Category Archives: International

For Trudeau Teletubbies, the jig is up!

by Barry Weisleder

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s protracted political honeymoon appears to be coming to a close. General irritation with his unctuous, almost unbearable lightness of being is taking hold – especially as his “sunny ways” imagery collides with the real actions of the Liberal government. One New Democrat MP scored media high fives when he compared Trudeau to the bright-colored characters in a British TV show for children who look like babies stuffed into cuddly animal costumes with TV antennae on their heads and screens on their bellies. “How do you wrestle with Teletubbies who want to keep hugging you?”

Well, the group hug is over, and the jig is up. It turns out that Trudeau’s agenda is not that different from his predecessor’s, the uber-Conservative PM Stephen Harper. What a rude awakening that must be for many of the folks who voted Liberal in October 2015, hoping and expecting to get something completely different.

A glance at just a few federal departments — environment, indigenous peoples, health care, and foreign affairs – is enough to see the trend.

On September 27 Ottawa gave the green light to a massive liquefied natural gas project on the coast of British Columbia. The Pacific Northwest LNG would involve a pipeline across the province and a terminal to export the liquefied gas from northern B.C. to Asian markets.

Touted as the largest private-sector development in Canada’s history, the megaproject is the first approved by Trudeau and provides a framework for upcoming decisions on the merits of pipelines designed to bring Alberta oil to eastern and southern ports. Absent is the agreement of several First Nations communities who have serious concerns, including over the health of wild salmon habitat. Environmentalists, from the Sierra Club to the David Suzuki Foundation to the Pembina Institute, oppose the plan despite the 190 conditions attached to it by the feds. Even with a cap on the project’s greenhouse gas emissions (one of the conditions), Pacific Northwest LNG would significantly raise B.C.’s greenhouse gas output. The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency calculated that it would be “one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters in Canada.”

How does that jibe with the promise by Catherine McKenna, the rookie environment minister, who proclaimed when she got her job last autumn that the carbon-reduction targets set by the Conservatives were a minimum. Now it’s clear that the Liberal government will be lucky to come anywhere near to meeting Harper’s low-bar targets.
In any case, shouldn’t Ottawa promote the spending of billions on making wind and sea wave turbines, solar panels and geothermal technology, rather than on conduits to increase the flow of climate-change-causing fossil fuels?

Instead of obtaining a “social license” from indigenous peoples, as he promised to do, Trudeau has been issuing construction permits for BC Hydro’s Site C dam, over the objection of First Nations that have taken the government to court. An article in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper referred to Trudeau’s “lofty rhetoric” on indigenous rights as “a cheap simulation of justice.”

Health-care funding is another credibility loser for Trudeau. The issue is transfer payments from Ottawa to the provinces. After growing at 6 per cent a year for a decade, subject to the terms Liberal PM Paul Martin reached with the provinces in 2005, which Stephen Harper upheld, transfers are scheduled to grow only about 3 per cent annually, starting in 2017. Harper built in that drop in funding. It made the provincial governments very angry. In the 2015 election, NDP Leader Tom Mulcair promised to restore the growth rate to 6 per cent, at a cost of $36 billion over ten years. The Liberals under Justin Trudeau were deliberately vague. Then in late September 2016, federal health Minister Jane Philpott admitted that Harper’s plan for transfers is Trudeau’s too.

Sadly, for the provinces, the Canada Institute for Health Information reports that total health spending in Canada “has fallen gradually in the past few years” as a share of GDP. “Since 2011, health spending has decreased by an average of 0.6 per cent per year.”
On the foreign affairs front, notwithstanding his canola summit in China, and restored diplomatic relations with Iran, Trudeau pursues a course bent on aggression and military weapons sales abroad. The Canadian military is gearing up to support a major French “counterterrorism” operation in northern Africa. This occurs in the wake of NATO’s obliteration of Libya’s secular Gadhafi regime. A Canadian air force general commanded the NATO bombing campaign, which quickly opened up political space for al Qaeda-linked fighters there and across the region. The Liberal government has said it will commit up to 600 troops to UN “peacekeeping” duties. Without saying where the soldiers will be deployed, National Defence, Global Affairs and the RCMP conducted a “reconnaissance mission” to Mali in August. Canadian military aircraft carried nearly 40 tonnes of equipment between France and Africa last year.

Notably, Canadian “aid” is not going to countries where Canadian-supported coups resulted in devastating human rights abuses, such as Honduras or Egypt. But why Mali? Does it have anything to do with Trudeau’s bid for a United Nations Security Council seat? Or could it be because Mali is a major supplier of uranium, or because Canadian gold mining operations at Nampala, which recently reported positive cash flow for Canadian firm Robex, got Ottawa’s attention. Mali happens to be the third-largest gold-producing country in Africa.

Sometimes the prospect of immediate profits from mineral resources take a back seat to larger considerations of geo-political power. Canada is sending an additional 500 troops to Latvia for an open-ended mission to help its imperialist allies to scare the Russians. It’s a move so provocative that Mikhail Gorbachev (former top bureaucrat of the USSR, and a strong critic of Vladimir Putin) warned: “NATO has begun preparations for escalating the Cold War into a hot one. All the rhetoric in Warsaw just yells of a desire almost to declare war on Russia. They only talk about defence, but actually they are preparing for offensive operations.”

This deployment adds to the hundreds of Canadian troops already playing war games in the Ukraine, where Trudeau took his nine-year-old son in July.
The Liberals kept their promise to remove Canada’s fighter planes from the war in Iraq, but compensated by tripling the number of Canadian “military advisers” on the ground there.

When Trudeau spoke to the United Nations Assembly in September he sweetly intoned “We’re Canadian and we’re here to help.” He showed what he meant by that, in practice, when he recently approved the export of $15 billion worth of armed vehicles to Saudi Arabia, a country which is occupying parts of Yemen, and is the be-heading capital of the world widely condemned for its horrible human rights record.

Not to be outdone by Harper, Justin Trudeau’s Canada now ranks second in arms exports to the Middle East for the first time in history, behind only the United States.

But why stop there? We could examine the government’s failure to amend, let alone rescind the intrusive and repressive Bill C-51 that gives Canada’s spies and police unprecedented powers, money and resources. We could look to Trudeau’s broken promise to restore home mail delivery where it was curtailed. We can reflect on Ottawa’s paltry planned increase in Canada Pension Plan payments to seniors, or its undiminished allegiance to the so-called free trade deals, the TPP and CETA. The list seems almost endless. But the point is this. When the fresh coat of paint called Justin Trudeau is stripped away, one sees basically the same austerity agenda designed to perpetuate capitalist rule, to maintain the dominion of the 0.1 per cent over the rest of us.
To end the pernicious cycle of capitalist political fakery and abuse, it is necessary to terminate the socio-economic system itself. The break up of the Liberal political honeymoon is a welcome step in that direction.

The New Reformism, Spain and the US Election

by Bob Lyons

It was just a little over a year ago that Socialist Action published an article titled “The ‘New’ European Reformism and the Failure of the Broad Left Party Strategy. Since then, that article, which made predictions concerning the trajectory of the Spanish left-reformist project PODEMOS, amongst others, events have verified our analysis in spades.
The thrust of our analysis is that the age-old question of reform versus revolution, the recycled variant of Karl Kautskyist reformism versus revolutionary Marxism, the construction of a broad-left political organization occupying the place of classical social democracy versus the historical necessity of constructing a revolutionary party composed of the most politically advanced activists of the working class and its allies, is at the heart of this crisis of the emerging youthful Left.
Disillusioned by the capitulation of SYRIZA to the diktats and logic of European imperialism, this emerging activist layer of students and young workers pinned their hopes on the rise of PODEMOS, the political project first animated by the ANTICAPITALISTS, the section of the Fourth International in the Spanish state. The F.I. aims to build a bloc of left non-revolutionary parties, and a smaller component of revolutionary forces.
The sharp rightward turn of the leadership of the explicitly non-revolutionary component of PODEMOS, headed by Pablo Iglesias, has proven to be a slow-motion train wreck for the forces of the ANTICAPITALISTS.  Forced to disband as an organized political tendency, ANTICAPITALISTS has suffered a major split to its left, and has had to swallow indignity after indignity thrust upon it by the reformists, including an attack by Iglesias who called those who believe social revolution will be brought about by the actions of the masses of society acting in concert “crazy and deluded”.
Leaving aside the fact that the emergence of PODEMOS itself was the political expression of the millions of people who marched, demonstrated and occupied the town and city squares throughout the years of resistance to the austerity program of European capital, the attacks by Iglesias are designed to marginalize and isolate the revolutionary elements within PODEMOS and to force the militants of the United Left (IU in Spanish), remnants of the Spanish Communist Party, to fall in behind his right-ward turn. This turn is based on electoralist illusions that involve forging a political bloc between PODEMOS and the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE in Spanish), the social democrats who were the initiators of the austerity programs and attacks on the Spanish working class.
Consequently, in pursuing this strategy, the Iglesias leadership has dramatically modified the program of PODEMOS: dropping any reference to leaving NATO and the military alliances of European imperialism; dropping explicit recognition of the right to self-determination for the oppressed nationalities within the Spanish state; and changing its economic program to accept the fiscal targets as laid down by the European Union (a la SYRIZA).
The results of these electoral manoeuvers have been, if not an outright disaster, an enormous set-back for those seeking fundamental social change. Despite entering into an electoral coalition with the IU, to run as UNITED PODEMOS, this combination received over one million FEWER votes in the June elections than they did in the previous election where they ran separately. The aim of the Iglesias leadership was not to put in place a workers’ government which would oust the main party of the Spanish bourgeoisie, the Popular Party headed by Rajoy who received 30% support of the electorate, but to replace the PSOE as “the main party of the Left”. This goal too was a failure as the PSOE remained firmly in second place.
As our co-thinkers inside the F.I. have continued to emphasis, the social contradictions inherent within these multi-class, non-revolutionary political projects are at the heart of a losing strategy for the left and workers’ movements. Spain proves our point once again. Portugal, to be examined in a future article, will be the next big bust.

Reformism Comes to America
The problem of the new reformism is not one confined to European soil. With the rise and demise of the Bernie Sanders’ candidacy within the confines of the main party of US imperialism, “the Democrats”, the US left is engaged in a wide-ranging discussion about how to relate to and keep alive the radical currents which flocked to back Sanders, and who have formed the millions of supporters of social movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight for Fifteen dollars minimum-wage struggle.
The question of whether to build a broad-left reformist political organization or a revolutionary workers party has been posed around the question of who to support in the US elections.
On the one hand, organizations like Solidarity, the International Socialist Organization (ISO), and Socialist Alternative, whose best known spokesperson is Kashama Sawant, the openly socialist city councillor from Seattle, urge people to vote for and to actively support Jill Stein and the US Green Party. Their reasoning is that a strong “third-party” candidacy will be a stepping-stone towards the creation of a left party to challenge the hegemony of the Republican-Democrat political duopoly.
This is of course the US variant of the argument put forward by the European supporters of the broad-left party strategy, that a party of the Left and a government of the Left (a la SYRIZA) is a transitional form which can open pathways to more radical and socialist solutions. (See for example, the statement of ANTICAPITALISTS after the Spanish election in International Viewpoint, organ of the Fourth International).
On the other hand, organizations like Socialist Action, and the forces behind Left Voice, the English language international press of the South American-based current represented by the PTS of Argentina, and the MTS of Mexico, among others; and those former members of Socialist Alternative-USA who left the organization because of its uncritical support of the Sanders campaign, see it differently. We believe that the electoral process can best be used as a platform on which to champion the struggles of the social protest movements, as a place to raise a series of democratic, defensive and transitional demands, and above all, as an opportunity to argue for a party of the workers and the left to represent the political independence of the working class from the parties of the American imperialists.
This is the political basis for the campaign of Jeff Mackler and Karen Schraufnagel, candidates for President and Vice-President respectively, and the leaders of Socialist Action, the American co-thinkers of Socialist Action Canada.
The contrast between the campaigns of the Greens and Socialist Action poses a dilemma for the ISO, Solidarity and SocAlt. The question to pose to the members of these organizations is a pretty fundamental one: Why would you support a multi-class, petit bourgeois political organization when there is a revolutionary socialist one on offer? Why do you think muddying the class line leads to greater clarity and political independence for the working class of the USA.
Wouldn’t it be better for revolutionaries to develop a unitary Left and Workers’ Front, to call for a Left and Workers’ Vote as a step forward in the march to working class political independence?
The American left saw the Sanders movement evaporate, a tragedy for sure — one that we predicted. The revolutionary left acting as sheepdogs for the Greens – now that is a farce.

Turkey: From failed military coup to authoritarian purge

by Y. Fikret Kayali
A significant section of the Turkish Armed Forces (TSK) attempted to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his AKP (Justice and Development Party) government on the night of July 15-16. Over 265 people died in fighting. It was a serious putsch attempt, which came very close to success, but was thwarted. Erdogan responded with an unprecedented purge and declared a state of emergency, which allows the president and cabinet to bypass parliament when drafting new laws, and to restrict or suspend rights and freedoms.
The view that the coup was staged was prevalent in its early aftermath as the seemingly amateurish plans of the putschists fell apart, and pictures of hapless soldiers being pushed back by civilians circulated on social media. Proponents of the view that the coup was staged by Erdogan cited his ludicrous comment that “This uprising is a gift from God to us because this will be a reason to cleanse our army”.
The gravity of the situation is hardly in dispute now. A lesson learned, however, is the necessity of a sober analysis of the cracks within Turkey’s ruling elite. Seeing Erdogan as an omnipotent dictator, one who can even fake a coup against himself, is a manifestation of a widespread misconception among leftists in Turkey and abroad. It shows a failure to see the conflicts and contractions that Erdogan strives to manage in order to stay in power. Erdogan’s dictatorship will continue to rest on unstable tectonic plates, despite his current consolidation of power by means of a purge of tens of thousands of soldiers and public service workers.

Who is behind the coup?

Erdogan quickly blamed Fethullah Gulen, his former ally and the self-exiled preacher who leads an Islamic movement from his residence in Philadelphia. Gulen immediately and vehemently denied the charges. There are good reasons not to believe either one of those wicked charlatans.
The strongholds of the Gulenists within the police, judiciary and media had been destroyed in a series of purges, beginning in 2013. Also, rumours of plans to purge the Gulenists in the military were widespread. Gulenists had the motive, and Gulenist officers were likely involved in the coup. But were the Gulenists capable of this large-scale operation?
Almost one third of the generals who headed combat units were allegedly involved in the coup. The coup junta had operations not only in major cities, but also in smaller cities. It included top-level generals from all army, navy, and air forces, plus commanders of the police. Although Gulenists prefer to organize and operate behind-the-scenes, hence their real power is hard to pin point, the scope of the uprising extends well beyond the reach of Gulenists by any calculation. Rather, it is very likely that the coup included a much wider array of forces within the army.
We don’t have all the facts—and don’t imagine that we will get them any time soon. Erdogan has control over the judiciary, as well as the media, which could reveal the truth about the coup. Those who claim that Gulenists were very powerful in the army, however, cannot explain why Gulenists had not attempted a coup earlier, perhaps while they were still strong within the police. Similarly, if Gulenists were that strong in the army, one wonders, why didn’t Erdogan act to dismiss them or reduce their power? The coup attempt was a manifestation of a temporary coalition of a wider array of forces within the army. Leading the putsch, as Sungur Savran, a Turkish socialist writes, was “an alliance of the pro-U.S. seculars and the adepts of a religious fraternity under the protection of the US”. Anti-Erdogan and pro-NATO secularist military officers, to the surprise of many analysts, continued to be strong within the TSK, although they were not in leadership positions, unlike when the TSK was used by NATO as a vehicle against the Soviet Union and later against fundamentalist Islam.
All in all, one thing is clear: Erdogan is not as strong as many assume.

What was Washington’s role in this?

Tensions between Turkey and the US escalated following the attempted coup. Erdogan demands the extradition of Gulen, whom he calls a terrorist. The Labour minister directly blamed the United States. Many Turks, according to the New York Times, believe that “The U.S. was Behind Failed Coup.”
Turkey is a key US ally, possessing the second-largest army in NATO. Washington pays close attention to Turkish domestic politics. Most of the putschists were NATO soldiers. They had close relations with the US and sought its support. This is confirmed by Joseph Votel, head of US Central Command, which leads the ISIS fight, when he said “We’ve certainly had relationships with a lot of Turkish leaders, and military leaders in particular… Some of them are in jail now.”
Now reports show that those who held Turkey’s top general hostage called Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and sought US support. Incirlik, the southern Turkey base of US forces, was employed in the operation. It refuelled F-16s that went into action in support of the attempted coup. Its base commander and several military personnel, working alongside US soldiers, were quickly arrested for their alleged involvement.
Gulen and his supporters had been supported by the US because they are bearers of moderate Islam. Gulenists are also allies of Israel and its Zionist politics. But so is Erdogan, though with a difference: he’s an adamant supporter of a strategy that is losing its relevance. Erdogan claims the leadership of all Sunnis in the Middle East. He supported the Muslim Brotherhood against General Sisi in Egypt. He armed Sunni militias against Asad in Syria. He favoured El Nusra and ISIS in their operations against Kurdish inhabitants. For this reason, he didn’t refrain from souring relations with Russia and Israel. But his dreams were not realized. His Syrian offensive failed. The US now allies with the Kurds in fighting ISIS. To reclaim his position, he made a U-turn from his confrontational foreign policy and restored its bilateral ties with Israel and Russia. Evidently, he follows a strategic line that is subservient to US foreign policy. But with so many conflicts and regime changes in the region, more twists and turns in US-Turkey relations in the coming months should not be surprising.
Although we cannot be certain of the level of US assistance to the coup, looking at the initially neutral remarks of American top officials, and based on our knowledge of US imperialism’s modus operandi, we conclude that the US would have supported the coup if it had been successful.

What is to be done?

A key task facing the workers’ movement in Turkey and internationally is to disseminate the truth about Erdogan’s crackdown on dissidents and civil liberties. It’s time to organize mass actions to demand the following:
  • End the state of emergency!
  • Free the political prisoners who had nothing to do with the attempted coup.
  • Restore and uphold freedom of the press, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly. Hands off the unions and the Left. Defend the independence of labour organizations.
  • Form a workers’ united front against US imperialism and its allies. Organize mass actions against domestic repression and foreign intervention.
  • Turkey Out of NATO now! Close all US military bases, including Incirlik military base.
  • End the siege of Kurdish areas. Halt the repression against the Kurds. Free the Kurdish political prisoners. Self-determination for the Kurdish people, now!
  • Build a revolutionary workers’ party, independent of all fractions of bourgeoisie, and fight for a Workers’ Government.

Corbyn set to beat Labour right wing, again

by Barry Weisleder
British Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn is on track to retain his job and defeat the right wing challenge to his leadership. The leftist Corbyn, 67 years old, campaigns for re-nationalization of public utilities and railways, and for unilateral disarmament of nuclear weapons. He beat out six other MPs to become Leader in October 2015, after attracting hundreds of thousands of new members to the party. Now he faces an all-members’ vote, with the result to be announced on September 21. The election was triggered by non-confidence expressed by about 70 per cent of the Labour MPs just after the Brexit referendum in late June. They accused Corbyn of failing to campaign for the ‘Remain in the EU’ side with sufficient enthusiasm. Now it is clear that it is the majority of LP MPs who are out of touch with the rank and file. As Corbyn speaks to huge support rallies across Britain, his remaining opponent, MP Owen Smith, is fading. Another adversary, MP Angela Eagle, pulled out of the race on July 19, and endorsed Smith.
In August, the British High Court ruled that people who joined the Labour Party after January 12 must now be permitted to vote for Leader. Labour officials were granted a right of appeal, but the court is unlikely to reverse its decision. More members with the right to vote is seen as a plus for Corbyn, who continues to attract new members who seek a radical political alternative to the Tory coalition government, now led by Theresa May, and to the Blairites.
Meanwhile, LP members elected a new National Executive Committee. All six pro-Corbyn, Momentum-backed candidates for the NEC won, thus making for a clean sweep. In addition, the vast majority of Constituency Labour Parties (local electoral district LP associations) voted to re-nominate Corbyn for Leader. Smith obtained the support of only 11 per cent, less than the number of CLPs that expressed no opinion.
In another development, Labour MP Sarah Champion, who was one of several who quit Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet right after the Brexit vote, has been reinstated after she “unresigned” back to her old post. Others who walked out on Corbyn are now rumoured to be looking for a way back. The tide is turning.
Supporters of the pro-war, austerity-friendly, ex-LP Leader and former Prime Minister Tony Blair have posted angry messages on the party’s official facebook page. Many threaten to stop their monthly automatic donations to the party. Their money may be missed more than their odious politics, but the swelling movement for a socialist, working class agenda can easily make up for all of it.
Speculation is rife that a split in the parliamentary caucus and the party as whole is imminent, especially as numerous MPs behind the failing coup against Corbyn face de-selection in their constituencies prior to the next general election. A split by the right wing, as in 1981, will produce a rump that will eventually seek refuge in the Liberal Democratic Party, perhaps even in Conservative ranks. Thus, this prospect opens up the possibility that the LP under Corbyn will move further to the left, posing a significant challenge, not only to capitalist austerity, but to capitalism itself.