hyper-inflation and corruption, the governing socialists led by Hugo Chavez, who died on March 5, 2013, and his successor Nicolas Maduro, did not mobilize the working class to seize the banks, big industry and giant land estates in order to inaugurate a planned economy under workers’ control.

The Chavistas did not follow the path blazed by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in the Cuban Revolution over fifty years ago. The Venezuelan government played by the rules of the system. But its bourgeois opposition wrecked havoc in the economy and poisoned public confidence.

Now, as a result of the legislative election on December 6, right wing parties control the national assembly, and wage war on the executive branch. Impeachment proceedings and constitutional referenda are around the corner, while life for the majority continues to deteriorate.

To paraphrase Che, this is not a revolution, but a caricature. If the revolutionary potential of the working class has not yet been squandered in Venezuela, it must now be unleashed. Because if the right wing consolidates its victory, and reverses the fragile gains of Chavismo, even if it does not lead to a bloodbath on the scale of Indonesia, the return to brutal neo-liberal policy will nonetheless be the fruit of deadly illusions in the parliamentary path to socialism.

From Jakarta to Caracas, the only solution is socialist revolution.

* ”No Reconciliation without Truth: An Interview with Tan Swie Ling on the 1965 Mass Killings in Indonesia”, by Intan Suwandi, and “The United States and the 1965-1966 Mass Murders in Indonesia”, by Bradley Simpson. Both articles are in the December 2015 edition of Monthly Review, Vol. 67, No. 7.

When “withdrawal” means escalation

As if in a dance of the seven veils, the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau is sequentially exposing its false election promises, revealing an agenda that increasingly resembles that of the widely despised Conservative predecessor regime.

For starters, an immediate and meaningful increase to the Canada Pension is now off the table. Re-settlement of Syrian refugees is well short of the early, and even the revised target figure. Promised amendments to the repressive Anti-Terrorism Act – at least to hold police accountable for spying, arrest without trial, and disruption of legal organizations — were not even mentioned in the government’s Throne Speech.

And the latest example of a major breach of faith is on the war front. Trudeau campaigned to withdraw its six CF18 fighter jets and pledged that Canadian Forces would play no combat role in Iraq and Syria.

Instead, the jets are bombing the Middle Eastern countryside with sudden and accelerating intensity. While Liberal cabinet ministers insist they will stick to their jet exit plan, there is no date set for it.

More importantly, the Trudeau government pledges to increase troops on the ground, to operate under the rubric of “trainers”. It appears that the pre-election 69 “trainers” will soon number in the hundreds. Given their location very near the front lines of the fight with ISIS, a combat role will (continue to) be in effect.

The Conservative Party and major media outlets applaud the bombing and argue that the planes should stay. They want them combined with a dramatic increase in “trainers” inside the combat zone. A telling point the war hawks make is that the Liberal government has given no concrete reason why it plans to removed the fighter jets.

Sadly, they’re right. Instead of saying, honestly, that western military intervention has outraged the peoples of the region and promoted the rise of ISIS, instead of admitting that Ottawa and its imperialist allies have no legitimate reason to intervene in Iraq, Syria, or for that matter in Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya or elsewhere, Trudeau espouses a contradictory policy. It is based on a shallow and muddled sentiment – which paves the way for a betrayal of the public opinion that forced the Liberal withdrawal pledge in the first place.

The policy of the labour-based New Democratic Party, now reduced to third party status in Parliament, is only somewhat better than Trudeau’s. It advocates removal of all troops and weapons. Unfortunately, the NDP leadership has failed to assert clearly the principle of self-determination for the indigenous peoples – that the future of Syria is for the Syrian people to decide. Moreover, it neglects to express sharp opposition to the corporate agenda of resource plunder. That agenda is behind the actions of the U.S., Canada and allies which sought regime change, and the installation of more compliant governments across the oil-rich Middle East. The resulting destabilization – and due to the absence of a major progressive working class military force — opened the door to ISIS, Al-Nusrah, Boko Haram, Al-Shabaab and other off-shoots of Al-Qaeda.

Jihadi terrorism could be quickly stopped. The imperialist powers need only insist that client regimes, like Saudi Arabia and Turkey, stop funding the recruitment and arming of Salafist-inspired fighters, and stop buying ISIS-controlled oil. Instead of demonizing, arresting, or excluding Muslims and Arabs, domestic and foreign, the western powers could target poverty, racism and youth alienation at home.

Meanwhile, every bomb dropped by Canadian, US and French jets on Iraq and Syria recruits a village to ISIS. Each assault on the east attracts dozens of discontented young westerners to the Islamic terrorist brand. Joining a reactionary sect is a horribly misguided response to growing inequality and injustice. Indeed, it bolsters the state terrorism of the west. It diverts attention from the misdeeds of the imperialists, which dwarf the crimes of ISIS. The biggest crime going is resource plunder for profit. Western rulers pursue their aims with a variety tactics. They exercise a division of labour.

Justin Trudeau’s unctuous “sunny ways” rhetoric, his posturing as a peace-loving humanitarian is camouflage for a widening war of intervention in the East. It must be confronted with principled opposition to the war. United front mass demonstrations against Ottawa’s plan to increase its involvement are urgently needed.

Biggest strikes in Quebec since 1972

by Robbie Mahood (Montreal, December 2015)

Leaders of Quebec’s Common Front of public sector unions and the provincial Liberal government of Premier Philippe Couillard announced a tentative agreement on December 17. The deal covers wages and pensions. Working conditions are negotiated separately by sector. Grouped in the Common Front are the unions representing government employees affiliated with the major union centrals, notably, the CSN (Confédération des syndicats nationaux) and the FTQ (Fédération des travailleurs du Québec), as well as several non-affiliated unions.

The agreement came on the heels of a one day general strike involving over 400,000 workers of the Common Front and affecting schools, health care facilities and government services across the province. While picket lines were set up at work sites, 40,000 marched in downtown Montreal and another 20,000 in Quebec City.

The December 9 strike was the biggest since 1972. That’s when the original Common Front launched a work stoppage of 200,000 government employees that in some communities saw strike committees commandeer radio stations and take charge of government services, and ended only after union leaders were imprisoned.

Preceding the December strike was an autumn punctuated by big mobilizations. A mass union demonstration in Montreal on October 3 opposed the austerity agenda of the Liberal regime. The Common Front launched a series of rotating strikes. Community organizations, students, the feminist movement and climate justice activists also took to the streets. Teachers camped outside the Minister of Education’s office, picketed schools, and marched in their thousands, supported by a parents’ group dedicated to defending “our public schools”.

As negotiations wore on, public opinion shifted perceptibly against the government. The workers’ demands are seen by many as protecting the integrity of Quebec’s public health care and educational institutions. There is sympathy as well for the underpaid and largely female workforce who keep government services running. Average pay for government employees in Quebec lags 8% behind their private sector counterparts.

Support for the Liberal austerity drive has also been undermined by the government’s obvious class bias and hypocrisy. A $1.2 billion bail-out of Bombardier, Quebec’s flagship in the global corporate world, and a 34% pay increase awarded to the province’s doctors were announced during negotiations with the Common Front!

Both the union leaders and the government for separate but convergent reasons wished to avoid a prolonged stand-off and the risk of an escalating confrontation. A repetition on a grander scale of Quebec’s epic student strike of 2012 is something both parties would prefer to avoid.

The agreement in principle was widely hailed in the media. It was billed as an 11th hour ‘miracle’ that, thanks to compromise on both sides, would meet the government’s austerity targets while at the same time “avoiding (sic) the impoverishment” of its employees, to quote the FTQ’s chief negotiator.

A closer assessment indicates that compromise came overwhelmingly from the union side. Salary increases will be limited to under 2% annually for the next 5 years and this after years of retrenchment.

The agreement reached after a 13 hour secret session in the office of Martin Coiteux, Quebec’s President du Conseil du trésor (effectively the Finance Ministry), was not exactly a charade. But it has the character of shadow-boxing between two ‘frères ennemis’ (brother enemies), as some in Quebec term the relationship between the union tops and the employers.

It remains to be seen how easy it will be to sell this package to the ranks. Already there are signs of discontent. Delegates to the council of the FSSS (Fédération de la santé et des services sociaux – Federation of health and social service workers), representing about a quarter of the Common Front members, have recommended rejection. Likewise opposed to the agreement, even though outside the Common Front, are leaders of the FAE (Fédération autonome de l’enseignement – Autonomous Federation of Teachers) representing 34,000 Montreal area teachers.

Voting by members of the unions will take place early in the New Year. Rejection of their leaders’ advice will take courage and would pose the question of how to take the struggle forward. In particular, it would raise the perspective of a general or social strike, since nothing less will be required to defeat the Liberal government.

No Reconciliation without Justice

What will come of the massive report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which investigated the cultural genocide inflicted by the Canadian federal government on indigenous peoples? Will its 94 specific recommendations bear any fruit?

The TRC deserves praise for raising awareness of the horrendous suffering of the 150,000 indigenous children who were torn from their communities between 1883 and 1996 and placed in residential schools. As many as 6,000 of them died of malnutrition, tuberculosis, influenza and other diseases. Thousands were buried, forgotten, in unmarked graves. The survivors had to live with the painful memories of physical, emotional and sexual abuse that was rampant in the federally-funded, church-run schools.

In 2008 then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper apologized for the “great harm” caused by Ottawa’s racist campaign “to take the Indian out of the child”, suppressing native languages, culture and identity.

The TRC justly demands much more than an official apology. Its call for “mutual respect” is embodied in the idea of a nation-to-nation relationship between Canada and 1.4 million indigenous peoples. That means honouring native land rights, and providing funding for health, housing and education. Fulfilment of those goals, not as an act of charity, but on a foundation of indigenous self-government, faces sharp resistance from the Canadian establishment. Not only from pipeline companies, energy resource industries and mining firms, staunch resistance will come from the ruling rich as a class, and from the state that guards their interests.

Mass protest actions of the kind initiated by Idle No More put the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women onto the political agenda. Many more such actions, in partnership with labour unions, social justice and environmental movements, will be required. In fact, the re-distribution of wealth and power necessary to end the present colonial arrangement entails nothing less than a revolution to abolish monopoly business control of the economy.

“The Danish Girl”

a review by John Wilson

The Danish Girl (2015, 1 hr. 59 min., directed by Tom Hooper) is a mesmerizing, moving account of how transgender pioneer Lili Elbe (originally Einar Wegener) came to be one of the first persons known to have gender reassignment surgery. Adapted from David Ebershoff’s 2000 fictionalized novel, it features Eddie Redmayne’s amazing performance as Einar. He discovers who he really is, and transitions into Lili. Alicia Vikander, as Einar/Lili’s wife, is brilliant in her almost equally demanding role, at times becoming the central focus.

The film is mainly situated in a lush, 1920’s middle class Copenhagen where Einar is a celebrated landscape artist. Wife Gerda is also an artist. She fights for recognition — until she starts painting the emerging Lili as a femme fatale, which started with a whimsical, half-joking sitting by Einar for her as a female model.

But for him this is the start of his self-realization as Lili.

Lili endures horrific experiences consulting with “experts” in the biased and prejudiced medical system who are determined to “cure” her, or banish her to a psychiatric facility. Then she meets Dr. Warnekros (Sebastian Koch) who proposes what he candidly described as experimental and risky gender reassignment surgery. Of all the doctors, only he seems to have a sympathetic understanding of what she is going through. (Since Lili, who was raised in a context of relative class privilege, suffered such difficulty, can we imagine how truly impossible would be the situation of a transgender person born to a working class family?)

Gerda is steadfast in her love and support for Lili — despite being very conflicted and confused by a process she knows will lead to her losing her husband.

In short, this film is well worth seeing. It comes at a time when transgender issues are finally gaining prominence – thanks to decades of LGBTQ activism. Despite ongoing challenges of medical access, the cost of surgery, and persisting prejudice, in Canada and elsewhere real gains are being made. In revolutionary Cuba, the treatment is free. We should note, though, that with all the attention that this film is deservedly getting, other pioneering films, such as Transamerica, are being overlooked.

Big Banks’ profits Soar

Despite a weak jobs economy and record personal debt, Canada’s biggest banks achieved a profit of $35 billion in 2015, a 5 per cent rise from a year earlier.

Income for the country’s largest lenders, the Royal Bank, TD Bank, Scotiabank, the Bank of Montreal, CIBC and National Bank, amount to about $96 million for every day of the fiscal year ended October 31.

They took in a combined revenue of $129.79 billion in 2015, a four per cent annual increase. The banks reserved $12.5 billion for bonuses.

Meanwhile, the financial giants eliminated 4,664 jobs in the fourth quarter, the biggest quarterly cut in six years. Perhaps that peculiar idea of bank prosperity should be called the trickle-out theory.

The RCMP Spied On My Father

by Robbie Mahood

On October 30, 2015, revelations of Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) spying on my father, Ed Mahood, almost sixty years ago, recently came to light courtesy of a phone call from an Ottawa journalist to my sister. A small group of journalists in Ottawa are reviewing the heavily edited RCMP intelligence reports from that era that are being released as the statute of limitations runs out on these hitherto secret files.

My father’s name crops up in connection with the campaign of extensive surveillance and disruption that Canada’s secret police waged against ‘communists’ in the years after World War II. He is described as a ‘chronic troublemaker’ who was one of an estimated 27,000 ‘communist subversives’ in Canada.

His attendance at a supper organized for the Rev. James Endicott in Saskatoon in 1957, and in organizing meetings is mentioned. Endicott was indeed a member of the Communist Party (later expelled for his Maoist sympathies at the time of the Sino-Soviet split). My father was never a CP member, remaining in the much larger and more militant left wing of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (CCF), and later in the New Democratic Party (NDP) until well into the sixties. But he did lend his name and organizing energies to CP activities from time to time.

In 1959, Ed applied for an overseas job with the United Nations, as was customary then among left social democrats with professional skills. The posting was to be to Sierra Leone. RCMP intelligence conspired with the then-Conservative MP for Saskatoon, Henry Jones, and the federal Conservative External Affairs Minister, Howard Green, to veto my father’s appointment. Although we were children then, my sister and I remember well that our father was turned down for the job without realizing, at the time, the secret conspiracy of police and politicians that underlay the refusal.

Ed subsequently applied for a UN post in the Palestinian West Bank (then part of Jordan) which involved organizing teacher training for Palestinian refugees under the United Nations Works and Relief Agency (UNWRA) mandate. And he was accepted for this post in 1960. Why this second application was approved is unclear. Among UNWRA’s personnel were a large number of ex-patriate European social democrats. It is possible that then-Tory Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker, nixed a second attempt at sabotage. Diefenbaker was known for his renegade views on the terms of Canadian participation in NATO and NORAD, which eventually cost him the confidence of the Canadian bourgeoisie and his job.

The news that the RCMP spied on my father, and together with politicians conspired to deny him a job is not surprising. But it is disturbing nonetheless.

A few points should be noted:

1) My father was lucky. Many others had their careers destroyed after being fingered by the RCMP, or the attempts to disrupt their lives were more serious. I am thinking of the RCMP campaign to disrupt the League for Socialist Action, and in particular police efforts to destroy the credibility of some its talented leadership such as the young John Riddell.

2) An extensive secret police apparatus, with licence to conduct immoral and illegal acts, is a permanent feature of capitalist states. Of course the technical apparatus to conduct spying and wreak mayhem in the left is much more developed today, but it is no different in kind than in previous periods. My parents’ generation lived through the McCarthyite years in which my father, along with thousands of others were targeted. But heavy repression using spying and disruption was also directed at the labour and socialist movements after the First World War and during the 1930’s. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, the RCMP directed its attention to a new generation of radicals.

3) The Quebec nationalist movement was to suffer disproportionate disruption and persecution as federalist ruling circles became obsessed with the threat of Quebec independence. The so-called FLQ Crisis of October 1970 gave Liberal Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau the opening to impose the War Measures Act — justified by the Big Lie of an “apprehended insurrection”. Four hundred and fifty pro-independence and socialist activists were arrested overnight and imprisoned. Those taken in pre-dawn raids were culled from RCMP intelligence lists. Later the RCMP engaged in theft and arson to disrupt the activities of the Parti Quebecois. A top PQ Cabinet Minister was revealed to be an RCMP “mole”.

4) So, be forewarned. Obviously we should not allow an atmosphere of paranoia and hyper-vigilance to impair the functioning of socialist organizations. But we need to be aware of the interest and capacity of the capitalist state to spy on, and if possible disrupt the life of left wing militants and their organizations. When these secret state operations come to light, and when we face repressive legislation like the Anti-Terrorism Law C-51, we should challenge them openly through a vigorous defence of our hard-won political rights and civil liberties.

Gender Wage Parity – more than a century away

It will take 118 years to close the wage gap between women and men if present trends in pay inequity persist, the World Economic Forum predicts.

The global pay gap between the sexes narrowed by a mere 3 per cent over the past decade, visibly stalling after 2009-10, according to the forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report.

The slow progress means women are only now earning what men earned nearly a decade ago: $11,000 on average, while men’s average pay has nearly doubled to $21,000 worldwide.

The report, which also looks at women’s progress in education, health and political empowerment, found Canada ranked 30th, and the United States was 28th out of the 145 countries surveyed. Syria, Pakistan and Yemen occupied the bottom of the list.

Women now outnumber men in universities in 100 of the countries surveyed, yet few of them hold the kind of skilled or leadership roles that come with bigger pay cheques.

Why inequality? Just ask yourself this: where does the money go that corporations save by not paying equal wages to women?