To Communist Voice: Report on travels in Asia and Europe during March-May, 2010.
The following account of my trip also includes information gathered from reading local news accounts during and after my trip.
The first area of interest was Southeast Asia. In Vietnam and Cambodia, a lot of strikes seem to be occurring recently compared to the rest of the world. However I did not see any evidence of an independent Marxist movement. There is a lot of rural poverty, such as houseboats on the Bonle Sap, a huge Cambodian lake, and they are evidence of a low standard of living. I was not able to see any of the big factory areas while I was in Vietnam.
I arrived In Bangkok, Thailand, during the early stages of the Red Shirt protests there. I stayed at a hotel in the Sukhumvit district, near one of the largest Red Shirt occupation sites, an affluent, economically important district. I observed goings on from above, in the elevated train station, because I didn't have a good sense of what the police reaction would be, or how safe it was to mingle in the crowd. As it turned out, the cops held back, perhaps because of the participation of some radical generals in the protests. So I eventually felt it was quite safe to go down and try to make contact with the protestors. I spend several hours over the course of two or three days mingling with the demonstrators and trying to strike up conversations with any English speakers that I would encounter. The results were not too enlightening because of the limited communication that I was able to accomplish. However, I was able to get a sketchy idea of the social character of the demonstrations through this means.
A lot of workers and poor seemed to be neutral about the protests. They didn't seem clear on the protesters' agenda. Others are aware. There is a lot of resentment of the rich. In the North and Northeast, there has been a lot of action in the countryside, actions to stop trains carrying troops into the city. There is some independent activity of the masses. A lot of energy is being vented in pure belligerence, while it is also taking the form of strikes and fights to raise the minimum wage.
The military as a whole has been forced to back the monarchy, but there are some generals and other military people who support the protestors. This accounts for the hesitancy showed by the government during the stage of the Red Shirt agitation when I was there. Later, the government cracked down on the protests and eventually dispersed the protestors altogether with considerable loss of life and many injuries.
Sixty have been killed in the last few months, after I left Thailand. It looks like a sniper shot and killed Sawasdipol, a prominent Red Shirt general. It is unclear whether this killing was done by a rogue section of the military, or as an official assassination. Another Red Shirt leader is Dr Weng Tojirakarn, who is described a "former communist", although his actions during the protests indicate he is actually a rightist. The protest was very heterogeneous. Many protesters are not too conscious. At first, many accounts in the international media described it as just a fight between the ruling elite and Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters. Later, all media sources said some more wide-ranging social demands were being made. The movement went way beyond Thaksin. Both sides tried to appease his supporters, while giving the masses the fewest concessions. Some leaders tried to push demands beyond what was acceptable. Some 400 to 600 protesters were reported to have guns, plus some with rockets, and Molotov cocktails during the protests.
After Thailand, my next stop was India. There I was planning to meet with a contact of mine, AB. While I was visiting his city, I stayed right down the street from a bakery that was bombed a few months ago. There is an armed police emplacement at the intersection across from the bakery now, and it has just become a part of the scenery. I met AB at his home near there. He is from the upper class, and he is very out of touch with workers and other revolutionary elements. His interest in Marx has developed on an academic basis. I gave him a copy of Marx's Notes on Indian History from my library as a present.
He recently read State and Revolution, and asked me about how it was borne out by events in Russia. I replied that complexities arose in the course of war communism and NEP which would require some more study of the transitional framework put forward in Lenin's book, but AB seemed to miss this point. Although he has been previously politically isolated, he recently got together a discussion group, and has other contacts elsewhere in India.
The April 6 attack by the Naxalites on an Indian paramilitary group at Dantewada was a major topic of our conversations. The Maoist insurgency is having a profound effect on the Indian state. Pakistan is worried about Indian ties to Afghanistan, and wants a more Pakistan-friendly government there. AB's attitude on the whole is correct with regard to India; he sees their imperialism. There is very little consciousness about the imperialist orientation of the Indian government and that is why AB's anti-imperialist attitude is important.
It may seem that the Naxalites are waging guerilla warfare for the sake of warfare, but they actually do put forward some demands for the rural poor, such as not destroying land to expand mining. But they are not into organizing the urban proletariat. Apparently they are opposed to development because they only see its negative side. India has been mounting several large-scale military operations into the countryside which are provoking attacks by the Naxalites.
The final stage of my trip took me into Turkey, and Europe. While I missed the great May Day demonstration in Taksim square, with over 100,000 people, I participated in the Mayday demonstration in Thessaloniki, Greece. The only demonstrations I saw in Turkey were by sideline sects, such as the Turkish Bolshevik Nationalists. In Thessaloniki, there was good sentiment in the crowd, but the overall demo had a parliamentary orientation. There were three Mayday demonstrations in Thessaloniki, one by the Stalinist KKE, one by various left forces not aligned with the Stalinists, such as the parties in the SYRIZA formation, and one by forces calling for direct action outside of parliament. I could not find the location of the rally by the third group, but I marched with the second (SYRIZA-aligned) group, and fell in with the KOE contingent (Communist Organization of Greece). After the rally was over, I had dinner with them at their headquarters and answered their questions about the left in the USA and exchanged views with them on other subjects. I left them some electronic copies of Communist Voice and Workers' Advocate articles.
The groups in this alliance consider mass action as a tactic, in order to push Parliament to pay attention to some mass demands. In Greece the so-called "socialists" (social-democrats, PASOK) have a parliamentary majority, but they act just as reactionary as the non-"socialist" bourgeois parties. They never raise the question of making the rich pay for the crisis. In the ongoing strikes in Greece, the labor traitors play their standard rotten role. There is a lot of anger among workers at this. The KKE has also been playing a rotten role, invoking nationalism. However, they recently issued a leaflet titled "Workers of Europe Rise Up", which we have not been able to read.
Because of the austerity programs being put forward by a number of Continental governments, I expect that Europe will go through an unprecedented period of upheaval in the near future. The working people there are facing cuts, cuts, cuts, amounting to a dismantling of the traditional welfare state there. In the United Kingdom. many health workers are leaving to go to Australia, in order to get a living wage. The austerity craze is permeating the whole continent, and the Greek working class is setting the tone for the proletariat of the whole continent. Students are unhappy as well. The German universities have become a joke, so there is no incentive to push oneself to get a degree, and they are raising the fees all over the place. This was part of a discussion I had with a young German intellectual while I was in Cologne. So the deal is to get nothing in terms of education, and pay more and more money for it. The German situation reflects a general ferment among students across Europe.
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