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Desperate to stem protests, dozens of governments shut down internet access in 2019

28 Dec

 

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

27 December 2019

Amid a global upsurge of political protests and strikes, governments all over the world are shutting down the internet in desperate bids to stem the tide of popular opposition.

According to preliminary data from Access Now, 2019 likely saw more deliberate internet shutdowns than any other previous year. More than a quarter of the world’s countries have shut down the internet in the past four years.

At least 29 countries carried out deliberate internet shutdowns in 2019, including India, Sri Lanka, Russia, Sudan, Indonesia and Iraq.

 

Indian workers shout slogans in front of a police barricade during a protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act in New Delhi [Credit: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri]

 

Since the 2011 uprising in Tunisia, dubbed a “WikiLeaks revolution” after the organization released information on the corruption of the country’s ruling class, governments have increasingly seen the internet as a threat, used by masses of people to organize strikes, protests and demonstrations. In recent months, workers and young people have used social media to organize mass demonstrations in Chile, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, Ecuador, Honduras, Haiti, Egypt and Algeria.

Last week, police authorities in India shut down internet access in sections of New Delhi in response to a wave of popular protests against the Modi government’s Hindu supremacist citizenship law.

The Modi government has responded to the demonstrations, which have mobilized broad sections of the population across ethnic and sectarian lines, with a crackdown that has taken the lives of dozens of people and the imposition of effective martial law in broad sections of the country.

India has shut down the internet more than 104 times this year, up from six times in 2014. The most notorious of these actions is the ongoing internet shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir, which has now lasted 135 days, the longest ever in any country officially called a “democracy.”

The ongoing internet shutdown in the Kashmir Valley now affects over seven million people, making the most routine aspects of life—from communicating with distant family to applying for a job—next to impossible.

The Kashmir shutdown was aimed at quelling opposition to the illegal abrogation of the semi-autonomous status of India’s lone Muslim-majority state. This constitutional coup has been enforced by the deployment of tens of thousands of additional security forces and the detention without charge of thousands.

In its latest annual report, Access Now pointed out that governments routinely lie about their motives in carrying out internet shutdowns. “[W]hen governments shut down the internet citing ‘public safety,’ it is often evident to observers that, in reality, authorities may fear protests and cut off access to the internet to limit people’s ability to organize and express themselves, whether online or off.”

It adds, “When authorities cite ‘fake news,’ rumors, or hate speech,” they are in fact most often seeking to curtail protests and control elections. “Using these threats as scapegoats, it appears that governments are leveraging shutdowns to shape the political narrative and control the flow of information.”

While outright internet shutoffs have remained rare in the major capitalist powers, many of the same false arguments—like protecting “public safety” and suppressing “fake news”—have been used to establish an apparatus of mass censorship by major corporations acting on behalf of state intelligence agencies.

In 2017, Google announced a series of changes to its search algorithm, internally dubbed “Project Owl,” that drastically reduced search traffic to left-wing, antiwar and progressive websites, in the guise of fighting “fake news.”

An investigation by the Wall Street Journal this year confirmed the allegations made by the World Socialist Web Site that Google operated internal blacklists of websites that it sought to keep users from accessing in search results. Facebook and Twitter followed Google’s actions, removing left-wing political accounts and pages with millions of followers on the grounds that they were “inauthentic.”

The Trump administration’s Federal Communications Commission has moved ahead with the gutting of net neutrality, giving private corporations a legal cover to censor and tamper with political speech at will.

Last year, Germany passed the so-called NetzDG law, which threatens to fine internet companies that fail to remove “illegal content,” turning, as Human Rights Watch wrote, “private companies into overzealous censors.”

The Spanish government is pushing through a law that allows the state to shut down at will digital communications, internet infrastructure and apps without a court order. The law follows a similar measure passed in France last year, spelling out massive fines for disseminating “any allegation or implying of a fact without providing verifiable information.”

The efforts to curtail the distribution of critical political viewpoints go beyond even these draconian censorship measures.

The British government has, at the direction of the Trump administration and with the full support of the Democratic Party, detained and isolated WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange, under conditions that UN human rights expert Nils Melzer has called tantamount to torture.

The US has also imprisoned whistleblower Chelsea Manning without charge. Both of these courageous individuals are being persecuted for nothing other than telling the truth about criminal wrongdoing by the US government.

All these measures represent the vindictive actions of vastly unpopular capitalist governments that feel besieged by a global upsurge of political opposition. This year, this latent opposition has erupted in a series of mass demonstrations, which the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS) think tank dubbed an “Age of Leaderless Revolution.”

CSIS analyst Samuel Brannen wrote: “This awakening has been amplified by the digital information age with more than half of the planet—4 billion people—now connected to the internet. Facebook alone counts 2.4 billion active users. And among the most popular topics for users is politics…. And the ways in which people can connect locally and globally and draw comparisons and inspiration from events elsewhere is unmatched. The ability for individuals to connect, to inspire and coordinate millions onto the streets is without precedent.”

Capitalist governments all over the world see this communications revolution, which holds immeasurable promise for human society, as an existential threat. One recent survey observed, “There is now a geopolitical operating premise that the ills of the internet are potentially more consequential than its benefits.”

While the cliques of corrupt capitalist oligarchs that dominate society all over the world, from Washington to New Delhi to Madrid, recoil in fear at the growing interconnections of society, the freedom of speech, including internet communication, is vital to workers and young people seeking to express their grievances and organize politically.

As workers and young people enter into social struggle all over the world, they must take up the defense of the freedom of expression and the freedom of political prisoners like Assange and Manning as inseparable from the fight to defend their social rights, abolish inequality, and overthrow the capitalist system.

Andre Damon

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The US-backed coup in Bolivia – Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

14 Nov

 

The US-backed coup in Bolivia;

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

Bolivia, South America’s most impoverished nation, teeters on the brink of a civil war in the wake of a US-backed coup that led to the resignation Sunday of President Evo Morales, Vice President Álvaro García Linera and various ministers, state governors and government officials.

While Morales, García Linera and others have fled the country for asylum in Mexico, the Bolivian workers, peasants and indigenous majority that they purported to represent have been left behind to confront heavily armed troops and fascist gangs in the streets.

The bitter lesson that the Latin American working class can advance its interests not by means of “left” bourgeois nationalist regimes, but only through its own independent revolutionary struggle, is once again being written in blood.

Thousands of workers and youth have responded with courageous resistance to the coup, taking to the streets of La Paz and the neighboring working-class district of El Alto, where they burned down police stations and confronted security forces. Elsewhere, miners and peasants have blocked highways, and anti-coup protesters have confronted heavily armed troops firing live ammunition and tear gas grenades. In Cochabamba, the military brought in a helicopter to fire on crowds. The toll of dead and wounded has steadily risen.

The military-police violence has been accompanied by a reign of terror by the fascistic opponents of Morales, who have burned down homes of those linked to the government, kidnapped family members of officials and carried out violent assaults against those linked to Morales’s Movement toward Socialism (MAS) party, as well as targeting indigenous people, especially women, for attacks. Headquarters of social organizations have been attacked, and radio stations invaded and taken off the air.

After three weeks of protests over the disputed October 20 presidential election, the coup was consummated Sunday with a televised address by Gen. Williams Kaliman, the chief of the armed forces, surrounded by the entire military command, in which they “suggested” that “the president resign his presidential mandate and allow the pacification and reestablishment of stability for the good of Bolivia.”

Morales and García Linera took the “suggestion,” saying that they were doing so to “avoid bloodshed” and “guarantee peace.” If that was their objective, their capitulation to the military and the Bolivian right has failed miserably.

US President Donald Trump celebrated the overthrow of Morales as a “significant moment for democracy in the Western Hemisphere,” warning that Venezuela and Nicaragua are next.

But it wasn’t only Trump. Both the New York Times and the Washington Post published editorials Tuesday supporting the coup and suggesting that it was a blow for “democracy,” and that the role of the military in forcing Morales out was merely incidental.

This reflects the fundamental continuity in Washington’s imperialist policy in Latin America under Democrats and Republicans alike, from the abortive 2002 coup against Hugo Chavez in Venezuela under George W. Bush (prematurely celebrated by the Times), to the 2009 US-backed overthrow of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras under Barack Obama, to today’s ouster of Morales under Trump.

Underlying this continuity is the drive by US imperialism to reverse the decline of its global economic hegemony by means of military force and violence, particularly in the region that it has so long regarded as its “own backyard.” This is driven both by the desire of US transnationals to lay unfettered claim on Latin America’s resources and markets—not least Bolivia’s vast energy and mineral reserves, including 70 percent of the world’s lithium—and by the strategic confrontation between US imperialism and China, whose trade with the region rose to $306 billon last year.

Morales’s government was part of the so-called “Pink Tide” of left-posturing bourgeois nationalist governments that came to power in Latin America, beginning with that of Hugo Chavez in 1998.

Like Chavez, Morales declared himself an adherent of the “Bolivarian Revolution” and socialism. He and the MAS were swept into office on the wave of revolutionary upheavals that shook Bolivia and brought down successive governments during the so-called water and gas “wars”—against water privatization and for the nationalization of gas—between 2000 and 2005.

The leader of the coca growers’ union and the first Bolivian president from the country’s long-oppressed indigenous population, Morales won broad popular support for a government that served as the vehicle for containing the revolutionary struggles of the Bolivian masses.

This government, however, soon allowed that its aim was not really socialism, but rather “Andean-Amazonian capitalism,” which consisted of “nationalizations” that imposed new taxes on transnational corporations that were guaranteed even greater access to the exploitation of Bolivia’s gas and other natural resources.

In addition to its alliance with transnational capital, the Morales government cemented a pact with the agricultural oligarchy. Both were granted rights to exploit lands that had previously been declared national parks to protect their indigenous populations.

The government also relied upon what it described as the “military-peasant alliance,” through which it sought to solidify support in the military command by offering it control over sections of the economy, resources for creating its own businesses and generous benefits. It created an “Anti-imperialist Military School” and had soldiers salute their officers with the Guevarist slogan of “Hasta la victoria siempre.” In the end, the bourgeois army, which Morales never disbanded, proved loyal to its roots in the fascist-military dictatorships of Generals Hugo Banzer and Luis García Meza and the national security state doctrine of the Pentagon’s School of the Americas.

The right-wing policies of the Morales government led to continuous confrontations with the working class and peasantry and steadily eroded its support. Its right-wing opponents in Bolivia’s traditional ruling oligarchy were able to exploit Morales’s attempt to secure himself another term as president—in violation of the constitution and the results of a 2016 referendum—to win a popular base for its counterrevolutionary objectives.

Morales and the MAS leadership bear criminal responsibility for the coup which they condemn. Its principal victims will be not Morales and his fellow politicians, but the masses of Bolivian workers, peasants and oppressed.

Also sharing blame for the acute dangers now confronting the masses of workers and oppressed in Bolivia are the various pseudo-left groups that promoted the Bolivarian revolutionary pretensions of the Morales government and demanded that the working class subordinate itself to the leadership of the bourgeois nationalists. Chief among them are various revisionist tendencies that split from the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), rejecting its struggle for the international unity and political independence of the working class based upon a revolutionary socialist program in order to adapt themselves to Stalinism and various forms of bourgeois nationalism, chief among them, Castroism.

The period in which these parties have been able to help suppress the class struggle is coming to an end, not only in Latin America, but internationally. The events in Bolivia, along with the mass uprisings of workers and youth in Chile and elsewhere on the Latin American continent, are demonstrating that the ruling class is no longer able to rule in the old way, and it has become impossible for the working class to live in the old way, creating the conditions for a new period of revolutionary upheavals.

The most urgent political task is the formation of a new revolutionary leadership in the working class based on an assimilation of the long struggle of Trotskyism against revisionism. This means building sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International throughout Latin America.

Bill Van Auken

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“Strike” From Chile to Lebanon: Working class offensive sweeps the globe! by WSWS.Org

26 Oct

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI)

 

The past week has seen a new stage in the eruption of the global class struggle, with mass protests bringing two seemingly disparate countries to a halt over what are undeniably similar grievances that are rooted in the historic and systemic crisis of the global capitalist system.

In Chile, the announcement by the right-wing government of President Sebastián Piñera of a 4 percent rise in mass transit fares ignited an uncontrollable wave of mass protests that have created a crisis of capitalist rule. The government’s response, reflecting the fears of the Chilean bourgeoisie, has been to impose a state of emergency and curfew, deploying 20,000 troops in the streets of Santiago and thousands more across the country. According to official figures, 18 people have been killed since the protests began, hundreds wounded and at least 5,000 arrested. The criminal methods of the US-backed Pinochet dictatorship have been resurrected, with reports of disappearances, torture of prisoners and sexual assaults against women detained in the protests.

This naked repression has only succeeded in swelling the protests. According to figures from the Chilean Interior Ministry, 424,000 people participated in 68 separate marches and demonstrations across the country Wednesday. Undoubtedly, the real figure is far higher. A general strike continued into its second day on Thursday, with hundreds of thousands more taking to the streets.

 

 

Meanwhile, Lebanon has also been rocked by mass protests over the past week, bringing an estimated one quarter of the country’s 6 million people into the streets. The immediate trigger was the government’s attempt to impose yet another gouging austerity measure aimed at making the country’s working class pay for its deep economic crisis—a $6-a-month tax on WhatsApp messages. As in Chile, attempts to use the army to break up protests have only inflamed popular anger.

Both Piñera in Chile and his Lebanese counterparts, Prime Minister Saad Hariri and President Michel Aoun, attempted to allay the popular upheavals with statements of contrition and offers of minimal economic relief measures. In both countries, the masses in the streets dismissed these cynical gestures as too little, too late, and are demanding the downfall of the regimes.

In both countries, the driving force behind the mass protests is the ceaseless and malignant growth of social inequality. The richest 1 percent monopolize 58 percent of the wealth, while the poorest 50 percent own less than 1 percent, in Lebanon, long-considered the region’s “free enterprise” haven for capitalist investment. In Chile, recently touted by Piñera as a regional “oasis” for finance capital, the richest 1 percent gobble up 33 percent of national income, according to World Bank data from 2017.

The New York Times, a principal voice of the US ruling elite, has taken note of the eruption of mass protests in Chile, Lebanon and other countries, commenting in a front-page article that “experts discern a pattern: a louder-than-usual howl against elites in countries where democracy is a source of disappointment, corruption is seen as brazen, and a tiny political class lives large while the younger generation struggles to get by.”

 

 

Strangely missing from this review of what the article’s headline describes as “popular fury across the globe” is what is happening in the United States itself. It quotes one of the “experts”, Vali Nasr, who recently left his post as dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, as commenting: “In countries where elections are decisive, like the United States and Britain, skepticism about the old political order has produced populist, nationalist and anti-immigrant results at the polls. In other countries, where people don’t have a voice, you have massive protests erupting.”

Are the Times editors genuinely oblivious to what is happening in the US, or are they just whistling past the graveyard? They publish this as 48,000 autoworkers have been on strike against General Motors for 40 days and 32,000 teachers and school workers in Chicago are entering the second week of a walkout that has shut down the country’s third-largest school district. The number of workers in the US on strike last year—over half a million—was the highest in more than three decades.

All the conditions that the Times describes in other countries—profound social inequality, corruption and a political system that is utterly indifferent to the interests of masses of working people—find stark expression in the US, the center of world capitalism, where the top 1 percent hoards roughly 40 percent of total wealth, and a social explosion is also on the agenda.

Thursday’s Times also carried an editorial titled “Chile Learns the Price of Economic Inequality”. Noting that Chile’s “protesters’ rage is born of the frustrations of everyday life,” it goes on to state: “Chileans live in a society of extraordinary economic disparities … Santiago’s prosperity is undeniable. Viewed from the top of the tallest building in South America, which stands in the middle of a financial district called ‘Sanhattan,’ neighborhoods with luxury apartments, private hospitals and private schools stretch as far as the eye can see.

 

 

“But Santiago’s poverty also is striking: crumbling public hospitals, overcrowded schools, shantytowns that sit on the outskirts of the metropolis.

“And farther from Santiago are cities untouched by the recent boom.”

Substitute United States for Chile, and Manhattan for “Sanhattan” and little of this depiction of a country dominated by social inequality would need to be changed.

The Gini coefficient, the most commonly used statistical measure of income inequality, places the United States, at 41.5 barely less unequal than Chile, at 47.7.

The Times editorial attributes Chile’s crisis to the government’s “unsustainably narrow conception of its obligations to its citizens,” which it in turn blames upon the Pinochet dictatorship, which ruled the country from 1973 to 1990, for dictating policies based upon “free-market competition”. What it neglects to mention is that these policies were drafted by the so-called “Chicago Boys”, bourgeois economists trained by the University of Chicago’s “free market” godfather, Milton Friedman.

The same essential policies have been introduced by successive US governments—Democratic and Republican alike—depriving millions of essential social services ranging from health care to food stamps and retirement income, while leaving 40 million people living below the absurdly low official poverty rate of $25,000 for a family of four.

A striking feature of the protests in both Chile and Lebanon are the statements by demonstrators in both countries that the latest austerity measures are merely the straw that broke the camel’s back, and that they are fighting against an unequal social order that has been built up over the past 30 years. In Chile, these three decades began with the end of the military dictatorship, and in Lebanon, with the end of the civil war.

 

 

This also is an expression of a global shift. The social relations created over the past 30 years, began with the Stalinist bureaucracy’s restoration of capitalism in the Soviet Union. They have been based upon the suppression of the class struggle, the uninterrupted growth of social inequality and financial parasitism and the vast transfer of wealth from masses of working people the world over to a tiny wealthy elite. Today, this social order is rapidly unraveling under the weight of a resurgence of struggle by the international working class.

Objective events are exposing the complete political bankruptcy of the pseudo-left organizations and so-called “left” academics who wrote off the working class and the struggle for socialism. Nothing in their perspective, based on nationalism and identity politics, foresaw the emerging global eruption of class struggle.

These events, however, were substantially anticipated by the World Socialist Web Site and the International Committee of the Fourth International in both their theoretical analysis and practice.

In its 1988 perspectives document “The World Capitalist Crisis and the Tasks of the Fourth International,” the ICFI explained why the class struggle would inevitably assume a global character, based upon the “massive development of transnational corporations and the resulting global integration of capitalist production have produced an unprecedented uniformity in the conditions confronting the workers of the world.”

The document stated: “It has long been an elementary proposition of Marxism that the class struggle is national only as to form, but that it is, in essence, an international struggle. However, given the new features of capitalist development, even the form of the class struggle must assume an international character. Even the most elemental struggles of the working class pose the necessity of coordinating its actions on an international scale.”

This now becomes the most urgent and concrete political question. The current mass social protests and strikes are the initial expression of a growing revolutionary struggle of the international working class to put an end to capitalism and reorganize the world economy to meet social needs, not private profit.

Bill Van Auken

Published by the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) wsws.org

 

 

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