Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

May 22, 2021

Statement by Emily Wilder, the AP reporter fired for her pro-Palestinian tweets.

Filed under: journalism,Palestine — louisproyect @ 5:31 pm

May 21, 2021

Film reflections on the opioid crisis

Filed under: Columbia University,Counterpunch,drugs,Film — louisproyect @ 7:49 pm

When a publicist sent me a press release and screener for Nicholas Jarecki’s “Crisis”, I looked forward to covering a film by a director who I acclaimed as making one of the best films of 2012: “9. Arbitrage – Don’t tell Oliver Stone that I said so, but this is much better than his “Wall Street” sequel.”

One of his personal quotes on IMDB will give you a sense of what motivated him to take aim at a fictionalized version of the Sackler family of Purdue Pharma infamy in “Crisis” as well as a billionaire arbitrageur who kept his role in the death of his mistress a secret a la Ted Kennedy/Chappaquiddick in the earlier work. “I think that people need to become more educated about money. We need to stop creating systems that benefit only the most-cutthroat sharks.”

“Crisis” is the first narrative film to tell the story of how both criminal gangs and prestigious philanthropist families worked to extract blood money from American families in recent years through the sale of opioids like Oxycodone. Set in Detroit and Montreal, it begins with the arrest of a man in a white camouflage suit dragging a sled full of pain-killers across the Canadian border.

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May 19, 2021

There is No Evil

Filed under: Film,Iran — louisproyect @ 7:24 pm

Currently available as VOD from Kino-Lorber, “There is No Evil” is an Iranian film by Mohammad Rasoulof about the political and existential toll capital punishment takes on his country. Made without the permission of censors, this film and earlier ones by Rasoulof in the same vein led to a five year prison term. While the sentence is being appealed, just as had been the case with his fellow director Jafar Panahi, Rousolof remains under house arrest. Panahi and Rasoulof represent the most uncompromising wing of the Iranian film industry and thus forced to operate secretly. Panahi is the most well-known of these rebels, with a body of work that also marks him as a great filmmaker. “There is No Evil”, the first film by Rasoulof I have seen, now distinguishes him also a key member of the film industry’s resistance to censorship and the clerical dictatorship that imposes it.

One might assume that a film decrying capital punishment would be focused on the plight of someone on death row—similar to Sean Penn in “Dead Man Walking”. Instead, Rasoulof is interested in the men who carry out the executions who in many cases are forced to carry them out by dint of their service in the military. The one exception to this is a “professional” executioner whose devotion to his family is in marked contrast to the grizzly, impersonal manner in which he pulls a lever to hang six men at once.

The 150-minute film is broken down into four different short stories with in one case a soldier being driven to desperation after he is slated to carry out his first. In the barracks, he tries to find a substitute but none want to replace him, even for a small fortune. They argue back and forth about their “duty” as soldiers but one would understand why they would be so averse. Being an executioner in these circumstances amounts to pulling a stool from beneath the prisoner’s feet.

The structure for “There is No Evil” was dictated by the need to evade the police state’s interference as Rasoulof explained to the Hollywood Reporter:

To make There Is No Evil despite the government-imposed ban, Rasoulof had friends submit the applications for shooting permits on his behalf. “My name didn’t appear anywhere on the paperwork,” he says. “And I set up the movie as four short films, each with its own director, its own production unit, just like four separate movies. Because the government doesn’t pay as much attention to shorts. It’s easier to get things through.”

Although the film is ostensibly about the Islamic Republic’s widespread capital punishment system, it is just as much about the manner in which state-sponsored killing becomes acceptable. The soldiers, except for the one referred to above, would as soon refuse to pull the stool as they would refuse peeling potatoes as part of KP or mopping up the latrine. One of its characters is a soldier who enjoys the three-day leaves he gets for volunteering to be a stool-puller.

In the press notes, the director explains the motivation for making “There is No Evil”:

Last year, I spotted one of my interrogators coming out of the bank as I was crossing a street in Tehran. Suddenly, I experienced an indescribable feeling. Without his knowledge, I followed him for a while. After ten years, he had aged a bit. I wanted to take a picture of him on my cellphone, I wanted to run towards him, reveal myself to him, and angrily scream at him all of my questions. But when I looked at him closely, and observed his mannerisms with my own eyes, I could not see an evil monster.

How do autocratic rulers metamorphose people into becoming mere components of their autocratic machines? In authoritarian states, the sole purpose of the law is the preservation of the state, and not the facilitation and regulation of people’s relations. I come from such a state.

In Iran, kidnapping may be punishable by death but so is “waging war against God” and “spreading corruption on Earth.” Iran is fifth in the world per capita, just 3 places behind its fellow theocracy Saudi Arabia. In taking direct aim at one of Iran’s most repressive institutions, the director broke with the allegorical tendencies that prevailed among its sharpest critics of the system, even in his own work. He told the Hollywood Reporter, “This allegorical style has its roots in our culture, which goes back centuries, in our poetry, our art, which tends not to say things directly. But I want to break with that, because I think this allegorical aesthetic has become a form of submission, a way of accepting the oppression of the regime.”

“There is No Evil” has a 100 percent Fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It is the best narrative film I have seen this year and likely to surpass any of the crap Hollywood churns out.

May 16, 2021

Report from Colombia #2

Filed under: Anthony from Colombia,Colombia — louisproyect @ 10:05 pm

(Written on June 7 by Anthony, a long-time resident of Bogota)

Colombia Upsurge at a turning point

As of this moment, the national strike has continued for nine days since it began on April 28th. It has opened the floodgates of pent-up social and political tension that had been stuffed into a bottle by the pandemic.

At the end of 2019, and the beginning of 2020, a massive protest movement of the students, unions, and indigenous people had pushed the government back and looked like it would win very important concessions. Then the pandemic hit, the streets emptied, and instead of improvements, things got worse economically, especially for the poorest third of society. Assassinations of local indigenous leaders and activists in rural areas continued during the pandemic.

When the unions and the students called the national strike on April 28th, they took the cork out of the bottle. The first day of protest was massive, and it occurred all over the country, even in small cities where nothing ever happens.

Although it is difficult to estimate how many people participated, there were very large demonstrations in all of the major cities that included 10,000s of thousands of people in each. In the capital, Bogotá, estimates range from 100,000 up to several hundred thousand. My own guess is that about 2,000,000 people demonstrated nationwide out of a population of a little less than 50,000,000.

The catalyst for this massive outpouring of protest were two major legislative packages proposed by the government of President Ivan Duque: a regressive reform of the tax code, and an even more regressive reform of the healthcare system.

Initially, the strike committee focused on the tax reform, but from the beginning the movement went beyond the demands of the strike committee. The truck drivers and the taxi drivers have their own demands: no gasoline tax, reduce or eliminate highway tolls, end photo traffic tickets. The teachers union has its own demands: vaccinate all teachers and make schools safe for physical reopening, eliminate tuition in public schools, and more. The list is much longer.

The mass demonstrations were peaceful, and even joyous. People sang, played music, and danced. There was street theater everywhere. The symphony and philharmonic orchestras played as part of the demonstrations. Marches were well organized and mostly without incident.

However, every time there is a large protest in Colombia, the “encapachudos” show up. They are hooded and masked. They throw rocks and potato bombs, they commit acts of vandalism like wrecking Transmilenio stations (the mass transit system) and ripping ATM machines out of walls. Organizers of demonstrations try to stop them, often successfully, but they go somewhere else and continue their activities.

Who are they? Some of them are anarchists who think that this is a useful form of protest, some of them may be parts of the urban arms of the ELN and dissident FARC organizations, and some of them may simply be street gangs taking advantage of the situation to commit robberies. One thing that is certain is that they have been infiltrated by the police and army who encourage vandalism in order to justify repression of the mass movement.

The press focuses on the actions of the “encapuchados” thus aiding the right wing politicians who want to repress the movement. Former President and Senator Alvaro Uribe, the evil puppeteer behind President Duque’s policies, has publicly called for the military and police to use deadly force against the demonstrators. His tweet was removed by Twitter, and he had a meltdown on a CNN en español interview. Duque has called out the army, but it is not clear what, if anything, they have done or are doing.

In Cali, there was an armed incursion into a poor neighborhood that may have been carried out by the army, although the press says it was done by the local police. Videos online show buildings burning and a tank, but the police have their own tankettes so it is not clear who was responsible. In Bogotá helicopters have been buzzing working class neighborhoods, but Claudia Lopez, the mayor and a leader of the Green Party, says that they are police helicopters, not military helicopters.

The press and NGOs have reported somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty killed, and hundreds injured, but the real numbers are higher.

The hospitals were already full because of the current wave of Covid-19. Before the protests started, ICU occupancy rates throughout the country were above 90%. Now they have waiting lists. At least Colombia still has oxygen. I could tell you a lot of horrible Covid stories, but right now I will stick to the protests.

Since the protests started, emergency rooms have filled with young people with eye and head injuries.

Duque, who is a comic president who looks a little like Porky Pig and speaks Spanish a little like George W. Bush speaks English, has withdrawn the proposed tax changes for a rewrite but has not clearly backed down on most of their provisions. He has made some clear concessions: his Minister of Finance has resigned, he has said that income tax will not be extended to lower income brackets currently exempt, and the military has decided not to buy a bunch of new jets that had been in the budget.

Rather than appeasing the protests, the concessions have shown the weakness of Duque’s position and  encouraged the movement to press forward. There now seems to be contention in the movement, as Gustavo Petro, the most visible and important political leader of the left, and the left’s most likely candidate in next year’s presidential elections, has criticized the strike committee for not suspending the strike in response to Duque’s concessions.

Two days ago, the second national day of protest focused on defeating Duque’s healthcare system. The current system in Colombia is a mishmash of private and public health care held together by bubble gum and string. It was the first great achievement of Alvaro Uribe and is in many ways the model of Obamacare. Now, Duque wants to completely privatize health care in ways that will open the door wider to multinational companies, limit covered procedures and drugs, and make healthcare more expensive. And he has made this proposal in the middle of the pandemic!

It is impossible to predict where things are going to go from here. The truck drivers have effectively blockaded the country’s highways, and shortages are beginning to appear everywhere. In some small towns where people normally cook with propane, they are cooking with wood. Supermarket shelves in Cali are empty, and there has been panic buying at supermarkets and stores in Bogotá despite the fact that there have still been no major shortages here.

Yesterday, the Senate invited the strike committee to present its case to them, and now there is speculation that Duque will meet with the committee. The committee presented seven primary demands to the Senate:

Withdrawal of the health care reform combined with a mass vaccination programGuaranteed basic income of one minimum monthly salary

Defend national agricultural, industrial and artisanal production

Defend sovereignty and food security

Eliminate tuitions and alternative education

End gender discrimination and support sexual and ethnic diversity

No privatizations and end crop eradication with glyphosate

Up until now Duque has talked about finding consensus, but has only met with the leaders of the major capitalist political parties, the military, and the Supreme Court, but now he says he is willing to meet the strike committee.

The massive revival of the protest movement was unexpected, even by its leaders. Its revival is a good thing, and marks a major step forward in the rebirth of the Colombian left after decades of being dominated by the debilitating guerrilla wars.

Government repression is a constant factor in this country, but it had been mostly absent from the cities for a long time. It’s return is a bad thing, but it has not returned on the level demanded by Alvaro Uribe. City governments are mostly in the hands of opponents of the central government, especially in the hands of the Green Party which has been trying to mediate the conflict.

In Bogotá, Claudia Lopez tried to remain firmly in the middle, but has inched closer to supporting the protests. During Wednesday’s protests, Lopez set up monitors along the 22 lines of march to monitor police behavior, and she encouraged all citizens to film the police with their cell phones. Last Monday, Jorge Iván Ospina, the Green Party mayor of Cali declared a “civic day” and joined the protestors.

The strike and protests are not just occurring at the height of the most recent Covid-19 wave, they are occurring just as a new presidential election race has begun. Elections will be in May 2022.

The Colombian election system has undergone several major changes in the last few decades. First, the Constitution of 1991 introduced a proportional representation system that led to the dissolution of the old two party system and the creation of a multiparty system. The old Liberal and conservative Parties still exist, but they have spun off three other major capitalist parties: the Partido de la U, Cambio Radical, and the Centro Democratico.

Most importantly, a new party on the left, the Polo Democratico Alternativo, and a new center left party, the Green Party, emerged in the process. Both have suffered major internal crises, faction fights, splits, and reorganizations.

Currently, descendants of the three major elements that had formed the Polo (M-19, the Communist Party, and MOIR) again have separate organizations and coalitions but exist in a kind of fluid situation of temporary coalitions that sometimes include the Green Party.

In the run-up to the last presidential election in 2018, the Polo and two factions of the Greens formed Coalición Colombia while Colombia Humana (descendant of M-19 led by Gustavo Petro), El Movimiento Alternativo Indígena y Social, and Fuerza Ciudadana formed Inclusión social para la paz. Each held primary elections to choose presidential candidates leaving Sergio Fajardo of the Greens as the candidate of “Coalición Colombia” and Gustavo Petro as the candidate of Inclusión social para la paz.

Similar temporary coalitions were formed among the right and center capitalist parties. In the end, there were six candidates in the first round of the 2018 presidential election. Ivan Duque, the acolyte of Alvaro Uribe and candidate of something called the Grand Alliance for Colombia, came in first, and Gustavo Petro heading the “List of Decency” came in second. Duque, with 54% of the vote, won the second round against Petro who had 42% of the vote.

Similarly dizzying realignments are now underway in the run-up to next year’s elections.

The second major change in Colombia’s electoral system occurred with the 2015 Constitutional amendment which established that a president can only serve one term in office. This means that Ivan Duque cannot be a candidate in the upcoming election, so the field is wide open for a major dust-up among the five major bourgeois parties.

Uribismo, the child of Bill Clinton’s Plan Colombia, seems to be on the ropes, but whether or not Colombia’s complex and divided left can take advantage of this opportunity remains to be seen.

Underlying the current political and social crisis is the pandemic and its economic consequences. Duque’s reforms aimed to shore up government finances which have been undermined by his own 2019 tax reform which cut taxes for major corporations and the rich combined with a disastrous drop in tax revenue due to the Covid-19 induced recession.

According to DANE, the country’s statistical agency, the percentage of people officially classified as poor rose from 34.7% in 2018 to 42.5% in 2020 while the percentage of those classified as middle class fell from 30.5% to 25.4%.

Duque would like to please the country’s banks and the world bond market by maintaining the country’s bond rating, Petro on the other hand has tweeted that poor countries have the right to stop paying the foreign debt, especially owing to the pandemic.

If Duque in fact withdraws his tax reform, it will merely postpone the inevitable economic consequences of rising foreign debt which now stands at 56% of annual GDP.

Where is all of this going? While no precise predictions are possible, it is a certainty that the crisis is going to deepen during the next year. Any deal the strike committee makes with Duque will at best be a stopgap measure and almost certainly will not be able to meet all seven of the committee’s programmatic points.

Addendum to “Colombian upsurge at a turning point?”

Upon rereading what I just sent you, I realize that I have omitted a major factor in the situation that could determine tomorrow’s outcome: Covid 19.

The country’s hospitals and ICUs are overflowing. This is the worst moment of the pandemic here so far, despite a significant increase in the rate vaccinations. Colombia is approaching a health care crisis similar to those experienced already by Brazil and India.

When the national strike was announced in response to the government’s tax reform at the end of April, a lot of people on the left were hesitant or even opposed because of the increasingly desperate health care situation. Nevertheless, when the protests began, the left united behind them.

The Covid-19 crisis is clearly the cumulative result of the government’s slow and indecisive reaction to the pandemic combined with the predictable development of new and more contagious and/or deadly variants. The Duque government followed what might be called the European Union model rather than that Trump or Bolsanaro model. It relied on government restrictions on movement and socialization combined with masking and a cost-conscious vaccination program.

The policy seemed to work, more or less. It prevented the country’s hospitals from becoming overwhelmed for more than a year, but by the end of April that was beginning to change as new more contagious variants (including a Colombian variant) began to appear and become predominate here. While the older population of the country has been vaccinated, the hospitals have filled up with younger and younger Covid patients, and many of these younger patients have required ICU care or have died.

Miami hotels are full of upper class and upper middle class Colombian vaccine tourists.

Colombia’s frontline doctors and nurses are sick and exhausted. While many of them have supported the paro, their sentiments are divided because of fears that the massive crowds, some without masks, have added to the contagion.

The government and the right-wing media have increasingly used Covid 19 as a cudgel against the mass movement, falsely blaming it for the current spike in the pandemic.

This may have been part of the reason for last week’s low turnout at demonstrations, and it could affect the turnout tomorrow.

Anthony

May 14, 2021

Hard Crackers: the Revolutionary Legacy of Noel Ignatiev

Filed under: Counterpunch,workers — louisproyect @ 4:08 pm

COUNTERPUNCH, MAY 14, 2021

Back in 1996, while browsing through the Marxism section at Labyrinth Books near Columbia University, where I was working as a programmer at the time, I spotted a book that stopped me dead in my tracks. Titled “How the Irish Became White” and written by Noel Ignatiev, it did not just promise to be about a particular ethnic group’s embrace of white supremacy but how all whites enjoy privileges that help to keep the working class divided. I purchased the book, took it home and read it over the next couple of days. It remains one of the most important studies of class and race I have ever read.

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May 11, 2021

Paris Calligrammes

Filed under: Film — louisproyect @ 11:06 pm

Now showing as virtual cinema at the Film Forum in New York, “Paris Calligrammes” is a self-portrait of Ulrike Ottinger, a 78-year old German filmmaker who adopted Paris as her artistic, cultural, political and psychological home. Arriving there at the age of 20, she became a Boswell to her chosen Samuel Johnsons, namely the admixture of Marxist intellectuals, Dadaists, Surrealists, bibliophiles, and outsized personalities that made Paris so irresistible to young, aspiring artists and bohemians. Indeed, replace London with Paris and Johnson’s observation captures her feelings as well: “When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”

The entire film consists of footage Ottinger shot over the years, most of which is in stunning black-and-white and reminiscent of the golden age of La Nouvelle Vague. Much of it depicts the street life of the Left Bank as young Parisians flock to nightclubs featuring African-American émigré jazz musicians or to other nightspots that are counterpart to Greenwich Village in the early 60s.

In 1962, she had access to some of the giants of 20th century radical thinking and art, such as Max Ernst, Marcel Marceau, Paul Célan, Walter Mehring, Hans Arp, Jean Genet, Albert  Camus, and Juliet Greco. If you’ve read Ernest Hemingway’s “Moveable Feast,” a wondrous posthumous memoir by Ernest Hemingway that recounts his bohemian youth in Paris in the 1920s, you’ll see Ottinger’s film as a kindred spirit.

It will come as no surprise that Ottinger is a life-long radical. There are eye-opening scenes of Vietnam antiwar demonstrations, the May-June 1968 events as well as penetrating critiques of France’s imperial legacy. It is astonishing to see Moroccans and other colonized peoples marching in parades celebrating their French identity.

Interspersed throughout the film are excerpts from Ottinger’s earlier films that at least to my eyes seem like the counterpart to the underground film movement in the USA with a particular resonance with a work like Jack Smith’s “Flaming Creatures”, especially the earliest signs of a “camp” sensibility. Like Smith, Ottinger is gay. After seeing the brief examples of her work in the film, I am motivated to track them down especially in light of how Wikipedia described her artistic mission as having “constituted a one-woman avant-garde opposition to the sulky male melodramas of Wenders, Fassbinder and Herzog.”

May 4, 2021

What Richard Armitage and Vijay Prashad have in common

Filed under: China,journalism,Uyghur — louisproyect @ 6:04 pm
Richard Armitage

Vijay Prashad

Do you remember Richard Armitage? He is best known for telling Robert Novak that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent. This was part of his overall effort to hobble opposition to Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Plame’s husband was Joseph Wilson, a diplomat who insisted that Saddam Hussein was not trying to import uranium from Niger to make a WMD.

Armitage was always looking for ways to build support for the “war on terror”, even from countries with no apparent interest in Bush’s war. China was one of those countries. As a keen deal-maker who might be described as a bargain basement version of Henry Kissinger, Armitage calculated that China might give its benediction to Bush’s filthy war even if it drew the line at sending troops. There was a perfect bargaining chip. The USA would henceforth endorse the forced assimilation of Uyghurs on the basis that they were allied with al-Qaeda in exchange for China’s backhanded support for the destruction of Iraq. Did it matter that this accusation of Uyghur as jihadists was as about as big a lie as ever heard in the war on terror? One can understand Armitage dishing out this shit but not somebody like Prashad writing for Counterpunch, the number one debunker of the war on terror.

If you read reports from this period, you’ll see how China and the USA’s propaganda machine dovetailed perfectly. It didn’t matter that Al-Qaeda was not in cahoots with Saddam Hussein, nor that the Uyghurs were a key part of Osama bin-Laden’s terrorist network. You can even see how the bourgeois press repeated the Chinese and American bogus claims. In 2006, ABC News repeated China’s big lie about the Uyghurs that are identical to Vijay Prashad’s latest article that has been slithering around the left like a poison snake:

China alleges that Uighur independence movements have been deeply financed by Osama bin Laden and have direct connections to the al Qaeda network.

In a report released in January 2002 titled East Turkestan Terrorist Forces Cannot Get Away with Impunity, the Chinese government said “Bin Laden has schemed with the heads of the Central and West Asian terrorist organizations many times to help the ‘East Turkestan’ terrorist forces in Xinjiang launch a ‘holy war.'”

According to the report, bin Laden met with the leader of the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) in early 1999, and asked him to coordinate with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and Taliban while promising financial aid.

Armitage lined up “Communist” China’s backing when opposition to the war in Iraq was beginning to show signs of exhaustion. If Saddam Hussein was persona non grata, who in their right mind would question ABC’s Islamophobic treatment of the Uyghurs? I guess the people who believed this crap in 2006 are not much different from Grayzone, Prashad and all the other propagandists trying to shore up China’s “socialist” credentials.

For an alternative to this Islamophobic rot, I recommend David Brophy’s take on the supposed “terrorism” of ETIM as well as Uyghur identification with a jihadist group far removed from their secular and nationalistic leanings:

Because the PRC’s discourse is so enmeshed with that of the West, foreign commentary on the Chinese state’s relationship to Islam often finds itself in something of a bind. While striving to be critical of China’s policies, it tends to reproduce certain assumptions that drive these policies. In its most crude form, this commentary simply buys into major elements of the Chinese narrative. Although the high tide of post-9/11 counterterrorism collaboration between China and the West has receded, it has left behind a residue of low-quality punditry that more or less endorses China’s claim to be fighting a serious domestic terrorist enemy. An article published by the Hoover Institute in 2018, for example, while critical of Chinese repression, describes the ‘East Turkmenistan [sic] Islamic Movement’ (ETIM) as ‘the largest domestic extremist group in China’, and parrots China’s evidence-free accusations that this organisation has carried out more than 200 attacks (Auslin 2018). The author’s view of ‘irreconcilable tensions’ here predicts a long-running fight to the end between China and organised Uyghur terrorists.

Most writers these days are more sceptical of such claims, and critical of the Bush administration’s acquiescence in deeming the nebulous ETIM as a terrorist organisation. The instinct of these commentators is to be sharply critical of China’s efforts to play up the scale of the terrorist threat in Xinjiang. But at the same time, the terms of China’s counterextremist discourse are so familiar, so similar to the West’s own way of framing its domestic Muslim populations, that they are difficult to entirely escape. The most well-meaning critiques can easily lapse into them.

One can understand why Prashad would like to see the Uyghurs suppressed. With China’s Belt and Road project on the front burner, anybody getting in the way is clearly a counter-revolutionary. This includes both the US State Department as well as any Uyghur family angry about a son and daughter dragooned into factory work under harsh conditions in virtual concentration camps.

Prashad is a long-time member of the CPI(M) in India that saw “economic growth” as key to India’s future just as the Chinese Communist Party does with the Belt and Road initiative. Not to speak of its role in producing meat that is second to none in environmental despoliation. China has the largest hog herd in the world and accounts for more than a half of the global pig population.

Some of us still remember the role of the CPI(M) led Left Front government in West Bengal in 2008. One can certainly understand why Prashad would support his party against the riffraff who threatened “economic growth” in Nandigram as reported by Snehal Shingavi in the International Socialist Review. What difference was there between some useless farmer in Nandigram and the Uyghurs, who would prefer to be growing food for themselves in a Muslim-tolerant region rather than press ganged into a Han-controlled concentration camp?

Late last year, the Left Front government manhandled the peasants of Singur, a fertile agricultural village in Hooghly District in West Bengal, in pursuit of its industrialization policy. Land was forcibly taken from the peasant population in order to set up a 1,000-acre campus for Tata Motors, India’s largest auto manufacturer. When peasants resisted the enclosures on their land, CPI(M) cadres and police attacked the village ruthlessly.

Even more damning has been the CPI(M)’s handling of the events in Nandigram, a village in East Midnapur District in West Bengal, where peasants and civil society organizations fought off the state’s attempts to take their land for more than eleven months. In 2005, India passed a law legalizing the formation of Special Economic Zones (SEZs), which allow foreign industries access to land cheaply and allow them to produce free of taxes and duties that would otherwise apply. Several states in India have pursued multinational corporations, making land available for such companies as Nokia, Motorola, and Dell.

The CPI(M) had decided to turn over 25,000 acres to Indonesian Salem Group, a front for the family of General Suharto, who came to power by massacring Indonesian communists. When the local party failed to give any concrete information about how peasants would be affected by the deal, villagers—all of them CPI(M) supporters—fortified Block 1 of Nandigram by building barricades, destroying bridges, and digging up roads to keep the police and the CPI(M)’s local party members out, to preserve their land and their lives. After villagers resisted the forcible seizure of their land under a nineteenth century law enacted under British colonial rule, the CPI(M) sent in its cadres, the state police, and other thugs to regain control over the land. The opposition was led by villagers and the Committee Opposed to Land Seizures (the Bhumi Uchhed Pratirodh Committee), the Socialist Unity Center of India, and members of the Trinamool Congress.

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