Tag Archives: poverty

Defend the Greek workers! Oppose the diktat of Schäuble and Merkel!

By Partei für Soziale Gleichheit
July 14, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The Partei für Soziale Gleichheit (PSG—Socialist Equality Party) denounces the agreement forced on Greece by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble at Sunday’s euro group summit. We call upon workers in Germany and throughout Europe to declare their solidarity with the workers in Greece and organize mass resistance to the policies of the German government.

The new austerity demands, to which the government of Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras capitulated on Monday morning, go far beyond the measures the Greek population rejected, by a large majority, in the referendum held just one week before. For millions of Greeks, the implementation of these measures means poverty, unemployment, disease and even death. Greece will be transformed into a de facto protectorate of Germany and the most powerful European financial interests.

The troika (European Union, European Central Bank and International Monetary Fund) is returning to Athens and will dictate government policy. The role of parliament is to be reduced to rubber-stamping austerity measures and signing off on automatic budget cuts. State property valued at €50 billion will be transferred to a fund, to be sold off to the highest bidder, modeled on the Treuhandanstalt, set up in 1990 to liquidate state property in East Germany.

The agreement amounts to a carte blanche for the ruthless exploitation and plundering of the Greek working class.

Even establishment commentators could not overlook the agreement’s undemocratic character. In the Financial Times, Wolfgang Münchau accused Greece’s creditors of reverting to “the nationalist European power struggles of the 19th and early 20th century” and transforming the euro zone into a system “run in the interests of Germany” and “held together by the threat of absolute destitution for those who challenge the prevailing order.”

Paul Krugman in the New York Times accused the euro group of “pure vindictiveness, complete destruction of national sovereignty, and no hope of relief.”

The brutal actions of Schäuble and Merkel recall the darkest chapter in German history. Less than seventy-five years have passed since Hitler’s Wehrmacht occupied Greece, established a brutal regime of terror, and ruthlessly plundered the country. The imposition of high occupation costs, the export of virtually all of Greece’s industrial goods, and the theft of machinery and vehicles led to a famine that took the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

The Wehrmacht responded to resistance from partisan fighters by massacring the inhabitants of numerous villages, including Distomo, Lingiades and Kommeno. At least 30,000 civilians fell victim to these reprisals. Eight thousand Jews were deported and murdered, and the Jewish community in Thessaloniki, one of the world’s oldest, was completely wiped out. None of the victims were ever compensated, and virtually none of the perpetrators were punished.

Schäuble and Merkel are now walking in the footsteps of their predecessors. The German ruling class is spewing forth all the undigested filth of the past. Their arrogance suggests that they see themselves, once again, as Europe’s master race.

The politicians are supported by a spineless press, for which no cliché or prejudice is too cheap to be hurled at the Greek people. The media spread propaganda and do everything in their power to confuse and mislead the public.

The government also relies on historians such as Jörg Baberowski of Humboldt University, who falsifies history to trivialise German crimes in World War II. It is backed by economists, who declare the impoverishment of the Greek working class a historical necessity, and political scientists, such as Herfried Münkler, who formulates the political arguments for German hegemony in Europe.

All of the parties represented in the German parliament support the government. The Social Democratic (SPD) chairman Sigmar Gabriel has led the way, seeking to outdo Schäuble and Merkel from the right.

They are all convinced that history has been forgotten. But they are deceiving themselves. The working class of Greece, Germany and Europe cannot and will not allow them to repeat Germany’s historic crimes.

The German government is pursuing two goals in its aggressive actions in Greece. It intends to set an example to intimidate all resistance to its austerity course in Europe and Germany. And it seeks to strengthen its hegemonic domination of Europe.

By the time of the 2008 financial crisis, the government had decided that Germany could no longer maintain its dominance through compromises and financial assistance. Germany had to become, in the words of Münkler, Europe’s “taskmaster,” instead of its “paymaster.” Early last year, leading government officials demanded that Germany play a role in Europe and the world that corresponded to its actual influence.

This new great power politics was first tested out in Ukraine, where the German government backed the pro-Western coup that has driven the country to civil war and brought NATO to the brink of a military confrontation with nuclear-armed Russia. These same policies are being continued in what amounts to a civilian coup in Athens.

The face of the European Union has been transformed in the process. It is becoming ever more obvious that the EU is not a mechanism for the peaceful coexistence of Europe’s peoples, but rather an instrument for the predominance of the most powerful imperialist powers and the ruthless exploitation of the working class. Masses of people now view the EU with a mixture of disgust and hatred.

The more openly Germany uses the EU to attain the position of a world power, the more intense the national conflicts within Europe become—above all between Germany and France. Prior to Sunday’s summit there were sharp exchanges between Berlin and Paris, which, due to domestic political considerations, was favoring a more conciliatory course towards Greece. The French government eventually submitted to Germany’s dictates because it fears the threat from its own working class much more than it fears German hegemony. These tensions, however, will flare up again, as will the developing conflict between the US and Germany over who will control Europe.

It is the task of the working class in Germany and throughout Europe to oppose these dangerous actions, which threaten to plunge the working class into desperate poverty, and the continent, once again, into war and dictatorship. To this end, it is vital to draw the lessons of the events in Greece and the role played by Syriza.

It is hard to find a parallel in history to the cowardly and shameful betrayal carried out in the past few days by Tsipras and his government. Elected in January on the basis of a promise to end austerity, Tspiras’ party made one concession after another to Berlin and Brussels.

Finally, it organized a referendum, hoping that a majority would favour the EU-backed austerity measures. Confronted, instead, with an overwhelming majority against austerity, it capitulated completely to the German diktat within a week. Even a right-wing bourgeois government would not have gone so far.

This surrender confirms the PSG’s assessment that Syriza is not a left, and certainly not a socialist, party, but rather a pseudo-left organization representing wealthy, selfish middle class layers primarily concerned with their own well-being. They have nothing but contempt for the working class, which they fear. Their capitulation is grist for the mill of far-right extremists such as Golden Dawn, which, from a reactionary, nationalist standpoint, poses as a more determined opponent of the dictates of Brussels and Berlin than does the supposedly “left” Syriza.

What is true for Syriza also applies, as well, to its international co-thinkers, including the Left Party in Germany and Podemos in Spain.

The Left Party bears immense responsibility for the fate of Greece. In February, it voted for the “aid program” for Greece, including the austerity measures attached to it. Occasionally it criticizes the policies of the German government, in order to maintain a shred of credibility, but it has done absolutely nothing to support the Greek workers.

It has refused to organize a single demonstration in their defense. If the Left Party assumes power in Berlin, it will pursue the same course as Syriza. This has already been proven by its record in power at the state level.

The Left Party works closely with the trade unions, which have sought to aid the German government by shutting down and selling out strikes by train drivers, postal and daycare workers, hospital employees and other professionals.

The working class of Germany must rise to the defense of its class brothers and sisters in Greece. The PSG calls upon all workers involved in social struggles, all young people and the entire working population: Support the Greek workers! Organize solidarity strikes against the dictates of Schäuble and Merkel! Break with the Left Party and the SPD and organize independently!

The fundamental question is the necessity of building a revolutionary leadership—in Greece, Germany and throughout the European continent. Join the PSG, the German section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, and build sections of the ICFI all over Europe that will fight for the unity of the European working class and the establishment of the United Socialist States of Europe!

 

 

Pew report: 84 percent of world population subsists on under $20 per day

By Andre Damon
July 11, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Despite significant advances in communications, agriculture and bio-technology over the past 15 years, the overwhelming majority of the world population continues to live in economic privation, according to a report on global incomes published this week by the Pew Research Center.

The report, entitled “A Global Middle Class is More Promise than Reality,” classifies 71 percent of the world population as either poor or low-income, subsisting on less than $10 per day. The report concludes that 84 percent lives on less than $20 per day, or $7,300 per year, an income level associated with “deep poverty” in developed countries.

Only seven percent of the world population lives on what the report calls a “high” income level of more than $50 per day, or $18,000 per year. The great majority of these people live in Europe or America.

In the years following the turn of the millennium, and especially before the 2008 financial crash, the supposed emergence of a new “global middle class,” particularly in developing countries, was touted by the political establishment as proof that the capitalist system was capable of bringing economic prosperity to people living in poverty in Asia, Latin America and Africa.

The Pew report pours cold water on such claims. “The global middle class is smaller than we think, it is less well off than we think, and it is more regionally concentrated than we think,” Rakesh Kochhar, the study’s lead author, told the Financial Times .

The report finds that even countries that “sharply” reduced the worst forms of poverty “experienced little change in the share of middle-income populations.” While the report notes that there has been a reduction in the number of people living on less than $2 per day, it points out that those who have ascended from the lowest depths have for the most part landed in the “low-income” category of $2-10 per day—a level that would classify them as living in extreme poverty by US standards.

The report uses the latest purchasing power parity data to analyze and compare the distribution of incomes throughout the world. It covers 111 countries, which account for 88 percent of the world’s population, and spans the years 2001 through 2011.

Over that period, the share of the world’s population classified as “upper-middle income,” making between $20 and $50 per day, grew from 7 percent to 9 percent. This was significantly less than the growth of the share of the population making between $10 and $20 per day, which increased from 7 percent to 13 percent between 2001 and 2011.

The great majority of the increase in “middle income” people occurred in China and other high-growth countries in the Pacific whose economies have rapidly expanded over this period.

The report notes, “Home to more than 1.3 billion people, or nearly 20 percent of the world’s population, China alone accounted for more than one in two additions to the global middle-income population from 2001 to 2011.”

The story was much different for other “developing” countries, with next to no increase in the number of “middle income” earners in Africa, India, Central America and Southeast Asia.

The report states, “In contrast to China, most other Asian countries had relatively little growth in their middle classes. India is a case in point. Although the poverty rate in India fell from 35 percent in 2001 to 20 percent in 2011, the share of the Indian population that could be considered middle income increased from 1 percent to just 3 percent. Instead of a burgeoning middle class, India’s ranks of low-income earners swelled.”

Africa fared little better. The report notes that on that continent “most of the movement was from poverty to low-income status.” It says: “Ethiopia, for example, experienced a decline of 27 percentage points in the share of people who could be considered poor. This translated into an increase of 26 percentage points in the country’s share of low-income earners and only a 1-point increase in middle-income earners.”

Similarly, “In Nigeria, one of the region’s most dynamic economies, the share of the poor fell 18 percentage points from 2001 to 2011, resulting in a 17 percentage point increase in low-income earners and just a 1-point boost in the share of the population that could be considered middle income.”

Despite the significant social and economic changes that have taken place since 2001, the great majority of high-income people continued to reside in the developed countries in North America and Europe. In 2011, 87 percent of “high-income” people—those subsisting on at least $50 per day, or $18,250 per year—lived in these countries.

Despite modest improvements in living standards in some parts of the world, incomes dropped in the United States. As the report states, “The US economy stumbled through the decade from 2001 to 2011, growing at less than 1 percent annually on average. Even these slight gains did not make their way to American families, whose median income actually decreased from 2001 to 2011.”

Amid falling incomes in the United States and continued mass poverty in the rest of the world, the wealth of the global financial oligarchy has continued to soar. Last year, the wealth of the world’s billionaires hit $7 trillion, having more than doubled in the time covered in the Pew report. The astronomical enrichment of this social layer is inseparable from the impoverishment of the world’s workers.

The statistics presented in the Pew report underscore the basic fact that the capitalist system has proven incapable of providing a decent standard of living for the vast majority of the world’s people.

US criminal economics: TPP secret treaty = ‘constitutional republic,’ debt = ‘money’, 500 million+ dead from poverty = ‘necessary.’ Had enough to demand arrests?

By Carl Herman
June 23, 2015
Washington’s Blog

 

Obama evilhat tip: Ellen Brown, Web of Debt Blog

“Psychopaths are unable to form emotional attachments or feel real empathy with others, although they often have disarming or even charming personalities. Psychopaths are very manipulative and can easily gain people’s trust. They learn to mimic emotions, despite their inability to actually feel them, and will appear normal to unsuspecting people… When committing crimes, psychopaths carefully plan out every detail in advance and often have contingency plans in place. Unlike their sociopathic counterparts, psychopathic criminals are cool, calm, and meticulous.” – Psychology Today

The .01% psychopathic oligarch “leaders” (and here) in US government, banking/finance, and corporate media wage war upon the 99.99% in ~100 crucial areas. Aside from lie-began overt unlawful military Wars of Aggression connected to economic domination with the US starting over 200 such armed attacks since WW2 and war-murdering ~30 million people (with these crimes “covered” by corporate media, let’s consider three central economic policies:

Attempting to pass TPP (so-called, “Trans-Pacific Partnership”) to remain a classified “secret treaty” for four years if passed, and without the US Constitutional requirement of 2/3 Senate approval. This is clear to anyone with a high school US government class as illegal and the Orwellian opposite of limited government under a representative constitutional republic. This is unlimited government with “rules” dictated as they go.
Claiming that US escalating total debt is a “money” supply, despite the fact that creating what we use as money as debt is the same as adding negative numbers forever, and clear to anyone with a middle school mathematics education that such mechanics can only increase the total debt and interest totals forever. This “debt supply” guarantees increasing and unpayable debt to the big banks who create the debt out of nothing, and is fundamental fraud with harm in annual trillions of dollars to claim debt rather than debt-free money is “good for us” (full documentation). Government leaders have legal fiduciary responsibility to best represent the American public.
Claiming that ~ one million children dying every month in gruesomely slow and painful deaths from poverty is an economic necessity because we don’t have “enough money,” despite the facts that money is paper, the investment is less than 1% of income (which developed nations continuously promise and then fail to deliver), this reduces population growth rates in every historical case, and the CIA claims this is the best way to end global terrorism. The total number of deaths from preventable poverty since just 1975 is ~500 million; more than all deaths from all wars and acts of violence in all recorded human history (full documentation of all poverty claims). These are Crimes against Humanity for the systemic mass-murders of millions while supporting policies such as TPP as a “race to the bottom” to further animalize human labor.

The above three bullet points summarize, with the links providing complete and professional documentation. Those of us working for reforms are unaware of even any attempts to refute our factual claims; our experience is as attributed to Gandhi:

“First they ignore you.

Then they laugh at you.

Then they fight you.

And then you win.”

Explaining Gandhi’s statement of unchallenged facts, MIT’s Simon Johnson (and former Chief Economist of the International Monetary Fund) describes our big banks being led by gambling oligarchs who have captured government as in “banana republics” (his words). He concludes fraud is the heart of Wall Street. His immediate best-selling book, 13 Bankers: The Wall Street takeover and the next financial meltdown, was discussed with President Johnson’s Press Secretary and journalist with over 30 Emmy Awards, Bill Moyers, to explain the US banking system, loss of trillions of American taxpayer dollars to oligarchs’ manipulation as a matter of definitive fact, the looting of America being protected by partners with political muscle, and all rational consideration of the facts proving massive financial crimes:

SIMON JOHNSON: The American democracy was not given to us on a platter. It is not ours for all time, irrespective of our efforts. Either people organize and they find political leadership to take this on, or we are going to be in big trouble, okay?… That’s absolutely the heart of the problem. I would also say and tell you, and emphasize, these people will not come out and debate with us. The heads of these companies or their representatives, they will not come out. They’re afraid. They don’t have the substance. They don’t have the arguments. We have the evidence. They have the lobbyists. And that’s all they have.

BILL MOYERS: They’ve got the power, the muscle, the money.

SIMON JOHNSON: They have money.

BILL MOYERS: You just have the arguments. You just have the facts. On your side.

SIMON JOHNSON: Absolutely. That’s exactly what it comes down to.

The punchline of these .01% crimes is to ask you:

Are you demanding arrests of .01% criminal leaders for obvious crimes annually killing millions, harming billions, and looting trillions?

You can also rely upon your basic history education from middle and high school to remind you that such crimes are usual on Earth, from the Roman Empire to US treaty-violations to steal land in “expansions” for “self-defense.”

Let’s look at the reasoning to support a “yes” or “no” answer for demanding lawful arrests (arrests would be to stop apparently obvious crimes; more on refusing orders for obvious crimes).

Yes, I’m demanding arrests: Confirming the facts about this article’s three topics, and/or the ~100 other crucial areas of lies and crimes, along with consideration that the .01% propaganda you hear from “leaders” and corporate media are exactly the non-responses described by Gandhi and Simon Johnson, your demand for arrests of obvious .01% “leaders” is simple responsible citizenship to stop what any prudent observer would conclude are obvious crimes. This is exactly the response the US Founding Generation demanded of Americans in order to keep a constitutional republic.

“It is jealousy and not confidence which prescribes limited constitutions, to bind down those whom we are obliged to trust with power… Our Constitution has accordingly fixed the limits to which, and no further, our confidence may go… In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” – Thomas Jefferson, Draft Kentucky Resolution (1798. ME 17:388)

No, I’m not demanding arrests: My questions to you:

Explain to us how this article’s three topics are lawful, including the US ongoing Wars of Aggression.
If you conclude these are crimes, explain how failure to demand lawful arrests to stop these crimes is responsible citizenship.

Really, if you’re not demanding arrests and have answers to the above two questions, please respond at this article at Washington’s Blog. Those of us working for reforms have yet to find reasonable explanation that US policies centering in war and what is used for money are lawful.

**

Note: I make all factual assertions as a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History, with all economics factual claims receiving zero refutation since I began writing in 2008 among Advanced Placement Macroeconomics teachers on our discussion board, public audiences of these articles, and international conferences. I invite readers to empower their civic voices with the strongest comprehensive facts most important to building a brighter future. I challenge professionals, academics, and citizens to add their voices for the benefit of all Earth’s inhabitants.

**

Carl Herman is a National Board Certified Teacher of US Government, Economics, and History; also credentialed in Mathematics. He worked with both US political parties over 18 years and two UN Summits with the citizen’s lobby, RESULTS, for US domestic and foreign policy to end poverty. He can be reached at Carl_Herman@post.harvard.edu

Note: Examiner.com has blocked public access to my articles on their site (and from other whistleblowers), so some links in my previous work are blocked. If you’d like to search for those articles other sites may have republished, use words from the article title within the blocked link. Or, go to http://archive.org/web/, paste the expired link into the box, click “Browse history,” then click onto the screenshots of that page for each time it was screen-shot and uploaded to webarchive. I’ll update as “hobby time” allows; including my earliest work from 2009 to 2011 (blocked author pages: here, here).

Global economic impact of violence reached $14.3 trillion in 2014

By Evan Blake
June 23, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

War is hellThe economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2014 measured a staggering $14.3 trillion, or 13.4 percent of world gross domestic product (GDP), equivalent to the combined economic output of Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom.

This represents a spending increase of $1.9 trillion, or 15.3 percent, since 2008, according to the annual Global Peace Index (GPI) report, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think tank. The report defines the economic impact of violence as the “flow on effects on the world economy and the opportunity cost due to the misallocation of resources into non-productive areas associated with violence.”

Most of the total expenditure stems from deaths and displacement due to internal conflict, military spending, GDP losses from conflict, increasing homicide and violent crime rates, and spending on internal security officers, including police.

In total, more than $3 trillion was poured into military spending in 2014, with the US accounting for over $1.3 trillion alone. The study found that expenses related to the military, internal police forces and homicides combined to have the highest impact on costs, accounting for 68.3 percent of the total.

The costs needed to support refugees and internally displaced people have increased by 267 percent since 2008, to $128 billion, as the total number of displaced people reached 59.5 million in 2014, the highest level since World War II. Still, UN peacekeeping costs account for less than 0.17 percent of total violence containment expenditure.

The three most prominent targets of American imperialism in the recent period, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq, have seen a substantial portion of their resources squandered on war. The US-stoked civil war in Syria, which has ravaged the country for four years, is estimated to have absorbed 42 percent of the country’s GDP in 2014, while Afghanistan spent 31 percent of its GDP on military and police expenditures, and Iraq spent 30 percent in 2014.

The GPI report ranks the nations of the world according to their “level of peacefulness,” based on 23 different qualitative and quantitative measurements from 162 states, covering 99.6 percent of the world’s population. Since the first report in 2008, the divide between the most and least “peaceful” countries and regions has steadily deepened, as US-led imperialism has plunged large parts of the world into deepening violence.

Syria again ranked on these terms as the least peaceful country in the world, while Libya experienced the most severe decline, according to the ranking system. Ukraine saw the second biggest decline, due to the eruption of fighting between pro-Russian separatist forces and NATO-backed fascist militias in east Ukraine.

The Middle East and North Africa region saw the most marked decline in average rankings, while Europe as a whole continued to see increases in peacefulness, as Iceland was again ranked the most peaceful, followed by Denmark, Austria, New Zealand, Switzerland, Finland, Canada, Japan, Australia and the Czech Republic.

The US was ranked at 94th place, between Peru and Saudi Arabia. Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Central African Republic, in that order, were the bottom five countries in the index.

Significantly, the report found that deaths caused by terrorism increased by 61 percent from 2012-13 and have more than doubled since 2008, resulting in 17,958 people being killed in terrorist attacks in 2013. Of those deaths, 82 percent occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria.

These figures once again expose the essential truth that the so-called War on Terror has in fact empowered terrorist organizations in those countries that have been targeted by American imperialism. Despite the constant invocation of “national security” as the centerpiece of the war, the vast majority of terrorist attacks take place outside the advanced capitalist countries.

While much of the data compiled in the report is useful in portraying the immense scale of the costs of imperialist war and internal political repression, the GPI rankings system is flawed and the authors themselves present a rose-tinted view of the current geopolitical situation. At one point, the report declares that, “Over the last sixty years, the world has become more peaceful. There has been a marked and consistent downturn in levels of violence and conflict since the end of the Second World War.”

Later, however, the report notes that the intensity of military conflict has increased dramatically in recent years, with 180,000 people killed in 2014 alone, a nearly fourfold increase from 49,000 in 2010. However, it glosses over the present threat of a major conflict between nuclear-armed powers and covers up of the machinations of the US-led imperialist order, effectively playing into the hands of the forces spearheading the drive to war.

Regarding the potential for such a global conflict arising from the ongoing disputes in the South China Sea, which are being driven through the US “pivot to Asia” directed against China, the authors write: “Although the likelihood of further military skirmishes in the disputed waters is high, a large-scale military engagement remains unlikely.”

In their overview of the crisis in Ukraine, the line of the US State Department comes through clearly: “The conflict began with Russia’s military takeover of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula following the overthrow of the government of Viktor Yanukovych in late February. From April it extended to the Ukrainian mainland, when separatist militias—made up of some locals, as well as mercenaries linked to the ousted regime, local criminal gangs and Russian nationalist volunteers—began to seize urban centres across south-east Ukraine, backed heavily by Russian weapons, intelligence and finance, with regular Russian troops intervening directly if necessary to prevent a separatist defeat.”

There is no mention whatsoever of the role played by the US, which backed far-right nationalist and outright fascistic organizations such as Svoboda and the Right Sector to overthrow Yanukovych, and hand-picked the emergent government with puppets like Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and billionaire oligarch President Petro Poroshenko.

Above all, the worldwide escalation in military spending and domestic policing indicate the advanced stage of the buildup to a new world war involving the major imperialist powers.

Global refugee crisis worst since World War II

By Joseph Kishore
June 16, 2015
World Socialist We Site

 

The global refugee crisis is more dire than at any point since the end of the Second World War, according to a report released yesterday by Amnesty International.

The report provides a partial picture of the disaster produced by global capitalism and the operations of imperialism in different parts of the world, with a focus on Syria, North Africa and the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.

The Dadaab camp in Kenya now holds nearly 50,000 refugees [Source: UN Refugee Agency]

Tens of millions of people have been forced to flee their homes, traveling great distances in an attempt to escape war, economic devastation and political persecution. Refugees often face deplorable conditions in the countries to which they flee, and with increasing regularity are turned away or perish during the journey.

Amnesty notes that in 2013, for the first time since the 1940s, the number of refugees was estimated at more than 50 million. In the ensuing two years, millions more have become refugees.

The situation in Syria and its neighboring countries in the Middle East is particularly dire. “More than half of Syria’s population is displaced,” including those displaced internally, according to the report. “Some four million women, men and children have fled the country and are refugees, making this one of the biggest refugee crises in history.”

Amnesty castigates the major powers for failing to provide assistance to the surging refugee population, many of whom have ended up in neighboring Lebanon (where 20 percent of the population now consists of Syrian refugees), Jordan and Turkey. It notes that the United Nation humanitarian appeal for $4.5 billion to aid Syrian refugees had reached only 23 percent of its goal by early June.

The entire UN emergency fund for Syrian refugees is less than one percent of the annual budget of the US military.

“The total number of places offered to refugees from Syria is less than 90,000, only 2.2 percent of the refugees in the main host countries (Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey),” the report states. Faced with a surging population and limited funding, the World Food Programme has been forced to reduce its level of food assistance to less than $0.46 a day to Syrian refugees in Jordan and $0.62 a day to refugees in Lebanon.

The desperate situation facing refugees from Syria exposes the “humanitarian” pretenses of imperialist operations in the region. The crisis is a direct result of the US-stoked civil war in the country, which has included the financing of Islamic fundamentalist organizations in the campaign to topple Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad.

The Obama administration is now utilizing the crisis created by American imperialism to justify the expansion of military operations in both Syria and Iraq, ostensibly targeting the Islamic State. The 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq itself produced millions of refugees.

Amnesty also points to new restrictions on border crossing imposed by Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, all US allies. Turkey has closed almost all of its border gates to Syria. Over the weekend, Turkish military forces used water cannon against refugees fleeing fighting across the border from the southeastern Turkish town of Akcakale.

The report says nothing about the origins of the crisis. The civil war in Syria is also a main driving force behind the sharp increase in the number of refugees seeking to cross the Mediterranean. Many Syrians have fled to Libya where they, along with refugees from other parts of the Middle East and Africa, face disastrous conditions in a country torn apart by the NATO war in 2011.

Libya is riven by rival Islamist militias, many of which were financed and armed as part of the US-led campaign to overthrow the government of Muammar Gaddafi. Refugees in Libya are subjected to harassment, torture, sexual assault, extortion and forced labor while seeking access to boats to take them across the sea to Italy.

In April, two boats packed with refugees sank in the Mediterranean, killing over 1,200 people. In the first five months of this year, 1,865 people have died attempting the journey, compared to 425 during the same period last year. The report notes that the “dramatic increase in the number of lives lost” is “partly due to the decision by Italy and the European Union (EU) to end the Italian navy operation Mare Nostrum at the end of 2014 and replace it with a much more limited EU operation.”

The response of the European imperialist powers, which backed the war in Libya as part of an attempt to reassert control over their former colonies, has been to strengthen “Fortress Europe” and block the flow of refugees. Last month, the EU agreed to a quota system to house 20,000 refugees, a tiny fraction of those seeking to flee Libya.

At the same time, the European powers are citing the refugee crisis as a rationale to prepare military strikes in Libya itself, aimed in the first instance at destroying the boats used to transport people across the Mediterranean.

A similar disaster has unfolded in Southeast Asia and the Asia Pacific in the first part of 2015, as boats filled with refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been turned away by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Australia. It is estimated that 300 people have died at sea so far this year due to starvation, dehydration or abuse.

The Amnesty report notes that the initial refusal of governments in the region to accept the refugees was a “flagrant violation of their international obligations.” It states that “Australia’s offshore processing policy—whereby it takes asylum-seekers who attempt to reach Australia by sea to detention centres in Nauru and Manus Island (Papua New Guinea)—is particularly egregious… [T]he deliberately harsh, humiliating conditions at the Australian-run detention facility were designed to pressure asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, regardless of whether or not they were refugees.”

The Australian government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott is currently facing allegations that it has paid people smugglers to take asylum seekers back to Indonesia, allegations that the government has tacitly acknowledged. These illegal actions underscore Australia’s central role in spearheading the persecution of refugees throughout the region.

In Sub-Saharan Africa there is an estimated population of 3 million refugees, the result of waves of people fleeing wars and conflicts in different parts of the continent, including Nigeria, South Sudan, the Central African Republican and Burundi. These wars are invariably connected to struggles over natural resources, with the imperialist powers viewing the deeply impoverished region to be of interest only as a source of oil and minerals.

The Amnesty report’s conclusions are predictable, consisting of impotent calls for governments to do more. “The global refugee crisis will not be solved unless the international community recognizes that it is a global problem and deals with it as such,” the report states.

The catastrophic situation facing refugees, however, is one particularly horrific expression of a bankrupt social and economic system. The surge of refugees is a direct product of unending war and social counterrevolution. The persecution of those uprooted by imperialism is inseparable from the attack on the democratic and social rights of the working class in every country.

Protests mount against US-backed regime in Ukraine

By Thomas Gaist
June 10, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

In the latest eruption of mass protests against the US puppet government of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, thousands of demonstrators swept through the streets of Kiev this weekend. Marchers demanded cancellation of martial law decrees, the repeal of subsidy cuts that have driven up the price of energy and foodstuffs, and the reversal of cuts to wages and pensions imposed by the government.

Demonstrators held placards demanding an end to cuts in pensions and denouncing the spiking prices of basic commodities. Slogans included “Raise pensions,” “We are hungry,” “Out with Yatsenyuk and his reforms,” and “Impeach Poroshenko!”

The demonstrations over the weekend come on the heels of so-called “Financial Maidan” protests at the end of May, which saw thousands protest in Kiev against catastrophic economic conditions produced by the government’s austerity policies.

An LGBT pride parade was assaulted by members of Right Sector and other far-right groups on Friday. The parade was quickly dispersed by attackers who reportedly threw rocks and tear gas capsules at the demonstrators.

In addition to the protest marches, Occupy-style tent camps, referred to in media reports as “Maidan 3.0,” sprung up in the center of the city over the weekend. After refusing orders from police to take down the encampment, the campers were assaulted on Sunday by dozens of masked men brandishing black and red fascist flags. The attackers spoke with nearby police units before launching their attack, according to reports. Sputnik News, a Russian state media web site, charged US operatives with intervening inside the Occupy-style protest encampments. It alleged that the protest camps were organized by Rustam Tashbaev of the Stratagem Center for Political Analysis, a US think tank. Sputnik’s report featured an alleged photo of Tashbaev, a US citizen, posing for a portrait with US Senator John McCain.

Ukraine has undoubtedly become a hotbed of US intrigue, since a NATO-backed coup led by the fascist Right Sector militia toppled the country’s pro-Russian government, and US operatives may well be intervening in the protests. However, what is driving the protests is rising opposition in the Ukrainian population to the Kiev regime’s moves to transform Ukraine into a cheap labor platform and garrison state on behalf of the US-NATO war drive against Russia.

Since the February 2014 coup, the population has faced harsh cuts to pensions and social benefits, mass layoffs, sub-subsistence level wages, and skyrocketing prices of basic necessities. Thousands of Ukrainians have been killed and at least 1.5 million displaced, and production has virtually collapsed in the country’s main industrial centers in Luhansk and Donetsk.

Ukraine’s economy will likely contract by at least 9 percent in 2015, according to estimates by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). The value of the Ukrainian currency will likely fall by nearly 50 percent in 2015 alone, according to the EBRD.

Last month, the price of water surged by more than 70 percent. Previous months saw increases in natural gas prices of nearly 300 percent. Food, medicine and transportation prices all rose dramatically in the year following the 2014 coup, with some basic items rising by more than 200 percent.

“We are about to see huge energy price increases. This will affect not just the poor but the middle class as well,” Volodymyr Ischenko said in comments to the Center for Social and Labor Research this week.

Already in January, months before the latest price hikes, some 30 percent of the population was unable to pay for utilities.

The rising prices are the result of cuts to subsidies for basic goods, dictated to Kiev by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The subsidy cuts free up government funds, which used to be earmarked for keeping energy and basic commodities relatively affordable for working people, to be shoveled into the pockets of Ukraine’s creditors in the US and European banks.

There is escalating popular anger against the Kiev regime. Nearly 60 percent of the population is strongly dissatisfied with Poroshenko, with less than 25 percent expressing confidence in Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, according to polls released in March.

The war mounted by the pro-NATO regime against separatist forces in the East has met with large-scale draft dodging by the population in western Ukraine. At least 13,000 soldiers have gone AWOL from Ukrainian government forces since the beginning of the civil war.

More than 80 percent of draftees have failed to respond to musters from the government, and Ukrainian officers now assume that only some 15 percent of soldiers sent on leave will return to their units, according to statistics published by the Washington Post in April.

Even as the economy plummets and popular opposition to the government grows, the re-eruption of military conflict between Kiev regime forces and pro-Russian separatists is plunging the country back toward the conditions of brutal civil war that developed in the aftermath of last year’s coup.

According to Foreign Policy, the outbreak of fighting last week has “shattered” the Minsk cease-fire agreement reached this February. The always unstable pause in the fighting, which was largely forced upon the Kiev regime by the deepening economic crisis, has likely been “permanently destroyed” by the renewed clashes, Foreign Policy wrote.

Fearful that its Ukrainian puppet regime could suffer a new defeat or implode politically due to popular opposition, Washington is mobilizing paramilitary forces to prop up the Kiev regime. “They’ve allowed the Right Sector to integrate with Ukraine’s national army. You have US army officers training units with members of Right Sector in them,” political analyst Aleksandar Pavic noted in comments to RT Tuesday.

A new generation of Ukrainian fascists are receiving training and advanced military hardware, including night-vision and communications technology, supplied directly by the US Defense Department.

In April, the Pentagon dispatched some 300 US soldiers to conduct training exercises with Ukrainian militants, including known members of the Azov Battalion and other forces affiliated with Ukraine’s neo-Nazi milieu, as part of “Operation Fearless Guardian.” Comments from Ukrainian anti-terror chief Andriy Lysenko made clear that the training would focus on counter-insurgency tactics designed to control enemy populations, along the lines of those used by the US military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Australian reports on wealth and poverty: A tale of two countries

By Cheryl McDermid
June 9, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Two reports published in Australia late last month starkly highlighted the growing polarisation between rich and poor. The first, the Australian Financial Review magazine’s 2015 BRW Rich 200 list outlined the rising fortunes of the country’s wealthiest 200 individuals and families. The second, the Salvation Army’s Economic and Social Impact Survey, for the fourth year running exposed the dire and deteriorating conditions endured by welfare recipients.

While the livelihoods of these vastly different layers of society are a world apart there is, in fact, a direct connection between them. The conditions of deprivation and poverty imposed on those at the bottom of society are dictated by the corporate boardrooms and company owners of the Rich 200 list, among others, who determine the austerity measures of both Liberal and Labor governments that benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor.

This process has resulted in the poorest section of the Australian population eking out an existence on an impossible $43.45 per day, while the average daily income of the richest 200 is an obscene $2.7 million. The richest six individuals own more wealth—$55.9 billion—than the bottom 20 percent—1.73 million households.

The top six are Gina Rinehart with $14.018 billion, Anthony Pratt and family $10.759 billion, Harry Triguboff $10.228 billion, Frank Lowy $7.837 billion, Hui Wing Mau $6.890 billion, and Ivan Glasenberg $6.144 billion.

The Rich 200 list reports a record 49 billionaires, up from 39 last year, and reveals the unimaginable wealth of this tiny parasitic layer. Despite a decline of almost $6 billion in the wealth of Australian’s richest person, mining magnate Rinehart, due to the plunge in iron ore prices, the combined wealth of the country’s richest 200 individuals increased by 1.2 percent to $195.6 billion.

The wealth required for entry to the list was also a record $286 million, up from $250 million last year. The first Rich 200 report, published in 1983, required a mere $10 million to make the list, so there has been an almost 30-fold increase in the entry level. Sydney is the preferred city of residence for 18 of the 49 billionaires, with the surrounding state of New South Wales housing 61 of the 200 richest individuals, just beaten by Victoria on 63.

Only six of the top 200 derived their wealth from manufacturing, with Pratt and his family, who control Visy and the US-based Pratt Industries, coming in second on the list, increasing their wealth by a massive 29 percent in one year. According to the Australian Financial Review, Pratt’s “series of big bets on the comeback of the USA manufacturing sector have paid off.” This is, without doubt, attributable in large part to the protracted slashing of American wage levels under the Obama administration.

More than a quarter—53 of the richest 200—derived their wealth from property, with soaring housing prices driving the rapid increase in their stakes. Harry Triguboff, the owner of Meriton, Australia’s largest apartment developer, climbed from eighth in 2014 to third this year, almost doubling his wealth to $10.23 billion. The property price surge that has benefited Triguboff and others on the list so handsomely has resulted in the median house price in Sydney climbing to a staggering $752,000, followed by Melbourne on $567,000. This has effectively priced hundreds of thousands of families and young people out of the housing market.

There are 17 newcomers on the list, the calibre of which is highlighted by the prominence given to one, Tony Denny, who made his $320 million selling used cars in Russia and Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Denny was one of the myriad capitalists who flooded into these countries to profit from the cheap labour and opportunities afforded by the Stalinist bureaucrats who oversaw the destruction of the remaining social gains from the Russian Revolution. The staggering decline in the conditions, living standards and life expectancy of the population in these countries was due to the exploitation and plundering carried out by such individuals.

While the top 10’s combined wealth dropped marginally from 2014, due to falling mining export prices, they still owned 37 percent of the total wealth of the richest 200, while the top 20 held 47 percent.

By contrast, the Salvation Army’s survey, conducted in February, was based on the responses of 2,406 families and individuals, whose dependents included 2,486 children, who accessed the charity’s emergency relief and support services. Of the respondents, 88 percent received income support payments, which means that their welfare benefits did not cover the basic necessities of life.

Three quarters of the respondents had been seeking employment for up to two years. These people “experienced more housing stress (75 percent), a higher level of deprivation (49 percent could not afford 11 or more essential items), and consequently lower satisfaction in life,” as measured by a personal wellbeing index.

Significantly 5 percent of the respondents had jobs, but were still forced to seek emergency relief. Of those surveyed, 75 percent were single-parent households, with 53 percent of those with children.

Due to the rising cost of rental accommodation, in which the majority of respondents lived, 59 percent of their total income was spent on housing costs, leaving only $125 per week or $17.86 per day for food, utility payments, medical expenses, transport and clothes.

The percentage of income paid for accommodation was twice the commonly-used benchmark of 30 percent that signifies housing stress. Some 78 percent of respondents suffered extreme housing stress. Three quarters of those surveyed said they had cut down on basic necessities, including meals and paying utility bills, because they could not afford them.

No less than 87 percent of the adults and 60 percent of the children reported severe deprivation, which is characterised as having to go without five or more essential items. Essential items included a substantial meal once a day, medical and dental treatment, having $500 savings in case of emergency and being able to afford a week’s holiday away from home. They reported that they had few options to improve their situation.

The Salvation Army report cited statistics from the 2014 OECD report, Society at a Glance, which stated that “relative poverty in Australia (14.4 percent of the population) is higher than the OECD average of (11.3 percent)” and “10 percent of Australians report they cannot afford to buy enough food.”

While the charity’s report focussed on the most oppressed and vulnerable sections of the working class, the situation is little better for households whose members have jobs. For the 1.8 million workers on the minimum wage of $656.90 per week, it is a matter of survival from week to week. The illness or injury of one or more in the family can mean the difference between making ends meet and not. The Fair Work Commission last week lifted the minimum wage by a miserable $16 per week, the lowest rise for years, while the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry demanded an increase of no more than $5.70.

The gulf between the tiny elite at the top of society and the poorest section of the population will only widen following the federal budget released last month. Treasurer Joe Hockey announced that a further $1.7 billion will be slashed from welfare payments over four years through the relentless persecution of pension and unemployment payment recipients, while providing $5 billion in tax cuts and concessions for small business.

The Labor opposition’s response to the budget was a call for bipartisan measures to impose the further attacks demanded by the corporate elite. This was a declaration that a Labor government would take up where it left off after losing the 2013 election and continue the assault on the working class.

There is no possibility of overcoming the unprecedented gulf between rich and poor through the re-election of a Labor government or the parliamentary system itself. What is required is the overthrow of the capitalist profit system that, as Marx explained, creates “the accumulation of wealth at one pole” and “at the same time accumulation of misery, agony of toil, slavery, ignorance, brutality, mental degradation, at the opposite pole.”

Social inequality and American politics

By Andre Damon
June 8, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

Last week the New York Times released the results of an opinion poll, conducted in collaboration with CBS News, showing overwhelming and growing popular opposition to social inequality in the United States.

The details of the poll are striking. Asked whether “In today’s economy, everyone has a fair chance to get ahead in the long run,” for example, 61 percent of participants said that “just a few people at the top have a chance to get ahead,” compared to 35 percent who said that “anyone can get ahead.” Significantly, the percentage of people who chose the latter response has fallen by 17 percentage points since a similar poll conducted in early 2014.

Even more strikingly, 66 percent of participants said that “the distribution of money and wealth in this country… should be more equal,” compared with only 27 percent who said it was fair. The margin between the two responses was 39 percentage points.

When the question was put a different way, the results were even more pronounced. Asked whether social inequality is a “problem that needs to be addressed now, a problem but one that does not need to be addressed now or not a problem,” only 17 percent of respondents said that social inequality was “not a problem.”

Similarly, 68 percent of those polled said they favored raising taxes on people who earn more than $1 million a year, and 71 percent of respondents said they favored raising the federal minimum wage. Eighty percent favored requiring employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members, and 85 percent favored requiring employers to offer paid sick leave.

Polls such as the one carried out by the Times are always an imperfect reflection of the actual state of public opinion. Moreover, other surveys have consistently found that Americans significantly underestimate the actual level of social inequality. If anything, therefore, the results understate the overwhelming hostility of the population to the essential feature of American and indeed world capitalism: social inequality.

The widespread opposition to social inequality in the United States stands in sharp contradiction to the policies pursued by the entire political establishment. Indeed, the presidency of Barack Obama, who presented himself in the 2008 election as the champion of the “middle class,” has seen one of the most precipitous increases in social inequality in US history.

During only the first four years of the Obama presidency, the top 0.1 percent of the population increased their share of US wealth from 19 percent to 22 percent, while the top 1 percent of income earners in the US took in 95 percent of all income gains since 2009.

The enrichment of the financial elite has paralleled an enormous decline in US median household income, which has fallen by 12 percent, with a typical household earning $6,400 less per year in 2013 than it did in 2007.

The immense growth of social inequality over this period has been the direct result of the policies pursued by the Obama administration, which has sought to make the working class pay for the financial crisis that erupted in 2008 while protecting and expanding the wealth of the financial oligarchy.

The concerns within the ruling class over the implications of its policies can be seen in efforts to promote figures such as Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” running as a Democrat in the 2016 election. Sanders, who rhetorically denounces social inequality, is in fact a thoroughly conventional bourgeois politician.

The stated opposition of Sanders to social inequality is entirely of the same character of that of Obama: i.e., purely rhetorical. His candidacy is merely an attempt to keep the growing opposition to social inequality and the capitalist system within the confines of the Democratic Party.

Whatever the rhetoric of figures such as Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, there exists no section of the political establishment that supports any genuine reduction in social inequality. The most telling example is perhaps de Blasio, promoted as a champion of “progressivism” within the Democratic Party, who last month announced a series of measures hiking housing fees for low-income New York City residents while moving to privatize sections of public housing.

What none of these figures can acknowledge is that the growth of social inequality and the unprecedented concentration of wealth is a product of the capitalist system that they all defend, a system that is based on the subordination of all aspects of life to a financial aristocracy that controls the entire political system.

In contrast to the pseudo-left defenders of the Democratic Party, who have sought to present race and gender as the most important social categories, the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI) has insisted that the growth of social inequity is the central political issue in contemporary society. The ICFI has insisted that social inequality is itself the expression of the division of society into two great classes; the working class, the vast majority of the population, and the ruling class.

The opposition to social inequality expressed in the New York Times poll is a product of both the objective reality of world capitalism and the experiences that the American working class has made over the past eight years.

But this spontaneous sentiment must be given a conscious political program, based on the understanding that the fight against social inequality is a revolutionary question that is inextricably tied to the independent political mobilization of the working class against capitalism. The creation of a genuinely egalitarian society means the overthrow of the capitalist system and its replacement with socialism and the democratic control over economic life.

 

 

US-backed war on Yemen leaves 20 million without food, water, medical care

By Bill Van Auken
June 7, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The US-backed war against Yemen has left some 20 million people—nearly 80 percent of the country’s population—facing a humanitarian disaster, without access to adequate food, water and medical care, the United Nations top aid official informed member nations of the UN Security Council this week.

UN Emergency Relief Coordinator Stephen O’Brien described the situation confronting the population of the Arab world’s poorest country as “catastrophic,” placing much of the blame on the Saudi-led air strikes that have devastated Yemeni cities, and Saudi Arabia’s blockade of Yemen’s ports, which have prevented not only the arrival of emergency relief supplies but also the basic flow of goods that existed before the war.

“The blockade means it’s impossible to bring anything into the country,” Nuha Abdul Jaber, Oxfam’s humanitarian program director in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa told the Guardian newspaper. “There are lots of ships, with basic things like flour, that are not allowed to approach. The situation is deteriorating, hospitals are now shutting down, without diesel. People are dying of simple diseases. It is becoming almost impossible to survive.”

The Guardian , citing a report by the aid group Save the Children, reported that hospitals have closed down in at least 18 of the country’s 22 governates, along with 153 health centers that provided nutrition to at-risk children and 158 outpatient clinics that treated children under five. “At the same time, due to lack of clean water and sanitation, cholera and other diseases are on the rise,” the paper reported. “A dengue fever outbreak has been reported in Aden.”

The Saudi monarchy, meanwhile, has provided none of the $274 million for an emergency humanitarian fund that it promised to create when, in late April, it announced an end to what it had dubbed “Operation Decisive Storm” and declared that it would shift from military operations to “the political process.”

Since then, along with the blockade, the air war against Yemen’s impoverished population, now in its third month, has continued unabated. On Wednesday and Thursday alone, at least 58 civilians were reported killed, as bombs struck a number of areas including in the north near the Saudi Arabian border, where 48 people, mostly women and children, were reported killed in a single village. According to the UN’s estimate, at least 2,000 civilians have lost their lives since the onset of the war.

The Obama administration has provided the Saudis with logistical and intelligence support, helping to select targets for bombardment, sending refueling planes to keep the bombers of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf monarchy allies in the air and rushing bombs and missiles to replace those dropped on Yemen.

It was reported Thursday that the leadership of the Houthi rebels have agreed to attend UN-brokered peace talks in Geneva on June 14. Agence France Presse quoted Daifallah al-Shami, a politburo member of the Houthi militia’s political wing as saying, “We accepted the invitation of the United Nations to go to the negotiating table in Geneva without preconditions.”

The rebels have refused to submit to a one-sided resolution pushed through the United Nations Security Council in April by the US and its allies (with Russia abstaining), imposing an arms embargo directed solely against the Houthi rebels, while demanding that they disarm, cede territory under their control and recognize the government of President Abd Rabbuh Monsour Hadi, a puppet of Washington and Saudi Arabia, who fled the country in March. The Security Council resolution made no criticism whatsoever of the Saudi air strikes, launched against a civilian population in violation of international laws against aggressive war.

Representatives of Hadi, who is holed up in Riyadh, are also reported to have agreed to attend the Geneva talks. Previously, Hadi had demanded that the Houthis bow to the UN Security Council resolution before any peace talks.

Also expected to join the talks are representatives of former president and longtime strongman Ali Abdullah Saleh, whose loyalists allied themselves with the Houthis.

Not expected to participate are rebel factions in the south of Yemen who have resisted the Houthis but have no interest in restoring Hadi to power, fighting instead for the independence of South Yemen, a former British colony which existed as an independent state aligned with the former Soviet Union before its unification with the north in 1990. That unity broke down in 1994, resulting in a civil war that ended with the secessionist south defeated and forced back into unification.

The war in Yemen has led to a ratcheting up of tensions throughout the region, with the Saudi monarchy and Washington both charging Iran with supporting the Houthis, who are based among the Zaidi Shiites, and who make up approximately one third of Yemen’s population, dominating the north of the country.

Washington has repeatedly charged Tehran with supplying arms to the Houthis, while presenting no evidence. Iran has denied the charges.

Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Report and the crimes against the native people

By Carl Bronski
June 6, 2015
World Socialist Web Site

 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada (TRC) issued its report Tuesday documenting the horrific abuse suffered by 150,000 First Nations, Inuit and Metis children at residential schools between the 1840s and 1996.

The century-and-a-half policy of forcibly removing aboriginal children from their families and communities and herding them into faraway schools run mainly by the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches, amounted, said the report, to nothing less than a “cultural genocide.” One, moreover, that has left deep scars on indigenous people up to the present day. At the height of the program in 1931 there were 80 residential schools across the country with 15,000 captive native children.

The TRC—comprised of its chair, Manitoba Justice Murray Sinclair, journalist and broadcast executive Marie Wilson, and lawyer and former Conservative MP Chief Wilton Littlechild—was appointed by the federal Conservative government in consultation with the Assembly of First Nations as part of a negotiated settlement to a class-action law suit against the federal government and Canada’s churches brought by residential school survivors.

Over the course of six years, the TRC took testimony from 7,000 residential school survivors and reviewed hundreds of thousands of documents. It found that the residential schools were a central component of a Canadian state policy designed to “cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious and racial entities in Canada.”

In releasing the Executive Summary of the TRC report (six volumes of documentation will be forthcoming), Sinclair noted that between 5,000 and 7,000 children died whilst in the custody of the residential schools from disease, malnutrition, fires, suicide and physical abuse. Many were buried even without a name recorded. Parents were not notified as a matter of course. Many residential schools had no playgrounds for the children, but did have cemeteries. Healthy children were consciously placed in dormitories with children suffering from tuberculosis. Sick and dying children were forced to attend class and sit up in church. Malnutrition was rampant. Testimony from school survivors recounted how hungry children would raid the slop-buckets of livestock for additional sustenance.

Discipline was harsh. Children were often corporally punished for speaking their native language. Teachers would berate them as “stupid Indians.” Humiliation and de-humanization were part of the regime. One survivor recounted that the shoving of children’s faces into human excrement was a standard punishment. In some institutions, children were not addressed by name but by number. Survivor testimony described a life without love or human warmth but fraught with fear, beatings, hopelessness and, in the dreaded dead of night, rampant sexual abuse.

Despite the government’s purported aim of providing education to residential students, especially in the form of workplace skills, school administrations more often used the children as indentured labour, imposing back-breaking chores for up to half of the school day. School text books were a rarity, with Christian religious indoctrination a priority.

TRC Chair Sinclair received a loud ovation Tuesday from a ballroom full of school survivors, Band Chiefs and aboriginal advocates when he characterized the more than century-long government residential school policy as “cultural genocide.” The term comes from the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a non-binding document reluctantly signed by the federal government of Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but deemed only “aspirational” and not immediately implementable. Those cheering Sinclair’s declaration were also cognizant of the 2011 statement from John Duncan, Harper’s former Aboriginal Affairs Minister, that the residential school system was not part of a program of “cultural genocide,” but rather simply “education policy gone wrong.”

The TRC report, however, avoids a crucial conclusion arising from any objective study of the horrendous history of the program—that the aboriginal policy pursued by the Canadian capitalist state was not simply aimed at the eradication of a culture but at the eradication of a people. The 1948 United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, defines genocide in legal terms as “any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group: killing members of the group; causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; deliberately inflicting conditions of life calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction in whole or in part; imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

The tribulations suffered by generations of aboriginal children in the residential schools fall into most, if not all, of these categories. But many of those pulling back from a characterization of Canadian government policy towards the native population as genocidal—including the administration at the Canadian Museum of Human Rights—downplay the question of conscious “intent.”

The historical record contradicts this approach.

Policies geared towards physically expunging native populations as part of the Canadian state’s westward expansion have been documented by many historians. James Daschuk in his recent book Clearing the Plains, for example, describes the approach of Canada’s first governments towards its aboriginal population as “outright malevolent.” Policy statements called on government agencies “to starve uncooperative Indians onto reserves and into submission.” Treaty guarantees for food in times of crisis were ignored. Government agents allowed food to rot rather than distribute it to starving native bands. The 1876 Indian Act codified aboriginals as an inferior group and made them wards of the state. In 1885, Canada’s “founding father” and first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, bragged to parliament of his government’s fiscal stewardship, pointing to its refusal to give food to hungry, malnourished First Nations people “until the Indians were on the verge of starvation, to reduce expense.”

Under Macdonald, who presided over the Canadian state’s dispossession of the native peoples in today’s Prairie provinces, the residential school system was greatly expanded and systematized and, in the process, directed even more deliberately against the indigenous population. In 1883, he told an agreeable parliament: “When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has strongly been pressed on myself, as the head of the (Indian Affairs) Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”

The argument that “intent” to destroy native populations was not evident in the policy of Canada’s capitalist elite flies in the face of subsequent developments.

In 1909, Peter Bryce, an official of the Ontario Health Department was commissioned by the federal government as the country’s first Chief Medical Officer to report on the health conditions of aboriginal children in residential schools in western Canada. Bryce, citing an average death rate of between 30 and 60 percent, reported that children in the schools were malnourished, living in squalid, freezing conditions and being systematically exposed to tubercular patients. He accused officials of deliberately killing the students through their actions and inactions. Furthermore, church and school officials were consciously falsifying mortality records.

The report was quashed by the Department of Indians Affairs and the recommendations ignored. Bryce was later dismissed from his post. Said Duncan Scott, then head of Canada’s residential schools program, Bryce’s report “does not justify a change in the policy of this Department which is geared toward a final solution of our Indian problem.”

In Alberta in 1928 and British Columbia in 1933 acts were passed allowing for the forcible sterilization of residential school students. It has been estimated that as many as 3,000 children underwent this procedure. And recently, a report surfaced showing that in the 1940s and 1950s malnourished aboriginal children in residential schools were used by government researchers in dubious medical experiments that systematically kept them on starvation diets, denying them milk, nutrients, vitamins and dental treatments to measure health outcomes. The “research” was done with the full knowledge of Canada’s then Liberal government.

The government’s subsequent treatment of native children changed little. From 1960 until 1986, as many as 20,000 aboriginal children were taken from their families, placed in either residential schools or non-indigenous foster homes, or put up for adoption.

Even today, as a result of the deplorable poverty and squalor to which large parts of Canada’s native population are subjected and the paternalistic attitude of the state, First Nations children make up more than 50 percent of Canadian children in foster care. Under Manitoba’s NDP government others are housed, without proper care and supervision, in run-down “welfare” motels .

The continuing abuse and neglect of the aboriginal peoples is one of the historic crimes of Canadian capitalism and one that exemplifies the true character of Canadian “democracy.” It is critical for the political development of the Canadian working class that it recognizes this and fights vigorously to oppose the oppression of the native population.

In a second article, to be published at the beginning of next week, the WSWS will detail the political context and debate over the Truth and Reconciliation report. This will include an examination of the dismissive attitude adopted by Prime Minster Stephen Harper, the report’s ostensible embrace by the opposition parties and much of the corporate media, as well as the government-appointed Commission’s recommendations. These are aimed at reconciling the native people to Canadian capitalism and the Canadian state, not ending the system responsible for their oppression.