Friday, September 13, 2013

Oppose the US Threat to Syria, Do Not support Assad -- Speech of 5 September at a meeting called by AISA in Jadavpur University campus

Speech on 5 September at a public meeting in Jadavpur University to oppose the threat of US war on Syria
Kunal Chattopadhyay

Thank you for inviting me to speak here today. And thank you all for being here. We are assembled here to protest the US intervention, or threat of that, in Syria. But let me put that in context. I will begin by reading out extracts from two very different write ups. The first is by a group of revolutionary organisations on the ground in Syria and nearby regions – Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, etc. In a statement issued on 31st August, these comrades have said, among other things, the following:
Over 150 thousand were killed, hundreds of thousands injured and disabled, millions of people displaced inside and outside Syria. Cities, villages, and neighborhoods were destroyed fully or partially, using all sorts of weapons, including warplanes, scud missiles, bombs, and tanks, all paid for by the sweat and blood of the Syrian people. This was under the pretext of defending the homeland and achieving military balance with Israel (whose occupation of Syrian land is, in fact, being protected by the Syrian regime, which failed to reply to any of its continuing aggressions).
Yet, despite the enormous losses mentioned above, befalling all Syrians, and the calamity inflicted on them, no international organization or major country – or a lesser one – felt the need to provide practical solidarity or support the Syrians in their struggle for their most basic rights, human dignity, and social justice.
The only exception was some Gulf countries, more specifically Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However, their aim was to control the nature of the conflict and steer it in a sectarian direction, distorting the Syrian revolution and aiming to abort it, as a reflection of their deepest fear that the revolutionary flame will reach their shores. So they backed obscurantist takfiri groups, coming, for the most part, from the four corners of the world, to impose a grotesque vision for rule based on Islamic sharia.
They argue that:
This unfortunate situation has also struck a major section of the traditional Arab left with Stalinist roots, whether in Syria itself or in Lebanon, Egypt, and the rest of the Arab region – and worldwide – which is clearly biased towards the wretched alliance surrounding the Assad regime. The justification is that some see it as a "resilient" or even a "resistance" regime, despite its long history – throughout its existence in power – of protecting the Zionist occupation of the Golan Heights, its constant bloody repression of various groups resisting Israel, be it Palestinian or Lebanese (or Syrian), and remaining idle and subservient, since the October 1973 war, concerning Israel’s aggressions on Syrian territories. This bias will have serious ramifications on ordinary Syrians’ position regarding the left in general.
Exploding the myth of the role of the UN, they explain:
The United Nations and the Security Council, in particular, was unable to condemn the crimes of a regime, which the Syrian people rejected continuously and peacefully for more than seven months, while the bullets of the snipers and shabbiha took demonstrators one by one and day after day and while the most influential activists were being detained and subjected to the worst kinds of torture and elimination in the prisons and detention centers. All the while, the world remained completely silent and in a state of total negativity.
The other comment comes from one vijay Prashad. He of course has a special status. He is a leftist professor in a leading US University. Just as we salute if it is the US president but ignore if it is the president of Lebanon, so we pay extra obeisance to leftist academics of a certain type who warm chairs in the US. Mr. Prashad is one who sided with CPI(M) government when Tapasi Malik was raped and murdered, and claimed in an article in Counterpunch that this was a family affair. When two CPI(M) scum were convicted by the sessions court he did not tender any apology, of course.
So this impeccable revolutionary has the following line for Syria:
Letter to a Syrian Friend
“You are in Syria, somewhere in Damascus. You have been involved in various protests to fight for more democratic space in Syria, and then, after the early months of 2011, to overthrow the regime of Bashar al-Asad. I have learned a great deal from people like you, about your country and about the nature of the struggles that confront you. You have seen the tide go out in your disfavor on two fronts: first, an international environment that seemed to be in harmony with your goals, but then turned out to be as conflicted about "regime change" as you are certain about it; second, an internal opposition that seemed to mimic the early wellsprings of the Arab uprisings in North Africa in its multivalent diversity, but then turned out to be hijacked by imperialist interests and by radical jihadis that you find intolerant and dangerous. 
 Asad is weakened, as are his class allies. His braggadocio is that of a man who knows that he has nothing to lose. What comes next is not going to be the return of the old regime. It will be whatever the pressure from below can produce as an alternative. But nothing of a political nature is going to come if the violence continues, which will have thrown at least ten million people into displacement by the end of the year, and close to one hundred and fifty thousand people to their deaths. Such bloodshed is unacceptable, particularly when there is no light at the end of this long tunnel that runs from Homs to Aleppo, from Damascus to Hama. What will stop the violence? Not the regime, which is ready to fight to the end. Not the rebels, who taste victory even when it smacks of blood in your mouth. In the northern belt, the violence has mutated so that the Jabhat al-Nusra and the Islamic State of Levant and Iraq are at war with the Kurdish protection committees (YPG). That violence, where the Asad regime is not involved, led to almost fifty thousand people rushing over a pontoon bridge into Iraq over a weekend. Matters are far from pre-2011. That is one reality that all sides need to recognize.
You wish to fight on, with the messianic view that eventually you will prevail over the regime of Asad. This might be the case, but the odds are stacked against you as much as they are stacked against the Asad regime that it will have a complete victory. Neither of you are willing to see that the human suffering is not worth the chances of triumph. Empire enjoys watching the two sides battle like caged mice, weakening each other to its advantage.

Syria deserves better. But now the cord of Syrian nationalism is wrapped around the neck of the Syrian people, asphyxiating your dreams of sovereignty and freedom. A mediated peace alongside a process for genuine democratization guaranteed by your neighboring states would strengthen the chances for the renewal of your national ambitions. Anything else will simply lead to the destruction of your country, its history, and its future”.
This is advise on tactics from someone who has no connection with the ground realities, but who is going by a set of doctrines that were wrong egen when freshly hatched. The key doctrines here are lesser evil-ism and the identification of US imperialism as the sole or the principal enemy.
Lesser evil-ism has a long and dishonourable history. Which does not prevent rotten traitors within the left milieu of holding aloft its flag every so often. In every struggle, the toiling people are urged to think of their strength as limited, and those of their oppressors as so great, that they have to make peace with one part of the oppressors to single out the worse elements. We need to question this. We need to ask both whether any of the forces oppressing the masses in Syria are truly lesser evil, and we also need to ask whether allying with that side will benefit the masses of fighters.
Of course, Prashad tries to pretend that most of those fighting are lined up with either the US, or the Saudi and Qatar backed fundamentalists.
So how lesser evil is Assad?
As this is a speech, not an academic paper, let me focus on a few points, instead of going into excessive details.
  • The “secular” Assad’s principal backers and supporters include the Iranian regime, the Hezbollah, and Russia. The first is certainly not a model of secular democracy.
  • Assad has a bloody despotic regime. As the comrades of Syria and neighbouring countries point out, some 150,000 people have died during the civil war that is raging. And the fact that Obama is trying to use the deployment of chemical weapons as an excuse to butt in and push out Iran and Russia and become the dominant big power behind Syria, does not negate the terrible crime of using chemical weapons on civilians.
  • Assad is not progressive. For a long time, Syria was viewed as a particularly progressive country. We in India are aware of the story all too well. A weak capitalism with a strong nationalist movement – the use of the rhetoric of socialism to build a public sector through which capitalist development is fostered – the long wave after World War II which promotes a large amount of hiring of labour and a degree of improvement in living standards of a good part of the working class – and you have pro-Moscow, even other left parties jumping up and down. This was how the Nehruvian slogan of socialistic pattern was swallowed by the rightwing of the CPI, and indeed the reason why even now the CPI(M) wants to make a distinction between the lesser evil-ism of the congress, when all is said and done.
  • The reality is, Assad’s father ruled as a dictator, and the son followed. As the world economy shifted, the so-called socialistic Syrian regime moved to privatisation, with both Gulf capitalists and local crony capitalists perfectly happy. Rami Makhlouf, the cousin of Bashar al-Assad, represented the mafia-style process of privatisation led by the regime. At the same time the financial sector has developed with private banks, insurance firms, the Damascus stock exchange and money exchange bureaus. Capital’s share of Gross Domestic Product rose to 72 per cent in 2005, over a third of the population fell below the poverty line (less than US $1 a day) and nearly half live around this threshold ($2 or less a day).
This of course does not mean that we should, as some others  seem to think, support any and every force opposing Assad. In fact, we should oppose any foreign intervention in Syria, given that each foreign power that is intervening is doing so for a reactionary cause.
About chemical weapons:
The USA used Agent Orange in Vietnam. Who policed the USA?
The USA used depleted uranium in Iraq. Who put Bush on trial?
It has been reported that the supply of chemical weapons came from British suppliers.
This is not to say that the use of chemical weapons by Assad is not a crime, but to say that ruling class criminals can be legitimately tried only when the oppressed get the power to try and punish them.
About intervening in Syria:
What is clear is that the US is in a difficult situation. It does not want the pro Saudi Islamic fundamentalists in power. That would upset the balance against Israel. So what it really wants is the emergence of an alternative “secular’ strong man, who however would consent to be a US client. Anyone who believes that intervention has any greater humanitarian cause must explain why the peaceful struggles got no support. And also, why the US is silent about the military coup that overthrew the elected government in Egypt.
So of course we must oppose US intervention in Sytria. We must do so, first, by organising and demonstrating everywhere.  Beyond that, we do it by intensifying anti capitalist struggles everywhere, so that world capitalism faces many points of resistance. At the same time, we must reject any support, decked up in any form, to the brutal capitalist regimes of weaker countries.
Real anti-imperialism has to incorporate anti-capitalism. At the same time, we believe that in the face of impending Us threat, the central slogan must be to oppose all interventions in Syria, not a detailed political analysis, since the central goal is to mobilise the maximum number of people. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Why Teachers' Associations Need to be Militant fighters for Economic Demands

We are salaried . We are employed, to carry out policies mostly decided by bureaucrats and imposed on us. We need a trade union that will look after our interests. Our predecessors, in very difficult conditions, did build such a union. That was the WBCUTA, and later, at the all India level, the AIFUCTO. Locally in Jadavpur we have had the JUTA. But for these organisations, with all their flaws (discussed below, a few of those) we would be having neither any academic democracy, nor a decent living. My father, who was a WBCUTA leader, with no Ph D (though eventually 15 or so books and over a hundred papers) so I assume in the eyes of professors with foreign Ph Ds little better than a rabble rouser, always told me about the time the first demand on their charter read, A monthly Pay Packet. I never asked what he meant, for my childhood years are filled with memories of my father coming home with an armload of books and the comment, today I got my UGC. To me, UGC meant father getting a relatively good sum of money once in three or four months. They had the basic given by the college. They had the State DA. They had the UGC. No consolidated pay checheque at the beginning of each month. It was a long fight by WBCUTA that changed it, and I am glad WBCUTA did that by prioritising it over getting OPAC for the Libraries.

What does it mean, when the teachers associations are accused of being not interested in proper educational infrastructure? Is the trade union to worry its head off about the improvement of production? I suppose, in certain ways, we do need to. So let me remind people, that it was the teachers' movement that had fought for the democratisation of governing bodies and universities. The place where teachers can discuss such issues is when they get elected to University UG Councils, PG Councils, Faculty Councils if they are in unitary Universities like JU, ECs or Syndicates, etc. But to demand of professional associations that they discuss less of salaries and more of infrastructure is a dubious concept.

It is also interesting that this comment was made in a convention called precisely on education. Attacking teachers unions is dead easy. Ananda Bazar does it all the time. Anyone with rightwing politics, a term I use analytically, not in an abusive way, will do so. For them, building unions is per se harmful. When we do not get our salaries, when lakhs of rupees are robbed from each of West Bengal's college and university teachers, we are supposed to grin, shrug and say, well, we have better things to think about, like how to improve the college library.
We are not supposed to agitate for our basic demands. But we are to think about improved research and all that blarney. My father worked in a college all his working life. My wife has worked in two colleges over 27 years. My father never got a penny for all the research he did, except one book which the ICHR comissioned him to write. I remember him filming Langal and Ganabani (of course, early Commie papers so one wonders whether worth it) and the films were then put on a projector and put against our bedroom wall. My task was to crane my neck (the pictures had come out at 90 degree) and read them at dictation speed. Today, college teachers are asked to carry out research, submit annual reports, and have a 25 hour college week at a minimum, plus evaluate scrips,  in colleges where they do not have ten percent of the infrastructure a Professor in a leading University will get. And yet there are college teachers, who, without sabbaticals, without leave, manage to write several books and papers, try to teach decently, keep up to date by buying the books their libraries cannot buy. I can cite a good number of my former students who do all that.

I would not suggest that unions of teachers have no flaws. JUTA, to which I belong, is elitist, in the sense it is not open (or was not when I last checked some years back) to part time teachers and contract teachers. In earlier years we had evening courses in most Arts Faculty departments, we had a lot of PT teachers getting shit pay, and when JUTA called strikes they went along, yet they were never asked to become members. And I do agree that teachers' associations have often been gender insensitive, supporting teachers accused of sexual harassment. But again, to reiterate a point I made, it was much due to teachers' movement demands that we had democratisation, that we had rotten trust colleges taken over, that we had the College Service Commission and the Security of Services.
The elitist, or rightwing, or "better", if you do not share my perspective, model is of course to do away with democracy, to impose a bunch of mentors and nominated council members, wise men and women who will do the thinking for the bulk of students and teachers, and expect teachers to just carry out their duties as defined bureaucratically. That the bureaucrats might have Oxbridge or Ivy League degrees or job experiences do not make it less bureaucratic.

Of course, all that I say could be put down as sour grapes. I have a perfectly consistent "second rate" education -- B.A. M.A. and Ph D all from Jadavpur University. No Oxbridge, not even SOAS. So let me also put on my aca-bureaucratic hat and mention that while it is about a hundred miles from anything that will get me an Emeritus Prof, I do have 5 books, 9 edited books, international publications, and membership in various committees that have looked at how to improve academic performance. I was the HoD History when we had the first NAAC report prepared, and the Professor in charge of the NAAC report told me, over phone, that he found that History was one of the few departments to do the work exactly as he had asked. Also, that I have done my bits in trying to improve the quality of education, at least in the classroom.

So, I not only disagree with the perspective that unions should not put so much stress on salaries etc, but positively condemn it, regardless of the eminence or otherwise of those who make those assertions. I do it all the more, because, hiding behind the Sukanto Chaudhuris are all the rascal aca-bureaucrats and politicians who have no compunction in getting improved perks themselves, plus ill gotten wealth, but who will reject our demands for more dignity (look at the re-employment situation), lawful promotions, or arrears.