My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
Review by Martin Thomas, Workers Liberty
Ed Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband, a Marxist writer denounced by the Daily Mail as “the man who hated Britain”, left behind him two well-known books, Parliamentary Socialism and The State In Capitalist Society.
Less-known, but also valuable today, is a thin volume of letters in 1967 about Israel-Palestine between Ralph Miliband and his friend Marcel Liebman, who was then a contributor to the semi-Trotskyist Belgian weekly La Gauche.
The letters were translated from French by Peter Drucker and published in 2006 with an introduction by the Lebanese-French Marxist writer Gilbert Achcar.
Partly the letters are valuable in the same way that a view on any issue from a divergent and unfamiliar angle can be. In 1967, many assumptions on Israel-Palestine which currently go almost unquestioned on the left (in Britain, at least) were not assumed at all. And partly the letters are valuable because in them Miliband is exceptionally lucid.
The correspondence spans a few weeks around the June 1967 war between Israel and the Arab states.
The temper of the left on the Israel-Palestine question then was different from now. No-one on the left advocated wiping Israel off the map. Arab governments, and the leaders at the time of the PLO (then an annexe of the Egyptian government, without the autonomy it gained after 1968-9), openly advocate wiping Israel off the map, and everyone on the left dissented.
Inside IS (forerunner of the SWP), a small but substantial minority opposed SWP leader Tony Cliff’s line in June 1967 of backing the Arab states. There was a debate inconceivable today in the SWP or the SWP diaspora. (For the record: the forerunners of AWL backed Cliff’s line in 1967. We have learned since).
At the beginning of the debate recorded in the volume, Liebman is about as anti-Israeli as any socialist got those days. He expresses disgust that “the whole French left is basically for Israel… from [Jean-Paul] Sartre to [Socialist Party leader] Guy Mollet”, and says he wants to move to England where anti-Israeli sentiment is stronger.
In the first letter he denounces Miliband as “pro-Israeli” and “reacting as a European and a Jew rather than as a socialist”.
Miliband actually has a slightly rose-tinted picture of Israeli policy. He considers it “nonsense” to suppose there are “serious Israeli plans to conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory”.
Miliband is remonstrating with an indignant Liebman who suggests that Israel is about to invade and conquer Syria. He is right to do so: but in fact Israel would “conquer and subjugate Arab people outside its territory” in the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. Read the rest of this entry »
The Perverts Guide to Ideology, reviewed by Matt Cooper at the Workers Liberty website:
It is difficult not to warm to a film that places a radical left wing philosopher into mock ups of various film sets to lecture on his theory of ideology. That is what film maker Sophie Fiennes has done with Slavoj Žižek.
So we have Žižek dressed as a priest talking about the ideology of fascism in the mother superior’s room from The Sound of Music, about the vampiric attitude of the ruling class towards the working class in the lifeboat from Titanic and about the nature of political violence in Travis Bickle’s single iron bed from Taxi Driver. All of this is amusing enough and makes a long and in places opaque lecture pass pleasantly enough, but the ideas that underlie it are rotten.
Slavoj Žižek has been proclaimed by some as the greatest political philosopher of the late twentieth century — there is even an International Journal of Žižek Studies. His work is popular with a layer of the radical left, although maybe the kind who consumes rather than acts on their politics.
He has somewhat replaced Chomsky as the author of the coffee table books of choice for the armchair radical, and he sold out the Royal Festival Hall when he spoke there in 2010.
His ideas have been developed in a series of books since the late 1980s, and fit with the themes of anti-globalisation, Occupy, and other radical struggles that are often one side of class struggle.
It is noticeable that Žižek does not attack capitalism as such. The exploitation of workers as workers is notably missing from this film. Rather he attacks consumerism, particular in its Coca-Cola/Starbucks form. This is despite, or maybe because, his philosophy is obtuse.
Although Žižek places himself in the revolutionary tradition and draws on Marx, he does not see himself primarily as a Marxist. He says he wants to reinvigorate German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Hegel, through the application of the French post-Freudian, Jacques Lacan.
There is no feeling in this film (or in Žižek’s numerous books) that this view emerges from a study of society and the forms of ideology in it. Rather, consistent with his idealist philosophical approach, the ideas emerge from the realm of pure thought, albeit cut with some empirically based psychoanalytic theory The world is sampled, squeezed and (mis)interpreted to fit this theoretical view.
His evidence about society is what many of us would not think of as evidence — mainly film. This is not an affectation, but central to Žižek’s view of the world. Ideology is fantasy, and film is the purest form of the projection of such fantasy. Film is not the mirror which we hold up to ourselves, but feeds us the fantasies by which we constitute ourselves. The films are, for Žižek, reality. Thus M*A*S*H and Full Metal Jacket are used to understand the American military, Brief Encounter the nature of social control, and Jaws, fascism!
To say that the shark in Jaws stands for nothing other than fear itself is hardly a startling insight. Alfred Hitchcock spoke in similar terms about how the purpose of his films was not essentially narrative or plot, but to create an emotional response in the viewer. To say this kind of work gives us an insight into how the Nazis scapegoated the Jews is little short of ridiculous.
Onto his argument, Žižek bolts some bits of other people’s theories as if they were his insights. So he goes on to say that underlying the fantasy of Nazi ideology was one of a modernising revolution that preserved tradition. But the idea of fascism being “reactionary modernism” was asserted by Jeffrey Herf in 1984, and has antecedents stretching back to the 1930s.
Similarly, Žižek’s assertion that the riots in the UK were driven by consumerism (the “wrong dream”) is both unoriginal and, in Žižek’s case, seems to be based on the most casual of acquaintance with the evidence.
The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology also demonstrates a wilful failure to engage with a Marxist understanding of ideology. In this film (and elsewhere) Žižek has dismissed the Marxist theory of ideology which he claims can be summarised by Marx as “they do not know it but they are doing it”. The line is a rather obscure one (from the first German edition of volume one of Capital, but not in future editions).
Nor is the line directly about ideology; the “it” here is people producing exchange values for the market. For sure, this has a relationship to ideology, Marx argues that it obscures the real nature of production to satisfy human needs, a veil that will only be lifted by once production is carried out by “feely socialised man under their conscious, planned control.” But the Marxist view of ideology based on the nature of social life is not understood, far less developed, by Žižek.
For Žižek both the nature of ideology and the liberation of humanity is based on the idea of fantasy. For him, people’s relation to ideology-fantasy is “I know very well what I am doing but am I still doing it.” The project of liberation is not to end fantasy, but to replace it with a better fantasy, or to dream with the right desire.
Thus Žižek goes down the road of anarchist cliché, we should “be realistic, demand the impossible”, and he argues that the dream should not be of wanting the working class to awake, but that new dreams and revolution become a subjective act of will.
Žižek’s politics are, ultimately, mere fantasy.
Christian mourners outside the church in Peshawar protest against the Islamist attack
In the light of the Nairobi terror attack and the massacre of Christians in Pashawar, Pakistan, it’s high time the so-called “left” faced up to an elementary truth: Islamism (as distinct from the religion of Islam) is a form of fascism, and must be fought as such. It’s to the eternal shame of “left” groups like the SWP (not to mention liberal “mainstream” publications like the Guardian) that they’ve repeated the mistakes of 1930′s Stalinism (Third Period and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in promoting and prettifying fascists as somehow “progressive”.
The only far left group in Britain to openly describe Islamism as clerical fascist in recent years has been the AWL. Here’s their Martin Thomas in 2008, on the subject:
Political Islam as clerical fascism
Examining Gilles Kepel’s comprehensive history, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard University Press).
“Left-leaning Arab intellectuals have traditionally regarded the [Muslim] Brothers as a populist movement… [with] similarities to the workings of European fascism during… the 1930s…
“In the eyes of leftist intellectuals, both among Muslims and in the West, Islamist groups represented a religious variety of fascism…
“But gradually, as Islamist numbers increased… the left discovered that Islamism had a popular base; consequently Marxist thinkers of every stripe, casting around for the mass support so critical to their ideology, began to credit Islamist activists with socialist virtues…”
Kepel reports this shift of attitudes in a dispassionate way. But the facts assembled in his book give a verdict. The recent granting of political credit to political Islam by would-be Marxists reflects those leftists’ loss of self-confidence, in an era of bourgeois triumphalism, rather than any shift to the left by the Islamists.
Political Islam, or “Islamism”, as a political movement or congeries of movements, is distinct from Islam as a religion. Before the late 70s, in modern times, if a government called itself “Islamic” or “Muslim”, that was a vague gesture rather than a ferocious commitment. The only large exception was Saudi Arabia, a peculiarly archaic state.
Modern political movements, using modern political mechanics to convert society to an Islamic state, absolutely governed and permeated by revivalistically-rigorous Islamic doctrine, were levered into life and prominence in a sequence of three big turning points, 1967, 1973, and 1979.
The theory had been prepared before then. Hassan al-Banna and Mawlana Mawdudi, the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat e-Islami in India (later Pakistan) began activity in the late 1920s. Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologist who has become the main literary inspiration for “harder” Sunni political Islam, wrote his books in the 1960s and was hanged by Egypt’s secular government in 1966. Ruhollah Khomeiny formulated his thesis of direct political rule by senior clergy in 1970.
But the movements were weak. In Iraq, for example, the Shia-Islamist movements which now dominate politics there had originated in 1958-63, but until the 1970s were small circles of clerics and theological students, concerned mostly with pious discussion among themselves. They kept a low profile as much because they knew their ideas would seem uncongenial to the wider population as for fear of repression.
“The first Islamist onslaught”, writes Kepel, “was against nationalism. The 1967 defeat [of the Arab states by Israel, in the war of that year] seriously undermined the ideological edifice of nationalism and created a vacuum to be filled… by Qutb’s Islamist philosophy”.
The rise of political Islam was also (so it seems to me, though Kepel does not spell this out) based in part, paradoxically, on the relative successes of Arab nationalism. Over the two decades before 1967 the Arab states had won political independence, and legislated land reforms and nationalisation.
Many of the cadres of political Islam would be young men from rural backgrounds who – thanks to the “successes” of nationalism – had become the first generation from their families to go to university, to live in big cities, and, often, to travel the world as migrant workers, especially in the Gulf.
Paradoxically, the cadres of consciously backward-looking political Islam would come from among the most “modernised” or “Westernised” people in their countries. They had been roused up and tantalised by nationalism and its promises – but also dashed down by them. “Qutb spoke to the young, born after independence, who had come along too late to benefit from the vast redistribution of spoils that followed the departure of the colonial occupiers”.
Bourgeois nationalism must always create disappointments. What led to special tumult in the Arab world, rather than a “moderate” disillusion and “settling-down”, was the peculiar attachment of Arab nationalism to an unrealistic (indeed, reactionary) objective, the destruction of “Zionism” (the Israeli Jews), and the peculiarly extreme conjunction, created by the oil economies, of seething poverty with vast wealth controlled by various species of bureaucratic “crony capitalism”.
In 1973 the Arab states warred with Israel again, coming out of it a bit better, but not well enough to rehabilitate the nationalists. Oil prices and oil revenues increased hugely. The Saudi regime started pouring funds into promoting Islamic rigorism internationally.
“Prior to 1973, Islam was everywhere dominated by national or local traditions rooted in the piety of the common people”, with a “motley establishment” of clerics who “held Saudi-inspired puritanism in great suspicion”.
Now, “for the first time in 14 centuries, the same books (as well as cassettes) could be found from one end of the [Muslim world] to another… This mass distribution by the conservative Riyadh regime did not… prevent more radical elements from using the texts… to further their own objectives”.
In the 1970s, and into the 1980s, “conservative governments on the Saudi model [and often with US approval] encouraged Islamism as a counterweight to the Marxists on university campuses whom they feared”. There was “re-Islamisation” from above, even in countries where grass-roots Islamist movements were weak or repressed.
World-wide, far beyond the Arab domain, “all Muslims were offered [and many, not just political Islamists, accepted] a new identity that emphasised their religious commonality while downplaying differences of language, ethnicity, and nationality”. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (an alliance of states) was set up in 1969; the Islamic Development Bank, in 1975.
In 1979, political Islam took power in non-Arab Iran, and became the banner of a long war, with popular support, in non-Arab Afghanistan, against the USSR’s attempt to subjugate that country militarily.
The Shah’s brutal modernisation “from above” in Iran had created mass discontent. While in most Sunni countries, the religious establishment was diffuse and heavily controlled at its higher levels by the state, in Shia Iran the clerics had an organised hierarchy outside state control.
In Sunni political Islam, the main leaders had been (and would continue to be) laymen. Khomeiny created the first political-Islamist movement using clerics as cadres, and proposing not just an Islamic state, but a state ruled by clerics.
He also introduced social demagogy, otherwise a thinner seam in political Islam than in the European fascism, or even clerical-fascism, of the 1930s. “Neither Mawdudi nor Qutb gave any explicit social content to their theorising”.
The Iraqi ayatollah Baqi as-Sadr, uncle and father-in-law of the current Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr, had in 1961 published a book on “Islamic economics”; but the main distinctive upshot has been the rise of “Islamic banking”, now a reputable sideline in the City of London.
All Islamists thought that “the coming reign of the sharia… would be built upon the ashes of socialism and of a Western world completely devoid of moral standards”; but it was Khomeiny who introduced a specific appeal for an “Islam of the people” and to the “disinherited” (mustadefeen).
Still, for Khomeiny, as Kepel notes, “the disinherited” was “so vague a term that it encompassed just about everyone in Iran except the shah and the imperial court… includ[ed] the bazaar merchants opposed to the shah”. The main actual measure for the poor of Khomeiny’s Iran would be distribution of state subsidies to the families of Islamist “martyrs”.
Socially, Kepel sees political Islam as resting on two distinct groups – the “devout middle class”, both traditional-mercantile and modern-professional, who feel mistreated by corrupt secular-nationalist state bureaucracies; and the young urban poor such as the Algerian “hittistes” (from the word hit, meaning wall: young unemployed men leaning against walls).
That small-bourgeois/ lumpenproletarian alliance has also generally been the social base of fascism.
Political Islam, however, has a vast range of variants, from middle-class movements confining themselves to mild pressure-group politics (Kepel cites the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, friendly to the monarchy) to plebeian “takfiris” for whom all outside their own ranks, even pious Muslims who deviate slightly, deserve terrorist chastisement.
Kepel sees the search for a middle way and a broad alliance, necessary to any successful political-Islamist movement, as ultimately unviable. He concludes that political Islam reached its high point around 1989 – with the USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan, the temporary triumph of an Islamist regime in Sudan, the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, and Khomeiny’s death-decree against Salman Rushdie – and has mostly declined since. He cites the defeat of the Islamist-terrorist “ultras” in Algeria and Egypt as evidence.
The trend, he argues, must be for the devout middle class to be co-opted and pulled towards parliamentary democracy, on the lines of the Turkish Islamists, and for the “ultras” to be isolated.
In 2008, eight years after Kepel published the first edition of his book, his conclusion looks implausible. Political Islam has had some defeats, but its success in Iraq shows it still has great vitality.
Kepel’s error, I would guess, is shaped by a certain disdain: he just cannot believe that many people, in the Arabic and Muslim cultures which he loves, can be lastingly seduced by such crudities and brutalities.
What is true, surely, is that those cultures contain many strands utterly alien to political Islam. The assertion, common on the left, that hostility to political Islam implies de facto hostility to most Muslims, is untrue.
On those strands, a working-class socialist movement can build, answering the social questions which political Islam so obscures, on condition that the socialists acquire the self-confidence to brand the clerical-fascists for what they really are.
I thought some readers might be interested in an exchange of views, involving myself, on the subject of whether it is accurate and/or politically useful to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state. What is particularly significant is not so much the content of the debate – most of which covers well-trodden ground – but the fact that it appeared in the Morning Star, a publication which has hitherto presented the ‘fact’ of Israeli ‘apartheid’ as a given, and never (to the best of my knowledge) carried any debate on the question on its letters page, or anywhere else. Regulars will be aware that the Morning Star is not my favourite publication, but it is to their credit that they published my first letter on the subject and also then gave me the right of reply to two critical responses. My letters were edited, though not in such a way as to misrepresent my views, and I presume the two critical replies may well have been as well. I reproduce them all exactly as printed, apart from a couple of minor corrections to spelling and grammar.
Because the Morning Star revamped its website in September, no record of the editorial that gave rise to my first letter remains there, and I have not kept a copy. I have been able to track down the opening lines from elsewhere on the web, and these should give you a flavour of what sparked it all off in the first place. I took a conscious decision to restrict my response to the question of ‘apartheid’ and not comment on the rights and/or wrongs of the BBC’s “censorship”:
More Zionist Bias at Beeb
BBC4 is screening a Nigel Kennedy concert this evening in which he speaks up for Palestinian rights, but the national broadcaster has decided to censor his remarks.
The August 8 Proms concert featured Kennedy and the Palestine Strings, a group of young Palestinian musicians from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
The violinist paid tribute to his fellow musicians, telling the audience: “it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music making that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for things to happen.”
His comments were carried live on BBC Radio 3, but a pro-zionist campaign campaign of pressure has led to … (from MS Editorial, August 23)
JD: 1st letter:
Your editorial More Zionist Bias at Beeb (M Star August 23) is mistaken. Nigel Kennedy’s concern for the Palestinians is laudable but his use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel is highly contentious.
“Apartheid” was not simply a term of abuse, but had a definite class content.
It was a peculiar system in which a white caste, intertwined with the capitalist ruling class, denied the black majority elementary rights in order to enforce their super-exploitation.
The answer was a single state with equal rights for all. For democrats there could be no question of national or collective rights for the whites as distinct from individual equal rights after the overthrow of apartheid.
The Israelis are not a narrow caste and Israel is not an apartheid state but a nation – one that denies rights to the Palestinians but a nation nonetheless.
Iraq, Iran and Turkey are not “apartheid states” because they oppress the Kurds and Russia is not an “apartheid state” because of its occupation of Chechnya.
Israel is a national entity not simply a settler-caste. Within Israel the great majority of the working class is ethnically “Jewish” and their view matters.
They do not have the right to oppress Palestinians but they do have the right to their own national identity.
That is why in Palestine, unlike in South Africa, the best immediate settlement is two states.
Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in many areas of life. But the situation more resembles the discrimination faced by ethnic minority people in Britain or the US than it does apartheid South Africa.
Some techniques used by Israel against the Palestinians resemble those used by the apartheid-era South African regime but the social and political realities are fundamentally dissimilar.
Recognising that should not lessen our hostility to oppression of the Palestinians. But to call it “apartheid” is politically illiterate, alienates many Jewish people and serves no useful purpose in building solidarity with the Palestinians — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Letter from Stephen Smith
I was puzzled by Jim Denham’s assertion (M Star August 30) that the term “apartheid” wasn’t appropriate to describe Israel.
Given that it means “separate development” in Afrikaans, it is a good fit for a state which segregates citizens in every conceivable way on the basis of their ethnic origin.
Apartheid did indeed have a class dimension but even a cursory glance at the extreme poverty experienced predominantly by Palestinian Arabs signposts economic disadvantage based on ethnic origin as a feature of Israeli and Palestinian life.
Jim describes Israel’s “ethnically Jewish” working class yet inexplicitly excludes non-Jewish working people in Israel, largely working class Arabs denied the same rights and status as other Israeli workers.
If that isn’t apartheid, I’m not sure what is.
Desmond Tutu noted in 2002 that this situation “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa…the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.
“Many South Africans are beginning to recognise the parallels to what we went through.”
Far from being “politically illiterate,” both Nigel Kennedy and the Morning Star’s editorial (M Star August 23) hit the mark.
It is the bitterest of ironies that a nation forged in response to the greatest crime against humanity is one of the perpetrators of the very ethnic division and hatred standing in the way of the peace, justice, prosperity and equality that could resolve this conflict. — STEPHEN SMITH Witney
Letter from John Nicholson
I presume you published the letter from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (M Star August 30) in support of the Israeli state in order to provoke responses.
That may be permissible in journalistic terms.
However it is not a good justification for a left newspaper to give any coverage at all to these views.
If anything what the Israeli state is perpetrating on the Palestinian people is worse that apartheid — Palestinian refugees who have no right of return to their homes in villages which Israel demolished. Palestinians living within Israel with substantially fewer social, economic and political rights than their Jewish neighbours, and Palestinians in Gaza who are contained within what is effectively a very concentrated concentration camp, in increasingly severe deprivation and subject regularly to annihilation from Israel’s bombs.
And meanwhile our government — and the EU — gives support to Israel, not least by contracting with the appalling G4S which is integrally involved in the Israeli prisons and detention centres where Palestinians, including children, are illegally held and ill-treated. — JOHN NICHOLSON Manchester
JD: 2nd letter
Since neither Stephen Smith nor John Nicholson (M Star September 3 and 7-8, respectively) address the central point of my first letter (M Star August 30) about Israel and apartheid, let me spell it out.
Israel was given its character by Zionists’ refusal to use Arab labour. Whatever we think of that, it was the opposite of the form of exploitation on which apartheid South Africa was built.
As a result, in Israel there is a large, powerful Jewish working class and the Histadrut trade union that organises Jewish and Arab workers.
In apartheid there was no major white working class, just a tiny and massively privileged labour aristocracy.
The Israeli Jewish workers’ movement must be crucial in the fight for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine tragedy in a way that was simply not the case with white workers in South Africa.
Socialists should support Palestinian and Jewish activists in fighting for workers’ rights, democracy, secularism and the right of all peoples to self-determination.
In the immediate term that means the struggle for two states. I’m afraid that many of the people who insist on describing Israel as an “apartheid state” don’t really want that. — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Above: US ‘Answer’: even crazier and more blatantly pro-Assad than the UK ‘Stop The War’
In stark contrast to the thinly-disguised pro-Assad propaganda of the Stop The War Coalition, and (even more blatant) the US ‘Answer’ movement, the Alliance for Workers Liberty has put out the following statement:
No support for US bombs: but Assad is the main enemy
Syria’s disgusting, murderous, one-party state is responsible for mass murder, torture on a vast scale, and an enormous humanitarian disaster inside Syria, where whole towns have been razed to rubble.
Over four million are internally displaced, nearly two million have fled the country, seven million are in immediate need of humanitarian aid, the economy has collapsed, and over 100,000 are dead.
The main responsibility for this utterly avoidable catastrophe belongs to the Syrian government and military.
Bashar Assad’s small ruling inner circle has chosen to reinforce and exploit sectarian divisions in Syria in order to cling on to power. Some of the ruling group are also parasites, who have accumulated great wealth through membership of the ruling family or cliques that control the state. The unscrupulous elite want to protect their power and riches.
In 2012 US President Barack Obama declared that use or movement of chemical weapons by the Syrian state would constitute a ‘red line’, without spelling out the exact consequences for Syria if they were used. Obama wants to see an end to the war in Syria but has not acted openly and decisively for fear of making the situation worse, not better. The US fears – rightly – that Syria might fragment and collapse into utter chaos with swathes of territory run by al-Qaeda aligned Islamist militias if the US helps the armed opposition to victory.
In the past months the Syrian state has been testing the likely Western response to the use of chemical weapons against its own population. Assad has probably used chemical weapons in small quantities on several occasions over the last year. A 20-strong UN team is now in the capital, Damascus, sent there to investigate past attacks.
Emboldened by recent victories over the opposition on Wednesday 21 August the Syrian army bombed a civilian area in north east Damascus. Some of their rockets almost certainly carried chemical payloads. This was an attack on a different scale to previous chemical use.
Doctors Without Borders reported that three hospitals it supports in the area around Damascus received 3,600 patients displaying neurotoxic symptoms. The political opposition, the Syrian National Coalition, claimed 1300 had been killed during the bombardment, mainly by poison gas. It seems certain that several hundred died.
This is a war crime committed by a regime against its own, unarmed people, sleeping in their beds. The people were being punished and terrorised simply because live in an area held by opposition militias.
The more extreme militias have pledged sectarian revenge on the Alawite minority community that Assad’s family is part of. The al-Nusra Front leader, Abu Muhammad al-Joulani, has apparently stated: “We are announcing a series of revenge operations called ‘An Eye for an Eye.’ Your Alawite villages will pay a very dear price for every chemical rocket that you’ve launched against our people.” The cycle of tit-for-tat sectarian outrages is speeding up.
Now there is great pressure on the US to be seen to respond. They may use cruise missiles against government targets in Syria. They have already allowed hundreds of tonnes of Saudi arms, stockpiled in Turkey for months, to be released to opposition fighters.
What should the left say?
Firstly it is not our job to advocate the US intervenes. We do not trust the US. It is by no means clear that Western military intervention will improve the chances for peace and democracy in Syria. On the contrary, it may speed up the disintegration of the country.
Equally, if the US destroys the bases used by Syria’s military to massacre its own citizens you will not find the AWL on the streets protesting.
Some of the more disorientated left will ask us to “defend Syria” against US intervention. These are leftists who allow their politics to be determined by simply negating the US’s policies – no matter how bad the alternative that they thus implicitly or explicitly support.
The main problem in Syria is Assad’s policy, not the US. And if the UK’s left wants to oppose meddling foreign powers – and we should – it should start with demanding Iranian forces and Hezbollah militia get out of Syria.
The main enemy here is not America.