Organizing for Socialism and Freedom in Brazil: an interview with PSOL activist Rodrigo Santaella

from the Editors

January 8, 2013

Recently, we interviewed Rodrigo Santaella, a member of the revolutionary socialist organization Enlace and an activist in the Brazilian Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). We met him at the Fourth International’s Ecosocialism School in Amsterdam last month. This annual, three-week school serves as an intensive Marxist political education for FI members and allies. Readings and audio of presentations from the school can be found here.

PSOL emerged out of the Brazilian Workers Party (PT) in 2004. The PT was originally a radical left party which the FI section in Brazil was instrumental in building. With the election of Lula da Silva in 2002, however, the party took a decisive turn to the right and began implementing a neoliberal program. A section of the party’s left-wing exited the PT and eventually founded PSOL, in an effort to create an anti-capitalist alternative to the PT. Rodrigo discusses this process and the state of PSOL and the Brazilian left today. For a more detailed discussion of the PT’s political trajectory, see João Machado’s article “The Experience of Building the DS and PT, from 1979 to the first Lula government.”

Webzine: What is your organization and tell us about its activities.

Rodrigo Santaella: Our organization is called Enlace, and is currently an internal tendency inside the broad left party called the Socialism and Freedom Party (PSOL). We have a little more than 300 activists spread throughout the country. Enlace is a revolutionary organization, with deep traditions and seeks a renewal of democratic socialism. Enlace came mainly from another tendency, called Democracia Socialista (DS). DS was – and still is – an internal tendency of Partido dos Trabalhadores [Worker’s Party/PT, currently the ruling party of Brazil], and it’s possible to say that the majority of DS stayed with the PT in its process of degeneration. After the former Brazilian president, Lula of PT, was elected, the contradictions within the PT began to really emerge. Inside the DS, the debate was, “should we be part of the government or stay inside the party but outside the government?”. When the Lula government began implementing neoliberal policies, especially the pension reform in 2003,it became clear to a section of tendency that we could not participate in the PT government and the party was undergoing a process of degeneration. Even so, some of our most important militants were invited, and accepted, various posts inside the government, and this – among other things – caused the split. We left PT, and with other organizations founded Enlace and began the process of constructing PSOL.

Enlace, as an organization by itself, is not a section of the Fourth International, but an observer, as is another tendency inside PSOL called CSOL [Coletivo Socialismo e Liberdade]. We retain this relationship with the Fourth International as a result of Enlaces’ origins and traditions. But though the organization itself is an observer, all the members of the Fourth International in Brazil are inside Enlace, and we consider the Brazilian section to be formed by “all the militants inside Enlace who assume the tradition and the organization of the IV International.” Currently, we are going throughan important process of approximation with other organizations inside PSOL, especially the CSOL, and that’s a big chance for our section to grow over the next year.

We’re actively organizing in a variety of sectors of Brazilian society. First of all, in the students movement, especially at the universities, we are part of a collective called Levante, which organizes more than 300 students around the country. Levante has considerable social influence as a result of heading some important student unions in a number of universities in the Brazil. We also organize secondary students, especially in Rio de Janeiro, but we are starting to spread this organizing nationally. We’re playing increasingly important role in the union movement, mostly in Rio de Janeiro and in the sector of teachers, but also in some other sectors and regions of the country. We also have an important presence in the Brazilian anti-racist and LGBTQ movements in many parts of the country, organizing campaigns and collectives, being part of major organizations, etc. and we have a huge participation on the ecological movement, being the sector that pushes this most vigorously pushes this debate inside the party. We also play a role in the women’s movement, formulating and organizing campaigns, struggling for equality inside and outside PSOL, and supporting all kinds of self-organization initiatives inside Brazilian society. We have a website and a magazine, which still has regularity due to a lack of resources, but we are organizing ourselves to publish it more regularly in 2013. After the October’s 2012 elections, we now have three municipal councilor mandates, in 3 different cities: Fortaleza, Rio de Janeiro and Niterói. Although we have no illusions that an electoral strategy is the best or only way of constructing a new society, we consider it important to be inside institutions to denounce and highlight their contradictions, and on the other hand to support any struggles coming from the social movements (whether we participate in them or not), from where the real possibilities of change can emerge.

Last but not least, we also spend an important part of our energies on the internal disputes of PSOL, which we consider to be an important political alternative in Brazil, as long as we don’t let some tendencies of bureaucratization and degeneration – especially characterized by the priority to the institutional disputes (such as favoring elections over movement organizing), which opens space to private financing of campaigns and alliances with right wing parties, for instance – grow.

WZ: What is PSOL? Why was it formed and what is your section’s role within it?

RS: PSOL is the result of an attempt to build a broad anti-capitalist party in Brazil, after the degeneration of PT. It was formed to be a political alternative to Brazilian left forces. The Brazilian left was, since the end of the 70’s, all focused on building PT as an alternative political tool for the working class and social movements in the country. After Lula took power in 2002 and embarked on the road of neoliberal reforms, like the pension reform I mentioned, it was clear that the course of PT was looking more and more dire. Some parliamentarians were expelled from the party for opposing such reforms, and the idea of forming a new broad left party started at that point and PSOL was founded in 2005. Currently, after 7 years of this, the course of PSOL is still in dispute, some sectors want to repeat the same strategies of PT, trying to avoid some mistakes, and others – like us – think the mistakes resulted precisely from such a strategy of giving priority to the disputing power within institutions, and adapting to the logic of private financing and alliances with right wing forces to win elections.

Now, Enlace has representatives in the national leadership of the party, and play a very important role in building unity of the left sector of the party to dispute its course. Beyond that, we try to organize party’s branches in all the sectors and regions we act, and also try to support all the initiatives of democratization and smooth functioning of PSOL’s internal structures, which is still a very difficult task.

WZ: What was the section’s role in the PT? How did the PT turn towards neoliberalism?

RS: To summarize, I can say that Democracia Socialista (DS, the name of our FI section at that time) played a central role in organizing the political and legal process of founding the PT in two of the most important states in Brazil: Rio Grande do Sul and Minas Gerais. Beyond that, DS was able to develop and strengthen, both inside and outside the party, the debates about different kinds of oppressions: women’s, LGBTQ and anti-racist struggle. Also, our section was important in “holding” PT to the left in a lot of situations. A good example is the state of Rio Grande do Sul, where most of the militants of DS were located and where, on one hand, PT had its major participation in institutions (for example, the PT state government until 2002) and on the other hand was the expression of radical politics in the country. This happened, in large part, because of the participation of DS’s militants.

Regarding PT’s turn to neoliberalism, it all starts with the international situation and its changes after 1989, with a big crisis of left forces all around the world after the demise of the Eastern Bloc countries and the USSR. Around 1988, PT had begun to grow inside the state’s institutions and this started to increase the pressure to adapt to the bourgeois social order, with the same process happening also in the labor movement. After PT’s defeat in the 1989 elections, in which the party still had a very radical program and also an activist-centered form of organization, the central part of its leadership, with Lula at its head, proposed that it was necessary to moderate the program in order to achieve electoral power. A right-wing of PT, which papered over the class struggle and sought broad alliances with moderate and right-wing forces, slowly gained dominance within the party. This also started to change the internal organization of PT, and since the 90’s it turned from a militant party with the priority of organizing branches to a party organized around elections, with professionalized campaigns, private financing, etc.

This sharpened the internal differences inside the party, especially when the more electorally centered sections of the party began using resources from “state machines” to finance factional struggles inside the party. The tendency of moderating in order to win elections accelerated, and in 2002, with a big businessman as his vice-presidential candidate, Lula was finally elected. At that point, the compromises and alliances that PT had would leave a definitive mark on its public policies, reforms and government programs that came later. This showed that the party was completely adapted to the neoliberal global order, though with some peculiar characteristics, such as the increase of the social compensation programs like the Zero Hunger campaign.

WZ: How has the crisis affected Brazil? And what is the general political situation in the country?

RS: The most important effect of the crisis in Brazil was the cut in the budget of important sectors like health and education, and also in the government social programs. In 2012, we had $26 billion in cuts to those areas. Brazil followed the same recipes for helping the bank sector, but with some important differences. The most important one was the encouragement of consumption. Freeing credits and reducing some taxes, the government encouraged the population to consume more and more, and the effects of the crisis were kind of hidden behind this consumption boom we had on the country. Obviously, this is not sustainable in long terms, but until now it has diminished the impact of the crisis on Brazilians.

About the general political situation, we have a very popular government with Dilma Rousseff (Lula’s successor and current President of Brazil) from PT. According to the statistics, she may be even more popular than Lula was. So it’s a difficult moment to be in the opposition, especially on the left of the opposition. Most of the most important social movements in Brazil are coopted by the government. On the other hand, the big investments and contradictions of the high-profile sporting events we will have in the country over the next couple of years (the Olympics and the World Cup), and the delayed effects of the crisis that are still likely to come, will create a situation where the PT’s development project will start to falter. Some splits in social movements are already happening because of the cooptation process, and some social uprisings have erupted in the past 2 years, such as important strikes involving teachers and postal workers, so there’s some light at the end of the tunnel, as we say here.

In this difficult context, PSOL with its own contradictions, is attempting to raise a left alternative in Brazilian politics. We have a difficult situation for the left, but also perspectives on navigating the objective conditions of a social uprising in the country, and in this context PSOL is building itself as a left political alternative to PT.

WZ: What is PSOL’s social base? What movements is the party most deeply involved in?

RS: PSOL has a very diverse social base, which includes university students, workers in the public sector, human rights movements, health workers, and also urban popular movements. In the places the party is bigger and has more influence, some classical sectors of the working class and a lot of informal workers, especially the youth, form the social basis of the party’s organizing. We also emphasize work in the ecological, anti-racist, women’s and LGBTQ movements. We have relations with the MST (Landless Workers Movement), one of the biggest peasant movements in the world, but there are difficulties because of the MST leadership’s contradictory relationship with the government.

PSOL currently has more than 35,000 thousand affiliates, but most of them are not very active. We are still in the process of building the party, and in very difficult conditions, so we influence a lot of sectors and people, but we cannot talk about PSOL’s “consolidated social basis” yet.

PSOL Congress, 2007

WZ: How did you become radicalized?

RS: I don’t really know how to describe my own process of radicalization. I think as any process it doesn’t have a unique turning point or a start and an end.

When I was younger, because of some readings about students movement, politics in general, etc, and through talking with my parents, who were not activists, but were politically conscious with a progressive orientation, I participated indirectly on campaigns supporting PT’s candidates and on some international campaigns. So my interest in politics started when I was at school, but I wasn’t even close to becoming a revolutionary at that time. When I got to the university, I started getting involved in the student movement, and then I had contact with a collective of students, organized in part by militants of the FI section there, but also with other organizations and a lot of independents, called Amar e Mudar as Coisas [“To Love and Change Things”]. The experience of trying to struggle, inside the university, for a more democratic, public and quality education for the people, started to show me the contradictions of the system itself, the class interests that anchored politics both inside and outside the university. Whenever we started engaging in real struggles, such as fights to democratize access to the university, we could feel the power of the institutions and the interests they represented. So, in the process of real struggle inside the university and the formation process inside that collective, I started becoming radicalized. Then, from our own place of struggle we started having contact with other social movements in Brazil, like the MST, as well as some urban movements. Those experiences also contributed to my process of radicalization. I was an “independent” militant for about four years and then I joined PSOL in 2010 and the FI section within Enlace in 2011.

I think my experience inside Enalce, inside PSOL and inside the Fourth International, together with the real struggles I have been a part of in Brazil these few last years are still factors in my on-going radicalization. The issues we have to deal in society, our problems, are more and more radical ones. So I think the process of radicalization of socialist activists has also to follow those issues, that’s why, in the end, I think I’m still becoming more and more radicalized.

WZ: What can comrades in other parts of the world do to support your work and learn from your experiences in building broad left parties?

RS: I think the first challenge we have to deal with is the creation of more organic relations between our sections inside the Fourth International. The first step to support or learn of any experience is knowing about, being familiar with the major issues, with a little bit of its history and with the people that are presently part of it. As internationalists, I think this is our first task: build more organic relationships between our organizations all over the world. Even small things like translations of articles, reserving sections of our websites or magazines for international contributions from comrades, invitations to meetings or activities whenever finances allow for it, virtual meetings of some branches in different countries to think about common issues, and a lot of other simple initiatives like that can help in this task. This first step is the most important and urgent one, and could create conditions for more possibilities.

I think the best way comrades can aid our work in Brazil is initiating or participating in international campaigns on issues, for instance the struggle against the privatization of the universities or public services, against racist violence, against sexist violence, etc. If we could articulate these actions better, it would probably have more impact in the different countries in which we organize.

To learn from our experiences in building broad left parties, the best way is to stay constantly in touch. It could be helpful to also send U.S. comrades to our party’s congresses. A congress of a broad left party is always a very interesting experience and deepens one’s understanding of the most important issues inside the party and its relations with the struggles in the society. In 2013 we will have our fourth national congress of PSOL, probably near the end of the year, and the comrades of Solidarity are, of course, invited to send some representatives to observe and participate of it. It would be, undoubtedly, a very good interchange between such different – but also in some ways, so similar – realities.

Rodrigo Santaella serves on the youth leadership of Enlace, the sympathizing section of the Fourth International in Brazil. He currently lives in Fortaleza, where he works with PSOL’s elected councilors as a social movements liaison.

Stop a New Israeli Massacre in Gaza: Boycott Israel Now!

by Palestinian BDS National Committee

November 20, 2012

On November 8, Israel carried out an attack on civilians in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip, shooting 13-year-old Ahmad Abu Daqqa while he played football with friends. By November 14, Israel had intensified its attacks on Gaza and begun to implement an intensive plan of aggression that at the time of writing has killed at least 15 Palestinians, including at least 6 children, and injured over 150, predominantly civilians.

Despite biased Western media reports to the contrary, it is clear that Israel has initiated and escalated this new assault [1] on the eve of its upcoming parliamentary elections, underlining the time-honoured Israeli formula of Palestinian bodies for ballots.[2]

It is worth noting that a great majority of the Gaza population are refugees ethnically cleansed by Zionist militias and later the state of Israel during the 1948 Nakba and denied by Israel their UN-sanctioned right to return to their homes of origin.

This belligerent aggression is the most murderous and inhuman Israeli attack on the Palestinian people since the Gaza massacre of 2008-09, which killed more than 1,400 and injured more than 5,000 Palestinians, mainly civilians. The US and Europe have so far been successful in preventing Palestinian recourse to international justice mechanisms for Israeli crimes against humanity that took place during the massacre and that were documented by a UN Fact Finding Mission as well as a team of international law experts commissioned by the Arab League. Urgent action must be taken to prevent Israel from acting with such impunity again.

The 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza have endured the worst of Israeli impunity and violence including being placed under a medieval siege, being subjected to deliberately created food insecurity and frequent acts of Israeli state terrorism. It is the duty of all supporters of international law and universal human rights to hold Israel accountable through effective measures, such as those called for in the global, Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

The Palestinian BDS National Committee (BNC), the broadest coalition in Palestinian civil society, including all major political parties, trade unions, social movements and NGO networks, calls on:

– People of conscience around the world to intensify BDS campaigns to hold Israel accountable, and to pressure their governments to immediately suspend arms trade with Israel, implement trade sanctions, and bring to justice all Israeli officials and military personnel who took part, at all levels, in Israel’s crimes against Palestinians in Gaza.

– Civil society organisations, including trade unions, universities, trade unions, student groups and NGOs, to boycott Israeli goods, divest from all Israeli and international companies that are complicit with Israel’s occupation and apartheid, and call for governments to implement military embargoes and trade sanctions on Israel.

– Governments, especially Arab and friendly governments, to respect their legal obligation to protect the Palestinian right to life and self-determination and to impose sanctions on Israel to immediately end its assault on, and cease its illegal siege of the occupied Gaza Strip and its policies of colonialism and apartheid that oppress the Palestinian people.

As this new attack on the people of Gaza shows, Israel will continue its belligerence, aggression and state terrorism unless it is made to pay a heavy price for its crimes against the Palestinian, Lebanese and other Arab peoples. As the last seven years of the global BDS movement and the long history of past international solidarity with the struggle against apartheid in South Africa have shown, the most effective, sustainable and morally consistent form of solidarity with the oppressed is for international civil society and conscientious people around the world to apply boycotts, divestment and sanctions against the oppressor and all institutions that collude in maintaining and justifying its oppression. It is high time for BDS against Israel. This is the clearest path to freedom, justice and equality for Palestinians and the entire region.

Palestinian BDS National Committee.

Spanish translation:

[1] For a timeline that explains how Israel has initiated this new attack, see


A BDS Movement That Works

by Barbara Harvey

November 20, 2012

This article originally appeared in the November/December 2012 issue of Against the Current.

IN 2005, 173 Palestinian civil society organizations and 71 members of parliament, political parties, and unions in Jordan united to issue a powerful nongovernmental call for global nonviolent resistance to occupation through acts of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel.(1) They had three goals: an end to occupation and return to the pre-1967 Green Line, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and recognition of the Palestinian right of return.

The strongly united 2005 Palestinian civil society call for BDS electrified progressives around the world. European activists responded strongly, but in the United States, where the mainstream news media have tended to voluntarily censor undistorted news reports about Israel’s ever-widening theft of Palestinian lands, public consciousness was generally absent, while sympathy for the Jewish legacy of trauma from the Holocaust remained the dominant theme.

It’s time to reassess: Where is the U.S. BDS movement now? The answer is that, while it still lags behind the BDS movements in Europe, Australia and elsewhere, it’s catching up fast, on campuses across the country and in local communities, as a genuinely grassroots movement led by focused, smart, strategic young Arab Americans — with the generous, if unintended assistance of Bibi Netanyahu, whose unashamed racism and crudeness has stunned the world, leaving Israel’s defenders without a credible spin on his words and actions.

The BDS movement encourages progressive activists on many fronts to set aside differences and instead focus on common goals: to ensure the rights of Palestinians, as affirmations of the rights of all people, to adequate and uncontaminated water; to belong to a country; to get an education; to be protected from languishing in prison for years without trial or knowing why; to farm the land that has belonged to their families for centuries; to freedom and dignity.

The results have been stunning early victories for this country’s young BDS movement — in large measure a testament to the years of movement work in Europe and to the chilling confirmations repeatedly given by Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu for the movement’s accusations of Israeli racism and the cruelty of life for Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation. But these successes would have been unattainable without the wisdom and maturity of young movement leaders who have, in the best spirit of the World Social Forum, consistently put shared goals above political differences and worked democratically and collaboratively, without ego hang-ups, to achieve shared goals.

This article focuses on the story of one U.S. BDS campaign: the campaign to persuade TIAA-CREF to divest from the Occupation. In a testament to the determination of the BDS movement to cross organizational and interest group lines and stay focused on shared goals, and to Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) as the campaign’s creator, the campaign — now known as “We Divest” — now also includes American Friends Service Committee, Grassroots International, Adalah-New York, the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, and the U.S. Palestine Community Network.

Since the campaign’s launch in June 2010, it has provided a big tent for all sorts of local activism against shared target companies — Caterpillar, Veolia, Hewlett Packard, Elbit, Motorola Solutions, and Northrup Grumman. These local campaigns have recognized that they all benefit by working collaboratively, with shared resources, sophisticated tactical guidance, training for local activists, and rich opportunities for local coalition work provided by We Divest.

The TIAA-CREF Campaign

On a lovely day in July 2011, activists and allies of Jewish Voice for Peace converged on an idyllic country setting outside Charlotte, North Carolina. This is the immaculately manicured country home of the Teachers Insurance Annuity Association-College Retirement Equity Fund (TIAA-CREF), the partly non-profit and partly for-profit retirement and investment mutual fund manager.

Activists were there for the annual CREF shareholder meeting. They had attended and demonstrated at the prior year’s shareholder meeting in New York City at TIAA-CREF headquarters, where shareholder meetings were usually held. These members and supporters of JVP shared a commitment to its campaign, launched in June 2010, to persuade TIAA-CREF to divest across all of its accounts from all companies around the world that profit from or help to maintain Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

As of March 2012, TIAA-CREF managed $487 billion for more than 3.7 million people working in academia, medicine, culture, government, and research.(2) A promising focus for activism, its primary clients are colleges and universities, where student movements for justice for Palestinians had already started and could benefit from a shared organizing focus. By highlighting commonly held investments as targets for TIAA-CREF divestment, the campaign provided a big tent for activism that could be coordinated with boycott and other divestment campaigns around the country.

TIAA-CREF itself is a globally admired financial services manager, a leader whose actions are likely to be noted and followed elsewhere in the investment world. Its 3.7 million clients tend to be community leaders, opinion shapers, and more socially committed and progressive than the general population.

TIAA-CREF was in fact a leader in the creation of socially responsible investing (SRI), offering its participants the option to invest in companies complying with the United Nation’s CESG investment principles (Companies committed to Environmental, Social, and Governance good practices). Importantly, the campaign does not ask participants in TIAA-CREF to divest their own accounts from TIAA-CREF, but instead asks the company to divest its holdings from Israel’s occupation.

The 2010 activism at the shareholder meeting in New York had been a huge success. A dozen activists having credentials to attend the meeting had asked embarrassing questions of TIAA-CREF CEO Roger Ferguson, face-to-face, that so powerfully confronted the company on its refusal to divest from the Israeli occupation that one after another of the other shareholders present at that meeting — strangers to the still fledgling national divestment campaign — had risen to join the voices challenging the absence of moral judgment in the company’s investment decisions.

The Q & A period at the 2010 meeting began and ended on a single theme: that it was wrong for an Andrew Carnegie company whose motto was “Financial Services for the Greater Good” to leave teachers, professors, researchers and nonprofit employees no choice but to retire in part on the profits from a military occupation that violates both human rights and international law. For nearly three hours, the CEO of a Fortune Top 50 company politely listened to a stream of complaints about the ethics of his otherwise well-managed company.

What “Delegitimizes” Israel?

Four months later, in November 2010, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed a large audience in New Orleans at the Jewish Federation’s annual assembly, railing against the “delegitimization” of Israel by alleged anti-Semites and self-hating Jews. A young JVP college student stood up in the midst of the audience and yelled to the stunned prime minister and crowd, “The siege of Gaza delegitimizes Israel!”

It was the highest profile “mic checking” action of the new U.S. BDS movement. A few moments later, after the audience and speaker collected themselves, another young activist stood up and yelled, “The Occupation delegitimizes Israel!” A total of five activists disrupted Netanyahu’s “delegitimization” speech to the Jewish Federation assembly, with the audience becoming more enraged with each one.

Other slogans were: “The settlements delegitimize Israel,” “The Loyalty Oath delegitimizes Israel,” and “Silencing dissent delegitimizes Israel!” [The “Loyalty Oath” is a proposed requirement for Arab citizens of Israel to swear allegiance to the country as the “Jewish state” — ed.]

The final protestor, a slight young woman, was greeted with a roar of outrage and assaulted from behind by a man who grabbed her in a stranglehold. In less than one well-conceived minute of total protest time, the moral bankruptcy of Israel’s “delegitimization” campaign had been exposed.(3)

Determined not to let protesters take over its 2011 shareholder meeting or humiliate the company on the sidewalks of New York, TIAA-CREF moved its 2011 CREF meeting to Charlotte, North Carolina. Similarly determined JVPers followed TIAA-CREF to North Carolina, attending the 2011 meeting in about three times the number of those who had attended the 2010 meeting. They were met by a small army of private security guards, who apparently had been instructed to never let these perceived terrorists out of sight; guards followed them even into bathrooms.

Again in 2011, campaign activists dominated the shareholder meeting. On the day preceding the meeting, the Charlotte Observer printed an op-ed by retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, supporting the goals of the campaign and explicitly drawing the parallel between the Israeli occupation and South African apartheid.(4)

Activists around the country held coordinated, “You can run, but you can’t hide” demonstrations against TIAA-CREF’s decision to flee NYC for its shareholder meeting and demanding divestment from Caterpillar.

Less than two months later, in September 2011, CEO Roger Ferguson gave a presentation on retirement issues to a packed auditorium at Wayne State University, in Detroit. Activists from 13 student, faith-based and other progressive organizations distributed a joint statement to attendees, stating in part:

“We come from many different walks of life, but we stand in solidarity with one another on this issue and with the national campaign to persuade TIAA-CREF to divest from Israel’s Occupation. As a largely non-profit company that solicits customers under the proud motto, ‘Financial Services for the Greater Good,’ TIAA-CREF must honor its commitment. We are all seriously committed to the greater good, and we will not rest until TIAA-CREF stops investing in the Israeli occupation.”

Campaign activists, in this public forum, again controlled the discussion, converting the post-presentation Q & A into an indictment of the company’s investments in serious human rights violations.

A Campaign Victory!

Eight months later, between May and June 2012, TIAA-CREF completely divested its SRI accounts from ownership of nearly $73 million in Caterpillar. Caterpillar manufactures D-9 bulldozers and sells them to Israel to be armor-plated, weaponized, and used to demolish civilian homes and build settlements in the West Bank, all of which violate the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition against the expropriation of any occupied territory by any occupying power. These are the bulldozers that killed International Solidarity Movement activist Rachel Corrie, as she stood in 2003 between such a bulldozer and a civilian home in Gaza, trying to save another family from homelessness.

TIAA-CREF’s public statement was that the action reflected simply the decision by its SRI screening company, Morgan Stanley Capital Investment (MSCI), to “delist” Caterpillar as an acceptable socially responsible investment.  MSCI is the largest such company, providing investment screening services to 6,200 investment firms, including TIAA-CREF. All companies that retain MSCI to screen their SRI accounts should now be following suit. This is the advice that they pay MSCI to give them.

A month before TIAA-CREF’s action, Friends Fiduciary Corporation, serving more than 250 Quaker Friends meetings, schools, organizations, trusts and endowments, became the first U.S. company to divest from Caterpillar, selling $900,000 in holdings. On September 26, 2012, Friends Fiduciary announced its further divestment from Hewlett Packard, because it provides IT consulting services to the Israeli Navy, and Veolia Environnement, the largest water privatization company in the world and the supplier of discriminatory water resources to Israeli West Bank settlements.

MSCI explained its decision to delist Caterpillar as having been “initiated following a controversial lockout and plant closing at the company’s London, Ontario, locomotive plant.”(5) (Indeed, this unionized plant was closed and the work moved to a nonunion facility in Indiana.) A senior MSCI official acknowledged, however, that Caterpillar’s sales to Israel had been “a factor” in the delisting decision, since its rating had already been dropped to borderline status as a result of its sale of D-9 bulldozers to Israel for use in demolishing homes and building West Bank settlements.(6)

By the time of MSCI’s announcement, the TIAA-CREF divestment campaign had educated MSCI about Caterpillar’s unsuitability for socially responsible investing. The TIAA-CREF divestment campaign leaders are confident that the campaign played a key role, perhaps the key role, in MSCI’s decision to delist Caterpillar, and CEO Roger Ferguson conceded as much in an unguarded moment of dialogue at the 2012 shareholder meeting.

TIAA-CREF still has a long way to go before it is divested from the Israeli occupation.  It still owns about $900,000,000 in Caterpillar, in its non-SRI accounts, for example. Its SRI accounts still own equities in Veolia, Motorola and Hewlett Packard — all of which earn profits from sales of equipment to Israel that is directly used to subjugate the Palestinian people.

But with the actions of MSCI and TIAA-CREF, U.S. divestment from the Israeli occupation took a giant step toward becoming mainstream. It is only a matter of time, for example, before Veolia will be divested.

The Heat on Veolia

Veolia flunks every single prong of the “environment, social, and governance” (ESG) standards that define companies suitable for SRI. Veolia will be saved from divestment only if it initiates prophylactic action in shedding the last of its business dealings with the Israeli occupation before it shares Caterpillar’s “delisted” fate.

Veolia has already sold its landfill operation for West Bank settlements, which literally turned Palestinian land near Israeli settlements into garbage pits; it has sold its interest in building the entirely illegal light rail system that connects West Bank settlements to Jerusalem and Israel; it has finally found a purchaser — Israel’s bus company, Egged — of its right to operate that light rail system, although a condition of the sale is that it must continue to operate the rail system until Egged employees have sufficient training to operate it themselves; and it has sold all but a couple of the bus lines that transport Israeli commuters from their homes in West Bank settlements to their jobs in Haifa and Tel Aviv, on apartheid-like roads that Palestinians cannot use.

Why is Veolia so determined to sell off its profitable Occupation business? The answer appears to be that the European divestment movement against Veolia has made it unprofitable for Veolia to engage in Occupation business, causing losses of many billions of dollars in lost contracts. In early October the investment grade of Veolia subsidiary, Veolia Environnement, was downgraded, making it a less attractive investment to all investors.

The downgrade provides a potent new argument to the BDS movement: that investing in businesses that profit from Israel’s human rights and legal violations is becoming simply bad business. The French and U.S. subsidiaries, Veolia Environment (providing waste management services) and Veolia Transportation (which runs all of the airport Super Shuttle services and many bus and small van services for local governments around the country) will be prime targets of the BDS movement in the coming year.

TIAA-CREF’s divestment from Cater­pillar in all of its SRI accounts comes hard on the heels of increasing BDS activity and successes:

• Hot off the wires as we go to press is the news that several major U.S. churches have co-signed a letter to Congress demanding an end to unconditional military aid to Israel, and “immediate investigation into possible violations by Israel of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act and the U.S. Arms Export Control Act which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of U.S. weapons to ‘internal security’ or ‘legitimate self-defense.’”(7) This is the sort of stuff that millions of ordinary Americans will pay attention to: Their own churches have indicted Israel for human rights violations and colonialism.

• After devilishly clever procedural maneuvers by pro-Israel forces, which deprived delegates at both the United Methodist Church General Conference (May 2012) and the Presbyterian Church-USA General Assembly (July 2012) of opportunities to vote on the merits of resolution to divest from specified companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, the Methodists adopted a strongly worded resolution condemning the settlements,(8) and the Presbyterians voted for “positive investment” in the occupied Palestinian territories, although there is no such thing.

By a unanimous vote in early June, the Arizona State University undergraduate student government unanimously passed a bill, submitted by its Students for Justice in Palestine chapter, demanding that ASU divest from and blacklist companies that provide the Israeli army with weapons or militarized equipment or are complicit with the genocide against the people of Darfur. The bill named ten such companies, including Caterpillar, Motorola Solutions, Alliant Tech Systems, Boeing, and United Technologies.(9)

• Similar divestment votes were adopted by student governments at Hampshire College in 2009, the University of Michigan Dearborn campus in 2010, Columbia University in 2011, and the University of Massachusetts-Boston in April 2012.(10) The Hampshire College trustees divested from Caterpillar, United Technologies, General Electric, ITT Corporation, Motorola and Terex, all companies that profit from supplying the Israeli military with equipment and services in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.(11)

• In July 2010, the 22,000-member Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia, Washington, the home of Rachel Corrie, became the first U.S. business to implement a boycott of Israeli products. Sixteen past and current board members were individually sued on procedural and other theories, in a lawsuit that was reportedly filed with the backing of StandWithUs, a right-wing Zionist organization that is being funded, in part, by a $6 million fund created by the Israel Action Network, a consortium created to crush the U.S. BDS movement.(12)

A pro bono team put together by a National Lawyers Guild working group created to provide legal advice to BDS activists and the Center for Constitutional Rights filed an anti-harassment defense and won dismissal with statutory damages of $160,000 ($10,000 for each named defendant) and attorney fees.

• At the June 2012 Caterpillar shareholder meeting, Gabe Schivone, a student in Tucson, Arizona, stood at the microphone for JVP and other religious organizations to lambast Caterpillar for targeting only Iran for instructions to its dealers to boycott direct and indirect sales of bulldozers.

Instead, he argued, shareholders should endorse a resolution calling for a broad human rights policy: “Without a general policy… we’re vulnerable to the charge of hypocrisy. For example, Israel has a far worse human rights record than Iran and is engaged in its 45th year of military occupation and settlement of the Palestinian West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem and crucially uses armies of our bulldozers to do it.” The resolution was not adopted, but it did win support from about 20% of shareholders, a strong showing for a shareholder resolution.

By July 2012, the time of the third CREF shareholder meeting in the divestment campaign’s history, TIAA-CREF had accepted the judgment that Caterpillar was not an appropriate subject for socially responsible investing and removed it from its SRI accounts.

It had given up hope of being able to run away from campaign activists and moved its meeting back to Manhattan, where there was a huge rally in front of the headquarters building, showing support for the campaign — with some deeply appreciated solidarity from the Killer Coke campaign and a group demanding health care reform.

More importantly, one campus after another has seen the birth of its own Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, and even Brandeis has its own student JVP chapter. NYU’s SJP chapter has created an excellent handbook for other chapters and its own successors to mount campus We Divest campaigns.

Most importantly, the unspoken censorship of criticism of Israeli policies and practices is crumbling under the persistent and well-framed objections of focused students and radical rabbis.

[You can learn more about the campaign at]


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  3. Although an attempt was made to choke one of them, none of the JVP protesters was prosecuted or sued. Muslim student mic-checkers at the University of California at Irvine fared less well. All 10 of them, plus another who led a rally outside the hall, were criminally prosecuted for “conspiring” to disrupt a public meeting — a presentation by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren — and for actually disrupting it, even though the real disruption was caused by the sustained and petulant overreactions by Oren and the audience. They were convicted by an Orange County jury, and their appeal is currently pending.
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  6. “The sale of Caterpillar tractors to Israel was a factor, but not the determining one, in the delisting of the company from an influential index that prioritizes good governance and human rights.” Ron Kampeas, “Israel cited in Caterpillar’s delisting from influential investment index.” JTA (June 22, 2012), at
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  8. The resolution urged the U.S. government to “end all military aid to the region and called on all nations to prohibit any financial support by individuals or organizations for the construction and maintenance of settlements and the import of products made by companies in Israeli settlements on Palestinian land.
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November/December 2012, ATC 161

The Election and What's Ahead

Dianne Feeley & David Finkel

November 15, 2012

WHAT WAS THE 2012 election about – and what did it ultimately show? Many fundamental issues were never even raised – climate change and environmental catastrophe, poverty and inequality, to name a few. On issues that were debated, like the economy and the deficit and the endless and endless chatter about “middle class jobs,” the presidential candidates largely avoided presenting their real positions. On the right of the United States to rule the world, their positions were almost interchangeable.

Among the issues never openly discussed, obviously, was race. But if this election turned out to be about one thing above all, it was race. African Americans came out in massive numbers, fully aware of the vicious voter suppression laws and redistricting that had been put in their way by right-wing state legislatures. In Detroit, where the population is 85% African American, it is estimated that fully 65% of the eligible voters came out to the polls, with 92% voting to re-elect President Obama. In fact, 13% of all Detroit voters cast absentee ballots before Election Day.

It was interesting to see African Americans reminding those who didn’t have an “I voted, have you?” sticker about the need to get to the polls. They did so recognizing how much of the anti-Obama vote was racially fuelled. They understood exactly what Mitt Romney’s notorious statement about “the 47% government dependents” meant – even though, of course, a majority of recipients of government assistance (what remains of it) are white people.

President Obama carried a majority of white votes in only six states – all of them states with small Black populations (and so perhaps where white voters feel less “threatened”). He also won over 70% of the Latino, Arab American and Asian American vote. After this administration actually deported more people than the George W. Bush regime in the previous four years, how bad did the Republicans have to be on immigration to lose the Latino vote so heavily?

Women and youth, with their eyes open, voted disproportionately for Obama. In Missouri and Indiana, facing the hideous Republican Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock (“legitimate rape” and pregnancies from rape as “God’s will”), the female body politic showed indeed “it has ways of shutting that whole thing down.” Even though Mitt Romney turned verbally “toward the center” once he’d won his party’s nomination, women and young people had no trouble seeing him and his running mate Ryan — a Tea Party favorite out to destroy Medicare and Social Security- -as blatant representatives of the 1%. The fact that the President and the Democrats answer to those same interests is unfortunately less obvious to many.

Changing demographics — and certainly in Michigan and Ohio, the auto industry bailout derided by Romney — reelected a president who has presided over a very weak recovery from a massive financial meltdown and economic downturn. Although unemployment and under-employment remain disastrously high, when faced with the prospect of Romney-Ryan the majority chose to stick with a president who preaches a rhetorical populism that lacks substance.

The vote for all independent candidates in 2012 was less than Ralph Nader’s 2008 vote. Despite her admirable activist campaign, Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, received just over 400,000 votes. Dr. Stein and other candidates on the left ran on issues – peace and justice, genuine universal health care, quality education, full employment and real action on climate change – that many millions of people think they’re voting for when they vote Democratic, but the two capitalist parties tragically retain their political stranglehold as “the only choices we have” in most folks’ minds.

The changing demographics and declining power of reactionary social conservatism were revealed even more sharply in many of the 175 state ballot initiatives. For the first time, four states (Maine, Minnesota, Virginia and Washington) voted to eliminate the barriers for same sex marriage. Michigan voters vetoed the Emergency Manager legislation that took over cities and school districts, selling off their assests, cutting wages and benefits while laying off teachers and a whole range of public workers. The states of Washington and Colorado, along with several cities, approved of decriminalizing marijuana for personal use —defying the federal ban.

This first post-Citizens United election was even more awash in money than previous campaigns. With an acknowledged $6 billion poured into the federal races alone, most wonder how much better the money could have been spent. The results were a mixed bag. In California, corporate money was able to convince the electorate to vote against labeling of genetically modified (GMO) food, but in Michigan Matty Moroun, the owner of the Ambassador Bridge, which is the most trafficked crossing between the United States and Canada, spent something like $50 million trying to prevent a second, publicly funded bridge to be built nearby—and his measure went down to defeat.
Following the Indiana legislature’s initiative to make their state a “right to work” state, UAW president Bob King launched a proposal to enshrine collective bargaining in the Michigan constitution. While many questioned labor’s focus on this issue at the same time that the Emergency Manager legislation was about to be placed on the ballot, King responded that if the collective bargaining referendum won, then that would “solve” the issue for state and city workers. He never seems to have pondered what would be the result of a loss.

Last spring union members worked hard to collect the signatures and get the collective bargaining proposal on the ballot. But while the unions spent $22 million campaigning for a yes vote, corporations spent $28 million opposing it. Ultimately the corporate ads and the campaigning of public officials, including the Republican governor, were successful in sending the amendment down to a 3-2 defeat. One wonders what political difference it might make if the unions had spent their money organizing.

It’s most critical to understand that all the fundamental issues remain on the table. The fight over voter suppression has only begun, with a looming Supreme Court decision that might abolish or cripple the Voting Rights Act. The contrived “fiscal cliff” crisis is likely to be the pretext for a “bipartisan bargain” that slashes crucial programs while leaving a bloated Permanent War military budget intact. Meanwhile, our entire civilization is already heading over the all-too-real “climate cliff.”
Unions continue to shrink under corporate and state legislative assaults. There is no strong or sustained economic recovery on the horizon, in the United States or Europe. Asia is not immune either: Japan’s GDP growth turned negative last quarter, and China’s exports, the engine of its economy, have declined. The U.S. -dictated “war on drugs” is destroying Mexico through mass killing, and our own communities through mass incarceration. Public education is being gutted with the spreading cancer of corporate charters. Drone aircraft strikes in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen strike civilian villages and recruit ten more al-Qaeda supporters for every “militant” they kill.

The most important lesson of the 2012 elections is this: Unless powerful social movements and resistance emerge in the next four years, and at least the beginning of a serious political alternative to corporate power, the 2016 election will be incomparably worse and more dangerous.

[For further discussion, see the editorial in the November-December issue of Against the Current, “The Next Four Years.]

Dianne Feeley and David Finkel are Solidarity members in Detroit.

Call to Join in the International Days of Solidarity Against Political Repression in Russia

by the Russian Socialist Movement

November 14, 2012

An appeal from the Russian leftists to their comrades in the struggle:

Today we, the representatives of Russian leftist organizations, turn to our comrades all over the world with an appeal for solidarity. This call and your response to it are very important to us. Right now we are facing not just another instance of dubious sentencing by the Russian “justice” system or another case of a human life broken by the encounter with the state’s repressive apparatus. Today the authorities have launched against us a repressive campaign without precedent in the recent history of Russia, a campaign whose goal it is to extinguish the left as an organized political force. The recent arrests, threats, beatings, aggressive media attacks and moves towards declaring leftist groups illegal all point to the new general strategy on the part of the authorities, much more cruel and much less predictable than that of recent years.

The massive protest movement that began in December 2011 radically changed the atmosphere of political and social passivity established during the Putin years. Tens of thousands of young and middle-aged people, office workers and state employees, began to appear on the streets and to demand change. On December 10th and 24th 2011, and then on February 4th 2012, Moscow, Petersburg and other large cities became the sites of massive rallies, demonstrating a new level of politicization of a significant part of society. The “managed democracy” model crafted by the ruling elite over many years went bankrupt in a matter of days. Political manipulations ceased working in the face of real politics, born from below. The movement, whose demands were initially limited to “honest elections,” quickly grew into a protest against the whole political system.

After the elections of March 4th 2012, at which Vladimir Putin, using a combination of massive administrative pressure on voters, massive falsifications and mendacious populist rhetoric, assured himself of another term, many thought that the potential for protest mobilization had been exhausted. The naïve hopes of the thousands of opposition volunteers, taking on the role of election observers in the hope of putting an end to voter fraud, were crushed.

The next demonstration, in the success of which few believed, was scheduled for the center of Moscow on May 6th, the day before Putin’s inauguration. And on this day, despite the skeptical predictions, more than 60,000 people showed up. When the march approached the square where the rally was to take place, the police organized a massive provocation, blocking the marchers’ path to the square. All those who attempted to circumvent the police cordon were subjected to beatings and arrests. The unprecedented police violence produced resistance on the part of some of the protestors who resisted arrests and refused to leave the square until everyone had been freed. The confrontation on May 6th lasted a few hours. In the end, over 650 people were arrested, some of whom spent the night in jail.

The next day, Putin’s motorized procession headed for his inauguration through an empty Moscow. Along with the protesters, the police had cleared the city of all pedestrians. The new protest movement had demonstrated its power and a new degree of radicalization. The events of May 6th gave rise to the Occupy movement, which brought thousands of young people to the center of Moscow and held strong until the end of May. Leftist groups, until then peripheral to the established liberal spokesman of the protest movement, were progressively playing a larger role.

Those events were a signal to the authorities: the movement had gone beyond what was permitted, elections were over, and it was time to show teeth. Almost immediately, a criminal investigation was launched into the “mass disturbances,” and on May 27th, the first arrest took place. 18-year-old anarchist Alexandra Dukhanina was accused of participating in the disturbances and for the use of violence against the police. The arrests continued over the next few days. The accused were drawn both from the ranks of seasoned political activists (mainly leftists) as well as from ordinary people, for whom the May 6th demonstrations were their first experience of street politics.
So far, nineteen people have been accused of participating in those “disturbances”; twelve of them are in jail in pre-trial confinement. Here are some of their stories:

⁃ Vladimir Akimenkov, 25, communist and activist of the Left Front. Arrested on June 10th, 2012, he will be in detention until March 6th 2013. Vladimir was born with poor eyesight. In jail, it is getting even worse. In the last examination, he had 10% vision in one eye, and 20% in the other. This, however, was not a sufficient cause for the court to replace detention with house arrest. At the last court session of the court, the judge cynically commented that only total blindness would make him reconsider his decision.

⁃ Michael Kosenko, 36, no political affiliation, arrested on June 8th. Kosenko, who suffers from psychological disorders, also asked for his stay in jail be replaced with house arrest. However, the court declared him “dangerous to society” and plans to send him for forced treatment.

⁃ Stepan Zimin, 20, anarchist and antifascist, arrested on June 8th and placed under detention until March 6th 2013, after which date his arrest can be extended. Stepan supports his single mother, yet once again the court did not consider this sufficient cause to set him free under the obligation to remain with city limits.

⁃ Nikolai Kavkazskii, 26, socialist, human rights activist and LGBT-activist. Detained on the 25th of July.

Investigators have no clear evidence proving the guilt of any one of these detainees. Nevertheless, they remain in jail and new suspects steadily join their ranks. Thus the last of the players in the “events of May 6th,” the 51-year-old liberal activist and scholar Sergei Krivov, was arrested quite recently, on October 18th. There is every indication that he will not be the last.

If the arrests of already nearly twenty ordinary demonstration participants were intended to inspire fear in the protest movement, then the hunt for the “organizers of massive disturbances” is meant to strike at its acknowledged leaders. According to the investigation, said “disturbances” were the result of a conspiracy, and all the arrested were receiving special assignments. This shows that we are dealing not only with a series of arrests, but with preparations for a large scale political process against the opposition.

On October 5th, NTV, one of the leading Russian television channels, aired a film in the genre of an “investigative documentary,” which leveled fantastical charges against the opposition and in particular, against the most famous representative of the left, Sergei Udaltsov. This mash-up, made in the tradition of Goebbels’ propaganda, informs of Udaltsov’s ties with foreign intelligence, and the activities of the “Left Front” that he heads are declared plots by foreign enemies of the state. By way of decisive proof, the film includes a recorded meeting between Sergei Udaltsov, Left Front activist Leonid Razvozhaev, Russian Socialist Movement member Konstantin Lebedev, and one of the closer advisors of the president of Georgia, Givi Targamadze. In particular, the conversation includes talk of money delivered by the Georgians for the “destabilization” of Russia.

Sergei Udaltsov, a leader of the Left Front.

Despite the fact that the faces on the recording are practically indiscernible and that the sound is clearly edited and added separately to the video, within just two days the Investigative Committee of the Prosecutor General’s Office (the agency today playing the leading role in organizing repression) used it to launch a criminal case. On October 17th, Konstantin Lebedev was arrested and Sergei Udaltsov released after interrogation, after having signed an oath to remain within the limits of Moscow. On October 19th, a third participant in the new “affair,” Left Front activist Leonid Razvozhaev, tried to petition for refugee status with the Ukrainian delegation of the UN. As soon as he stepped outside of the delegation building, unknown parties violently forced him into a vehicle and illegally transported him across the Ukrainian border onto Russian territory. Once in an undisclosed location in Russia, he was subjected to torture and threats (including regarding the safety of his family) and compelled to sign a “voluntary submission of confession” and “statements of confession.” In these “statements,” Razvozhaev confessed to ties with foreign intelligence and to preparations for an armed insurgency, in which Konstantin Lebedev and Sergei Udaltsov were also involved. Afterwards, Razvozhaev was delivered to Moscow and placed in jail as a criminal defendant. At present, Razvozhaev has asserted in meetings with human rights activists that he disavows these confessions obtained under duress. However, he could not disavow their consequences. “Razvozhaev’s list,” beaten out of him by torture, has become notorious: it contains the names of people who will before long also become objects of persecution.

The scope of repression is spreading steadily. Quite recently the Investigative Committee announced the start of an inquiry into Sergei Udaltsov’s organization, the Left Front, the result of which may well be its prohibition as “extremist.” Pressure against the anti-fascist movement is likewise building. The well-known activists Aleksei Sutug, Aleksei Olesinov, Igor Harchenko, Irina Lipskaya, Alen Volikov have been detained on invented charges and are being held under guard in Moscow. Socialist and anti-fascist Filipp Dolbunov has been forced to undergo interrogation and threats on multiple occasions.

It is hardly accidental that the majority of the victims of this unprecedented wave of repression are involved in the leftist movement. At a threshold moment of preparations for austerity measures in Russia, for curtailment of labor rights and pension reforms, the Putin-Medvedev administration is more afraid than anything of an alliance between the existing general democratic movement and possible social protest. Today’s wave of repressions is the most important test for Russia’s new protest movement: either we hold strong or a new period of mass apathy and fear awaits us. It is precisely for this reason, in the face of unprecedented political pressure, that solidarity of our comrades in struggle in Europe, and in the entire world, is so crucial.

We turn to you with a plea to organize Days of Solidarity Against Political Repression on the 29 of November – 2 of December in front of the Russian Federation embassy or any other representative of the Russian government in your countries, demanding the immediate release of the illegally arrested and the termination of the shameful criminal actions and preparations for new “Moscow trials” based on torture and forgeries. We also ask that you use the most concrete information in your protests and demands, with the specific names and details that we provide in this appeal. This is crucial for every person behind bars today.

Please, send your reports on solidarity action and any other information or questions on this email:

Solidarity is our only weapon!

United, we will never be defeated!

Solidarity received the following statement from members of the Russian Socialist Movement, Autonomous Action, and the Left Front.

Statement on Hurricane Sandy and the Climate Crisis

from the Solidarity Ecosocialist Commission

November 7, 2012

The superstorm was a catastrophe waiting to happen in the era of global warming. Rather than an ordinary late-season hurricane, Sandy became a monster fuelled by the heated waters of the Atlantic. It smashed through the Caribbean, causing massive damage and dozens of deaths both in Cuba (which is generally well-prepared for such disasters) and Haiti (which isn’t). But destruction in the global South is all too quickly forgotten, and would have been in this case if not for what happened next.

As the storm, now 800 miles in diameter, moved up the U.S. Atlantic seaboard, Sandy encountered another meteorological phenomenon that will become more frequent as the Arctic warms up – a southward deflection of the jet stream, creating a “blocking” high-pressure zone that prevented the storm from turning northeast and blowing itself out in the ocean. Instead it hung a left at Atlantic City, and we all know the rest.

In fact, even as it pulverized New Jersey and New York City, the superstorm combined with an eastward-moving cold front, causing violent weather and a freak blizzard dumping two feet of snow at elevations in West Virginia – but perhaps if anything mitigating the full coastal impact. What the impact might have been in New York and New Jersey of Category 2 or 3 hurricane winds, rather than Category 1, we can only guess – until, perhaps, the next time.

What is that “next time”? Unknown, obviously – but as a natural disaster in the climate framework of 10,000 or so years of human civilization, a storm of this magnitude might be expected to hit every few centuries at most, and it wouldn’t have hit densely populated coastlines with the natural defenses (marshes, dunes and the like) filled in or paved over. It’s different now: We may see events of this scale every few years, of course with no way of knowing where or when the next one might hit. This catastrophe is only one manifestation of a global disaster. In countries like Bangladesh and many south Asian nations, displacement of the monsoon rains have brought both mammoth flooding and severe drought. Australia has suffered epidemics of flood, drought and wildfire. The list is endless.
Like Katrina, like the Midwestern drought, like waves of forest fire in the U.S. west, Sandy is an event that brings our society face to face with its real condition – but only if we are willing and able to look. It is all the more unbelievable – or in another way, all too predictable – that no questions about human-induced climate change were even asked, much less addressed, by the capitalist parties’ presidential candidates in the just-concluded election.

For their part, energy companies and a string of politicians have attempted to divert us from the pressing problem of climate change. They talk about “North American independence” from “foreign” oil with their sales claims about the tar sands, natural gas, fracking and other methods of extracting fossil fuels.

The most fundamental questions can only be addressed in an entirely new way, from below. Beyond the immediate and overwhelming problems of bringing emergency housing, heat, food and fuel to devastated communities in Staten Island and Far Rockaway– and other places that remained in desperate crisis while power was restored in the financial district – are profound questions of where, how and even whether to “rebuild.”

As one Solidarity comrade in Brooklyn suggests: “Yes, whether you had power or not, whether your home caught fire from severed power lines, whether your home, or your car, or you, were struck by a falling tree, were all a matter of luck. The intense flooding of Zone A, however, was inevitable — if not in this storm then in the next one. That’s why NYC has had evacuation plans in place for decades in the event a hurricane strikes this part of the world.”

“The construction of major towns, like Long Beach, on barrier islands, the intensive development of shorelines — in particular the building of homes in flood zones — is a human-made disaster, fueled by greed and by human hubris, a sense that somehow we have the right to dominate nature (as if we could, actually, dominate nature). It was never a matter of if, only a matter of when. It would be better to make a collective social decision that these kinds of lands are better left undeveloped, for collective recreational use or as wildlife refuges, also to serve as a natural barrier against storms such as this in the future.”

Yes, experts in climate science, alternative technologies and coastal defense are absolutely necessary, but above all the expertise of the experts needs to be at the service of democratic mass institutions of working people and communities at risk. Otherwise, human civilization will go over the “climate cliff” while giant corporations are still figuring out how to mine the ice-free Arctic, expand the tar sands, blow away mountain ranges for coal and shale oil, and extract ever more natural gas with fracking.

Capitalism cannot halt its march to destruction. Even if some of the “one percent” do get it, like NY Mayor Bloomberg when he repudiated Mitt Romney, that doesn’t change the reality. An energy industry in private hands, operating for maximum corporate profit, has become a formula for collective suicide. Breaking that power is the beginning of hope – and a profound transformation of popular consciousness is the first step toward making that possible.

To help promote that process both in our communities and in the socialist movement, members of Solidarity have organized an Eco-socialism Working Group. Our goal – not by ourselves of course, but as part of the growing movement for environmental sanity – is to show why the struggle for socialism and to avoid climate catastrophe is one inseparable whole. It requires — although it’s not limited to — dismantling the arms industry, ending environmental racism, replacing capitalist profit with production for real human need, and a substantial transformation of how we live and work, in ways that only a fundamentally democratic and fully participatory society can hope to achieve. None of this can be achieved overnight, but there really isn’t time to waste.

VIDEO: Jill Stein, Green Party Presidential Candidate, Speaking in Tennessee

by Middle Tennessee Solidarity

November 5, 2012

The Middle Tennessee branch of Solidarity recently sponsored a presentation by Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate for President. She spoke at Middle Tennessee State University.

Stein and her running mate, Cheri Honkala, are running on a “Green New Deal” platform, which calls for a federal work program to address the on-going jobs crisis and to begin the transition to a more sustainable economy. For more perspectives on the 2012 elections and the Green Party, check out Solidarity’s statement on the elections and a report on the Green Party presidential campaign featured in Against the Current.

If you’d like to jump ahead to the main presentation, Stein begins speaking a 6:10.

Initial Observations on the Recovery Effort in NYC

by Kit Wainer

November 5, 2012

Here is the first of several dispatches from activists in New York, describing the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy as well as the political issues around aid and recovery.

As I begin writing this on November 2, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is speaking in Staten Island. She is rattling off statistics on how much water the federal government is delivering and reminding residents of the island borough of FEMA’s phone number and URL. CNN only seemed to discover the massive death toll, flooding, and destruction in Staten Island 3-4 days after Hurricane Sandy hit the east coast. Staten Island residents, like many outer borough New Yorkers, are starting to recognize the extent to which we are being ignored despite the daily press conferences and repeated shows of politicians thanking and congratulating each other.

How the hurricane affected you depended largely on dumb luck: which neighborhood or which block you lived on. My street in Park Slope, Brooklyn was largely unaffected. Three blocks to the east, trees had fallen on cars. Three blocks to the west was “Zone A,” an area subject to mandatory evacuation. A graduate of the school where I teach was killed last Monday when a tree fell on him. A teacher from my school who lives a block from where the incident happened reported noticing nothing more than a few hours of wind.

As a teacher, I was home Monday through Thursday and had little reason to venture more than a few blocks from my house. Despite the massive news blitz, it is difficult to get concrete information. So many people have no power and cell service is significantly reduced. L., a teacher from my school, lives in Breezy Point, Queens–the Rockaway neighborhood that has become nationally famous for the fire that just wiped out at least 80 homes. After a few days of posting queries on Facebook, I learned that she is fine but her house will be uninhabitable for two to six months. S. and J., two other retirees from my school, live in the Rockaway Park neighborhood where, according to rumors, a fire (or perhaps just flooding?) has wiped out even more homes. Today we got two texts–one said S.’s home was burned down and the other said it was flooded. Nobody knows for sure and no one can contact either of them. Are the stories of the fire true or are people confusing Rockaway Park with Breezy Point, two Irish and Italian working class neighborhoods known for their ethnic identities and racial exclusivity?

Burned-out homes in the Breezy Point section of the Queens after the fire of October 30, 2012. Photo: Mike Groll, AP

On Wednesday, the mayor announced that schools would be closed for students for the remainder of the week but that teachers would report back on Friday. I picked up two colleagues and drove to work this morning. My school is in the Manhattan Beach neighborhood of Brooklyn, part of a string of “Zone A” communities along the coast. Miraculously, the school was untouched–but the streets leading to it were another story. Leaving my house to pick up one teacher near the Barclay Center, the multibillion dollar sports complex which drew the NJ Nets and destroyed the downtown Brooklyn neighborhood a few years ago, I noticed clean streets patrolled by an army of police maintaining steady traffic flows. As we moved south along Ocean Parkway, the story gradually changed. First, there were large trees leaning on houses and smashed cars. Yellow tape but no police, no construction crews, nobody removing the trees. Getting to school required several detours to avoid downed trees. The available streets were mud-covered and occupied by cars oriented in all directions, having been moved by water or wind. No working traffic lights. Cars and pedestrians competed for position in every intersection. Oriental Boulevard runs parallel to the water and leads to my school. No electricity along Oriental, just piles of garbage, discarded mattresses, and furniture. No police, no repair crews, no evidence of any recovery or even cleanup effort.

Ocean Parkway residents wait for limited bus service on October 31. Photo: TWU Local 100

At work, the Department of Education provided no plan for what we were supposed to do in a school without students. The principal began the day distributing information on those staff members who could not make it to work. No injuries were reported, but several homes were destroyed. He then distributed spreadsheets with contact information for the 1000 students, roughly half of whom live in “Zone A.” The city provided no instructions about how the school might assist them, or how we would conduct classes on Monday if, as rumored, at least one other school is relocated into our building to avoid the flood. Several faculty members took their own initiative to begin modest relief efforts. After calling students, a few teachers began packing up food and bottled water to bring to the homes of students who reported having none. Other teachers began coordinating donations to the Rockaways. Teachers who had volunteered in southern Brooklyn and the Rockaways complained that the Mayor is only interested in Manhattan. “He doesn’t care about the worker bees.”

Also demoralizing to some was the looting. One teacher, who is now housing a few families, reported volunteering in Rockaway under National Guard protection against looters. As angry as she was about the looting, she also complained, “Why are there no National Guard units rebuilding Breezy?” I asked several teachers who had assisted friends and family in affected areas if they perceived looters to be hungry people looking for food or criminals taking advantage of a collapse in city administration. “Both,” they replied. Some reported seeing people looking through closed stores for food and others saw people scouting Best Buy.

But, like so many things since the storm hit, it is mostly rumor. It is difficult to know what is happening. I can’t tell what is really happening in Manhattan, which is still dark south of 39th Street. Perhaps residents there are being ignored also.

Teachers who live in less affected neighborhoods are more likely to express anger at politicians still unwilling to deal with global warming. Teachers who can’t return to their homes, or who are helping family members whose lives have been turned upside down, can’t think that big. They’re just angry that the Mayor gets to project a commanding image at daily press conferences while city government in their neighborhoods seems to have disappeared. Whatever the case may be, it’s becoming clear to many here that the policies favoring corporations–from those preventing action against climate change to those that prioritize the needs of the rich over those of working class communities–are as much a culprit in the destruction and continuing problems as the storm itself.

Kit Wainer is a teacher and activist in New York City. He is also a member of Solidarity.

VIDEO: Charlie Post on "The Rise of the Right" and "The American Road to Capitalism"

by Middle Tennessee Solidarity

On September 25th & 26th, Middle Tennessee Solidarity sponsored two events featuring Charlie Post, author of the recently published, The American Road to Capitalism. The first presentation focuses on the resurgence of the far-right, particularly in the United States. The second talk addresses many of the themes in Charlie’s book.

Charles Post, Ph.D., is a professor of Sociology at Borough of Manhattan Community College-City University of New York. His work includes political sociology, analysis of the capitalist economic system (particularly the current crisis), and a variety of other issues. He is also a member of Solidarity.

The Rise of the Right

The American Road to Capitalism

Statement from OKDE in Greece: "Organize - Occupy - Towards an Unlimited General Strike!"

Solidarity received the following statement from comrades of OKDE, the Greek section of the Fourth International. This flyer was distributed on October 9, the day of Angela Merkel’s visit to Athens.

After 6 months of uproar against the government of the banker Papadimos, and following two consecutive elections in which the memoranda policies were spectacularly rejected, it seems nothing has change, except the audacity of the “Hrissi Avyi” (“Golden Dawn” – GD) fascists to kill immigrants and attack left-wing activists. The same disastrous downward spiral, the same terror, the same banal references to “hours of responsibility” and “critical decisions” while workers’ lives are destroyed, the same slashing of wages, pensions and workers’ rights, mounting unemployment, insecurity and despair, and the spread of the neo-Nazis who profit from the social misery and capitalist barbarism!

There is no doubt that Samaras, New Democracy (the ruling right-wing bourgeois party), and their coalition partners, the now toothless PASOK of Venizelos, and the “left” crutch DIMAR under Kouvelis, have been telling blatant lies to the Greek people. There is no doubt that they have been sowing the seeds of racism, using fascist demagogy and encouraging the formation of the new SA battalions (fighting units of the German Nazi party before 1933) of Michaloliakos and Kassidiaris (GD leaders) in order to distract attention from their own criminal policies. They claim that their “moderate and reasonable line” of re-negotiation of the memorandum might appease the creditors and thus avoid the worst scenario of an uncontrolled bankruptcy and the exit of the country from the euro-zone. Very soon, these tales will no longer persuade anybody. Then the ruling class will fall back on the GD fascists and give them the green light to annihilate the workers’ movement.

It is clear that ND, PASOK and DIMAR will remain the guarantors of the memoranda policies, until we give them the boot. They do not lack “political stature” or the ability to find better policies. Essentially they represent the pressing need of big business to destroy the social gains of the working class to save the euro and to fulfill the “international obligations” towards the creditors and interest profiteers of the troika. They are utterly loyal to the “national cause” of the Greek ruling class and are quite aware they are “replaceable” if necessary. The Greek bourgeoisie wants to remain in the euro club and to have at its disposal a broken, impoverished, starving and racially divided working class.

According to recent media leaks, the Prime Minister wanted to “take all necessary measures”, even at the cost of his own downfall. He does not care about the “verdict of the people”, or his campaign promises, or about the anger and despair of millions of people who suffer from deepening poverty and unemployment. The three-party coalition installed by the bankers, creditors and the owners of the television channels, to secure the interests of the Greek ruling class, continue their wretched policies. The burden of system failure is to be paid by the millions of working people, women, youths and immigrants. The vast majority of the population, who did not cause the debt, will now pay for the usury, and are thus the prime victims of the cannibalistic capitalist crisis.

The rulers think they can escape social rebellion and the danger of a general uprising, by directing the anger and hatred of the poor onto the poorest, onto the most vulnerable, and towards those who never had rights. Thus they open the floodgates to the murderous hordes of fascists, the vilest instruments of the bosses, to suppress any workers’ and social resistance. They spread the ideological fog of nationalism, macho behavior, and stupidity – in a society that has never stopped resisting the corporate agenda.

It is high time to draw the lessons from the painful experiences of recent years: It is not enough to say that we are against the Memoranda. Samaras was a liar and demagogue under the “anti-Memorandum” flag. Today, he abandons everything and is proud of taking anti-labor measures that surpass every crime committed by the Papandreou and Papadimos governments. Kouvelis (DIMAR) was supposedly against the memoranda and became later the “anti-memorandum” component of the government. Today he supports the barbaric horizontal cuts in salaries and pensions, the raising of the retirement age, as well as the rapid privatization of public enterprises.

The SYRIZA leadership also claims to be able to stop the Memoranda policies, while keeping Greece in the euro-zone. But if there is no alternative, submission to the will of Rompuy, Merkel, Barroso and Hollande (another so-called socialist and “friend of Greece” who has accepted the European fiscal pact and has inaugurated austerity measures in France) cannot be excluded. This shows that if you respect the rules of the rich and powerful, you are doomed to adopt their policies.

It is impossible to put an end to the memoranda policies and to the “measures – packets” imposed every 6 months, or to end the brutality of the loan conditions, if we do not oppose the fundamental dogmas of the ruling class, and especially repudiate the “bankruptcy” threat and the insistence on staying in the euro-zone. We shall not be able to free ourselves from the terror of the markets if we do not oppose the functioning of the market in Greece. We shall not get rid of the memoranda without targeting capitalism per se. And none of this will be achieved without trampling the fascist snake and cutting off its head.

If we do not want our living conditions eroded daily, if we do not want to be reduced to standing in long lines to receive lower and lower unemployment benefits, if we do not want to leave the country as immigrants because the “boat is full” of unemployed, poor and “dangerous elements”, as the mass media demagogues and fascists claim, we need to tackle the root of the problem. Our rulers must finally be forced, through a massive social uprising, to make their emergency departure by helicopter. We need to reject the slogans of the “ready solution of a new government” and the priority “of solidarity, and not of the struggles”, and the “responsible parliamentary opposition”. It makes no sense to sink so low as to beg the troika to grant Greece the “same terms as Spain and Italy.”

For a political general strike!

The former governments were not chased away by elections. The present government will not be replaced by the hope for the next “anti-memorandum savior” who will eventually implement the Memoranda policies. The strikes in the municipalities, hospitals, and public transport should be generalized. The strikes and mass demonstrations of 26 September were a beginning. The mobilization of the workers in the communities and at the electricity company DEI, as well as the heroic invasion by the unpaid Skaramangas shipyard workers into the Defense Ministry, which humiliated the state, showed the next stage. The vindictiveness of the government and the courts, but also the barking of GD, and the dissociation of the “responsible” SYRIZA regarding such “extreme” actions of the demonstrators, were the result. But today there must be another outbreak, not a simple mobilization to polish the image of reformism, but the organization of a systematic strike struggle that must be coordinated nationwide by the rank and file membership of the unions.

Workers’ control – self-organization in every workplace and in the neighborhoods!

We must challenge the control of the economy by the capitalists and their political staff. The public enterprises and services, and the big corporations need to be controlled by the workers and their assemblies. The pioneering example of the “Dodona” and VIOMET (enterprises under self-management of the workers) should become the rule. Hold meetings in all districts to forge solidarity and to coordinate the fight. Launch anti-fascist committees in every city and district in order to isolate the fascist GD gang.

Down with the Samaras government! For a Workers’ Government!

We need a government that is accountable to the workers and able to break with the system, to reject the debt and interest charges, to free society from the parasitism of the banks through their nationalization without compensation, and to nationalize the strategic sectors of economy and trade. This government has to be accountable to the democratic councils we can ourselves build in the plants, offices and in the service sector. Nothing has ever been, or ever will be produced without us. The only solution will be provided by the workers, farmers, women and youths, seniors and immigrants — that is, by all of us together.

OKDE – Spartakos, Greek section of the Fourth International, 09/10/2012