Thursday, May 21, 2009

Tamil Self-Determination and the LTTE: Some Lessons to Continue & Renew the Struggle

By Reihana Mohideen

“To save the lives of our people is the need of the hour. Mindful of this, we have already announced to the world our position to silence our guns to save our people," said Selvarasa Pathmanathan, the head of LTTE’s International Diplomatic Relations on May 17, thus flagging the military defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. While the military defeat of the LTTE does not necessarily mean its demise, and it most certainly does not represent the end of the struggle for Tamil self-determination in Sri Lanka, nevertheless it is a major setback to the struggle for a Tamil Eelam.

And while calls for a political settlement of the conflict must be supported, the possibility of a genuine political settlement, i.e. peace with justice, is probably far less likely today than when the Tigers were still a powerful military force willing to negotiate a political settlement. The Tigers are in a far weaker position to negotiate a political settlement for a liberated Tamil homeland today, than they have been in previous years.

At the same time, the Sinhalese government victory is a veritable double-edged sword. The Tamil struggle will rise again and it could take more desperate forms. The fact that the Sinhalese army feels compelled to hold Tamil youth prisoners in military camps, and according to defence ministry spokesperson Lakshman Hullugalle, even up to two years if necessary, is an acknowledgement of this possibility.

The defeat of the Tigers, one of the most powerful Liberation armies in the world which controlled Northern and Eastern parts of Sri Lanka, does come as a shock. How was the Sinhalese government able to defeat a disciplined armed force, with substantial support amongst the Tamil population? While international intervention, such as military support to the Sinhala government by imperialist countries such as the UK and Israel are factors that weighed against the Tigers, the strategy of the LTTE itself needs to come under scrutiny, particularly by those very Tamil youth who will continue the struggle for Tamil self-determination.

While the LTTE has carried out a heroic struggle for the self-determination of the Tamil people of Sri Lanka, one of the main limitations of the LTTE was that it primarily pursued a military strategy and not a political strategy based on mobilising the Tamil masses and building solidarity amongst the Sinhalese and Muslim populations in the rest of the island. The militarisation of the struggle by the LTTE also resulted in human rights violations of Tamils by the LTTE in Tiger controlled areas. The centralised and hierarchical military structures, and the refusal to accommodate different political views and currents which exist (until today) within the movement for Tamil self-determination, all contributed to weakening the Tamil liberation struggle.
As Australian socialist and solidarity activist for Tamil self-determination Chris Slee, writing in Green Left Weekly points out, the military strategy pursued by the LTTE also led to the alienation of potential allies. The LTTE was unable to build strong alliances with any sections of the Sinhala and Muslim populations. As Slee notes, “The Tigers sometimes disregarded the need to win support among Sinhalese workers, peasants and students in southern Sri Lanka for the right of Tamils to national self-determination. This also applied to the Tamil-speaking Muslims of eastern Sri Lanka. The absence of a mass anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka is a key obstacle to the success of the Tamil self-determination struggle. The LTTE has been willing to negotiate with Sinhalese political leaders whenever they showed any signs of wanting to reach a peaceful solution. But the LTTE has not made a serious effort to get its message directly to the Sinhalese masses, bypassing the politicians whose promises of peace have been deceptive.”
While the lack of a strong anti-war movement in southern Sri Lanka primarily reflects the weakness and political limitations of the Sri Lankan left, the military strategy of the LTTE and the tactics which flowed from this, such as the bombing campaigns in the South which killed civilians, have also alienated the Sri Lankan masses from supporting the Tamil struggle for self-determination.
While our main focus has to be building the international solidarity campaign to free the Tamil population imprisoned in the Sinhala army camps, for the withdrawal of the Sinhala army from Tamil territory and putting pressure on the Sinhala government for a political settlement to the Tamil question, the left especially in Sri Lanka and within the Tamil population, has the responsibility to provide a critical framework to develop a political strategy to continue and renew the Tamil struggle for self-determination. This does not mean relinquishing support of the right of Tamil people under occupation to take up arms against an occupying Sinhala army. In the current situation, however, emphasis on political struggles and campaigns is clearly to the advantage of the Tamil fighters and peoples, and this will also be the case in the mid-term.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Thoroughly Modern Marx

The economic crisis and the imploding of ‘the faith’, i.e., of the neo-liberal orthodoxies peddled by the likes of Milton Friedman, has seen a resurgence of interest in Karl Marx with a sharp increase in worldwide sales of Das Kapital (one lone German publisher sold thousands of copies in 2008, compared with 100 the year before). Marx, as a thinker, was well ahead of his times. He accurately foresaw many of the fateful factors that would give rise to today’s global economic crisis: what he called the “contradictions” inherent in a world comprised of competitive markets, commodity production, and financial speculation.

The deregulation of the finance sector has been blamed for the current crisis and there have been calls for increased regulation. But deregulation was not the whim of individual governments. It was generalised as a mechanism to increase profit levels. As Marx argued in Das Kapital, speculation is inherent in the functioning of capitalism, and the bankers act and have acted, in unison with the industrialists.

Over the past 30 years the frequency of bursting financial bubbles has increased as we have experienced the biggest ever increase of what Marx called ‘fictitious’ capital, in the history of capitalism. When firms invest in purely financial assets they are deciding to invest in /claims /on new value and profit. This sort of investment in itself adds nothing to the mass of value added.

But beneath this excess of fictitious capital, real profits began to dry up, and another reality expressed by Karl Marx came into play: "The ultimate reason for all real crises always remains the poverty and restricted consumption of the masses as opposed to the drive of capitalist production to develop the productive forces as though only the absolute consuming power of society constituted their limit." Credit, had extended "the restricted consumption of the masses" in the industrialised countries, for a while while real wages were driven down or stagnated, but increasingly the credit couldn't be repaid.

The current cycle of over-production is based on the expansion of productivity and production and the decline in purchasing power. This surplus in production was fed primarily by Asia, and Asian commodities flooded the world.

Governments around the world have no clear strategies to resolve the crisis. Even the partial solutions they put forward to solve one aspect or a particular manifestation of the crisis, exacerbates another aspect of the crisis. For example, industrialised countries converted agricultural food production to producing biofuels to deal with the potential shortages in oil resources. This contributed to a shortage in food production and the food price crisis in 2008. Attempts to intensify oil exploration and conventional fuels such as coal will exacerbate the environmental crisis that threatens the very survival of the planet.

The massive state intervention seen in the last few months, of nationalisation and financial bailouts to save the skins of the capitalist class at the expense of massive public indebtedness of working people and the poor, has as yet not been able to stop the slide. Meanwhile we are also seeing a rapid increase in acquisitions, leading to a new round of unprecedented levels of capital concentration.

If the current restructuring the capitalist system continues down the same road, there will be enormous productive and social costs and the already fragile sustainability of the environment may suffer even more damage.

The crisis is systemic and represents the crisis of an entire model of capitalist development, including of neo-liberal capitalism. This global crisis also has a crucial environmental dimension: that of climate change and global warming. Third World countries are the most vulnerable, already suffering severe impacts.

Economic Crisis Hits Asia Hard

The impact of the crisis in the industrialised countries was transmitted to the economies of Asia with rapid speed. The initial impact was marked by sudden reversals of capital flows, plunging stock markets and even depreciating currencies, followed by region-wide declines in exports and industrial production. This has triggered widespread factory closures, rising unemployment, and lowering of real wages.

The latest World Bank forecasts are that the global economy will shrink by 1.7% in 2009. Trade volumes would drop a record 6.1 percent from 2008, led by a steep decline in the trade of manufactured goods, the largest contraction in 80 years, i.e., since the Great Depression. The trends in the industrialised countries will continue to determine the health of the Asian economies.

The myth that Asia was decoupled was quickly debunked. The entire model of development, of partial industrialisation of the Newly Industrialising Countries (or NICs) model, was export driven and export dependent. Growth rates in the region plummeted in 2008 and will continue to drop in 2009. According to Asian Development Bank figures GDP rates in Asia have dropped from 9.5% in 2007, to 6.3% in 2008, to 3.4% predicted in 2009. The hardest hit are the most export dependent economies: In Singapore the economy is predicted to shrink by 5% this year; Hongkong China growth is forecast at -2%; Taiwan -4%; South Korea -3%.

For the Philippines, the IMF revised its growth projections from 2.25% in 2009 to zero growth. As a reflection of contracting economies, exports fell 39.1% from February 2008 to 2009. It is expected to drop 13-15% in 2009, while imports are expected to drop by 12-14%.

Increasing unemployment
The most immediate and serious impact are retrenchments, especially in export driven industries such as electronics, as well as reduction in remittances of overseas migrant workers. This also means that the first blows are hitting women workers, given that in the electronics sector in the region, 3/5 are women workers.

This pattern of increasing unemployment is being repeated, to varying degrees, in countries in the region. According to 2009 ILO research in Indonesia some 40,000 workers were retrenchments in the last two months of 2008; Vietnam, 300,000 formal sector workers could be retrenched in 2009. In Asia overall the number of unemployed could spiral by 23 million and by 51 million globally in 2009 alone. Any gains made by working people in Asia, due to partial industrialisation in the last two to three decades, could be wiped out.

The impact of the economic crisis resulting in a rise in job losses, comes after the food price crisis in 2008, where staples, such as rice increased by 400% in some areas in the Philippines. While world food prices have gone down, in many TW countries they are coming down very slowly or not at all. In the Philippines staple food prices are higher than 2007 levels.

Workers and the middle-class hit
For the poor of Asia capitalism has been in crisis for some time now, not being able to provide the basic necessities of life. But what we are seeing as a result of the current crisis is a further intensification of hardship and poverty, especially affecting those sectors that did manage to make some partial gains in the last two to three decades, i.e. low-income workers, and even the middle classes, who are now being affected and find themselves in an increasingly precarious position.

The middle classes, include young college graduates who have traditionally been absorbed into the service sector, are being hit hard. In China, for example, in December 2008, 1.5 million college graduates of the 5.6 million who graduated in 2008 couldn't find work by year-end. There are 4 million from previous years still looking for work. Another 6 million college graduates will enter the workforce in 2009.

Filipino workers face big job losses
An Inquirer article reported that according to economist Benjamin Diokno, 11 million workers could lose their jobs as the crisis hits the Philippines economy in 2009. In 2008, according to ILO researchers, some 250,000 workers in plant and machine operation and assembly were retrenched. If workers in electronics and garment and textiles are included the total number could be well over 300,000 retrenched last year, mostly since October when the economic crisis hit.

Some of the industries hardest hit so far are garments, textiles and electronics. Women account for 72.3% of the work force in the electronics and 86.5% in the garments sector. The Calabazon area has been hardest hit. Seven to eight out of ten laid off workers in the export processing zones (EPZs) are women. Workers in the EPZs are also suffering big reductions in wage incomes due to compressed work week schemes, with women workers only allowed to work for two to three days per week.

Meanwhile thousands of OFWs are returning home as factories close overseas. Those most affected include factory workers in Taiwan and domestic workers in Singapore, Hongkong and Macau, a majority of whom are women. And workers who are still employed face wage cuts as a result of reduced working hours, suspension of implementation of wage orders, contractualization and outsourcing, as well as cutbacks in overtime and holidays.

The DOLE figures contradict the independent research data, claiming that only some 40,000 workers were laid-off in 2008. This under-representation of the impact of the crisis on unemployment is alarming, as it signifies the government’s refusal to acknowledge the seriousness of the economic situation facing the country and its people.

In the 2009 budget, the Philippines government would spend P7,391.54 per person for debt servicing while allotting only P2,050.98 per person for education, P301.52 for health, P57.48 for housing and P112.80 for social services. In a crisis situation, when large-scale economic stimulus to boost the national economy through public expenditures is required, such a budget is grossly inadequate. It’s a ‘business as usual’ budget and the continuation of the anti-people neoliberal economic policies that this government and the political establishment of this country is still wedded to.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Socialist feminist revival: If not now, when?

There is a revival of socialist feminism in Latin America, spearheaded by the Venezuelan and Cuban revolutions.

I just returned from a workshop on gender-based violence organised by the Ministry of Women's Affairs in Venezuela and the UNDP. Speakers at the workshop included Maria Leon, Minister of Women's Affairs and Nora Casteneda President of Banmujer or Bank for the Development of Women. The two women explained the gains made by women as a result of Bolivarian socialist revolution in Venezuela. A record which was truly amazing in the attempts made in empowering women towards achieving gender equality, reported candidly by both women, who also outlined the challenges women in that country have as yet to overcome.

The Bolivarian constitution is the first in the South (and possibly the world) to recognise women's housework as a legitimate economic activity producing wealth and contributing to the social welfare of the population: "The State will recognise household chores as an economic activity that creates added value, produces wealth and social welfare. Housewives have the right to social security according to the law." (Article 88) As Maria Leon explained in Article 88 "the work of all previous generations of women are also recognised and valued".

In March 2007 the right of women to live a life free of violence became an organic law enacted by the National Assembly of Venezuela. Now the law must be effectively implemented. This includes setting up special courts or legal units to handle violence against women cases across the country, with some 19 courts already set up covering all regions. These courts were described as 'new institutions of the Venezuelan state to eradicate violence against women'. The first courts were on violence against women were set up in Caracas on June 27, 2008.

These courts have the authority to temporarily arrest perpetrators of violence against women and prohibit them from leaving the country. The first dates for the trial should be set ten to twenty days after the act of violence, with sentencing on the same day with penalty and fines. Appeals processes exist. These courts were also described as 'specialised organs on violence against women' and as 'weapons in the struggle against violence against women'.

According to Maria Leon, "Talking is not enough. Laws are not enough. Institutions are not enough. We need a cultural change in our views and outlook." This required mobilising women to become "a real force, a deterrent force, an army to combat violence against women and to change the notion of women as battered victims and weak human beings". To mobilise women some 25,000 'points of encounter' for women are being set up where women have easy access to information and services without cumbersome requirements and bureaucratic regulations. These 25,000 'points of encounter' will consist of at least ten women, who will then organise more women to create "an army to combat violence against women ... the point is not only to decrease violence against women, but to eradicate it".

The Ministry for Women's Affairs and Gender Equality was set up on March 8, 2009. One of the first activities of the new Ministry was to organise a congress of women to consult women on the plans and work of the Ministry. A key objective of the Ministry is to advice the President on 'human development with gender equality' and the 'active participation in the defence and guarantee of women's rights in the revolutionary transformation of the country'. Linked to this a key task of the Ministry is to 'design the criteria for allocating financial and social resources and investments targeting women, especially those who are marginalised and excluded, suffering discrimination, exploitation and violence ... in order to promote a socialist production model with gender equity in the socialisation of the means of production'.

Maria Leon and other Venezuelan women speakers all emphasised the importance of the local popular power structures, the commune councils, in the mobilisation and empowerment of women. According to Leon "Peoples power, popular power, is most important [and] 70% of the commune councils are headed by women".

Nora Castaneda provided updates on the work of Banmujer. Banmujer is a key political instrument of the revolution in the economic and political empowerment of poor and ethnic minority women. Since 2001, Banmujer has redistributed wealth of around US$179 million in 106,616 microcredits to poor women. In 2008 alone it approved a total of 13,689 microcredit loans worth US$35 million.

Meanwhile in Cuba pathbreaking proposals and measures are being advocated and discussed amongst the entire population to advance gender equality in relation to sexual rights, spearheaded by the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX). According to CENESEX Director Mariela Castro this year’s celebration of International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia will be held in Havana on Saturday, May 16. It will be dedicated not only to youth, but also to the family, “so that fathers and mothers can better understand their homosexual or transsexual children.”

The National Assembly (Cuba’s parliament) will include in its work agenda an initiative to reform the national Family Code, which has been effective in Cuba since 1975 and contains proposals on gender identity and rights of “sexual minorities.” The initiatives include the legal recognition of the same sex unions, whereby they will enjoy the same rights as consensually united heterosexual couples.

In June 2008 a resolution of the Ministry of Public Health leganised the performing of sex change operations on transsexual persons. Resolution 126 establishes the creation of a center for integral healthcare for people who are transsexual, which will be the sole institution in the country authorized to carry out total or partial medical sex change treatments.

This is a far cry from the former Soviet project with its idealisation of motherhood or anything in the experience of the Chinese revolution. And it is a distinct trend in the opposite direction to what is taking place in a number of industrialized countries in the West, the US and Australia included, where the trend is to take away a range of even formal rights won in gender equality and related sexual rights.