Year in Review: 2011
The year began with the eruption of revolutionary struggles in Tunisia and Egypt and popular upheavals throughout the Arab world, followed by mass struggles in Europe and the US state of Wisconsin. These events were an initial response by the working class to the world crisis of the capitalist system that had erupted two-and-a-half years earlier. They marked the reemergence of the working class onto the stage of world history.
The ruling classes around the world responded with an acceleration of their counterrevolutionary policies, including war, economic austerity and attacks on democratic rights. The year 2011 witnessed the imperialist attack on Libya, provocations against Syria, and continued military violence in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and elsewhere.
The Obama administration’s belligerent “pivot to Asia” further destabilized the Pacific region. The year marked the first exercise by the Obama administration of its asserted power to assassinate US citizens it designates as “terrorists.” Europe descended further into crisis, with profoundly unpopular austerity measures imposed in Italy, Greece, Portugal, Ireland and across the continent.
In response to the capitalist crisis that had erupted with the collapse on Wall Street in 2008, the ruling class sought to restructure class relations on a world basis. The multi-trillion-dollar bailout of the banks, centered in the United States and Europe, was followed by a campaign to force the working class to pay the cost through brutal austerity measures. From the beginning, the WSWS had anticipated that this would produce deepening inequality and a resurgence of class struggle internationally.
The events in the Middle East and North Africa during the first months of 2011 confirmed this analysis. The first major event of the year was the revolution in Tunisia that ousted US-backed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on January 14. The massive protests in the small North African country were sparked by the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, a vegetable cart vendor whose goods had been arbitrarily confiscated by the police.
A WSWS editorial board statement, “The mass uprising in Tunisia and the perspective of Permanent Revolution," noted that this event “ignited the social tinderbox long building beneath the surface of political life.” The tragic event “focused the anger of millions of youth and workers over pervasive unemployment, poverty, social inequality and the despotism and corruption of the ruling elite.”
The social conditions that led to the eruption in Tunisia predominate throughout the Maghreb and the Middle East, and are increasingly confronting the working class in the advanced capitalist countries under conditions of a global economic crisis and a brutal offensive by the banks and corporations.
The WSWS warned that the Tunisian masses were “only at the initial stages of their struggle.” It continued: “As is already clear from the continuation of military violence under the new interim president, the working class faces immense dangers. The crucial questions of revolutionary program and leadership remain unresolved.”
The eruption of mass working class struggle posed the most basic questions of program and perspective and confirmed the theory of Permanent Revolution—the world revolutionary strategy developed by Trotsky and the Fourth International. In Tunisia and all of the former colonial countries, the national bourgeoisie was incapable of carrying out the basic tasks of the democratic revolution. A struggle against political dictatorship required the independent mobilization of the working class against the capitalist system, leading the oppressed masses against both the national bourgeoisie and imperialism. The WSWS wrote:
This struggle cannot be conducted simply on a national scale. Trotskyist parties must be built throughout Northern Africa and the Middle East to unite the working masses under the banner of the United Socialist States of the Middle East and the Maghreb, as part of the world socialist revolution.
This struggle must be consciously linked up with the mounting struggles of workers in the advanced capitalist countries, many of which have large populations of Arab workers from Northern Africa and the Middle East.
Only on this internationalist basis can the divisions of religion, nationality and race—ceaselessly stoked up by imperialism and the bourgeoisie—be overcome and the social power of the working class mobilized to put an end to imperialist domination.
Tunisia was followed swiftly by the revolution in Egypt of January 25 to February 11, which toppled a decades-old US-backed dictatorship in the largest Arab country.
In two weeks and three days of heroic struggles around Tahrir Square in Cairo and in other major cities throughout the country, the Egyptian security forces, equipped and trained by the United States, attempted unsuccessfully to put down the mass protests and strikes. At least 846 people were killed and 6,000 injured.
The Obama administration worked behind the scenes to bolster Hosni Mubarak. Only when it concluded that keeping Mubarak in power was no longer an option did Washington work to organize an “orderly transition” that would maintain the Egyptian capitalist state and uphold US imperialist interests.
Mubarak made various televised concessions in an effort to appease protesters, including the announcement on February 1 that he would not seek reelection. But hundreds of thousands remained in the streets, defying curfews, threats, torture, disappearances and violent attacks by pro-Mubarak thugs and undercover police.
On February 1, as Mubarak was seeking to dupe the protesters with talk of “compromise,” WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North wrote that the events in Egypt and Tunisia exploded the “complacent and reactionary scenario” that characterized the pro-capitalist triumphalism that had prevailed in the aftermath of the liquidation of the Soviet Union, according to which revolutionary struggles were a thing of the past.
Of decisive significance in forcing Mubarak out was the emergence of the working class as a powerful social force. North wrote on February 10, “While the mass assemblies and clashes in Tahrir Square in Cairo have been the focal point of media coverage, the growing wave of working class militancy—in the form of protest demonstrations and strikes—will have a greater impact on the course of events.” However, to be successful, mass struggle had to be guided by a clear political program.
The struggle that is now unfolding in Egypt will be of a protracted character. The responsibility of revolutionary Marxists is to develop among workers, as they pass through colossal political experiences, an understanding of the necessity for an independent struggle for power. The revolutionary Marxists must counsel workers against all illusions that their democratic aspirations can be achieved under the aegis of bourgeois parties. They must expose ruthlessly the false promises of the political representatives of the capitalist class. They must encourage the creation of independent organs of workers’ power which can become, as the political struggle intensifies, the basis for the transfer of power to the working class. They must explain that the realization of the workers’ essential democratic demands is inseparable from the implementation of socialist policies.
Above all, revolutionary Marxists must raise the political horizons of Egyptian workers beyond the borders of their own country. They must explain that the struggles that are now unfolding in Egypt are inextricably linked to an emerging global process of world socialist revolution, and that the victory of the revolution in Egypt requires not a national, but an international strategy. After all, the fight against the Mubarak-Suleiman regime and the Egyptian ruling class is, in the final analysis, a struggle against the entire Arab bourgeoisie, the Zionist regime in Israel and American and European imperialism. In this global struggle, the greatest and indispensable ally of the Egyptian masses is the international working class.
On February 11, the resignation of Mubarak was announced to triumphant crowds. In “The downfall of Hosni Mubarak,” the WSWS editorial board pointed to both the historic character of these events and the immense political challenges that remained:
As significant as the resignation of Mubarak is, however, it is only the beginning of this struggle. Mubarak may be gone, but the regime remains, with power in the hands of the officer corps that has been the linchpin of the capitalist dictatorship in Egypt for decades. The masses know they have only begun to settle accounts with the exploiters—the secret police, the venal Egyptian generals, and Mubarak himself.
With the support of the Obama administration, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) unilaterally established a military junta, promising elections in six months. In a statement following Mubarak’s resignation, the WSWS warned:
The army is trying to keep itself in power, while granting none of the basic demands that are driving millions of Egyptians into the streets. The country is now under the rule of a military junta, which is retaining all the emergency powers of the old regime, preserving the police, and attempting to rule through a network of old Mubarak cronies like Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq.
As for the Obama administration, having supported Mubarak for as long as possible, it is backing the military regime.
A series of protracted political maneuvers and violent clashes followed the ouster of Mubarak, as the military junta, right-wing bourgeois factions like the Muslim Brotherhood, and pro-imperialist figures like Mohammed ElBaradei vied for influence, while the strikes and mass demonstrations that had driven Mubarak from power continually flared up. The WSWS combined on-the-spot reports with analysis of the political issues facing the mass movement.
Capitalism was preserved in Egypt with the complicity of middle-class pseudo-left tendencies, which promoted illusions in the military and sought to prevent an independent political movement of the working class. Tendencies such as Egypt’s Revolutionary Socialists (RS), a group with political ties to the International Socialist Organization (ISO) in the US and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in Britain, played an insidious and reactionary role.
From the outset, the RS promoted illusions in the Egyptian military, constitutional reform, elections, bourgeois candidates such as Mohammed ElBaradei, and bourgeois parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, while opposing popular calls for a "second revolution" against the junta. The resulting confusion provided the Obama administration and the military junta with sufficient breathing space to impose a brutal crackdown in the months following Mubarak’s ouster.
In, “The counterrevolutionary role of the Egyptian pseudo-left,” the WSWS provided a detailed historical, political and sociological analysis of the role of the RS and similar tendencies.
These parties oppose the independent mobilization of the working class against the junta. Politically, they defend the legacy of military rule in Egypt and the Stalinists’ nationalist support for it, even after the working class has risen in revolt against Mubarak and, subsequently, the SCAF. Sociologically, these parties draw their membership from affluent sections of the middle class, a social layer tied financially and politically to Western imperialism that seeks to keep the workers under the control of the state and trade union bureaucracies.
In stark contrast to the middle class pseudo-left groups that supported the US-backed “transition” in Egypt, the WSWS—and the WSWS alone—called for the political independence of the Egyptian working class and its mobilization to overthrow the Egyptian junta and establish a workers’ government, as part of the fight for the United Socialist States of the Middle East.
The vital importance of this perspective was shown in the final months of the year, as a new wave of mass strikes and protests showed that millions were breaking with illusions in the military and demanding a settling of accounts with the Egyptian ruling elite.
The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt were supported by workers internationally, and provided the impetus for mass protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa, known as the “Arab Spring,” including significant demonstrations in Algeria, Morocco, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, Syria and Iraq. There were also demonstrations in the African country of Gabon, and, later in the summer, the largest social protests in the history of Israel.
One of the most significant expressions of the international character of the events in the Middle East and North Africa occurred in the streets of Wisconsin, in the American Midwest. When the newly elected state governor, Scott Walker, a Republican, sought to ram through anti-worker legislation stripping public employees of collective bargaining rights and cutting their pay and benefits, a mass movement of the working class erupted in the state capital of Madison, in Milwaukee, and throughout the state.
In early February, Walker threatened to call out the National Guard if public workers resisted his attacks. Teachers and other public employees responded by walking off their jobs and staging daily protests in the state capitol building, which was occupied by large crowds for weeks.
The WSWS provided on-the-spot coverage of the protests in Madison and Milwaukee. In the course of the Wisconsin struggle, the WSWS expanded its use of video, including reports posted February 18, February 21, March 7 and March 14.
Workers marched with signs comparing Walker to ousted Egyptian dictator Mubarak and pledging to “Walk like an Egyptian.” Bill Van Auken commented on the significance of the American working class following the example of its class brothers and sisters in the Arab world:
The recent toppling of the presidents of Tunisia and Egypt by mass protests signified the re-emergence of revolutionary struggle by the working class. The conditions that created these struggles, however, are universal—mass unemployment, staggering levels of social inequality, and a political system that is completely impervious to the demands and interests of the vast majority of the population. The eruption of mass protests in Wisconsin is an initial expression of a new era of open class struggle in the country that has long functioned as the center of the world capitalist system, the United States.
The perspective pointed to the political lessons being drawn by masses of American workers:
Two and a half years into the global economic crisis that began with the financial meltdown on Wall Street in the fall of 2008, the working class in the United States is mounting its first major counterattack against the policies of the financial aristocracy. There is a growing realization that the political and economic system has failed. A new social order must emerge.
As part of a ruthless assault on the working class throughout the country, Walker was seeking not only to slash pay and benefits, but to eliminate the right to collective bargaining, with the aim of outlawing any form of organized resistance by the working class to the policies of the corporate and financial elite.
The response of the AFL-CIO and the other trade unions was to seek to preserve their own institutional and financial interests by maintaining their role in working with the corporations and the government to impose cuts on the working class. They sought from day one of the protests to smother them and channel them behind the Democratic Party. They repeatedly insisted that for them the issue was not the cuts in wages and benefits, with which they agreed. In “The political issues in the fight against budget cuts,” the WSWS wrote:
What, then, is the AFL-CIO’s bottom line argument? There is no need, it is saying, to attack the legal prerogatives and dues base of the unions. The AFL-CIO is willing and fully prepared to collaborate with state governments, Democratic and Republican alike, to achieve their financial and budgetary objectives.
But where does this leave the working class? The answer is: Without jobs, without adequate wages and salaries, without essential benefits and social services, without adequate schools and hospitals, without basic democratic rights, and without a future.
In opposition to the unions and the Democratic Party, the WSWS called for a general strike to mobilize the entire working class and bring down the Walker government, a demand that won widespread support. “The call for Walker’s removal,” the WSWS wrote, “does not imply a vote of confidence in the Democratic Party.”
Beyond the borders of Wisconsin there are Democratic Party governors and mayors who are calling for budget cuts no less draconian than those sought by Walker. The Obama administration is collaborating with the state governors and the Congress in Washington in the implementation of budget cuts that will wreak havoc on the lives of workers throughout the country.
However, inspired by the example set by Wisconsin workers, the fight against the attacks on workers’ rights will expand from state to state and across the country as a whole, in opposition to all the political representatives of the capitalist class.
Thus, the demand for Walker’s removal raises the most important issue of all—the necessity for workers to create their own, independent, socialist alternative to the corporate-controlled Republican and Democratic parties.
A critical role in demobilizing the protests was played by the International Socialist Organization, whose activity was entirely focused on bolstering the credibility of the unions and the Democratic Party. The ISO, along with the unions, hailed a political stunt pulled by Democratic state senators, who fled the state to deny Walker and the Republicans a quorum in the legislature and delay passage of the governor’s anti-worker bill.
On March 9, Walker succeeded in pushing through his legislation, which was seized on by the unions as an occasion to call off the month-long protests. In the brief period before the law went into effect, the unions rushed to sign multi-year contracts that preserved the automatic deduction of union dues from workers’ paychecks, while imposing sweeping concessions on the workers.
At the same time, the unions, backed by the ISO and other pseudo-left organizations, organized a petition drive to force a recall election of Republican legislators—a reactionary diversion designed to demobilize the working class and channel workers’ anger behind the Democrats.
In August, the recall elections were held. The results left the Republicans in control of the state legislature and demonstrated the bankrupt character of the whole campaign. The WSWS wrote:
From the beginning, the recall campaign was a reactionary diversion, aimed at demobilizing and suppressing working class opposition. The Democratic candidates made no secret of their support for cuts in social spending and attacks on public employees. Had the Democrats won control of the Senate, there would be no significant change in government policy in relation to the basic rights and interests of the working class.
The central lesson that emerges from the experience of the Wisconsin protests is the need for a revolutionary party and perspective to lead the struggles of the working class.
Europe became a center of the global social counterrevolution, as the banks worked to enforce a historic retrogression in living conditions of the working class. Greece, Portugal and Ireland, had to apply for money from the new founded European Finance Stability Fund (EFSF), to avoid state bankruptcy and an endangering of the euro. These countries, as well as Italy, were downgraded by leading rating agencies.
A so-called triumvirate, consisting of the EU, the IMF and the European Central Bank (ECB), exercised quasi-dictatorial power over the debtor countries and imposed harsh austerity measures. Youth unemployment in the whole of Europe rose by 25 percent from 2008 to 2011. Big companies like Fiat utilized the crisis to implement harsh new factory contracts.
Workers responded with a series of general strikes and countless protests. In the aftermath of the uprising in Northern Africa there were big demonstrations in Portugal, Spain, Greece and other countries against rising unemployment, poverty and attacks on living conditions. In many cases, workers openly identified themselves with the struggles across the Mediterranean.
Among workers and youth, the austerity programs of the EU provoked outrage, but the trade unions, as in Greece, did what they could to sabotage an effective workers movement, isolating the struggle and leading it into token protests, in order to demoralize the working class.
The pseudo lefts supported the role of the trade unions in these social attacks, while Syriza in Greece, the Left Party in Germany and the NPA in France supported the EU. Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras even gave the EU a guarantee that his party would not hinder the austerity means in any way.
When the movement of the indignados erupted in Spain in June, foreshadowing the Occupy Wall Street movement later in the year, the pseudo-left parties supported its anti-political outlook, using the argument of “no politics” to reinforce the straitjacket of pro-capitalist politics.
Political instability mounted, as governments fell in country after country:
Ireland—The Fianna Fail/Green coalition was voted out February 25, defeated by a coalition of the right-wing Fine Gael and the social-democratic Labour Party.
Portugal—The Socialist Party of Prime Minister Jose Socrates was routed in June general elections, replaced by the more conservative Social Democrats under Pedro Passos Coelho.
Denmark—The right-wing coalition government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen was defeated in general elections September 15 and succeeded by the Social Democrats, under Helle Thorning-Schmidt, backed by three other populist or social-democratic parties.
Slovakia—The right-wing coalition government headed by Iveta Radicova was defeated in a parliamentary vote in October to approve the new European bailout mechanism, and a caretaker regime installed until new elections could be held.
Greece—Prime Minister Giorgios Papandreou, leader of the social-democratic PASOK party, stepped down and was replaced by the unelected former banker Lucas Papademos, who headed a technocratic administration backed by the two major bourgeois parties, PASOK and New Democracy.
Spain—Two-term Prime Minister Jose Luis Zapatero stepped down before his party, the social-democratic PSOE, was heavily defeated by the right-wing Partido Popular in the general election November 20.
Croatia—The longtime ruling party, the nationalist HDK, was defeated in a December 4 general election by an opposition coalition headed by the social-democrats.
The toppling of nine governments became the most obvious demonstration of the decay of capitalist democracy. Millions of working people went to the polls, seeking to express their opposition to the EU policy of providing billions for the bankers while slashing jobs, wages and social provision. But whatever party or coalition emerged victorious, social-democratic or conservative, the assault on the working class only intensified.
In several of the most important countries, the bankers moved to install non-party governments that would be effectively insulated from any democratic constraints. In Greece, Papandreou sacked the top military brass amid fears that a military coup was being prepared to enforce the austerity plan. When he suggested putting the plan to a popular referendum vote, the EU stepped in, forcing him to withdraw the proposal and turn over power to a cabinet even more committed to austerity measures.
In Italy, former banker Mario Monti was named prime minister by Giorgio Napolitano, a longtime stalwart of the Stalinist party, and his non-party austerity cabinet had the open backing of all the official “left” parties, including both the Democrats, the main successor to the Stalinist PCI, and another ex-Stalinist splitoff, the SEL, as well as the tacit support of Rifondazione Comunista, the political home of the Pabloites and other pseudo-left elements.
The International Committee of the Fourth International and the WSWS analyzed every stage of the European crisis and reported first hand from Greece. It defended the Greek working class, fought for a close international collaboration of workers against these attacks, pointed to the class questions involved and showed the way forward.
In August, social discontent erupted in Britain in a different form following the fatal police shooting of Marc Duggan, a 29-year-old father of four in Tottenham (North London) and the subsequent police attack on a peaceful protest demonstration provoked a youth revolt throughout the country.
Tens of thousands of young people took to the streets, attacking stores, businesses and public buildings. The eruptions were a direct product of the vast growth in poverty and unemployment as a result of the capitalist crisis and the austerity measures imposed by the ruling class.
This same ruling class responded with a brutal crackdown. Parliament demanded harsh reprisals and the police were given repressive powers that included the use of live ammunition. Youth who used social networks to criticize or organize against the police violence, including two teenagers from Scotland, were handed down long prison sentences. Collective punishment was meted out to the families of those caught up in the media frenzy.
The WSWS denounced the emerging police state in Britain and demanded the release of all the youth arrested and detained. Its analysis set the SEP in Britain apart from the various “left” groups and individuals, such as the Slovenian pseudo-philosopher Slavoj Zizek, who published a diatribe against the youth rebellion.
In a WSWS perspective published on September 6, Robert Stevens warned:
An unprecedented assault on democratic rights has been mounted in the month since the outbreak of rioting in several major British cities… Since then, hysterical press coverage and bloodthirsty calls for retribution have been the order of the day. All previous criteria for sentencing have been abandoned, with the government sending down a directive for the courts to rip up the rulebook.
After outlining the social conditions that gave rise to the upheaval among the youth, he concluded:
However, this situation cannot and will not continue. The social chasm between the super-rich and the vast majority is unsustainable. Conditions are being created for the emergence of mass social struggles, which trade unions and the Labour Party, justly reviled as tools of big business, will not be able to contain.
The American ruling class responded to the social eruptions in Egypt and Tunisia by deepening its ties to monarchies and dictatorships that functioned as its clients in the region. There were campaigns of bloody repression in Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The US role was particularly flagrant in Bahrain, headquarters of the US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the key oil tanker routes from the Persian Gulf.
At the same time, the US intensified its intervention in the region by stoking up civil wars, first in Libya and then in Syria. In both cases, CIA intervention and the arming of Islamist forces—including groups associated with Al Qaeda—was accompanied by a campaign among pseudo-left groups aimed at fraudulently presenting these imperialist interventions as a continuation of the “Arab Spring” movements in Tunisia ad Egypt.
The Gaddafi regime in Libya had collaborated with the United States since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, including permitting the US to use the country as a destination for “rendition flights” and torture. Nevertheless, Washington and its European allies saw that protests in the country could be used as a cover for the installation of a government more directly under their control. This would facilitate the seizure of Libya’s oil resources at the expense of their rivals, China in particular.
During the weeks leading up to war, the WSWS outlined the basic aims of US and European imperialism in Libya, opposing any US intervention and explaining that the overthrow of Gaddafi was the task of the working class and could not be entrusted to imperialism. In a perspective published March 1, “Imperialist hands off Libya!”, the WSWS wrote:
As in every US operation in the region, the driving forces are twofold: a grab for the resources of one of the major oil-producing countries and the pursuit of the broader strategic interests of American imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. Imperialist military forces on the ground in Libya would be in a position to influence the future course of events in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, all now in turmoil, as well as across the Sahara in Sudan, Chad, Niger and Nigeria.
Opposition to the US-NATO war did not mean political support for Gaddafi. The WSWS made clear that only the working class could overthrow Gaddafi and replace him with a democratic and genuinely popular government, in alliance with the masses throughout North Africa.
Once the NATO bombing of Libya had begun—symbolically, eight years to the day of the Bush administration’s criminal invasion of Iraq—the WSWS analyzed Obama’s justifications, which became the occasion for a vast extension of the grounds for US imperialist intervention all over the world. In a major televised speech on March 28, Obama declared that military force was justified under conditions where “our safety is not directly threatened, but our interests and values are.” These “interests and values” included “keeping the peace, ensuring regional security, and maintaining the flow of commerce.”
This represents a far more expansive assertion of the right to wage war than was made even under the Bush administration, which claimed, based upon lies, that its wars were necessitated by an imminent threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction.
Obama insists that no such threat is needed, merely a challenge to US “interests and values.” Is there any corner of the world where the US-based transnational banks and corporations do not have at stake such “interests and values”—up to and including the “flow of commerce?” Obama is arguing for a rationale for US military aggression whenever and wherever it can serve to further the interests of America’s ruling elite.
The war in Libya was part of a new scramble for Africa. All the imperialist powers of Europe—Germany, France, Spain and Britain—as well as Australia and Canada supported the war as a means of advancing their own interests in the region. This included Italy, Libya’s former colonial ruler.
Throughout the six months of military action, including saturation bombing, the creation and arming of a council of imperialist stooges in Benghazi, and the ebb and flow of ground combat until the ultimate collapse of the Gaddafi regime, the WSWS exposed the barbaric atrocities being carried out in the name of democracy, as well as the rapacious motives of the imperialist powers. The Libyan campaign culminated in the murder of Gaddafi and members of his family in October.
Pseudo-left and liberal groups throughout Europe and the United States backed the war, claiming that US-NATO bombing was necessary to protect the Libyan people and promote democracy. These included the Left Party and Greens in Germany, the French NPA, the Italian ex-Stalinist “lefts”, the Catalan Greens, and Canada's New Democratic Party.
The WSWS denounced the attempts of these groups to portray the imperialist war against Libya as an extension of the mass popular revolts in Tunisia and Egypt. Of the NPA’s conference with its sister parties around the Mediterranean, the WSWS wrote:
As workers in North Africa enter into political struggle with dictatorial regimes, the social content of [the NPA’s] orientation is ever more clearly exposed. It is bourgeois and counter-revolutionary. It defends the basic class interests of the capitalists and of imperialism against the threat of an independent revolutionary movement of the working class leading all of the oppressed masses.
Particularly significant was a polemic between the WSWS and Professor Juan Cole of the University of Michigan, a prominent liberal critic of the war in Iraq under the Bush administration who became a cheerleader for war in Libya under the Obama administration. On March 27, Cole published “An Open Letter to the Left,” in which the professor declared that the left should “avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo.”
In “Libya, imperialism and the prostration of the ‘left’ intellectuals: The case of Professor Juan Cole,” the WSWS noted that Cole was representative of a layer of intellectuals that, through the mechanism of the Obama administration, had reconciled itself to imperialist war.
Among the most striking features of the US-NATO onslaught against Libya has been the widespread support that this “war of choice” has evoked among left-liberal parties and the affluent middle-class milieu that comprise an important part of their constituency.Waving the banner of “human rights”—the most hypocritical and deceitful of all justifications for imperialist war—the liberal left embraced this war as their own. One would imagine that this was the first time in history that imperialism had proclaimed the cause of “human rights” and democracy as a cloak for its predatory interests!
Cole attacked the WSWS publicly on his widely read blog Informed Comment, equating opposition to the US-NATO war with support for Gaddafi. In “An open letter to Professor Juan Cole: A reply to a slander” and a subsequent comment on Cole’s response to the WSWS critique, Bill Van Auken explained the role of liberal and pseudo-left elements in providing a cover and justification for imperialist war. Addressing Cole directly, Van Auken denounced his refusal to examine the actual material interests at stake in the war:
Your insistence that the Obama administration was acting solely out of an altruistic desire to rescue Libyan civilians was not shaken in the least by the fact that this same administration was simultaneously waging war against the civilian populations of Afghanistan and Pakistan, while supporting the Saudi-backed repression of the masses in Bahrain and the Israeli killing of Palestinians.
That Washington and the Western European powers were seizing upon the events in Libya as a pretext for a military intervention aimed at establishing more direct and unfettered control over the country’s sizable petroleum reserves and the world oil market as a whole was something you rejected out of hand…
Launched on the pretext of protecting Libyan civilians, this war has led to the death and injury of thousands of men, women and children, the destruction of the country’s infrastructure and the spread of economic suffering throughout the region as hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers have been forced to flee, many of them losing their lives in the process.
While carrying out air strikes in Libya and political subversion in Syria, the US government did not forgo its wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, along with its continuous campaign of provocation against Iran. Air strikes that routinely killed dozens of civilians were ignored by the media.
The year saw increased attacks inside Pakistan both by American soldiers and by drones, leading to mass protests. In March, Washington bullied the Pakistani government into releasing without proper trial a CIA operative who had gunned down two Pakistani youth in a Lahore market.
In Iraq, the US war officially came to an end, although the withdrawal of nearly all US troops at the end of 2011 did not end US control over the country. In several commentaries, the WSWS drew the balance sheet on the eight-year war and its impact on Iraq, its people and the region.
Inextricably connected to militarism and the growth of social inequality was the deepening of the terminal crisis of democracy, centered in the United States. At every opportunity, the Obama administration sought to undermine the most basic constitutional principles, asserting its right to kill anyone, including US citizens, in any corner of the globe.
In May, the US organized an operation that led to the assassination of Osama bin Laden and several others. This execution-style murder—contemporaneous media accounts that portrayed bin Laden as armed and fighting to the death were later discredited—was followed by the removal of the body and secret burial at sea.
The circumstances of this killing underscored the murky relationship between Al Qaeda and US imperialism. The Saudi millionaire was first recruited as a militant in the CIA-controlled mujahedin war in Afghanistan against the Soviet-backed government in the 1980s. He later allied himself with the Taliban, who ruled Afghanistan with the open support of the Pakistani military and the tacit backing of Washington. He was found, not in the proverbial cave, but living in an expensive compound in a town only 40 miles from the headquarters of the Pakistani army, “the equivalent of a fugitive hiding next to a police station.”
Bin Laden’s death illuminated the crisis of American democracy. A perspective column by David North pointed out that the Obama administration’s attempts to manufacture public enthusiasm over the killing had fallen flat. The liberal media responded to any expressions of doubt over the assassination with furious denunciations. “I want memory, and justice, and revenge,” Maureen Dowd shouted on the pages of the New York Times. “The really insane assumption behind some of the second guessing is that killing Osama somehow makes us like Osama, as if all killing is the same.” North replied:
Dowd has missed the irony of her remark. Assassination is, indeed, a very exceptional and illegal type of killing. Its practice by a state—and, in particular, the United States—has far-reaching political implications, since the act is recognized as the most extreme violation of democratic and legal norms. The involvement of the United States in political assassinations in the 1960s was part of a pattern of illegal actions that led to the wholesale criminality of the Nixon administration and its violations of democratic rights in the United States…
Unlimited violence, the repudiation of legality, and the suppression of democracy: this is the reactionary trajectory of contemporary American capitalism.
After bin Laden, the Obama administration found a new target, this time a US citizen. Almost as soon as bin Laden’s death was confirmed, US forces launched a drone strike in Yemen, another country regarded as a US “ally” but nonetheless targeted for military violence. In this case, the goal was to kill an American citizen, Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim preacher who had been a Pentagon consultant after the 9/11 attacks, but now gave radical anti-American sermons in English that were posted on the Internet.
The attack missed its target, killing two other men, but it marked the first openly acknowledged effort at the “targeted killing” of an American citizen. The next such attack succeeded in its object, incinerating al-Awlaki and another US citizen, Samir Khan. As with bin Laden, Obama took public credit for the killing, appearing before television cameras at the White House to announce the successful hit.
The WSWS denounced the increasing use of drones and the official policy of state-sanctioned murder in a commentary posted at the year’s end, headlined “Obama’s global Murder Inc.”
Extra-judicial state-sanctioned killing is a metastasis of the global “war on terror,” an escalation of international criminality that has included the launching of aggressive wars, indefinite detention, and torture. It has become a central component of US military policy, including the war in Libya, which was concluded with the US-backed assassination of Muammar Gaddafi. Obama has singled out the extra-legal killing of Osama bin Laden as a high point and defining moment of his administration.
Inevitably, state murder using flying robots was soon deployed against Americans. In September, Anwar al-Awlaki was killed on the orders of Obama, later two other American citizens including Awlaki’s 16-year-old son were murdered by drones.
The WSWS published an exhaustive essay on the legal implications of the assassination of al-Awlaki. We placed the event in its historical context, writing:
In the final analysis, the killing of al-Awlaki represents the irrevocable crossing by the Obama administration of a political, judicial and moral Rubicon. It is no exaggeration to state that the policy of extrajudicial assassination of US citizens far from any battlefield calls into question the fundamental achievements of the American Revolution itself.
Allegations of “terrorism” continued to be the staple of attacks on democratic rights by the US government, both internationally and at home. The US stepped up efforts to orchestrate the rendition of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to face trial in the United States on espionage charges that could carry the death penalty.
The WSWS in February condemned the use of British courts to compel Assange’s extradition to Sweden on bogus charges of sexual assault, which would have led to Assange’s jailing in Sweden and then his transfer to US custody. We noted the shift in the liberal and pseudo-left press, in the wake of the sex charges, to legitimize the US-backed vendetta against WikiLeaks.
The WSWS also campaigned in defense of Private Bradley Manning, who was accused of providing documents to WikiLeaks. We denounced Obama’s public support for Manning’s treatment in a military brig, including solitary confinement, sleep deprivation and enforced nudity, which was widely condemned by human rights groups as a form of torture.
The WSWS called for the release of Manning and the dismissal of all charges, warning that the US government’s determination to try him on capital charges was aimed at making an example of anyone who would expose the crimes of American imperialism.
The Obama administration continued the practice of indefinite military detention that began under its predecessor, keeping Guantanamo prison open and ordering the resumption of military trials for prisoners held there. Obama signed an extension of the Patriot Act and backed the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, which for the first time provided an explicit congressional imprimatur on the indefinite military detention of US citizens and non-citizens alike, at the discretion of the president.
One of the most ominous developments analyzed by the WSWS in 2011 was the Obama administration’s so-called pivot to Asia, a reckless and provocative diplomatic, economic and military strategy to check China’s emergence as a global power—a strategy that aimed at compensating for the historic economic decline of US imperialism and reasserting its global dominance.
A key collaborator in this campaign was Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who initially gained power in mid-2010 in a Labor Party coup that ousted then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at the behest of Washington. Gillard addressed a joint session of the US Congress in March 2011, only the third Australian prime minister to do so, underscoring her status as a valued asset of US imperialism.
As in Australia, the ruling elites throughout the Pacific region were confronted with the problem of how to balance their burgeoning economic ties with China against the strident demands of US imperialism. Washington deliberately promoted a series of conflicts between China and its neighbors, stoking up tensions over islands, coral reefs and surrounding waters in the South China and East China Seas that would serve to align countries like Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan more closely with the US.
In March, a confrontation between the Philippines and China erupted as a Philippine vessel exploring for oil in the disputed Reed Banks in the South China Sea was reported to have been harassed by Chinese patrol boats. In May, US navy ships headed by aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, in a clear show-the-flag operation asserting US imperialism’s “freedom of navigation”, made calls in Manila and at Hong Kong. Vietnam and China clashed over oil exploration in the same region. In October, a Philippine naval gunboat rammed a Chinese fishing vessel in the disputed waters.
Each incident had the potential to spark a shooting war, underscoring the recklessness of all contending parties, above all US imperialism. At the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Honolulu in November, Obama pressed China to take action on a range of economic and trade issues or face possible retaliation. He launched the Trans Pacific Partnership designed to ensure that regional trade would be conducted on Washington’s terms. At the East Asia Summit in Bali, Indonesia, held the same month, Obama marshaled the support of South East Asian countries to force a discussion on the South China Sea, despite China’s opposition.
This campaign culminated in Obama’s speech in the Australian capital, Canberra, where he announced the basing of US Marines in northern Australia, along with greater use of Australian air and naval bases—the biggest American military expansion into Asia since the end of the Vietnam War.
Obama’s keynote speech to a fawning Australian parliament on November 17 made explicit his foreign policy shift to Asia. After a decade of fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he explained, “the United States is turning our attention to the vast potential of the Asia Pacific region.” Obama declared, "As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region… Our enduring interests in the region demand our enduring presence in the region. The United States is a Pacific power, and we are here to stay.”
“So let there be no doubt: In the Asian Pacific in the 21st Century, the United States of America is all in.”
This offensive aroused alarm in Beijing, prompting accelerated development of a blue-water naval force to protect key trade routes. One commentary in the official Chinese media noted: “For China, the Strait of Malacca is its lifeline for oil shipment. Darwin is close to both the Strait of Malacca and the international shipping routes in the Indian Ocean. The US deployment of forces here is undoubtedly seeking to establish a grip over the choke point of China’s energy shipping lines.”
On March 11, a massive earthquake, registering 9.0 on the Richter scale, hit the Pacific coast of Japan, triggering a tsunami that swept through the eastern Japanese coastline, killing nearly 16,000 people. In the immediate aftermath of the catastrophe, a crisis rapidly escalated at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after emergency power systems damaged by the tsunami failed, shutting down critical cooling systems and causing full meltdown a week after the tsunami.
The WSWS provided near daily coverage of the triple disasters, including an account from a correspondent in Tokyo and an assessment of the damage from the tsunami. We detailed the actions of Tokyo Electric Power Corporation (TEPCO), the Fukushima plant owner, backed by the Japanese government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan, as it attempted to protect its assets by refusing to use sea water to cool the reactors. This reporting was complemented by a broad historical analysis, including an account of the origins of the Japanese nuclear industry in the ruling elite’s determination to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, despite the well-known risks of installing nuclear plants in a region prone to earthquakes and tsunamis.
In two key perspectives, The implications of the Japanese catastrophe and Who is responsible for the nuclear catastrophe in Japan?, the WSWS underscored that while the earthquake and resulting tsunami were results of the collisions of tectonic plates, the Fukushima nuclear disaster was a product of capitalism and had demonstrated the recklessness and irresponsibility of the corporate ruling elite, not only in Japan but internationally.
In Australia, the year began with horrific flooding in the state of Queensland, the worst in the country’s history, with 33 deaths and much of the state and its capital city, Brisbane, inundated. Coverage included on-the-spot and video reports. A Socialist Equality Party statement explained that the disaster was a failure of government and the profit system.
In December, the Australian High Court permanently barred the attempted prosecution of the former Solomon Islands’ attorney general Julian Moti on trumped up sexual assault charges brought by the Howard conservative government and continued by its successors, the Rudd and Gillard Labor governments. This marked the final end of Canberra’s ruthless four-year vendetta against the international and constitutional lawyer that had, at every step, been carefully analyzed and exposed by the WSWS.
Moti had been identified by the Australian and American governments as a threat to the neo-colonial Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI), and to their economic and geo-strategic interests, not only in Solomons but throughout the Asia-Pacific region—particularly in opposition to the rising influence of China. After initially conducting a slander campaign against Moti when the charges were laid, the Australian media misrepresented and distorted the ensuing legal battle. The entire pseudo-left milieu functioned as flunkeys of the Labor government and Australian imperialist interests in their silence throughout the government and media witchhunt.
In India, state elections saw the rout of the Stalinist-led Left Front government in West Bengal, which had openly pursued pro-investor reforms and used police and goon violence to suppress peasant unrest. Also in a frame-up trial travesty, India’s courts convicted 31 Muslims for the train fire that was used to incite the 2001 anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat. In Nepal, amid a protracted constitutional crisis, a senior Maoist leader was installed as prime minister on August 28.
The Occupy Wall Street protests in the US began on September 17 with the occupation of Zuccotti Park, in the Wall Street financial district of New York City. One week later, police arrested over 700 protesters as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge. Within days of these attacks, the Occupy movement spread throughout the United States and internationally, with protests and camps being set up in almost every major city.
The Occupy movement attracted sympathy from broad sections of the working class. Under the slogan of the “We are the 99 percent,” it tapped into mass opposition to the extraordinary levels of social inequality in America and around the world.
However, the social and political outlook of those at the core of the protests—including anarchist organizations around the Canadian magazine, Adbusters, which initiated the call to occupy Wall Street—was fundamentally hostile to the working class. Contained in the “99 percent” slogan itself was an effort to obscure the deep social divide between the working class and the more privileged sections of the upper-middle class, for which these groups spoke. The slogans of “no politics” and “no leadership” were employed to prevent a political struggle against the Democratic Party.
The perspective of the Occupy organizers meshed with the agenda of the trade unions and organizations around the Democratic Party, which moved quickly to ensure that the movement did not develop into a broader struggle against the corporate and political establishment. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, a supporter of the Obama administration, declared his backing, and trade unions endorsed Occupy rallies. In “How to fight Wall Street,” the WSWS warned in October:
Many of the groups involved in Wall Street demonstrations have echoed the position of the indignados in Spain and Greece that there should be “no politics” and no leadership. The call for “no politics” amounts to a rejection of a principled and coherent political alternative to bourgeois politics and the capitalist two-party system—that is, to socialist politics. It plays directly into the hands of the Democratic Party, which will move to fill the political vacuum.
Pseudo-left organizations like the International Socialist Organization intervened in the protests to encourage support for the trade unions and push identity politics, aimed at covering up the basic class issues. The emphasis on social inequality, even in confused form, provoked anxiety in groups like the ISO, which, as the WSWS wrote:
have promoted and lived off gender and ethnic politics for decades. This is not merely an ideological question. This brand of social activity is an industry, with its associated university departments, publishing firms, magazines and other publications, think tanks and research, etc. Many millions of dollars are at stake.
The ISO’s embrace of the Occupy movement has amounted from the beginning to attempting in a relentless manner to turn the protests toward the reactionary trade union officialdom and the identity politics milieu, in the name of “reaching out” and “broadening” the protests. The conscious aim is either to see the movement suppressed or transformed into an extension of these various wings of the Democratic Party.
Attempts to maintain opposition within the political system were combined with a wave of arrests and police actions. Indeed, the protests were seen as an opportunity for testing out mechanisms of repression. The protests faced a systematic and coordinated police assault, spearheaded by Democratic mayors like Rahm Emanuel in Chicago and Jean Quan in Oakland, California.
In “Occupy Wall Street movement at a crossroads,” the WSWS wrote that the repression “poses all the more directly the fundamental political issues raised by the protest, above all the necessity for a political struggle against the Obama administration, the Democratic Party and the capitalist state. Even as it carries out mass arrests, the Democratic Party and its adjuncts—from the trade unions to a variety of middle-class ‘left’ organizations and academic celebrities—are continuing their attempts to channel opposition behind the Democrats and Obama’s reelection campaign.”
Throughout November, the protest camps were encircled by police, raided or closed down outright, in what the WSWS denounced as “The criminalization of dissent.” The crackdown culminated in the shutdown of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment, at Zuccotti Park in New York City, on the orders of Mayor Michael Bloomberg and with the full backing of the Democratic-controlled City Council and the media.
One of the most brutal incidents, videotaped and widely circulated on the Internet, involved police shooting pepper spray directly into the faces of University of California, Davis students while they sat on the pavement in peaceful protest. The International Students for Social Equality, the youth and student movement of the SEP, issued a statement condemning this attack.
Protests continued on the Davis campus, and the students adopted a resolution sponsored by an ISSE supporter calling for a break with the Democratic Party and the building of an independent political movement based on the working class.
Throughout the year, the Obama administration and the Republicans put on a show of partisan struggle to conceal the reality of unanimity on all the basic demands of the financial elite. In February, the White House proposed $1 trillion in cuts, beginning a process in which each concession to the Republicans led to even greater demands for the destruction of social programs, including the outright privatization of Medicare and gutting of Medicaid.
April saw the first of what would become a series of stage-managed crises, with the near-shutdown of the federal government as the House Republicans blocked approval of a budget measure covering the remainder of the fiscal year, only to produce a last-minute deal in which the White House accepted even greater cuts in social spending. This was followed by proposals from Obama for trillions in additional cuts in a speech that committed his administration to a program of fiscal austerity.
The WSWS examined the significance of this bipartisan consensus in a perspective column titled, “The social counterrevolution and the tasks of the working class,” which placed the attacks on jobs, living standards and social benefits in their historical context and drew out the political conclusion that the working class had no alternative but to fight for socialism:
The entire logic of social and economic development is bringing the working class into conflict with the capitalist system and its political representatives.
There can be no solution to the crisis facing workers without directly opposing the subordination of the economy to the profit demands of the giant banks and corporations. The political representatives of capitalism, both Democrats and Republicans, proclaim that there is no alternative but a drastic lowering in the living conditions of the vast majority of the population. In doing so, they make the greatest argument for the bankruptcy of their system.
Another round of budget cuts and austerity measures began with the next phony crisis, the conflict between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner over the extension of the federal debt ceiling, which began with a White House budget summit where Obama for the first time offered to cut Social Security benefits.
A WSWS perspective placed the debt ceiling crisis in its actual class context:
The American ruling elite is engaged in the greatest robbery of working people in US history. In the bank bailout of 2008-2009, the financial aristocracy effectively transferred to the federal government its bad debts and losses from a decade of reckless speculation. Now the working class is being compelled to pay the price for Wall Street’s looting of the Treasury through the destruction of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other social programs in education, the environment, transportation and housing.
The talks ended in a debt ceiling deal at the August 2 deadline that “imposes sweeping cuts in vital social programs upon which millions of working people depend without a penny in tax increases on the corporations or the wealthy.” One month later, the White House issued a plan to cut $4 trillion in spending over the following decade, shifting the deficit “debate” even further to the right.
Similar methods were being employed by the ruling class across the border in Canada, where there was heavy corporate support for the successful bid of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives to secure a parliamentary majority in the May 2 federal election. In endorsing the Conservatives, the Globe and Mail, the country’s most influential daily, commended Harper’s “bullheadedness,” that is, his readiness to use anti-democratic methods to impose the bourgeoisie’s class war agenda.
The New Democratic Party (NDP), Canada’s social democratic party, which had run its most right-wing campaign ever, predictably responded to its emergence as the Official Opposition by lurching still further right. This included whole-hearted support for the expansion of Canada’s role in the NATO war on Libya.
The Conservatives lost no time in using their new majority to intensify the assault on the working class. In the weeks immediately following the elections, they criminalized strikes by Canada Post and Air Canada workers, so as to impose employer demands for pension cuts and other concessions.
A bloody incident in January shed light on the state of social relations in America. A gunman opened fire on Democratic Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords as she was meeting constituents outside a Tucson, Arizona supermarket, killing six people and severely wounding Giffords. The confused political views of the gunman, Jared Lee Loughner, had clear links to the conceptions of the ultra-right.
More fundamentally, as a WSWS commentary pointed out, his deranged actions had deeper roots in the social crisis that was devastating the living standards of working people and blighting the future prospects of the younger generation:
[D]iscontent builds relentlessly and seeks an outlet. To the extent that it cannot find a progressive and optimistic expression, in the form of collectively organized class struggle, it finds malignant expression in the outbursts of desperate individuals. Sections of society, and not only those who are psychologically disturbed, become susceptible to the demagogues of the extreme right, for whom corporate funding and publicity are always available.
In May, International Monetary Fund Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn was arrested on rape charges in New York City. The arrest touched off a media firestorm, spearheaded by the New York Times, effectively declaring Strauss-Kahn guilty simply because he had been accused.
A commentary in the WSWS took note of the fundamental issues of democratic rights and the presumption of innocence in the case:
In his class position, privilege and social outlook, Strauss-Kahn stands for everything the World Socialist Web Site opposes. But he is also a human being who is entitled to democratic rights, which include legal due process and the presumption of innocence until proven guilty. Judging from the treatment of Strauss-Kahn since his arrest and the coverage of this event in the American media, this presumption does not exist.
Within six weeks, the prosecution admitted that the accuser had lied repeatedly and the case against Strauss-Kahn collapsed, but he had by then resigned as IMF chief and forfeited his position in official French politics. The pseudo-left milieu, and liberalism more generally, wallowing in identity politics, responded to the Strauss-Kahn affair in a predictably foul manner, exhibiting contempt for basic issues of democratic rights. The International Socialist Organization branded the outcome “a case of the justice system protecting the wealthy elite.”
The WSWS commented:
The ISO exhibits not the slightest interest in the issues of democratic rights. That phrase does not appear in the article, nor does “presumption of innocence,” “constitutional,” or “perp walk.” Any objective individual, putting aside the identity of the accused, would clearly view this as a highly problematic case. Not Socialist Worker.
In Britain, a major political scandal erupted in July over revelations of widespread illegal phone hacking by journalists and investigators working for press baron Rupert Murdoch, leading to the arrest of Andy Coulson, a former Murdoch editor who went on to become press spokesman for Prime Minister David Cameron.
The WSWS reported extensively on the scandal, which demonstrated that the proprietor of a right-wing media empire, which inveighed ceaselessly for “law and order,” was responsible for an enterprise with a “modus operandi of bribery, blackmail and intimidation.” Top police officials were implicated as well.
We warned that while various Murdoch minions might be prosecuted, and some political careers would be ruined, the billionaire family would enjoy immunity. This warning was quickly vindicated in the sycophantic questioning of Rupert Murdoch and his son James before parliamentary committees.
Also in July, an ultra-right fanatic, Anders Breivik, carried out one of the worst massacres in recent world history, setting off a bomb in Oslo and then opening fire on young people attending a social democratic summer camp, killing a total of 87 people.
The WSWS pointed out, in one of several commentaries on the mass shootings:
Despite—or, more accurately, because of—Breivik’s explicitly fascist agenda and his known ultra-right associations, the media is at great pains to obscure the political issues raised by his atrocity and portray him as nothing more than a lone psychopath. His ideas, however, are not simply the creations of the diseased brain of one individual, but rather the products of a diseased social system.
The Sri Lankan section of the International Committee held its founding congress May 27-29 in Colombo, following founding congresses in the US, Australia, Germany and Britain. The resolution adopted, The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Sri Lanka), reviewed the key strategic experiences of the struggle for Trotskyism in the Indian subcontinent. It drew out the critical lessons of the struggles waged for the perspective of Permanent Revolution in Sri Lanka and South Asia, explaining above all that the struggle to win basic democratic rights and decent living conditions for the masses could be taken forward only under the leadership of the working class in the fight for socialist revolution.
The SEP in Sri Lanka fought for this perspective in the growing wave of working class struggles on the tea plantations, in the Free Trade Zones, and by public employees in the electricity, telecom and university sectors.
In December, the SEP and ISSE held a public meeting in Colombo calling for the release of all political prisoners held by the government of President Mahinda Rajapakse, including more than 6,000 Tamil prisoners still held two years after the destruction of the Tamil separatist LTTE. This campaign, which was supported by film and theater director Prasanna Vithanage, won an important response among students at the Sri Jayewardenepura (J’pura) University, near Colombo.
The International Committee of the Fourth International made another important advance in the Indian subcontinent in 2011 as Marxist Voice, a Pakistani group, expressed political agreement with its perspectives and undertook to work with the ICFI. The Marxist Voice statement, published by the WSWS, elaborated a revolutionary perspective for the workers of Pakistan and South Asia.
In Australia, the Socialist Equality Party ran four candidates in state elections in New South Wales held in March. The elections resulted in a rout of the incumbent Labor government. The SEP election statement explained that the momentous social and political struggles sweeping through the Middle East and internationally, in response to the breakdown of the global capitalist order, foreshadowed similar eruptions in Australia.
Later in the year, the SEP sponsored major conferences in Sydney and Melbourne on “The Failure of Capitalism and the Fight for Socialism Today,” which adopted three resolutions: The breakdown of capitalism and the tasks of the working class, The economic and political crisis in Australia and the building of the SEP and Youth and the fight for socialism.
In Europe, the Socialist Equality Party of Germany (Partei fur Soziale Gleichheit—PSG) conducted an important campaign in the Berlin city-state election. The PSG explained its historical program and denounced the capitalist policy of the Left Party, which together with the Social Democrats had governed the city for ten years.
The PSG launched a campaign web site that extended its campaign well beyond the streets of Berlin, fighting for a “European mobilization against the dictatorship of the banks” and “building the ICFI as a socialist party to provide revolutionary leadership and perspective for workers in the struggles emerging throughout Europe.” Demonstrating the international character of the campaign, the PSG held a rally in solidarity with the British youth targeted by the police after the August riots, distributing more than 1,000 leaflets.
On September 17, the PSG held a European workers rally against racism, war and social cutbacks at the conclusion of the party’s election campaign in Berlin. The party’s vote of 1,687 was a threefold increase from the previous election in 2006 and the highest total received by the party in the German capital. The WSWS noted that, given the number of parties on the ballot in Berlin, “The votes for the PSG represented not merely expressions of general dissatisfaction and protest, but rather a conscious decision to support its revolutionary program.”
In the United States, the Committee Against Utility Shutoffs, established in Detroit on the initiative of the SEP (US) the previous year, organized a March 12 demonstration against utility shutoffs. More than a hundred people participated, including neighborhood residents, teachers, health care workers, unemployed workers, retirees and high school students.
The march began at the home on Dexter Avenue where a tragic fire took the lives of three people on January 5, 2010. CAUS organized the march and public meetings throughout the year to connect the fight against utility shutoffs to a broader struggle of working people across the US against growing attacks on their living standards by both the Democratic and Republican parties.
The SEP and the International Students for Social Equality (ISSE) held three regional conferences throughout the US during the spriing on “The Fight for Socialism Today.” Each of these conferences discussed and adopted a series of resolutions on the basic political questions facing the working class in the US and internationally.
In August, the SEP intervened aggressively in a strike of 45,000 Verizon workers against company demands for massive concessions in wages, job security, health care and pensions. The WSWS featured extensive coverage of the strike, with on-the-spot reports from Boston, New York City, upstate New York, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington DC. Workers denounced the company’s intimidation tactics, including court orders to limit picketing and a cutoff of health benefits. The WSWS also published video interviews with striking workers.
From the start, the Communications Workers of America and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers sought to limit the strike to the demand that the company negotiate with the union. As the WSWS had warned, the unions carried out a shameless betrayal, calling off the strike after two weeks, without a contract.
Throughout 2011, the WSWS continued its campaign in defense of historical truth and against the slanders directed at Leon Trotsky. This centered on refuting the falsifications and attacks on Trotsky’s character concocted by British historian Robert Service in a lengthy biography published by the Harvard University Press in 2009. In 2010, the WSWS published the volume In Defense of Leon Trotsky, the reply to Service by David North.
In June 2011, American historian Bertrand Patenaude published an assessment of the books by Service and North in the prestigious American Historical Review. He described Service’s work as “a book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship,” and declared In Defense of Leon Trotsky to be “detailed, meticulous, well-argued and devastating.”
Patenaude wrote that “the number of actual mistakes in Service’s book is, as North says, ‘astonishing.’ I have counted more than four dozen.” Service’s biography is “completely unreliable as a reference,” he continued, and noted that Service “fails to examine in a serious way Trotsky’s political ideas and speeches—nor does it appear that he has always bothered to familiarize himself with them.” He concluded his review with the statement: “North calls Service’s biography a ‘piece of hackwork.’ Strong words, but entirely justified. Harvard University Press has placed its imprimatur upon a book that fails to meet the basic standards of historical scholarship.”
The Political Committee of the SEP (US) said, in a statement on the occasion of the publication of Patenaude’s review:
Basking in the praise of reactionary journalists and taking advantage of the cynical and intellectually cowardly climate that prevails in much of the academic community, Service assumed that his libelous falsification of Trotsky’s life and ideas would go unchallenged. And even if the Trotskyist movement called attention to his lies and distortions, who, Service assured himself, would care to take notice?
But Service made the mistake of assuming that his own cynicism is universally shared. And, bad historian that he is, Service could not imagine that changing objective conditions would lead to renewed interest in the life and ideas of Trotsky and other great Marxist revolutionists of the twentieth century. Although Bertrand Patenaude is neither a Marxist nor politically sympathetic to Trotsky, he does understand that Trotsky is a major historical figure whose ideas and actions must be treated seriously—that is, with intellectual honesty and, as Trotsky might have said, “fidelity to the truth.”
On the news of German publisher Suhrkamp’s intention to publish a translation of Service’s book, 14 well-known historians and political scientists from Germany, Austria and Switzerland wrote an open letter protesting this decision, writing that “the aim of his work is to discredit Trotsky, and unfortunately he [Service] often resorts to the formulas associated with Stalinist propaganda” and fails to meet basic academic standards.
Professor Hermann Weber, one of the 14 and an expert on the history of the socialist movement and Stalinism, spoke with the WSWS about the open letter. He explained, “Service deals in lies, falsifications of history, dubious references and even anti-Semitic prejudices. Such pamphlets should not have a place in an academic publishing house with a liberal tradition and a history such as Suhrkamp.”
In a later perspective column, the WSWS commended the integrity of these historians, noting that this blow against Stalinist-style falsification was rooted in the growing class conflicts and divisions in world politics, which in 2011 broke into the open. “Post-structuralists, post-modernists and post-Soviet counterfeiters may prefer to deny the objectivity of history,” we wrote, “but that will not stop history from catching up with them.”
In 2011, the WSWS covered developments in cinema including the 83rd Academy Awards, the Berlin Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, the Sydney Film Festival, and many new commercial films, some worthwhile, some less so, including The Fighter, The King’s Speech, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Contagion, The Adjustment Bureau, The Help, Take Shelter, and My Week With Marilyn.
There was continued examination of the history of the film industry, through an obituary appreciation of Elizabeth Taylor and a discussion with film historian Joseph McBride, whose biography of Steven Spielberg was reissued in a second edition in 2011.
Arts editor David Walsh denounced Roland Emmerich’s preposterous and reactionary anti-Shakespeare film Anonymous in a review and subsequent commentary. This was followed by an interview with an Australian Shakespeare expert, actor and director John Bell, which explored the universality of the playwright’s work.
Another commentary examined the attack on culture waged by the British bourgeoisie, through major cuts in museum funding. Also reviewed was a historical exhibit on the complicity of the German police with the genocidal policies of the Third Reich.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Ernest Hemingway, David Walsh gave a detailed examination of the great novelist’s historical and literary significance in a report to a meeting in the Detroit area that was subsequently published on the WSWS. He noted:
Today we have very few writers around who work powerfully and elegantly to represent life as it is. Much charlatanry and laziness abounds. The notion of writing straightforwardly and artistically about people and their lives is scoffed at in literary and academic circles. But then such circles are not good for much of anything.
WSWS coverage of cultural issues included an exhibition in Europe of Russian and Soviet modernism, Robert Motherwell and the Abstract Expressionists, and a photo exhibition on Burmese migrant workers.
The WSWS was able to significantly expand its coverage of scientific topics, including probing the evolution of the human species, seeing this as a particularly important area of scientific knowledge. An article about ancient genomic analysis made possible by the Denisova discovery in Siberia and an international team of scientists reviewed what is known about the progression of human evolution and alternative hypotheses postulating multiple strains of humanoids in the past 200,000 years.
A book review of The Artificial Ape discussed the role played by early technological innovation in human evolution. Though the exact details are difficult to specify, we wrote that a “hypothesis… emphasizing the centrality of technology from the very beginning of human existence… is an intriguing contribution to the materialist study of how humans came to be.”
Other WSWS coverage of scientific topics included new developments in space exploration and cosmology. This realm of scientific investigation perhaps reveals the most about humanity’s place in the universe and is perennially threatened by budget cuts, although, as one comment on the Mercury mission pointed out, “The total cost of the Messenger mission is $446 million, less than the Pentagon spends every six hours.”
An article entitled “Capitalism and the climate change crisis” advanced the socialist perspective on the environmental catastrophe facing humanity:
Climate change is another destructive expression of the fundamental contradiction between the nation-state system, upon which capitalism rests, and the globally integrated world economy. The environmental crisis requires an international solution, yet no rational plan can be developed, as great power rivalries escalate with the rapidly eroding global hegemony of the US and rise of China and other aspiring hegemons.