Thursday, February 5, 2009

The postman who wants to deliver the end of capitalism

John Lichfield, Feb 4, The Independent

He has the cheerful, inoffensive look of the ageing star of a boy-band. He wants to destroy the institutions of the French state but cultivates, brilliantly, the image of a concerned, plain-talking, working-class boy-next-door. He has become the second most popular political figure in France, after President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The baby-faced postman and Trotskyist idol of the young, Olivier Besancenot, 34, will launch this weekend something which has been, until now, a contradiction in terms: a mass-appeal, far-left party. The Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire (LCR) is dead. Long live the Nouveau Parti Anti-Capitaliste (NPA).

The party, which plans to build a non-capitalist state and is looking, first of all, for a catchier name, will be founded during a three-day conference starting on Friday at Saint Denis, just north of Paris. With the world's financial system in crisis and with bankers universally loathed, with the working class restless and the French parties of the centre-left rudderless and divided, there could hardly be a better time to launch a radical new movement of the left.

M. Besancenot's old party, despite its workerist rhetoric, was mostly middle-aged and middle class. The new party to be born this weekend will be younger and will include some working-class, trade union activists but will be dominated by the "lost" generations of French middle-class youth who reject middle-class ideas – extreme ecologists, feminists and anti-globalists, people who are fiercely in favour of illegal immigrants or fiercely opposed to advertising.

The NPA already claims almost 9,000 members. This is three times as many as the outgoing LCR, the most powerful of the many French Trotskyist groups, which will "dissolve itself" tomorrow to provide the organisational structure and the leader of the new party.

Above all, the leader. The NPA – or whatever it finally calls itself – is unashamedly a vehicle for the personality and communication skills of the LCR's "spokesman" M. Besancenot. Le petit facteur (the little postman) with the clean-cut looks and jargon-free language was the political revelation of the 2002 and 2007 presidential elections.

In 2007, he won, with 4.1 per cent of the vote in the first round, an election-within-the-election on the left-of-the-left, crushing the once powerful Parti Communiste and two Trotskyist rivals. He is now credited by pollsters with up to 18 per cent of voting preferences – something unheard of for the far left, even in France.

M. Besancenot is in effect, engaged in a kind of political ju-jitsu: trying to overturn the modern, Western world by using the personality and media-driven politics that he and his supporters profess to detest. He is accepted by most French people as a sincere, cheerful working-class boy, a postman with a cause – a kind of "feelgood facteur".

This approach is not entirely popular with some diehard Trots in the old LCR, who accuse M. Besancenot of abandoning serious political "struggle" for a dangerous, careerist escapade. M. Besancenot's rise also terrifies the traditional left-wing "parties of government", the Parti Socialiste and Parti Communiste.

He intrigues and amuses – or once amused – President Sarkozy, who sees him as a kind of Jean-Marie Le Pen of the far left. In other words, M. Besancenot could split, rather than crystallise, the opposition to Sarkozyism and make moderate centre-left politics unworkable for years to come.

As the swell of recessionary anger grows, the President, and the French right, are beginning to regard M. Besancenot with less affection. Right-wing internet sites have been full in recent weeks of allegations that M. Besancenot is a fake-proletarian, who has a wealthy wife and secretly lives a luxurious lifestyle.

Most of these allegations are distorted or untrue. M. Besancenot does not have a wealthy wife and does not live in a posh apartment. In a broader sense, the claims do have some truth.

Olivier Besancenot is a self-made proletarian. He was born into a middle class family in the Hauts-de-Seine, just west of Paris, which was also the childhood home of Nicolas Sarkozy. His father is a physics teacher and his mother is a school psychologist. He has a degree in history from the University of Nanterre.

He became a postman in 1997 (a clever choice for a proletarian career; everyone loves a postman). He still works part-time for La Poste, delivering mail by bicycle three days a week in Neuilly-sur-Seine, just west of Paris. Neuilly, ironically, is the wealthiest and most right-wing town in France. Its former mayor is President Sarkozy.

M. Besancenot is married to a successful, but not especially wealthy, publishing executive. They have one small child. He plays football in his spare time and loves rap music (which has replaced the L'Internationale and other traditional songs of "struggle" at his public meetings).

He is never seen in the old far-left uniform of leather jacket or shapeless jumper and beard. He defies the Trotskyist stereotype epitomised by Arlette Laguiller, the perpetual presidential candidate of the other principal far-left movement, the sect-like Lutte Ouvrière. M. Besancenot wears well-fitting jeans and a black or white T-shirt. His hair is always short.

Before the 2002 presidential election, M. Besancenot was almost unknown, an assistant to the co-founder of the LCR, Alain Krivine. Since M. Krivine has been part of the French political landscape since the May 1968 student revolt, it was long assumed that M. Besancenot was just a pretty face and front man.

Careful watchers of the far left in France now believe that M. Besancenot has become not only the figure-head of the new movement but its principal driving force and strategist.

What does the new party stand for? The choice of a bland "provisional" name is significant. The words "communist" or "revolution" were excluded as "old-fashioned" and off-putting to the one-cause radicals that the new party wants to attract.

The NPA website also tells a tale. There is nothing to explain in Trotskyist detail what the ideology of the party is. Instead, the site lists dozens of approved causes, from anti-nuclear to pro-Palestine.

M. Besancenot says that the party is democratic but wants to overturn "pseudo-democratic" institutions and give people control of their own lives. This means getting rid of the market economy, starting with the nationalisation of the banks into a single "state banking service".

Asked this week if he is still a "revolutionary", M. Besancenot said: "More than ever. We want our ideas to govern, but not through the present institutions."

Asked if he is a "Trotskyist" (an allegiance which he has not claimed publicly for several years), he said: "Our political logic is to take the best of the different traditions of the working-class movement, whether it be Trotskyism, Socialism, Communism, libertarianism, Guevarism, or radical environmentalism."

This scattergun approach has been contested by a minority within the LCR, distressed at seeing their political movement dissolved overnight. Christian Picquet, the leader of the rebels, argues that M. Besancenot should try instead to create a coalition of all the disparate parties of the far left.

By merging the LCR in a new movement open to all "anonymous" members of freelance radical causes, he argues, M. Besancenot is helping to "de-politicise" public life and blurring the pure lines of ideological allegiance: something that Nicolas Sarkozy has also been accused of.

In the best traditions of Trotskyist life, the rebellious M. Picquet has been dismissed from the leadership role that he had held in the LCR for two decades.

But what if he is wrong? What if M. Besancenot has merely invented a new form of Trotskyist "entryism"? Trotskyist "entryists", or moles, disguised themselves as moderate members of mainstream parties. M. Besancenot is, arguably, trying to create a kind of "political entryism by an entire party". He has cleverly re-packaged radical politics for a disaffected, but non-ideological, age.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Venezuela Sends Second Shipment of Humanitarian Aid to Palestinian Territories

National Radio of Venezuela, January 21

The government of Venezuela sent a second shipment of aid to the Palestinian people in order to contribute in fighting the health crisis in the area resulted from recent Israeli attacks.

This second humanitarian aid included 84 tons of food, medicine, blankets and other items were sent from the Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, located in the state of Vargas.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro said that “the United Nations is in charge of medical personnel and despite the fact that it has not been done yet, the sending of Venezuelan doctors of Arabic background who wish to help could be coordinated.”

“We are going to monitor the status of the Palestinian people. All of humanity should monitor the situation in the Palestinian territories. These people have suffered 60 years of abuse and crimes,” said Maduro.

The Foreign Minister noted that “what happened in the Gaza Strip is a reflection of 60 years of suffering for the Palestinian people, so our government will continue to pay attention in international organizations and in every process that has begun to negotiate a stable peace. We will follow negotiations to return land and the right to a free, sovereign, whole and peaceful state to the Palestinian people.”

Minister Maduro assured that Venezuela will continue to “have firm, clear positions in the face of blackmail that some sectors of the domestic right-wing and the international right-wing are trying to engage in worldwide.”

Israel admits troops may have used phosphorus shells in Gaza

Peter Beaumont, Jan 21, The Guardian

Israel has admitted – after mounting pressure – that its troops may have used white phosphorus shells in contravention of international law, during its three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip.

One of the places most seriously affected by the use of white phosphorus was the main UN compound in Gaza City, which was hit by three shells on 15 January. The same munition was used in a strike on the al-Quds hospital in Gaza City the same day.

Under review by Colonel Shai Alkalai is the use of white phosphorus by a reserve paratroop brigade in northern Israel.

According to army sources the brigade fired up to 20 phosphorus shells in a heavily built-up area around the Gaza township of Beit Lahiya, one of the worst hit areas of Gaza.

The internal inquiry – which the army says does not have the status of the full investigation demanded by human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – follows weeks of fighting in which Israel either denied outright that it was using phosphorus-based weapons, or insisted that what weapons it was using "were in line with international law".

Phosphorus is a toxic chemical agent that burns on contact with air and creates thick white smokes in order to hide troop movements. However phosphorus shells are largely indiscriminate scattering large numbers of fragments over a large area, which can cause severe damage to both human tissue and property.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, Palestinian doctors have reported treating dozens of cases of suspected phosphorus burns.

According to senior IDF officers, quoted today in the Ha'aretz newspaper, the Israeli military made use of two different types of phosphorus munitions.

The first, they insisted, was contained in 155mm artillery shells, and contained "almost no phosphorus" except for a trace to ignite the smoke screen.

The second munitions, at the centre of the inquiry by Col Alkalai, are standard phosphorus shells – both 88mm and 120mm – fired from mortars.

About 200 of these shells were fired during Israel's Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, and of these – say the IDF – 180 were fired on Hamas fighters and rocket launch crews in northern Gaza.

Alkalai is investigating the circumstances in which the remaining 20 shells were fired, amid compelling evidence on the ground that phosphorus munitions were involved in the attack on a UN warehouse and a UN school.

The mortar system is guided by GPS and according to Israel a failure of the targeting system may have been responsible for civilian deaths. However, critics point out the same explanation was used for mis-targeting deaths in Beit Hanoun in Gaza in 2006.

The brigade's officers, however, added that the shells were fired only at places that had been positively identified as sources of enemy fire.

The use of phosphorus as an incendiary weapon as it now appears to have been used against Hamas fighters – as opposed to a smoke screen – is covered by the Convention of Certain Conventional Weapons to which Israel in not a signatory.

However, Israel also is obliged under the Geneva Conventions and customary international humanitarian law to give due care to protecting the civilian population when deciding on appropriate military targeting and response to hostile fire, particularly in heavily built up areas with a strict prohibition on the use of indiscriminate force.

"They obviously could not have gone on denying the use of phosphorus," Donatella Rovera, Amnesty researcher for Israel and the Occupied Territories, told the Guardian yesterday. "There are still phosphorus wedges burning all over Gaza including at the UN compound and at the school.

"It is clear they are not using it as smoke screen as they claimed. They used it in areas where they had no forces, and there are much less problematic smoke screens that they could have used."

Amnesty on Monday warned that Israel could be guilty of war crimes, saying the use of the shells in a civilian areas was "clear and undeniable".

Rovera demanded too that Israel produce clear evidence that there were fighters in the areas it says its troops were fired upon when the phosphorus munitions were fired.

The admission that the shells may have been used improperly follows yesterday's demand by the UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon for an investigation into the targeting of UN facilities – including by phosphorus weapons.

It also follows the decision by the IDF to protect the names of battalion and brigade commanders who participated in Operation Cast Lead.

According to Israel Army Radio on Wednesday the decision – ordered by defence minister Ehud Barak – was made in anticipation that war crimes charges may be filed against IDF officers, who could face prosecution when they travel overseas.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Rally to support the people of Gaza this Sunday

(Friday 2/1/09)
Rally to support the people of Gaza this Sunday
Stop the massacres! End the siege! Justice for Palestine!

A protest and march to support the people of Gaza will begin at Sydney Town Hall at 2pm this Sunday January 4th 2009.

The demonstration has been initiated by the Sydney-based Gaza Defence Committee, a broad coalition of individuals and organisations that seek to build solidarity in Australia with the people of Gaza.

The protest will condemn the massacres and inhumane siege of Gaza by the Israeli government and military.

Israel has bombarded from the skies children on their way home from school, police stations and densely populated civilian areas. Hundreds have been killed and thousands injured in a matter of days.

The massacre comes after two years of economic blockade of Gaza imposed by Israel to punish Palestinians for democratically electing a Hamas government. Many Gazans had already died due to lack of basic medical treatment, food, clean water and electricity and over 60% live below the UN poverty line.

Now, having taken control of all Gaza's borders and starved its 1.5 million inhabitants, the Israeli military – the forth largest in the world – massacres a trapped, defenceless and impoverish population from the skies.

"Incredibly, at a time when everyone with a shred of humanity needs to stand with the people of Gaza… the Australian government is calling Palestinians 'aggressors' and justifying Israel's massacre," said Tim Dobson, a spokesperson for the Gaza Defence Committee. "That's why everyone in Australia needs to protest on Sunday. To show the people of Gaza we are with them."

The demonstration will march from Town Hall to Belmore Park via the Egyptian consulate in Surry Hills.

For more information please call Tim 0430 209 865 or Ghassan 0408 605 437

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Protest Against Gaza Massacre!

Media Release

For Immediate Release 28/12/08

Protest Against Gaza Massacre!

After confirmation that at least 230 Palestinians were killed on Saturday due to the Israeli army dropping over 100 tonnes of bombs on Gaza, anti-war and Palestinian solidarity activists have called for everyone concerned to rally outside of Sydney Town Hall this Monday at 4:30 P.M

“The attack is being reported as a “retaliation” to rocket attacks, it is not. It is a massacre, which has already killed over 230, injured over 700 and destroyed the lives of countless more. We believe that there is no justification at all for this. On Monday we will rally to stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza, who are suffering through hellish conditions. We will also be there to tell the Israeli Government, that the people of the world will not accept ongoing bombings of Palestine and that we will hold them to account if they continue.”

The Rally will also put a spotlight on the Australian government, if it refuses to condemn the Israeli government attack on the Palestinian people

“So far there has been a stony silence from the Rudd Government. We believe that the Australian Government should immediately condemn Israel's attack on Gaza, if it is at all serious about respecting international law and human rights. The Rudd Government should also make Israel aware that it will not accept any further attacks on Palestine, as well as sending large amounts of emergency aid to Gaza”

Rally Details:
Stop The Massacre of Gaza!
Sydney Town Hall


Monday 29th of December

Interviews: Tim Dobson 0430 209 865

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Days of Rage in Greece

December 18, 2008
The Rightwing Government is Headed for Its Downfall
Days of Rage in Greece


On the night of December 6, a special police squad in Athens murdered
a 15-year-old student in cold blood in Exarchia, a neighborhood with
a long tradition of activism among young people, the left and

This was only the latest instance of police brutality against
immigrants, and left-wing and anarchist activists--especially youth,
in the wake of a major youth resistance movement against
privatization of education that rattled the right-wing government of
Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis.

The next day, the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA),
revolutionary left organizations and anarchist activists called a
demonstration at police headquarters in Athens.

This was the first shock. Although the demonstration wasn't well
organized, and in spite of the climate of fear cultivated by the
government and the big media, tens of thousands of people came out in
the streets. At the same time, demonstrations were organized
spontaneously in smaller cities around the country.

The police attacked the demonstration, using chemical sprays and tear
gas. The demonstrators resisted by building barricades and bonfires
all night long in the center of Athens.

However, the real earthquake happened the next day. On December 8,
DEA members visited schools, proposing occupations and
demonstrations. We found out that the idea was already on the minds
of a majority of students. All schools in the country closed, and
thousands of students poured into the streets.

The students occupied the centers of cities all over Greece, and in
many cases, they besieged the police departments. The sizes of the
protests were huge, especially in Athens, Thessaloniki and Patras.
Hundreds of demonstrations took place in smaller towns, and even in

It was already obvious within a matter of days that this would be a
generalized explosion of youth after years of oppression, poverty and
deep cuts in the government's social spending.

The demonstrators made their objectives known: By targeting the
police department, they were attacking the government's authoritarian
policy of repression. By targeting the banks, they were attacking the
symbols of capitalism to show their anger with neoliberal policy.

That afternoon, SYRIZA called a demonstration for the center of
Athens. Despite the police presence and the use of tear gas, tens of
thousands of people participated. The police again used violence to
disperse the demonstrators.

What followed was a wild night of confrontations. More than 30 banks
and many big stores and public buildings were set on fire. The same
thing took place in other cities around the country.

In addition to students, the poor and immigrants came out to the
demonstrations. The hatred of police repression and the country's
rich was everywhere.

* * *

THE NEXT day, Tuesday morning, dawned on a terrified government.
Rumors circulated that Prime Minister Karamanlis intended to declare
a state of emergency in Athens and Thessaloniki, which would mean a
"temporary" suspension of all democratic and political freedoms.

But any such plans were withdrawn after the government realized the
strength of the demonstrations would cancel out the strength of any
"extraordinary measures."

Karamanlis called together the leaders of the political parties in
successive meetings, demanding their consent for stopping the crisis
with threats of brutal police intervention. It was obvious that
pressure was being was directed at the radical left coalition SYRIZA.

But the leadership of SYRIZA withstood it. The head of SYRIZA's
parliamentary group, Alekos Alavanos, came out of a meeting with
Karamanlis and called on the workers and students to continue their
struggle to topple the Karamanlis government. Alavanos also demanded
a "real apology" toward the youth--which would mean disarming the
police, the end of all privatization measures in education and a
policy to strengthen employment for young people.

Though pressed hard by the media, he made it clear that SYRIZA wasn't
participating in the riots, but he refused to condemn the "violence"
of the demonstrators, insisting that the point was the fight against
police violence.

One disappointing response was that of the Communist Party of Greece.
After meeting with Karamanlis, the party's secretary, Aleka Papariga,
denounced SYRIZA and demanded that it stop pandering to the
anarchists. The same line was taken by the leader of the right wing,
Georgios Karatzaferis, who also targeted SYRIZA and accused it of
being the "political wing" of the rioters.

The real problem, however, is the attitude taken by the large social
democratic party, PASOK, led by Georgios Papandreou. In order to
oppose Karamanlis' center-right New Democracy party, Papandreou
denounced the murder and police oppression. But at the same time, he
denounces the demonstrations, proposing instead silent candlelight
vigils to "mourn" the young student who was killed.

The murder of Alexandros Grigoropoulos came as the economic crisis
reached a new level. Greece's trade unions had already called for a
24-hour general strike on December 12. But the social democratic
leadership of the Confederation of Greek Workers--terrified by the
wave of demonstrations and complying with Karamanlis' request--
canceled a labor rally planned for that day.

The rally did take place after a mobilization by SYRIZA and
organizations of the revolutionary left. It was massive, very
militant and peaceful. Participation in the strike call was almost
total. This broke through the climate of fear and scaremongering
promoted by the government.

As this article is being written, the movement is continuing, and no
one really knows what the future holds for Karamanlis.

The right-wing government is headed toward its downfall. Every
opinion poll shows that it has already suffered a huge loss of
support after the outbreak of big corruption scandals revolving
around illegal sales of public land in collaboration with the church.
The media in Greece think that Karamanlis won't be prime minister by
the summer of 2009.

DEA is participating enthusiastically in the resistance movement. We
support the unity of the young demonstrators fighting against
repression and the workers and their unions fighting against

To achieve unity, we need a left that is massive and effective, but
also a left that is radical--that can inspire all the people now in
struggle with the belief that this society, capitalism, should be
overthrown, and that an alternative that meets our needs, socialism,
is a feasible solution.

This is the potential presented clearly in front of us during the
days of struggle that have shaken Greece.

Panos Petrou is a member of Workers Internationalist Left (DEA, by
its initials in Greek) and part of the editorial board of DEA's
newspaper Workers' Left.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Resistance renews calls for Taser ban

Resistance renews calls for Taser ban

Wednesday December 17, 2008

MEDIA RELEASE - An Amnesty International report released in the United States
has led activists to renew their call that the NSW government end its 'trial' of
Tasers stun guns and ensure that they are never again used in New South Wales.

Tim Dobson, organiser of the Wollongong Branch of Resistance commented:
'The report findings are horrifying and shocking. Anyone at all interested in
human rights will be chilled by the findings. 334 people in the United States
have been killed by Tasers in the past 7 years. 90% of those who died were

'The report found that many victims posed no serious threat to police officers
and autopsies of the victims revealed that many who died were tasered multiple
times, sometimes by different police officers.

'In one case, a doctor who crashed his car after having an epileptic fit was
tasered to death for failing to comply with police orders. This madness has to

Resistance has vowed to continue to put the spotlight on police misuse of Tasers
and will campaign until they are banned.

'The New South Wales Ombudsman has documented how there has already been a death
in this state due to Taser use; and in Queensland, a sixteen year old woman was
tasered by police because she refused to move on while caring for her sick
friend. This is an outrage!

'Before the roll out of Tasers both the New South Wales Police and the New South
Wales Government assured us that Tasers were non-lethal. This report shows that
to be totally untrue. How many people must die before they will be banned? asked

For more information visit