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Changes in Society: Class

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Interesting article about Class in yesterday's Guardian:


As the high tide of New Labour recedes, the rock of class is again revealed as a determining feature of Britain's political landscape. From Marx to Major, politics was defined by the desire to create a classless society. It was a challenge taken up by Tony Blair, who wanted "to take class out of British politics". Your class, though, is still your fate - only we've lost the language and culture to deal with it. New Labour cannot talk about the working class, and so denies the possibility of renewal. Why and how should the left respond?

The left saw class as both problem and solution: the root cause of social inequality and, through a growing labour movement, the engine of a classless society. But this historical inevitability was undone by postwar affluence and a burgeoning "middle class". The forward march of labour was halted.

New Labour's ideological escape hatch from old class politics was the emphasis on the nation's labour force in a global economy. Echoing the language of Marx, Tony Blair said "people are born with talent and everywhere it is in chains". It was the job of the state to liberate them so they could fully participate in the new economy. New Labour referred not just to a new party but to individualised labourers, no longer to a class of labour.

But the escape hatch was a trap door. While New Labour found itself politically free from old labour, it was economically tied to a new master class. Once Blairism inverted the role of social democracy, by forcing people to fit the market, it accepted a politics driven by the demands of a global elite seen as crucial to international competitiveness.

This is the transnational class of consultants and bankers who, it is feared, work only where they are paid most and taxed least. They are the new untouchables. Because of them, we cannot not talk about spiralling executive pay, rewards for failure, or wealth beyond imagination that allows some to spray champagne around West End bars for the conspicuous fun of it.

While this silence in class is maintained, social mobility declines and the gap between rich and poor remains at the levels bequeathed by Thatcherism, as the Fabian Society has recently reported. Instead of "living on thin air" the reality is an emerging hourglass economy with a Victorian jobs market of gangmasters and domestic servants. Infant mortality rates are double for the lowest social group; the poorest men die seven years before the richest; and 69% of the land is still owned by just 0.6% of the population.

Denying that class matters creates a vacuum in which the far right festers. New Labour has said goodbye to the white working class, whose votes they have taken for granted, because of its focus on the swingers of middle England. Margaret Hodge may bemoan the rise of the BNP in her backyard but it is the government's refusal to address issues of affordable housing, flexible labour markets and the effect on them of immigration that leaves the way open for the racist right.

Within these growing divisions, consumerism is both the new social glue and the basis for even greater polarisation. We are all consumers now, buying if not identical designer wear then at least cheap high-street copies. But the new excluded are the failed consumers who cannot afford to be part of "normal" shopping society. In many ways they are worse off than the poor of the past. They suffer alone with nowhere to hide from their exclusion and no one to blame but themselves. They don't want to fight the rich, just be like them.

No wonder Francis Maude, the Tory chair, was recently moved to say that "one of the great achievements of New Labour is to have taken class out of politics". It is this "achievement" that has made Britain safe for the new global elite. But New Labour promised a meritocracy of fluid social movement. This demanded policies to end private education, to tax land, inheritance, wealth and higher incomes, and end the monarchy and the Lords. Of course none of this is countenanced.

The more social democratic elements of New Labour in the Treasury have thankfully been papering over the cracks of class divisions through redistribution by stealth. But they can't go on running to keep inequality still, without discussing class. Class cannot be removed from politics if it is still part and parcel of people's lives.

So tensions abound. Stephen Byers, the Blairite outrider, says in one breath "we are now witnessing a silent and secret revolution where, to a greater extent than ever before, those born into disadvantage and poverty will be condemned to it for the rest of their lives" - and in the next, denies the ability to act, by declaring Britain has reached the ceiling of its tax burden.

The task of the left is to reduce differences in class and inequality. New Labour sees only a nation of shoppers, dragooned on to the treadmill of consumption and more work. A cold society of economic self-rationalising individuals able only to change themselves through what they purchase. Class to them is something you can buy.

The alternative is to recognise class as part of the answer to how we change our world together. Social trends may be heralding a return to the solidarity of class politics. The emerging hourglass economy creates not just a swelling lump of poorly-paid service workers, but also a shrinking and insecure middle class, the effective organisation of which demands the rebirth of a trade unionism that knows when the interests of capital and labour do and do not mix.

But we never could rely on economic determinism. Ultimately the challenge is political. Class is socially constructed. People have to want class to matter. Recognising the role of class opens up new possibilities for the left. The cash-rich but time-poor can only find "the good life" through a redistribution of resources with their cash-poor but time-rich alter egos. But forging this alliance requires brave political leadership.

New Labour was conceived just at the moment the new right was proclaiming "the end of history". The judgment of both looks premature. As Marx and Engels wrote at the start of the 1848 Communist Manifesto: "The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle." In its own way that struggle must continue today.

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This is just a notion or flight of fancy I've been pondering over time. I think current events makes it more topical and I can see in the previous post elements that perhaps lends it more credence. Anyway I think it may be good to learn more about (for me at least)

The Capitalist revolution under Cromwell was a coincidence of interests of a stymied Merchant Class and Indentured Serfdom and its conflict with what had sort of devolved to a Divine Monarchy.

Today one can perhaps see Indentured Slavery in the form of Debt and its controlling influence as having returned much of the worlds population, irrespective of toys provided, to a new form of Serfdom. I think this is where Education, Information, Nutrition, Health, and Peace are paramount in order to properly arm the 'new revolutionary' so that it does not become prey to the whims of the 'new aristocracy' in order to prevent a descent into fascism.

edit typos

Edited by John Dolva
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This is just a notion or flight of fancy I've been pondering over time. I think current events makes it more topical and I can see in the previous post elements that perhaps lends it more credence. Anyway I think it may be good to learn more about (for me at least)

The Capitalist revolution under Cromwell was a coincidence of interests of a stymied Merchant Class and Indentured Serfdom and its conflict with what had sort of devolved to a Divine Monarchy.

Today one can perhaps see Indentured Slavery in the form of Debt and its controlling influence as having returned much of the worlds population, irrespective of toys provided, to a new form of Serfdom. I think this is where Education, Information, Nutrition, Health, and Peace are paramount in order to properly arm the 'new revolutionary' so that it does not become prey to the whims of the 'new aristocracy' in order to prevent a descent into fascism.

edit typos

Just some more thoughts that may seem unconnected. I'm looking for a synthesis. I certainly appreciate input from some educator who can point out where I'm wrong.

In the meantime. Fiat, Debt and therefore credit and therefore creditors and back to fiat is being demonstrated in how the economic crisis is being handled on a global level. It's interesting that credit seems unending and the debt that ensues, paid in fiat, sovereignty or otherwise continues as a running patch work and more and more people are having their personal fortunes in life controlled by that credit, debt cycle when it is not in their interest to do so. (of course, Interest fits in there too)

I wonder what would happen if the spending on war was dramatically reduced? I wouldn't be surprised if that would be the ruling paradigm people would actually find that that is in their real interest.

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I can see some possible mistakes in emphasis, however, discounting that, some recent events when viewed in historical context ''properly arm the 'new revolutionary' so that it does not become prey to the whims of the 'new aristocracy' in order to prevent a descent into fascism.'' bears elaborating on. France is now emerging as a possible point at which a repetition of the past does not occur. It's not the only example. It's a global phenomena that I suggest is systemic. With the far right weighing in with demands that align with the interests of French Debt Slaves a situation may develop that sees the nation descending into that which ultimately is certainly not in the interests of the Debt Slaves. It will be interesting (to me anyway) what happens to the left.

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It's important to mention another thing. It has bearings in past periods in history that humanity finds itself in this sort of situation. Of course indentured slavery is nothing new. In some places the indebtedness is generational and status quo that some elements of western society is only recently becoming aware of through direct experience. This explains the means whereby acts are institutionalised with the sole purpose of positioning for a spread of awareness and the growing realistation that it is within the class itself that unity must be built because it is only through that that alternative power mechanisms can be created that have a chance of defeating the real enemy, that which is within ones self.

It is critical that any calls that appeal to any form of racism, or sexism ... , be rejected en masse.

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and that which is within ones self is akin to a new religion (or the new opiate), the altar of fiat based debt that many worship at the altar of on a daily basis, even Sundays, the ATM (or whatever bank instrument most convenient) for some sort of absolution that will never come...

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The last was a joke based on a conversation I had with someone some decades ago. But then again it's not really a joke. It is simply reapplying words that in a way explains the problems that religions bring to the table. I deliberately wrote religions rather than a more universal faith that of course must not be blind, hence the stress in the first post (#2) on the factors for maximising the education of peoples and for this true eqality is essential.

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Havana. March 22, 2012

Cracks in the capitalist system

Sergio Alejandro Gómez

NOT even where the capitalist system has achieved its highest levels of development has injustice been eliminated, according to the president of the Communist Party of Luxembourg (KPL), Ali Ruckert, in a conversation with Granma.

The tiny country of 500,000 people, which has one of the largest Gross Domestic Products per capita in the world, has not escaped the effects of Europe’s economic and social crisis.

"Poverty is increasing, the government is cutting social programs and raising taxes, affecting the purchasing power of the workers," said Ruckert.

"Currently, we have more than 20,000 people out of work, 6% of the working age population. But these figures hide the thousands of Luxembourg’s citizens who are working in neighboring countries. With the unions, we have estimated that the real figure is close to 10%.

"Additionally there is consistent pressure on wages and for the lengthening of the work day. Luxembourg has the highest level of productivity in the European Union, but the greatest portion of this income leaves the country. For every euro invested, the capitalists take another as profit.

"Another problem which has been aggravated by the crisis is that the government is allocating the state budget in favor of business owners and to the detriment of social well-being. Subsidies to students, for example, have been drastically reduced."

This is the situation confronting the party led by Ruckert since 2000, an organization founded in 1921, inspired by the 1917 Russian Revolution, now with a history of more than 90 years.

"Since the crisis began, the party has maintained a dialogue with the workers. One of our principal tasks is disseminating information about the government’s actions and offering an alternative.

"The Social Democratic unions are looking for solutions within the system, but we think that the current crisis can only be overcome if we think beyond capitalism. This is what our discussions with workers address."

The Communist leader is clear about the short term strategy: attack the system given the measures it is taking against workers and begin to mobilize these forces in opposition to the cuts.

"The members of our party who belong to Social Democratic unions have as their mission getting workers onto the streets to protest the government’s strategy, since at the beginning these organization fully supported the government’s policies."

This is no easy task, he said, since his is a small party with limited influence. Although over the past few years, this tendency has begun to change. In the 2011 municipal elections, the KPL, for the first time in 20 years, won representation on city councils in Esch-sur-Alzette and Differdange, two of the country’s principal cities.

Ruckert is conscious of his party’s responsibility in this new historic juncture, saying, "Often it is right wing and extreme right-wing forces which benefit from capitalist crises and not the left.

"In Luxembourg, the number of people looking for radical solutions has grown, while at the same time, in neighboring countries like Belgium and France, the right wing has gained strength.

"Moreover, history shows that when the system can’t find a solution to a crisis, it opts for war. This is the greatest danger we face at this time and the challenge we are confronting."

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my thinking on my hypothesis continues to fracture as I seek a synthesis based on insufficient knowledge. It'd be great if someone who understands what I'm trying to get at would give some input + or - is all the same.

One spinoff from trying to define money, what is it seems just as relevant in this topic as in 'Fiat'. This comes from a discussion with someone who is not a socialist like me but with whom I can discuss things. The discussion went in to the etymology of the word money. One site seemed to say it was from a roman goddess. From memory married to Jupiter. Monit something which has a meaning in monitoring and money itself. OK, what can money be said to monitor? Debt? Credit? The debtor, I think, ultimately. It seems like a bit convoluted, but is it? Isn't viability a measure of debt and that is then a measure of credit accorded to that status. On, so then one never really has money. It's always someone elses and if that is available to the other then one has credit which in turn becomes debt. So 'live' money is the measure of ones indebtedness, ie it's a means to measure solvency by dealing with degree of insolvency.

Maybe I'm exhausted.

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Jean-Luc Mélenchon: the poetry-loving pitbull galvanising the French elections

Angelique Chrisafis joins charismatic hard-left firebrand Jean-Luc Mélenchon on the presidential campaign trail

  • Jean-Luc-M-lenchon-008.jpg
    Jean-Luc Mélenchon delivers a campaign speech in Grigny, near Paris. Photograph: Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images
    In a packed agricultural hanger in a rural town in central France, an enraptured crowd raised their fists and chanted: "Resistance! Resistance!" On stage, arms flung wide, sweat pouring down his face, stood the charismatic, hard-left firebrand hailed as the best orator of the presidential campaign. "The French Revolution of 1789 hasn't breathed its last!" roared
Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the poetry-loving pitbull of anti-capitalism. "If Europe is a volcano, France is the crater of all European revolutions!"
Mixing brute rage with killer, comic one-liners about the French political class, Mélenchon whipped up the crowd with promises of a civic insurrection to crush aristocracy and privilege. Hundreds who could not fit into the hall stood freezing in the car-park watching a live feed on a video screen, waving red banners and tricolour flags. "Welcome to Mélenchon-mania," beamed a student at her first ever rally.
Mélenchon, a former Socialist minister, has emerged as the tub-thumping philosopher-leader of the radical left. His sharp rise in the polls has seen him hailed as the "great revelation" of the French presidential campaign. He has leapfrogged the extreme right's Marine Le Pen to become the "third man" in the presidential race behind Nicolas Sarkozy and François Hollande.
His ideas include a 100% fat-cat tax, where the state will confiscate any earnings over £300,000. He wants a return to full pensions for everyone from the age of 60, a 20% increase in the minimum wage, a cap on maximum salaries and the nationalisation of big energy companies. He says the US is the biggest international threat in the world.
His supporters say he is the great hope for a banker-bashing revolution that will transform the face of Europe and reinvent leftwing politics. His detractors say his promises would bankrupt France. Laurence Parisot, head of France's business-leaders's union, likened Mélenchon to the guillotine-happy revolutionaries of France's blood-soaked Reign of Terror.
Some say the Mélenchon frenzy is good for the left, boosting its overall score. Others who want the moderate Socialist Hollande to hang onto his lead over the rightwing Sarkozy warn that his firebrand promises risk splitting the leftwing vote in the crucial first round on 22 April.
I'm dangerous!

Crisscrossing France from open-air rally to campaign meeting, while taking out a loan to pay for more video screens for the overspill at his packed gatherings, Mélenchon let the Guardian travel with him. "I'm dangerous!" he growled by way of an introduction. "Dangerous for financial interests, and dangerous for the oligarchy in France and Europe."
Crushing fat cat pay is pretty simple, he explained. "Anything above €360,000, we take it all. The tax bracket will be 100%. People say to me, that's ideological. I say too right it is. It's a vision of society. Just as we won't allow poverty in our society, we won't allow the hyper-accumulation of riches. Money should not be accumulated but circulated, invested, spent for the common good."
Will rich people flee France, as his critics warn? "If they do, no problem. Bye bye," he smiled.
He reasons that if the top tier of French bosses left, their deputies would take over. Not to mention another Mélenchon proposal – now also taken up by Sarkozy himself – that any tax exile would have to pay the difference back to the French state. "So there's no point leaving, because we'll catch you. If they don't pay, we'll seize what they own.
"Look, we have to smash this prejudice that the rich are useful just because they're rich."
"Capitalist propaganda always managed to make people think the markets' interests were humanity's interests." For too long people have been made to feel that they were some kind of drain or problem for expecting free education, free healthcare or being able to stop working when they were old and spent."
Mélenchon, 60, a one-time Trotskyist and former teacher, spent 30 years in the Socialist party, where he served as a minister and was once the youngest ever senator. He quit in 2008, arguing the party wasn't properly leftwing. He founded his own radical left Parti de Gauche and is now running for president for a leftist coalition, the Front de Gauche. His coalition includes the once powerful Communist party, which scored less than 2% in the last presidential vote, and who behind Mélenchon are now hoping for a renaissance.
Part of his campaign success – he recently brought the Place de la Bastille in Paris to a stand-still by drawing a crowd of tens of thousands – is rage at the financial crisis, but also his pantomime charm as a rabid attack dog against the French political elite, media and powers that be. In his trademark red tie, his explosive performances in TV debates and virulent jibes at his arch-nemesis Le Pen have become the stuff of campaign legend. Fighting Le Pen for the working class and protest vote, he has called her "a bat", "half-demented" and a "dark presence" likened to Dracula. Last autumn he also accused Hollande of being a "pedal boat captain", which has been the longest running gag of the presidential campaign so far. Sarkozy has used Mélenchon's charisma as a stick to beat what he calls a "bland" Hollande.
Mélenchon, the man who defends the proletariat, is sitting in a first-class train carriage, chewing strawberry sweets. He sees no contradiction in travelling in comfort, saying he earns a decent wage as an MEP, doesn't own a car, avoids flying. Even if he has got a Paris flat and a house in the country, he says he has simple tastes. "I don't have much imagination for spending money."
He says just because a politician earns a comfortable wage doesn't mean they should shut their eyes to the "ocean of misery in the world". "I don't pretend to be anything other than what I am – an intellectual with a good income. But I've chosen my camp."
He lampoons the Socialist party for not breaking with capitalism and instead falling for "the illusion that there could be a good capitalism". He says that just as state communism has collapsed, social democracy has collapsed — the death-knell was Greece's prime minister George Papandreou, head of the Socialist International "who was attacked by international finance and didn't last an hour".
Mélenchon says his Parti de Gauche has emerged "at a time of renaissance and reorganisation of the progressive camp on the ruins of social democracy and state communism".
He says he likes a good "fight". He was famously at the centre of the French left's bloodiest internal war, the 2005 referendum on the European constitution. From inside the Socialist party, Mélenchon championed the no vote, against Hollande and the party leadership.
France voted no and Mélenchon regrets that the political class swept aside a result it didn't want to hear. "That's a scar that has never healed. In democracy it's very dangerous to take people for imbeciles. They aren't."
Economic liberalism

His detractors say he is Franco-centric and anti-European. As an MEP, he disagrees, saying he's pro-Europe and pro-euro – "we can't have a European minimum wage without it" – but against the domination of Europe by economic liberalism and the free market. He lampoons the EU's fiscal treaty on budget austerity, which he would scrap, and "which will end in economic disaster because the whole of Europe will go into recession, including Germany".
But the principle danger is the world today is the US. "The Americans don't have a good press in our country and I take it upon myself to lead the scepticism that their behaviour elicits." He says the US is in "a crisis of hegemony", and that "their currency is sick and they're trying to defend it by every means possible, keeping it as a world reserve currency that allows them to live off the rest of the world's credit".
He adds: "The US's only comparative advantage today is its military. It's dangerous because it's a wounded beast." He would take France out of Nato.
Mélenchon's critics have called him a "little Chávez a la française", saying he's a friend of Castro's Cuba or favours China over the Tibet struggle. He brushes this aside, saying Tibet "is used as a pretext to put permanent pressure on Beijing, which reacts like the authoritarian government that it is". Of the Dalai Lama, he says: "I'm hostile to theocracy. I don't agree with religion in politics." But he adds: "I've never been a partisan of violence against anyone."
Mélenchon's supporters are expected to transfer to Hollande en masse in the second round run-off vote, as the broad French left wants above all to eject Sarkozy. Mélenchon claims he is not seeking a seat in a leftwing government in exchange for negotiations over support. But Sarkozy likes to raise the spectre of the moderate Hollande "held hostage" to Mélenchon's hard-left ideas.
Meanwhile, Mélenchon has no intention of toning down his campaign or his anger. "You can't present a programme like mine with the face of a sweet little boy taking his first communion," he says. And then his train arrives at the next rally destination.
"Onward, friends!" he cries to his team as they step onto the platform.


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Havana. April 16, 2012


Renovation has not been an easy task

• According to Nguyen Phu Trong, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, in an interview with Granma.

Lázaro Barredo Medina & Claudia Fonseca Sosa

Just prior to his interview with Granma, on the afternoon of April 11, Nguyen Phu Trong, Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam Central Committee, had the opportunity to meet with Fidel and our conversation began with his impressions of the encounter.


I just returned from Fidel’s house and we had a conversation that lasted almost two hours. If we had had more time, we would have continued talking.

Today I saw a very healthy Fidel, as compared to our first meeting in 2010. The meeting was very cordial and interesting, without any kind of protocol, like two brothers living in the same house. Fidel held my hands for several minutes and said he was very happy [to see me.] We Vietnamese have a lot of respect for Fidel and his people.

Once the conversation began, we became aware of the many things we have to reflect upon. Fidel spoke not only of political issues, but about science and technology as well.

Fidel recalled his 1973 trip to Vietnam. He referred to my comments at the event held yesterday at Hai Phong wharf [in Havana] and of the strong friendship Cuba and Vietnam share.

When I arrived, there was a copy of the lecture I gave, at the Party’s Ñico López Advanced Studies School, on the table. He asked about the number of copies made and the number of cadres at the event.

He considered my speech insightful and accurate and wanted to clarify a few of the [Cuban] guidelines that are similar to policies Vietnam has been implementing. He wanted to know my opinion. He said that currently there are many people who only want to listen and not reflect.

He also said that he had been following my visit through the media and asked how I had been feeling. He wanted to hear about aspects of my visit to the province of Pinar del Río and inquired, in some detail, about agricultural development in Vietnam.

He was interested in our plans to visit different countries in Latin America and, to my surprise, knew that April 14 was my birthday and asked where I would be at that time.

The entire time, Fidel showed that his mind was very clear, undertaking studies with a very logical, scientific approach. We are convinced that leaders need to have these qualities, to be concrete.


The Vietnamese leader offered a brief explanation of the principal steps Vietnam has taken in its policy of Renovation.

When, in 1986, Vietnam began to implement the policy of Renovation – known in Vietnamese as Doi Moi – many thought that the country intended to abandon socialism. Since then, 26 years have transpired and history has shown the contrary, because through our experience, combined with Marxist-Leninist theoretical and scientific arguments, and the thought of Ho Chi Minh, we reached the conclusion that only through socialism can we maintain our national independence, prosperity and the happiness of our people.

With the leadership of the Communist Party, the Vietnamese people have been able to adapt relevant economic transformations to the historical context and the concrete needs of the country, without sacrificing political stability. We have achieved impressive socio-economic gains and are constantly drawing closer to our ideal of "building a ten times more beautiful Vietnam."

But in order to fulfill Ho Chi Minh’s dream we have had to deal with diverse obstacles and advance without making hasty decisions. Our Party is conscious that the transition to socialism is a prolonged, difficult and complicated process.

The Doi Moi process has not been easy. Beginning in the 1980’s, through the present, we have come a long way. From 1981 until 1985, we went through what could be called pre-Renovation, during which we carried out different experiments, balancing theory with practice. We drew conclusions.

It was not until 1986 that the policy of Renovation was formulated. Between 1980 and ‘81 we began to grant lands to rural workers, but it was not until the 6th Congress of our Party in 1986 that the Political Bureau drafted Resolution no. 10 which defined the work to be done one step at a time.

From then on, agricultural development began to accelerate and, allow me to tell you, as an example, reaching production of 47 million tons of rice a year took a great deal of effort and continues to require effort year after year.

Up until 1989, we were importing rice to meet the needs of the population. That year, we were not only able to meet our own internal needs, but were able to export our first million tons of rice, as well.

In the industrial sector, something similar happened. Between 1981 and 1982, we began to eliminate the bureaucratic system, but the policies to be followed were not approved until 1986. It wasn’t until 1991 that talk began of a multi-faceted economy, of a market economy with a socialist orientation. During this period we were also facing a 20-year U.S. blockade and talk of integration into the world economy was not possible.

And all of this in addition to other problems such as lasting damage caused by the wars. I will only mention one example. Millions of people, still today, are suffering incurable illnesses; hundreds of thousands of children are born with abnormalities, as a consequence of Agent Orange, a dioxin the U.S. troops sprayed during the war. According to experts, it will take Vietnam 100 years to completely rid itself of the bombs and mines still buried in our soil. As I said during my talk at the Ñico López, in the province Quang Tri alone, which Fidel visited in 1973, thousands and thousands of live bombs and mines remain buried in 45% of the arable land.

These are just a few examples of the arduous task we faced in the renovation effort. Most difficult, however, is changing the general and individual mentality in Vietnam. Many people thought that the changes would lead us away from socialism. They even spoke of deviations, others are more conservative. Vietnam has not only made significant economic gains during the last 25 years, but has also solved some social problems in a much better fashion than capitalist countries at a similar level of development. And as evidence of this is the fact that, in our country, the poverty rate, which was 75% in 1986, was reduced to 9.6% in 2010. The renovation has led to very positive changes and considerably improved the lives of our people. This was recognized by the United Nations which has reported that Vietnam is one of the first countries to meet many of the Millennium Objectives.

And during my visit these last few days in Cuba, as I’ve conversed with your leaders, it appears to me that you are in the same phase. The change of mentality must take place at all levels, from the highest level to the grassroots.

The Renovation’s consolidation is an issue we addressed in our recent 11th Party Congress and, as for long term objectives and tasks, it should be emphasized that our goal is for Vietnam to become fundamentally an industrialized country by 2020. Our development strategy, from 2011 to date, is based on three basic principles: invest in infrastructure, develop human resources and reform institutions.

Of course, we face challenges in the area of the economy and international integration and in the area of social programs where we face some limitations and doing it all, as I said during my lecture at the Party School here, we are conscious that corruption, bureaucratism and degeneration are potential dangers to a party in power, especially under market economy conditions. The Communist Part of Vietnam demands of itself constant self-renovation, self-criticism and is waging a vigorous struggle against opportunism, individualism and the degeneration of its ranks and throughout the political system.


During your stay in Cuba, the excellent relations between Cuba and Vietnam, a symbol of the era, were noted. What are the ties between the two countries specifically and what cooperative projects are projected as a result of the visit?

Both parties are products of revolutionary processes and of the fusion of distinct political organizations; this is something Cuba and Vietnam share.

Both countries have a one party system. Cuba, as well as Vietnam, is developing via the socialist route. We are following the legacy of our predecessors in combination with Marxism-Leninism. We are two strong peoples, very brave and courageous in struggle. Our parties established, very early on, ties of friendship, solidarity and cooperation. We are following the same logic, defending our respective revolutions. Thus our relationship is very close.

From very early on, we’ve exchanged work and leadership experiences, and we have collaborated in different international forums and bodies, promoting causes we share. In 2011, both parties held congresses and, once ours was concluded, we sent an emissary here to inform you of the outcome. Raúl has also offered to send us someone to do the same.

At this time, Vietnam has the Renovation policy and Cuba is applying its strategy of updating its economic model. Both of us are following the socialist path. There are many similarities, although each country has its own conditions and historical particularities. There is nothing standing in the way of further development of the relationship between the two parties.

During our visit, we have agreed to expand the exchange of delegations, as well as bilateral meetings and exchanges of experience. We are going to organize seminars, workshops between the two countries and the two parties.

We want to continue building this friendship, this respectful mutual understanding, to strengthen this relationship of sisterhood, taking important steps along the road both countries have taken in the struggle for national independence and socialism.


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Inequality led to poorest families taking on more debt, study finds


So now we know whose fault the recession is. Ours


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It's a war between people and capitalism


Greek leftist leader Alexis Tsipras: 'It's a war between people and capitalism'

Helena Smith in Athens guardian.co.uk, Friday 18 May 2012 20.55 BST

Greece's eurozone fate may now be in the hands of the 37-year-old political firebrand and his Syriza party


Alexis Tsipras in his office at the Greek parliament building on Friday.

He says Greece has been used as a guinea pig for the rest of Europe.

Photograph: Martin Godwin

"I don't believe in heroes or saviours," says Alexis Tsipras, "but I do believe in fighting for rights … no one has the right to reduce a proud people to such a state of wretchedness and indignity."

The man who holds the fate of the euro in his hands – as the leader of the Greek party willing to tear up the country's €130bn (£100bn) bailout agreement – says Greece is on the frontline of a war that is engulfing Europe.

A long bombardment of "neo-liberal shock" – draconian tax rises and remorseless spending cuts – has left immense collateral damage. "We have never been in such a bad place," he says, sleeves rolled up, staring hard into the middle distance, from behind the desk that he shares in his small parliamentary office. "After two and a half years of catastrophe Greeks, are on their knees. The social state has collapsed, one in two youngsters is out of work, there are people leaving en masse, the climate psychologically is one of pessimism, depression, mass suicides."

But while exhausted and battle weary, the nation at the forefront of Europe's escalating debt crisis and teetering on the edge of bankruptcy is also hardened. And, increasingly, they are looking towards Tsipras to lead their fight.

"Defeat is the battle that isn't waged," says the young politician who almost overnight has seen his radical left coalition party, Syriza, jump from representing fewer than 5% of Greeks to enjoying ratings of more than 25% in polls.

"You ask me if I am afraid. I'd be afraid if we continued on this path, a path to social hell … when someone fights there is a big chance that he will win and we are fighting this to win."

Before Greeks went to the polls on 6 May, neither Tsipras nor his party were a name to be reckoned with. If anything both were the butt of vague mockery: a former pony-tailed student communist leading a rag-tag band of ex-Trotskyists, Maoists, champagne socialists and greens. Tsipras's assistants – wielding Louis Vuitton bags and fashionable sunglasses – readily admit they are signed up "militants" mostly of the anti-globalisation cause.

But today I am the third person to pass through Tsipras's second-floor parliamentary office. The others have been the German ambassador to Greece and the president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz. As Greeks prepare to head to the polls again on 17 June, Tsipras, the politician poised to win the greatest number of votes – after Syriza came in second place in this month's inconclusive election – is the man everyone wants to see. "He is not as dangerous as he appears on TV, but he does have some risky positions," says Schulz emerging form the talks.

"The [upcoming] vote in Greece will decide not just what happens here but what will happen internationally", adds the German before saying what he really wants to say. "If the memorandum [loan agreement] is cast in doubt, the payment [of rescue funds from the EU and IMF] to Greece is cast in doubt."

Tsipras, who turns 38 in July, wants me to know that the war is not personal. The enemy is not Berlin, until now the biggest provider of the monumental rescue funds keeping the debt-stricken economy afloat. "It is not between nations and peoples," he says. "On the one side there are workers and a majority of people and on the other are global capitalists, bankers, profiteers on stock exchanges, the big funds. It's a war between peoples and capitalism … and as in each war what happens on the frontline defines the battle. It will be decisive for the war elsewhere."

Greece, he says, has become a model for the rest of Europe because it was the first country to fall victim to the enforcement of hard-hitting "growth through austerity" policies pursued in the name of resolving the crisis.

"It was chosen as the experiment for the enforcement of neo-liberal shock [policies] and Greek people were the guinea pigs," he insists.

"If the experiment continues, it will be considered successful and the policies will be applied in other countries. That's why it is so important to stop the experiment. It will not just be a victory for Greece but for all of Europe."

Under the current rescue plan, which has subjected the nation to relentless austerity – the average Greek's purchasing power has dropped by 35% – the international financial system, and especially banks, are gaining most, he says. "Who is surviving, tell me?" he asks. "Greeks aren't … The loans are going straight to interest payment and banks."

The other point that Tsipras wants to make is that he is not against the euro or monetary union. Fears that the country is about to exit the eurozone are about terrorising people to keep the status quo, he claims. They are why the nation has seen "more then €75bn" of cash taken out of Greek banks since the outbreak of the crisis in Athens in December 2009.

But Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, should know she has "a huge historical responsibility" – a point he will be making when he holds talks with representatives of the German government in Berlin next week.

"We are not against a unified Europe or monetary union," he insists. "We don't want to blackmail, we want to persuade our European partners that the way that has been chosen to confront Greece is totally counter-productive. It is like throwing money at a bottomless pit."

Over the past two years, Athens had received two bumper bailouts from the EU and IMF: €110bn in May 2010 and then €130bn in March this year, but the stringent fiscal adjustment programmes demanded in return for the aid are clearly not working, he says.

If the emphasis is not now put on re-energising Europe's most moribund economy through development and growth, "in six months we will be forced to discuss a third package and after that a fourth," he predicts,"European tax payers should know that if they are giving money to Greece, it should have an effect … it should go towards investments and underwriting growth so that the Greek debt problem can be confronted because with this recipe we are not confronting the debt problem, the real issue."

All this sounds remarkably toned down from the fiery rhetoric Tsipras has come to be associated with – until, that is, the mention of rescue funds drying up if (as seems likely) his party emerges as the governing force in a hung parliament.

The first thing Syriza will do in power is tear up the controversial "memorandum of understanding" Greece signed up to with creditors, which details the onerous conditions under which the country receives quarterly injections of cash.

The agreement, he says, was reached without the Greek people ever being consulted. And now in the wake of the 6 May vote, when more than 70% of those opposing the policies voted for "anti-bailout" parties, it is clear it has lost all legitimacy, he insists

It is a high stakes game but, he argues, Europe is holding the gun because ultimately, under European law, Greece can't be ejected from the 17-nation bloc.

"Europeans have to understand that we don't have any intention of pushing ahead with a unilateral move. We will [only] be forced to act if they act unilaterally and make the first move," he says. "If they don't pay us, if they stop the financing [of loans] then we will not be able to pay creditors. What I am saying is very simple."

And if Athens stops paying its creditors, the problem then takes on a different hue. Greece is in a much stronger position than most think.

"Keynes said it many years ago. It's not just the person who borrows but the person who lends who can find himself in a difficult position. If you owe £5,000 to the bank, it's your problem but if you owe £500,000, it's the bank's problem," he said. "This is a common problem. It's our problem. Its Merkel's problem. It's a European problem. Its a world problem."

With his good looks, raven black hair and propensity for rousing oratory, Tsipras comes across more as a pin-up (which is how many in Greece see him) than a saviour, which is how a great deal of others see him.

His aides add in passing that one of his heroes is Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, with whom he shares the same birthday. Nor does he believe in political tags "at this time of crisis".

But though he appears to be preparing for power and moderating his tone, he says the war will continue.

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