12 December 2008

The Popular Momentum that Propelled Obama into US Presidency

The emphatic victory of Barack Obama in the US Presidential elections has generated a great deal of interest and enthusiasm, a veritable ‘Obamania’, across the world. There are indeed several special aspects to this remarkable victory. That he is the first black person to be elected to the highest political office in the US; that his campaign emphasised ‘hope’ and ‘change’ at a time when the US is passing through an extremely gloomy period in its history, and, above all, that his arrival marks the much-awaited end of the hated Bush Presidency, and a decisive popular rejection of its hallmarks, have all added up to make this probably the most memorable election in recent American history. For political observers watching this election from afar, the most encouraging aspect perhaps has been the passionate popular participation that made this election an energised extension of not only the fight against racism but also the wider anti-globalisation, anti-war campaign. Liberal sociologists in India have already begun reducing Obama’s victory to a sanitised sign of the ‘greatness’ of American democracy and the ‘maturity’ of the African-American community. But, racism in the US is not just a shocking memory of a cruel past; it is still very much a continuing social reality. For large sections of the American working class and the poor, race and class combine, reproducing conditions of systematic discrimination and deprivation....

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Comrade Ashok’s Revolutionary Journey

Born on 12 August 1947 in Kawakole village of Nawada district, Narendra Sah was an intelligent student from a poor family. Drawn by the spring thunder of Naxalbari into revolutionary activism since 1969 itself, he became ‘Ashokji’ and this remained his life-long name. Arrested in 1971, he escaped in a daring and successful jail break bid. Responding enthusiastically to Charu Majumdar’s call to go to the villages, he worked as an organiser amongst the rural and urban poor of Nawada and near-by districts, and also became a member of the Bihar State Committee. Even in those early years, his life was marked by simplicity, dedication and hard work. He would cover long distances on foot, and living among poor landless peasants, he spent many a hungry day. Ever since the reorganisation of the party in 1974, his intellectual depth and ability made him an invaluable asset for the party’s publicity work, in addition to his work in the rural areas. Since most of the party’s theoretical writings in those days were originally written in Bengali, he painstakingly learnt Bangla in order to be able to translate them. He also translated Charu Mazumdar’s and Jauhar’s collected writings for publication. In 1978 he came to Jamshedpur as a member of the party’s central publicity team, where he was involved with work among industrial workers and also with editing ‘Lal Jhanda’ and...

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OBITUARY

Comrade Venkanna Comrade Narra Venkateswara Rao, popularly known as Buggapadu Venkanna, 42, passed away on 13 November 2008 from a cardiac arrest. Comrade Venkanna joined our party in March 2008. His forefathers migrated to Warangal Mulugu forest area from Krishna District after the withdrawal of the Telangana armed stuggle. His father also was an active revolutionary leader who worked with the Chandra Pulla Reddy group of CPI(ML). At the age of 15 Comrade Venkanna joined a squad led by Comrade Dharmanna, a popular veteran leader and close associate of CPR. Later he joined CPI(ML) Janashakti where he worked for many years. After joining our party he worked to activise his old base among tribals, taking up the land question. He played a key role in organising the AIALA State Conference at Khammam. Comrade Venkanna is survived by his wife Vijaya who is a member of the AIPWA State Executive. Long Live Comrade Venkanna! Comrade Murali Comrade Gunuganti Murali, 32, of Kerchapalli village of Nalgonda district, died an untimely and accidental death due to electric shock at his home on 12 November 2008. He began his revolutionary journey with attraction towards the PWG and joined as a squad member. Later he was associated with the Nagi Reddy faction (now known as the Kanu Sanyal faction) and worked as in-charge of the youth wing Nava Yuvajana Sangam for quite some time....

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Remembering I K Shukla

I knew Indu Kant Shukla, interacted, debated, discoursed, fought bitter fights together against the religious fundamentalism of the BJP variety, walked in rallies in US and organized with him on human rights questions. Unwittingly a camaraderie developed between him and me, in spite of our differences. Born on 26 May 1928, Shuklaji, as he used to be called died of cancer on 17 September this year in the USA. Before migrating to the USA, he taught in several colleges in north India. He settled down near the famous working class city of Long Island. In addition to his eloquence in English, he also knew Hindi, Urdu and most interestingly Bengali. I was spellbound hearing Shuklaji sing “Achhe Dukho, Achhe Mrtiyu /birawha Dahan lagey/Tobuo Shanti, Tobu Ananda, Tobu ananta jagey (There is pain, there is death/ amidst the flame of separation/ … But still peace and bliss prevail!/ Yet the infinity soars)- a famous song of Rabindranath Tagore. His demise reminds us of the same song. Defying age, he was committed to unfailing activism, be it on American issues or Indian issues. Nothing seemed to go unnoticed and un-reacted by Shuklaji. His writings were a matter of inspiration to every one who had been activists. Shuklaji was a close observer of our party, CPI(ML) Liberation, and avid reader of our literature. Singur and Nandigram perturbed him at a time when...

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Obama and ‘Change’: A Letter from the US

The 2008 election was historic as the United States (US) voters elected the first African American President. This is of immense importance in a country where African Americans had been systematically lynched for having the audacity to vote. In a country built using slave labour, it is the Blacks who built the White House. Now a Black man will reside in the White House. Barack Obama won the presidential election after winning 365 electoral college votes, calculated based on number of states won, out of a total of 538. He received more than 65 million votes in total. Despite the institutionalized racism being perpetrated by the system and commercial media, white people voted for an African American candidate with the name Barack Hussein Obama. This again shows that it is possible for people to overcome their prejudices despite the propaganda. The highly unpopular eight years of the Republican party with George Bush as the most despised President did provide a conducive environment for this polarization. The Dominant Issues The election campaign started in 2007 with war in Iraq and Afghanistan as the top issue. In a matter of months, by 2008, economic issues started to dominate the election campaign. This recession is being called the worst since the great depression. Despite the massive infusion of government money the economy continues to plummet. Individuals bankruptcies have jumped. Foreclosure on houses...

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Why I went to Grant Park on November 4

(This article is based on a slightly longer piece by Tithi Bhattacharya that appeared in the blog Lenin’s Tomb, November 9, 2008) Over the past few months, I must admit I have felt like a recalcitrant hack. As a socialist I have argued furiously with friends and students about why they should not put their faith in Obama. How his servile agreement with McCain about the $700 billion bailout for the very corporations that he claims to attack was a forecasting of the economic direction of his presidency. How his repeated acquiescence to the three gods of American conservatism–nationalism, religion and family—only made him a more eloquent and more intelligent version of the republicans. How can you campaign for him, I have argued with my colleague and friend who teaches queer studies at my University, when he openly opposes gay marriage on the basis of his Christian faith? How can you campaign for him I have argued with my anti-war activist student when he plans to extend this war in to Afghanistan and Pakistan? But despite my (sometimes shrill) almost Cassandra-like hectoring, scores of friends, students, neighbours and co-workers campaigned for Barack Obama. My 53 year old Jewish friend who has never been on a picket line or anti-war march tirelessly knocked on doors to urge people to vote. My neighbour from a working class background who had never...

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West Bengal’s Diary

Justice for Tapasi On 18 December 2006, the badly burnt body of 18-year-old Tapasi Malik (an activist of the movement against land grab) was found at the Nano site in Singur – a site where ‘night guards’ of the CPI(M) warded off protestors at night. CPI(M) cadre were suspected of having killed her, possibly after having raped her, but the CPI(M) spread canards claiming that she had been killed by a lover or had committed suicide due to a tiff with a lover. After much protest, the Chief Minister announced a CBI enquiry into the killing. Now, based on CBI’s investigation, the Chandannagore Court has found Debu Malik, a powerful local CPI(M) activist, and Suhrid Datta, the Singur Zonal Committee Secretary of the CPI(M), guilty of the rape and murder of Tapasi Malik, and has sentenced them to life imprisonment. The CPI(M) is now claiming that the CBI probe is a ‘conspiracy’ to malign the party, hinting that the CBI is politically biased. But the CPI(M) had great faith in the CBI’s neutrality as long as Tapasi’s father and brother were being interrogated; it is only when its own leaders were found guilty that the CPI(M) conveniently branded the CBI as biased! Take a look at what CPI(M) organ PD, 6 May 2007 had to say about the CBI investigation: “New and definitive light has been shed on the...

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Crackdown on Student Democracy in the Name of Lyngdoh Recommendations

The Lyngdoh Committee recommendations’ purported purpose was to ensure regular students’ union elections free of money and muscle power. Students all over the country are outraged by the fact that the harshest action invoking the Lyngdoh order has been to stay the students’ union elections in JNU: which has always followed a model election process, which students themselves have kept free of all malpractices. The Lyngdoh Committee (henceforth LC) was set up by the UPA Government in 2005, in response to a directive by the Supreme Court, ostensibly to curb lavish spending of money, and violence in Students Union polls. Coming in the wake of the horrific lynching of Prof. Sabharwal in Ujjain by an ABVP mob, the Lyngdoh recommendations were widely welcomed as a move to ‘clean up’ campuses. In campuses where SU polls had long been banned or suspended, too, the LC raised hopes of democracy being restored, because it stipulated that all institutions of higher education, both private and public, should conduct Student Union elections every year. Even progressive and Left quarters tended to view the Lyngdoh Report with unqualified appreciation. For instance, a National President of SFI felt (People’s Democracy, December 3, 2006) that the LC Report established the “inevitability of student politics,” and therefore predicted that “Indisputably, the Lyngdoh committee recommendations will become a well-built weapon to the progressive student movement that consistently fights...

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AIALA Third National Conference: A Resounding Success

As the delegates and other activists started arriving in the city of Ballia for the Third National Conference of AIALA, the city suddenly shook itself awake in surprise at the red wave in town. It was clear that Ballia was witnessing an assertion of the politics of the working classes indeed after a very long time, and many individuals and forces friendly to the Left, including the local leadership of CPI and CPI(M) came to express solidarity. Comrade Dharmdev Lal of CPI, veteran of the freedom struggle and of the historic peasant and agricultural labourer struggles at Kudwa Manikpur (Ballia) in 1948-50, on seeing the AIALA gathering went to the CPI(ML) office and offered a contribution for the Mazdoor-Kisan Adhikar rally and joined the rally. He participated as a guest in the conference and later accepted the shawl offered to him in honour of his communist spirit by CPI(ML) General Secretary Comrade Dipankar Bhattacharya at the end of the two-day Conference. The city was decorated with red flags, posters, wall writing and festoons for the occasion and wall writing in different languages could also be seen at the TD college ground. The Reception Committee of the Conference was led by senior advocate Ajay Kumar, who was a leading figure from the area in the 1974 movement and also played an important role in the formation of IPF. He said...

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Investigating the Root Causes and Broader Implications

Part II “The contradictions inherent in the movement of capitalist society impress themselves upon the practical bourgeois most strikingly in the changes of the periodic cycle, through which modern industry runs, and whose crowning point is the universal crisis. That crisis is once again approaching, although as yet but in its preliminary stage; and by the universality of its theatre and the intensity of its action will drum dialectics even into the heads of the mushroom-upstarts of the new, holy Prusso-German empire.” — Karl Marx, 1873[1] In our last issue we discussed late capitalism’s strategic response to the stagnation that reappeared in the early 1970s after roughly a quarter century of post-war prosperity. This escape route allowed the system to limp forward in the usual uneven fashion, but the resultant bubbles in the FIRE sectors (finance, insurance and real estate) failed to reinvigorate the real economy. Thus it was only in 1 among 20 years between 1986 and 2006 that business-related (i.e., non-business) fixed investment in the US measured as percentage of GDP reached 4.2 per cent — the average for the nearly 20-year period between 1960 and 1979. According to economist Philip O’Hara, the profit rate of the Fortune 500 corporations went down and down: from 7.15 in 1960-69 to 5.30 in 1980-90 to 2.29 in 1990-99 to 1.32 in 2000-02. Real GDP figures released by the US...

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Who Is Afraid of the Fighting Youth of Bihar?

Even as the anti-terrorist squad of Maharashtra police has corroborated the long-suspected involvement of Sangh outfits in the blasts that had rocked Malegaon two years ago, students and workers from Bihar continue to be subjected to relentless fascistic assaults unleashed by the Senas led by the uncle-nephew duo, Bal and Raj Thackeray. And as we go to press, the trigger-happy encounter-crazy Mumbai police too seem to have begun flexing its muscle against the migrant youth from Bihar. While the Sena goons are allowed a free hand to wreak havoc, and Raj Thackeray enjoys the highest level of state security, the migrant youth of Bihar are subjected to ever greater insecurity and injustice. Over the last ten days as many as four young men from Bihar – two job-seekers and two workers – have been killed in Maharashtra, three by MNS or Shiv Sena goons and one by the Mumbai police. In Maharashtra, the Congress has never had the political will or wherewithal to check the Sena brand of politics of vandalism and communalism much the same way as it has acquiesced before the communal fascist campaign of the BJP and other affiliates of the Sangh brigade on the national plane. As dark clouds of crisis loom large over the entire Indian economy, more and more people are chasing fewer jobs. Against this backdrop, the threat of the Sena variety...

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Expose The Whole Iceberg of Sanghi Terror

No longer can the Sangh Parivar and BJP ever disown its role in terrorism. A former firebrand ABVP leader and so-called ‘sadhvi’, Pragya Singh Thakur, has been arrested for her role in the Malegaon blasts of September 2006 as well as in the more recent Modasa blasts. Subsequently, more sadhus and Sangh-affiliated organisations like the Abhinav Bharat have come under the scanner. Even more ominously, two ex-Army officers are implicated in the blasts, and it has come to light that an institution called the Bhonsala Military School in Nagpur (a branch of the Bhonsala Military Academy in Nashik) has been imparting arms training to the Bajrang Dal. The Maharashtra ATS has indicated that these forces might have had a hand in other blasts too. The Sangh Parivar and BJP initially disclaimed its links with ‘sadhvi’ and other accused persons from their stable, but later changed their tune. At a conclave of the Sangh Parivar in Panipat, BJP President Rajnath Singh declared that politics and religion were inseparable; that his party would oppose the attempt to “malign” saints and the armed forces; and that the very concept of “Hindu terrorism” was “sheer madness”. Riots and Blasts: Weapons of Sanghi Terror It is clear that the BJP itself is playing up the term ‘Hindu terror,’ hoping to erect a saffron shield for the terrorists of the Sangh Parivar and to consolidate...

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To Weather the Crisis India Must Reverse Economic Policies

The brave official rhetoric of India remaining insulated from the ‘made in USA’ economic crisis has now officially given way to a measured discourse of caution. On November 3, in a meeting with top corporate heads Prime Minister Manmohan Singh described the crisis as ‘unprecedented’ and cautioned that the global downturn triggered by the US financial crisis would prove to be ‘more severe and prolonged’ than expected earlier. He also talked about the need to minimize the impact of the financial crisis on the real economy and appealed to corporate heads to avoid any ‘knee-jerk reaction’. A group of ministers has been set up to monitor the ‘abnormal situation’ on a daily basis and a former chief economist of the IMF, Raghuram G Rajan has been named as a special economic adviser for the government. The Prime Minister’s appeal to avoid large-scale lay-offs came in the wake of an ASSOCHAM assessment that the corporate survival strategy would entail an across-the-board 25% layoff in India. On the eve of Diwali – the much celebrated festival of lights – India’s biggest private airline carrier Jet Airways had in fact announced retrenchment of 1900 employees, a decision which was withdrawn after two days following widespread protests. The public sector aviation unit is also reportedly toying with the idea of a different kind of lay-off, giving its staff an ‘option’ to go on...

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