This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
Simon Pirani, a long-standing left wing activist and writer, challenges Stop The War’s support for far right and pro-Putin forces in Ukraine:
|Boris Kagarlitsky speaking at “Solidarity with the Antifascist Resistance in Ukraine”, 27 August 2014, London|
This is to ask you to think about your organisation’s alliance with Boris Kagarlitsky, the Russian political commentator who supports war in Ukraine.
In a statement of 19 October, the Stop the War Coalition (STW) described Kagarlitsky as an “anti-war activist” and a “leader and organiser” of anti-government protests. The statement, responding to an inaccurate article in the Sunday Times, acknowledged that organisations Kagarlitsky works for are funded by the Kremlin, and claimed that this amounted to only “one grant for research”.
The statement is wrong. It is full of untruths, half-truths and obfuscations. In reality, (1) Kagarlitsky is not an “anti-war activist”, but a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine. (2) Kagarlitsky has been involved in anti-government protests, but since 2014 has become a collaborator with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists, and is reviled by Russian and Ukrainian anti-war activists for that reason. (3) Kagarlitsky has accepted funds from the Kremlin via various channels since at least 2009, and probably since 2005 – not “one grant for research”, but many grants.
I write as a lifelong participant in the labour movement and, for the last 25 years, a researcher of Russian and Ukrainian history, politics and economy. I have no interest in supporting the Sunday Times and its witch-hunts against Jeremy Corbyn. But witch-hunts have to be fought with the truth, and your organisation is not telling the truth. Here are some details on the three points mentioned.
- Kagarlitsky is a supporter of war in eastern Ukraine
When Russia annexed Crimea in March 2014, Kagarlitsky claimed that there were “no insidious schemes or imperial ambitions” involved. He denounced those in Russia – such as the Open Left alliance who called the annexation a “classic act of imperialist intervention” by the Russian state – for acting “in the name of the west”.
When the eastern Ukrainian separatists took up arms – the vast majority of which were brought in from Russia – in May 2014, Kagarlitsky unequivocally greeted their military action. The editorial board of Rabkor.ru, a site of which Kagarlitsky is the chief editor, stated that there was “no way towards peace [in eastern Ukraine] other than resistance [to the Kyiv government]. If the Russian government is presently supporting this resistance, then this must be used. Never mind that this support is completely inadequate and not especially genuine”.
This statement, headlined “The emptiness of pacifism”, described the flow of armed volunteers from Russia into eastern Ukraine – most of whom were led by fascists and ultranationalists, or organised by the criminals and thugs who rule the Chechen republic – as “the self-organising movement of solidarity with Novorossia [the Russian nationalists’ name for south-eastern Ukraine] on the territory of Russia”.
Kagarlitsky’s writing style is rambling and convoluted, and it is sometimes hard to tell which side of an argument, if any, he is taking. But his support for military action in south-eastern Ukraine has been unambiguous. His implicit criticism of the Russian government – which has provided diplomatic, financial, material and most likely military support for the separatists – has been for not supporting this action strongly enough.
In January this year, another leading author on Rabkor.ru, Vasily Koltashov, published a key strategic statement that argued: “For Russia’s development, and to raise the living standards of working people, what is needed is not peace with the west, but victory over the west in Eurasia. In Ukraine what we need is not a ceasefire, but the liberation of the country and its unification with Russia [i.e. war].” Kagarlitsky declared publicly that he was in “full agreement” with Koltashov.
Do you really think it is OK for the so-called “Stop the War” campaign to work with a commentator who has so clearly supported one side in a military conflict that has visited ruin on working-class communities and claimed more than 9000 lives?
- Kagarlitsky collaborates with leading ultra-nationalists and fascists
Kagarlitsky has at least since 2014 collaborated politically with Russian ultra-nationalists and fascists. He participated in a meeting of the “Florian Geyer” club, headed by the rightwing Islamist Geydar Dzhemal and frequented by Russian fascists. He was photographed sharing a meal and drink with Alexei Belyaev-Gintovt, a prominent member of Aleksandr Dugin’s International Eurasian Movement; Yevgeny Zhilin, leader of a far-right militia; and other ultra-nationalist politicians. The Institute of Globalisation and Social Movements (IGSO), headed by Kagarlitsky, co-organised a conference in Crimea in July 2014 with the extreme nationalist “New Rus” organisation (which hypocritically called for “peace” in Ukraine but made no mention of military action by the Russian-supported separatists). Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru web site has regularly featured sympathetic reports of prominent fascists and ultra-right-wing mercenaries active in eastern Ukraine (recent examples here, here and here).
To my mind, Kagarlitsky’s links with people and organisations who support Dugin are truly shocking. Dugin is one of the most prominent advocates of “neo-Eurasianism”, a militarist and fascist-type ideology. (Academic writers on the Russian far right consider him to be fascist, rather than ultranationalist. See here.)
In 2014 Dugin famously called for the south-eastern Ukrainian separatists to “kill, kill and kill” their enemies. Just this month – in an article on one of his English-language web sites that featured Russian fascists doing military training – Dugin reiterated: “War with Ukraine is inevitable, but so far we have done only half of the task. […] We have united with Crimea, we have provided help to Novorossiya, but we didn’t liberate Novorossiya.”
Kagarlitsky also writes on the site, which is full of militaristic imagery, and has commented approvingly about the movement behind Donald Trump there (e.g. “the defeat of financial capital [i.e. Hillary Clinton], no matter who brings it about [in the US election], would open a new era in the development of Western society, inevitably strengthening the working class, and reviving its organizations”, etc).
Kagarlitsky’s dramatic turn to the right is abhored by most Russian anti-fascist, anti-war and socialist activists, and those who worked with him in the past now do not. For example your statement claims that his IGSO institute works most closely with the Confederation of Free Trade Unions (KTR). But friends who are active in the KTR have contacted me to say that there has been little contact since 2007; that from the moment in 2014 that Kagarlitsky declared support for Russia’s activities in eastern Ukraine they have broken off all contact with him; and that neither Kagarlitsky nor any other IGSO participant takes any part in the unions’ activities.
My question to supporters of STW is: it turns my stomach to see someone who claims to be a socialist collaborating with the likes of Dugin. Doesn’t it turn yours?
- Kagarlitsky’s organisations have accepted funds from the Kremlin not once, but repeatedly.
Your statement implies that the financial support given by the Russian state to Kagarlitsky’s organisations was a one-off. It was not.
In 2008-09, reports and rumours circulated among left-wing Russians that Kagarlitsky’s Rabkor.ru site was being financed by the Kremlin. A lengthy article by an investigative journalist showed that funding and support for the site was arranged with the help of Vadim Gorshenin, a Kremlin-connected media manager who ran (and still runs) the pro-government Pravda.ru.
I heard about these reports in March 2010. Having been acquainted with Kagarlitsky since 1990, and having in 2009 had contact with him after a long gap, I emailed him to say that “various people, Russians and foreigners who know Russia, have said to me that Rabkor.ru is financed by the Kremlin, that it’s a Surkov project [i.e. inspired by the leading Putin ideologue, then deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov], and so on”. I said that I didn’t believe rumours and wanted to ask him for his comments.
His answer started: “Rabkor is financed from money that IGSO has managed to raised from various grants. We received funds from the Rosa Luxemburg foundation, from the Ebert fund, and also from the Soyuz fund, which is considered to be pro-Kremlin. And in November 2009 we received a grant from the Civic Chamber, which we use to rent an office. We never hid this, and essentially the source of the rumours is speculation about evidence that we ourselves gave completely publicly. We receive the grants for research and publications or seminars based on it, and then we re-distribute the amounts. And a condition for cooperation with any funds, including foreign ones, is non-interference with the political line of IGSO and Rabkor.”
I kept the text of this email exchange (downloadable here). I also replied to Kagarlitsky that I believed that taking funds from such state bodies as the Civic Chamber – set up with the explicit purpose of strengthening government influence over civil society – was extremely problematic. His response, if I remember correctly, was to express disappointment that his organisations had not been better supported by their collaborators in the west, and that it was after all necessary to raise funds from somewhere. I thought that further correspondence was pointless.
The point about this now is that, when STW states that Kagarlitsky’s organisation “has received one grant for research into trade unions from a government body, but is an independent NGO”, this is not true. His organisations received money from the Kremlin since before 2005 (according to Stringer.ru); from some time before 2009 from the Kremlin via the state’s Civic Chamber and the “pro-Kremlin” (Kagarlitsky’s words) Soyuz fund (according to Kagarlitsky’s email to me); and in 2013-14 (according to the STW web site).
My question to STW supporters is: given Kagarlitsky’s support for Russian action in eastern Ukraine, and his closeness to the ultranationalist Dugin do you not think that STW should ask Kagarlitsky to clarify the extent of the Kremlin’s financial support for his projects? And don’t you think that it’s important to tell the truth about these things on the STW web site?
These are not side issues. The question of how the anti-war movement relates to the Russian state, and to the ultranationalists and fascists in its shadow, is central. If it doesn’t get this right, it is not an anti-war movement at all.
If STW supporters or anyone else want to discuss the issues, please email me at simonpirani[at]gmail.com.
26 October 2016.
From The New Arab:
Above: a Stop The War Coalition protest outside Downing Street, 12 Dec 2015 [Getty}
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
Where are the demonstrations in western capitals to denounce the brutal onslaught on Aleppo? Around 300,000 people are exposed to carpet bombing, including bunker-busting and fragmentation ordnance. Is the weather so bad that no one wants to stand on a square, or in front of a Russian embassy? Or does no one care? Does no one think protesting would make a difference? (read the rest here)
Statement from Syria Solidarity UK:
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
What will you do to stop the war in Syria?
Below: Syria activists leafleting outside today’s Stop The War conference in London.
There are journalists and commentators whose views I don’t agree with (and in some cases, hate), who are nonetheless interesting, intelligent and worth reading. John Harris of the Guardian is not one of them.
I first came across Mr Harris in 2001 or early 2002, when he first started writing for The Guardian. He was, then (like many other Guardian coumnists), an uncritical supporter of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), and keen to defend it against any suggestion that it was led, or politically dominated by the SWP.
This was shortly after the STWC’s first conference in October 2001, when the SWP and its allies like George Galloway and Andrew Murray had ensured the defeat of calls to reject ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ as well as US imperialism. The slogan “No to fundamentalism” indicated that opposition to war did not mean support for the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban reactionaries: but the SWP, Murray, Galloway & co were determined not to alienate Islamists and cared nothing for the anti-fundamentalist views of Iranian and Afghani socialists in Britain, or the only Iraqi socialist organisation (the WCPI) active in Britain, all of whom were horrified by STWC’s alliance with Islamists.
In fact the leading members of the STWC were, and remain, soft on political Islam. This is clear from a footnote in Andrew Murray’s history of the STWC which says: “Political Islam… has expressed, in however warped a fashion, some of the anti-imperialist demands which were once the preserve of Communist and nationalist movements of the region.”
Harris wrote a column in the Guardian at the time defending STWC and denying that the SWP, etc, ran the campaign. I sent a comment to CiF calling Harris a “useful idiot” which apparently upset him at the time. Unfortunately, Harris’s 2001 (or 2002 ?) column does not seem to be available anywhere on the web, but this 2008 article gives a taste: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/feb/15/iraq
Since then, I haven’t spent much time reading the banal outpourings of this rather stupid ex-New Musical Express journalist, but I have noted that he claims to have been in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1980’s, before being driven “to despair” by the Militant Tendency and subsequently leaving the Labour Party for fifteen years.
Now, it’s a matter of record and straight fact, that those of us around in the 1970s and ’80s, can vouch for, that the Militant Tendency were a bunch of thugs, bullies, homophobes and sexists. But they’ve been out of the Labour Party since 1991 when they abandoned entryism and decided to establish themselves as a separate party. Ted Grant, the group’s founder and leading theoretician, was expelled, and his breakaway minority, now known as Socialist Appeal, continued in the Labour Party. The majority changed its name to Militant Labour, and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party. Their leader, Peter Taafe, is now making ridiculous noises to the bourgeois media, suggesting that his group now expects to be readmitted to Labour – having spent more than twenty years denouncing the Party as irreformable and the past eleven months trying to stop his members leaving to join Labour.
The idea that the hundreds of thousands of new (and, in some cases, re-joining) members of the Labour Party who’ve signed up since Corbyn’s victory last year, are doing so under the influence of the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), or any other ‘Trotskyist’ organisation, is a preposterous conspiracy theory put about by Tom Watson in a desperate attempt to undermine Corbyn and boost the hapless nonentity Owen Smith. But the wretched Harris asks Guardian readers to believe this nonsense in a truly ridiculous article entitled If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead. This idiot’s ignorance and stupidity knows no bounds: and while there’s no requirement upon Guardian columnists to have any knowledge of (let alone sympathy with) Trotskyism, someone writing about it might be expected to have at least an elementary grasp: Harris clearly hasn’t.
To give one simple example, Harris describes Trotskyist transitional demands thus:
The practice of Trotskyist politics has long been built around the idea of the “transitional demand”, a rather cynical manoeuvre whereby you encourage people to agitate for this or that – a hugely increased minimum wage, perhaps, or the end of all immigration controls – knowing full well it is unattainable within the current order of things, but that when the impossibility becomes apparent, the workers will belatedly wake up. In other words, the herd gets whipped up into a frenzy about something you know it won’t get, while you smugly sit things out, hoping that if everything aligns correctly, another crack will appear in the great bourgeois edifice.
The reality (as explained by the AWL) is this:
These are not catchpenny demands designed to capture or mirror back an existing “mood”. In some cases, such as open borders, they are ideas that are positively marginal and currently rejected by most working-class people. Others, such as the demand for a democratic federal republic (rather than secession for Scotland and Wales), or opposition to withdrawal from the EU, are marginal even on the far-left.
But we cannot hope to popularise them or make them less marginal except by raising them consistently, within the context of a programme which starts from the logic of our current struggles. The boldness required is the difference between attempting to create a political “space”, through the hard work of agitation and education in our workplaces and communities, and cynical attempts to manoeuvre into some existing space where people are already imagined to be by mirroring back to them slightly more radical versions of the ideas we presume them to already hold.
These wouldn’t be demands that we’d orient towards the state, necessarily, as if we expect a Tory government to implement them. They are demands that make up part of our own political narrative, our own plan for remaking society, just as the Tory policies of cuts and privatisation make up theirs.
Capital make concessions to labour either when we are strong enough to simply overwhelm it and impose ourselves, or when it is too scared of the consequences of not making concessions. For either condition, a conscious programme – a working-class socialist alternative to austerity – is necessary.
Floppy-haired ex-pop music journalist Harris is, indeed, an idiot (whether “useful” or not): first on behalf of Galloway and the SWP; now on behalf of Tom Watson and Labour witch-hunters.
The long-awaited Chilcot Report is – understandably – of immense concern to those who lost family members in this ill-conceived adventure. But it was never going to deal with the crucial political issues at stake, nor help socialists develop a worthwhile programme for Iraq (the Worker-communist Party of Iraq made a serious attempt at this back in 2004).
Like many readers of this blog, I was on the massive anti-war march of 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, and the loathsome, misnamed, ‘Stop The War Coalition’ (STWC) Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the STWC into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, put his finger (in the New Statesman) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively ascribed it to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember, in 2003, stumbling across the following searingly honest ‘Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local STWC email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well. The issues it raises are still the crucial ones neither Chilcot nor the STWC are able to address:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
Stop The War launches mass mobilisation against Putin’s bombing and Assad’s starvation of Syrian civilians
Above: ‘Stop The War’ placards outside US embassy, June 2013
An idependent observers’ group says at least 1,015 civilians have been killed in Russian air strikes.
The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said late last month that close to a quarter of those killed were under the age of 18.
Russia, in support of the Assad regime, has consistently denied hitting civilian targets and insists it is battling “terrorists, but is in fact targeting anti-Assad forces rather than ISIS or the Nusra front.
Medicins Sans Frontières said seven people were killed when a facility it supports in Maaret al-Numan, Idlib province, was hit four times in two separate raids. Mego Terzian, MSF’s France president, told Reuters he thought that either Russia or Syrian government forces were responsible. Both have been engaged in an unrelenting aerial bombardment in Idlib.
The hospital, which has 54 staff and 30 beds, is financed by the medical charity, which also supplies medicine and equipment.
“The destruction of the hospital leaves the local population of about 40,000 people without access to medical services in an active zone of conflict,” said Massimiliano Rebaudengo, MSF’s head of mission in Syria.
Meanwhile the Assad regime has extended its policy of starving civilians in rebel-held towns, from Madaya (where the policy was first used) to Aleppo:
The UN says 4.5 million Syrians are living in besieged or hard-to-reach areas and desperately need humanitarian aid, with civilians prevented from leaving and aid workers blocked by the regime from bringing in food, medicine, fuel and other essentials
The official position of the Stop The War Coalition is to be against all interventions into Syria (with or without a UN mandate)… so we can expect a STW-organised mass mobilisation against Putin’s bombings, and a demo outside the Russian embassy any day now, eh ..?
Or maybe not, seeing as Stop The War’s Chair supports the Assad regime and Russian imperialism in Syria.
Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
Does Andrew Murray, Chair of Stop The War (the StWC), support the Assad regime’s deliberate starving of the people of Madaya?
It’s a reasonable question, given his replies to John Harris’s uncharacteristically probing questions, published in the Guardian – for instance:
“I suggest that the Assad regime has to go, and ask Murray if he agrees. But he doesn’t directly answer the question. We bat the point around for a few minutes, before we arrive at the reason why: as a staunch anti-imperialist, he says it’s not his place to call for the toppling of regimes overseas: a strange position for an avowed internationalist, perhaps, but there we are.”
On the 19th of October Murray expressed this judgement:
The only solution to the dreadful civil war which has laid waste to Syria is a negotiated diplomatic end, says Andrew Murray.
The clear need is not for Britain to jump further into this toxic mix. It is for a negotiated diplomatic end to the dreadful civil war which has laid waste to Syria. Ultimately, only the Syrian people can determine their own future political arrangements.
But the foreign powers could assist by all ending their military interventions, open and clandestine, in Syria – ending the bombing and the arming of one side or another.
They should further promote peace by abandoning all the preconditions laid down for negotiations. Such preconditions only serve to prolong the conflict and to give either government or opposition hope that foreign military and diplomatic support could somehow lead to all-out victory.
On the CPB’s site he has added this, (no date),
Our bipartisan armchair strategists are obviously riled by Russia’s escalating military involvement in Syria. But it is a fact. What form of military intervention could now be undertaken which would not lead to a clash with Russia they do not say. Even the head of MI6 has acknowledged that “no-fly zones” are no longer a possibility, unless the NATO powers are prepared to countenance conflict with Moscow.
This is the CPB’s view, expressed on the 14th of October.
In a statement today Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said:
The Communist Party maintains its opposition to US, NATO and British military intervention in Syria. Whatever the pretext – whether to defeat the barbaric ISIS or to rescue civilian populations – the real aim is clear: to strengthen the anti-Assad terrorist forces (Islamic fundamentalists who have largely displaced the Free Syrian Army ‘moderate opposition’), create areas in which these forces can operate freely (in the guise of ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’) and ultimately to partition Syria and replace the Assad regime with a compliant puppet one.
Russian military forces are now attacking all the anti-Assad terrorists, including Isis, at the invitation of the Damascus government – which has every right to issue such an invitation as the internationally recognised political authority in Syria.
- Is Andrew Murray saying that his comrades in the CPB should change their ‘line’ that Russia has “every right” to bomb in Syria?
- Does he genuinely support, against the policy of the party to which he belongs, the formal, avowed (if generally disregarded) policy of the StWC?
The fact that Murray, and the StWC as a whole, apparently feels no need to address that question, let alone answer it, is further proof of what a dishonest, hypocritical and politically bankrupt organisation it is. They seem to have a fig leaf, formal, position of opposing Russian bombing in Syria that can be called upon when they’re under pressure in the media, whist in reality doing nothing about it and appointing as their chair someone who, as far as can be judged, supports both the Assad regime and the Russian bombing campaign.