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Issue #1440      27 January 2010


Beacon of light

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect.” That was president elect Barack Obama, just 12 months ago delivering his inaugural address from the steps of the Capitol to loud applause and cheers from the more than one million people who had gathered in the National Mall. Around the world people’s expectations were raised; Bush had gone, the US had its first black President who promised change.

Twelve months on, the hopes of millions have been dashed. In the US little has changed, the banks were bailed out as working people felt the full brunt of the most serious economic crisis since the Great Depression. Whatever illusions remained internationally were well and truly shattered by the escalation of US war in Afghanistan and the US’s attempts to dismantle the Kyoto Protocol in Copenhagen.

A little over two years ago in Australia, the Howard government was thrown out by an electorate seeking change. Among the big issues then were the Howard government’s WorkChoices anti-union laws, climate change, the treatment of Indigenous Australians, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, privatisation, health, education, social welfare and refugees. The new Rudd Labor government also promised change, and initially it took a few promising steps, signing the Kyoto Treaty, pulling back some troops from Iraq, saying “Sorry” to the Stolen Generations and introducing new industrial relations legislation.

Internationally, any remaining illusions of Rudd’s commitment to Kyoto were well and truly shattered in Copenhagen when he worked around the clock to kill the Kyoto Treaty. At home, little has changed. The same issues remain. WorkChoices was recycled, not ripped up. The building industry police force (ABCC) is still hounding and fining building workers and their unions in the courts, its coercive interrogative powers intact.

Australia has stepped up its war efforts in Afghanistan, strengthened its military alliance with the US and raised military spending to new heights preparing to participate in new US wars. Privatisation continues, public health and education systems are starved of funds, there has been little change in the treatment of Indigenous Australians. The next budget in May is shaping up to be one from hell as the government submits to the dictates of the financial sector to balance its budget. Instead of increasing taxes on the big corporations and rich, it is planning a big take-back from workers and welfare recipients, a big sell-off of public assets and massive “reforms” and cuts in the provision of services.

The Bushs, Howards and in Britain the Blairs were replaced by the Obamas, Rudds and Browns, but little has changed. Many of the pressing issues that saw them elected have become even more urgent. Time is running out fast for the planet and the future of the human species. The hopes, the beacons of light that shone in the eyes of many when they were elected, have faded, gone out.

But there is still a beacon of light, a beacon that is becoming stronger and stronger and cannot be extinguished. It shone brightly at Copenhagen. The revolutionary and socialist people’s governments of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Brazil and China who stood up to the full might of the Western powers, stood up to the Obamas, Rudds and Browns and their corporate patrons. They fought for the planet, for the peoples of the world. They exposed the hypocrisy, the lies, the belligerency and greed of the imperialist powers and the “culture of death” of capitalism, as Bolivia’s president Evo Morales aptly described it. (See Copenhagen: “Battle between culture of death and culture of life”) They defended socialism – the “culture of life”.

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