WSWS Chronology

Year in Review: 2005

The year 2005 unfolded under the impact of two great natural disasters that exposed the failure of world capitalism. The Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami devastated Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India, killing nearly 300,000 people. Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast of the United States, inundating New Orleans, killing more than 1,800, and demonstrating that working people were hardly more secure in the richest country in the world than in the poorest.

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2005 This Year in Review

Both the earthquake and tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina in the US were among the greatest natural catastrophes in recorded history. But the toll of death and destruction was not just the result of blind natural forces. As the World Socialist Web Site emphasized in its coverage of the disasters, societal factors were central to the scale of the devastation.

Man-made poverty, above all, was the primary cause of the loss of life. The people living along the Indian Ocean shoreline and the American Gulf Coast died and suffered because they were poor.

There were repeated warnings from scientists and engineers, yet the ruling classes did nothing and left the population unprepared. After the disasters struck, the response of the authorities was a combination of incompetence and neglect.

In particular, Hurricane Katrina exposed the Bush administration’s utter indifference to the plight of hundreds of thousands of working class Americans, depicted indelibly in the photograph of Bush at the window of Air Force One, looking down as he flew over New Orleans. This had a profound political impact, both in the United States and worldwide, under conditions where the US government was waging war in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere in the name of defending the American people from the threat of terrorism.

A village near the coast of Sumatra lies devastated after the Indian Ocean Tsunami

Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami

The earthquake that caused the Indian Ocean tsunami took place on December 26, 2004, but the extent of the event and the scale of the devastation took days to comprehend. The quake was the third most powerful ever recorded, registering between 9.1 and 9.3 on the Richter scale, with its epicenter just west of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Indonesia was hardest hit, followed by Sri Lanka, India and Thailand. Nearly 300,000 people died in 14 countries around the Indian Ocean from the flooding and devastation caused by the surge of water that reached 10 meters (33 feet) in some coastal areas.

The WSWS provided on-the-spot coverage as the people of the region began efforts to rescue survivors and recover the dead, particularly in Sri Lanka, where members of the Socialist Equality Party traveled to the eastern and southern coastal regions and reported on the efforts of thousands of volunteers, including many health care workers. There was also on-the-spot reporting in southern India.

The response of workers to the plight of other workers in need was striking. The tragedy cut across racial and religious differences and across national boundaries. As one of the reporters from Sri Lanka noted:

We saw men and women, young boys and girls, equipped with shovels, spades and other tools heading east. They were going on their own initiative to help to clear away the debris, clean up the houses and to help families get back on their feet.

What the crisis quickly revealed was an elemental recognition among working people that the problems they faced were the same, regardless of language and religion. One of the interviewees summed it up: “An enormous multitude has suddenly been made destitute. In a period like this, there is no room to think of race or community. We are all human beings.”

In contrast to the generous response of ordinary people around the world regardless of racial and religious divisions, national governments either displayed apathy and indifference or used the disaster to pursue their own interests. In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga imposed military rule on 12 of the country’s 22 provinces.

In Indonesia, the military authorities sought to take advantage of the chaos caused by the quake and tidal wave to launch an offensive against separatist rebels in the province of Aceh, the northern tip of Sumatra. In Thailand, the government of billionaire Thaksin Shinawatra prioritized the lucrative tourist industry while neglecting poor fishing villages. The government of India blocked foreign aid to the low-lying Andaman and Nicobar Islands, where 80 percent of the population was rendered homeless, in an effort to demonstrate its standing as the dominant power in the region.

As for the imperialist powers, they offered only a pittance in aid, and even this was prompted by considerations of foreign policy and propaganda, not human solidarity. US Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed the hope that deploying US military assets in a predominately Muslim-populated region “dries up those pools of dissatisfaction that might give rise to terrorist activity.”

The Australian government of right-wing Prime Minister John Howard directed its aid efforts through a bilateral pact with the Indonesian regime of ex-general Yudhoyono. The agreement provided that the bulk of the funds would go to Australian corporations.

At a national membership meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan on January 8-9, WSWS Editorial Board Chairman David North began a report, “Marxism, the International Committee and the science of perspective: an historical analysis of the crisis of American imperialism,” by noting the immense outpouring of empathy all over the world for the tragedy.

How different these manifestations of real grief are from the grudging, hypocritical and pro-forma expressions of concern on the part of the leaders of American and British imperialism! Neither Bush nor Blair was capable of articulating, in a manner that anyone could find convincing, concern for the fate of the millions of people whose lives have been devastated by the catastrophe.

Referring to the empty comments in the media about the “inscrutability of nature's awful purpose,” as supposedly revealed in the tsunami disaster, North noted:

The impact of the tsunami exposes in an especially graphic manner the irrational nature of capitalism, its inability to develop the productive forces in a manner that raises the living standards of the broad masses of the people. The media enthuses about the “Asian miracle,” but the fact of the matter is that the benefits of the infusion of capital into the region over the past decade are showered upon small privileged elites. Hundreds of millions of Asia’s people live in shanties that, even under the most favorable climatic conditions, afford scant protection from the elements.

The disaster was made worse by the fact that the Indian Ocean had no tsunami early warning system, in contrast to the Pacific, which has had one for 40 years. The need for such a system was well known and, as the WSWS noted, “The cost of establishing a tsunami warning system in the Indian Ocean is a pittance compared to the huge profits amassed by US, European and Japanese corporations through the exploitation of the region’s cheap labor.”

The WSWS and the SEP in Sri Lanka and Australia held public meetings on both the causes and consequences of the tsunami and the political issues that it raised. These meetings were very well attended and demonstrated an important response to the analysis being made by the WSWS.

As one of the attendees at the Colombo meeting said, “I was searching for a real analysis of the tsunami disaster and a scientific program to prevent these types of tragedies. I don’t believe in the programs of ‘national unity’ and ‘rebuilding the nation’ promoted by the rulers. That is why I came here to find a new path.”

Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Coast

Hurricane Katrina originally formed over the Bahamas on August 23, 2005. When it crossed southern Florida—leaving several deaths and flooding in its wake—Katrina was a Category 1 hurricane. Entering the warm water of the Gulf of Mexico fueled its power and, when Katrina hit southeast Louisiana and coastal Mississippi and Alabama on the morning of Monday, August 29, it was the sixth strongest hurricane in US history.

More than 1,800 people died as a consequence of the storm, mainly in New Orleans, where levees failed and most of the city was flooded. For days, desperate residents who had been unable to evacuate—mainly elderly and poor people without cars—were being rescued from rooftops or held under terrible conditions at the Superdome and convention center downtown.

The WSWS explained that the death and devastation wrought upon the population were the result of the decayed infrastructure of American capitalism and the indifference and outright hostility of the ruling class to the plight of those impacted. An editorial statement published September 2 drew the conclusion that Katrina was a decisive turning point in American politics:

The catastrophe that is unfolding in New Orleans and on the Gulf coast of Mississippi has been transformed into a national humiliation without parallel in the history of the United States.

The scenes of intense human suffering, hopelessness, squalor, and neglect amidst the wreckage of what was once New Orleans have exposed the rotten core of American capitalist society before the eyes of the entire world—and, most significantly, before those of its own stunned people.

The WSWS coverage included exposures of the brutal response of local authorities and police, as well as eyewitness reporting with interviews and photographs of residents of New Orleans and other areas impacted. The coverage was also a two-way dialogue with readers including letters from residents trapped in the chaos and the comments of horrified people around the globe.

In the four months from the end of August through the end of December, the WSWS published 60 articles and commentaries that exposed the societal causes of the catastrophe. Decades of deregulation, privatization and the dismantling of public agencies and programs multiplied the social and economic impact of the storm.

In an editorial board statement one week after Katrina hit, the WSWS explained the fundamental social contradictions of the capitalist system revealed in the catastrophe:

Working people perform the labor which keeps the social infrastructure operating, but they have no decision-making power over it. These social systems are for the most part owned and controlled by giant corporations for whom profit, not human need, is the determining criterion. Those systems for which the various levels of government are responsible, such as the levees and canals surrounding New Orleans, are likewise subordinated to profit interests, through the control of American politics by the wealthy.

A second statement by the editorial board, on September 15, detailed the resources needed to rebuild New Orleans, noting that these could be easily extracted from the accumulated wealth of the US ruling elite. What was required, however, was a new perspective for the working class, based on the socialist reconstruction of society:

Above all, the rebuilding of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast shows the need for social planning, beginning with an exhaustive inventory of the material resources available: land, water, mineral assets, labor and equipment. This planning must be carried out democratically, with full consultation with the working people who live in the region and who will be at the center of the work of reconstruction. The anarchy of the market and the profit interests of corporate America must be subordinated to the needs of the people.

With a combination of class prejudice, stupidity and indifference, the Bush government alternately ignored, denied aid to, blamed and exploited those who were most devastated by the storm. When Bush finally visited New Orleans to give a speech to the nation, the WSWS pointed to the nervousness of the ruling elite and its fear that Katrina had become a “defining event—one that threatened to fuel popular opposition to the entire political and social system.”

The political impact was felt not only within the United States, but internationally. In the wake of the third major natural disaster of the year, an earthquake in Kashmir that killed more than 20,000 people, Wije Dias, national secretary of the SEP in Sri Lanka and the party’s presidential candidate at the time, commented:

The attitude of the American ruling class to the working people of New Orleans was exactly the same as toward the victims of the Asian tsunami and the Kashmiri earthquake. Bush was no more prepared to change his vacation plans for American workers in August than he was for the impoverished villagers of South Asia last December. Before, during and after Hurricane Katrina hit, the guiding principle behind the Bush administration’s response was to protect the interests of the corporate elite.

Middle East in turmoil

Throughout 2005, the consequences of the US invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan were felt in mounting crisis and political convulsions across the Middle East and Central Asia, including in Lebanon, Gaza, Iran and Uzbekistan.

As Washington’s war in Iraq entered its third year, a WSWS editorial board statement declared:

The criminal character of this invasion has spread like a cancer into every facet of the US operation in Iraq. It has reproduced on a massive scale all of the crimes associated with colonial wars and occupations in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and other oppressed regions of the globe.

The brutality of the war was more and more difficult to conceal. New reports emerged throughout 2005 of how the destruction of Fallujah by US forces was carried out the previous November, including by means of munitions such as white phosphorus that have been banned under the Geneva Conventions and other treaties.

The barbarism displayed in Fallujah was not an isolated incident. There were frequent reports of massacres of civilians by US forces. At least two other cities were systematically destroyed: Tal Afar in September and Husaybah in November.

Investigating the crimes being committed in the US occupation carried high risk: with increasing frequency, US military snipers shot reporters. In September, a US sniper killed a Reuters soundman in Baghdad, making him the eighteenth journalist or media assistant whose death at the hands of US forces had been confirmed.

In other cases, Iraqi death squads organized by the US on the model used in El Salvador kidnapped or murdered their victims. In July, for instance, ten men were found suffocated in a van in which the temperatures had reached 50 degrees Celsius.

As the farcical show trial of Saddam Hussein was being prepared through the summer and fall of 2005, two of his defense lawyers were murdered by death squads. The WSWS commented on the coming trial:

There is no doubt that Hussein is responsible for many crimes. But if he is to be tried for the invasion of a country [Iran], the brutal suppression of armed opposition, murderous reprisals against unarmed civilian populations and the perversion of justice, then the Bush administration is just as guilty of all these crimes in its illegal invasion and subjugation of Iraq, and should be prosecuted as well.

In Afghanistan, fighting continued between US-NATO occupation forces and Afghan guerrillas, albeit at a lower level than in Iraq. The bombing of civilians by US forces frequently inflamed resistance. With its position in Iraq increasingly threatened, the Bush administration pressured its NATO and Asian allies for more troops, particularly during the period leading up to a US-controlled presidential election that confirmed the rule of Hamid Karzai.

The destabilizing impact of these imperialist wars on the wider Middle East was revealed in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in February, prompting bellicose threats from the Bush administration against Syria and unsubstantiated charges that the regime in Damascus was the direct author of the killing. The WSWS examined who stood to benefit from Hariri’s death.

Under pressure from the US and the European imperialist powers, Syria withdrew its military forces from Lebanon. But Hezbollah, the main Shi’ite party, organized a huge demonstration, up to a million strong, against the threat of US intervention.

The Palestinian Authority sought to accommodate itself to the expanding US military pressure, following the election of Mahmoud Abbas as Palestinian president. Abbas signed a ceasefire with the Israeli government headed by Ariel Sharon in return for a prisoner release and financial subsidies.

In August, the Israeli regime responded by forcibly removing all Zionist settlers from the Gaza Strip, an action taken in part to curry favor with its American sponsors, as well as to eliminate an unviable and vulnerable enclave. A four-part series in the WSWS examined the rise of the ultra-right settler movement in the period since the 1967 war, in which Israeli forces seized the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

In Iran, the Islamic fundamentalist regime took a more intransigent anti-American stance in response to the US military buildup on its eastern and western borders, with the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president in June. Ahmadinejad won public support with populist attacks on both the United States and the most privileged sections of the Iranian bourgeoisie.

In May, anti-government protests in Uzbekistan, a key transit point for the US supply line into Afghanistan, led to a brutal massacre by the US-allied dictator Islam Karimov, in which hundreds died. In the same month a Newsweek report of the abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, including the desecration of Korans, sparked riots and protests in more than a dozen predominately Muslim countries.

All these developments fuelled antiwar sentiment within the United States and Europe, particularly as there were new exposures of the conspiratorial character of the decision to go to war. The so-called Downing Street memo, leaked to the British press in May, showed that the Bush administration had decided on war with Iraq within months of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, that British Prime Minister Tony Blair signed on to the war as early as February 2002, and that the British cabinet had been warned that in Washington “intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy” of going to war to overthrow Saddam Hussein.

The corporate-controlled American media sought to suppress the exposure of the lies it had peddled, while dismissing popular opposition to the war. Despite this media blackout and the bipartisan support for the war from Democratic and Republican politicians, opinion polls indicated that as many as two thirds of Americans favored immediate withdrawal from Iraq.

The reality of mass antiwar opinion became undeniable, even in the US media, after the protest mounted by Cindy Sheehan, the mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, who began an individual protest outside Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas during his month-long August vacation. Hundreds gathered to support her.

The WSWS provided extensive coverage of Sheehan’s campaign, her articulate and passionate condemnation of the Bush administration and the war, and the wider protests she triggered with her “Bring them home now” caravan, noting that this represented the emergence of new forces in American politics, breaking through the official pro-war consensus.

This campaign culminated in a huge demonstration in Washington, which brought hundreds of thousands to the US capital in the biggest show of opposition since the worldwide protests of February 2003. The WSWS warned that despite Sheehan’s sincere opposition to the war and her criticism of both parties, the speakers at the demonstration offered no way forward, proposing pressure on the Democratic Party, the longtime graveyard for social and political opposition to the American ruling class, rather than a break with the Democrats and the entire two-party political setup.

Deepening crisis in Europe

In 2005, it became increasingly clear that the project of uniting Europe on a capitalist basis—the European Union—was incompatible with democracy. For years, the European Commission in Brussels had dictated austerity policies throughout the continent. Now, the European governments, led by Germany, sought to cloak this conspiracy against the working class with an anti-democratic constitution, which was passed in a referendum in Spain in February, despite mass abstention.

There was mounting opposition that led to defeat of the constitution in referendums held in the Netherlands and in France in May. The WSWS issued an editorial board statement urging French workers to reject the bourgeois constitution, not on the basis of the nationalist appeals of the French ultra-right and petty-bourgeois “left”, but on the basis of socialist internationalism and the struggle for the United Socialist States of Europe.

The European Union also showed its true colors as an instrument of military aggression abroad and social destruction at home. Far from uniting the peoples on the continent, it became the arena of attacks on democratic rights and social benefits. Refugees were stripped of democratic rights. Austerity policies were implemented in both eastern and western Europe, triggering the first united demonstration of eastern and western European workers in Brussels in March.

France played its traditional role as the country where class conflicts took the most openly political form. In February, half a million took to the streets against government attacks and 100,000 high school students protested against the ongoing destruction of education.

In late October, social tensions exploded in Paris after two youth died while fleeing from the police. Riots broke out in immigrant and working class areas throughout the country. Paris had been governed by the Socialist and the Communist Party for decades, and these parties now fully supported the stationing of riot police in the suburbs. The pseudo-left Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) made clear its class position by refusing to defend these youth.

In Germany, deepening social polarisation led to a change of government following national elections in September 2005. After seven years in power, the coalition of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and the Green Party was replaced by a grand coalition of the SPD and the conservative Christian Democratic Union (CDU) under Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Chancellor Gerhard Schröder (SPD) had brought about early elections by twisting constitutional provisions. He deliberately provoked a vote of no confidence in parliament after the SPD had suffered the worst election result in its history in North Rhine-Westphalia, the largest and most industrialized German state.

This collapse of support for the Social Democrats was the direct result of the so-called Hartz IV labor laws that had come into effect in Germany on January 1, 2005. They had led to an explosive rise of poverty and created a huge low-wage sector.

At the same time a new party, Die Linke (“The Left Party”) was formed. It aimed to fill the political vacuum that had been created by the extreme turn to the right by the social democrats. The Left Party emerged in July 2005 as an electoral alliance between the old Stalinist party from East Germany and the “Election Alternative Work and Social Justice” (WASG), a split-off from the Social Democrats led by former German finance minister and SPD leader Oskar Lafontaine, along with longstanding trade union functionaries.

This entirely bureaucratic formation was set up to trap workers and keep them tied to reformist illusions. The Left Party spouted demagogic left phrases while supporting attacks on the working class in practice. It attracted a whole number of pseudo-left groups that were horrified at the possibility that workers breaking with the SPD would take a revolutionary course.

The Socialist Equality Party (Partei für Soziale Gleichheit—PSG), German section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, was the only political force to advance an independent program for the working class in the September elections, running candidates in four states, including North Rhine-Westphalia, Hesse, Saxony and Berlin.

In the election of September 18, voters rejected the right-wing consensus of the SPD and Christian Democratic Union, (CDU), giving the biggest increase in votes to the Left Party and leaving open the question of which major party would head a coalition government. Ultimately, the CDU and SPD struck a deal for a grand coalition, with the CDU’s Angela Merkel as chancellor, while the SPD took the finance ministry and the responsibility for imposing attacks on the working class.

In Britain, the Labour Party won a third term in office in the general election of May 5, but with a massively reduced majority. The hemorrhaging of support, particularly in Labour’s heartlands, was the result of Britain’s role in the illegal war and occupation of Iraq and the assault on democratic rights.

On July 7, London was the scene of terror bombings that claimed dozens of lives and injured hundreds more. A WSWS editorial board statement condemned the attacks. The bombing coincided with a G8 summit in Scotland, at which the gathered heads of state seized on the atrocity to justify their policy of war and attacks on democratic rights.  Prime Minister Blair insisted, “The war on terror goes on.”

In the aftermath of the bombings, the WSWS explored the political issues that the official response failed to address: why the Muslim youth involved and hundreds more had been attracted to religious extremism and were prepared to kill and be killed, and why the Blair government was opposing an inquiry into intelligence failings, reports that warnings of the impending attacks were given by the Israeli embassy, and allegations, subsequently proven true, that the perpetrators were known to the intelligence agencies and had been under surveillance.

On July 22, the police shooting of Brazilian worker Jean Charles de Menezes at point blank range in a London subway carriage revealed the existence of a hitherto secret shoot-to-kill policy. As the WSWS noted:

England, the country of the Magna Carta, is now one in which innocent civilians can be shot dead on the capital’s streets at the discretion of the police, without any explanation, much less justification, and with the only outcome being a brief statement of regret.

The WSWS drew the lessons of the London bombings and the state murder of Charles de Menezes in a report by Julie Hyland to an election meeting of the PSG in Berlin. She explained how the British people had reaped the whirlwind sown by Blair’s criminal policies, which had destabilized the Middle East and inflamed ethnic and religious tensions within the UK.

Democratic rights and social issues in America

In the United States, the Bush administration pressed ahead with the buildup of police state powers, carried out in the name of the “war on terror,” but actually directed at suppressing the resistance of the working class to cuts in jobs, living standards and social benefits, and growing opposition to imperialist war.

Bush began his second term January 20 with an inaugural address whose purpose, the WSWS wrote, was to “dispel any illusions that either the disaster in Iraq or mass international opposition to Washington’s militarism will deter his new administration from pursuing its reactionary goals.”

Soon afterwards, in his State of the Union speech, Bush made the centerpiece of his domestic policy the dismantling of Social Security, the retirement income program for the elderly that has been the foundation of social benefits in the United States since its creation under Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. This initiative collapsed rapidly, however, in the face of mass popular opposition and the distraction of the White House by a series of international and domestic political crises.

An important episode in discrediting the Bush administration, the Republican Party and the political establishment as a whole was the role of the federal government in the case of Terri Schiavo, a Florida woman who had spent 15 years in an irreversible vegetative state. When her husband Michael sought to terminate life support, and her parents objected, the Christian fundamentalist wing of the Republican Party intervened to exploit this private family tragedy for reactionary ends.

The whole world then witnessed an odious spectacle in which “respect for human life” was promoted by George Bush, a man who, as governor of Texas, rubber-stamped the execution of 152 prisoners and, as president, ordered the razing of entire cities in Iraq, the dispatch of US Special Forces and CIA death squads around the world, and the widespread use of torture. Aiding and abetting him were figures in the Democratic Party ranging from Senate leader Harry Reid to the Reverend Jesse Jackson.

In a report to a meeting in Ann Arbor, Michigan, WSWS Editorial Board Chairman David North detailed the repudiation of science and rationality in this right-wing campaign. He explained that Bush and congressional Republicans could not have intervened without bipartisan backing from the Democrats:

The appalling degeneration of political and intellectual life in the United States finds expression not simply in the agitation of the extreme right, but in the utter prostration of the Democratic Party and other forces that have traditionally postured as defenders of democratic rights and supporters of social progress. Without the complicity of the Democratic Party, it would not have been possible for the Republicans to ram through Congress their blatantly unconstitutional “Terri’s Law,” which sought to legitimize the abrogation of core democratic rights through legislative fiat.

The decay of the institutions of American liberalism was a major feature of the year. In the summer of 2005, the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller shed light on the incestuous relationship between the leading US newspaper and the national security apparatus.

Miller had served as a conduit for CIA and Pentagon disinformation about supposed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the US invasion in 2003. But she was sought as a witness for another sordid incident in which the top aide to Vice President Richard Cheney, Lewis Libby, was accused of leaking the name of a CIA operative to the press in order to punish her husband, Joseph Wilson, a prominent critic of the war. Libby was later indicted and convicted, although Bush intervened to spare him a jail term.

During the same period came the split in the AFL-CIO, in which half a dozen major unions, mainly in the public sector, broke away to form a separate umbrella group called Change to Win. The WSWS explained that there were no principled differences between the two bureaucratic gangs, both of which sought to subordinate the working class to the Democratic Party and American imperialism.

The split was precipitated by the protracted decline in union membership, with private-sector membership dropping below eight percent to levels not seen in 100 years. While the Change to Win faction took up the vague mantle of reform, it remained just as committed to defending the profitability of the corporations as the unions remaining in the AFL-CIO.

When mechanics at Northwest Airlines, the fourth largest airline in the country at the time, struck to oppose 25 percent wage cuts and the elimination of half of the workforce, unions from both factions instructed their airline members to cross the picket line. The WSWS drew out the bitter lessons of the Northwest mechanics strike as well as the job cuts following Northwest’s bankruptcy later in the year.

The WSWS covered the three-day walkout of 34,000 New York City transit workers in December. The strike, which paralyzed the nation’s largest transit system, demonstrated the tremendous social power and militancy of workers, as they defied the city’s billionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, vicious attacks from the corporate media, draconian anti-strike laws, and their own international union to walk off the job in defense of decent living standards.

The Sri Lankan SEP and the work of the ICFI

A central political intervention of the International Committee of the Fourth International in 2005 was the campaign by the SEP in Sri Lanka against the policies of war and social reaction pursued by the government of President Chandrika Kumaratunga, leading up to the presidential election in November in which she was succeeded by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapakse.

The SEP analyzed the political crisis initially triggered by Kumaratunga's extra-parliamentary action against the government of the opposition right-wing UNP in 2003, and exacerbated by the impact of the Asian tsunami. For the purposes of winning a narrow electoral victory for the ruling Sri Lanka Freedom Party, Rajapakse made alliances with ultra-right Buddhist-supremacist groups, while the petty-bourgeois leftist NSSP gave its backing to the traditional right-wing bourgeois formation, the United National Party.

SEP General Secretary Wije Dias was the party’s presidential candidate, opposing the preparations for a resumption of civil war against the Tamil separatist movement, the LTTE, and advancing a socialist and internationalist program against both bourgeois coalitions and the Tamil separatists.

The SEP campaign won a significant audience in the working class, both Sinhalese and Tamil-speaking, despite threats of violence. Wije Dias also addressed a public meeting in Madras, India, the capital of the Tamil-speaking state of Tamil Nadu.

In a statement issued after Rajapakse’s victory, Dias explained that the new government would be driven by both mounting international instability and the internal contradictions of Sri Lankan capitalism to break the ceasefire and resume the civil war against the LTTE:

Now that Rajapakse is in power, it will quickly become apparent that he cannot meet the aspirations of the overwhelming majority of the population for an end to the country’s 20-year civil war or the improvement of living standards.

Rajapakse carried out his campaign in alliance with Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and the Jathika Hela Urumaya (JHU), which are opposed to the present ceasefire and to talks with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He is now promising an “honorable peace”, that is, one that places unrealisable conditions for any negotiations with the LTTE. As everyone who is politically literate knows, this is not a plan for peace, but for war.

The other major event in the life of the ICFI was the summer school of the US Socialist Equality Party, where leaders of many of the sections of the ICFI delivered important reports on the history of the revolutionary movement in the first half of the 20th century. These reports were then published by the WSWS in the course of the fall. They included:

The WSWS published a lengthy critique by Fred Williams of Robert Service’s biography of Stalin. The biography was riddled with factual errors and omissions of significant texts. Most importantly, it represented an effort to assist in the rehabilitation of Stalin. Service would go on to write a biography of Leon Trotsky that would become the subject of a major campaign by the ICFI against his falsification of history and the life and work of Trotsky.

The ICFI also honored the memory of four important figures in the work of its sections or in the history of the Fourth International who died in 2005. These included pioneer Indian Trotskyist Druba Jyoti Majumdar (1929-2005); longstanding Sri Lankan Trotskyist Velupillai Sarawanaperumal (1948-2005); German Trotskyist Nathan Steinberger (1910-2005), who was exiled by the Nazis and survived a Stalinist concentration camp in the USSR and persecution in East Germany; and Ralph Edmond (1926-2005), an American sheet metal worker who joined the SEP in middle age and made an important contribution to the building of the socialist movement.

Art, culture and science

The WSWS continued its extensive coverage of film, including an important group of politically-charged films that were released towards the end of the year: Goodnight and Good Luck, Jarhead, Syriana and Munich.

Other films reviewed included The Aviator, Million Dollar Baby, Hotel Rwanda, The Assassination of Richard Nixon, Gunner Palace, Crash and The Constant Gardener.

WSWS reviewers attended international film festivals in Berlin, San Francisco, Sydney, Toronto, Cottbus and Neubrandenburg, and Vancouver.

Reviews of art and music included an exhibition of works by the left-wing German artist Kathe Kollwitz, an exhibition of Soviet-era revolutionary posters, and a critique of the record-setting rap release, “The Massacre,” by 50 Cent.

Arts editor David Walsh wrote a lengthy obituary of American playwright Arthur Miller, which placed Miller in his historical context and argued:

If Miller was the leading American dramatist of the 1940s, 1950s and into the 1960s, and he probably was, that speaks more than anything else to the painful ideological-artistic conditions of the time. It is questionable how long his plays will endure as living, meaningful works.

In October, British playwright Harold Pinter was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, an event that came as a surprise in many media and academic circles. Pinter, who was also a screenwriter, poet and actor, is considered to be one of the most influential figures in postwar British theater. His work includes such plays as The Caretaker, The Dumb Waiter and The Homecoming. He was also an anti-war activist, denouncing the Gulf War of 1991 and the 2003 invasion of Iraq and accusing US President George Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair of war crimes.

The year 2005 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of Albert Einstein’s paper, “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies,” better known as the theory of special relativity, along with three other scientific papers that marked a revolutionary leap in many areas of modern physics.

In a four-part series, Peter Symonds discussed Einstein’s achievement, and then, in a series of letters and replies between the readers of the WSWS and the author, covered a whole host of questions ranging from Einstein’s political views to the subsequent elaboration of his scientific theories.