On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a Kremlin stooge, called on the Soviet leadership to send in troops.
On October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was this which sparked the armed resistance.
This response was published in November 1956 by the the British “orthodox” Trotskyists. The fact that in all likelihood it was written by the proven political gangster, thug and rapist Gerry Healy does not detract from its value, or from the essential truths it contains (in the face of persisting Stalinist lies about the uprising being “fascist”). The “orthodox” Trotskyist view of the world is reflected in the article’s repeated and excessive insistence upon denouncing “world imperialism and its agents” and warning against “capitalist elements” supposedly “in the ranks” of the Hungarian revolutionaries – indeed, even urging Hungarian Communist Party members (the majority of whom supported the revolution) to “stay in the Communist Party and fight it out.”
STALIN IS DEAD BUT STALINISM LIVES
That is the message spelt out in letters of blood by the Hungarian people.
The labour movement of the world is rightly shocked at the brutality and ruthlessness of the Soviet armed forces. But this fact must not permit us to be taken off guard for one moment by world imperialism and its agents. Stalinist rule has always been associated with persecution and murder, both inside and outside the Soviet Union. Eden and Eisenhower have never protested when revolutionary opponents of the regime have been smashed. They helped to whitewash and justify the Moscow trials through the book and film Mission to Moscow written by American ex-ambassador Joseph E. Davies. Both the British and American governments refused asylum to the great revolutionary Leon Trotsky when he was being hounded from one country to another by Stalin’s GPU.
If these gentlemen shed tears for Hungary today it is not for the workers and peasants who have borne the brunt of the fight against Stalinism but for their fascist and landlord friends.
What happened in Hungary, as we shall see, was a revolution for national independence and democratic rights. Connected with this was a series of demands passed by the trade unions.
1. Workers’ councils in every factory to establish workers’ management and radically transform the system of state central planning and directing.
2. Wages to be raised immediately by 10 to 15 per cent and a ceiling (about £106 a month) fixed for the highest salaries.
3. To abolish production norms except in factories where the workers or workers’ councils wish to keep them.
4. The 4 per cent bachelor and childless family tax to be abolished; the lowest retirement pensions to be increased; child allowances to be raised with special reference to the needs of large families.
5. Speed up house-building with the state, co-operatives and other organisations launching a powerful social movement to mass produce houses.
6. Negotiate with the governments of the Soviet Union and other countries in order to establish economic relations that will ensure mutual advantages by adhering to the principle of equality.
(Daily Worker, October 27).
The backbone of this movement was the demand for the withdrawal of all Soviet troops from Hungary.
The imperialists were against this type of revolution. On the same day, October 27, the New York Times -mouthpiece of American big business-declared: ‘The view prevailing among United States officials, it appeared, was that “evolution” towards freedom in Eastern Europe would be better for all concerned than “revolution”, though nobody was saying this publicly.’ The New York Times again returned to this theme the next day, October 28, when it declared that the problem of western imperialism is ‘how to encourage the nationalist and libertarian spirit in the satellites without flaming it into a large scale revolt.’ As if not to be outdone by the New York Times the London Daily Worker, echoing Moscow, declared on October 25: ‘Only false friends resort to the gun. . . .’ Five days previously (October 22), John Foster Dulles speaking in Washington defended the legality of the presence of Soviet troops in Poland under the Warsaw agreement.
‘From the standpoint of international law and violation of treaties,’ he said, ‘I do not think you can claim that it would be a violation of a treaty.’ Mr. Dulles was fully aware at the time he made that statement that a revolution was under way in Hungary and Hungary was also a party to the Warsaw agreement.
Hot on the heels of Mr. Dulles came R. Palme Dutt of the British Communist Party.
‘The Soviet armed forces,’ he wrote, ‘were legally in Hungary by agreement under the Warsaw Pact.’ (Daily Worker,’November 10.) In a cable from Washington by its correspondent Philip Deane, the London Observer, November 11, 1956, reports that: ‘High Administration sources say that the United States has tried to let the Russians know, without being provocative, that Berlin and Austria will be defended by American forces. Hungary, meanwhile, has been officially and finally abandoned to its fate.’ And Basil Davidson, one of the last journalists to leave Hungary, reports that of the American financed propaganda station Free Europe Radio one revolutionary said: ‘I wish I could shut its ugly mouth. It lied to us just as the Russians lied to us.’ Neither the Soviet bureaucrats nor the imperialists and their representatives Palme Dutt and Foster Dulles care two hoots about the working people of Hungary. They were both, for different reasons, opposed to the revolution, and in each case supported their own particular agents and not the movement of the Hungarian people as a whole.
HOW THE REVOLUTION BEGAN
On October 23, a large group of unarmed students gathered outside the Budapest radio station and demanded that their 17-point programme of democratic demands be broadcast. After the police opened fire the government dominated by Erno Gero, a notorious Kremlin hack, promptly called for Soviet troops.
On Wednesday, October 24, Russian tanks and artillery fired on demonstrators in Budapest killing and wounding hundreds of men, women and children. It was these actions which sparked off the revolutionary armed resistance. During the next day, October 25, armed rebellion broke out. Workers on Csepel island in the Danube took up weapons against the security forces. Radio Budapest announced this as a rebellion of the working people: Absolutely no mention was made at that time that this was the work of armed gangs and the counter revolution. Read the rest of this entry »
A villanelle about the Aberfan disaster, in which 144 people, including 116 school children, died when a coal mining waste tip collapsed.
There was a lot of anger at the National Coal Board for its neglect of safety, and at the inquest, one father insisted: “I want it recorded — ‘Buried alive by the National Coal Board’. That is what I want to see on the record. That is the feeling of those present. Those are the words we want to go on the certificate.”
21 October 1966
By Janine Booth
The miner insisted the coroner record
The Pantglas School building a homicide scene
They were buried alive by the National Coal Board
His heart was in bits though his shoulders were broad
Though mining was dirty, were consciences clean?
The miner insisted the coroner record
The muck, slush and water had tumbled and poured
The slurry ran black through the valley of green
They were buried alive by the National Coal Board
We all feel this way, the father implored
The mums and the dads of the hundred-sixteen
The miner insisted the coroner record
The standard of care that it did not afford
A tip in a place it should never have been
They were buried alive by the National Coal Board
Aberfan wanted some justice restored
Though justice had perished at 09:13
The miner insisted the coroner record
It was buried alive by the National Coal Board
As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:
Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.
It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.
During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”
He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.
Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”
It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.
John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.
CHRIS BIRCH London SW6
JD recommends some reading and resources:
1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.
- Hungary ’56 – Andy Anderson – Excellent pamphlet, published by Solidarity. An invaluable guide to the events of the Hungarian uprising of 1956.
- Hungary ’56: “the proletariat storming heaven” – Mouvement Communiste – Analysis of the Hungarian workers’ uprising, stressing the importance of the collective action taken by workers and critically examining the demands and programmes they put forward.
- Hungarian Tragedy – Peter Fryer An account of events in Hungary 1956 by Peter Fryer, then a columnist for the Daily Worker, the official paper of the Communist Party of Great Britain.
- The Hungarian revolution: 1956 – Anonymous account of the events of the near revolution of 1956, containing interesting information from interviews with participants.
- United Nations report on the Hungarian uprising 1956 – UN special committee report on the 1956 Hungarian uprising. Examines the revolutionary workers councils established by Hungarian workers, and analyses the dangers they posed to both the Soviet bureaucracy and capitalism.
- Hungary ’56 – Nick Heath – History of the Hungarian uprising of 1956, published as a special supplement of Anarchist Worker on the 20th anniversary in 1976.
- The Hungarian workers’ revolution – Syndicalist Workers’ Federation – Revised second edition of a pamphlet written by British syndicalists in 1957.
- Hungary 56 photo gallery – Photo gallery of the events in Hungary 1956
This week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) confirmed what everyone already suspected: the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad had lied repeatedly about its adherence to a deal worked out in 2013, under which it would surrender its chemical weapons of mass destruction (CWMD).
The Syrian uprising began in March 2011 with peaceful protests. By the end of the year, the Assad regime’s unrestrained brutality—which saw the murder of 5,000 people—provoked a militarised response as the population took up arms to defend itself.
Throughout 2012 the Assad regime escalated its response: artillery levelled sections of ancient cities like Homs, helicopter gunships were employed, fighter jets bombed urban centres, and Scud missiles—designed for inter-state warfare—were deployed internally, against civilians.
This strategy of collective punishment and mass-displacement as a means to suppress the uprising culminated with the Assad regime unleashing chemical weapons against civilians, probably first doing so in December 2012.
President Obama said in August 2012: “A red line for us is we start seeing a whole bunch of chemical weapons moving around or being utilised. That would change my calculus.” In December 2012, Obama reiterated the threat, saying the use of CWMD would bring “consequences”.
But Assad repeatedly used nerve agents and other CWMD over the next six months, without consequence. In June 2013, the US publicly stated that Assad had used CWMD and the “consequence” would be the first provision of “military support” to the rebellion. But this lethal aid only started arriving in September 2013—after a massive CWMD attack.
On 21 August 2013, the Assad regime used sarin nerve agent to massacre more than 1,400 people in the Damascus suburbs of Ghouta. President Obama was set to launch a round of airstrikes—the French had prepared jets to join the attack—against Assad’s military and unconventional weapons sites when the matter was halted, put to a vote in Congress, and then abandoned completely for a “deal” with Russia, which in the administration’s telling meant Assad surrendered the CWMD he had heretofore denied possessing in exchange for the strikes being called off.
The reality was rather different. Obama had never intended to enforce his “red line”—it was a bluff that got called. Additionally, Obama had begun secret talks with Iran on the nuclear deal and from late 2012 Tehran had effectively taken control in regime-held areas of Syria. A conflict with Iran in Syria might derail the President’s legacy project.
The president’s signalling, therefore, was not that he would use force unless Assad gave up his CWMD: the stated aim was to punish Assad and uphold an international norm. The signal instead was that the President would take any available option to avoid doing what he did not want to, and Moscow provided the decommissioning of Assad’s stockpiles as a fig leaf.
Assad was made a partner in disarmament, extending him some legitimacy, as the Russians had wanted. The West was made complicit in campaigns of atrocity that were passed off as the regime “taking steps to secure” the exit routes for the CWMD, and Assad was, despite all reassurances to the contrary, handed “a license to kill with conventional weapons“. The effect on the moderate and Western-supported rebels was “devastating,” and radicalism on all sides was given a boost.
For this extreme price, Assad was not even disarmed of his CWMD—a sideshow in terms of what was inflicting the casualties. In June 2014, all declared CWMD was removed. This was, said President Obama, a demonstration that “the use of these abhorrent weapons has consequences”.
That October, OPCW found four secret CWMD facilities, one of them a production site. By summer 2015 it was clear in open-source that Assad had retained some CWMD, and US intelligence confirmed this in early 2016. Meanwhile, Assad began the routine use of alternate chemical weapons against Syrians, notably chlorine. A separate, simultaneous OPCW investigation has documented eight of these atrocities by the regime.
There have been no consequence for Assad trading sarin for chlorine—nor for the barrel bombs, incendiary weapons, starvation sieges, airstrikes, and use of death squads that have destroyed a country and ignited a region-wide war that has killed half-a-million people.
When asked about his decision to stand back from military strikes against Assad in 2013, President Obama said he was “very proud of this moment”. The US has all-but abandoned the stated regime-change policy, and is instead inching ever-closer to an accommodation that keeps Assad in place. The Russians managed, via their intervention, to turn the peace process inside-out: from a means of transitioning Assad out to a discussion about the terms on which he could stay.
That process was jointly killed earlier this year by Assad and al-Qaeda making the ceasefire untenable. But without an alteration in the balance-of-power on the ground in favour of the mainstream armed opposition, the terms of the discussion will remain the regime’s whenever the next round takes place.
The failure to punish Assad at the time for the Ghouta chemical massacre has done irreparable harm to one of the few international norms left, contributed beyond calculation to the radicalisation of Syria and the rise of anti-Western sentiments, and the course of events since has underlined the lesson that such criminality pays. It is now widely agreed—even by parts of the Turkish government, probably the most hawkishly anti-Assad—that Assad will to have some role in a “transition”. The contrast to the autocrats who were not prepared to kill on this scale and thus fell from power is stark.
It can also be guaranteed that just as Assad strung out the disarmament process so that he was always necessary—eternally disarming and never quite disarmed—any transition in Syria overseen by the dictator will be one in which Assad is always going and never actually gone.
By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesy):
In the memory of père Jacques Hamel.
I love my work and my children. God.
Is distant, difficult. Things happen
Too near the ancient troughs of blood.
Innocence is no earthly weapon.
Geoffrey Hill. Ovid in the Third Reich. *
Two attackers killed a priest and seriously wounded at least one other hostage in a church in northern France on Tuesday before they were shot dead by police. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack.
The two assailants entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, near Rouen, during mass, taking the priest and four other people hostage, including two nuns.
Police said the men killed the priest, named as 84-year-old Jacques Hamel, by slitting his throat.
An interior ministry spokesperson said a second hostage was “between life and death”.
Le Monde says that the local Muslim leadership immediately reacted by showing their love and friendship to the victim and all those affected.
Le président du Conseil régional du culte musulman de Haute-Normandie, en charge de la mosquée de Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, inaugurée en 2000 sur une parcelle de terrain offerte par la paroisse catholique, s’est dit « effaré par le décès de [son] ami ». « C’est quelqu’un qui a donné sa vie aux autres. On est abasourdis à la mosquée », a-t-il ajouté. Le prêtre et l’imam faisaient partie d’un comité interconfessionnel depuis dix-huit mois. « Nous discutions de religion et de savoir-vivre ensemble », a précisé Mohammed Karabila.
The President of the Haute-Normandie Regional Council of Muslims, which oversees the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Mosque, built on a plot of land offered by the Catholic parish, has said he was “in agony” at the death of his friend. “He was somebody who devoted his life to others. At the mosque we are utterly devastated” he added. For a year and a half the Priest and the Imam had both been part of an inter-faith committee. Mohammed Karabila talked of their activity, “We discussed our faith and how we can get good community relations.”
I cite Geoffrey Hill above because the attack on a early day mass immediately made me think of seeing a priest celebrating Morning prayers in a place the poet wrote about, the ancient St Michael the Archangel – ‘In Framlingham Church’. *
It was a weekday morning about five years ago and there was only a handful of people there.
But it was solemn and of great dignity.
Goodness is far more important than anything else.
* Both in: Geoffrey Hill, Broken Hierarchies. Poems. 1952 – 2012. Oxford. 2013.
This post, by Michael Ezra, first appeared at Harry’s Place:
In 2003 I did not just support the Iraq War, I supported an ideology associated with many of the most vocal proponents of that war: neoconservatism. The purpose of this post is not to criticise Tony Blair for his decision to go to war, although one has to admit that Iraq in 2016 is not the liberal democratic paradise of which many had dreamed, but to note that neoconservatism as an ideology is a soiled good.
There is no simple definition of neoconservatism and neoconservative writers have not all sung the exact same tune with the exact same words. In my opinion neoconservatism is about promoting democracy abroad, opposing regimes hostile to American interests, championing American military strength, and not shirking from using that military strength to further these ideals. The dream was a world reshaped in the American image. Neoconservative thinkers believed, as Francis Fukuyama put it, “history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.” While neoconservatives are interested in more than foreign policy, it is the foreign policy aspect that has dominated discourse. It is that upon which I focus.
The neoconservatives are ideologues. Like other ideologues they believe that their ideology is right in the moral sense. They had, in their own minds, “moral clarity.” George Bush admitted that the book that influenced his view on foreign policy was Natan Sharansky’s The Case for Democracy. Bush also recommended his aides read the book. Sharansky divided the world into two types of countries: free societies and fear societies. He applied a simple test: “Can a person walk into the middle of the town square and express his or her views without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or physical harm? If he can, then that person is living in a free society. If not, it’s a fear society.” (pp.40-41). Sharansky formulated his argument based on his own experiences as a dissident in the Soviet Union. If one lives in a fear society, dissidents are arrested and thrown in prison. Fear societies become repressive and tyrannical. He argued, “There is a universal desire among all peoples not to live in fear.” (p.38) His book is a blue print for overturning every single middle eastern dictatorship, and to do so, if necessary, by force: “The free world should not wait for dictatorial regimes to consent to reform….if we condition reform on the agreement of nondemocratic leaders, it will never come. We must be prepared to move forward over their objections.” (p.278). It is a seductive argument. I was seduced.
With such an ideology, in order to morally justify using force for regime change one does not need a fear society to have Weapons of Mass Destruction that could threaten American interests. Regime change is carried out for the good of the citizens of the living in the regime of fear. Iraqi dissident Kanan Makiya informed President Bush that the Iraqi population would welcome American soldiers “with sweets and flowers.” Yet, one could argue, if intervention for the good of the citizens is sufficient, why pick on Iraq rather than any other country? The Weapons of Mass Destruction becomes a way of selling the military action to the population at home. (I am interested in the ideology, not the legality of the war, so there is no need to get into discussions as to United Nations votes and whether Bush and Blair did or did not believe Iraq had WMDs.)
At the time of the so-called Arab Spring the cracks began to appear. When there were huge demonstrations in Egypt against President Mubarak, the neoconservatives cheered on regime change and democracy. The hawks in the Israeli government, thought by many to be in line with the neoconservative ideal, were of a contrary opinion. They had a more realist view. If democracy led to the Muslim Brotherhood in charge of Egypt, they would prefer Mubarak. The Israelis thought the American neoconservatives hopelessly naïve.
Syria has been no better. While President Assad was busy killing his countrymen by the hundreds of thousands, the neoconservatives clamoured for his removal. They wanted America to provide massive military assistance to the so-called moderates opposed to his rule. However, these “moderates” were not necessarily moderate. Besides, it hardly helps either democracy promotion or American interests if weapons that America provided to these so-called “moderates” end up in the hands of the head-choppers of Al Qaeda and ISIS.
The problem with neoconservatism is therefore stark. Despite the view of the neoconservatives that the vast majority of people would far prefer a free democratic society than a dictatorship, when given a chance for the type of democracy that the neoconservatives have in mind, citizens of countries do not necessarily take it. Moreover, while the ideological position of believing you are right might be fine in theory, the empirical reality might be vastly different. One should not ignore what is patently obvious: neoconservatism is the God that failed. The neoconservatives need to be mugged by reality.
Above: friends, families and onlookers at the scene
Saibo Sillah, Ousman Jabbie, Mohammed Jangana, Alimano Jammeh and Bangaly Dukureth were crushed to death at work in my home town of Birmingham on Thursday. They were all Muslims and EU migrants, working through an agency for the minimum wage and sending most of their pay back to their families.
The firm they worked at, Shredmet Limited, owned by Hawkeswood Metal Recycling, has previously been involved in three serious incidents and been fined £60,000 by the Health ad Safety Executive when a lack of guarding led to a man’s arm being crushed. The same site was hit by a huge, unexplained fire in 2011.
Hawkeswood Metal Recycling processes more than 500,000 tonnes of scrap metal each year. The firm began trading more than 40 years ago and has a customer base that includes local authorities, major PLCs and smaller independent companies.
It is a business with an annual turnover of more than £30 million, reporting a net profit in 2015 of £327,000 in accounts submitted in February this year. It employs 26 people.
The victims were the sort of hard-working migrants that the Brexiteers want driven out of Britain. And the inadequate health and safety legislation that failed to protect these men, will be even further watered down if the Brexiteers have their way.
The five men died when a huge concrete wall collapsed on top of them. The 15ft tall wall, made of one-and-a-half ton concrete blocks, came crashing down on the men at the Shredmet site in Aston Church Road, Nechells. As the wall fell, blocks of metal also rained down on the men: the five had no chance of survival.
A sixth man miraculously managed to escape, digging his own way out of the rubble despite his leg having been broken.
Detective Superintendent Mark Payne of West Midlands Police said: “I’ve seen the scene and nobody is alive in that scene. We have done absolutely everything as you’d expect to check there is no opportunity to save a life. Without being too graphic, there’s no possibility of anyone being alive in there.”
Meanwhile, families and friends gathered outside the gates of the plant, anxious for news of loved ones and workmates. Local residents put out drinks and food for the grieving visitors.
Manka Sawo was alerted to the tragedy by the man who managed to escape, and who was taken to hospital for treatment to his broken leg.
“I know all of them,” he said. “I knew Saibo Sillah from a community centre where we used to pray together.
“Saibo had seven children, including two-year-old twins. He was a very, very decent guy. I’m devastated. This is a sad day. They are all from The Gambia. Some of them lived in Spain and Denmark before coming here. I heard the news from the man who broke his leg. He phoned his family from hospital, and we came here to find out what had happened. I knew one of the men very closely; yesterday we celebrated Eid together. It’s very, very sad.”
A friend of Mr Jammeh and Mr Jabbie said: “Ousman only moved over here a week ago and moved in with Alimamo. He was waiting for his wife and family to come over, who are still in north Gambia. Alimamo’s wife and children are due to arrive on Sunday. They don’t have any phones so there’s no way of contacting them. We will only be able to tell them when they arrive that their husband and father has died. It’s going to leave them heartbroken.”
Meanwhile, Mr Jagana’s devastated friend Mohammed Kamarah said: “He has a wife and a daughter, who is less than one year old. His family are praying for him. They are distraught beyond words. He was a good hard-working man and a great friend.”
Scrapyard worker Matt Bowen, who was off work for the day because his son was ill, posted a poignant message on Facebook.
“I hope you rest in peace lads, I truly do. Part of me is sorry I wasn’t in today, the other half is glad my son was poorly. Words cannot describe the thoughts that are going though my head, let alone the lads that were in work today. My thoughts and prayers are with your families who you worked so hard for. God be with you brothers, I am heartbroken, to say the least.”
You can donate here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Nechells5
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.
In Parenthesis – Part 7,
pages 183-186 (1937)
By David Jones
It’s difficult with the weight of the rifle.
Leave it–under the oak.
Leave it for a salvage-bloke
let it lie bruised for a monument
dispense the authenticated fragments to the faithful.
It’s the thunder-besom for us
it’s the bright bough borne
it’s the tensioned yew for a Genoese jammed arbalest and a
scarlet square for a mounted mareschal, it’s that county-mob
back to back. Majuba mountain and Mons Cherubim and
spreaded mats for Sydney Street East, and come to Bisley
for a Silver Dish. It’s R.S.M. O’Grady says, it’s the soldier’s
best friend if you care for the working parts and let us be ‘av-
ing those springs released smartly in Company billets on wet
forenoons and clickerty-click and one up the spout and you
men must really cultivate the habit of treating this weapon with
the very greatest care and there should be a healthy rivalry
among you–it should be a matter of very proper pride and
Marry it man! Marry it!
Cherish her, she’s your very own.
Coax it man coax it–it’s delicately and ingeniously made
–it’s an instrument of precision–it costs us tax-payers,
money–I want you men to remember that.
Fondle it like a granny–talk to it–consider it as you would
a friend–and when you ground these arms she’s not a rooky’s
gas-pipe for greenhorns to tarnish.
You’ve known her hot and cold.
You would choose her from among many.
You know her by her bias, and by her exact error at 300, and
by the deep scar at the small, by the fair flaw in the grain,
above the lower sling-swivel–
but leave it under the oak.
Slung so, it swings its full weight. With you going blindly on
all paws, it slews its whole length, to hang at your bowed neck
like the Mariner’s white oblation.
You drag past the four bright stones at the turn of Wood
It is not to be broken on the brown stone under the gracious
It is not to be hidden under your failing body.
Slung so, it troubles your painful crawling like a fugitive’s
David Jones was an artist and poet who served in the trenches as a Private soldier from 1915 until 1918, was wounded at The Battle of The Somme, and spent more time on active service than any of the other First World War poets. Although less well known now than Owen, Sassoon and others, he was regarded by Auden, Yeats, Pound and T.S. Eliot as the outstanding poet of the First World War.
Jones grew up in London and studied at Camberwell School of Art. His father was a printer’s overseer and originally came from Wales. From his early childhood, Jones saw himself as Welsh and developed an interest in Welsh history and literature. His poetry often draws on this and on the vernaculars of Cockney and Welsh hill farmers which Jones encountered in his regiment.
Jones began writing poetry more than ten years after the 1918 Armstice, publishing his first major work in 1937. He continued painting, drawing and writing poetry throughout his comparatively long life in between episodes of depression caused by what would now be called post traumatic stress.
In 1921 Jones converted to Roman Catholicism. He said that “the mass makes sense of everything” and much of his poetry is religious. Obviously, we at Shiraz wouldn’t agree, but that doesn’t detract from the power of his poetry.
Jo Cox was both a dedicated constituency MP and a true internationalist. This is what she said in Parliament on 3 May this year about Aleppo, the betrayal of Syria and our duty to refugee children: