Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Support victimised Nigerian Students!

Socialist Students in Bangor held a day of action in support of victimised student activists at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife Nigeria.

Iain Dalton & Gemma Chapman, Bangor Socialist Party

Three student leaders are being held in prison on trumped up charges of conspiracy to murder. They were elected by the student body fight against plans to commercialise and undermine education provision and to attack students’ rights to organise and resist.
We ran a stall collecting signatures demanding the students release.
Later on three of us attended the Student Union General Meeting where we spoke to members of the Amnesty Society who pledged support for our solidarity campaign.

For more info about the international day of protests see http://www.socialistworld.net/eng/2007/10/25nigera.html

And for the latest report from Nigeria see http://www.socialistworld.net/eng/2007/10/25nigerb.html

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Venezuela and Crime - The cynical attitude of the opposition on crime

This is the second post in my Venezuela and Crime series, this piece is one I found on the CWI website www.socialistworld.net whilst searching for something else, but it also forms an interesting second introduction to the discussion on some of the aspects i didn't manage to cover in the previous post which can be found here -Venezuela and Crime - A Preliminary Discussion.

Celso Calfullan, CIT (CWI), Caracas, 8 April 2006
The horrendous assassination of three people in Caracas has been used by the opposition to Hugo Chavez as an excuse to start an offensive against the government. After the brutal murder of the Faddoul brothers and their driver by criminals, the opposition parties called demonstrations and protests. Although we cannot but be horrified by the terrible crime and that we all have the duty to denounce such acts and demand justice for the Faddoul brothers, we cannot but feel indignation for the political games the opposition is trying to play in exploiting this situation.

The anti-Chavez opposition warns about ‘social disintegration’ taking place in Venezuela and accuses the government of incompetence when it comes to guaranteeing the safety of its citizens. The opposition says the government is responsible for creating conditions in which criminals can act with impunity.

We have to say that it is good that the opposition finally recognises the existing social disintegration in Venezuela, especially since this is one of the lingering effects of their past political rule. A rule in the service of the Venezuelan employers aimed at intensifying the exploitation of the working class and poor. For decades, the latter suffered hunger, lack of adequate housing and lack of health care. Isn’t this violence, also? Everyday, children and young people die in the most downtrodden areas of this country; unfortunately, in the majority of cases, their plight does not make the pages of the newspapers.

200 peasants killed
Less than a week ago, organisations of the poor peasants and the landless organised held a march in Caracas denouncing the murder of more than 200 peasant leaders by death squads in the service of the big landowners. Unfortunately, they too die an anonymous death. From reading the press, you would not learn about the daily suffering in the countryside. This press who now wails like mad dogs, with the aim to make political capital for the opposition out of the latest crime wave.

Virgini Rivera, the Vice President of COPEI (a Christian democratic opposition party), accused the government of dismantling the police forces during the last 7 years of its rule. This accusation follows on from rumours that the kidnappers and killers of the Faddoul brothers were police officers or dressed up as police officers. This accusation comes from a party, which, in the past, had complete control over the police forces and used them to serve the direct interests of the Venezuelan ruling class. There are many stories to tell about the police being used to repress working class movements or even to assassinate leaders of the left or whatever other opposition movement which threatened their interests. Many of the leading officers in the police force stayed in their posts when Chavez came to power. We would only have to scratch at the surface of the thin layer of paint that covers up their unsavoury past as hired killers against the people.

Enrique Capriles, mayor of Baruta and a leading opposition figure, was even more outspoken about the killings of the Faddoul brothers. He hoped the deaths would "Move the consciousness of the military" so that they would withdraw their support for the government.

What could our friend Capriles be talking about? Another military coup? Let us remember that it took less than 24 hours during the last failed coup for members of the opposition to send out lists with the names of political, trade union, and community activists marked out to receive ‘special attention’.

A national leader of Accion Democratica (a social democratic party), Nelson Lara, claimed in the press that President Chavez is indirectly responsible for the 12,000 assassinations which occur yearly in Venezuela. Nelson Lara says it is Chavez who built a state associated with crime, a state which calls on criminals to enter politics. Maybe Nelson is referring to his old political allies who have now left Accion Democratica to take up seats on the government benches in the parliament.

Another opposition member, Roberto Smith, who represents an opposition party with more letters in the acronym than actual members, claims "The citizens have lost confidence in the institutions, fundamentally in the security services".

He forgets that Chavez won the presidential elections precisely because the majority of the people lost confidence in the political institutions, including the political parties of the opposition. And that part of the middle class voted for Chavez because they thought a man with a military background would put a stop to chaos, crime, and corruption.

We cannot claim, however, that the Chavez government carries no responsibility at all for the high level of crime and violence. This arises mainly as a result of its desire to look for compromise with the ruling class, who are primarily to blame for the miserable and insecure situation in the country.

Working class must lead struggle against crime
Chavez speaks of revolution and socialism but, unfortunately, does nothing to carry out a concrete socialist programme, which can end capitalism and all its vices. Regrettably, social insecurity, misery, poverty wages, and, of course, the crime these things breed, continue to exist at intolerable levels for the population. The insecurity in working class neighbourhoods is 100 times worse than it is for the ruling and higher middle class who live in gated communities, and who are surrounded by body guards.

The struggle against crime must be organised and headed by the working class and the masses. We cannot put our trust in the police, as was proven again by the latest experiences. For the masses to defend their neighbourhoods against crime it is necessary to create self-defence committees, including, where necessary, creating neighbourhood militias, used in the fight against insecurity, drug dealing, and crime. This can be carried out as an immediate measure on the condition that the committees and militias are democratically elected and under the control of the neighbourhoods. The local police force needs to come under the democratic control of the local community. This would be a first step towards its replacement with a popular security force, elected and controlled by the local communities and organisations of the working class.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Dual Power and the Criminal Justice System

- A Review of Chapter 10 (Popular Justice, Dual Power and Socialist Strategy by Boaventura de Sousa Santos) of Capitalism and the Rule of Law (1979) edited by Fine et al. (Last set of papers from the National Deviancy Conference)

I chose just to write a review of this chapter because of some of the interesting issues it raises in terms of social revolution and criminal justice. Such pieces are something of a rarity too (something I'd like to change).
This piece discusses the lack of a Marxist theory of law and why the author thinks this is so, before speaking of the need to understand and analyse past revolutions to learn for the future. In this case, the author uses the 'concept' of dual power as outlined by both Lenin and Trotsky in the context of the Russian Revolution. de Sousa Santos then goes on to utilise a concept of 'dual powerlessness' in relation to the 1974-5 Portugeuse Revolution before commenting on transitional forms of justice both there and amongst the oppressed in Brazil.
As mentioned before analyses of the Criminal Justice System (CJS) during a revolutionary situation is rare. In doing this, de Sousa Santos picks up on several things written by Lenin, primarly the distinction between the governments 'sharing' dual power. One, the Provisional Government, is a regular bourgeois government whereas the other 'is a revolutionary dictatorship ie. a power based on outright revolutionary seizure, on the direct initiative of the masses from below and not on a law enacted by a centralised state power... it is the crux of the matter.' Trotsky, writing later, generalises dual power to other revolutionary situations although noting that in Russia it was very clearly marked out.
De Sousa Santos characterises the Portugeuse Revolution as being one of dual powerlessness, where "the bourgeois state may undergo a generalised paralysis for an extended period of time without coming to a collapse. On the contrary, it remains intact as a kind of reserve state to be reactivated if and as soon as the relationship of forces change in its favour." (pg. 158)
He then discusses several cases in both revolutionary Portugal and Brazil. I'm not going to cover them all as he only briefly covers them, but I will discuss the most interesting case for me, that of Jose Diogo, a rural worker accused of murdering a big landowner. The still existing state authorities kept refusing to try his case so a popular jury ended up trying him on the court steps and after considering the extreme circumstances he was under, as explained by many other rural workers present, acquitted him, although condemning the fact that he took individual action. The main point of this for me, is that what happened isn't just mob justice, it's an example of a popular criminal justice system and shows that an alternative is possible.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Venezuela and Crime - A preliminary discussion

For socialist criminologists, it is of vital importance not just to criticise how capitalism deals with crime (or rather fails to deal with it), but to observe what happens when more left wing regimes take power and what they do with the crime problem. For myself, I think it is a great shame that previous left criminologists failed to look at the effect of the Militant-led labour council in Liverpool between 1983-87 and what effects their policies and actions had on crime in that city. Similarly there is little serious criminological work on the effect of either the Paris Commune or the 1917 Russian Revolution on crime. (By serious work I mean work that doesn’t just slander the Bolsheviks and fail to address the real questions at hand – on the Paris Commune their seems to be nothing, whether this is because I haven’t researched it thoroughly enough yet I’m not completely sure however).

The same applies to the processes occurring across Latin America at the moment, and particularly Venezuela where the process is more advanced. A country with a president advocating socialism should be of prime importance for socialist criminologists. However, most commentary on crime and justice in Venezuela that I’ve seen so far comes from the right somewhat unsurprisingly condemning it. The role of socialist criminologists should not be to gloss over and deficiencies in the Venezuelan revolution, but to analyse what is going on with crime and justice in the country, what affect Chavez and the revolution are having and to criticise problems in a comradely manner.

There are two main things I’d heard about crime and justice in Venezuela before I began reading up about it. Firstly, that conditions in the Venezuelan prison system are terrible and secondly that there is a lot of violent crime, including murders in Venezuela. What I’ve found out so far goes some way to explaining the first of these but not so far the second.

The main problem with researching any country that isn’t an advanced capitalist country that isn’t in Europe (or Japan, the US, Canada, Australia and South Africa) is a lack of good information. Of course there are some anecdotal pieces, particularly where westerners have been imprisoned abroad or have been victims of serious crime, but compared to the wealth of information and statistics I could draw on when talking about the US or the UK. It just doesn’t exist. There are the occasional pieces of international comparative work but often these are just at the level of broad statistics (such as police figures or prison population which tells you a bit but not terribly much) rather than in depth comparisons which examine a criminal justice system at several levels and the processes involved in each.

Anyway back to Venezuela. I was fortunate enough that having started by MA course (in Comparative Crime and Criminal Justice) we actually had a lecture/seminar (they tend to be a mix of the two) on researching criminal justice systems comparatively and it just so happened one of the examples of pieces of information happened to be the World Factbook of Criminal Justice Systems article on Venezuela. It is here I can comment on the other problem I’ve found in researching this topic. That is that most pieces of research looking at Venezuela are hopelessly out of date, for example the most recent reference from the piece I was given was from 1993.

The two main themes was the corruption present in the Venezuelan Criminal Justice system as well as the poor conditions in prisons. Now I know from some brief pieces I’ve read that the Chavez government did move some reform of the judiciary including suspending judges heavily accused of corruption. It’s something I intend to examine in more detail (ie what specific instances, the situation now), but it’s important to note that most corruption is present in advanced capitalist countries rather than the so-called third world (see the recent piece I posted a week or two ago).

As for the prison overcrowding. I first think it’s important to get it into context. Firstly, Venezuela only has 30 prisons which really isn’t very many. Secondly the Venezuelan proportion of people in prison in Venezuela (74 per 100,000) is significantly lower than in the UK (145) and thus massively lower than the US (738 - which is the highest incarceration rate in the world). In fact Venezuela imprisons less people than Sweden (78). So it’s not some kind of authoritarian regime imprisoning lots of people, indeed the prison overcrowding existed prior to and during Chavez being in power.

If one looks carefully at the Venezuelan prison stats (I got kicked out of the library before I could make a note of exactly where I got them from, I think they were UN ones), you notice that almost half of the entire Venezuelan prison population consists of remand prisoners. So half of the prison population is those who haven’t been even sentenced yet! The reason, the lack of judges to proceed with court cases so prisoners are held for extremely long periods of time.

Anyway this is just a beginning, and to be honest I feel like I haven't explained all that much at all, but I'm intending in following up this post with more specific ones such as on the venezuelan prisons system, criminal justice, crime figures and other posts over the next few months.

Friday, 12 October 2007

Crisis at OAU, Nigeria Continues - Release the Victimised Activists

OAU Ile Ife Crisis: DSM Members Arrested

Release Taiwo Hassan and Tunde Dairo Now!

Also Akinola Saburi!!

The Democratic Socialist Movement (DSM) strongly condemns the arrest of two of its members at Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), Ile Ife, today, Thursday October 11, by armed police at the behest of the management of the institution. The comrades are Taiwo Hassan Soweto, Secretary, DSM OAU Branch and Coordinator, Education Rights Campaign (ERC), and Olatunde Dairo, Public Relations Officer of Students Union, OAU Ile-Ife.

We demand their immediate and unconditional release

They were arrested after the authorities had unjustifiably closed down the campus and ordered students to vacate halls of residence as early as 7am.

The crime of the arrested student leaders is their leading role in the legitimate resolve of students to uphold their rights and interests.

The students of the university had on Tuesday October 9 held a massively attended Congress where they resolved that they would embark on a lecture boycott on Thursday and Friday October 17 and 18 to press home the demands for release from imprisonment of Akiola Saburi, President Students Union; hands off of student union by the university management and improved living and learning conditions on the campus.

Akinola Saburi has been unjustly incarcerated at the Ilesha Prison since August 1, 2007. Students also resolved to go to Osogbo on Monday October 15 to observe the court trial of Saburi which is due on that day.

The closure of the campus and arrest of the DSM members is attempt by the management to forestall the popular/mass action the students had planned for next week.

It will be recalled that the crisis started in the University late last year after students democratically elected a radical leadership, with Akinola Saburi as President and Olatunde Dairo as the PRO, defeating the sponsored candidates of the management. Students chose their leadership to ensure uncompromising defence of their rights and interests to quality university education. On the contrary, the management had wanted to impose a puppet leadership on the students in order to muzzle divergent views or opposition to their anti-poor neo-liberal policies.

We condemn highhandedness and arbitrariness which the Professor Michael Faborede led authorities have adopted as style of administration since their appointment last year. This is the second time the university has been closed down in less than one year for unjustifiable reason, besides the regular recourse using to armed police whenever students embark on legitimate action in defence of their rights and interests.

We call on Labour, teaching and non-teaching unions, human rights groups, pro-masses organisations and individuals locally and internationally to join us in the demands for the immediate and unconditional release of Taiwo Hassan, Tunde Dairo and Akinola Saburi, respect of rights to independent students’ unionism, improved learning and living conditions, immediate re-opening of the campus and end to culture of victimization in the university.

For more on the OAU Crisis http://www.socialistnigeria.org/page.php?article=1233 and http://www.socialistnigeria.org/page.php?article=1278

We also call for urgent protest letters be sent to:

- Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU) at registra@oauife.edu.ng

- OAU Vice-Chancellor – mfaborode@yahoo.co.uk & mfaborod@oauife.edu.ng

- Nigerian Federal Ministry of Education at ehquiries@fme.gov.ng and te@fme.ng.

Please note that copies of all protest letters sent should be made available to the Democratic Socialist Movement (CWI, Nigeria) at dsmcentre@hotmail.com

Dagga Tolar

Publicity Secretary


Monday, 8 October 2007

Socialist Party in North Wales

Below is a couple of reports on activities of the Socialist party in Bangor over the past few weeks. I've been quite busy with this so I haven't got around to doing much else, including items for this blog.

Bangor Socialist Party members visited CWU picket lines on both the Thursday and Friday of the strike. On the Thursday, the changed time of the strike (to noon on Thursday), meaning that out of a workforce of 130+, only four were on strike that day and the change had created a lot of confusion.
However, when Socialist Party members visited the pickets the following day, the mood was confident. Between 15 and 20 CWU members welcomed us and the Socialist Party strike bulletin and CNWP material was well received, with a paper being sold in addition to this. The strikers were dismayed that 5 workers had gone in, but when the area rep turned up and reported that in all the other depots in the area they had heard from (Holyhead, Llangefni, Porthmadog, Caenarfon, Llandudno and Colwyn Bay) no-one had gone, the strikers were delighted. Socialist Party members are planning a stall in support of the strikers on the saturday and have invited CWU members to our branch meeting on the Sunday.

Bangor University
This year Socialist Students has seen a growth in support for socialist ideas. Over the week we ran out of copies of the Student Socialist! Campaigning against the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons and plans to build a new nuclear power station on nearby Anglesey, we signed up 20 students to help start a society at the university.

A 'what is Socialism?' meeting attracted seven new people. We have plans to get a society registered with the students union, to visit the picket lines in support of striking postal workers and arranged to go to see John Pilger's War on Democracy at a local cinema.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Top Blogs List

I've just been catching up on reading some other people's blogs recently and I found that I've been listed at number 29 on Socialist Unity's top 100, which was quite a suprise to me, ranking this blog higher than many more established blogs. I'm also the second highest Socialist Party blog on the list (as far as I'm aware), with A Very Public Sociologist at 23, The Nation of Duncan at 44 and My Random Thoughts at 78.

To see the list, go here http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=757
(I think the list only covers the UK and Ireland)

As I don't get around to reading 100 or so blogs I doubt I'll do a list, but one new blog that I've added a link to from this site already is For A New Left Party which I found from Socialist Unity's list.