WAR IN SYRIA

This article was first published in The Anvil, Vol 6 No 2, Sep-Oct 2017.

In Syria, a many-sided war is occurring with no end in sight. A popular uprising started against Bashar al-Assad’s Ba’athist regime in 2011, but Assad saw a way of derailing it. He would turn it into a sectarian war, with Sunni Muslims against the rest. If he could maintain the support, however grudging, of the Alawites and Christians, he would have 20-25% of the population and, together with the State apparatus, a fighting chance of survival.

First of all, Assad deployed massive violence against unarmed protestors, driving the movement to pick up arms in self defence. Then he emptied his gaols of thousands of jihadi Muslim fundamentalists – partly to create prison room for the civilian opposition he was determined to crush, but mainly to allow the jihadis to influence the opposition. A Free Syrian Army formed from defecting troops and opposition volunteers, but had no internal cohesion and little access to arms. It was vulnerable to control by whoever could supply them.

Enter the imperalists and neighbouring powers. Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar supplied arms and other materiel to their favoured groups, each hostile to the secular and pluralistic goals of the original uprising. As a result, jihadis came to dominate military opposition to the regime. Assad turned to sectarian allies in the form of Iran and Hezbollah and to Russia, a middle-ranking imperialist power which didn’t want to lose its only naval base on the Mediterranean. The US also intervened, though with more resources than strategy. Obama was unsure whether he wanted the regime reformed or overthrown and had major trouble finding suitable clients to back. As a result, the US has blown massive sums on jihadis they couldn’t influence and puppets who couldn’t fight.

In the Kurdish region of Syria, a Kurdish party, the PYD, took advantage of Assad’s early difficulties to launch a revolution of its own. Borrowing heavily from the Anarchism of Murray Bookchin, the Kurds developed their own concept, called democratic confederalism, and implemented it partially in the area they call Rojava. They developed a “no war, no peace” relationship with Assad, since both sides had more pressing priorities.

The Kurds soon came into conflict with Daesh, the most fanatical of the jihadi groups. Their defence of Kobanê, which deprived Daesh of its appearance of invincibility, brought them to the attention of the world – and an ally in the shape of Uncle Sam. Unwilling to intervene directly with ground troops, the US was desperate for a local ally and the PYD’s military forces, the YPG-YPJ, are far and away the best fighters in Syria. The US therefore buried (for now) its concerns with the PYD’s politics and its embarrassing relationship with its fellow thinkers in Turkey, the PKK, and expanded the relationship.

As the YPG-YPJ took territory off Daesh (and other Syrian jihadis), more areas populated by Arabs and other non-Kurds came under its control. The PYD followed up by spreading democratic confederalism to these new areas and raising non-Kurdish militia that have joined with the YPG-YPJ to create the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

As the PYD’s collaboration with the US has increased, however, so has the role of the US Air Force and the US special forces embedded in the SDF – and the increasing role of the US is affecting the character of the war being waged. As this article is being written, the SDF is in the final stages of liberating Raqqa from the clutches of Daesh, but much of the city is in ruins from USAF bombing and civilian casualties have been high.

Meanwhile, Russian intervention on the side of Assad’s regime has been decisive in turning the tables against the anti-Assad rebels. Aleppo is now fully under Assad’s control, while territory in rebel hands has been substantially reduced. Assad’s enemies abroad are now making their peace with him, with Turkey, Jordan and the Gulf States deciding they have to eat crow. The civilian opposition, sidelined by the jihadi grip on the military resistance, is either underground or amongst the millions of refugees in neighbouring countries or in Europe. It is unlikely to be seen again until the jihadis are off the scene. But Assad now holds power only at the pleasure of his saviours in Tehran and Moscow – and everybody knows it. Although the war might look to be heading towards a close, much blood may yet be spilled.

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group opposes all sides in the war in Syria, both the internal military forces and the interventions by regional and imperialist countries. Australia is playing a role in the US bombing of Syria and is one of the imperialist powers to be condemned. In the conflict between Assad’s Ba’ath regime and the jihadi-dominated resistance, the working class can take no side. All are utter reactionaries. The MACG calls for all imperialist countries and regional powers to leave Syria and cease intervening in its conflicts. The situation in north-east Syria, however, is more complex.

The social transformation in North-East Syria, not least the improvement in the position of women, holds great promise for the working class and the oppressed masses of West Asia. The extension of democratic confederalism to non-Kurdish areas of Syria is immensely significant. While it is unclear how deep the Rojava Revolution has gone (we are, for instance, sceptical of the ability of a Stalinist party like the PKK to transform itself structurally), the political program of democratic confederalism is worth defending and extending. The weakness in Bookchin’s Anarchism (his abandonment of a class analysis) has not been an obstacle so far in Rojava, where the working class is tiny and the main capitalist force (the Ba’athist State) has largely withdrawn. Spreading democratic confederalism into major population centres, however, requires class struggle that establishes workers’ power in production.

The MACG recognises the right of groups struggling for national liberation to acquire arms from wherever they are to be had and to be judged on what they do with them. However, the collaboration of the SDF with the USAF, and allowing US special forces to be embedded within them, is politically disastrous and must be condemned as a betrayal and a strategic blunder of the first order. The US is justly hated across West Asia for its non-stop record of crimes. To ally with it is to drive a massive wedge between the Kurds and the non-Kurdish people who surround them. The PYD cannot ally with both the United States and the oppressed masses of West Asia. It must choose, because the program of democratic confederalism is incompatible with US imperialism. Either democratic confederalism is spread to Turkey and other US allies, thus earning US wrath, or the US alliance will isolate the Kurds from non-Kurdish potential allies.

We support the civil achievements of the Rojava Revolution. Being implacably opposed to US imperialism, though, we cannot support the SDF until it breaks off its alliance with the United States.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

HAIL THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION!

One hundred years ago today, a workers’ revolution triumphed in Russia, with consequences that would echo for generations. It was 7 November 1917, which Russia then called 25 October because the Czar was so reactionary he opposed switching from the inaccurate Julian calendar to the more accurate Gregorian one. That day, workers and soldiers under the command of the Revolutionary Military Committee of the Petrograd Soviet (which means “council” in Russian) took control of all important public buildings in Petrograd, the Russian capital, and dismissed the Provisional Government of Alexander Kerensky. That night, the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets met and proclaimed its power.

The Road to October

The road to the October Revolution had been long and filled with diversions. Russia was a large but very backward country, whose participation in the First World War had shown that the State apparatus was so chaotic as to be useless in prosecuting the war. Pushed to breaking point, it collapsed in March (February, old style) 1917 and a Provisional Government was formed to take over from the Czar. Significantly, the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies was also formed.

This makeshift government, however, was unable to solve the crisis. Peasants lived in desperate poverty in semi-feudal conditions, inflation was driving workers to starvation, soldiers at the front were short of arms, ammunition and even boots, and industry was grinding to a halt due to shortages of raw materials. Not a single problem in Russia could be solved without stopping the war, but none of the parties in the Provisional Government would contemplate pulling out. As a result, the situation continued to deteriorate. Parties participating in the Government lost credibility and support. More soviets formed, growing stronger and more representative as the year progressed.

The Anarchist movement in Russia at the time of the February Revolution was very small. It grew as the year went on, but its influence in the Soviets was still very limited. The main parties in the Soviets were the Mensheviks, the Social Revolutionaries and the Bolsheviks. While the Mensheviks and SRs maintained their majority, the Petrograd Soviet acted as a pressure group on the Provisional Government, rather than seeking to overthrow it.

Out of all the parties, it was the Bolsheviks that gained most from the growing crisis – but things could have been different. The long-time Bolshevik position was to support what it called the “democratic dictatorship of the workers and peasants”. After the February Revolution, this meant being a Left pressure group on the Provisional Government and hoping to become a Left wing opposition party in a capitalist parliament governing Russia. Lenin had to fight several internal battles in the Bolshevik Party in order to get it to adopt, and then to keep, a position calling for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and for the Soviets to take power. Without that position, the Bolsheviks would have followed the path of the Mensheviks and SRs, whose strength grew and then shrank as the Provisional Government floundered in the face of the growing crisis. The war effort was tearing Russia to pieces. The only solution was for Russia to leave the War – and that required overthrowing the Provisional Government.

The growing crisis in the economy spawned the growth of the Factory Committees, where rank and file workers tried to deal with the day-to-day problems they faced. The Bolsheviks had a majority in the Committees from an early date, but the more conservative workers, concerned to support the war effort, were also often keen to use the Committees to counter-act the bosses’ incompetence. Factory Committees gained control of hiring and firing, resolved conflicts over wage rates, dealt with personnel matters, took on abusive managers and, increasingly, addressed supply issues. In some cases, bosses abandoned their factories in the face of their difficulties, but the workers, through the Factory Committees, kept them going. In the beginning, the impetus behind their formation and growth was practical, not ideological, but the experience of these committees in gradually establishing workers’ control was key to the growth of working class support for overthrowing capitalism and establishing self-management under socialism. Workers were solving problems the bosses couldn’t, and learnt a powerful lesson from this.

By early July (Old Style), the workers of Petrograd were supporting the slogan “All Power to the Soviets”. There was a mass demonstration sparked by opposition to the Provisional Government’s order for a war offensive at the front. But support for Soviet power was at its infancy across the country as a whole and the Petrograd Soviet still had a moderate majority. The Government suppressed the peaceful demonstration with great violence, killing 700, and ordered the arrest of Bolshevik leaders. Lenin fled temporarily to Finland.

At the end of August (Old Style), the Provisional Government invited General Kornilov to bring an army to Petrograd to restore order and suppress the radicals. Kornilov agreed wholeheartedly and marched on the capital. When Kerensky, leader of the Provisional Government, realised Kornilov saw him as one of the radicals that needed repressing, he panicked and turned to the Soviet for salvation. Co-ordinated by the Soviet, railway workers refused to provide transport, dissidents encouraged sabotage and soldiers deserted en masse. The army never made it to Petrograd, except for Kornilov and his aides, who arrived under arrest. The credibility of both the Provisional Government and the Czarist Right were shot. The Bolsheviks immediately won majorities in both the Petrograd and Moscow Soviets and continued acquiring majorities in other cities.

October

As a result of the Kornilov Affair, the Petrograd Soviet gained control of troop placements in and around the capital. The Soviet formed a Revolutionary Military Committee, under the leadership of Leon Trotsky, to administer this new power. Trotsky, who had been in a small faction independent of both the Bolsheviks and mainstream Mensheviks, had led his group into the Bolsheviks at the start of August (Old Style). Lenin at last persuaded the Bolshevik Central Committee that an insurrection must be organised and the Revolutionary Military Committee became the forum where the military side of the October Revolution was planned.

On 25 October (Old Style), which was 7 November (New Style), delegates to the Second All-Russia Congress of Soviets gathered in Petrograd. The Bolsheviks, for the first time, had a majority. Not only was the Revolutionary Military Committee ready for action, but (unlike in July) the Soviets were ready to accept power.

The actual insurrection was almost an anti-climax. With the Petrograd Soviet in control of military deployments, the ability of the Provisional Government to resist the take-over was almost non-existent. Detachments occupied public buildings, troop formations went over to the revolution, government communications were cut and loyalist troops were overwhelmed or prevented from being located by Kerensky. The entire event was bloodless, with only one shot fired (into the ceiling) in the storming of the Winter Palace. At 11 p.m. the Congress of Soviets opened. The Revolutionary Military Committee announced that the Provisional Government was overthrown and the Soviets accepted power. One chapter was over and a new one immediately began.

Aftermath

Kerensky blew his remaining credibility four days after the insurrection when he tried to enter Petrograd like a Czarist general, complete with a white horse and church bells, and killed eight people before retreating. Events in Moscow were more bloody. Fighting continued for a week before the Soviets defeated Kerensky’s forces. After that, resistance to the power of the Soviets gradually subsided – for the time being.

From a tiny beginning, Anarchists were growing in influence in Russia during 1917 and continued to grow through 1918. Anarchists supported the overthrow of the Provisional Government and some even participated in the storming of the Winter Palace. Anarchists also participated in the Soviet’s dispersal of the Constituent Assembly in January 1918. It was a capitalist parliament and would only have created a capitalist state.

Anarchists and Bolsheviks had been operating roughly in parallel (though rarely in co-operation) until the October Revolution, but went in different directions after that. In retrospect, it can be seen that the Soviets made two key errors that foreshadowed all subsequent ones. Firstly, the All-Russia Congress disregarded Marx’s insight which he had set out in his pamphlet on the Paris Commune:

    The Commune was to be a working, not a parliamentary body, executive and legislative at the same time.

That is, the Commune held executive power and implemented its own decisions. Instead, the Congress elected a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet over the Soviets. The Congress of Soviets had turned itself into a legislature and was no longer the working body that the Commune had been.

Secondly, the All-Russia Congress of Soviets assumed central power over the regional and local soviets. Because of the unevenness of political developments in Russia, the Congress did need power in relation to areas where regional soviets were not yet established, and regional soviets needed power in relation to districts where local soviets were not yet established. But having the Congress assume central power over other soviets ensured that the All-Russia Congress was experienced as an external power imposed from above, making arbitrary and often ill-informed decisions. Its decisions were initially a good deal more just and popular than those of the Czar or the Provisional Government, but they were not the freely made decisions of the people who would implement them.

As a result of those two errors, Russia had a new state. The Bolsheviks would proceed to build its power at the expense of the workers and the peasants.

Subsequent events demonstrated that poor structural decisions made at the beginning were fateful. Very soon, the new government started reining in the Factory Committees. Before too long it was insisting on “one man management” – often the former owner employed as a “specialist” on a high salary. Repression of the Anarchists started in April 1918, a month before the first clashes with organised counter-revolutionary forces that became the White armies. The Red Terror, in the process of combating counter-revolutionaries, drove increasing numbers of workers and peasants into opposition because of its dictatorial methods. Opposition parties were crushed, one by one. Independent revolutions in the territory of the old Russian Empire were put down – a Menshevik republic in Georgia and peasant-based Anarchists, the Makhnovists, in Ukraine. The suppression of the Makhnovists was especially grievous because they had proven their loyalty to the revolution on the battlefield. In fact, they had done the bulk of the fighting against the White armies that had invaded from the south. And finally, the Bolshevik (now Communist) Party crushed the Kronstadt Rebellion, suppressed all other parties and banned its own factions in 1921 – all after the Civil War had been won.

By 1921, the Russian Revolution was over. All counter-revolutionary forces had been defeated, but so had the working class. The so-called “Communist” Party had usurped the power of the Soviets and established a heavy dictatorship. In time, assisted by the illness and then death of Lenin, Stalin would rise to power and institute major changes in policy, including “Socialism in One Country”, a concept both intellectually ridiculous and politically criminal. He stacked the Party with flunkies, purged opposition and turned the reign of terror systematically onto the Party as well (though Lenin had engaged in sporadic internal repression himself). The name of communism was dragged through the mud, with consequences we still suffer today.

Lessons

The most obvious lesson of the October Revolution is that workers can take power. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. Fundamentally, the October Revolution was successful because power was taken by the Soviets, the mass organs of workers’ democracy. It was not a mere Bolshevik coup. We don’t know what the mass organs of workers’ democracy may be in future revolutions. They may be workers’ councils, workplace committees, anarcho-syndicalist unions, or something else. The essential thing is that, like the Soviets in Russia, they have the participation of the mass of the working class and they operate by direct democracy, with mandated and recallable delegates.

The next lesson is that things went very badly wrong in Russia very soon after the October Revolution, not in 1924. The “workers’ state” built by the Bolsheviks was an oxymoron, a repressive apparatus that could only impose authority from above. It was the antithesis of workers’ freedom and workers’ control.

Things could have been otherwise. If the All-Russia Congress had not set up a Council of People’s Commissars to act as an executive cabinet, and if relations between the Soviets had been established on the basis of consistent federalism, then the Soviets would have been working bodies where workers came together to make decisions and implement them directly, without coercion or hierarchy. The Factory Committees would have been able to take over inside the workplace, being the basic organs of workers’ self-management.

A third lesson is that political parties cannot be trusted. The capitalist parties and the moderate workers’ parties discredited themselves well before October, leading to their eclipse by the Bolsheviks. The Bolshevik Party played a vital role in the period between the February and October Revolutions, but after the October Revolution it acted consistently to draw power from the Soviets unto itself. It considered itself the vanguard of the proletariat, possessed of a better and more reliable revolutionary consciousness than the mass of the workers. When it had the opportunity to substitute its judgement for that of the workers, it did. The Civil War provided a high pressure context in which many of those decisions were made and could be sold to the Soviets, but the authoritarianism began before the Civil War and continued afterwards.

The final, and to many the most surprising, lesson is that the Russian Revolution proved that, on the question of the party, Lenin was wrong and Anarchist communists are right. It is well known that the February Revolution started because of an International Women’s Day demonstration that took a militant turn. It is occasionally pointed out that Bolshevik women textile workers organised this demonstration and its militant tactics. It is seldom remembered, though, that these women were acting on their own initiative. They were organised revolutionaries who debated and discussed amongst themselves, but they weren’t acting on instructions from the Bolshevik Central Committee. This was to be expected, since the Bolsheviks were illegal at that point and Central Committee members were either underground or in exile. Much latitude was necessarily given to local branches and factory cells.

This process played out on a larger scale through 1917. Before the October Revolution, the Bolshevik Party acted in a very decentralised way, and party discipline was much weaker. The social turmoil and the rapid growth of the Party prevented the establishment of thorough centralism. It was only after October that the Bolsheviks could begin working consistently in the way that Lenin had fought for since 1903. Before October, Right Bolsheviks like Kamenev and Zinoviev engaged in open freelancing against the Party line. They even publicly opposed the Soviets taking power after the Central Committee had committed to the insurrection. An even more telling example is Lenin’s famous speech at the Finland Station when he returned from exile in April. His call for the overthrow of the Provisional Government, and for the Soviets to take power, was against Party policy! Lenin had to fight tooth and nail after this speech in order to get the Bolsheviks to adopt his position. If he had kept to Party discipline, he may never have won the argument and the Russian Revolution may have taken a vastly different course. Centralisation has a conservatising effect on organisations and, in a political party, cuts it off from radical shifts in public consciousness.

Anarchist communists accept that we need to be better organised than in 1917. Revolutionary working class activists need to organise themselves in specific revolutionary bodies, in addition to being members of the mass organisations of the working class. Where we differ from Leninists is on the role and structure of the specific revolutionary organisations. We believe the role of revolutionary organisations is to urge the working class to take power itself and not to take power on behalf of the workers. Our activists need to be exemplary militants rather than leaders. They need to inspire workers to act for themselves rather than to follow leaders, however revolutionary. As the old Wobbly saying goes, whoever can lead you into paradise can just as easily lead you out again. The role of Anarchist organisations, important at any time, will be irreplaceable in revolutionary periods, since Anarchists in the mass organs of workers’ power will have a message that all parties, including the Leninists, will oppose – that these mass workers’ organs are the very substance of the revolution and must not surrender power to anyone, whether it be a parliament, a constituent assembly, or a Council of People’s Commissars.

The structure of Anarchist communist organisations must reflect their function. We believe workers’ power must operate on the basis of consistent federalism, where power rests at the bottom and the higher bodies exist to co-ordinate without coercion. Anarchist communist political organisations that are large enough to have more than one constituent group must also organise in this way. Since we believe the mass workers’ organs must operate with mandated, recallable delegates and limited tenure of office, so must Anarchist communist political organisations operate.

And since we believe that workers can only exercise real power if they are able to hear all arguments on a given topic, we believe that Anarchists should not attempt to form a single organisation to present a monolithic opinion to the working class. The inevitable differences of opinion within the Anarchist movement (let alone between Anarchists and state socialists) should not be resolved artificially behind closed doors, but presented to the working class for judgement. If any one organisation, even an Anarchist one, gains an enduring majority in the mass workers’ organs, the danger of usurpation will arise. Anarchists need to guard against this by ensuring that Anarchist communist organisations preserve pluralism. They must reject the artificial unity that comes from papering over political differences.

Conclusion

The October Revolution in Russia was a momentous event and the Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group celebrates its centenary. The Soviets and the Factory Committees were great achievements of the working class and taking power was an even greater achievement. We are angered by the betrayal of the Revolution by Lenin and its total perversion by Stalin, but we are not disillusioned. Rather, we have learned lessons and work in the confident expectation that, if capitalism doesn’t destroy us in the meantime, there will be another revolution, and it will be worldwide. Unlike last time, workers won’t get taken in by the siren song of leaders who tell us fairy tales about a workers’ state. We won’t be fooled again.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MACG Statement on Marriage Equality Survey

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group supports a YES vote in the postal survey on marriage equality now in progress in Australia. We do this, not because we endorse the institution of marriage, but because the survey will have concrete results and we need to choose which results we favour.

Marriage is a reactionary social institution which exists so that men can ensure that their property will be inherited by children who are unquestionably their own offspring. Historically, it was also a means for negotiating alliances between families to advance their interests. The wishes and interests of women were of little account in the process. Marriage has thus been part of the subordination of women to men within class society. With the rise of capitalism, romantic love gradually superseded dynastic manoeuvring, allowing individuals relative freedom in choosing their partner. Such freedom is still subordinated, though, to the need to ensure paternity in the inheritance of property.

In recent decades, social prejudices against homosexual activity have been decaying, a consequence of widespread contraception, which has severed the previously iron link between sex and reproduction. This has opened the door for LGBTIQ people to gain wider acceptance in society and allowed their struggles for equality to achieve greater success. The struggles have been hard fought, because power concedes nothing without a demand, but the preconditions for success now exist in a way they didn’t a century ago.

In 2004, the Coalition Government of John Howard saw the growing push for equality in society by LGBTIQ people and decided that something had to be done to stop it. Howard saw he would have trouble holding the line in the face of a piecemeal push against a series of petty material forms of discrimination, so he decided that he would draw a line in the sand over a major symbolic issue – marriage. After a brief media campaign, the Labor Party capitulated and voted with the Coalition to entrench compulsory heterosexuality in the Marriage Act. Howard had won another battle in his culture wars and had his position strengthened. What few anticipated, though, was how far and how fast public opinion would change.

Until Howard changed the Marriage Act, getting the legal right to marry had not been a priority of the LGBTIQ movement. For the most part, it saw marriage as a reactionary institution. There had only been a few stirrings of interest, provoked by developments in the United States. Howard had engaged in a pre-emptive strike, ensuring that marriage equality would not be achieved through the courts. His action turned the political situation around. The Marriage Act now stands as a massive statement by the State that LGBTIQ people are not equal to straight people and their relationships are second class ones. The LGBTIQ movement got the message and realised that social equality wasn’t going to be achieved without marriage equality. The forces of reaction have chosen their ground and we must wage our battle on that field, or not at all.

In itself, changing the Marriage Act to allow couples of the same sex to marry is a very minor reform. LGBTIQ people will have access to a reactionary institution which will be rendered irrelevant by a workers’ revolution which abolishes property and thus inheritance. The significance of the campaign for marriage equality, though, is in the enemy we must defeat to achieve it. We are fighting organised religion, with the Catholic Church at its head. We are fighting some of the most powerful and justly hated figures on the political Right in Australia, including Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi and Andrew Bolt. And we are fighting the Fascists, who have taken time out from spreading Islamophobia and anti-Semitism to demonstrate that this campaign is not about marriage, but about the legitimacy of homosexuality itself. If we win, we put these people to flight. If we lose, we will face a festival of reaction such as Australia hasn’t seen since the 1950s.

The postal survey is a flawed process of direct democracy, something far inferior to an authentic plebiscite on a concrete proposal. We didn’t choose this battlefield, but it’s a battle we must win. Vote YES for liberty, equality and solidarity. Vote YES and prepare to take the struggle further.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

From Charlottesville to Melbourne: Unite to fight the far right

The Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group has endorsed the mobilisation called by the Campaign Against Racism & Fascism against the “Make Victoria Safe Again” rally.

11:30 a.m. Sun 17 September

State Library
328 Swanston St
Melbourne 3000

See the following link for details:

https://www.facebook.com/events/157897641434932/

As it cannot be guaranteed that neither the police nor the Fascists will engage in violence, please come prepared, be aware of your security and look after the safety of yourselves & other comrades at the mobilisation and as you disperse.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

The ‘Boiketlong Four’

Call for Solidarity

The ‘Boiketlong Four’ and the Criminalisation of Poverty and Protest:
Freedom for Dinah and Sipho, Justice for Papi!

The Boiketlong Four

In February 2015, four community activists from Boiketlong in the Vaal, south of
Johannesburg, were sentenced to 16 years in prison each following a community protest.
This is a very severe sentence and the conviction was based on shaky evidence. The
‘Boiketlong Four’ were arrested for allegedly attacking the local ANC ward councillor and
setting fire to her shack and two cars during a community protest. They were convicted of
assault with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, arson and malicious injury to property.
This is an example of a terrible injustice perpetrated against black working class activists
and could have dangerous repercussions for future struggles of the black working class
and poor in South Africa if it is not fought. People need to be aware of the facts and take
action to demand justice and to fight the criminalisation of poverty and protest.
Evidence presented by the prosecutor in court was shaky and state witnesses either
couldn’t identify the four accused or place them at the scene at the time. To convict them
the state used the 1973 apartheid law of so-called ‘common purpose’, meaning they were
found guilty simply because they were leaders of the community; even though no evidence
conclusively connecting the four with the burning of the councillor’s house or cars was
presented. At least one of the four, Dinah Makhetha, was not even present at the time.
The key witness willing to testify that Dinah was not present at the councillor’s home at the
time it was razed, Papi Tobias, disappeared under mysterious circumstances in February
2016 and has not been seen since. He is believed to be dead.

In June 2015, the Boiketlong Four applied for bail and for Leave to Appeal both the
conviction and the sentence. Leave to Appeal the conviction was granted, but not to
appeal the severity of the sentence – meaning that if their appeal of the conviction failed
they would have to serve the full 16 year term in prison. Bail was also denied.
To apply for bail and to petition for full Leave to Appeal were High Court processes which
placed a huge financial and emotional burden on the poor working class families of the
accused. A fundraising committee was established to raise money from within the
community in order to pay for legal and related expenses.

After 9 months in prison the four activists were released on bail in October 2015.
Then, on 19 June 2017, two of the four were arrested again and thrown back in prison –
where they currently remain. We urgently need to demand they be released on bail
immediately and to have the conviction overturned.

Neoliberalism, corruption and the criminalisation of poverty and protest
The Boiketlong Four were leading community activists in the struggle for housing,
development in the township and for what the ANC government has been promising them
– and the black working class and poor across South Africa – for over 20 years. That,
being poor and struggling to change their conditions and uplift themselves and their
community were their only ‘crimes’. It is believed that they were targeted in a politically
motivated move by the state, at the behest of the local ANC, to suppress and criminalise
their activities as activists because of their role in opposing the anti-poor policies of the
neoliberal ANC government and exposing and challenging the corruption of local political
elites. They are not criminals, they are political/class struggle prisoners.

They were unfairly charged due to their role in community protests that are caused by
unfair treatment, corruption and maladministration. The black working class in South Africa
has had enough of suffering the brunt of poverty and inequality but when we take to the
streets we suffer the repressive might of the state and police brutality. The politicians
supposedly put in power to serve the community quickly forget about doing so because
they are living the life of luxury.

Our brothers and sisters who take up the fight for justice should not be the ones punished
for these actions. The 1994 tripartite regime said it would not do what the National Party
did to the black working class in South Africa, but over twenty years later we are
experiencing almost the same treatment. The enemy has proven to be the ruling party and
the private capitalists.

Like so many townships, rural areas and poor communities across South Africa, the black
working class and poor community of Boiketlong has long suffered from the broken
promises of the ANC government. Since the first multiracial elections in 1994, the ANC has
repeatedly been re-elected on the backs of empty promises of service delivery, job
creation and to develop and upgrade townships and other underdeveloped areas that have
long suffered a lack of access to decent and affordable sanitation, water, electricity and
housing as well as education and health care etc. as part of the legacy of colonialism and
apartheid capitalism.

Faced with increased discontent and protest in response to its own lack of political will and
its inability, due to the anti-working class neoliberal policies it has adopted, to even begin
to fulfill its promises and implement wide-scale development, upgrading of townships, land
reform, service delivery and job creation across the country the ANC government is
increasingly responding with the criminalisation of protest – and the poor – in order to
suppress and contain social struggles and working class resistance.

This is because of two major processes the political elite is involved in: using the state for
private accumulation and enforcing neoliberal policies designed to redirect wealth
upwards, away from the black working class and poor to the ruling class – made up of
white, and now black, private capitalists as well as politicians and state managers. This is
2in order to recover profitability and maintain profits by transferring the costs of the
economic crisis onto the working class, particularly the black section. It does this through
commercialisation and privatisation, the flexibilisation of labour, austerity budgeting and
cuts in social spending, outsourcing and aggressive cost recovery measures etc.
At local level outsourcing has led to contracts and tenders for housing, service delivery
and infrastructure development being handed out to politically connected individuals and
company owners, particularly the new BEE (Black Economic Empowerment) elite,
resulting in nepotism, corruption and patronage becoming widespread. In order to make as
much profit as possible through these contracts these BEE ‘tenderpreneurs’ cut costs by
exploiting workers, using the cheapest available materials and cutting corners in terms of
safety and standards. This is why so many RDP houses are cracking and falling apart and
why service delivery in black working class townships is so terrible.

The political elite at local, provincial and national levels – both ANC and, in some areas,
the DA – uses its access to and control of state resources to accumulate private wealth
and entrench their power and control of the state and its resources. This is what
“corruption” means, and it is done at the expense of the black working class and poor –
who get nothing but shoddy housing, poor service delivery and state repression if they rise
up.

In the context of the global capitalist crisis and dwindling state resources there is an
increasing struggle between political elites to hold onto power and access to limited
resources. It is this competition for access to state power and resources for self-
enrichment that has led to the factional battles that we are currently witnessing between
the two main rival factions of the ANC – those around Jacob Zuma and those around Cyril
Ramaphosa.

However, under the smoke and mirrors, both of these factions and the two wings of the
ruling class – state managers/political elite/politicians, on the one hand, and private
capitalists/economic elite/bosses, on the other – both depend on exploiting the working
class and poor and on the model of cheap black labour, part of which involves massive
underspending on townships.

This can only be ended by consistent and independent class struggle and resistance and
that is exactly what the ruling class fears – and why the state and political elite that
controls it are increasingly resorting to the criminalisation of poverty and protest to
suppress working class resistance.

The ANC government wants to make an example of the Boitketlong Four in order to send
a strong message to the poor, the unemployed and the marginalised youth leading and
participating in struggles for land and housing, jobs and service delivery. The message is
that if you dare to organise or engage in social struggles in pursuit of your rights, to expose
or simply speak out against the rampant corruption of the political elite, you will be dealt
with swiftly and harshly. The heavy sentences handed down to the Boiketlong Four and the
denial of bail and Leave to Appeal are all intended to intimidate and deter others from
independent working class resistance and protest.

It is therefore of utmost importance that class struggle militants do everything within our
means to campaign to have the conviction and sentence overturned – because if we don’t
the state will use this case as a precedent in order to further criminalise poverty and
protest and more and more people will be thrown in prison on so-called criminal charges
and slapped with harsh sentences for protesting their poverty and fighting for their rights.

Justice for Papi Tobias

On the evening of 6 February 2016, Papi Tobias left his home in Boiketlong to go watch
soccer at a local tavern. He was last seen leaving the tavern in the presence of Sebokeng
Police Station commander Brigadier Jan Scheepers.

Papi, a father of three, was also a leading community activist in the struggle for housing
and development in the township and was often at the forefront of service delivery
protests.

He was also one of the people on the committee tasked with raising funds for the
Boiketlong Four’s legal expenses. Six days before his disappearance Papi had attended a
heated community meeting, called by the local mayor, in which he criticised the fundraising
committee for misusing the money raised for the Boiketlong Four’s defence. He also
reportedly said that the community was “threatened and lied to” by the committee, that it
had “in fact elected itself because it is not ours, the people’s” and that “the wrong people
were arrested”.

Papi had also said to Brigadier Scheepers, to the attorney then dealing with the Boiketlong
Four case, to a paralegal at the Orange Farm Human Rights Advice Centre and at public
meetings that he was willing to testify that Dinah was not in the vicinity of the councillor’s
house when it was set on fire and that she and the other three were wrongfully accused.
It is alleged that one of the fundraising committee members suspected of misusing the
funds, a local ANC leader and member of the ANC-dominated Boiketlong Concern Group,
is behind Papi’s disappearance; and that he told the family that Brigadier Scheepers knew
as to Papi’s whereabouts shortly after his disappearance. It is suspected that, in addition
to the committee member, Brigadier Scheepers and the Mayor of Emfuleni Local
Municipality, Simon Mofokeng, are also implicated in the kidnapping.

Shortly before his disappearance Papi’s dog was killed and a member of the Boiketlong
Concern Group said they had heard rumors that Papi’s life was in danger prior to his
disappearance.

Papi has been missing for well over a year now and is believed to be dead. His
disappearance and suspected murder are almost certainly politically motivated and linked
to his role in struggling for service delivery, housing and development in the township and
for exposing the mayor and fundraising committee members for alleged corruption or
misusing money raised for the Boiketlong Four’s legal expenses.

The police investigators handling the case appear to have made little effort to establish
Papi’s fate or whereabouts and no investigation seems to be underway. To date nobody
has been arrested or charged in relation to Papi’s disappearance.

Freedom for Dinah and Sipho

Since being released on bail in October 2015 one of the accused, Pulane Mahlangu, has
skipped bail and disappeared. Another, Dan Sekuti Molefe, passed away in December
2016. He had been ill prior to his arrest and it is sure that the stress of his conviction, the
violence and suffering of 9 months in prison and the prospect of spending another 16
years there helped kill him.

On 6 June 2017, a Leave to Appeal hearing for the remaining two accused, Sipho Sydney
Manganye and Dinah Makhetha, took place at the North Gauteng High Court to appeal the
16 year sentence. The application was dismissed and they were ordered to hand
themselves over to the Sebokeng Regional Court on 19 June.

On 15 June, Dinah and Sipho met with their advocate from Legal Aid SA, who told them he
was going to apply for an extension of their bail at the Sebokeng Regional Court on 19
June. However, the Magistrate refused the extension of bail because the application
should have been brought at the North Gauteng High Court as that is where bail was
initially granted. Dinah and Sipho were re-arrested and thrown back into prison.
Dinah and Sipho’s pro-bono legal representatives, Legal Aid SA, should have applied to
the High Court to extend bail pending the petition being heard at Sebokeng but this doesn’t
seem to have been done and the accused have now been languishing in prison, for the
second time, for over a month.

While previously out on bail Sipho seems to have been co-opted by the local ANC elite,
who gave him employment in a development project in the township – a tactic regularly
used by local political elites to co-opt activists and draw them away from activism and
struggle in order to neutralise the threat they pose both to the dominance of the local
political elite and their opportunities for accumulating wealth through their access to state
resources and tenders. Sipho, perhaps out of desperation, reportedly began singing
praises for the mayor and saying that he cares for the people. He no longer seems to be
interested in social struggle and community activism.

That certainly doesn’t mean he should be left to go to prison without support, though, but it
seems he was fooled into thinking that the ANC and local political elite would help him if he
stopped his involvement in community struggles.

Sipho’s defence, unfortunately, is also not as strong as Dinah’s and the advocate has not
been able to find grounds to challenge his conviction on two of the four counts against him
– assault with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and arson. This means that, even if
the advocate is successful in appealing the other two counts against him he could still face
10 years in prison.

Dinah, a long-standing community activist and former member of the now defunct Anti-
Privatisation Forum (APF), however, has remained unflinching in her commitment to social
justice and working class militancy and, despite what is effectively an apartheid-era
banning order preventing her from attending community or political meetings, protests etc.,
she remained involved in community organisation and activism while out on bail.
Dinah’s defence is also very strong and the advocate has found convincing grounds on
which to challenge all four of the counts she was convicted of.

It is vitally important that we do everything in our power to show immediate solidarity and
support for both Dinah and Sipho and to ensure that they are granted bail while awaiting
Leave to Appeal their conviction and that the charges against them are withdrawn and they
are declared innocent.

Dinah and Sipho are political prisoners of the capitalist state, which wants to make an
example of them. Their fate will help determine the fate of many more community activists
and poor township residents that engage in social struggles and protests to come. If their
conviction and sentences are not overturned more working class militants and people
arrested during protests could face equally harsh sentences.

Dinah and Sipho will be appearing at the Sebokeng District Court on Wednesday 26
July to have their application for extension of bail heard. A demonstration at the
court is being planned for the day and we call on our comrades, allies and all
freedom and justice loving people worldwide to do whatever they can on, before
and after Wednesday 26 July to show solidarity with Sipho and Dinah and to
demand justice both for them and Papi. We should also demand that a date be set
for their appeal of the conviction and sentence to be heard by the Supreme Court of
Appeal as soon as possible and appeal to you and your organisations to organise
solidarity actions and activities and show support for Dinah and Sipho leading up to
and on the day of their appeal. We will communicate the date for the appeal once it
has been set.

FREEDOM FOR DINAH AND SIPHO! JUSTICE FOR PAPI!
STOP THE CRIMINALISATION OF POVERTY AND PROTEST!
DEFEND OUR RIGHT TO FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION, ASSOCIATION
AND PROTEST!

What you can do:
• Picket and demonstrate outside South African Embassies abroad on Wednesday 26
July;

• Email and fax the Department of Justice and Constitutional Development demanding
Sipho and Dinah be given an extension of bail on Wednesday 26 July;

• Disseminate this call for solidarity on social media and in your organisations,
networks and movements;

• Write letters and articles about the case and publish them in alternative and, where
possible, mainstream newspapers, magazines etc.;

• Discuss the case and the call for solidarity on podcasts and community radio, at
student/worker/community meetings, at demonstrations etc.;

• Take photographs of solidarity activities and actions, or of yourself or your
organisation holding placards with messages of support or demanding Sipho and
Dinah be released on bail and that their conviction be overturned and publish them
on social media with the hashtags and handles below;

• Write letters of support to Dinah, Sipho and/or to Papi’s family and email them to
zacf[at]riseup.net and orangefarmadvicecentre[at]gmail.com to have them given to
the recipients;

• Put pressure on Legal Aid SA to prioritise the case by phoning them, sending them
emails and faxes to put pressure on them constantly to ensure that they are
prioritising the case;

• Make the South African government know that this case is in the international
spotlight by phoning, emailing and faxing the Presidency and the Department of
Justice and Constitutional Development to demand the conviction be overturned, the
charges dropped and a full scale investigation into the fate of Paps Tobias be
launched.

On social media use the hashtags #Boiketlong4Solidarity #Boiketlong4
#FreedomforDinahandSipho #JusticeforPapiTobias and the Twitter handles
@PresidencyZA @GovernmentZA @EmfuleniLM @DOJCD_ZA @LegalAidSA1
@ZabalazaNews

CONTACT DETAILS
The Presidency of the Republic of South Africa
Tel: +27 12 300 5200
Fax: +27 12 323 8246
Email: president@presidency.gov.za
Office of Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa
Tel: +27 12 308 5316
E-mail: Deputypresident@presidency.gov.za
Minister of Justice and Correctional Services
Tel: +27 12 406 4669
Fax: +27 12 406 4680
E-mail: ministry@justice.gov.za
Deputy Minister for Justice and Constitutional Development
Tel: +27 12 406 4854
Fax: +27 12 406 4878
E-mail: deputyminister@justice.gov.za
Legal Aid South Africa Head Office
Tel: +27 11 877 2000
Legal Aid SA Pretoria Justice Centre
Tel: +27 12 401 9200
Fax: +27 12 324 1950
Legal Aid SA Vereeniging Justice Centre
Tel: +27 16 421 3527
Fax: +27 16 421 4287

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

No Pride in Hate Anti-Fascist Mobilisation

https://www.facebook.com/events/1293061844125483

Neo-Nazis are planning an ‘Australian Pride March’ on Sunday 25 June.
Their focus is refugees, Islamophobia, the African community, trans people and the Left.
The Australian flag is their symbol for ‘traditional Australian morals and values’.
This means White Australia, genocide of First Nations, workers’ power destroyed, women ruled by patriarchs, and LGBTIQ people back in the closet.

We cannot give fascists the streets.
We can’t let them recruit and grow.
Join us in stopping them.
Our strength is our unity, diversity and numbers.
Our ‘No Pride in Hate’ rally will start at 10.30am, before the far right rally.

Touch One, Touch All.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

MAY DAY 2017

Origins

The first May Day was a workers’ strike and demonstration in Chicago in the United States in 1886. They were fighting for the eight hour day. Police killed several workers. At a protest meeting a few days later, someone threw a bomb. Seven police and four workers died from the bomb or the following police gunfire. Eight Anarchist union officials were framed and four were executed. The campaign for the exoneration of the Haymarket Martyrs and the release of the survivors led to May Day now being celebrated around the world as a day of working class solidarity.

The Current Time

Economically, the advanced countries of the world are descending into stagnation. Despite years of record low interest rates, they cannot get out of low, even zero, growth. Meanwhile, the condition of public finances across the advanced countries ranges from poor to ruinous. In the Third World, the situation isn’t as bad, but it is still not as good as before the Global Financial Crisis. The political fallout is alarming. Leaving aside the intractable imperialist wars ravaging West Asia, we see the rise of Fascism in most advanced countries. There is even the possibility of a Fascist being elected President of France. And in many of the larger Third World countries (e.g. Egypt, India, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey) far Right governments are introducing unprecedented reactionary policies or brutally repressing dissent.

The Current Struggle

Not all the news is bad. Workers continue to struggle in China, driving up wages. The election of Donald Trump in the United States has sparked widespread resistance, with varying degrees of militancy. The workers of Brazil have just pulled off a magnificent general strike, the biggest in a generation. And even here in Australia, the movement to defend penalty rates is continuing to grow. What is necessary is for workers’ struggle to break out of its narrow national confines, so that the power of transnational companies is met by the international solidarity of workers. We need a global picket line.

The Future

On May Day we commemorate the past, but we also look to the future. There is no reason to be confident in capitalist economic recovery. There are many reasons to struggle against the horrors of oppression, unemployment, environmental devastation and war that capitalism dishes up. Workers can solve these problems for good. We can make a revolution and, as we do, the mass democratic workers’ organisations we create will be the basis of the new society, worldwide. In this new society, each will contribute according to their ability and each receive according to their need. We will have no need of a State apparatus to enforce the dictates of a privileged elite. We will live a life of peace, freedom and equality. We have nothing to lose but our chains.

WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE!

Melbourne Anarchist Communist Group

PO Box 5108 Brunswick North 3056 1 May 2017
https://www.melbacg.wordpress.com
macg1984@yahoo.com.au

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment