Year in Review: 2006
The fourth year of the US war in Iraq was the bloodiest, with the eruption of full-scale inter-communal civil strife between Sunni and Shi’ite-based militias. The US occupation regime encouraged and fomented such conflicts, while itself perpetrating a series of bloody atrocities against civilians. At the same time, Washington began to threaten war against Iran, following the first in a long series of stage-managed crises over Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program.
The blatant violations of international law by the strongest imperialist power, the United States, encouraged lesser powers to do likewise. The most flagrant was the principal US ally in the Middle East, Israel, which invaded Lebanon in August, laying waste to much of the southern region of the country but suffering a humiliating setback in the conflict with forces of the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement.
President Mahinda Rajapakse in Sri Lanka also seized on the opportunity to follow the American example, breaking the four-year ceasefire with the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and presenting a resumption of the civil war in the island country as an extension of the Bush administration’s “war on terror.”
In every country engaged in such wars, stepped-up domestic repression inevitably accompanied military action. In the United States, this included unprecedented domestic spying and open government sanction for the kidnapping, torture and indefinite detention of anyone branded a “terrorist” by the military-intelligence apparatus.
The growing evidence of massive US and coalition forces war crimes in Iraq and Afghanistan exposed the fraud that the wars were humanitarian or being fought to establish democracy. Instead, the occupation regime instigated sectarian and ethnic tensions within Iraq, while unleashing savage violence against any resistance to the occupation.
The sadistic atrocities, including repeated cases of torture, rape, and indiscriminate murder, demonstrated the brutality of the war machine employed by the ruling class to extend its geopolitical dominance through the resource-rich regions of the Middle East and Central Asia.
The World Socialist Web Site clarified the fundamental lessons that arose out of the war crimes committed during 2006 by US and allied forces in Iraqi towns and cities like Baiji, Basra, Baghdad, Ishaqi, Thar Thar, Mahmudiyah, and Ramadi, as well as those committed in Azizi, Zhari and Gereshk, Afghanistan.
In May, the US government finally broke the silence over the slaughter of 24 innocent men, women, children, and elderly people that had occurred in Haditha, Iraq, more than half a year earlier. Most of the victims were shot execution-style in the head and chest. The WSWS cited the account of nine-year-old victim Eman Waleed, who told Time magazine, “First, [the US soldiers] went into my father’s room, where he was reading the Koran and we heard shots. I couldn’t see their faces well. Only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.”
In June, evidence emerged that US troops in Ishaqi deliberately killed eleven civilians three months before, including five children, some as young as six. US soldiers handcuffed the victims—including children, women, and infants—before shooting them in the face. The perpetrators then called in an airstrike to hide any evidence of the massacre. The US Army subsequently exonerated those responsible. After the Ishaqi massacre, the WSWS wrote:
These incidents are not mere aberrations, but arise inevitably from the nature of the conflict ⎯ an illegal war of conquest and colonial-style occupation, carried out to secure US domination of the country’s vast oil resources and advance the geo-strategic interests of American imperialism.
This element of gratuitous violence and cruelty reflects the violence and backwardness of American society as a whole. Inevitably, the American army brings with it wherever it goes the consequences of a deliberate campaign by the media and the political establishment over a quarter century to coarsen and degrade public consciousness and the national culture.
In October of 2006, the British medical journal Lancet published a study that for the first time sought to make a scientific estimate of the number of people killed in Iraq as a result of the US invasion. Their estimate was astounding: 655,000 Iraqis, or 2.5 percent of the entire population. The estimate was later increased to over one million. The American political and media establishment did all it could to ignore or downplay the evidence of massive war crimes.
While lower-level officers and soldiers carried out US military massacres, higher-ranking officers authorized them and covered them up. The most culpable war criminals were the architects of the invasion and torture campaign itself. George Bush, Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzales, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Colin Powell, John Ashcroft, Robert Gates, and military officials oversaw, implemented, and systematically encouraged a program of brutality that included the use of death squads and torture.
While the high-ranking engineers of the criminal war machine acted with impunity, they sought to make an example of Saddam Hussein, who was hanged at a secret location in the dark of night on December 30.
The sham trial that preceded the execution was orchestrated by US proconsul Paul Bremer, was overseen by a series of judges appointed by the Bush administration and set an example of ruthlessness. As the WSWS noted following Hussein’s execution:
The most fundamental political motive of the Bush administration is its desire to kill a major opponent, openly, before the eyes of the world, simply to demonstrate its ability and will to do so. In the view of the White House, Saddam is an object lesson to any future opponent of American imperialism: Defy the will of Washington, and his bloody fate could be yours.
The destruction of the Ba’athist regime in Iraq, which the US had tacitly backed in the Iran-Iraq War, left Iran the strongest regional power in the Persian Gulf and the logical next target of the US drive to dominate the most important oil-producing area in the world.
A new stage in US efforts to undermine the Iranian regime began in 2006, with a campaign by the Bush administration to pressure the United Nations Security Council to pass sanctions after Iran announced it would resume its uranium enrichment program. A January 21 WSWS Editorial Board statement declared:
Just as it used Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction, the Bush administration is exploiting the Iranian “nuclear threat” to advance its ambitions for untrammelled domination of the resource-rich region …
In opposing the predatory activities of US imperialism in the Middle East, however, the World Socialist Web Site does not give any political support to the reactionary theocratic regime in Tehran nor to any attempt on its part to acquire nuclear weapons.
The threat of nuclear war is not an answer to imperialist aggression, but a recipe for a nuclear holocaust in the Middle East and beyond. The only realistic alternative to the predatory policies of imperialism and the danger of nuclear war is the program of revolutionary class struggle.
More evidence of the US preparations to bomb Iran became public during the year, as the Bush administration stepped up the pressure despite grudging resistance from China and Russia, which saw the US drive against Iran as a threat to their own interests. So flagrant were the falsifications employed by US officials that the UN’s own nuclear inspection agency, the IAEA, issued a report criticizing them. But by the end of the year, the UN Security Council enacted stringent new sanctions on Iran that could serve, as the example of Iraq had shown, as a pretext for war.
The flagrant disregard of international law by the United States set an example to be followed by lesser powers, particularly the main US ally in the Middle East, Israel. In July 2006, the Israel Defense Forces carried out a massive invasion across the Israel-Lebanon border, leading to a month-long conflict that gripped the attention of the world and posed the danger of a far wider regional war.
Israel seized on the detention of several Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah forces in south Lebanon to launch the invasion, under the pretext of rescuing victims of “kidnapping.” It was later revealed that a secret Israeli government committee had two years earlier debated plans for just such a military action.
The invasion received the full political, financial and military backing of the United States. A WSWS Editorial Board statement noted:
The immediate aim of this war — the elimination of Hezbollah as a military and political force within Lebanon — is directed against all mass resistance to Israeli and American domination of the country. The Bush administration and its allies in Jerusalem see this as an essential step toward: (1) the removal of the Syrian Baathist regime, and (2) the launching of a full-scale war against Iran.
Israeli forces carried out brutal attacks as they attempted to seize control of southern Lebanon up to the Litani River. They dropped leaflets urging the population to flee, while the IDF were, in fact, bombing escape routes. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice toured the Middle East, refusing to call for an Israeli ceasefire, thus helping Israel fulfill its war aims.
Despite brazen atrocities, including the killing of at least 57 people, the majority of them children, in an apartment house in the town of Qana, both the Bush administration and the American media gave unstinting support to the Israeli invasion.
The WSWS warned that this policy was aimed at preparing the American public for an expansion of wars throughout the Middle East:
US support for the Israeli war against Lebanon is merely a stepping stone for future military campaigns aimed at bringing about “regime change” in Syria and Iran. Washington intends to allow no regime that poses even a potential challenge to its global ambitions to remain in power.
For all the ferocity of the Israeli attack, Hezbollah, the Shi’ite movement, which had wide support among the most oppressed sections of the Lebanese population, showed unprecedented resistance to the invasion. The IDF made little progress and proved unable to halt retaliatory bombardment of towns in northern Israel. After a month of war, Israel and the Bush administration accepted a ceasefire backed by the UN Security Council.
The outcome was a debacle for Israel and the US. The WSWS explained:
The international image of both Israel and the US has suffered massively. Israel is seen more than ever as a lawless and murderous regime, responsible in Lebanon for carrying out repeated war crimes. The US is seen as the criminal regime pulling the strings; nothing will erase the image of Rice standing in Beirut proclaiming the birth of a “new Middle East” while US-supplied Israeli bombs and missiles were destroying the country.
The other major war that broke out in the summer of 2006 continued for three years, not one month. In Sri Lanka, having narrowly won the November 2005 election with the backing of two Sinhala extremist parties, President Mahinda Rajapakse soon dropped any pretence of being a “man of peace.” He plunged the country back into the bloody communal war that had been launched by the Colombo ruling elite in 1983.
As a result of deliberate military provocations against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Oslo peace talks between the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE collapsed in June. Within weeks, on the humanitarian pretext of reopening an irrigation sluice gate closed by the LTTE, the government launched an offensive to retake LTTE-controlled areas, paving the way for the further escalation of the war, which claimed tens of thousands of lives.
In October, the Socialist Equality Party in Sri Lanka condemned the government’s resumption of the war, laid bare its deep political, economic and historic roots, and advanced a socialist program to end the war. The SEP explained that the return to war was bound up with the new period of global militarism launched by the United States. Directly encouraged by the Bush administration, and having backed Washington’s crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the government in Colombo had unleashed its own aggression against the island’s Tamil minority, under the umbrella of the “global war on terrorism.”
The SEP demanded the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all Sri Lankan security forces from the war zones of the North and East, as part of the fight to unite the workers and oppressed masses of the island—Sinhala- and Tamil-speaking alike—in the struggle for a socialist program across South Asia and internationally.
The party warned that the Sri Lankan military and its allied paramilitaries were committing atrocities—including the cold-blooded murder of 17 aid workers and an air attack on a school that killed scores of young female students—and waging a covert campaign of abductions and extra-judicial killings to terrorize the Tamil population and anyone critical of the war, including journalists.
As a prime example of this, SEP supporter Sivapragasam Mariyadas was shot dead at his home in the eastern rural town of Mullipothana on August 7. The SEP and the WSWS launched an international campaign to demand the arrest and prosecution of his killers.
The year 2006 saw a series of exposures of the advanced preparations by the US government to rule through police-state methods. The WSWS commented on reports exposing secret spying in the US; torture and human rights violations in Guantanamo Bay prison; and how European governments helped the US in flying captives to secret prisons to be tortured, a practice called extraordinary rendition. In addition, Congress passed and Bush signed a watershed act setting aside the provisions of the Constitution and Bill of Rights for prisoners tried before military tribunals.
In December 2005, the New York Times had published an article revealing the National Security Agency, previously involved in foreign intelligence, was eavesdropping on millions of Americans and others inside the United States. In January 2006, one of the article’s authors, James Risen, published a book describing the vast databases being created by the National Security Agency, with the assistance of the telecommunications and computer industries.
The NSA actively mined data without court-issued warrants, surveying communications within the US and going in and out of the country. The agency tracked phone calls of hundreds of millions of Americans. The WSWS warned, “This threat must not be underestimated. It is the outcome of a protracted breakdown of American democracy, rooted in the crisis of the capitalist system and the resultant malignant growth of social inequality.”
In August, a New York Times column revealed the newspaper had learned of the NSA illegal domestic spying before the November 2004 presidential election, but waited until more than a year afterwards to publish it. The Bush administration urged the Times to withhold publication and it complied. The WSWS noted:
The Times’s conduct speaks to the virtual integration of the American mass media into the state apparatus. It reveals the degree to which the media functions as a propaganda appendage of the government, concealing or distorting facts on cue.
We also reported on documents the Defense Department released in response to an Associated Press lawsuit. More than 5,000 pages were handed over, mainly partial transcripts of the Combatant Status Review Tribunals, kangaroo courts in which prisoners have sought to challenge their status as “enemy combatants.” When AP published its analysis, we wrote, “The analysis gives a glimpse into the lives of hundreds of people who have been arbitrarily swept up and held without cause for years, subjected to abuse and wretched conditions…. They are being held in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and all standards of international law.”
More evidence emerged this year that European governments were complicit in the CIA practice of extraordinary rendition (in effect, kidnapping). European governments had denied being aware of this practice. However, in March, the government of British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted it allowed aircraft being used by the CIA to fly prisoners to secret detention centers, where they would be tortured.
In April, we wrote about a report from the human rights organization Amnesty International. The report “charts in minute detail the odyssey of three Yemeni citizens through four US secret prisons in Afghanistan, Djibouti, and probably Eastern Europe, and documents the hundreds of landings and take-offs at European airports by planes used by the CIA for illegal abductions.” With rendition, we wrote, “There is neither a formal indictment nor a report to any state authorities or to the families about where the prisoners are. The victims do not have any access to lawyers or other legal aid; they have literally vanished from sight.”
In October, President George Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 that had been passed by the House of Representatives and Senate. After passage of the law, the WSWS wrote:
It attacks the rights of all American citizens, as well as all legal residents and other immigrants, who will now be subject to the threat of arrest and imprisonment for life, on the order of the president alone, without judicial review.
Under the terms of this law, the president may designate any person as an “unlawful enemy combatant,” to be rounded up by intelligence agents and jailed indefinitely without legal recourse. The law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as “an individual engaged in hostilities against the United States” who is not a regular member of an opposing army….
A subsequent analysis emphasized the historic nature of this attack on the Constitution and Bill of Rights:
The most sweeping legal change wrought by the act is to eliminate the habeas corpus rights of any non-citizen seized by the US government and imprisoned as an “unlawful enemy combatant.” These individuals will have no right to a judicial hearing to examine whether there is sufficient evidence to warrant their detention.
The implication of such reports is clear: plans are well under way, in the Bush administration and the military and intelligence agencies, to criminalize political dissent and treat those who oppose the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those who defend democratic rights, as potential terrorists, who can be branded as “unlawful enemy combatants,” arrested, and locked away in a new American gulag.
The International Committee of the Fourth International prepared for the political upheavals of 2006 at an expanded meeting of the International Editorial Board of the World Socialist Web Site, held in Sydney, Australia from January 22 to 27, 2006. Leading WSWS IEB members and delegates from the sections of the International Committee of the Fourth International presented reports on the political conditions in virtually every region of the world, later published in the WSWS.
David North, the chairman of the IEB, gave the opening report. He explained:
Any serious attempt at a political prognosis, at an estimate of the potentialities within the existing political situation, must proceed from a precise and accurate understanding of the historical development of the world capitalist system.
The analysis of the historical development of capitalism must answer the following essential question: Is capitalism as a world economic system moving along an upward trajectory and still approaching its apogee, or is it in decline and even plunging toward an abyss?
The answer that we give to this question has, inevitably, the most far-reaching consequences, not only for our selection of practical tasks, but for the entire theoretical and programmatic orientation of our movement.
In his report on the world economy, Nick Beams stated:
This year has opened with predictions of further strong growth in all the major industrial economies and in the global economy…. However, behind the short-term optimistic outlook, serious economists have concerns about the state of the global economy. They point to a series of deep-going structural imbalances and tensions—above all generated by the mounting US balance of payments deficit and accelerating indebtedness—which, at a certain point, must give rise to rapid changes, if not a crisis.
After reviewing the historical trajectory of world capitalism over more than a century, Beams concluded, “The previous period of globalization from 1870 to 1914 led to wars and revolution. The outcome of the present phase of globalization will be no less explosive.”
Barry Grey explained the critical role of American capitalism: “The fate of world capitalism over the past century has been linked to that of the United States more than to any other national economy or national state.” He traced the rise and fall of the US economy in relation to the world economy and stated:
These deep-going changes have had a major impact on relations between the classes, and on the social physiognomy of the various classes within the US. The American ruling elite itself has changed. The general process of decline finds a noxious expression in the political, intellectual and even moral decay of the ruling layers. In general, the most predatory, ignorant, short-sighted and reactionary elements have risen to the top.
In his report David Walsh reviewed the current state of art and how it reflected objective problems in society. He said:
A sense of artistic proportion is missing when the artist or artists are more or less distant from the real driving forces in life and society, when the true array of social and psychological forces is unclear and lacking concreteness. Skepticism about human capacities and more than a morsel of misanthropy are also often present.
Clearly, there are objective historical problems contained in these difficulties. Art cannot save itself or entirely clarify itself. The social movement of masses of human beings plays a decisive role. Trotsky writes about “the struggle for freedom of the oppressed classes and peoples [that] scatters the clouds of skepticism and of pessimism which cover the horizon of mankind.”
The meeting also included reports on the war in Iraq, perspectives for China, Europe, Britain, Latin America, Africa, Zionism and the Mideast, the growing attacks on democratic and constitutional rights, and on the 2006 US elections, including the upcoming campaign by the Socialist Equality Party.
These reports constituted a worked-out Marxist analysis of the state of world affairs at the beginning of 2006 and a perspective to guide the struggles of the working class in the period ahead. They anticipated both the world financial crisis that erupted in 2008 and continues to this day, and the mass upheavals that have swept the Middle East, Europe and other parts of the world under the impact of this crisis.
The IEB meeting provided the foundation for a series of political initiatives by sections of the International Committee, including the campaign of the German section in the state elections in Berlin, in which the PSG sharply distinguished itself from all the tendencies on the so-called left, including the Social Democrats, the Party of Democratic Socialism (the former Stalinists) and the Election Alternative (WASG). The two last-named groups would merge to form the Left Party, now one of the main props of capitalist rule in Germany.
In the United States, the Socialist Equality Party mounted a major campaign in the November mid-term election, including candidates for federal office in New York, California and Michigan and for state office in Illinois, Maine, Oregon and Washington.
As explained in the announcement of the campaign, the SEP’s perspective was not a purely electoral one, but rather to “give voice and leadership to the opposition of millions of working people and youth within the United States and internationally to the Bush administration’s policies of war, repression and exploitation.”
Bill Van Auken of the WSWS editorial board was the SEP candidate for US Senate in New York, opposing the Democratic incumbent and likely presidential contender Hillary Clinton, who had voted to authorize the US war of aggression against Iraq.
In Illinois, Democratic Party operatives tried to block the SEP candidate Joe Panarauskis from a place on the ballot. The SEP launched an international campaign that resulted in the SEP candidate being certified for the ballot.
As the SEP campaign platform elaborated a program of socialist demands, based on meeting the needs of working people, and concluded:
The SEP campaign does not have and does not want access to the billions in contributions from corporate America and the super-rich which finance the Democratic and Republican parties and their campaigns of mutual mudslinging and lies. What we seek to achieve—raising the political consciousness of the working class—can be accomplished only by developing a grassroots political movement that will broadly mobilize workers, professionals, young people and students and extend beyond the election itself, laying the foundations for the building of a mass socialist party of the working class.
As the SEP had anticipated, millions of working people and young people voted in the 2006 elections to express their opposition to the war in Iraq and the reactionary policies of the Bush administration and the Republican Party. The Democrats, despite making only the most timid appeal to antiwar sentiment, were the entirely undeserved beneficiaries of this shift to the left among the American people, winning dozens of seats in the House of Representatives and taking control of both the House and Senate for the first time in 12 years.
The statement published by the WSWS the day after the election warned:
There is a vast chasm between the massive antiwar sentiment within the electorate and the commitment of Democratic Party leaders to “victory in Iraq” and continued prosecution of the “war on terror.”
Those who voted for the Democratic Party in order to express their opposition to the Bush administration and the war will rapidly discover that a Democratic electoral victory will produce no significant change in US policy, either abroad or at home. Millions of working people and youth will sooner rather than later come into direct conflict with the Democrats.
In the state of Victoria, the SEP in Australia ran in elections held November 25, opposing both the Australian Labor Party, which held power in the state, as well as the Greens. The platform presented by the SEP campaign placed at its center the fight for the working class to break with the trade unions and the ALP and build new organizations of struggle, based on revolutionary socialist principles.
On January 2, an explosion trapped 13 coal miners at the Sago mine in West Virginia. The mine had been cited for many safety violations in 2004 and 2005. In a series of articles over the next five months, the WSWS investigated the details of the tragedy, which led to the death of 12 miners, and showed how safety cuts had hindered the rescue.
The WSWS published letters sent to us about the conditions in the mines in different states and interviewed friends and relatives of the fallen miners. We also traced the history of the mining industry and powerful struggles of the miners for better conditions. “Most if not all of the deaths this year in US coal mines could have been prevented if safety measures proposed for nearly two decades had not been blocked and eventually killed by officials from the Clinton and Bush administrations,” stated an article on the deregulation of the coal industry.
In this coverage, the WSWS served as a voice for the miners, provided social and political exposures of what led to the miners’ deaths, explained the history of the industry and miners struggles, and gave miners the perspective needed to fight the terrible conditions in the mines.
Also in January, Canada’s twelve-year-old Liberal government was unseated after the most powerful sections of Canadian capital swung their support to the Conservative Party—which had been founded just two years before through the merger of the rightwing populist Reform Party/Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives, the Canadian elite’s traditional alternative party of government. The Liberals had carried out the greatest social spending cuts in Canadian history, cut taxes on big business and the rich, and mounted a major drive to re-arm Canada’s military. Yet the ruling class demanded an even more radical right-wing course.
The new government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper escalated Canada’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan while copying the anti-democratic methods of the Bush administration at home. This including the staged arrest of an “Islamicist terrorist cell” in Toronto—a group of young people who were being manipulated by state agents provocateurs—which became the occasion for a huge media scare campaign.
As European governments were lining up with the intervention of US imperialism in the Middle East and Central Asia, they sought to mobilize support for a more aggressive foreign policy by whipping up anti-Islamic chauvinism at home. In the fall of 2005 the Danish right-wing newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a racist cartoon of the Islamic prophet Mohammed. Early in 2006, major French newspapers, followed by newspapers and broadcast media around the world, followed suit. In reaction, masses of people demonstrated from the Indian subcontinent to North Africa.
The WSWS condemned the publication of the cartoons as a political provocation. We exposed those liberals and fake lefts who defended what we called the “promulgation of such bigoted filth” by claiming that this was an issue of secularism and freedom of the press. Rather, the WSWS explained, the campaign to represent Islam as a backward and inferior culture was part and parcel of growing attacks on the social and democratic rights of the working class in Europe and the US.
The whipping up of anti-Muslim sentiment in Europe was clearly an effort by the ruling elite to provide a scapegoat for the mounting social opposition to cuts in jobs, living standards and public services, as strikes and protests developed in many of the most important countries.
In Germany, about 40,000 public service workers launched a strike February 6 against drastic wage cuts for new hires, longer working hours, and worsening conditions. The struggle continued for 14 weeks, making it the longest in post-World War II German history, until it was betrayed and called off by officials of the Verdi trade union.
During the public service workers’ strike, 22,000 university hospital doctors, members of a small professional union, began their own strike over wages and conditions, joined later by staff doctors at 700 regional hospitals. Verdi openly opposed and denounced the doctors, isolated the strikes, and contributed to their eventual defeat. The WSWS drew out the lessons and called upon workers to support the SEP in Germany (PSG) which campaigned for socialist policies in response to these attacks in its election campaign in the capital.
On March 18, 2006, 1.5 million people marched in Paris and other French cities against the introduction of the First Job Contract (CPE), which gave employers the right to sack young workers arbitrarily. This demonstration was the culmination of a movement of young school and university students that enjoyed overwhelming support in the population and had taken the conservative Villepin government by surprise.
The WSWS explained the political tasks confronting workers and youth in France and stressed the need for a conscious break with reformist and national perspectives. We warned that the Socialist Party and the Communist Party had played critical roles in helping impose austerity measures and that another government of the official left would play a no less treacherous role.
When the government withdrew the CPE in early April and then reintroduced it in a slightly modified form, all parties of the so-called “extreme left” proclaimed that this was a major victory. In reality, none of the problems facing French workers and youth had been solved. The WSWS held a number of meetings in France discussing the lessons of the anti-CPE struggle. During this month, the WSWS began to post daily articles in French and has continued to post articles on a daily basis in French since then.
In April, the right-wing government of Silvio Berlusconi in Italy was ousted in parliamentary elections, with the center-left coalition headed by Romano Prodi winning a narrow victory. The WSWS explained that far from representing any shift in policies, Prodi proposed to carry out the same attacks on social benefits and jobs, but making use of the collaboration of the trade unions and the PDL, the main successor to the Stalinist Italian Communist Party.
The most significant result of the election was the emergence of Rifondazione Comunista, the faction of former Stalinists most closely aligned with the middle-class left, as the main prop of the new government and its program of austerity and war (Italian troops were stationed in Afghanistan as part of the US-NATO occupation). Fausto Bertinotti, leader of the RC, was elected speaker of the lower house, the most powerful parliamentary position, as a reward for his support.
In May, the Howard government in Australia dispatched 1,300 troops to East Timor, just weeks after bolstering its neo-colonial police-military force in the Solomon Islands in response to anti-government protests. An SEP Australia statement characterized the intervention as a “naked act of neo-colonial bullying aimed at protecting the economic and strategic interests of Australian imperialism in the Asia Pacific region.”
The SEP and WSWS held public meetings against the East Timor intervention. In his report to the meetings, Nick Beams detailed how the middle-class “left” had aligned itself with Australian imperialism by supporting the intervention, as they did in 1999.
Within just six weeks, the intervention resulted in an Australian-backed political coup which overthrew Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri of the nationalist Fretilin movement and installed Canberra-aligned Jose Ramos Horta. The WSWS published a detailed three-part analysis, “How Australia orchestrated regime change in East Timor,” which traced Canberra’s maneuvers over the preceding five years to remove the elected government.
The WSWS also exposed Canberra’s dirty tricks operations elsewhere in the South Pacific, including the Howard government’s attempt, supported by the Labor Party, to extradite Solomon Islands Attorney General Julian Moti on spurious rape allegations as a means of destabilizing the government of the Solomon Islands and preventing any inquiry into Australia’s neo-colonial takeover of that country.
The presidential election in Mexico July 1 produced a major political crisis, as Felipe Calderon of the ruling right-wing PAN claimed victory over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the populist PRD by the narrowest of margins. Lopez Obrador challenged the result, charging widespread fraud, and mass protests by his supporters paralyzed Mexico City for months. Calderon ultimately took office December 1.
The WSWS explained that Lopez Obrador “has sought to walk a political tightrope. On the one hand, he has sought to appeal to the demands of Mexican workers for social programs and jobs and, in the process, has made demagogic attacks on Mexico’s ruling oligarchy. On the other hand, he has sought to assure Mexican and foreign business that as president he would not carry out any policies that would seriously challenge the political and economic domination of the ruling elite.”
In September, a military coup in Thailand ousted billionaire populist demagogue Thaksin Shinawatra and sent him into exile. The coup followed months of infighting instigated by right-wing factions in the ruling elite, including the monarchy, who feared that social concessions made to the rural masses in the agricultural northeast, Thaksin’s political base, could have uncontrollable political consequences.
In November and December, election results in Latin America confirmed the rise of a faction of the ruling elite that employed social-democratic and populist rhetoric to head off a movement to the left by the working class. This included the reelection of Lula as president of Brazil, the return to power of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua, and the election of Rafael Correa in Ecuador.
At the end of 2006, the WSWS pointed out that the year was generally a poor one for US and English-language films. In point of fact, it was a dismal year, and some headlines from WSWS film reviews give the flavor:
- Peter Jackson’s King Kong: A colossal triviality
- United 93: Everything but how and why it happened
- The film version of A Prairie Home Companion: Less than might have been hoped for
- The Devil Wears Prada: Mostly a love affair with money and fame
- Oliver Stone’s World Trade Center: A crude and dishonest work
- Michael Mann’s Miami Vice: Why this film?
- Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette: Not even cake?
- Scorsese’s The Departed: Stop and think
- Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto: A painful experience
As Arts Editor David Walsh noted in his year-end review, film-makers, even those with good artistic instincts, were woefully lacking in an understanding of the society in which they lived and worked: “Decent and humane intentions need to be enriched and deepened by knowledge—about history and society, above all. To do important work one needs to know important things.”
There were some exceptions, although few made it to general release in the American market, and most could be seen only at film festivals: Water, whose review was accompanied by an interview with director Deepa Mehta, the target of a censorship campaign by right-wing Hindu fundamentalists; the Iraq War documentary The Prisoner, or How I Planned to Kill Tony Blair; the flawed Ken Loach film on the Irish rebellion of 1916, The Wind that Shakes the Barley.
There were obituaries of two important film-makers: Robert Altman and Japan’s Shohei Imamura.
On the music scene, the Dixie Chicks released an album maintaining the group’s anti-war stance and their empathy towards social situations faced by the working class. A right-wing campaign against them was launched after the lead vocalist, Natalie Maines, came out against George W. Bush and the war on Iraq in 2003. The witch-hunt largely flopped.
The WSWS also published a series of articles on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of the birth of Mozart, reviewing the social and political context that shaped the great composer, outlining his careers, his unique blend of Italian and German musical styles, and his debts to both the baroque tradition and his friend and mentor Josef Haydn.
The WSWS reviewed an exhibit of 800 years of Russian artwork at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The WSWS explained the political purpose of the exhibit: to portray the “new” Russia as a major player on the world scene. We criticized the obvious exclusion of art during the Russian Revolution and the impact of the revolution on art, before the destructive effects of Stalinism.
The WSWS also reviewed Honour Bound, a multimedia performance on the treatment of David Hicks, an Australian imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay for almost five years.
In the field of philosophy, the WSWS published a two-part review by David North of the volume Marx after Marxism: The Philosophy of Karl Marx, by Tom Rockmore. North refuted Rockmore’s efforts to portray Marx as an idealist who essentially remained a Hegelian, as well as his attack on Engels as a vulgar, mechanical materialist. North wrote:
There exists a substantial body of new academic literature that argues for a revival of various forms of pre-Marxian philosophy and politics. It claims that the emergence of young Dr. Marx in the early 1840s aborted the development of alternative left-progressive philosophies and social movements. As the work of Marx developed on the basis of a withering critique of Hegel, it is argued that the damage done by Marx’s attack must be repaired. Having been stood on his feet by Marx, these writers argue, it is now necessary to turn the old idealist philosopher back on his head.