U.S. Ramps Up Killer Sanctions Against Iran

Imperialist Diktat Means Hunger, Disease

Spartacist League

With a stroke of a pen, on January 2 Barack Obama consigned millions of Iranians to further devastation by strengthening economic sanctions as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The fourth time that Obama has ramped up sanctions since 2010, this current round was coordinated with similar measures adopted by the European Union (EU) two weeks before.

In the name of stopping the Islamic regime’s purported drive to develop nuclear weapons, U.S. imperialism and its allies have unleashed their own weapon of mass destruction by strangling the Iranian economy, in particular through blocking the oil exports that are its lifeblood. Already in 2010, sanctions were crippling Iranian industry by depriving it of replacement parts. As oil revenues dried up, Tehran cut crucial subsidies for food, gasoline and other necessities. With hundreds of thousands thrown onto the streets as factories close their doors, food prices have skyrocketed and life-saving medicine has become increasingly scarce.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment program, which Tehran has always insisted is not aimed at producing weapons, is just the most recent pretext for the crippling sanctions that have been imposed on the country by both Democratic and Republican administrations. The first sanctions were issued by President Jimmy Carter as payback for the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 by forces loyal to Ayatollah Khomeini, whose reactionary “Islamic revolution” had ousted the brutal and despised Shah Pahlavi. In 1995, the Clinton administration issued an executive order barring American companies from investing in Iranian oil and gas and from trading with Iran, followed a year later by a law imposing penalties on foreign firms with substantial investments in that sector. In 2006, the UN adopted sanctions aimed at stopping Iran’s nuclear development program, with further measures levied over the next few years.

The Obama administration has qualitatively tightened the economic vise on the Iranian population, including by barring companies that trade with Iran from access to the U.S. financial system. In January 2012, the White House slapped sanctions on Iran’s central bank, the country’s main clearinghouse for oil exports. In June, Washington banned the world’s banks from completing oil transactions with Iran. The EU followed suit the next month by banning the import of Iranian oil, going on to prohibit transactions with the country’s banks and declaring an embargo of its natural gas. The latest sanctions point toward a complete trade embargo, closing a loophole that enabled Tehran to barter oil and gas for precious metals. They also bar trade with Iran’s energy, port, shipping and shipbuilding sectors and include penalties for supplying Iran with graphite, aluminum and steel.

Amid the growing threat of mass hunger and untreated disease, Washington spokesmen crow about the “success” of sanctions in weakening the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This course is integral to U.S. imperialist strategy under Obama’s watch. As it begins to shift most of its armed forces to the Asia Pacific—a particular threat to the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state—the White House is steering away from outright military occupations and concentrating instead on more “cost effective” war measures, from attacks by drones and special ops forces to increased use of economic sanctions. John Brennan, Obama’s nominee for CIA chief, is a major architect of the drone program that has wreaked terror on the populations of Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Chuck Hagel, slated to take over the Defense Department, is a champion of sanctions, although he prefers the fig leaf of a United Nations mandate.

Thus, the U.S. imperialists currently deploy sanctions, cyber-warfare attacks on Iran’s nuclear industry, etc., instead of outright military engagement, similarly figuring that they will help topple Syria’s bonapartist Assad regime, an Iranian ally, by enforcing sanctions and aiding the reactionary opposition forces. But make no mistake: Behind sanctions stands the threat of war, which Obama reaffirmed last year when he declared that for Iran “all options are on the table.” A NATO anti-missile radar system and U.S. Patriot missiles have been installed in neighboring Turkey, while Washington has strengthened its military alliance with several Persian Gulf states that are bitterly hostile toward Shi’ite Iran. And, as it has for years, Iran faces the threat of attack from Zionist Israel—the only nuclear power in the Near East.

Whether or not Iran is moving toward developing nuclear weapons, the fact is that in today’s world, possession of nukes is crucial to deterring military attack and resisting imperialist diktat. It is not lost on Tehran that the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq and last year’s NATO bombing of Libya were made all the easier because Saddam Hussein and Muammar el-Qaddafi’s governments lacked such weapons. As Bill Keller notes in the New York Times Book Review (13 January):

“The fact that we invaded Afghanistan while paying court to terrorist-breeding (but nuclear) Pakistan taught Iran that weapons of mass destruction command deference. Then, in the Bush axis-of-evil years, our hard-liners convinced their hard-liners that nothing short of regime change would satisfy Washington…. It would be astounding if Iran didn’t at least contemplate acquiring the bomb.”

Yet even the possession of nukes is no guarantee of security from attack by U.S. imperialism, with its massive nuclear arsenal and overwhelming military power.

It is the duty of the U.S. proletariat to oppose sanctions and all other means by which “its own” ruling class seeks to impose its diktat around the world. This includes standing for the defense of Iran against any military attack by the U.S. or its ally Israel. As Marxists, our defense of Iran in the military sense does not imply the least political support to the bourgeois Islamic regime, which enforces the fierce oppression of women, gays and national minorities and brutally represses labor struggle. But what must be understood is that it is U.S. imperialism that is the greatest danger to the working people and downtrodden of the planet, as it has demonstrated repeatedly: e.g., the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and its later counterrevolutionary wars in Korea and Vietnam. Nothing short of the overthrow of the capitalist-imperialist system through workers revolution will rid the world of this menace and open the road to a socialist future.

Murder by Sanctions

The cruel effectiveness of the sanctions is based on the domination of world banking, industry and trade by the handful of advanced capitalist countries that constitute the imperialist powers, chiefly the U.S., which acts through its own banks and through its leading role in the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. That domination is enforced through sheer military might, of which the U.S. has had the overwhelming preponderance ever since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92.

UN sanctions against Hussein’s Iraq led to the deaths of some 1.5 million people while hollowing out the country in the lead-up to the imperialist war and occupation. Most of the sanctions’ toll was taken on children and the elderly, the most vulnerable to malnourishment and lack of medicine. Speaking of the mass murder by sanctions, Bill Clinton’s secretary of state Madeleine Albright infamously declared that this “is a very hard choice, but we think the price is worth it.” This cold-blooded calculation was echoed by California Democratic Congressman Brad Sherman in 2010 concerning sanctions against Iran. Dispensing with diplomatic artifice, Sherman offered that “critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”

While Iran is more populous and powerful than was Iraq and has not experienced the same degree of mortality, it is still a dependent country, with a population that is increasingly suffering under the weight of sanctions. Last year, oil production in Iraq surpassed that in Iran, which had been the world’s third-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia. The choking off of Iran’s oil exports has spelled catastrophe for a country that normally imports much of its food, machinery and refined oil products. Between late September and early October last year, the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, plummeted some 40 percent as inflation spiraled. According to one analysis of Iran’s black-market currency exchanges, prices were doubling every 40 days.

The most dramatic impact of the sanctions has been on drugs and medical supplies. Western governments point to waivers in the sanctions that supposedly allow the import of essential medicines. Belying this “humanitarian” claim is the fact that there is no banking channel by which payments can be transmitted to pharmaceutical suppliers abroad. Iranian drug manufacturers, who are dependent on imports for more than half of their raw materials, have to pay with a greatly depreciated currency, when they can pay at all. Meanwhile, hospital equipment is breaking down due to lack of spare parts. The Washington Post (4 September 2012) wrote that the effect of sanctions “is being felt by cancer patients and those being treated for complex disorders such as hemophilia, multiple sclerosis and thalassemia, as well as transplant and kidney dialysis patients, none of whom can afford interruptions or delays in medical supplies.”

Julian Borger and Saeed Kamali Dehghan report in the London Guardian (13 January) that “85,000 new cancer patients are diagnosed each year, requiring chemotherapy and radiotherapy which are now scarce.” While more than 8,000 hemophiliacs are finding it harder to get blood clotting agents, some 23,000 Iranians with HIV/AIDS have had their access to vital drugs severely restricted. With outside supplies blocked, the drug market is being swamped with smuggled products of dubious value, much of which arrives on donkeys from Turkey. In the words of the head of the Iranian Hemophilia Society, it all amounts to “blatant hostage-taking of the most vulnerable people by countries which claim they care about human rights.”

From the oil fields to the assembly lines and small shops, sanctions have taken an enormous toll on the proletariat. Placing the burden on the backs of workers and the poor, the Ahmadinejad government slashed subsidies for food, gas, electricity and other necessities in 2010. Last year, according to Iran Labor Report (10 October 2012), a petition signed by some 10,000 people protesting this economic austerity stated that slim wage increases have been far outpaced by price rises, and that “millions of workers cannot afford their monthly housing costs.” As the Wall Street Journal (3 January) wrote, “Poor families now go months without eating meat or poultry, which have seen some of the biggest price hikes.”

Reporting on the industrial area of Delijan, the Journal article also noted that the 2012 sanctions caused many small factories to shut down due to lack of parts for maintaining aging machinery, with many larger plants struggling to avoid bankruptcy. Iran’s car industry, the largest in the Near East, posted a 60 to 80 percent decline in production last year, with hundreds of thousands losing their jobs. France’s Peugeot carmaker, for example, was forced to suspend sales of assembly kits to Iran because of tighter sanctions.

Iran’s Chamber of Commerce now reports that 67 percent of the country’s industry has been shut down (Financial Times, 16 January). It should not be lost on anyone that U.S. imperialism and its cohorts have, through conscious policy, qualitatively worsened the plight of Iranian workers in the midst of the five-year-long world recession. Brought on by the speculative binges of the finance capitalists of the imperialist centers, that crisis has meant ruin for millions upon millions of workers in the U.S. and around the world. In Iran, cascading unemployment is undermining the ability of the working class to wield its social power, based on its role in production, in its own defense. This underscores the need for the proletariat internationally to oppose the sanctions in support of its Iranian class brothers and sisters.

Iranian Prison House

A big reason for Washington’s gloating over the “success” of the sanctions are signs that increased social turmoil is posing a challenge to the Iranian government, which is due to hold presidential elections in June, when Ahmadinejad’s term expires. In early October, the Majlis (parliament) struck a political blow against Ahmadinejad by voting to consider halting a second round of subsidy cuts. The vote took place several days after a protest against the government, precipitated by the sharp fall in the rial, shook Tehran’s main bazaar. This marked the first time in three decades that the bazaar merchants—a highly conservative layer that formed a principal social support for the 1979 “Islamic revolution”—publicly turned against the regime. (The merchants had already been alienated by government policies favoring the business interests of the Revolutionary Guards and others.) The tens of thousands of protesters included many workers, but the protest was firmly under the leadership of the shopkeepers and traders.

The harsh fact is that the Iranian proletariat has never recovered from the historic defeat it suffered with the rise to power of Khomeini and his mullah regime in 1979. What followed was a reign of terror in which trade unionists and any and all forces of the left were simply smashed. Vicious repression continues to this day, with Kurds and many others charged with moharebeh (waging war against God) subject to execution. Amid rising crime brought on by austerity, on January 20 the regime staged the public hanging of two unemployed men from poor families who had robbed a man of the equivalent of $20 and wounded him with a knife. The New York Times (20 January) reports that many in the crowd shouted in protest.

The defeat of the Iranian working class in 1979 was not preordained. Militant struggles by oil workers and other sectors of the proletariat against the Shah’s hated U.S.-backed dictatorship had posed the possibility of a fight for workers power. But those struggles were betrayed by the workers’ putative leaders, centrally the Stalinist Tudeh (Masses) party, which led its proletarian base into a bloc with the reactionary Islamists in the name of “anti-imperialism.” That treacherous path was followed by almost the entire left internationally, from the fake-Trotskyist United Secretariat of Ernest Mandel to the Stalinophobic followers of Tony Cliff. In sharp contrast, the international Spartacist tendency, forerunner of the International Communist League, declared: Down with the Shah! Don’t bow to Khomeini! For workers revolution!

To this day, the opportunists of the Cliffite school, who grooved on not only Khomeini’s “revolution” but also the war by CIA-backed mujahedin cutthroats against the Soviet Army in Afghanistan, have continued to support the forces of political Islam—and/or more-liberal bourgeois nationalists, depending on which way the winds are blowing. (For more on Afghanistan, see article on page 3.) Meanwhile, the reformists of the Workers World Party hail Iran’s theocratic regime for supporting such Islamist “liberation movements” as Hamas and Hezbollah. The utter phoniness of Tehran’s anti-imperialist credentials can be seen in the fact that as NATO troops occupied Afghanistan early last decade, Iran armed the Northern Alliance forces that fought alongside U.S. troops.

There is and has long been enormous discontent in Iranian society: workers struggling to survive on pitifully low wages; peasants and the unemployed eking out an existence under conditions of intense austerity; women and youth yearning for freedom from deeply oppressive Islamist strictures; Kurds, Azeris, Baluchis and Arabs groaning under Persian chauvinism. However, with the workers movement severely repressed, the most visible opposition to the government comes from reactionaries like the bazaaris or pro-imperialist forces adopting the guise of “reformers.” The latter describes the “Green Movement” that led mass protests in 2009 during the rigged presidential elections pitting Mir Hussein Moussavi against Ahmadinejad. A “reform” cleric, Moussavi served as prime minister under Khomeini for eight years in the 1980s, when thousands of leftists, women’s rights activists and Kurds were slaughtered in the prisons and buried in mass graves.

As the only class with the social power to sweep away capitalist rule, the proletariat in Iran must begin to emerge as a class fighting for itself and for the liberation of all the oppressed masses. The central lesson of the disaster it suffered more than 30 years ago is that it can do so only by maintaining strict independence from and opposition to all bourgeois political formations, all forms of religious reaction and all imperialist forces. The remnants of the Tudeh party operating in exile continue to trample on this fundamental Marxist principle. In 2009, Tudeh called for support to Moussavi, whose hands are covered with the blood of their own comrades.

In Iran as elsewhere, the key to mobilizing the class power of the proletariat is the leadership of a revolutionary workers party modeled on the Bolshevik Party of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky, which led the workers to power in Russia in the October Revolution of 1917. The ICL is dedicated to building such parties internationally, not least in the belly of the U.S. imperialist beast, to lead the fight for new October Revolutions.

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Meet Your New Secretary of State, Just as Bloodthirsty as Hillary Clinton

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Butchers of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya

Nina Westbury
Crimson Satellite

Senator and failed presidential candidate John Kerry has been confirmed as the newest Secretary of State, replacing Hillary Clinton. During her tenure, Clinton infamously joked about the murder of Muammar Gaddafi after overseeing the destruction of Libya in addition to human rights atrocities across Africa and attempted regime change in Syria. Her bloody legacy also includes the U.S. ‘pivot’ to Asia, focusing imperialism on containing and destroying China.

Clinton used her status as a feminist icon to shore up support from cruise missile liberals at home for adventures abroad, destroying some of the world’s most pro-woman governments in the process. Her time as Secretary also saw the emergence of what is sure to be a key tactic of all future administrations — using gay rights rhetoric while propping up virulently anti-gay regimes in Uganda, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere.

Like Clinton, Kerry supported “Bush’s war” against Iraq. Yet Kerry went one step further than Clinton and the rest of the neoconservative milieu by admitting that even if he had known Iraq had no WMDs, he would have voted to authorize the brutal invasion and occupation of Iraq. Keep in mind that much of the Obama administration’s legacy rests on the fact that Obama opposed the Iraq war. Choosing someone with whom you have major philosophical differences with regards to foreign policy to be in charge of your administration’s foreign policy seems illogical. This is because the goals of U.S. imperialism do not change from president to president.

After the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991, Washington and its allies no longer faced a counterweight to their efforts at global expansion of the imperialist system. The wave of “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe allowed for sovereign governments to be replaced with regimes pliant to US/EU interests, with corporations standing to gain millions of new customers, all under the banner of “freedom and democracy.” Efforts to destroy Libya, Syria, and other former allies of the Soviet Union were discussed under President Clinton, solidified under Bush, and implemented by Obama. Far from slowing neoconservative ambitions, Obama has provided an invaluable facelift for drone programs, interventionism, and the destruction of sovereign countries.

The ascent of a privileged white male to Secretary of State is a symbolic reminder that below the surface, the interests of the bourgeoisie shape governmental policy.

The main enemy is at home. Every imperialist aggression, be it “blood for oil” or drones for democracy, must be opposed as part of delegitimizing governments that commit the world’s worst human rights violations and threaten the safety of our planet. Only a socialist planned economy, based on eliminating material scarcity for all, can stop permanent war.

Leila Khaled: Palestine Stands by Syrian Army and People of Syria

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Leila Khaled

Leila Khaled, member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was in Turkey to speak in a forum titled “The Dynamics of Transformation in the Middle East” organized by the Socialist Refoundation Party. Khaled talked about imperialist plans in Middle East and the resistance against these plans to the Turkish publication YURT (Liberation translation by Taylor Goel).

What do you think of the latest developments in the Middle East?

The Middle East has been a region of conflicts for centuries. The peoples in the region are waging liberation wars. European colonialists have come and gone from the Palestinian land, Ottomans, the same. Now Israel has come. Lying to the whole world and using religion, they came. They claimed they were given this land by God. We reject this. Why? Is God in the real estate business? Promising land for some and exiling others. We absolutely reject such a thing.

There are imperialist forces in the region that support and defend Israel. There are Arab leaderships in the region that pay homage to Israel. USA has been pushing a carrot-and-stick policy in the region. Reactionary Arab forces went to the White House and prostrated themselves one by one and apologized. “We will do whatever you say, our oil is yours”, they said. But the Arab people refuse to succumb.

Where does Turkey stand at this point?

Turkey leads the group that protects Israel. Israel has brought Turkey to her knees. Nine people from Turkey were murdered on the Mavi Marmara. Later, the Turkish consul was insulted. The Turkish government said that Israel was going to issue an apology but Israel never did. They even explicitly said “We will not apologize”. Despite all this, the Turkish government has further increased economic and military cooperation with Israel. The real defense of Israel is accomplished via Turkey. The biggest military base that belongs to the U.S.A. in the region is the Incirlik Base. My call to you: Get rid of that base. Expand the boycott against Israel.

Simon Peres has a new book “The new Middle East”. Check it out, it exactly follows the “Greater Middle East Initiative” of the U.S. As they will, they draw us like a picture and tear us into pieces. They determine how we shall live. You and us, all of us are in the same trench, targeted by these.

Turkey is an unconditional supporter of imperialism. In Turkey, the Kurds do not have the same rights as the Turks. More than ten thousand Kurds are piled in jail. Like the Palestinian inmates. Whatever Israel is doing to the Palestinians, Turkey is doing the same to the Kurds.

You will now ask why does Turkey draw so much of my attention? Of course it does because Turkey pokes her nose into everything in the region.

Would you explain the position of PFLP on the imperialist aggression in Syria?

Now, they want to establish the “Greater Middle East Initiative” using religious and sectarian conflict. This is what is going on in Syria. According to the last census, there are 11 million, 800 thousand Palestinians. But only a quarter of this population is living on Palestinian land. A huge population is exiled and the only country that has received that population with open arms is Syria. What was done to us is now being done to Syria.

I am screaming with the top of my voice: We stand by the Syrian Army and the people of Syria. We are confident in the people of Syria, who have taken us, Palestinians, under their wings and hosted us on their land for over sixty years. We are confident that they will prevail over this problem.

Is the revolutionary claim of PFLP still on?

Yes. After the death of George Habas, Abu Ali Mustafa was chosen as the General Secretary, to be killed by Israel shortly after. Our third President Ahmad Sa’adat was elected. He is now being held hostage in an Israeli prison. Despite all these hard times, as PFLP, we are still standing strong, continuing our struggle. Our biggest priority is the unity among Palestinians. As the PFLP, we are trying really hard to achieve this unity. I can say that PFLP is in good shape. And we played an important role in the last Gaza war.

What do you say about the cooperation of Hamas with Turkey?

Hamas has accepted cease-fire with Israel. As PFLP, we do not accept this and view this as the wrong attitude. As far as the relation Hamas has established with Turkey, we see it as one between political Islamists. Hamas does not represent all of Palestine.

Do you have any message for the revolutionary women in Turkey?

Continue your struggle, unite, act in unity. Do not believe in lies. It is not the “Greater Middle East Initiative” of the U.S. that will shape the Middle East but only us. All the peoples of the Middle East will rebuild it. together.

Syria & The Global Class War

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Caleb T. Maupin

Jobs are disappearing. Homes are ­being foreclosed and families tossed into the streets. Super hurricanes, spawned by climate change, batter cities. Schools are being shut down, and prisons are springing up in their place. Police bullets are taking lives of innocent Black and Brown people. Hunger, homelessness, mass unemployment and racist mass incarceration are becoming “the new normal” in the United States.

At the top of all this are the bankers and bosses. The Wall Street 1% — with their wealth, power and latchkeys to the governments of the world — have no answer to the chaos. Bank bailouts, drone attacks, elections, TV propaganda — none of the capitalists’ usual tricks are working. The chaos and explosions are continuing, because capitalism is at a dead end.

In their desperation, the corporate elites and their governments turn toward a solution they have long utilized: war.

Trillions of dollars are made from militarism. For the capitalists of the world, especially in the U.S., who own all the mechanisms for producing tanks, missiles, drones, fighter planes and other means of destruction, nothing has been more profitable than war.

So in this hour of desperation, as their economic system lurches and grinds its way to a halt, the capitalists bomb and destroy.

First Libya, now Syria

Libya once had the highest standard of living on the African continent. But now the Libyan government that once defied Wall Street and Washington has been destroyed, and the result has led to misery for the Libyan people. Yet, the destruction of Libya did not save capitalism and the crisis continues.

The current focus of imperialism’s wrath is Syria. The U.S.-backed regimes in Saudi Arabia and Turkey are shipping in stockpiles of weapons to a group of “rebels” who slaughter people without pause. These rebels promise that if they are victorious, the Christians and Alawites of Syria will be slaughtered. They have been sent to create death, chaos and destruction.

Numerous videos of atrocities allegedly committed by these Syrian mercenaries have circulated on the internet. They depict killing and torture. One video shows a 10-year-old child being forced to behead a prisoner. These are the so-called “freedom fighters” championed by the capitalist media and funded indirectly by tax dollars from U.S. workers. (rt.com/news, Dec. 11)

Why is Syria a target? Its Baathist government led by Bashar Al-Assad is not a government of Wall Street puppets. Instead it provides health care to the people. It has supported the Palestinian resistance. It allows communists to play leading roles in some levels of the government.

The people of Syria are resisting. Christians, Alawites, Muslims, socialists — people from all sectors of Syrian society are joining together. Community militias are being formed to defeat the U.S.-backed mercenaries who seek to drive the country into ruin. The Syrian people have pushed back these rebels many times, so the imperialists are considering other methods.

U.S. troops are now in Turkey, just across the border from Syria, setting up NATO missile batteries. On Dec. 27, thousands of people took to the streets in Turkey to protest the presence of the NATO missiles. The massive rally was called by the Turkish Communist Party. PressTV quotes one Turkish protester as saying, “Americans are trying to steal all the resources in the Middle East. We, the Turkish people, will do whatever it takes to prevent them.” (Dec. 27)

Some people in the U.S. may feel that Syria and the Middle East are far away and that events going on there have no impact on what happens in the U.S.

But in the U.S., homes are being foreclosed by the same bankers and the government that fund the destruction of homes in Syria. Our schools are being closed by the same forces that fund the Israeli army that kills teachers and school children in Gaza. The drones used to kill people in Pakistan are now being used within U.S. borders to spy on us in a continuing buildup of state repression.

Sam Marcy, the founder of Workers World Party, said workers in the U.S. have no “independent destiny.” The global 1% is the enemy of the people of Syria, the workers and oppressed of the U.S. and all humanity. Just like Syrians are coming together to resist the rebels, and workers in Turkey are taking the streets to protest NATO missiles, workers and youth in the U.S. must stand with Syria.

The chaos unfolding across the world is a life-and-death struggle between the workers and oppressed of the world on one side and their oppressors on the other. In this global class war, which side are you on?

NATO Out of Mali!

New Worker

Thousands of French troops are pouring into Mali to spearhead a new offensive against the Touareg rebels who control the north of country. Britain, America, Canada, Belgium, Germany, and Denmark have all pledged support for the French war and British and US transport planes are now ferrying French troops and supplies across the Mediterranean to the West African country.

Muslim Brotherhoods have held anti-French demonstrations in Egypt and Algeria; the Malian government has extended the state of emergency for another three months and Japan has closed its embassy in the capital and has urged all its citizens to leave because of the deteriorating security situation in the wartorn country.

The French claim their intervention has been fully endorsed by United Nations and the African Union. But the UN head has ruled out direct UN intervention and, so far, only token African forces have joined the French operation aimed at driving the rebels, whom the imperialists claim are all Al Qaeda supporters, out of the country.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon ruled out any direct UN involvement in this new French war this week. “Directly assisting offensive military actions would also place our civilian personnel in the region in jeopardy. I take this issue very seriously,” Ban told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

And Russia’s special envoy for Africa, Mikhail Margelov, says that France’s military deployment does not correspond to what was previously agreed at the UN Security Council. While not challenging the legitimacy of the French move, the Russian government has ruled out any military support for it stressing that the Malians must be given unconditional support for fighting extremists under the aegis of the UN and the African Union.

French and Malian troops, backed by war planes and helicopter gunships, drove the rebels out of the towns of Diabaly and Douentza in central Mali this week and the rebel held towns of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal in the north have been repeatedly bombed.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Canada and Germany had offered vital aid for the attack on the towns. But that’s only the beginning. Le Drian says that “the goal is the total re-conquest of Mali” and many more imperialist troops are on their way to beef up the Malian military in their struggle to regain control of their northern territories.

Over 3,000 French troops are now in action in Mali, backed by around a 1,000 African troops from Nigeria, Togo, Benin, Niger and Chad. The French are hoping the African contingent will quickly rise to 6,000 to mask their presence in their former colony and give added international legitimacy to the offensive against the Touareg rebels.

In the Arab world Muslim brotherhoods are calling on their followers to support the Touareg Islamists who control two of the rebel militias that run northern Mali. In Algiers police blocked demonstrators from nearing the French embassy in a protest against the Nato intervention and their own government’s decision to allow French warplanes to cross Algeria to bomb Malian rebel positions.

In Cairo Muslim Brothers demonstrated outside the French embassy and called on their own Muslim Brotherhood- led government to break off relations with France.

While that’s not going to happen Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has become the first Arab and African leader to openly oppose the French operation. Speaking at the Arab summit on economic and social development in Saudi Arabia this week the Egyptian leader voiced his opposition to French intervention adding that “the situation must be dealt with wisely.”

“We are against the intervention in Mali because it will spread the conflict,” he said. More French reinforcements are on their way. And in France public concern is growing at the prospect of a protracted Afghan-style war in West Africa. When the social-democratic French president Francois Hollande launched “Operation Serval” on 11th January the proclaimed objective was to prop up the Malian government and defeat Islamic terrorist groups, which French imperialism claims are the dominant factor within the Touareg independence movement.

Now some doubt whether France can do it on its own and others believe that the real motive is simply French imperialism’s desire to get its greedy hands on Mali’s abandoned natural resources that include gold, uranium, gas, oil and diamonds.

“I have the impression that we have committed ourselves to reconquering the totality of an immense country. France will not be able to accomplish this task alone,” said former Gaullist leader Alain Juppé, while Left Party leader Jean- Luc Mélenchon condemned Hollande for ordering the operation without consulting parliament or his government earlier.

“There are many dark points in this matter,” Mélenchon said while a prominent member of the Greens said the operation was simply a neo-colonial manoeuvre.

And despite a French news ban, atrocity stories are coming in, including claims that Touaregs, Arabs and Fulanis are being persecuted in government- controlled areas because their tribal leaders have largely supported the revolt, as well as reports of arrests, interrogations and the torture of civilians by French and Malian soldiers in the towns the French took this week.

Huge March Defends Venezuela’s Democracy and Revolution

The people will never be betrayed again!

Tamara Pearson

The vice-president and ministers marched with up to a million people today to defend the Bolivarian revolution on Democracy Day, while the opposition march turned out to be a small rally. Further, sectors of the far right have called on the armed forces to resist what they referred to as the “invasion” of “Castro-communism” in Venezuela.

Today’s marches commemorate 23 January 1958, when a civic-military movement overthrew the Marcos Jimenez dictatorship. However, this year the opposition first called a march for the date, to reject what it has called the “unconstitutional” measures taken by the national government, as President Chavez wasn’t able to be present at his swearing-in ceremony on 10 January while he was recovering from an operation for cancer.

In response, the PSUV also convoked a large march, together with other movements and organisations, with the slogan “The people will never be betrayed again.”

Marches for the Bolivarian Revolution in Caracas and around the country

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in Caracas today, leaving from three main points, and marching to the barrio 23 de Enero.

Vice-president of the Socialist Bolivarian Workers’ Central (CBST), Francisco Torrealba, said his organisation mobilised 35,000 people for today’s march, to express their “commitment to the Bolivarian revolution.” That contingent left from Libertador Avenue, while Venezuelan Communist Party (PCV) and Grand Patriotic Pole (GPP) contingents left from La Bandera station.

Meanwhile the Bolivarian militia left from Propatria, with social missions and other movements and political organisations also leaving from all three points.

Vice-president Nicolas Maduro marched among the giant crowd from Propatria, waving to people around him and to people watching on from buildings. Other ministers and well known PSUV leaders also took part in the march.

Hundreds of community radios and other movements also participated in a “chain-marathon,” reporting on the march from all the main plazas of the different states of the country.

At around 1pm, when some of the marches had arrived at 23 de Enero, a short concert was held there, before historian Chela Vargas, journalist Jose Vincent Rangel, and Maduro addressed the crowd. The people chanted continuously, “We’re all Chavez!” (Todos somos Chavez). Many carried placards saying the same thing, and some men even painted the slogan on their chest.

Journalist Jose Vincent Rangel in his speech declared, “We have to be clear that 23 January is a symbol of a people who don’t give up.”

“With Chavez and Maduro the people are secure,” people chanted when it was Maduro’s turn to speak.

Maduro emphasised the significance of a people who “woke-up” after being tired of the “torture, disappearances, misery, lack of education, unemployment, and a state that was called ‘democratic’ but only had that name because the Venezuelan bourgeoisie called it that,” during the period following the overthrow of the dictatorship.

People who participated in the over-throwing of Jimenez were on the Caracas stage today, and 3000 police were set up around Caracas to ensure the march was peaceful and safe. Aerial footage of the Caracas march is available here.

Revolutionary collectives also rallied yesterday in the 23 de Enero barrio to help build today’s march. One placard read, “23 January 1958: The people brought down a dictator. 40 years later: buried the 4th Republic. 55 years later: no pacts, no backing down.” In this case, the 4th republic refers to the Punto Fijo Pact, where major right wing parties agreed to share power, until Chavez was elected in 1998.

“This date [23 January] has two readings; the end of a dictatorship, and also the betrayal of the right wing and the Pact of Punto Fijo,” said William Gudino, of the National Network of Communes, to newspaper Ciudad CCS.

“The people shouldn’t forget …this vision of combat which represents us, and is also our reality,” Gudino said.

Other marches took place around the country as well. For the Andean city of Merida, with a population of just 300,000, it was the second large march in under a week. Around 4000 people marched on Friday to defend Cuba after opposition students burned a Cuban flag and an effigy of Fidel Castro, and a similar number also marched today.

For Hector Alejo Rodriguez, general secretary of the PCV youth, the aim of today’s marches was to “remember the important role the youth played in that battle 55 years ago to bring down the dictatorship.”

Opposition rally and far-right destabilisation attempts

Despite initially calling for a march on 23 January, last weekend the opposition backtracked on those plans, and instead held a small rally today of around 6,000 people in the sports courts of Miranda Park, Caracas.

Speaking at the rally, the general secretary of the MUD opposition coalition, Ramon Aveledo read a 12 point manifesto to “defend Venezuela in a time of uncertainty” and said that should there be new presidential elections, the opposition would choose its candidate by “consensus.”

Legislator Alfonso Marquina also announced the re-launching of the MUD, which he said would consist in “re-planning and rationalising” the organisation.

Public media agency AVN denounced that one public television journalist, Carlos Cachon, was removed from the rally and beaten up. Media activists reported that he was taken to hospital with multiple injuries. Just before the violence, Aveledo, who was still giving his speech, said “these people were sent by the government,” indicating the public sector journalists and film crew who had just entered the rally area.

PSUV leader Dario Vivas speculated that the opposition “don’t dare to march, they have realised the people don’t follow them.”

Vivas also denounced yesterday that opposition legislators are spreading a document around, addressed to the armed forces, calling on them to not support the government.

The document, called “Manifesto to democratic Venezuelan society and the National Armed Forces [sic- they are the Bolivarian Armed Forces]” opens with a preamble saying the Venezuelan government has “violated the constitution” on “repeated occasions” and that it is “subordinate” to the “Castro-communist regime of Cuba.”

The document makes claims that “the Cubans have slowly and progressively taken control of our…registers, system of identification, our foreign policy, and important sectors of the national economy.” It also claims that “Castro-communism” is responsible for manipulation of the electoral system and that national finances, rather than resolving the country’s problems, are being used to “finance the expansion of Castro-communism.”

It talks about Venezuela as a “colony of Cuba” and suggests that the armed forces, “supported by all sectors of civil society” take steps forward and impede the “dissolution of the fatherland.”

The letter is signed by around 120 people so far, including a range of far right opposition legislators and leaders such as Maria Corina Machado. Machado walked out of the recent annual review in the national assembly on 15 of January, and a few times has been proven to have set up violent attacks against herself, in order to blame Chavez supporters.

Further today, the minister for justice and internal affairs, Nestor Reverol, advised that ultra-right sectors of the opposition were planning attacks on Maduro and on national assembly president Diosdado Cabello. Reverol said state security organisations were alert and active in the case of “terrorist actions against these comrades.”

Mali, Imperialism, and “Françafrique”

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Emile Schepers

About 3,000 French troops have now entered the war in Mali, at the request of Malian President Dioncounda Traoré. Television shows Malian citizens cheering them as, alongside the Malian army, they head to battle against Islamist rebels who have taken over the entire Northeast of the country and had seemed ready to conquer the rest of it. Yet doubts are expressed by some, given France’s recent historical role in West Africa.

After the Second World War, Europe’s two major remaining colonial powers, France and the United Kingdom, found that they could no longer rule their African colonies as before. Yet for reasons mostly economic but also geopolitical and nationalistic, they were not willing to give them up entirely, and sought mechanisms to maintain control. This replacement for colonial rule came in the form of what Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, called “neocolonialism”. By this Nkrumah meant maintaining effective control by means of outside-directed economic, political, diplomatic and, sometimes, military means.

For France, neocolonialism came in the form of what today is called “Françafrique“.

France recognized the nominal independence of African colonies in exchange for which local ruling elites remained subordinate to French interests. French companies got favorable trade and development deals, and the currencies of the former colonies were to be the West African and Central African CFA Francs, with France playing a major role in monetary policy. The French military was allowed access to bases in the African countries, initially to ward off “communist” challenges.

Françafrique involves institutional structures in both France and Africa, and is tightly tied to the French president’s office and to French undercover services. Various crimes, including corruption and murder, have been carried out under its aegis. It has often worked in tandem with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and also British and other European intelligence services.

Almost all the French colonies in Africa were at one time or another forced to accept arrangement. There were exceptions. The president of Guinea, Ahmed Sekou Touré, refused to enter into agreements limiting his country’s national sovereignty. In reprisal, departing French colonial employees destroyed as much infrastructure and equipment as they could. In Togo, the first president, Sylvanus Olympio, decided to ally himself with the United States instead of France. His reward, in 1963, was a bullet. The shooter was a Togolese sergeant in the French army, Etienne Eyadéma, whose stated gripe was that Olympio was trying to keep the Togolese army small so as to save money, thus denying jobs to soldiers like himself. To nobody’s surprise, Eyadéma became president, a faithful servant of French neocolonial interests for 38 years.

This was the pattern that followed for decades. African rulers who were faithful to Françafrique, such as President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Cote-D’Ivoire, stayed in power while those who objected were overthrown. Eventually, this “Françafrique” system came to include other francophone countries in Africa, including Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that had never been French colonies, and even the former Spanish colony of Equatorial Guinea.

“Françafrique” brought France some very unsavory friends, many of whom had been soldiers either in the French colonial army or in the French army proper, and who shot their way into power with French connivance. One example of many was Hissene Habré, the dictator of Chad, now awaiting trial for crimes against humanity that cost thousands of innocent lives.

Françafrique ended the life of one of the most outstanding left-wing leaders of post-colonial Africa. Thomas Sankara became president of Upper Volta in 1983 and changed its name to Burkina Faso. He set out on a socialist program that included land reform and other policies beneficial to the working class and poor farmers. In 1987 Sankara was killed in a French-backed military coup headed by Blaise Compoaré, another ex soldier of the colonial forces, who is today the president.

The result of all this French “help” for its former African colonies has been that many are among the poorest countries in the world, with abysmal standards of education and health. Yet Mali and its neighbors have fabulous subsoil wealth.

The end of Françafrique has been a major demand of the communist left in France, and also of the African left. In last year’s French presidential elections, the victorious Socialist Party candidate and now president, Francois Hollande promised to accomplish this. But the rise of China in African economic affairs, competing with France for resources and markets, has given Françafrique another reason to exist. A pretext is “the war against terrorism”.

The overthrow of Gadaffi of Libya last year can be seen as partly a Françafrique operation. Gadaffi’s Libya, with its vast supplies of oil, natural gas and subterranean water, and especially with its ability to out-invest and out-purchase French interests in trade and financial matters, was a very big threat. The president of France at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, was gung ho to use violence against Gadaffi. The other NATO powers joined in, including especially the United States whose pressure in the United Nations got the disastrous “humanitarian intervention” in Libya underway.

On Sunday, the French defense minister, Jean Yves le Drian, had a little slip of the tongue: He swore that France’s goal is nothing less than the “reconquest” of the whole of Mali.

Perhaps he meant “liberation,” n’est ce pas?