This AWTWNS news packet for the week of 26 January 2015 contains two articles. They may be reproduced or used in any way, in whole or in part, as long as they are credited.
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- Brutality spurs desperate resistance in Australian immigration camps
- Greece: What is the problem Syriza is supposed to solve?
Brutality spurs desperate resistance in Australian immigration camps
26 January 2015. A World to Win News Service. In December 2014 more than 500 people at the Australian-run detention centre on Manus Island, part of the neighbouring country of Papua New Guinea (PNG), began a hunger strike. A number of the detainees sewed their lips together, others swallowed razor blades or toxic cleaning agents. A few combined these measures. On 24 January, witnesses say four men receiving medical treatment at the Darwin detention centre in Australia itself were forcibly returned to the Manus and Nairu centres.
Videos sent by detainees to lawyers and the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) show that on 20 January guards in full riot gear stormed the centre attempting to break up the hunger strike. Some detainees were taken to a prison in Lorengau, also in Papua New Guinea. Fifty-eight of the strikers were reportedly beaten and are now being held in windowless cells. It has also been reported that four people have been sent to solitary confinement, including two witnesses to the beating death of 24 year old Reza Barato in February 2014.
The Australian and PNG governments have praised security personnel for bringing the stand-off to an end. But detainees say they will continue their protest, and several men remain on hunger strike.
The detainees are reportedly protesting against a PNG government plan to move 50 of them, who have received legal recognition of their refugee status, to Lorengau, the capital of Manus province. The Manus Island centre was the scene of deadly riots last February, when guards and local residents entered the facility and clashed with detainees. Barato was killed and at least 70 injured in the assault.
The Manus Island centre is home to about 1,000 asylum seekers. “They believe their lives are in danger,” Ian Rintoul, a spokesman for RAC said. “This is also upsetting other people [in the detention centre] who fear the same will happen to them.” The detainees are said to be afraid that they will be attacked by local people if they are moved to Lorengau.
The sister of a 39-year-old Egyptian on hunger strike at Manus told Australia’s ABC that she feared her brother would die. She said: “When he talks with me… I asked him what happened. He said, ‘I took razors’ and he’s sewing his lips. I ask him why… He said, ‘I want to die.’ ‘All my body, it’s white and my legs are blue.'”
This dire situation has been going on for over a year and a half. Conditions at the centre have been repeatedly criticised by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).
Journalists, lawyers and RAC object to the lack of transparency and the difficulty in accessing prisoners to learn the truth of what is happening inside the camp. The Barato murder only became known because a concerned, outraged staff person leaked the information to the public. This led to protests in large and small cities across Australia by people revolted by the government’s treatment of detainees.
The staff person revealed that employees were required to tell the asylum seekers that, contrary to law, they would never be allowed to leave Papua New Guinea, either for Australia or a third country of refuge, so that they would drop their requests for asylum status – and most importantly, discourage others from trying to enter Australia. Further, she said, the camp “was designed as an experiment in the active creation of horror to secure the deterrence.” The young man’s death, she explained, was not a result of a “crisis” in the camp’s functioning but “an opportunity to extend that logic one step further.” (Guardian, 25 February 2014)
In July 2013, the Guardian reported on an earlier whistleblower, a former security manager at the detention facility, who said that self harm and suicide attempts were “very common – almost daily.” He said “I’ve never seen human beings so destitute, so helpless and so hopeless before. I took the position with every intent of making the place a safer environment, but it proved quite rapidly to be an impossibility. In Australia the facility couldn’t serve as a dog kennel. The owners would be jailed.”
Admitting to the volatility of the present situation, the Australian government denies that any recent clashes took place. It hypocritically claims that its draconian immigrant policy of denying residency in Australia, even to those who finally get refugee status, is meant to keep immigrants from drowning in rickety boats in the sea and dissuade them from even trying.
Those not given refugee status are encouraged to return to their home countries. Some of these, like Iran, refuse to accept anyone returned involuntarily, so many detainees remain in a kind of limbo with nowhere to go.
Most refugees to Australia are from Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The reasons that drive people to leave their homeland and risk death in the process are multiple but deeply rooted in the functioning of the imperialist system, with its endless genocidal wars and imperialist-dependent repressive regimes, and the globalization of the world economy that has devastated traditional subsistence and local-market agriculture, producing a situation where there is no way to support one’s family.
Australia’s use of Papua New Guinea as a site for its concentration camps is particularly revealing and ugly. This country, comprising the eastern half of the island of New Guinea and smaller islands, was an Australian colony until 1975 and in many ways has continued to be one despite its so-called independence. It provides wealth for Australian and other capitalists through the exploitation of its minerals and other natural resources on an enormous scale while its people live in extreme poverty. The local people, whose traditional way of life and culture is being destroyed along with the environment by the looting of their country, are no less victims of Australia and other imperialist countries than the immigrants imprisoned in PNG.
Australia’s cruel immigration policies and the racist ideology that goes along with them is part of this kind of oppressive global imbalance.
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Greece: What is the problem Syriza is supposed to solve?
26 January 2015. A World to Win News Service. The electoral victory of the Syriza party and the formation of a government with its leader Alexis Tsipras as prime minister is an important event, not just for Greece but for Europe. This is not only because of the potential economic consequences for the European Union but also because Syriza and Tsipras claim to represent a solution to the hardships that Greeks and many other Europeans have endured since the 2008 world financial crisis. “Far left” and ultra-right parties in Spain and France have seen the Syriza victory as heralding their own future electoral triumph.
For historical reasons that have to do with the late, weak and foreign-dominated development of capitalism in Greece, it has long been economically and politically subordinated to the big capitalist powers. Much of its ruling class, especially concentrated in shipping and banking (with major investments in the Middle East and later the Balkans), has been particularly intertwined with big-power capital, especially the UK and Germany, at various times and in various combinations, and the U.S.
This dominance has been violently enforced. Germany seized Greece in World War 2. Britain sent Winston Churchill and troops to support the Greek fascists facing a communist-led rebellion at the end of the war. When civil war broke out, the U.S. sent CIA advisers to direct the anti-guerilla strategy later applied in Vietnam: to defeat the guerrillas by emptying much of the countryside. The king went from being a British intermediary to an American one.
Greece did not follow the trajectory of the bigger and more developed European powers, for whom the three post-war decades were a period of vigorous economic growth and a fairly broad rise in living standards. Massive emigration and exile played a major role in transforming Greece from a rural to a modern urban country. Much of the country’s ruling capitalist bourgeoisie was and is concentrated in shipping and banks (major investors in the Middle East and later the Balkans), with a political base among the many traditionally-minded family business owners and self-employed professionals. It was not until the 1980s that the state was able to bring greater political stability through government spending and employment and the kind of social welfare measures implemented elsewhere in Europe.
The integration of Greece into the European and international market, and especially the international capital market, accelerating after Greece’s entry into the eurozone in 2001, brought about economic growth. Yet this process and its particular forms in Greece laid the basis for the particularly Greek severity of the later crisis. Government spending was to a large extent sustained by loans. The prosperity of the Greek economy actually weakened it structurally. Imports towered over exports. The big trade deficit, too, required loans to bridge the gap. That growth itself was fuelled by foreign investment, including in the form of private bank loans.
German and French banks lent the Greek government money spent to import goods from Germany and buy war planes and other arms from France and the U.S. (amounting to 40 percent of Greek imports in the last decade). In effect, Greece was subsidizing the profitability of German, French and U.S. business. Further, of course, these loans were a form of investment which themselves yielded profits for capital based in other countries.
It has been charged that Greece became addicted to foreign credits. But at the same time, foreign finance capital became addicted to loaning money to Greece. The Greek government already had a high level of debt when Greece joined the euro zone, but its books were “cooked” to conceal the situation by the U.S. financial firm Goldman Sachs. This was not because of “corruption” but a consensus among all the big powers – the monopoly capitalist ruling classes and their governments – not to forgo the profits that could be gained by extending even more loans to Greece. Nor was this just a question of greed. None could afford not to grab when their rivals were grabbing profits to inject into their own economies. Some big French banks invested 40 percent of their capital in Greece. This pyramid scheme – debt paid for by borrowing and expanding debt – was a bonanza for foreign and Greek finance capital alike. High risks meant higher “spreads” – higher potential profits for those who bought into it.
The U.S. Lehman Brothers bank got the Greek government to agree to a derivative scheme, a restructuring of part of Greek government bonds, which became even more attractive for financial speculation with the country’s infrastructure (airports, seaports, etc.) as the collateral. Agreeing to these debt instruments was a short-term solution for the Greek government and its debtors, but ensured that the long-term debt could never be repaid under any imaginable circumstances. A competition-driven profit system that destroys the earth we live on can’t be expected to factor in other long-term consequences.
In 2008, when a financial meltdown swept the globalized economy, a process was launched in which Greece was lent more and more money in so-called “bailouts” so that its government could continue making payments on its debts to foreign and domestic banks and other creditors. In exchange, the “troika” formed in 2010 by the European Commission, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank (now headed by Mario Draghi, formerly of Goldman Sachs) imposed draconian restrictions on Greek government spending. These cutbacks sent the Greek economy into a tailspin and its economy shrank by about a quarter. Even as some of its debt was paid down, its continuing payments soared in relation to its ability to pay through government revenues.
Salaries and pensions were slashed or simply went unpaid. Millions of jobs were lost. Hospitals and other vital public facilities closed. Many Greeks could no longer afford even electricity. They shivered in the winter and survived on charity food or by their wits while foreign financial companies fattened and Greek shipping companies and the large land holdings of the Greek Orthodox Church continued to enjoy tax exemptions.
To call this “austerity” doesn’t begin to describe the hardships imposed on Greeks. It is the worst collapse in living standards modern Europe has ever seen in peacetime. The main traditional ruling class parties, one historically rooted in the monarchy and fascism, the other social democratic, saw their attractiveness and credibility in tatters. Elected governments had trouble claiming to represent the will of the people when basic decisions were clearly out of their hands. In 2011, when Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou announced he would call a referendum on the country’s debt, he was publicly humiliated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who told him otherwise. His social democratic government was followed by a rightist government led by a former vice-president of the European Central Bank. This is the background to Syriza’s rise.
If the situation is understood in this light, then even without trying to predict how events will unfold it is clear that Tsipras’s proposals (chiefly negotiating a debt reduction and making more government spending possible) cannot possibly bring about a basic resolution to the situation. Regardless of whether or not Greece leaves the euro zone – which Tsipras says he does not want – Greece is structurally dependent on its relations with capital based in the world’s biggest powers and the imperialist world economy as a whole. Further, Tsipras’s proposed continuing links with the EU and Nato are meant to keep Greece firmly on the dominating side of the Mediterranean.
This reactionary nationalism explains why his party formed a governing coalition with the Greek Orthodox, Greek-chauvinist, immigrant-bashing ANEL (the Independent Greeks party), which was given the key ministry of defence. That nationalism also explains the apparently paradoxical fact that Syriza is being hailed by both rightist and “leftist” parties in imperialist France and Spain, parties whose programme is not to overthrow the monopoly capitalist ruling classes in those countries but to bring back the social welfare schemes and living standards of the days when imperialism seemed to be thriving in Europe, even while crushing much of the rest of the world.
The situation in Greece is in many ways a concentration of the global contradiction between the “severe imbalances built up between the financial system – and its expectations of future profits – and the accumulation of capital, that is, the structures and actual production of profit based on exploitation of wage-labour,” to quote Raymond Lotta (“Financial Meltdown and the Madness of Imperialism”, Revolution, 20 April 2008) – revcom.us). How can capitalism in Greece unzip itself from the global, competition-driven profit system – which is not Syriza’s intention anyway? How could radical change in Greece – or anywhere else, for that matter – take place except as part of a country by country but ultimately worldwide revolution whose ultimate aim is the abolition of all exploitation and all the oppressive relations of class society?
To free Greece from this system would require a new kind of state, born of a revolutionary movement with the material power to shatter the state apparatus of the capitalist ruling class and then entirely reorganize the economy step by step, creating an economic, social and political system where the people could actually and increasingly have say over their lives, which is not at all the case in Greece, with or without Syriza. The ruling classes of Europe were frightened by the mass tumult and rejection of the measures imposed on Greeks. A revolutionary movement in Greece and especially a revolution could help transform the regional and even world political situation, which in turn would make a breakthrough in Greece more possible to achieve and sustain.
When “austerity” – a nice name for brutal mass impoverishment – first hit Greece, some commentators predicted that would spell the end of “democracy” there. The thinking was that a political system based on elections (and the whole traditional state apparatus that implies) could not survive if millions of people no longer believed in it. Among other things, the electoral triumph of Syriza represents a rebirth of false hope in the political and economic system that brought Greece to where it is today. Reformists in other European countries and elsewhere are placing their own hopes for a share in power, or at least government, on bolstering the illusion that radical problems can be solved by reformist means. The experience of the elected, self-proclaimed socialist government of Salvador Allende in Chile, overthrown by a U.S.-organized military coup in 1973, showed how raising hopes that a government is in no position to deliver on, imperialist economic pressure that a populist government has no plan to stand up to, and the resulting divisions among the people who united around it or accepted it, can pave the way for the fiercest repression.
The palpable failure of the old order, the discrediting of its institutions and the collapse of the daily routine that limits people’s horizons that Greece is experiencing today provide conditions for rapid revolutionary advance – if this situation is really used to do that. Syriza, which calls for an adjustment and not a revolutionary rupture, is serving as a main channel for people’s rage in Greece at the moment.
Our point here is not that Syriza could bring stability to Greek capitalism, although some representatives of foreign capital may think that some kind of deal with Syriza is in their best interests right now. Political and social stability is the least likely of all possible outcomes, not only in Greece but worldwide. But no matter what happens, fostering hope in the possibility of repairing and patching up the existing system is part of the problem, not the solution.
Within the political hodgepodge that is Syriza and among its supporters internationally, too many leftists and people who consider themselves opponents of capitalism are, once again, suspending their once real or professed disbelief in the parliamentary and electoral path. Rather than help Greeks find a solution, they are themselves creating further obstacles and leaving people helpless in the face of what is likely to come: the further squeezing by the capitalist imperialist system and rapid and dangerous political gyrations.
(Among other sources, this article draws on the work of Stathis Kouvelakis, political philosophy lecturer at King’s College in London and Syriza central committee member, for both information and insight and some of the thinking that we critique here. (see newleftreview.org/11/72 and jacobinmag.com/2015/01/syriza-greece-victory-kouvelkis-left/)
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