John Passant

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Me quoted in Fairfax papers on tax haven use
Me quoted by Georgia Wilkins in The Age (and other Fairfax publications) today. John Passant, from the school of political science and international relations, at the Australian National University, said the trend noted by Computershare was further evidence multinationals did not take global regulators seriously. ”US companies are doing this on the hard-nosed basis that any [regulatory] changes that will be made won’t have an impact on their ability to avoid tax,” he said. ”They think it is going to take a long time for the G20 to take action, or that they are just all talk.” (1)

Sprouting sh*t for almost nothing
You can prove my 2 ex-comrades wrong by donating to my blog En Passant at BSB: 062914 Account: 1067 5257, the Commonwealth Bank in Tuggeranong, ACT. More... (12)

My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Real debate?

System change, not climate change



We need system change to stop climate change

World leaders are coming to New York City this week for another United Nations-sponsored summit on climate change. This time, though, they’ll be greeted by the largest climate justice march in history. What are we fighting for in New York City? Chris Williams, author of Ecology and Socialism: Solutions to Capitalist Ecological Crisis, looks at what our side needs to do to successfully confront the challenges ahead in Socialist Worker US.

Participants in the Powershift conference march in Pittsburgh in 2013 (Shadia Fayne Wood | Project Survival Media)


VIKING I landed on Mars, the Ramones released their first album, the Soweto Uprising began in South Africa, North and South Vietnam reunified to become the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, and Gerald Ford was in the White House.

1976: The same year scientists discovered that refrigerant chemicals, chlorofluorocarbons, better known as CFCs, were responsible for creating a hole in the ozone layer was also the last time when global average temperatures were below the 20th century norm.

Hence, the earth has now experienced 353 consecutive months–or an astonishing 38 years in a row– of above average temperatures. In terms of hot and cold spells, snowfall patterns and the number of extremely hot or cold days, there are millions of people alive today who have no direct experience of the kind of planet their parents grew up on.

For communities of small farmers and pastoralists–who number in the hundreds of millions around the world–dependent on seasonal bio-indicators for information on rainfall, planting, harvesting and herd movements, this becomes a life-and-death question. Knowledge from elders about the annual rhythms of springtime flowering; flocks of migratory birds; the emergence of butterflies, pests and other pollinating insects; trees and plants blooming; and when to expect rain is becoming dangerously unreliable, and even irrelevant.

Examining the situation in the U.S., one only has to look at the photography of drought-afflicted California, where 50 percent of the fruit, nuts and vegetables for the whole United States are grown, to imagine what is going to happen to food production and the price of agricultural produce in a warming world.

People's Climate March and Climate Convergence | New York City | September 19-21


The loss of water in the state–240 gigatons of surface and groundwater, an amount equivalent to almost 10 cm (4 inches) of water spread over the entire West–is so great that the mountains are measurably rising, as the weight on them diminishes.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

FOR EXACTLY half of those 38 years since 1976, world leaders have been discussing at international climate talks what to do about the increase in global temperatures resulting from the burning of fossil fuels and land-use changes.

Such societal activities have increased the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the key global warming gas, from a pre-industrial level of 280 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm–having some time ago exceeded 350 ppm, the danger level calculated by scientists. Yet even as the science has become more definitive, and the direct impacts on our landscapes and climate ever more obvious, the political landscape has deteriorated faster than a California lake.

Indeed, world leaders and negotiators for the UN inter-governmental process on climate change, begun 19 years ago, have at this point essentially given up. The coming climate summit in Paris in December 2015–billed as the meeting that would finally adopt an international plan for replacing the Kyoto Protocol of 1997 to deal with carbon dioxide emissions and deforestation–is already acknowledged by participants as completely inadequate and having “no chance,” more than a year before it is set to take place.

As a new report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, titled “Expectations for a New Climate Agreement,” says:

We doubt there will be negotiation specifically on quantitative national emissions reduction targets, as under the Berlin Mandate [agreed to in 1995]. Furthermore, any legal provisions included in an agreement will not be of a form requiring ratification by national legislative bodies. Involvement by the United States is crucial to any future regime, and the U.S. Senate is an impassable barrier on the horizon of COP-21 negotiations.

So more than a year ahead of negotiations that are supposed to map out and finalize a global deal on significant emissions reductions–which in any case were not due to come into effect until five years later–we already know the outcome: there will be no specific limits on emissions or targets for setting them; nothing will be enforceable and whatever happens will be merely voluntary; and the U.S., the biggest polluter in history, will be the major obstacle.

The “impassable barrier” of the U.S. Senate, more than half of whom are Democrats at the moment, means that 100 people–the majority of them millionaires, 80 of them male, 93 of them white, 85 identifying as Christian, with an average age of 62 and an average of more than 10 years in the same job–are holding hostage 7 billion people, millions of species and the climate stability of the entire planet.

Is it any wonder that a recent Princeton study, titled “Testing Theories of American Politics,” affirmed what many American’s already know: The United States of America is not a democracy in any meaningful sense. The report notes:

In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule–at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover, because of the strong status quo bias built into the U.S. political system, even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.

The study also reports: “The net alignments of the most influential, business oriented groups are negatively related to the average citizen’s wishes.” Which means that not only do ordinary people in the United States have virtually no influence on government policy, despite formal national elections which might suggest otherwise, but the policies that are enacted under the influence of a small economic and political elite are contrary to the expressed desires of the majority of the population.

Many examples related to issues like taxing the rich, public health care and education could be cited. On the environmental front, several polls show majorities in favor of stronger U.S. government action on climate change. And contrary to a popular myth, the polls show consistently higher support from people of color, due to the fact that they are most directly, immediately and worst affected by environmental problems.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

IN SHORT, more and more people around the world are recognizing the need for “system change.”

They want to prevent not only climate change, but address a host of social issues generated by the continued operation of capitalism that are inextricably intertwined with our ecological problems: growing inequality, ossified class structures with rigid or only downward mobility, structural and institutional racism, massive and ongoing gender disparities, giant corporate conglomerations immune to democratic oversight or governance, restrictive and debt-laden higher education, the progressive erosion of civil liberties, state-directed warfare with no regard for the casualties. Now, we can add to that list the almost complete lack of real democracy in a country that is supposedly defined by that characteristic.

On a global scale, as I have written elsewhere, states organized competitively against one another are subject to two dynamics, which combine to prevent an internationally coordinated effort to reverse climate change and preclude any long-term ecological resolution within the confines of capitalist economics:

The need for constant growth is endemic to capitalism and therefore makes it impossible to find a permanent solution to environmental degradation within a competitive, profit-driven system. Alongside that is a second fatal–and under-appreciated–anti-ecological contradiction of capitalism: the international competition between nation states over resources and political hegemony.

In a rather surprising inclusion to the Princeton report on democracy in the U.S., the authors make note of essentially the same analysis:

Marxist and neo-Marxist theories of the capitalist state hold that economic classes–and particularly the bourgeoisie, the owners of the means of production–dominate policy making and cause the state to serve their material interests. As the Communist Manifesto put it, “The bourgeoisie has…conquered for itself, in the modern representative State, exclusive political sway. The executive of the modern State is but a committee for managing the common affairs of the whole bourgeoisie.

Hence, in order to solve the interlocked combination of social and ecological problems generated by an economic and political system driven solely by profit, one which serves the interests of only a tiny minority of the world’s population, we need to have a vision for an entirely different system of organizing production.

In order to achieve that vision, we will need to build a movement that harnesses the collective power of the 99 Percent of humanity who have a stake in overturning capitalism and replacing it with a more democratic, inclusive, cooperative and needs-based socio-ecological system for producing the things we need to stay alive.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

SUCH A system requires rational and coordinated long-term planning, another feature inimical to the anarchy dictated by “market forces.” Thus, for example, the response to the drought in California is not to switch water supplies over to crops with less intensive water requirements, but to ones that offer higher economic value.

Deeper wells are required to reach groundwater, increasing unsustainable pumping rates by using larger and larger diesel-fueled pumps–so the system is simultaneously exacerbating local air pollution, saline intrusion and land subsidence. Because water flows underground, each farmer or corporation–many of which are using completely outdated water-saving technologies, based on 7,000-year-old technology, if they are using such methods at all–is in direct competition with surrounding farms to dig deeper wells, acquire larger pumps, and pump out groundwater before their neighbors.

Nonsensically, though 80 percent of water in California is used for agricultural purposes, the onus has been on individual consumers to reduce their water use, not Big Ag–even though this makes no sense in terms of achieving radical reductions in water use. Indeed, the 3.9 million people of Los Angeles already use less water than other U.S. cities and less per capita than they did in 1980.

Such is the irrational, unplanned and frankly absurd nature of capitalism that the thriving new business in California is companies that paint lawns and grass green–using, of all things, water-based paints.

The process of financial accumulation for short-term profit at the expense of both people and the environment, was described in the fugitive slave narrative of Charles Bell, as he traveled north, in terms that are startlingly contemporary:

They are attempting to perform impossibilities–to draw the means of supporting a life of idleness, luxury and splendor from a once generous, but long since worn-out and exhausted soil–a soil which, carefully used, would at this day have richly repaid the toils of a husbandman, by noble abundance of all the comforts of life; but which, tortured into barrenness by the double curse of slavery and tobacco, stands as…a monument to the poverty and punishment which Providence has decreed as the reward of idleness and tyranny.

By contrast, a rational society based on cooperative, bottom-up democracy would use a combination of science, the best available technology, and local knowledge of weather patterns, soil, agriculture and food needs to decide where and what to plant and farm in any given location.

Those decisions would rest on a comprehensive analysis of the type of crop, based on agricultural, ecological, climatic, cultural and social factors, and how to embed those crops among other crops, animals and humans to create a sustainable and functional, integrated ecosystem–one that can, in combination and consultation with other agricultural regions, provide nutritious food and a balanced diet for a wider population.

Not only do ecosocialists see the problem of climate change as related to an entire social and economic system that needs to be confronted–because we are talking about requisitioning $10 trillion in wealth held by fossil fuel corporations alone–but our vision for that alternative also has to be holistic. It must make the connections between different struggles and unite the forces capable of making such a vision a reality.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

HOW CAN we organize ourselves to carry out a social and ecological revolution on a planetary scale? As we approach the midpoint of the second decade of the 21st century, knowing the urgency of our project, its all-encompassing nature, the legacy of past defeats and disorganization among our own ranks, such a task appears daunting.

Nevertheless, clearly, the vast majority of us have an interest in doing so. Therefore, the question becomes one of motivation, potential and organization. Is the need to organize such a movement as powerful as the need that led to the rise of the abolitionists and the struggle against slavery? Indeed, that titanic struggle–which brought about a revolutionary change in production methods and turned millions of African-Americans from slaves into free men and women–offers lessons in who can effect profound social change.

It was the slaves themselves, responsible for cutting the cane, drying the tobacco and farming the cotton, who were the decisive social force in turning the Civil War between ruling-class factions into a revolutionary one that undermined production in the South and led to the non-compensated multibillion-dollar dispossession of the Southern slaveocracy.

While social movements throughout history have been and are powerful social actors, it is the collective power of people in factories, fields and offices to stop production of the things that the capitalists need to sell that is the crucial motive force and lever, capable of turning social revolt into social revolution.

While this force may appear dormant, perhaps, to some–even extinguished within the U.S.–working people, and even more so working people of color and the part of the workforce who are women, are disproportionately affected by ecological issues and so not only have a direct interest in fighting for ecological sanity, but also the power to effectively do so.

Which is why working-class struggles have often featured an environmental component, around questions of housing, air and water pollution, transportation, sanitation, town planning, environmental and workplace toxins. Those struggles are often mis-categorized as purely social, and omitted from histories of environmental reforms and how they were won. They are, nevertheless, a necessary and essential component of success.

Union members in the U.S. are beginning to recognize the importance of fighting for improved sanitation infrastructure, public transit and a new energy grid, free of fossil fuels–even if this is sometimes in contrast to the attitudes of their union leaders. Such struggles will only succeed with a rebalancing of social power in working people’s favor, not simply as a transition to different forms of energy.

Huey P. Newton, a leader of the Black Panther Party of the 1960s, firmly believed–following Karl Marx–that environmental problems were an outgrowth of capitalist economics and, as such, had to be taken up as a central part of the Panthers’ program. Newton argued that revolutionaries needed to see “pollution for what it is–war against nature, war against people, against the race itself, against the unborn.”

Moving toward a holistic understanding of nature and humanity’s place on the planet, Newton stressed that the underlying philosophy of the Black Panther Party must reject the very idea of nation states and be “founded on the basic concept of the unity of nature underlying and transcending all arbitrary national and geographical divisions.”

Achieving such a vision of a borderless world, where humanity and nature are intimately connected and co-evolutionary, will be a giant task. But if we examine our history, it is not one without precedent. It will require building organizational strength, as the coalition System Change Not Climate Change is attempting to do, as well as international solidarity among the 99 Percent–among the people of the factories, forests and fields. We also need political clarity about the systemic nature of the fight, as will be debated and discussed at the Climate Convergence in New York City on September 19-20, with hundreds of activists from across the globe.

There is no time like the present to be part of that fight.


My Razor Sharp interview 15 September

This is the link to my 30 minute interview with Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp, talking about, among other things, the new old war in Iraq, the death cult that is Western imperialism, the war on the poor, Abbott in Arnhem Land, a treaty, and the need to fight back against the Budget war on the poor and the war in Iraq.

They’ll be home before Christmas in this war to end all wars

Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad.

Prometheus in Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Masque of Pandora”.


Truth in placards


The latest cabal of war mongers – the US, the UK and Australia plus the other usual white western suspects and a few Quisling Arab states – has rushed back into Iraq to defeat the death cult, Islamic State.  I have no love for IS, but they didn’t kill 2 million civilians in Indo-China; they didn’t kill more than one million civilians in Iraq; they didn’t kill tens of thousands of innocents in Afghanistan. They aren’t drone bombing women and children in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere.

The real death cult is western imperialism.  Australia is worshiping at the altar with the high priest, the US.

Like all the liars of war, this time it is humanitarian. Just like Vietnam. Just Like Iraq in 1990. Just like Afghanistan in 2002. Just like Iraq in 2003. Of course Vietnam was built on a lie, the lie of the Gulf of Tonkin . Iraq 2003 was built on the lie of weapons of mass destruction. And now the latest war in Iraq is built on fear of Muslims at home and abroad and the lie of humanitarian intervention.

ISIS is a logical consequence of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Islamic State might be a bastard child of US foreign policy but its parentage is clear.

This next round in the war in Iraq is a war to remove the mistakes of the past war. It won’t work because the wars in Iraq are the problem, not the way they are carried out.  All our intervention will do is invigorate those fighting against us and possibly make Australia a target for an attack here. Indeed that may well be Islamic State’s intention – to draw us in to their trap.

War and capitalism are a long married couple.  As US economic power declines and that of China rises the world will become more unstable. The US will resort more and more to force to keep China in second place, a second place far behind the US.  It cannot work in the  long term because the forces unleashed in China are the very forces that built US capitalism and imperialism – the drive for profit protected and expanded by a strong state.

So why the return to Iraq? Because of its sectarianism and abuse of Sunnis, the US puppet regime in Iraq sowed the seeds for ISIS. Islamic State was in fact supported by the US in Syria for a while. The arms they use are American.

Islamic State receives major support from Saudi Arabia who, perhaps not coincidentally, is not part of the white man’s war brigade in Iraq.   (As an aside Saudi Arabia beheaded up to 40 ‘criminals’ last month, including some for sorcery. Unsurprisingly there was not a mention in the mainstream press.  Beheadings are OK when our erstwhile allies do it.

Australia is supporting the US as part of its insurance policy deal with American imperialism. Our ruling class provide cover for an alliance to provide protection in the future against Chinese imperialism and to enable Australian power under cover of US power to expand in the region.

Clearly the Australian ruling class has aligned itself closely with the US, and therefore against China.  Pine Gap is for the Americans. The Darwin base and its expansion is for the Americans. We might sell our resources to China but our ruling class’s long term interests they believe lie with the US.  Hence the insurance policy with the US. What are a few dead Australians sacrificed on the altar of the US alliance compared to being on the hopefully winning side and for ever in America’s gratitude?

One problem. The US isn’t even the winning side. The defeats that dare not speak their name – Afghanistan and Iraq – are about to be repeated, in Iraq.

There is an added bonus for the government, they hope. A good war will distract attention away from their war on Australia’s poor and workers. There’s unlimited money for war but none for the poor.

And if anyone still has illusions in the Labor Party, Bill Shorten’s ‘all the way with TA’ should put the final nail into that coffin.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said that this war in Iraq would take months. No doubt they’ll be home before Christmas.

Have we learned nothing over the last century? Or is this the war to end all wars? This time, no doubt, the Western ruling classes will get it right.  Oh yeah, just like 100 years ago.

Later articles will try to address why the US is doing this, why Labor is in partnership with the Abbott government and how we can resist.

Budget distraction level set at High

The United States won’t fix the disaster it caused in Iraq

The emergence of ISIS is the result of the violence unleashed by U.S. imperialism write the editors of Socialist Worker US.

War criminal Barack Obama

BARACK OBAMA and the U.S. political establishment–Democrats and Republican alike–are whipping up support for a new war drive in the Middle East.

Obama gave a televised speech outlining plans to escalate U.S. military intervention, one month after American warplanes began dropping bombs on Iraq in the latest chapter in almost a quarter century of warfare against the Iraqi people.

Obama claims the U.S. is responding to a grave new threat: the Sunni fundamentalists of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), whose military offensive this summer has given them control over large parts of northern and western Iraq, to go with their base in eastern Syria.

But the U.S. is aiming its weaponry at a force that arose as a direct consequence of imperialism–in particular, the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq and Washington’s divide-and-conquer policies to stoke sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shia Muslims. Revving up the war machine will only add to the suffering and violence.

ISIS has horrified people around the world with its beheadings of captured journalists, its murderous violence toward ethnic and religious minorities, and the reactionary dictates it wants to apply to everyone within the self-declared ISIS caliphate.

This makes it the perfect enemy to help U.S. imperialism rally support, domestically and internationally. The confrontation with ISIS will become the pretext for increased military intervention by U.S. forces; for bolstering reactionary and repressive allies in the region; for increasing Pentagon spending; for intensifying the Big Brother surveillance state; and who knows what else.

The U.S. may or may not re-invade Iraq with ground troops or expand its bombing to Syria in the near term, but make no mistake: Barack Obama is declaring a new war–or at least a new phase in an old one: the decade-old “war on terror.”

That war will be waged in the name of stopping more horrors in the Middle East and protecting the security of the U.S. But the American empire will do nothing of the sort. As they have for more than 10 years already–not to mention a century of imperialist aggression before that–the warmakers of Washington will only make the world more unstable, more oppressive and more violent.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

THE DOUBLE standards and hypocrisy of the U.S. case for action against ISIS beg to be exposed–though you won’t hear much about them from a corporate media that never tires of cheerleading the next U.S. war.

ISIS has killed thousands of people during its recent military operations in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. government, on the other hand, has killed millions in Iraq alone over more than 20 years, in the process of reducing a once developing industrial society to one of the poorest and most violent countries in the world.

ISIS fighters are fanatical fundamentalists who tolerate no dissent, including among fellow Sunni Muslims. But what about the Religious Right maniacs who murder doctors and women’s clinic workers in the U.S.–not to mention the reactionary “neocons” who justified their post-September 11 “war on terror” as a part of a “clash of civilizations” between the West and the Arab world?

ISIS has declared a Sunni Muslim caliphate. Israel, America’s main ally in the Middle East, is explicitly a Jewish state, formed by the dispossession of the Arab population of Palestine.

ISIS targets journalists. So does Egypt, the U.S. government’s second-largest aid recipient in the Middle East. The military regime is prosecuting and jailing journalists for reporting on anti-government demonstrations–those journalists who weren’t killed by rampaging security forces, that is.

Then there is the main symbol of ISIS barbarism, known around the world: the videotaped execution of two U.S. reporters by beheading. But when it comes to this sickening form of state murder, ISIS doesn’t hold a candle to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia.

According to Britain’s muckraking Private Eye magazine, during the 21 months between photojournalist James Foley’s abduction by ISIS and his murder in August, at least 113 people were beheaded in Saudi Arabia–in public executions in a plaza in Riyadh well known as “Chop-Chop Square.” Among the “crimes” punishable by beheading in Saudi Arabia are blasphemy, adultery, drug smuggling, sedition, sorcery and witchcraft–though authorities may order those accused of adultery to be stoned to death.

And is Barack Obama threatening war against these reactionary fundamentalist tyrants? On the contrary, Obama went on a state visit to Riyadh in March of this year–to emphasize that “Saudi Arabia is a close partner of the United States,” according to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

BUT MAYBE the rankest hypocrisy of all is this: The U.S. is preparing to go to war against an enemy it brought to life and allowed to flourish, directly and indirectly–not once, not twice, but many times.

The roots of ISIS lie in the al-Qaeda network once led by Osama bin Laden–though the remnants of al-Qaeda now disavow ISIS as “extremists.”

Bin Laden and what would become al-Qaeda got their first military experience in Afghanistan during the 1980s as international recruits to the armed resistance against the ex-USSR’s invasion. The U.S. funded and supplied the Sunni fundamentalist mujahedeen in Afghanistan–President Ronald Reagan called bin Laden and his fellow insurgents “courageous freedom fighters.”

When the USSR was forced to retreat, Reagan and the U.S. lost interest in the rebels they had supported. Bin Laden later turned on the U.S. as al-Qaeda’s overarching enemy, especially after Washington increased its military presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War of 1991.

After al-Qaeda’s September 11, 2001, attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., the Bush administration exploited the opportunity to launch a “war on terror,” with targets that went far beyond al-Qaeda. One of them from the start was Saddam Hussein’s Iraq–even though Iraq neither possessed weapons of mass destruction nor harbored al-Qaeda, as U.S. officials claimed.

Al-Qaeda in Iraq only emerged after the U.S. invasion in 2003, once opposition to Washington’s colonial occupation had spread. Even so, al-Qaeda in Iraq was a small part of the developing resistance. It stood apart from the broader armed opposition because of its deadly attacks, often targeting Shia Muslims, rather than U.S. troops.

When the wider Sunni resistance briefly threatened to unite with Shia opposition to occupation, the U.S. didn’t hesitate to stoke sectarian divisions between Sunni and Shia, with al-Qaeda in Iraq as a handy villain. The consequences of the civil war and ethnic cleansing that followed were catastrophic.

Within a few short years, al-Qaeda in Iraq was politically marginalized and militarily defeated by the so-called Awakening Councils. They were formed by Sunni tribal leaders, with support and financing from the U.S., which promised that Sunni leaders would be integrated into the central government, now dominated by Shia political parties.

But the Shia-run state reneged on the bargain the U.S. struck in its name. Former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki made sure the re-established Iraqi army and police were dominated by Shia militias–they were turned loose against any and all dissent among Sunnis.

Even after U.S. combat troops were withdrawn from Iraq at the end of the 2011, the U.S. remained implicated in the government’s war on Sunnis. When police and military carried out their repression against Sunni dissent–including the wave of largely nonviolent demonstrations in 2012 and 2013 dubbed the “Iraqi Spring”–they used Hellfire missiles, attack helicopters and other weapons supplied by the U.S.

If ISIS today leads the armed Sunni insurgency in Iraq and has at least passive support from much of the Sunni population, it isn’t because ISIS’s reactionary and authoritarian ideology is widely embraced, but because its fighters have succeeded in defending Sunnis from attack by the U.S.-backed central government in Iraq. The rise of ISIS is a product of the violence and repression unleashed by U.S. imperialism and the other powers of the region.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

OBAMA HAS been under pressure to escalate U.S. action against ISIS, including calls to expand air strikes in Iraq and extend them into Syria–even though this would effectively place the U.S. on the same side as Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime the U.S. supposedly wants to overthrow.

Both Republicans and Democrats are demanding that the U.S. go after ISIS, but the pressure on Obama doesn’t stop there. According to opinion polling conducted for ABC News, support for air strikes against ISIS in Iraq grew from 45 percent in June to 71 percent now–and 65 percent of people favor extending air strikes into Syria. An overwhelming 91 percent of people believe ISIS is “a serious threat to U.S. vital interests.”

No wonder the Obama administration is pushing ahead with a new Middle East war drive. It can count on ideological ground well prepared by the “war of terror” decade, launched by the “neocons” during the Bush years and continued, with more moderate rhetoric and somewhat altered methods, under Obama.

Just as in the Bush years, this new war drive will stoke Islamophobia. Whatever Obama’s claims to the contrary, the demonization of ISIS–without the slightest recognition of the war crimes of the U.S. government that gave rise to it–will give an official stamp of approval to anti-Muslim bigotry.

Example number one: Linda Sarsour, director of the Arab American Association of New York, reported that she was attacked while leaving the organization’s Brooklyn headquarters last week by a man who threw a trash can at her and another woman–and threatened to behead her to “see how your people feel about it.”

Such attacks will outrage the same people who are already critical of Obama’s campaign to extend and expand the “war on terror” against a new target. We may be a minority at first, but we need to send a loud and determined message against anti-Muslim bigotry and U.S. military escalation in the Middle East.

Barack Obama’s “game plan” to confront ISIS won’t stop the disaster that the U.S. itself created in the Middle East–still less will it make ordinary people in the U.S. safer. On the contrary, the new drive to war is making the world more dangerous.

My Razor Sharp interview with Sharon Firebrace on 8 September

Here is a link to my 30 minute interview on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace on 8 September, including a discussion of the one year anniversary of the election of the Abbott government.

It’s shameful to use bogus claims of anti-Semitism to shut your opponents down

Jeff Sparrow writes in Overland on the bogus claims against Socialist Alternative and other supporters of Palestine. Here is a snippet.

Naturally, supporters of Israel don’t like to hear their views challenged. But that’s too bad. Politics, whether on campus or anywhere else, entails debate – and it’s shameful to use bogus allegations of anti-Semitism to shut your opponents down.

Here is a link to the article Pyneing for the Right student politics

Are you or have you ever been a member of Socialist Alternative?

At Monash University the Clubs and Societies’ executive has deregistered the Socialist Alternative Club as a consequence of its support for Palestine. A special general meeting of all Clubs and Societies will determine next week whether to support the deregistration or overturn it.

At the Australian National University claims earlier this year by Australasian Union of Jewish Students of anti-Semitic attacks by members of Socialist Alternative were dismissed for lack of evidence.

At Macquarie University security censored Socialist Alternative’s juvenile F**k Tony Abbot T-shirts.

At Sydney University demonstrators including Socialist Alternative members were accused of assaulting Foreign Minister Julie Bishop. One student was suspended. No criminal charges have ever been laid.

At Deakin University Socialist Alternative member Ryan Higginson is under threat of expulsion for a poster showing how student representatives voted on a motion to condemn the genocide in Gaza. The complainant has legal support from a firm closely associated with Zionist organisations. Ryan has been denied legal representation or time to organise his defence against ten pages of seemingly spurious claims.

At the University of Western Australia, the Socialist Alternative club is fighting deregistration following false claims orchestrated by student Zionists.

In Brisbane women on a Socialist Alternative bookstall on one campus have  been assaulted by a rightwinger shouting anti-capitalist slogans on more than one occasion. At Sydney University there is evidence of a Liberal assaulting demonstrators outside a university Senate meeting.

Anyone else notice a pattern here? One of the major organisations on campus that defends Palestine and Palestinians is under concerted attack at Universities across Australia. This is an attempt to silence one of the main organisations in the fight against Chrsitopher Pyne’s attacks on higher education.

Egged on by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, who in The Australian last week urged university administrations to ingnore free speech considerations in attacking the organisation, and supported by powerful Zionist forces, there will be more unsubstantiated claims made against Socialist Alternative.

Can the House UnAustralian Activites Committee, perhaps under the leadership of Senator Joe McCarthy, be too far away? Team Australia demands it.

First they came for Socialist Alternative …

We on the left must defend Socialist Alternative, its right to free speech and to organise.

Rediscovering Alexandra Kollontai

Leisa Petty in Socialist Worker US reviews a new biography of Russian revolutionary Alexandra Kollontai.

Alexandra Kollontai in 1910

MOST PROGRESSIVES and radicals today have never heard of Alexandra Kollontai. She is one of many underappreciated female revolutionaries who contributed practically and theoretically to the early 20th century socialist and feminist movement whose life and writings deserve to be more widely read, discussed and debated.

Cathy Porter, in her biography Alexandra Kollontai: A Biography, recently republished by Haymarket Books, will hopefully make her life more widely known and appreciated. Porter’s biography is a product of tremendous archival research, only recently made available, that gives incredible detail to the life of Alexandra Kollontai, and the interaction between the early 20th century feminist and socialist movements.

For those who want to learn more about her life, this biography is must-read. But it’s also notable for providing a detailed, accessible and lively account of the Russian revolutionary movement, both its rise and fall, via the vantage point of one of its most prominent revolutionaries.

Alexandra Mikhailova Domontovich was born in 1872 to wealthy and conservative parents. Known as a shy but defiant child, she was impacted profoundly by the disparity between her upbringing and what she witnessed around her. At age 20, she snuck away from her family during a vacation in Berlin, and this is where she first discovered the Communist Manifesto. She developed an early thirst for reading and history and began devouring political literature wherever she could find it.

She married young, and against her parents’ wishes (where her name Kollontai was taken) to an engineer who worked on ventilation systems in factories. It was here that Kollontai witnessed first-hand the deplorable factory conditions that produced subsequent strike waves in the 1890s, including a strike in Petrograd of female textile workers that inspired her deeply.

She joined other women at the St. Petersburg Mobile Museum of Teaching Aids, an underground grouping of radicals and revolutionaries who sought to use the gathering space for discussion circles, classes for factory workers and fundraising for strike support. Under the guise of botany classes, they smuggled revolutionary literature alongside the botanical specimens and expanded slide shows into discussions of the latest socialist periodicals.

From these classes, a direct relationship between revolutionaries and factory women was established. Factory strikes increased dramatically in the 1890s and put revolutionaries, organizing secretly, into more open contact with militant workers, many of them women. And from this period onward, Kollontai remained a committed and organized revolutionary for the rest of her life.

In 1905, a strike wave movement swept Russia and women workers entered the realm of class struggle alongside men in mass numbers. Such a newfound sense of power profoundly impacted women’s views of themselves, translating into a new thirst for political equality. Kollontai wrote later in Towards a History of the Working Women’s Movement in Russia:

In the revolutionary years of 1905 and 1906, the woman worker also became aware of the world around her. She was everywhere. If we wanted to give a record of how women participated in that movement, to list of the instances of their active protest and struggle, to give full justice of the self-sacrifice of the proletarian women and their loyalty to the ideals of socialism, we would have to describe the events of the revolution scene by scene.

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KOLLONTAI WAS an integral part of the early revolutionary movement and argued that the injustices specific to women and the larger working-class movement were directly linked. Her writings specific to the relationship between sexual oppression and class are what she is most known for, although they were only one of many contributions she made to the Marxist movement of the time.

A women’s movement was taking shape internationally during this time that gave expression to women’s newfound sense of confidence. But the feminist movement of the time, led by upper-class women who focused primarily on philanthropy and suffrage for propertied women, proved insufficient to meet the growing demands of working-class and peasant women who shared little in common with these women.

In this context, Kollontai fought two battles: one against “bourgeois” feminists who opposed the revolutionary movement because it threatened their position within Russian society, and another within the Russian revolutionary movement to take up the specific demands of women. Her successes on both fronts provide revolutionaries today with a method for understanding the class nature of women’s oppression and why struggles against all forms of oppression must be integrated within the larger working-class fight for self-emancipation.

Kollontai wrote:

The world of women is divided, just as is the world of men, into two camps; one is in its ideas, aims and interests close to the bourgeoisie, the other to the proletariat, whose aspirations for freedom incorporate the complete solution of the woman question. Thus the two groups, even though they share the general slogan “women’s liberation” have different aims, different interests, and different methods of struggle.

Kollontai embarked on an ambitious initiative to organize around working women’s demands. While she believed that the fight for socialism incorporated “the complete solution to the women’s question,” she also believed that work specifically among women was necessary to combat the immediate discrimination and conditions of women’s lives.

These initiatives were often met with hostility within the socialist movement, among those who feared that independent organizing among women inherently threatened working-class unity. In the context of bourgeois feminism posing a real threat to the existing class struggle, this is understandable. Yet the revolutionary movement was also not immune from the sexism that was rampant in Russian society, and separate “women’s work” had to be constantly fought for theoretically and practically by Kollontai throughout her life.

The first major initiative was a club established in 1907 by the recently merged Bolshevik and Menshevik Parties called the “Society of Working Women’s Mutual Aid,” which was intentionally located near the textile workers union headquarters. The response was overwhelming, with hundreds of women attending meetings, lectures, countryside retreats and cultural events.

This provided an important model of what type of separate political work among women workers was possible. Supported by the socialist parties but met with hostility by the bourgeois feminists, Kollontai began preparation for a political confrontation between the groups in the lead-up to a national women’s conference.

Kollontai wrote The Social Basis of the Woman Question as a polemic to be published and distributed beforehand, hoping to use the book and the delegation of female workers and peasants to argue for Marxist positions within a national forum. Unfortunately, the book wasn’t published in time. Today this body of work remains a crucial foundation in the Marxist understanding of the origins of women’s oppression and ways of fighting it.

Amidst this organizing, the Russian police issued a warrant calling for Kollontai’s arrest based on a prior pamphlet she’d written calling for revolutionary independence in Finland, forcing her to go underground. She spent the next nine years in exile in Germany.

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MOST RECOGNIZED historically for her contribution to the socialist movement on the issue of women’s oppression, Kollontai’s contribution to the revolutionary movement on the opposition to the First World War is far less known. In Germany, at the time of the outbreak of the war, Kollontai witnessed the devastating vote taken by the German Social Democratic Party, or SPD (of which she became a member), in support of the war. Shock, outrage and confusion swept the revolutionary movement around this question internationally.

The vote for war by the German SPD marked a turning point in the revolutionary movement, raising far-reaching questions around the nature of imperialism, internationalism, socialism and what type of revolutionary organization could be built. It was Kollontai’s immediate and uncompromising objection to support of the war that put her in direct contact with Russian revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin. They began a written correspondence over the nature of the war and how Russian revolutionaries should respond.

In response, along with German revolutionary Clara Zetkin, Kollontai helped organize a women’s conference where they succeeded in winning a women’s vote against the drive to war. Lenin, who shared her opposition to the war, requested she write an agitational pamphlet that could be translated and distributed internationally. They hoped such a pamphlet, accompanied by an international speaking tour, could garner support for a Zimmerwald Peace Conference in place of the collapsed Second International.

This pamphlet, Who Needs the War, was translated into several languages and distributed to troops. It earned her international recognition and an invitation by the American Socialist Party to tour. In addition to traveling throughout Europe, Kollontai toured the U.S. on an antiwar platform, speaking alongside Eugene Debs and “Big Bill” Haywood in Chicago.

She described Debs as “bold as a lion, his eyes blazing…I was happy to be treated with such warmth by such a great and generous heart.” She said of Haywood, he “hugged me afterward like an old comrade. He’s a tower of strength, a storyteller and a romantic, and what a brave, sincere fighter too.”

Kollontai was becoming an increasingly skilled writer and orator, which was uncommon at the time given that women internationally didn’t even have the right to vote. She would become a leading orator for the Bolshevik Party in the years ahead, often dispatched to the front lines to agitate for revolution among soldiers. A journalist for a Swedish socialist paper wrote after hearing Kollontai:

Slender and dressed in all black, her eyes blazed with revolutionary ardor as she summoned up all her inspiration, her indefatigable energy and her infinite passion. And when she fell silent, such storms of applause were heard that it seemed they would topple the Tsar’s throne itself.

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WHEN THE outbreak of the 1917 revolution began, Kollontai returned immediately to Russia to take part. She re-joined the Bolsheviks and was elected to its central committee, its first woman. She was also the first woman voted into the Soviet Executive by revolutionary soldiers.

Much has been written about the 1917 revolution and the role women played. Porter’s biography, without going into detail here, brings to life this monumental year with great detail that provides readers with a unique vantage point not found in other accounts.

Kollontai was elected as the Commissar of Social Welfare and went to work immediately to address the direct requests made by women. The new revolutionary government immediately issued decrees, including the abolition of titles and distinctions based on class and sex, the legal sanctioning of secular marriage and the recognition in law the rights of all children. But more than decrees were needed, and Kollontai was empowered to organize a women’s conference to gather and generate the demands and needs of women in a new society.

The Social Welfare Department began work organizing tours of the countryside in the lead-up to the conference. It’s an inspiring imitative, yet the conference also provides a glimpse of what obstacles the Russian Revolution faced in carrying out the needs of women. For example, when women began arriving for the conference, there was not enough food to feed or homes to house them. While planning for a 12-day conference for 80 delegates, the organizers were astonishment when more than 500 delegates showed up, many with children, representing 80,000 women from factories, trade unions and various political parties!

Calls for maternity protection, shorter working days, equal pay and the liberalization of marriage and divorce were widely supported. The resolutions passed were then turned into law. Kollontai and her partner were one of the first couples to register their relationship under the new marriage laws in celebration of this victory.

Despite the scramble to make it successful, the conference was an incredible boost to women’s organizing in Russia and had an impact internally within the Bolshevik Party on the importance of this work. In addition to the new laws, a resolution for a Women’s Department, the Zhenotdol, was passed. Independent organizing among women had a new mandate, and the establishment of the Zhenotdol provided much needed resources for this organizing.

Porter writes:

Soon every province in European Russia had its Zhenotdel, and the delegate in the red head scarf became a popular figure, visiting women in their homes, adopting orphaned children to live with her, and picking up a rifle when necessary to fight at the front.

A debate continued within the conference regarding whether a separate organization within the Bolshevik Party was needed to ensure women’s specific demands were met. Kollontai believed this was necessary, but most of her collaborators disagreed. Most believed that the establishment of the Zhenotdol, within the revolutionary government led by the Bolsheviks, was sufficient. This debate would continue, although remain unresolved for the remainder of her time in the Bolsheviks, and become one of many political disagreements that led to her leaving the government by 1922.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

WHILE HER disagreements were many, and she joined and eventually played a leading role within the Left and Workers’ Oppositions, they all centered around a widely recognized conflict between the promises and potential the revolution held and the material basis for implementation in the face of coordinated invasion by those seeking to destroy the revolutionary government and legacy. She was impatient with the resources devoted to the Zhenotdel in particular.

Porter’s biography gives new depictions of these debates and provides a glimpse into the incredibly difficult position of the revolutionary government, the civil war and its impact on the ability to continue the revolutionary policies and the eventual successful counterrevolution led by Joseph Stalin.

Kollontai’s life was spared, unlike most of her revolutionary comrades, and after leaving the government she was assigned a role as Ambassador for the Soviet Government, a tragic end to her political life that left her in a state of isolation. She was one of only a few Bolsheviks who survived Stalin’s purges, and her distance and isolation from the realities of the Stalinist regime allowed for her to continue work for this new government with a combination of resignation, denial and a desire to survive.

She told a friend, “What can you do? How can you fight the apparatus? How can you defend yourself against attack? As for myself, I’ve put my principles into a corner of my conscience and will carry out the policies dictated to me as best I can.”

It was a world in flux and, ironically, this is a period where she writes some of her best work. Going beyond her previous writing on the social basis of women’s oppression, Kollontai begins to further explore theoretically the relationship between psychology and modes of production, the way social and sexual relationships have changed historically, and the potential for a new morality based on socialist principals. These were largely written in response to letters she received from young workers who were trying to make sense of the new possibilities the revolution provided socially and how it related to their personal relationships.

This work, largely within the three pieces Theses on Communist Morality in the Sphere of Marital Relations, Sexual Relations and the Class Struggle and Make Way for Winged Eros: A Letter to Working Youth, Kollontai expands upon several topics, from the Marxist understanding of the relationship between women’s oppression and the nuclear family to the impact of material conditions on sexuality and intimate relationships. Through this writing, Kollontai unbelievably still held out revolutionary hope that revolutionaries today can learn a lot from.

As Porter concludes in her introduction:

At the end of her life, we see both the bewildered pessimist, facing the collapse of all of her beliefs, and the incorrigible optimist, convinced that there was an alternative to capitalism…As austerity throws millions now into poverty, and women face a disproportionate burden of the cuts, her vision of a better social system and the collective struggle against injustice remains true and powerful to this day, and I had a sense it was time to rediscover her.


Cathy Porter, Alexandra Kollontai: A Biography. Haymarket Books, 2014, 520 pages, $24.



Australia’s adult government is one year old

Is it only a year ago that Tony Abbott’s Liberal and National Party Government came to power? It seems an eternity. How can we survive another 2 years?

Not to put too fine a point on it the adult government is one year old and spreading shit everywhere.

The election last year was a rejection of Labor and its neoliberal policies rather than an endorsement of the incoming Abbott government and its version of neoliberalism. That is why there was no honeymoon for this government after the election. The separation was almost immediate.

Is divorce inevitable? Not necessarily.

The Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has all the punch of a wet rag. More importantly Labor is trapped within the logic of neoliberalism.

Labor of course is opposed to the proposed $7 GP co-payment. In government in the 1991 Budget ALP Prime Minister Bob Hawke and his leftwing deputy Brian Howe announced a $3.50 co-payment to send a price signal to slow down the growth of health costs. Sound familiar to what the Liberals are saying today? The  left accepted a $2.50 co-payment to save Hawke.

The ACTU played its usual pathetic role. It wasn’t ‘convinced’  the co-payment would rein in ‘overservicing’. That is standing up to ‘em, ACTU.

It was only when Keating replaced Hawke that the Labor government ditched the introduction of its GP co-payment.

Labor too is opposed to the Budget cuts to universities, the very same $2.3 billion of cuts it proposed last year when in government.

Labor supports the demonisation of asylum seekers and their incarceration in the concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru. They ar Labor’s concentration camps.

Labor of course supports single parents too. That is why in government it drove 80000 single mums off the single parent payment into deeper poverty.

Labor has joined the Coalition of the trilling on Syria and Iraq and the Western warmongers in the imperialist battle over Ukraine.

The Abbott government is a continuation of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Labor governments just as an ALP government elected in 2016 will be a continuation of the Abbott government.

The real opposition to Abbott has been on the streets and from some sections of students.  But the demonstrations this month, although in their tens of thousands, were smaller than previous ones.

Each new government is a government of neoliberalism and of deeper and deeper neolberalism  in practice. Labor has the support of the trade union bureaucray in, arguably,  more successfully implementing neoliberalism while the Liberals have the support of most of the ruling class.

Shifting more wealth to capital from labour is the policy of both parties and, no matter who is in government, this will only intensify as the Great Recession in North America and Europe spreads into Asia.

What is missing is a working class response.  Not just marches, placards and angry speeches but actions that cut the flow of profit to the bosses, that is strikes. That won’t happen  under most of the current union leadership who are an impediment to successfully fighting Abbott.

Only rank and file members can build the fightback. If that doesn’t happen Abbott and co could win the election in 2016. Alternatively if that rank and file fightback doesn’t happen an Abbott like ALP could win government.

The attacks on the unemployed, the sick, the disabled, universities, the poor, poorly paid workers and public health and education are not going to disappear. They are driven by the needs of capital for more and more wealth to offset systemic falling profit rates.

There is no alternative to defeating the neoliberalism of Abbott and the neoliberalism of the Labor Party other than class struggle; massive, unified strikes.