Year in Review: 2000
People around the world rang in New Year’s Day 2000 with hopes that the new millennium would bring a better world, one with less violence and poverty. For their part, the ruling classes proclaimed that social convulsions and revolutions were a thing of the past and the next period would be one of triumphant capitalism.
The World Socialist Web Site took note of the ever-widening social and economic divisions within capitalism in the United States and internationally. We stressed that global financial instability and intensifying conflicts between rival nation-states presaged a new period of wars and political upheavals.
In the course of the year, this assessment would be borne out, first by the collapse of the dot-com bubble on the stock market, then by the greatest political crisis in more than a century in the United States—the 2000 presidential election. The outcome of the presidential election was in doubt for more than a month after the votes were cast. Finally, the Supreme Court intervened to halt vote-counting in Florida and award the state’s electoral votes, and with it the White House, to George W. Bush.
While maintaining intransigent opposition to both corporate-controlled US parties, the Democrats and Republicans, the WSWS explained that the bitter struggle in Florida was of decisive importance to the working class because of what it revealed about the break with democratic norms by all sections of the US ruling class.
From the beginning of the US presidential election campaign, the WSWS focused attention on the growth of social inequality and the vast gulf between working people and the politicians of both capitalist parties.
Vice President Al Gore, the Democratic nominee, refused to make any appeal to popular hostility to the right-wing conspiracy that had led to the impeachment of Clinton, going so far as to choose Clinton’s most public critic in the Democratic Party, Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, as his running mate.
While rival factions of the corporate elite lined up behind Gore or his Republican counterpart, Texas Governor George W. Bush, son of the former president, workers were alienated and largely excluded from the process. Only when it became clear he would otherwise lose to Bush, who was posturing as a moderate and “compassionate conservative,” did Gore attempt a last-minute populist appeal, stemming his decline in the polls and giving him a narrow victory in the popular vote. An important analysis of the Gore campaign placed it within the framework of the historical crisis of American liberalism.
The Socialist Equality Party published a three-part statement on the WSWS, October 3-5, which analyzed the political issues confronting the working class. The SEP called on workers to oppose both candidates, as well as the Green Party candidate Ralph Nader, and join the struggle to build an independent working class party based on a socialist program.
This statement analyzed concretely the mounting class contradictions in American society, declaring, “The most striking characteristic of the 2000 US election campaign is the apparent discovery by the Democratic and Republican parties, much to their own surprise, that the vast majority of the American population consists of working people who have gained little if any benefit from the stock market boom of the past decade.”
One month before the eruption of the post-election crisis, the SEP statement drew this prescient conclusion: “A campaign that has already had many twists and turns may have further shocks in store. But whatever the outcome, the great issue is this: neither of the bourgeois candidates or parties has any solution to the deepening social crisis.”
On election night, November 7, it was becoming clear that Gore was leading in the popular vote and was the likely winner in the Electoral College, assuming his lead in Florida held up. The Bush campaign moved decisively, in collaboration with the Republican-controlled state government in Florida, headed by the candidate’s brother, Jeb, and right-wing Fox News, where Bush’s cousin, John Ellis, headed the election desk and initiated the claim that Bush had won Florida.
This began five weeks of unprecedented political turmoil, during which it was unclear who would emerge as the head of state in the most powerful imperialist nation. Based on its previous analysis of the Clinton impeachment crisis and the right-wing election campaigns of both the Democrats and Republicans, the WSWS was prepared to analyze and explain the events as they unfolded.
An editorial board statement posted on November 9, “The 2000 US election results: the constitutional crisis deepens,” set the tone:
The extraordinary events of the past 24 hours have fundamentally and irrevocably altered political life in the United States.For the first time in more than 125 years, a national election has produced a disputed result. Not only is there a split between the popular and electoral vote, but the stench of ballot fraud is wafting from the Florida voting precincts upon which Governor George W. Bush’s victory depends.
From the beginning, the WSWS paid very close attention to the suspicious nature of the results in the state of Florida. WSWS reporters went to Florida and published on-the-spot reports and interviews with working people as the crisis unfolded. It became clear that the Republicans had engaged in a campaign of voter intimidation and fraud, including the setting up of checkpoints and roadblocks in predominantly black areas on Election Day. During the crucial Florida recount, they attempted to upset the vote counting through physical violence.
One extraordinary event followed another. While recounts continued in several counties, Florida’s Republican secretary of state, Katherine Harris, moved to certify Bush the winner of the election, only to be blocked by the Florida State Supreme Court, which found, quite correctly, that this action violated the most basic right in a democracy—the right to vote and have every vote counted.
The Republican-controlled state legislature discussed overturning the popular vote entirely and awarding the state’s electoral votes to Bush by legislative fiat, encouraged by suggestions by right-wing justices on the US Supreme Court that “there is no right of suffrage” for the American people in a presidential election and that states might act as they saw fit.
The outcome was ultimately to be decided in the notorious Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, in which a 5-4 majority ordered an end to the Florida recount and then declared that its ruling could not be used as a precedent for any future action. The court had concocted a legal theory for the sole purpose of achieving its desired result of installing Bush in the White House.
Only a few days before the Supreme Court ruling, WSWS International Editorial Board Chairman David North gave an address to a meeting in Sydney, Australia reviewing the far-reaching significance of what was taking place in the United States:
What the decision of this court will reveal is how far the American ruling class is prepared to go in breaking with traditional bourgeois-democratic and constitutional norms. Is it prepared to sanction ballot fraud and the suppression of votes and install in the White House a candidate who has attained that office through blatantly illegal and anti-democratic methods?
A substantial section of the bourgeoisie, and perhaps even a majority of the US Supreme Court, is prepared to do just that. There has been a dramatic erosion of support within the ruling elites for the traditional forms of bourgeois democracy in the United States.
After the court’s ruling, a WSWS Editorial Board statement, “The Supreme Court overrides US voters: a ruling that will live in infamy,” explained that the decision to allow Florida to certify the results of the election without including recounted results represented a “fundamental and irrevocable break with democracy and the traditional forms of bourgeois legality.”
With the discrediting of the high court, every institution of the bourgeois state has fallen into disrepute… The crisis of the 2000 election marks a new point of departure in American life, and, indeed, in world affairs. Social relations and political conditions will never return to what they were before November 7.
We condemned the capitulation of Gore and the Democrats, along with the liberal establishment as a whole, to the Supreme Court’s intervention. In, “A distinction to be noted—George W. Bush: president-elect or president-select,” Barry Grey wrote:
The unseemly haste with which the entire political establishment is rushing to put the election crisis behind it testifies to the fragility of the political system and the depth of the crisis of American society. In the end, the impasse revealed the lack of any significant constituency within the ruling elite for a democratic adjudication of the presidential election. The defense of democratic rights, which will increasingly become a mass question in America, falls directly to the tens of millions of working people who have for so long been effectively excluded from the political process, monopolized as it is by two parties controlled by the corporate and financial oligarchy.
The WSWS developed its work on Marxist political economy during 2000, impelled by the intensifying global economic crisis. The breakup of the stock market bubble in the United States, based on the gross overvaluation of Internet-related stocks, was one of the more spectacular manifestations, but there was mounting instability worldwide.
Besides the explosive growth of America’s trade deficit and international debt, there was the ongoing Japanese recession, a decline in the euro, the Argentine debt crisis and growing international economic imbalances, which the deeply divided leaders of the major imperialist powers could neither mitigate nor manage.
This analysis was developed in a differentiation from the petty-bourgeois left. In “Marxist internationalism vs. the perspective of radical protest,”Nick Beams, national secretary of the SEP Australia, took up the issues raised by the anti-globalization protests of December 1999 in Seattle, where tens of thousands demonstrated at a meeting of the World Trade Organization. In June, the WSWS published Beams’s lecture “Globalisation: The Socialist Perspective,” which was delivered at several Australian universities that month.
An editorial board statement, “The key political issues in the struggle against global capitalism“, distributed to thousands protesting against a World Economic Forum summit in Melbourne, Australia on September 11 provided an important summary of the ICFI’s socialist and internationalist perspective:
The globalisation of production, based on vast advances in computer technology, scientific technique and communications, is an historically progressive development, with the potential to open a new chapter in the history of mankind... The socially destructive consequences that have resulted so far arise neither from globalisation as such nor from technology. They are the outcome of the subordination of world economy to the capitalist order, and to the outmoded system of rival capitalist nation-states.
The intensification of the economic crisis was accompanied by an upturn in strike activity, particularly in the United States, where there were significant and lengthy strikes by workers at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, by television and movie actors, Verizon telecommunications workers, and Los Angeles county and transit workers.
In Europe, a series of strikes and blockades by truck drivers and other workers and small businessmen affected by fuel taxes and the rising price of gasoline and diesel had a widespread impact, particularly in Britain and France.
While the political crisis in the United States was the most significant, there were other political upheavals in 2000, most notably the eruption of the second intifada in Israeli-occupied Palestine, as well as significant transitions in bourgeois politics in Russia, Mexico, Spain, Austria and Serbia, and a military coup in Fiji.
The dead end of bourgeois nationalism was demonstrated in the failure of the Camp David talks between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. Seven years of talks beginning in 1993 demonstrated the bankruptcy of the PLO’s perspective of winning concessions from the Zionist elite in Israel through negotiations brokered by the United States.
In the aftermath of the breakdown of talks, Ariel Sharon, leader of the right-wing Likud Party in Israel, then in opposition to the government of Ehud Barak, staged a provocative visit to the Temple Mount under heavy armed guard. Rioting swept the Palestinian areas of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and was met with overwhelming force by the Israeli military. The death toll, including both military and civilian, was estimated to be over 4,000.
An analysis by the WSWS pointed to underlying social tensions within the Palestinian population and the failure of the Palestinian Authority, established by the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, to bring about any significant improvement for the Palestinian people.
Far from bringing peace and an improvement in living standards, the Oslo Accords and subsequent “land for peace” deals with Israel have intensified the misery of the majority of Palestinian people. With the PA’s economy still totally under Israeli control, living standards have plummeted and unemployment is rife, reaching more than 50 percent in the Gaza Strip… The conditions of near civil war in the aftermath of Sharon’s visit show that this cannot last indefinitely. Social and political tensions have now reached breaking point, at a time when the standing of both Arafat and Barak has been severely undermined.
The WSWS concentrated considerable attention on Russia and the transfer of power from Yeltsin to Putin at the beginning of 2000. Putin first made himself known on the political stage in the turbulent years of 1990-91 as a follower of the radical capitalist market “reformers.” The WSWS foresaw Putin’s trajectory as an authoritarian ruler, unifying the secret police bureaucracy with the emerging financial oligarchy.
In Spain, the right-wing Popular Party (PP) led by José María Aznar won an outright majority in the general elections in March that went far beyond pre-election predictions, forming its first majority government since the end of the fascist Francoite dictatorship in 1976.
Also in Europe, the ultra-right Freedom Party of Jorg Haider entered a coalition government in Austria, the first time since World War II that a party linked to Nazism had shared power. In Serbia, longtime President Slobodan Milosevic was ousted, the culmination of a campaign waged by the imperialist powers since the NATO bombing of Kosovo and Serbia in 1999.
In Mexico, the 71-year reign of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional came to end with the victory of Vicente Fox of the right-wing Partido Acción Nacional over the PRI candidate Francisco Labastida. The PAN had the backing of Wall Street for its promise to deregulate the Mexican economy, already significantly integrated with the rest of North America through the North American Free Trade Agreement. In an analysis on the eve of the vote, the WSWS explained that the demise of one-party PRI rule marked the collapse of its bourgeois-nationalist perspective of isolated national development and the suppression of any expression of the acute social contradictions within Mexico.
The impact of the global economic crisis was felt in political shocks even in the most remote Pacific islands. In Fiji, the Labour government of Prime Minister Mahendra Chaudry was ousted in a coup. The Australian government backed the military intervention as a means of defending its substantial economic and strategic interests in the Pacific country. Fiji’s trade unions, which had backed the Labour government, prevented the working class from mountin g any challenge to the military takeover.
In the course of 2000, the WSWS led a significant campaign against political censorship of film and art. This began in response to the actions of Hindu fundamentalists in India, who in February wrecked the movie set of the film Water on the first day of its production in the Indian state Uttar Pradesh. The third in a trilogy directed by filmmaker Deepa Mehta, the movie dramatized the oppression of widows in contemporary India.
In a chauvinist campaign led by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the main party in the National Democratic Alliance government, Mehta was subjected to slanders and death threats for allegedly insulting India and attacking Hinduism. Indicating its support for the fundamentalist thugs, the Uttar Pradesh government banned the film’s production and expelled Mehta and her crew from the state.
The World Socialist Web Site launched an international campaign in defense of Mehta and her right to produce the film. The campaign won powerful support from internationally acclaimed directors, including Ken Loach and Mohsen Makhmalbaf, independent filmmakers, film technicians, artists, film festival organizers, writers, academics and students. It represented an important counter-offensive against the escalating attacks on democratic rights and freedom of artistic expression in India and around the world.
Direct political censorship by government was the issue in Sri Lanka, where the regime of President Chandrika Kumaratunga used emergency rules, invoked in the civil war with the Tamil separatist movement LTTE, to ban an antiwar film. The film Death on a Full Moon Day, directed by Prasanna Vithanage, is a devastating portrait of the impact of the war on one village in Sri Lanka. The WSWS publicized the film’s banning widely, both in Sri Lanka and internationally, where it achieved a considerable audience, and interviewed the director.
In the United States, WSWS Arts Editor David Walsh took part in efforts to halt the censorship of artist Jef Bourgeau, whose exhibition of contemporary art was shut down by Detroit Institute of the Arts director Graham Beal in November 1999. Bourgeau discussed his experience with the WSWS in January 2000, provoking a lively exchange on censorship, the role of museums, and the validity of contemporary art.
The year 2000 was one of the poorest for Hollywood filmmaking, but the WSWS expanded its international arts collaboration, covering film festivals in San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Berlin and Singapore, where our reviewers discovered several important and moving films from international directors. A highlight of the San Francisco Film Festival was an interview with acclaimed Iranian film director Abbas Kiarostami.
The WSWS also developed its coverage of science and technology, publishing over 60 articles in the year. Perhaps the most significant development in science during the year 2000 was the completion of a “first draft” of the human genome project, with tremendous implications in the field of medicine and the study of evolution. The mapping of the human genome demonstrated the enormously positive potential of scientific development.
In science too, however, there was a struggle against political censorship, most fully displayed in the cover-up of the BSE (mad cow disease) crisis in Britain. In October 2000, the Phillips Inquiry set up by the Labour government in 1997 published its report documenting the epidemic, which was the byproduct of profit-driven methods of feeding livestock.
The inquiry found no one to blame for a catastrophe that affected 180,000 cattle and killed over 160 people, who died of variant Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (vCJD), the fatal brain-wasting illness linked to eating contaminated beef.
A similar cover-up took place in Canada after seven people died and thousands were sickened in an E-coli outbreak involving the water supply in the rural Walkerton area. The WSWS explained that the tragedy was the inevitable result of the reactionary deregulation policies of the Harris Tory government in Ontario, which deliberately concealed the scale and causes of the disaster.
In April 2000, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) overran the key strategic military base at Elephant Pass and advanced rapidly up the Jaffna Peninsula, trapping up to 50,000 Sri Lankan troops in its northern tip. Under strong international pressure, the LTTE halted its offensive, but the military debacle triggered a deep political crisis in Colombo.
Desperate to shore up her government, President Chandrika Kumaratunga called for all-party talks. In an unprecedented move, her government first recognized the SEP as an official party, a status it had been denied for decades, and then invited it to attend the talks. In a letter to the president, SEP General Secretary Wije Dias rejected the invitation, declaring that the meeting would be “a complete sham,” and that its real purpose was to “rubberstamp government decisions already made, lend credibility to its policies and garner support for the continuation of the war.”
Dias’s warnings were confirmed. Six months later, Kumaratunga was forced to call an early general election amid deepening opposition in the working class. The SEP stood a slate of candidates in Colombo to call for an immediate end to the war, the withdrawal of all troops from the North and East, and a unified struggle by workers to defend their jobs, living standards and democratic rights.
The WSWS launched its Tamil language site on May 1, bringing the political and theoretical analysis of the International Committee of the Fourth International to Tamil readers, numbering more than 80 million in India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore, as well as the Tamil diaspora around the world. The Tamil site strengthened the political struggle of the SEP of Sri Lanka to unify the South Asian working class and combat the communal politics stirred up by the civil war in Sri Lanka. The SEP not only opposed the Sinhalese supremacism of the Colombo governments that were responsible for the war, but warned that the Tamil separatism of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam would produce a disaster for the Tamil workers and rural poor.