Sweden-Finland-Norway Globalization Blues / Sweden is now the most privatized neo-liberal economy of the Scandinavia states

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Ron Ridenour
This is a repost. This article was first published  on Aug 17, 2016

Olof Palme with Fidel. No wonder the CIA and its accomplices around the world hated him.

Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy

(Part 3 of a 7 part series on Scandinavia “Socialism”)
First posted on Aug 17, 2016

Olof Palme had just won his fourth term as Prime Minister when we spoke in Stockholm in the fall of 1985. Like Denmark’s Anker Joergensen, this stalwart social democrat opposed the “cold, egoistic new liberalism”. Unregulated capitalism threatens the Swedish model of social welfare, he said at his September 15 election victory.

Palme was more than a typical social democrat of his times, more a “revolutionary reformist”, as he was often called. He was a stronger critic of US and Israel imperialism than any other Western government leader. His denunciation of US’s war against Vietnam-Cambodia-Laos—especially its bombings of Hanoi, which he compared with Franco’s bombing of Guernica—led the US to deny him entry and it froze relations between the two governments. Sweden’s parliament was not cowed: 216 of the 350-member body voted to support South Vietnam’s provisional government’s 7-point peace plan. This plan, including the removal of all foreign military personnel and war equipment, became reality upon victory, May 1, 1975.

In 1969, Palme and the government adopted a neutral stance in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, but when Israel invaded Lebanon, July 1982, Palme compared Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children to that of Nazi Germany treatment of Jewish children in concentration camps and in ghettos.

Olof and his friends—enough to deeply alienate Washington and its vassal states.

Not only did Palme speak out against imperialism but he marched against it, and for third world liberation. (He also condemned the Soviet intervention in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.) A Spanish speaker, he felt close to Latin America. Palme was the first Western government leader to visit Cuba after its revolutionary victory, and supported the revolutionaries in Nicaragua. He spoke at their victory rally, in July1979. Palme also supported Chilean President Salvador Allende and liberally gave asylum to many Chileans following the coup that overthrew Allende. He endeavoured to get Chilean political prisoners released from Dictator Augusto Pinochet’s dungeons.

Nevertheless, during Palme’s governments (before and after) the military and secret service co-operated with the Pentagon and the CIA. Sweden is also a major weapons industry. In 2013, it ranked number 12 in weapons sales ($1.8 billion), and the third-largest exporter in per capita figures. It sells to 55 countries, including to human rights violator Saudi Arabia.

Palme enthusiastically accepted my invitation to be on call as a moral supporter for our solidarity and peace march in Central America. We had use of his support during our march in El Salvador. It grieved me to hear of his assassination on February 28, 1986.

Olof Palme

People mourning Palme where he was assassinated in Stockholm 1986. (Holger Eligard)

I had recently returned following the end of the six-week peace action, and took a job at a Copenhagen sewage treatment center. On the day of Palme’s murder, we workers held a minute of silence. His murder was viewed by many as a political assassination. Possible culprits ranged from the CIA to Sweden’s own secret service, SAPO, known for its right-wing sympathy and CIA ties; to Chilean Dictator Pinochet, South Africa’s apartheid secret service, or a hateful individual. (1)

Sweden not only lost a strong leader for social democracy, which soon went downhill, but the nation has since leaned closer to US imperialism and today follows its foreign policy. Carl Bildt was PM from 1991-94, and leader of the Moderate Party from 1986 to 1999. He was responsible for severe attacks on the welfare state. With Black Wednesday, September 16, 1992, the British conservative government withdrew the pound sterling from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM). Currency market speculators, namely George Soros, had short sold the Sterling, and “broke the bank of England”. Sweden’s main bank, Riksbank, then set its krona currency free. The krona lost 15% to the US dollar. This took place concurrently with the burst of a housing bubble. Sweden lost $10 billion more. The crisis plunged Sweden and Finland into a severe recession. Unemployment rose from 2% to 10% in Sweden and from 3% to 18% in Finland.
Many economists pointed to the neo-liberalization of the economy, which the US influenced in the 1980s, as cause of the crisis. Social Democrats and liberals alike demanded a freeze and even cutbacks on wages. Scandinavia reduced the role of the public sector: deregulating financial markets, leading to a rapid inflow of capital to finance domestic investments and consumption. Speculation took over the once solid economy, and currencies were floated, expansion of credits with low rates of interests, greater capital imports, investing more than wise. Scandinavia lost satisfaction with being small, rich welfare states. Sweden joined the EU under a Social Democrat government, in 1995, as did Finland.

Neo-Liberalism serves the richest

Neo-liberalism is also associated with the financial crisis of 2007-8. Neo-liberalism became prevalent in the 1970s and 80s. It is a resurgence of 19th century laissez-faire capitalism, a “free market trade” without borders, aimed at enhancing the economic and political power of wealthy owners of property, of trans-national corporations.

Neo-liberalism took hold in the US with the first oil crisis in October 1973 when OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) proclaimed an oil embargo. By the end of the embargo, in March 1974, the price of oil had risen from US$3 per barrel to $12 globally (higher in the US). The embargo caused a shock with many short- and long-term effects on global politics and the global economy. It was followed by the second oil crisis, in 1979.

With the death of Palme, Sweden not only lost a strong leader for social democracy, which soon went downhill, but the nation has since leaned closer to US imperialism and today follows its foreign policy.

The embargo was a response to the 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which Egypt and Syria tried to retake some of their territory stolen by Israel in 1967. They launched a surprise military campaign against Israel. The US supplied Israel with even more arms. In response to this, OAPEC (consisting of the Arab members of OPEC plus Egypt and Syria) announced an oil embargo against the US, UK, Netherlands, Canada and Japan. OPEC has sought a greater share of the oil pie.

The crisis had a major impact on international relations and created a rift within NATO, the last serious one. Some European nations, including Sweden under Palme, and Japan sought to disassociate themselves from US foreign policy in the Middle East, in order to avoid being targeted by the boycott. Arab oil producers linked any future policy changes to an end of war. President Richard Nixon and US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger arranged for Israel to pull back from the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights (temporarily). The promise of a negotiated settlement between Israel and Syria was enough to convince Arab oil producers to lift the embargo in March 1974, but not before a stock market crash, the worst since the Great Depression.

The embargo's success demonstrated Saudi Arabia’s economic power. It was (is) the largest oil exporter and a politically and religiously conservative kingdom. The embargo caused a petrodollar recycling mechanism, requiring a relaxation of capital controls in oil-importing economies, which marked exponential growth of Western capital markets. OPEC members and Russia were earning more money from the export of crude oil than they could feasibly invest in their own economies. Many believed that Western oil companies thereby also profiteered from the embargo and therefore colluded with OPEC. In 1974, seven of the fifteen top Fortune 500 companies were oil companies.

Milton Friedman was a major proponent of neo-liberalism (also right-wing economist Friedrich Hayek and “Atlas Shrugged” author Ayn Rand). A month before OPEC’s embargo, General Pinochet led a vicious coup, September 11, 1973, and took over Chile from the democratic government. Friedman helped him reverse the social democratic initiatives started by the socialist president Salvador Allende, who had been elected in 1970. The brutal coup, backed by the Nixon-Kissinger regime, murdered many thousands, many of them under arrest, and many were tortured. In recognition for his role in changing the Chilean economy in favour of the rich, Friedman became advisor to President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Sweden is now the most privatized neo-liberal economy of the Scandinavia states. Many of its public schools are privatized as are child care centers. Sometimes they go bankrupt and children are left without a school for a time, and small children have no ready care while both parents hold down jobs. Nursing centers are privatized, postal service is privatized, and there are three private train systems with prices varying from hour to hour.

Sweden’s growth in inequality between 1985 and the early 2010s is the largest among all 34 OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries, increasing by one third. But Sweden is still in the group of most equal OECD countries. Because of neo-liberalism, income inequality in OECD countries is higher than in 50 years. The average income of the richest 10% is about nine times that of the poorest 10% across the OECD, a gap 75% greater than 25 years ago.

Norway’s Labour Party is a social democratic party. It was the senior partner of the governing Red-Green Coalition (2005-13). Its former leader, Jens Stoltenberg, was PM. He relieved Dane Rasmussen as NATO’s secretary general, October 2014.

Since the 1980s, the “labour” party has included more of the principles of a social market economy, privatizing much of government-held assets and services and reducing income taxes. During the first Stoltenberg government (2000-1), the party's policies were inspired by Tony Blair’s right-wing New Labour party. Under right-winger Stoltenberg, the nation witnessed the most widespread privatization by any Norwegian government to date, which influenced a majority of voters to turn his government out, in September 2013 elections.

Ironically, the Conservatives took over the government in a coalition with the right-wing libertarian Progress Party (Freskrittpartiet) to which the xenophobic mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik had been a member in his youth. The Progress Party’s hero is Ronald Reagan. It is strongly anti-Muslim and anti-immigration, the motivating factor for Behring’s shooting murder of 69 Labour Party teenagers, plus bombing to death eight others and wounding 240 people, on July 22, 2011.

The Progress Party supports US wars, greater police powers, the EU, and anti-environmental oil-based economy. However, in order to win enough votes (16%) to come into government for the first time in its history, it criticized the allegedly pro-working class government for “insufficiently funding social welfare and the infrastructure.”

Finland began following the rest of the West with neo-liberalism deregulations and cutbacks in the 1980s, but has not gone as far as the others yet. One of its hallmarks is education. See Michael Moore’s most recent film (2016), “Where to invade next”. It is an excellent and entertaining source for values in which the US is contrasted to several countries. Finland tops the world for the best education, the best results for its elementary school students, who also rank among the happiest. Its secret: no homework, more time to be young, to play, to relax. Students are motivated to learn in a disciplined way for the 20 hours they attend classes.

For a fuller account of what is happening in Finland, I recommend reading “Atlantic” interview by Uri Friedman with Anu Partanen, a Finnish and US citizen, author of : “The Nordic Theory of Everything: In Search of a Better Life”. . http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/07/nordic-american-dream-partanen/489032/

Partanen moved to the US, in part, for the American land of freedom and opportunity propaganda. She concluded that those concepts are thriving more in the Nordic countries than in the U.S. Here is a tease from the interview. “As much as I think that [the policies] Bernie Sanders [is] advocating are the right ideas, I’m not a big fan of him using the word “socialist.” Nordic countries are very much capitalist, free-market societies, and there’s this very strong strain of individualism in them. The idea that these Nordic countries are these socialist collectivist countries where everybody thinks of the good of one another—that’s just not true at all.”

Nevertheless, Scandinavian poverty rates after taxes and transfers are still among the lowest in the world. The latest UN figures stood at 5.7% in Iceland, 6% in Denmark, 7.5% in Finland, 7.7% in Norway, 9.7% in Sweden, in comparison with 17.4% in the USA (28.3% before taxes).

Yet, surprisingly, all Nordic nations are on the list of "high inequality" group, where the top 10% hold 60-70% of the country's household wealth. In comparison countries that are usually thought to be more capitalist, like the UK, Canada and Australia are on a rung below in the "medium inequality" group, with the top 10% holding between 50-60%, as reported by Mike Bird in Business Insider’s October 14, 2014 article: “Why Socialist Scandinavia Has Some Of The Highest Inequality In Europe”.

In the US, the top 10% hold 75% of all wealth, greater than in the days of laissez-faire capitalism a century ago.

Nordic governments-institutions remain among the least corrupt, ranking in the least 12 corrupt of 176 countries evaluated in 2014. Nevertheless, the Panama Papers reveal massive tax shelter corruption by some Danish banks, and scores of civil servants were arrested in June for taking bribes, something unheard of in decades.

Public spending, especially for health care and education, by the Nordic countries is still greater compared with other developed countries, although cutbacks have been severe since the 1980s.

Public Spending in Nordic
Countries Compared to U.S.
per GDP (2014)
Expenditures (2013)
Denmark (2011) 55.6% 11.1% 8.5%
Finland  (2012) 55.1% 8.6% 7.2%
Sweden (2012) 51.2% 11.5% 7.7%
Iceland (2011) 47.3% 8.8% 7.0%
Norway (2012) 43.9% 9.4% 7.4%
USA (2011) 41.6% 17.1% 5.2%


While all Nordic countries cover all residents, the US spends far more for health care and yet tens of millions of people are not covered by any health insurance, nor is care as good across the board as in the Nordic countries. (2)

Warring for neo-liberalism and the US

Since 1814, Sweden has maintained a policy of peace and neutrality in not taking sides in wars albeit with varying degrees of consistency. But with the US’s “war on terrorism”, Sweden clearly has sought to adhere to drugstore cowboy George Bush’s challenge: "Every nation, in every region, now has a decision to make. Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists."

Sweden’s first governmental aid “against terrorism” was to help CIA agents by kidnapping two Egyptian citizens who were seeking asylum in Sweden. This was one of the most scandalous cases of the “extraordinary rendition” torture program initiated by Ronald Reagan and used by the Bush regime several hundred times, involving 54 countries. (3)

Muhammad al-Zery and Ahmed Agiza were arrested by Swedish police in December 2001. They were taken to Bromma airport in Stockholm, had their clothes cut from their bodies, suppositories were inserted in their anuses and they were put in diapers, overalls, hoods, hand and ankle cuffs. They were then put onto a Gulfstream 5 aircraft, American registration N379P, with a crew of masked men. They were flown to Egypt, where they were imprisoned, beaten, and tortured, according to Swedish TV investigative programme Kalla fakta, May 2004 (See English transcript of this series here: http://web.archive.org/web/20040626072849/http://hrw.org/english/docs/2004/05/17/sweden8620.htm).

The Swedish ambassador in Egypt waited six weeks to visit them. Agiza had been sentenced in absentia for being an Islamic militant. His 25-year sentence was reduced to 15 years. Al-Zery wasn't charged, and after two years in jail without ever seeing a judge or prosecutor he was sent to his village in Egypt. In 2008, AL Zery was awarded $500,000 in damages by the Swedish government for the wrongful treatment he received in Sweden and the subsequent torture in Egypt under the U.S. extraordinary rendition program.

Like most Western governments, Sweden’s social democrat and liberal governments participated in warring against Afghanistan and Libya. Sweden lost five soldiers in Afghanistan. It currently participates with around 500 troops in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) under NATO command. The “neutral” country sent eight jet fighters to patrol the no-fly zone over Libya, the only country neither a member of NATO or the Arab League to do so in this one-sided war.

Although Social Democrat Prime Minister Göran Persson expressed the official position on the US invasion of Iraq as "unfortunate," the nation’s military intelligence agency (MUST) gave crucial information to the US for a bombing raid on civilian shelters in the run-up to the 2003 invasion, a Swedish newspaper exposed (The Local).

The day after the war began, PM Persson said: "Unlike the United States, Sweden views a military attack on Iraq without the support of the UN Security Council as a breach of human rights."

The month before, Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, a Liberal People’s Party politician, had issued his report to the UN as head of the monitoring, verification and inspection commission. After 700 inspections, Blix could report that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which was the key lie used to war against Iraq. The fact that it is the US which is the world’s greatest producer, seller, and user of WMD was irrelevant.

A mild-mannered man, Blix accused Bush and Blair of dramatizing the threat that Saddam Hussein possessed WMD in order to carry out a war they had long planned, as he wrote in his 2004 book, “Disarming Iraq”.

The Washington Post reported on April 19, 2002, that senior U.S. officials ordered the CIA to investigate Blix, in order to gather "sufficient ammunition to undermine" him so that the US could start the invasion of Iraq. US officials were upset that the CIA did not uncover such information.

Blix said he suspected his home and office were bugged by the United States, while he led teams searching for Saddam Hussein's supposed weapons of mass destruction.

By 2010, Sweden had capitulated more to US’s foreign policy. By then, Wikileaks and its founder Julian Assange had become one of the US government’s greatest and most effective “enemies” by having exposed its wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the release of new secret information.

The same year, the S.D. Minister of Justice Tomas Bodström acted to please his great ally by encouraging Assange’s “rape victims” to file a police complaint. Bodström is a senior partner in the law firm which came to represent Anna Arden, and her co-conspirator Sophia Wilen. Bodström’s “aid” came several days after Arden had tweetered friends exclaiming excitement about the “rapist” with whom she just had had sex.

Later, when liberal Carl Bildt was minister of foreign affairs (2006-14), he refused to guarantee Assange that he would not be extradited to the US if Assange appeared in Sweden for police questioning in the case.

Except for Denmark, no other Nordic country participated directly in the war against Iraq, but in 2015 Norway transferred 120 troops from its war in Afghanistan to train Iraqi and Kurdish fighters. Sweden began sending a like number from June 2016 for the same reason.

Norway sent soldiers to Bosnia (1992-5) and Kosovo (1998-9). It has been an active US-UK coalition warrior since the beginning of the invasion against Afghanistan and can claim 10 soldier deaths as proof of its commitment to the terror war.

Norway has been an enthusiastic ally in NATO since its beginning (1949). Sixty-six percent of its people currently support membership. The formerly peaceful country is now in the front-line for US nuclear strategy, and a spying central in the Artic. Norwegian fighter aircraft (along with Danish fighters) bombed the most targets in Libya in proportion to the number of planes involved.

Most Swedes and Finns do not want in. Only 27% of Finns support joining NATO. The majority of Swedes have been opposed. Only 17% were for NATO in 2012. Today it is nip and tuck.

Finland’s foreign policy story is different from others but it too is changing thanks to neoliberalism and globalization. At the end of WWII, Finland rejected Marshall Plan aid, in deference to Soviet desires. The Soviet Union invaded Finland during the Second World War, hoping to prevent a Nazi German advance from the neighboring country. Finland was not occupied by Russians and declared neutrality in 1945. Nevertheless, the US clandestinely aided the social democratic party financially.

Finland’s military is geared for defense only, although troops have served in UN peacekeeping operations in areas where the US-NATO have led invasions. It has sent hundreds of soldiers to Kosovo, and it lost two soldiers in Afghanistan on ISAF missions.

Next: Iceland, this is where bankers go to jail


(1) Possible motivations to assassinate Olof Palme bring forth memories of the political assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Millions believe, me included, that the JFK murder was planned and executed by CIA officials with Mafia and Cuban exile accomplices. There is loads of evidence and first-hand testimonies to the effect. This includes Senate and House of Representative investigations, and the great Oliver Stone film “JFK” based on actual evidence. I suggest just one of hundreds of books to read: “Double Cross” written by Sam and Chuck Giancana as told to them by their relative, Chicago Mafia boss Sam Giancana, who admits to being an integral part of the assassination and names names. (Warner Books, New York, 1992)

(2) The statistics for public spending are from the 2014 “index of economic freedom”, taken by the Wall Street Times and the Heritage Foundation, and approximate OECD figures. Health and education statistics are those of OECD. It is interesting to compare tax revenues with public spending. US public opinion makers who think of Nordic social democracy as some sort of evil socialism often complain that the US spends too much money on the public. While the US does spend quite a bit of its gross domestic product on the public, its operations are mostly in the hands of private companies, which make profits and often provide poor services, and can go bankrupt. Social service care in the Nordic countries was also entirely publicly administered, although some is now in private hands and there is a decline in expenditures and service.

Denmark has the highest taxes (48%, ranging from 38 to 56%), Sweden (44.5), Finland (43.4), Norway (43.2), Iceland (36). The US collects 25.1% of the GDP in taxes.

(3) Some Western and former Eastern European allies have aided the CIA in “torture by proxy”, which is a “crime against humanity” as so judged by the UN. Denmark assisted by allowing CIA-managed aircraft to fly over its territory. Poland was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, in 2014, and ordered to pay restitution to the men involved. US enemies Assad and Hussein allowed US victims to be tortured by their torturers in the beginning of the war against Afghanistan.
Washington Post, April 19, 2002

Ron Ridenour is the author of six books on Cuba including: “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”, Cuba Beyond the Crossroads with Theodore MacDonald, and Cuba at Sea, plus other books such as "Yankee Sandinistas", “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”. He has lived and worked in Latin America including in Cuba 1988-96 (Cuba's Editorial José Martí and Prensa Latina), Denmark, Iceland, Japan, India. www.ronridenour.com; email: ronrorama@gmail.com. Ridenour's latest book is The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert Paperback (Punto Press, 2018).


The Russian Peace Threat: Pentagon on Alert 

"A page-turner, this absorbing book is worth a small library of books on Russia and the Soviet Union. Page after page, I found myself discarding myths I had carried on my mind a lifetime." Albert Whitford

"Ron Ridenour has written a timely, important and eloquent book showing the dangers of American Exceptionalism and how that bad religion continues to put the U.S. on a dangerous collision course with the rest of the world, and most notably Russia. His book shows that the enemy of the U.S. has never been countries like Russia. Rather, the true enemy is our collective belief that somehow our military domination of the world is not only justified but necessary to make the world safe for democracy and freedom. In fact, as Ridenour shows, the U.S.'s compulsive military engagements abroad are only destabilizing the world and leading us closer to a conflagration that may be the complete undoing of us. This book is critical reading for our times." - Dan Kovalik

"The author has done his homework, and has footnoted everything. He has worked in Cuba, and has been thorough in documenting all his claims. He supports Communism and pretty much everything "left". If you grew up as I did, in the "home of the free and the land of the brave", it is very hard to read." - Ralph Smithers
"The Russian Peace Threat should be required reading for every student of US history...but of course it won't be. Ridenour reveals the facts that your government does not want you to know: the truth of U.S. hegemony." - William David Pear


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Roots to social democracy/capitalism, socialism

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First published on 15 aug 2016. Reposted on 20 November 2019

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMCLICK BELOW TO READ OTHER SEGMENTS >>TOC Series Directory: Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy"

1. Denmark: SOS Save our Sovereignty
>>2. Roots to Social Democracy/Capitalism Socialism
3. Sweden-Finland-Norway Globalization Blues
Iceland is where Bankers Go to Jail
Denmark: Bernie Sanders for Prime Minister
Denmark: Rogue State
Denmark: Return of the Vikings

Scandinavia on the Skids: The Failure of Social Democracy

(Part 2 of a 7 part series on Scandinavia’s “Socialism”)

Philosophical forefathers of a socialistic vision include Buddha and Lao Tzu. Buddha was an Indian/Nepalese prince; Lao Tzu, a Chinese philosopher. Both lived in the 6th century before Jesus Christ’s birth. Jesus should also be included as a “primitive communist” as some see the Palestinian Jew, human being or god-human. These visionaries hoped that peoples could live together in peace and harmony, one great family sharing resources.

Claude_Henri_de_Rouvroy_Saint-SimonThe term socialism took hold as a political ideal first in France, in the 1820s, when Henri de Saint-Simon envisioned the ideal society as one large factory. His followers chose the word socialism to represent a centrally-planned society run like a cooperative business by worker-owners, and/or in conjunction with the state. The term communism also comes from France, probably back to medieval monks who shared property, living in common and feeling a sense of togetherness. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels’ theory of communism entailed social organization based on sharing property, the highest state of socialism in which all lived well socially in a stateless society.

Variations of Saint-Simon’s socialism have been formulated by many political theorists and writers: Thomas More, Louis Blanc, Eduard Bernstein, Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Ferdinand Lassalle, Marx and Engels, Sydney Webb, George Bernard Shaw, V.I. Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Rosa Luxemberg, Emma Goldman…

Socialists disagree on how to develop socialism and even how to define it exactly. They all agree, however, that socialism’s economy is not dominated by private ownership of the means of production. Public ownership—either by the state or by worker cooperatives, or a combination—is central to its philosophy. It is also generally agreed that it is just and necessary to create a permanent state of social welfare with greater say in political-economic matters by the producers and folk at large. However, a system in which the people are the determining decision-makers has not yet been developed, neither in Russia/Soviet Union, China, Cuba, Vietnam, Korea or anywhere.

The rise of social democracy

The first social democratic party arose from union struggles and was founded by Ferdinand Lassalle, in Germany, in 1863. He was familiar with Marx and Engels’ writings. The latter founded The First International (International Workingmen’s Association) in London, the following year. They sought to unite left-wing socialists, communists, anarchists and trade unionists around class struggle and the need for a socialist revolution.

Some social democrats (S.D.) view social democracy as a “third way” while Marx and Engels maintain there can only be capitalism or socialism.  There are basically two variants of social democracy in theory. One advocates evolutionary and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism, in contrast to the revolutionary approach associated with Marxism. The other advocates economic and social state interventions to promote social justice and welfare within the framework of a capitalist economy. The latter approach was adapted by the Englishman John Keynes. President F.D. Roosevelt employed Keynesianism during the Great Depression aimed at restoring order and saving the capitalist system. In all social democratic approaches private property remains in the hands of the owner (ruling) class.

The first social democratic government in the world occurred in Finland, in 1907, eight years after the founding of the social democratic party. In 1916, S.D. won an absolute majority and governed alone for the only time.

German social democrats achieved their first government in 1918 upon the end of the First World War. Sweden had its first S.D. government in 1921. The second oldest social democrat party was led by postal worker Louis Pio in Denmark, in 1871, inspired by the Paris Commune. The social democrats formed its first government in 1924, the same year the social democratic Labour Party was elected to govern in England. Norway’s S.D. ruled first in 1928 but fell after two weeks. The party split into two, one fraction created the Communist Party. The S.D. ruled again in 1935. Iceland’s trade unions formed the social democratic party in 1916. The tiny nation took its independence from Denmark once the United States occupied it during the Second World War. The US took control of Keflavik airfield, and at its height there were 75,000 military personnel there. The social democratic party first came to rule in 1947-9.

The October Revolution in Russia (1917) was the key influence for social democratic development throughout Europe. The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDRP) was founded in Minsk, in 1898. Lenin joined it in 1902, and led the Bolshevik (majority) split at its second congress, in 1903. Bolsheviks became the Communist Party, in 1918. The Mensheviks (minority) continued as a S.D. party. The two were often at odds yet sometimes joined forces until the October Revolution.

The Bolsheviks formed a disciplined vanguard party agitating for a proletarian revolution, armed if necessary. The Mensheviks sought social democratic compromises with the “bourgeois democrats”, in which free expression would prevail as opposed to “democratic centralism”. When world war broke out Tsar Nicholas insisted on victory over Germany. He was forced to abdicate in March 1917 and a Provisional government took over. It, however, continued the war, supported by social democrats and the Social Revolutionaries. The Bolsheviks advocated an end to the war and a transition to socialism. Their slogan was: land, peace and bread.

Lenin and Trotsky led the party to victory in October (November 1917). Their hope that social democrats would oppose world war had been dashed when German social democrats supported the bourgeoisie war. A worldwide workers’ revolution was averted when social democrats in country after country, including in Russia, allied with the capitalist class. This led to the isolation of Russia.

The Nordic Model grew out of this Great Compromise between social democratic-led trade unions and wealthy property owners. In exchange for staving off socialist revolutions the capitalists granted improvements in working and living conditions for most workers in Scandinavia, eventually in Germany, England, Netherlands, and elsewhere in Europe.

The Nordic Model developed through the 1920s to the 1970s to include a large welfare state emphasizing employer and labor union institutions with unemployment insurance and pensions; transfers to households and publicly provided social services with a high rate of investment in human capital including: child care, tax supported education and health care, maternity and some paternity leave, paid vacations; and greater social and gender equality.

These producer-earned benefits dampened Western working class enthusiasm for international solidarity, especially with workers in underdeveloped nations whose work and living conditions neared slavery and even include slavery. No other nation joined Russia in its socialist experiment until after World War II.

No matter one’s analysis or opinions of Communist-led Russia and the expanded Soviet Union, one must recognize that its development was warped, in part, by constant subversion directed at it by the United States and many of its allies. From the beginning of the revolution, the US and several European allies, plus Australia, Canada, India, even Japan and China, supported the White Russian and Cossack counter-revolutionaries who wanted a return of the Tsar. The “democratic” allies sought to defeat the new Bolshevik army and to crush communism in the bud.

From May 1918 to July, 100,000 troops were sent to Vladivostok and other areas of northern Russia. The Japanese had 70,000 in Siberia to solve a “border problem” between China and Russia. The US sent 13,000 troops. Most weary allied forces withdrew by 1920 but some Japanese fought on in Siberia until 1922 and in northern Sakhalin until 1925 when finally defeated by Russia.

World War II and Marshall Plan

Social democracy had such an impact on workers in much of Europe that Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini were forced to include many of its benefits for “authentic” Italians and non-Jew Arian Germans in their nationalist, racist and warring parties. Hitler even falsely named his party in that spirit: National Socialist German Worker’s Party. Its first priority was to draw workers away from communism and into völkisch (folk) nationalism. While Nazis killed communists, its political strategy initially focused on anti-business and anti-capitalist rhetoric, later played down in order to gain support of industrial property owners.

Italian Fascism promoted a corporatist economic system whereby employer and employee syndicates associated to collectively represent the nation's economic producers and owners, which were to work alongside the state to set national economic policy, and resolve class conflict.

As World War II approached, most social democratic parties did not support the peace policies of the Lenin-wing of the social democratic party (soon to become the Communist Party), and its associated parties throughout the world. Nor did social democratic parties in many countries protest the rise of fascism or even the fascist take-over of their nations. In Denmark, for instance, the Nazi-collaborationist government was led by the Social Democratic Party, under the leadership of its “father” Thorvald Stauning. He was succeeded by S.D. Wilhelm Buhl. Both turned over Communists and other liberation fighters to the Nazi party, even more than asked for. The Nazis imprisoned 6000 civilians, tortured many, and executed 850. Buhl also encouraged workers to snitch on patriotic saboteurs, and to take jobs in Germany, thus aiding the Nazi war effort. Nevertheless, upon the end of the war, Buhl was made provisional prime minister.

Denmark was effectively liberated on May 5th by British forces led by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery. Only four days later the Russian Army occupied the Danish island of Bornholm after intense fighting with the Germans. Russians voluntarily left the island a year later.

After the liberation there was uncertainty about how the allies would regard Denmark, which had deliberately declined to take up the fight, as opposed to Norwegians. Eventually Denmark was accepted as an ally, mainly due to allied appreciation for the widespread Communist-led resistance to the German occupation during the last years of the war. (1)

Despite the fact that Russia was the main victor of the war, and suffered the greatest casualties, and that it was British troops who first entered Denmark, the social democrats and Danes generally fell in love with the United States, which has devastating consequences today (more on that later).
The loss of over 60 million people (some researchers say 80 million) devastated many countries, especially the Soviet Union. It lost 13.7% of its population, some 27 million people, about 16 million civilians. Germany lost between five and eight million people, 7-11% of its population. Despite torrential bombings, the UK lost only one percent of its people, around half-a-million. About three percent of China’s population was killed, between 15 and 20 million people, three-fourths of them civilians. By contrast, the US lost only 0.32% of its population, about 420,000, nearly all military. In 1940, there were 2.3 billion people. The war took three percent of them.

Nevertheless, World War II was an economic boom for the USA. Its weapons, oil, steel, auto, and construction industries grew manifold. Their surplus financed the Marshall Plan to rebuild the capitalist economies of Western Europe and prevent socialist-communist electoral victories. This policy succeeded, especially in Greece and Italy where a majority of workers were leftist.

Europe’s two largest political parties, the Social Democrats and the Christian Democrats, adopted and even extended welfare benefits enabled by the Marshall Plan. The “free market” has since largely replaced the state as the politically determining force, and the welfare model is no longer viewed as necessary. Globalization brings unprecedented profits to capital, and their friendly governments allow even greater profits by helping the largest companies and rich individuals to avoid paying taxes in a myriad of ways: by granting them enormous tax cuts, ignoring their tax shelters and bogus companies, and by legal or semi-legal loopholes. Capitalists can also easily avoid paying taxes and decent wages by packing up businesses in the Western part of the world and moving them to countries where governments allow slave wages and unhealthy conditions.

The European Union has moved towards a United States of Europe in which major monopolies are assisted in attacking the historic results of workers struggles, and forging a state of permanent fear of losing jobs and social benefits. These fears are enhanced by terrorist attacks committed by desperate and fanatic people whose countries have been invaded and sacked by NATO/coalition of the willing armies, and the flooding of refugees fleeing these wars. EU has come to mean the loss of national sovereignty, un-payable debts, the destruction and privatization of the public sector—the abandonment of the Nordic Model.

All that moved the majority of Brits to vote themselves out of the EU. This historic rejection, on June 23, 2016, opened the way for radical movements rightist and leftist. I believe that those of us who are fed enough have a co-responsibility to stop this “inhumanity” human beings have created or Armageddon will overwhelm us and the planet. That means, at the least, that the inhuman economic system known as capitalism, which requires never-ending profit over the needs of people must be replaced by a humane economic system based on cooperation and sharing.

My upcoming themes, subsequent to the Nordic Model breakdown, include: permanent state of war—US/NATO/Israel—making Russia a boogey man once again; the dilemma of China; the crisis in EU; the rich avoiding taxes; France’s renewed uproar/Greece/Syrisa, Spain/Podemos; the re-colonization of Africa; the decline of progressive governments in Latin America, and the demise of the Cuban revolution; the crazy elections in the US—more fear, more opportunities; people’s grass roots efforts against these evils, and hope for a world without injustice, inequality and wars.

Next: Sweden-Finland-Norway Globalizaiton Blues

(1) The social democratic-led government could have waylaid the Nazi invasion of Norway, giving Norwegians time to put up greater resistance, had it sabotaged the airport at Aalborg where the Nazis would launch their attack. Ironically, it took a right-wing liberal Prime Minister, and later NATO chief, Anders Fogh Rassmussen, to be the first Danish leader to officially apologize for Denmark’s collaboration with the Nazis. As reported by the New York Times, August 30, 2003, he asserted this was ''morally unjustifiable.'' In a speech for the 60th anniversary of the end of the 1940-43 collaborationist government, Rasmussen said, ''If everyone in Europe—if the Americans and the Russians—had thought the same as the Danish lawmakers, then Hitler would have won the war.'' Nazi troops invaded on April 9, 1940 and the government immediately surrendered.

 Ron Ridenour, journalists and activist, is the author of six books on Cuba including: “Backfire: The CIA’s Biggest Burn”, Cuba Beyond the Crossroads with Theodore MacDonald, and Cuba at Sea, plus other books such as "Yankee Sandinistas", “Sounds of Venezuela”, and “Tamil Nation in Sri Lanka”. His most recent book is the authoritative volume THE RUSSIAN PEACE THREAT (Punto Press). He has lived and worked in Latin America including in Cuba 1988-96 (Cuba's Editorial José Martí and Prensa Latina), and in Denmark, Iceland, Japan, and India. www.ronridenour.com; email: ronrorama@gmail.com. He now resides in Denmark.


Capitalism Myth 10: Growth is the Only Way

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Capitalist Myths

=By= Dinyar Godrej
This is a repost. First published on Jan 5, 2016

Monutment to the victims of capitalism

Peering into the rubble of the great financial crash of 2008, economists, politicians, the media and the public have been looking for signs of recovery in terms of lasting growth. Not so much stability, mind, but growth – an expanding economy is a living economy, goes the logic, bringing its munificence as jobs and prosperity. Thus every flicker of growth is seized upon with hopeful optimism – ‘Are things finally on the mend?’

But here’s the thing – between 1900 and 2008 world population quadrupled and the economy more than kept up, with GDP per capita increasing sixfold. If one looks at GDP increase for the world as a whole (factoring in the population increase and adjusting for inflation), it has leapt up more than 25-fold.1

The question that begs is whether the rising tide has lifted all boats. Apart from some success in the very basics, such as literacy and maternal-mortality rates, the picture remains familiar: rewards for the very few and stasis or worse for the vast majority.

❛Clinging to growth suffocates the imagination needed to devise more convivial ways to share a finite planet.❜ ~ Andrew Simms, British author and campaigner

After this century of growth, 925 million people do not have enough to eat, and just under half the world’s population lives in absolute poverty – despite more than enough created wealth to abolish such evils.2 Yet traditional economists keep repeating the mantra of growth. Anne Krueger, who has worked for both the World Bank and the IMF, claims: ‘Poverty reduction is best achieved through making the cake bigger, not by trying to cut it up in a different way.’1 No surprise then, that economic growth hasn’t affected inequality.



Unsolvable issues: ecological sanity, instability, social justice

EditorsNote_WhiteAs the preceding discussion suggests, the capitalist system suffers from enormous contradictions and compulsions not liable to be resolved within the framework of policy permitted by the system’s chief beneficiaries. Most importantly, capitalism, as indicated previously, is a system that by design is on a lethal collision with nature. Endless expansionism is buried deep in its genes. (Joel Kovel, a “green economist”, justly called his own 2002 volume, The Enemy of Nature). Can anything be done?

The growth mania is not likely to be abandoned any time soon, nor moderated in a manner satisfactory for ecological health. Besides the established requirements of constant competition, the by now well-entrenched “executive mentality” mentioned above (a sociological superstructure in its own right) is turbocharged and replicated at every turn by the catechism taught in business schools, Western madrassas of business fundamentalism where far too many eager youths, not particularly burdened with too many moral scruples, converge to learn how to become Gordon Gekkos in the shortest possible time. Furthermore, the ever-expanding pie has some other less well discussed functions, such as social pacification (constantly rising income however minimal dampens cries for egalitarianism), and what some have called “redistribution of income at the margin” whereby huge transfers of wealth are effected from the middle and lower classes to the top with few if any ever noticing. This is however a delicate mechanism. Let the economy grind to a halt, or backslide, and the true face of Dorian Gray begins to show.—PG

Note: The above is an excerpt from Patrice Greanville’s Understanding American Capitalism, a book review of MINDFUL ECONOMICS, by Joel C. Magnuson. 


Employment levels have fluctuated rather than grown steadily as one would expect. Indeed, new technologies that increase productivity lead to greater profits but fewer jobs rather than more.

The emphasis on GDP growth at all costs has led to wasteful resource use, particularly by the wealthier countries, on an unparalleled scale and without a backward glance. It is often noted that the economy is a subset of the ecological system, but equally there seems to be a belief that nature can cope with anything we throw at it.

[dropcap]H[/dropcap]owever, an assessment by the Global Footprint Network indicates we are running a dangerous ecological debt. Currently the global use of resources and amounts of waste generated per year would require one and a half planet Earths to be sustainable (see graph). The price to be paid for this overshoot is ecological crises (think forests, fisheries, freshwater and the climatic system), a price that is again paid disproportionately by the poor.3


Moreover, as resources get more difficult to extract, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain the fictions of unbounded growth that traditional [capitalist] economic thinking relies on.

However, arguments to tackle our obsession with growth and work towards building a more sustainable economy often get derided as a desire to be mired in recession. But a steady-state economy is about meeting needs without environmental breakdown and brings benefits unknown to the proponents of consumer culture. The focus would be on greater equality, redistribution and quality of life – job shares and meaningful work, the value of leisure and human engagement, housing security rather than castles and tenements. Balance, in other words – an economy of having enough, where no resource is squandered and recycling is optimized.

❛Real class warfare will result not from sharing, but from the greed of elites who promote growth because they capture nearly all the benefits from it, while “sharing” only the costs.❜ ~ Herman Daly, US ecological economist

This requires such a huge paradigm shift away from all we are led to believe is sound, that ecological economic thinking on how to achieve a steady-state economy remains woefully sidelined. In the wealthier nations we have a fear that reducing our mountains of things means we are losing the race, even if it’s a rat race. We acquiesce to a ridiculous level of housing insecurity because ‘that’s the way the market is’, even if it’s being played for all its worth. And we cheer on debt-led consumer spending as evidence of that increasingly elusive growth.4

If the three-per-cent growth rate aspired to by many wealthy countries were achieved, their economies would double every 23 years – consuming in 23 years as much as all previous periods combined. Sustainable?

Yet questioning the pursuit of growth is viewed as death at the polls by politicians, with only a few brave Greens going there. So in the current climate, growth it is – like there’s no tomorrow.

  1. Rob Dietz and Dan O’Neill, Enough is Enough, Earthscan, 2013.

  2. Figures for 2010, supplied by the UN, nin.tl/UNpoverty

  3. Global Footprint Network, nin.tl/world-footprint

  4. James S Meadway, ‘The dangerous consequences of debt-led growth’, nef, 9 April 2014, nin.tl/debt-growth


Article: New Internationalist
Lead graphic:  Monument to the victims of capitalism. PhotographyMontreal (Public Domain)

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Edward W. Said On Orientalism

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Orientalism cover

NOTE: Edward Said wrote a new preface for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition of his classic book, ORIENTALISM, originally published in the USA by Random House in 1978. In the following pages I have quoted some of the author’s major thoughts and added my own ideas about Said’s preface written in 2003 for the last Vintage Books edition of his magnificent work. This is an upgraded repost. The original essay was published on 3 March 2016.

 In Edward Said’s preface to the 25th anniversary edition of his magisterial work, Orientalism, the author rapidly begins his definition of the Orientalism that has resulted from the “immense distortion introduced by the empire (of imperialism) into the lives of ‘lesser’ peoples and ‘subject races’…. How little it wishes to face the long succession of years through which empire continues to work its way in the lives of, say, Palestinians or Congolese or Algerians or Iraqis.”

For Said, the West’s Orientalist line begins with Napoleon’s entry into Egypt two centuries ago, continues with the rise of Oriental studies (one of the author’s principle targets) and the takeover of North Africa, and goes on to similar undertakings in Vietnam, in Egypt, in Palestine and during the entire twentieth century in the struggle over oil and strategic control in the Gulf, in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, and Afghanistan. The author poses the question that if the Holocaust has permanently altered the consciousness of our time, then why do we (the imperialist West) not afford the same recognition to what imperialism has done, and what “Orientalism” continues to do.”

Here I stray from the Preface and look ahead to the book text itself to the point Said lists three major forms taken by Western Orientalism beginning with the Napoleonic invasion of Egypt, “the very model of a truly scientific appropriation of one culture by another, apparently a stronger one,” which set in motion “processes between East and West that still dominate our contemporary cultural and political perspectives.” In nineteenth century Europe a vast body of literature about the East was generated which created a new awareness of the Orient in the West which in turn was translated as a new relationship between the Orient and the West.

The second form of Orientalism was the modernization of knowledge in the West about the Orient. Oriental societies and university departments of Oriental studies spread across Europe to disseminate the new “knowledge” about the Orient. Then in the third form in which Orientalism existed, limits were fixed as to what the more creative Westerners could experience or even say about the Orient. “For Orientalism,” Said proposes, “is ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promotes the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”). This vision in a sense created and then served the two worlds thus conceived: Orientals lived in their world; “we” lived in ours.”

The result was that the stronger of the two, the West, could penetrate (also imperialistically) and give meaning to the great “mysteries” of the East. Said’s argument is that precisely such a vision of the East vision has made Orientalist reality, its vast institutions and all-pervasive influence, “both inhuman and persistent” up to the present.

This vision of the state of relations between East and West between scholars and intellectuals on the one hand and national states (and blocks of nations) and their peoples and their religions on the other, is disheartening and frustrating for a person, especially a thinking and caring person, who belonged to both worlds as did Said. His preface—actually also his entire book—is thus a challenge to scholars, in his words “to use humanistic critique to open up the fields of struggle” between East and West in place of the polemics and antagonisms that prevent mutual comprehension one of the other.

The author holds steadfastly to his humanistic method chiefly because he truly believes that “nothing that goes on in our world has ever been isolated and pure of any outside influence.” For him the discouraging part of such considerations is that the more cultural studies show that such is the case, the less influence it has in East and West. The emergence of the explosive territorial-religious-social-political polarizations we know today offer us the bitter confirmation of the state of relations between two irrational and apparently irreconcilable antagonists today faced with the reality of “Islam versus the West.”

The controversial world-famous scholar and writer and leading U.S. advocate of the Palestinian cause, Edward Said, died of leukemia in New York on September 25, 2003 at age 67. He had signed this new preface to Orientalism in May, 2003, obviously, aware that he had little time to state his case in full. Born in 1935 in Jerusalem, then part of British-ruled Palestine, he was raised in Egypt before moving to the United States as a student. In that sense he lived a pluri-cultural life: Islam and the West. Therefore, he felt a special moral responsibility in the use he made of his particular life experience and abilities.

His passion literally exudes from most every line of the sixteen pages of one of his last major writings. He emphasizes the “vital necessity for independent intellectuals to provide alternative models to the reductively simplifying and confining ones, based on mutual hostility, that have prevailed in the Middle East and elsewhere for so long.”

Said, a professor of comparative literature at Columbia University and not of Arab or Islamic studies as one might expect, was a harsh critic of Israel for its mistreatment of the Palestinians. In the name of academic freedom, Columbia did not censure him when he created international controversy like the time he demonstratively threw a rock toward an Israeli guardhouse on the Lebanese border. As to his ability to interpret political events, he wrote after visits to Jerusalem and the West Bank that Israel’s xenophobia toward Arabs had strengthened Palestinian determination. In general, his outspoken stance made him many enemies and he received many death threats; his office was set on fire and the Jewish Defense League labeled him a Nazi.

Said does not mince words in this preface, signed three months before his passing. Speaking as both American and Arab he advises against underestimating the simplified views of the world formulated by a few Pentagon civilian elites for U.S. policies in the Arab/Islamic world. He charges the media for its endlessly debating of policies based on terror, preemptive war, and unilateral regime change backed up by “the most bloated military budget in history” and for assigning itself “the role of producing so-called ‘experts’ who validate the government’s general line. Likewise, he accuses Americans in general for not generating “enough dissent from the dubious thesis that military power alone can change the map of the world.”

“The breath-taking insouciance of jejune publicists who speak in the name of foreign policy and who have no live notion (or any knowledge at all) of the language of what real people actually speak has fabricated an arid landscape ready for American power to construct there an ersatz model of free market ‘democracy’….” Said explains that he means the difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that results from understanding, compassion and careful study and analysis and on the other hand, knowledge that is part of an overall campaign for self-affirmation, belligerency and outright war.

Excusing himself (needlessly in my opinion) for too many abrupt transitions between humanistic interpretation on the one hand and foreign policy on the other, and his refusal to accept that a modern technological society that, along with unprecedented power, possesses the internet and F-16 fighter jets, must be in the end commanded by formidable technical-policy experts like Donald Rumsfeld,

Said writes a five-liner denunciation of American ideology that I consider morally exemplary of his thinking: “Reflection, debate, rational argument, moral principle based on a secular notion that human beings must create their own history have been replaced by abstract ideas that celebrate American and Western exceptionalism, denigrate the relevance of context, and regard other cultures with derisive contempt…. But what has really been lost is a sense of the density and interdependence of human life.”

As could be expected, the book, Orientalism .stirred up a hornet’s nest in the field of Middle Eastern Studies. Roger Owen, Professor of Middle East History at Harvard University, a “good” Orientalist according to Said’s definition, notes the personal tone in Said’s book: the author’s origins, his reasons for writing the book, his genuine offense at the objectification of Arabs and Muslims. Owen notes that parts of the book are read as political and polemical rather than “scholarly and academic,” a no-no in the academic world. Said’s words are actually more than criticism; they are an accusation that was answered chiefly by counter-accusations which “muddied” the oh so sensitive academic waters.

Said’s Orientalism thus continues to be regarded as dangerous, in particular by those who have perhaps never read it, like State Department Arabists. Hence, the polarization in the field of Modern Middle Eastern studies: the followers of Edward Said on the one hand and those, for example, belonging to the Middle East Studies Association on the other. Said’s critics claim the attacks on Said and his followers (caused by Said himself and his book) make it more difficult for “good” Orientalists to sustain an attack on the role of (“bad” and guilty) Orientalists in authorizing not only American military and security policy but those of Israel as well. It is my view that academia, in its genteel-acidic manner, is attempting to shift the blame onto Edward Said’s shoulders for their kowtowing to political power.

EDWARD W SAID, PARIS, FRANCE - NOV 1996...Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sipa Press / Rex Features ( 408195b ) EDWARD W SAID, PARIS, FRANCE - NOV 1996

EDWARD W SAID, PARIS, FRANCE – NOV 1996…Mandatory Credit: Photo by Sipa Press / Rex Features ( 408195b )

Said then concludes his imaginative-interpretive essay-preface twice. His first conclusion is to insist “that the terrible reductive conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like ‘America’, ‘the West’, or ‘Islam’ and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed, their murderous effectiveness vastly reduced in influence and mobilizing power.”

“And lastly,” the author writes, “most important, humanism is the only, and I would go so far as to say, the final resistance we have against the inhuman practices and injustices that disfigure human history. We are today abetted by the enormously encouraging democratic field of cyberspace, open to all users in ways undreamed of by earlier generations either of tyrants or of orthodoxies. The world-wide protest before the war began in Iraq would not have been possible were it not for the existence of alternative communities across the globe, informed by alternative news sources, and keenly aware of the environmental, human rights, and libertarian impulses that bind us together in this tiny planet.”

About the author

Gaither StewartSenior Editor Gaither Stewart, based in Rome, serves—inter alia—as our European correspondent. A veteran journalist and essayist on a broad palette of topics from culture to history and politics, he is also the author of the Europe Trilogy, celebrated spy thrillers whose latest volume, Time of Exile, was recently published by Punto Press.




A Nonviolent Strategy to Liberate Syria

[Photo: Literally rivers of Syrians abandon a nation largely broken up by the imperial assault.It is time for a better way.]

=By= Robert J. Burrowes

Editor's Note
In this essay, Mr. Burrowes gives a short history of what has become a civil war in Syria. I found this step back to be useful. So much has happened since, and the situation in Syria so degraded and explosive, that looking again at the beginnings can be instructive. He then goes on to detail a path through to a nonviolent resolution.

In early 2011, as the Arab Spring was moving across North Africa and the Middle East, small groups of nonviolent activists in Syria, which has been under martial law since 1963, started protesting against the brutal dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad and demanding democratic reforms, the release of political prisoners, an increase in freedoms, abolition of the emergency law and an end to corruption.

By mid-March these protests, particularly in cities such as Damascus, Aleppo and Daraa, had escalated and the ‘Day of Rage’ protest on 15 March 2011 is considered by many to mark the start of the nationwide uprising against the Assad dictatorship. The dictatorship’s reaction to the protests became violent on 16 March and on 18 March, after Friday prayers, activists gathered at the al-Omari Mosque in Daraa were attacked by security forces with water cannons and tear gas, followed by live fire; four nonviolent activists were killed.

Within months, as the nonviolent protests expanded and spread, the regime had killed hundreds of activists and arbitrarily arrested thousands, subjecting many of them to brutal torture in detention. This pattern has continued unchecked. For the earliest of a succession of reports that document this regime’s violence against nonviolent activists, see the Human Rights Watch report ‘”We’ve Never Seen Such Horror” Crimes against Humanity by Syrian Security Forces‘. For the most recent report, see the UN Human Rights Council report ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Deaths in Detention in the Syrian Arab Republic‘.

In recent commentaries on the war in Syria, both long-time solidarity activist Terry Burke – see ‘U.S. Peace Activists Should Start Listening to Progressive Syrian Voices‘ – and long-term Middle East scholar Professor Stephen Zunes have encouraged the anti-war movement to listen to Syrian voices in framing their response, particularly given the tendency within some sections of it to support ‘the extraordinarily brutal Assad regime – a family dictatorship rooted in the anti-leftist military wing of the Baath Party’  (see ‘Anti-war movement must listen to voices within Syria’s civil war‘).

One such Syrian voice is that of scholar and nonviolent activist Professor Mohja Kahf. In her account of the Syrian uprising against the Assad dictatorship – see ‘Then and Now: The Syrian Revolution to Date. A young nonviolent resistance and the ensuing armed struggle‘  – Professor Kahf offers the following introductory paragraphs:

‘The Syrian uprising sprang from the country’s grassroots, especially from youth in their teens, and adults in their twenties and thirties. They, not seasoned oppositionists, began the uprising, and are its core population. They share, rather than a particular ideology, a generational experience of disenfranchisement and brutalization by a corrupt, repressive, and massively armed ruling elite in Syria.

‘The uprising began nonviolently and the vast majority of its populace maintained nonviolence as its path to pursue regime change and a democratic Syria, until an armed flank emerged in August 2011.

‘The Syrian Revolution has morphed. From midsummer to autumn 2011, armed resistance developed, political bodies formed to represent the revolution outside Syria, and political Islamists of various sorts entered the uprising scene. Since then, armed resistance has overshadowed nonviolent resistance in Syria.

‘…political bodies and support groups for the revolution’s militarized wing, have become venues for internal power struggles among opposition factions and individuals, and entry-points for foreign powers attempting to push their own agendas into a revolution sprung from Syrian grievances, grown from the spilling of Syrian blood on Syrian soil.

‘Many in the global peace community can no longer discern the Syrian uprising’s grassroots population through the smoke of armed conflict and the troubling new actors on the scene. Further, some in the global left or anti-imperialist camp understand the Syrian revolution only through the endgame of geopolitics. In such a narrative, the uprising population is nothing but the proxy of U.S. imperialism.

‘Such critics may acknowledge that the Assad regime is brutal, but maintain from their armchairs that Syrians must bear this cost, because this regime has its finger in the dike of U.S. imperialism, Zionism, and Islamism. Or, perhaps they agree that a revolution against a brutal dictator is not a bad idea, but wish for a nicer revolution, with better players. Eyes riveted to their pencils and rulers and idées fixés, such critics abandon a grassroots population of disenfranchised human beings demanding basic human freedoms in Syria. This is a stunning and cruel failure of vision.

‘The voices of the original grassroots revolution of Syria are nonviolent, nonsectarian, noninterventionist, for the fall of the Assad regime, and for the rise of a democratic, human rights upholding Syria that is bound by the rule of law. They are still present in this revolution. Who will hear them now, after so much dear blood has been spilled, so much tender flesh crushed under blasted blocks of cement, so much rightful anger unleashed?’

Other Syrian voices offer a similar account. See, for example, the recent book by Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leila al-Shami titled ‘Burning Country: Syrians in Revolution and War‘ reviewed in ‘Book Review: Burning Country‘.

If Syrians and their solidarity allies are to develop and implement a successful nonviolent grassroots strategy to end the war in/on Syria and remove the Assad dictatorship, then we need a sound strategic framework that guides the comprehensive planning of our strategy. Obviously, there is no point designing a strategy that is incomplete or cannot be successful.

A sound strategic framework simply enables us to think and plan strategically so that once our strategy has been elaborated, it can be widely shared and clearly understood by everyone involved. It also means that nonviolent actions can then be implemented because they are known to have strategic utility and that precise utility is understood in advance. It is counterproductive to take random action, especially if the opponent is powerful and committed (even if that ‘commitment’ is insane, which is frequently the case).

There is a simple diagram presenting a 12-point strategic framework illustrated here in the form of the ‘Strategy Wheel.’
Burrowes Nonviolent Strategy Wheel

In order to think strategically about nonviolently resolving a violent conflict, a clearly defined political purpose is needed; that is, a simple summary statement of ‘what you want’. However, given the complexity of the multifaceted conflict in the case of Syria, it is strategically simpler to identify two political purposes. These might be stated thus: 1. To end the war in/on Syria, and 2. To establish a democratic form of government in Syria (which, obviously, requires removal of the dictatorship).

Once the political purpose has been defined, the two strategic aims (‘how you get what you want’) of the strategy acquire their meaning. These two strategic aims (which are always the same whatever the political purpose) are as follows: 1. To increase support for your campaign by developing a network of groups who can assist you. 2. To alter the will and undermine the power of those groups who support the war/dictatorship.

While the two strategic aims are always the same, they are achieved via a series of intermediate strategic goals that are always specific to each struggle. To keep this article reasonably straightforward, I have only identified a set of strategic goals that would be appropriate in the context of ending the war in/on Syria. For a basic set of strategic goals appropriate for ending the dictatorship, see ‘Strategic Aims‘.

Before listing the strategic goals for ending the war, I wish to emphasise that I have only briefly discussed two aspects of a comprehensive strategy to end the war in/on Syria: its political purpose and its two strategic aims (with its many subsidiary strategic goals). For the strategy to be effective, all twelve components of the strategic framework should be planned (and then implemented). See Nonviolent Defense/Liberation Strategy

This will require, for example, that tactics that will achieve the strategic goals must be carefully chosen and implemented bearing in mind the vital distinction between the political objective and strategic goal of any such tactic. See ‘The Political Objective and Strategic Goal of Nonviolent Actions‘.

Strategic goals to end the war in/on Syria

I have outlined a basic list of strategic goals below although, it should be noted, the list would be considerably longer as individual organizations should be specified separately.

Many of these strategic goals would usually be tackled by action groups working in solidarity with Syria campaigning within their own country. Ideally they would be undertaken by activist groups with existing expertise in the relevant area (for example, experience in campaigning against a weapons corporation) but this is not essential.

Of course, individual activist groups would usually accept responsibility for focusing their work on achieving just one or a few of the strategic goals (which is why any single campaign within the overall strategy is readily manageable).

It is the responsibility of the struggle’s strategic leadership to ensure that each of the strategic goals, which should be identified and prioritized according to their precise understanding of the circumstances in Syria, (so, not necessarily precisely as identified below) is being addressed (or to prioritize if resource limitations require this).

So here is a set of strategic goals to end the war in/on Syria:

(1) To cause the women in [women’s organizations WO1, WO2, WO…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities]. For example, simple nonviolent actions would be to wear a national symbol (such as a badge of the national flag and/or ribbons in the national colors) and/or to boycott all media outlets supporting the war. For this item and many items hereafter, see the list of possible actions that can be taken here: ‘198 Tactics of Nonviolent Action‘.

(2) To cause the workers in [trade unions T1, T2, T…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities]. For example, this might include withdrawing their labor from occupations that support the Syrian military forces.

(3) To cause young people in Syria to resist conscription into the Syrian military forces.

(4) To cause young people in Syria to refuse recruitment into the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda and its affiliates/allies, the Islamic State (Daesh) and its allies.

(5) To cause the members of [religious denominations R1, R2, R…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(6) To cause the members of [ethnic communities EC1, EC2, EC…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(7) To cause the activists, artists, musicians, intellectuals and other key social groups in [organizations O1, O2, O…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(8) To cause the students in [student organizations S1, S2, S…] in Syria to join the liberation strategy by participating in [your nominated nonviolent action(s)/campaign(s) and/or constructive program activities].

(9) To cause the soldiers in [military units M1, M2, M…] to refuse to obey orders from the dictatorship to arrest, assault, torture and shoot nonviolent activists and the other citizens of Syria.

(10) To cause the police in [police units P1, P2, P…] to refuse to obey orders from the dictatorship to arrest, assault, torture and shoot nonviolent activists and the other citizens of Syria.

(11) To cause young people in [the US, NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] to refuse recruitment into their respective military forces.

(12) To cause conscripts into the military forces of [NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] that still use conscription to conscientiously refuse to perform military duties.

(13) To cause military personnel in the military forces of [the US, NATO countries, Russia and other countries fighting in Syria] to refuse deployment to the war in/on Syria.

(14) To cause young people in [your country] to refuse recruitment into the Free Syrian Army, al-Qaeda and its affiliates/allies, the Islamic State (Daesh) and its allies.

(15) To cause former soldiers in [your country] to refuse recruitment as mercenaries by corporations that supply ‘military contractors’ to fight in Syria.

(16) To cause the activists in [peace groups P1, P2, P…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…]. For example, this might include boycotting all commercial flights that use Boeing and Airbus passenger aircraft given the heavy involvement of these corporations in the production of military aircraft.

(17) To cause the activists in [environment groups E1, E2, E…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…]. For example, this might including boycotting all commercial products of General Electric given the heavy involvement of this corporation in the production of military engines, systems and services.

(18) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T1, T2, T….] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(19) To cause the women in [women’s organizations WO1, WO2, WO…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(20) To cause the members of [religious denominations R1, R2, R…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(21) To cause the members of [ethnic communities EC4, EC5, EC…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(22) To cause the artists, musicians, intellectuals and other key social groups in [organizations O4, O5, O…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(23) To cause the students in [student organizations S1, S2, S…] in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by encouraging their members to boycott [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(24) To cause the consumers in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by boycotting [all/specified nonmilitary products] of [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…].

(25) To cause more individuals in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by conscientiously resisting paying [part/all] of their taxes for war.

(26) To cause more organizations in [your town/city/country] to resist the war on Syria by conscientiously resisting paying [part/all] of their taxes for war.

(27) To cause [weapons corporations W4, W5, W…] to convert from the manufacture of military weapons to [the specified/negotiated socially/environmentally beneficial products].

(28) To cause [banks B1, B2, B…] to cease financing the weapons industry.

(29) To cause bank customers to shift their deposits to ethical banks and credit unions that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(30) To cause [religious organizations R4, R5, R…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(31) To cause [superannuation funds S1, S2, S…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(32) To cause superannuation fund customers to shift their money to ethical funds that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(33) To cause [insurance companies I1, I2, I…] to divest from the weapons industry.

(34) To cause insurance customers to shift their policies to ethical insurance companies that do not finance (or are otherwise involved in) the weapons industry.

(35) To cause [corporations C1, C2, C…] that provide [services/components] for [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…] to cease doing so.

(36) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T4, T5, T…] to withdraw their labor from [weapons corporations W1, W2, W…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(37) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T7, T8, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C1, C2, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(38) To cause [corporations C4, C5, C…] that provides [services/supplies] to [military bases MB1, MB2, MB…] to cease doing so.

(39) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T10, T11, T…] who work in/supply [military bases MB1, MB2, MB…] to withdraw their labor [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(40) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T13, T14, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C4, C5, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(41) To cause [corporations C7, C8, C…] that manufacture and supply spy satellites for military purposes to cease doing so.

(42) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T16, T17, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C7, C8, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(43) To cause [corporations C10, C11, C…] that provide [services/components] for the militarization of space to cease doing so.

(44) To cause the workers in [trade unions or labor organizations T19, T20, T…] to withdraw their labor from [corporations C10, C11, C…] [partially/wholly], [temporarily/permanently].

(45) To cause [corporations C13, C14, C…] that provide private military contractors (mercenaries) to fight in wars to cease doing so.

(46) To cause the private military contractors (mercenaries) who fight in wars to withdraw their labor from [corporations C13, C14, C…].

(47) To cause the soldiers in [military units M1, M2, M…] in [your town/city/country] to refuse to obey orders to [arrest, assault, torture and shoot, depending on your local circumstances] nonviolent activists campaigning against the war.

(48) To cause the police in [police units P1, P2, P…] in [your town/city/country] to refuse to obey orders to [arrest, assault, torture and shoot, depending on your local circumstances] nonviolent activists campaigning against the war.

(49) To cause individual members of the military forces at [Military Base MB1/Drone Base DB1/Navy Ship NS1/Air Force Base AFB1/Army unit AU1/Marines unit MU1] in [your town/city/country] to resign.

(50) To cause individual members of those corporations that employ/supply private military contractors (mercenaries) to resign.

As you can see, the two strategic aims are achieved via a series of intermediate strategic goals.

Not all of the strategic goals will need to be achieved for the strategy to be successful but each goal is focused in such a way that its achievement functionally undermines the power of those conducting the war.

The difference between success and failure in any struggle is the soundness of the strategy.


Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 2.38.28 PMRobert J. Burrowes has a lifetime commitment to understanding and ending human violence. He has done extensive research since 1966 in an effort to understand why human beings are violent and has been a nonviolent activist since 1981. He is the author of ‘Why Violence?’ http://tinyurl.com/whyviolence His email address is flametree@riseup.net and his website is at http://robertjburrowes.wordpress.com


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