Guest post by Bill Sharpe
Arguing against the renewal of Trident must have seemed so simple, an easy win for the Corbyn Labour leadership, swords into ploughshares and we all walk off arm in arm into a Trident free sunset – maybe singing the Red Flag. That may well have been how the Corbynistas saw it playing out, yet right from the outset when they started this particular hare running, the reality was very different. The parliamentary timetable was always against Labour having any real say, it was always going to engulf the Party, and particularly the PLP which was not going to be helpful as the key unions (GMB and Unite) were always going to be for renewal. Everything points to a fudge at the next Labour Party conference and with it inevitable demoralisation among the Corbynistas. My union, the GMB, will be quite happy with this, as we have thousands of members whose jobs depend upon Trident.
The one thing that may change this is how Unite votes on the matter at its forthcoming Policy Conference. Although Unite’s defence workers are fully behind renewal, the conference has a number of anti-Trident resolutions on the agenda and if it were to vote against renewal it would once again change the balance of power within the Labour Party.
Unite is generally seen as the most influential left wing union and socialists will view Unite’s forthcoming debate primarily in political terms – a left vs right `shoot out’: on one side the defence industry workers who are seen (probably rightly) as pro – imperialist, right wing, reactionary etc etc; on the other side the union’s lefts who want to scrap Trident, end austerity and are Corbyn supporters – also probably true. Such a view is to miss the point. The Unite debate will not be a political but an economic, a trade union, matter – or at least I for one would hope so.
Unite Policy Conference delegates have three possible choices: they can vote for `unconditional support’ for renewal, `scrapping only’ if suitable alternative work can be found or `scrapping regardless’ of whether alternative work can be found. For sure, the `scrapping only’ positon will bring together a big majority within the union leaving `unconditional support’ the minority position. There is however a fatal flaw in the ‘scrapping only’ standpoint.
When the Berlin wall fell the defence industry went into free fall with many thousands of jobs lost. In response the unions undertook a number of studies looking at alternative work; some were very imaginative but none were viable. What employer was going to pay top dollar to some of the most highly skilled workers in the county (after space technology putting together a Trident submarine is the second most complex technical exercise humanity undertakes) concentrated in one of the most inaccessible places in the county to build white goods or wind turbines? The alternative work plans were seemingly consigned to the dustbin of history. However some 25 years later variants of these plans were resurrected, finding their way onto Corbyn’s election campaign website as part of his pitch to scrap Trident.
While intellectually lazy and/or self-deluded socialists have tacked onto the end of their anti- Trident arguments the demand for alternative work, so resolving (to their own satisfaction) the problem of mass redundancies and the devastation of Barrow and surrounding areas, workers in the industry have looked into the matter and are telling us there is no such thing as alternative work. Consequently ‘scrapping only’ is in effect a vote for renewal – a position I for one hope the Unite conference will adopt. However many on the left, including it would seem, many in Unite, stand on the ‘regardless’ position.
The problem with the ‘regardless’ position is when the rhetoric and caveats are removed such resolutions are calling on the union to support the sacking of several thousands of their fellow members. For a union to vote for a `scrap anyway’ resolution would be a fundamental violation of its core functions: the defence and enhancement of terms and conditions and the aspiration to organise the entire working class regardless of their political views.
This issue illustrates in a very stark manner the underlying and enduring difference between general class interests, which translate into political interests – in this case the scrapping of Trident – and specific sectional interests which are unions’ economic concerns and in this instance mean keeping Trident.
In saying unions should support ‘scrapping only’ I am not saying a union is always right: such a view would suppress any critical judgement of unions and deny any right to independence of thought by socialists when dealing with unions: it would mean (at best) becoming a more realistic variant of the unions’ house journal the Morning Star. I am, however, saying socialists should recognise that a union must pursue its members’ interests, even when these come into conflict with broader socialist views.
For socialists who wish to be critical of unions there are two possible approaches: one can be characterised as `politicising unions’, which starts from recognition of the division between the political and economic as a given and as far possible attempts to mitigate the sectional and where possible merge the sectional into a more general class interest. This is done within the unions themselves around industrial matters, but more importantly engaging with and helping develop a socialist political culture within the unions.
To begin to undertake such a task one has to recognise the existence of the political / economic division. But in this period of union decline the dominant approach of leftists and would-be Marxists is to be seemingly unaware or indifferent to the division. There are clear parallels here with 3rd period Stalinism. In this approach the left is continually attempting to turn the union into a political rather than an economic entity, they view it as a form of political party and continually demand its programme appropriate to a party – political unionism. Such an approach can only succeed by either superseding or suppressing the union’s economic function of defending member’s terms and conditions.
A ‘scrap anyway’ positon illustrates this point in a very blunt manner, as it inescapably means supporting the loss of many thousands of jobs (an unfortunate by-product of the greater good) and with it supressing the unions function of defending members jobs.
The ‘union as a political party’ approach is also how the best trades unionists tend to perceive (and reject) what socialists are about: it needs little imagination to work through the political lessons defence delegates will take away from Unite Trident debate as they listen to their `left wing’ bothers and sisters explaining why they should lose their jobs.
The Unite Trident debate holds within it two possible ways socialists can approach unions: if their conference can get beyond a debate about ‘scrapping regardless’, which is to recognise they cannot support non-renewal. They will then be in a position to play a pivotal role in taking the alternative work debate forward. At present the demand for alternative work is merely a rhetorical prop for socialists, with no real content – based on present realities it can go nowhere. Unite has the ability to demand that labour links alternative work for the defence industry into a broader call for a rebalancing of the economy which should have centre stage in Labour’s 2020 manifesto.
The ability to move the alternative work debate on is made possible by the space opened up by Corbyn’s victory: it should be seen as part and parcel of the potential which now exists for the refounding of a labour movement. Although in many respects this will be very different from 1900s, now as then, socialists have a choice: either they engage with this or cut themselves of from it: posturing and empty sloganising will inevitably fail, but pursuing the politicisation of the unions (as opposed to the left’s agenda of “political unionism”) may just offer a way through the dilemma.
As the war criminal and genocider Rodovan Karadzic – handpicked for his position by Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic – finally receives something approaching justice, it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just Serb nationalists who supported and excused him, Milsosevic and Mladic: a lot of the so-called “left” have some answering to do, as Stan Crooke explains below. The particular culprits here are the SWP, who a few years later started puffing themselves up as “fighters for Muslims”. At the time they refused to side with the Bosniac and Kosovar Muslims fighting Serb conquest, focusing their sympathies on Serbia as the victim of NATO. They quietly went along with those who anathematised the Bosniac Muslims (mostly secularised) as the catspaws of Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy.
It’s come to something, hasn’t it, when (not for the first time) “communists” ally with fascists…
We’re talking SWP and their equally shameful, Chomskyite offshoots like ‘Workers Power’, ‘Counterfire’… and perhaps most notoriously, the so-called ‘LM‘ outfit (since reborn as ‘Spiked Online’ and ‘The Institute of Ideas’).
We republish, below, an article by Stan Crooke written just after the arrest of the Bosnian Serb general and war criminal Ratko Mladic in May 2011, and published in Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity:
Above: Karadzic (right) and Mladic in Bosnia, April 1995
The “safe haven” of Sarajevo was besieged for 44 months by Serb forces, the longest siege in modern warfare. Serb forces stationed on the surrounding hills used artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles against the civilian population.
An average of 300 artillery shells a day hit Sarajevo during the siege. On just one day in 1993 more than 3,500 shells hit the city. Overall, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and another 56,000 wounded during the siege. 35,000 buildings were destroyed, including 10,000 apartment blocks.
Ethnic cleansing and war crimes were also carried out by the forces of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia.
In February 1994 an American-brokered deal, the Washington Agreement, brought an end to the fighting between Bosnian and Croatian forces. In September 1995, NATO finally moved against Milosevic and his allies, in a month-long bombing campaign.
Workers’ Liberty commented: “Yes, the Western powers are hypocrites… But to reckon that NATO’s bombardment of Mladic’s siege guns calls for protest meetings, and Milosevic’s atrocities do not, is to condone Serbian imperialism… Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.”
Others on the left rallied to a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” focused on denouncing NATO. They said NATO action was about “enforcing Western interests” on Serbia. Back in 1991, the SWP had disdainfully said “neither of the nationalisms currently tearing Yugoslavia apart has anything to offer”. It had maintained the same disdain towards the Bosniacs’ struggle against Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing. It backed the anti-NATO campaign.
In fact, the NATO bombing paved the way for an American-brokered peace deal, the Dayton Agreement. It ended the massacres, and set up Bosnia-Herzegovina as a quasi-independent state, for most purposes a loose confederation between Serb and Croat-Bosniac units, with an external “High Representative” as overlord.
In the course of the war between 100,000 and 176,000 people had been killed. More than 2.2 million had fled their homes. 530,000 of them had managed to reach other European countries, despite the European Union responding to the outbreak of war by imposing a visa regime on Bosnians.
After the end of the fighting Mladic continued to live openly in the Serb-controlled area of Bosnia. In the late 1990s he moved to Belgrade. Only after the overthrown of Milosevic in 2000 did Mladic go more or less underground.
Meanwhile Kosova, an area under tight Serbian control but with a 90% Albanian-Muslim majority in the population, was stewing.
The Kosovar majority organised a virtual parallel society, with underground schools, hospitals, and so on, beside the Serbian-run official institutions.
The big powers opposed Kosovar independence, but pressed Milosevic to ease off. From mid-1998 Milosevic started a drive to force hundreds of thousands of Kosovars to flee the province. The big powers called a conference and tried to push Milosevic into a compromise deal.
Milosevic refused. NATO started bombing Serbian positions, apparently thinking that a short burst of military action would make Milosevic back down. Simultaneously the Serb chauvinists stepped up the slaughter and driving-out of Kosovars. After two and a half months of bombing (March-June 1999) the Serbian army finally withdrew. By then around 850,000 Kosovars had fled.
From 1999 to 2008 Kosova was under UN rule. During that period there were a number of persecutions of the small remaining Serb minority in Kosova. In 2008 Kosova declared independence.
Far from being converted by the war into a crushed semi-colony of some big power, Serbia benefited from its defeat. In October 2000, following rigged elections, Milosevic was ousted by mass protest in the streets, and Serbia’s chauvinist frenzy began to dissipate.
Dispute on the left over the Kosova war was sharper than over Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty said that, while we could not and did not endorse NATO, the main issue was Kosovar self-determination. The SWP and others threw themselves into a “Stop The War Campaign”, later recycled for use over Afghanistan and Iraq and still in existence.
“Stop The War” here meant “stop NATO and let Milosevic have his way”. On Milosevic, their main message was that he was not as bad as painted; and on Kosova, that the reports of massacre were probably exaggerated, that nothing could be done about it anyway, and that the Kosovar revolt was undesirable because it could destabilise the whole region.
Michael Barratt Brown, a veteran socialist economist, was typical of a whole school of thought on the left claiming that the driving force in what he called “The Yugoslav Tragedy” was a conspiracy by Germany in particular, and the West in general, to gain “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.
He wrote “Once Croatia’s independence was recognised … war between Serbs and Croats was assured inside Croatia.” In fact the big powers pressed the subject peoples of Yugoslavia not to declare independence. Germany was less convinced about that than other states, but even Germany did not recognise Croatia until six months after the outbreak of war. And why shouldn’t states recognise Croatian independence demanded by over 90% of the people?
Consistently, Brown wrote of the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as if they were mere responses to the actions of Bosnian and Croatian nationalists, rather than the expression of an aggressive regional imperialism.
“Nationalists in Serbia followed enthusiastically where Slovenes and Croats had led”, he wrote, but he praised the “federal” army, which had already committed a succession of war crimes by the time Brown wrote his book, as “the one remaining force representing Yugoslavia”, and one which was engaged in “a state-building project.”
In To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, published in 2000, Michael Parenti argued that the West’s hostility to Milosevic was triggered by the Serbian government’s commitment to the defence of the country’s “socialist heritage”:
“After the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free-market system… The US goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities.
“As far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises [in Serbia] had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq (in the first Gulf War) might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”
In fact, the Serbian government pursued privatisation and pro-market policies of its own volition from the late 1980s, imposing cuts in public services and increasing social inequalities. And its old reformed-Stalinist structure was nothing to cherish.
After the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic said:
“Crimes were committed in Yugoslavia, but not by Milosevic. … His real offence was that he tried to keep the 26 nationalities that comprise Yugoslavia free from US and NATO colonisation and occupation.”
The chapter on the Bosnian war in The Liberal Defence of Murder, written by the SWP’s Richard Seymour and published in 2008, has similar arguments: Milosevic’s regime and its war crimes were not as bad as they were made out to be; the Bosnian and Croatian governments were not only at least as bad as that of Milosevic but were also guilty of the same kind of atrocities.
“In the run-up to that atrocity” [the Srebrenica massacre], he claimed, “a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs”.
The SWP itself, mostly, did not bother discussing the atrocities one way or another. It simply stated that NATO was “imperialism” and the job was to oppose “imperialism”. In other words, it put its opportunist concern to “catch the wind” of miscellaneous disquiet about or opposition to NATO military action in a region which most people knew little about above any internationalist concern for lives and freedoms in the region … (read the full article here).
. Chomsky’s culpability and apologetics
• Dossier on the Kosova war, Workers’ Liberty 2/3.
• Introduction to that dossier.
• Review of the SWP’s pamphlet on the Kosova war.
. The SWP and fake-pacifism
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.”
The fact that Andrew Murray is StWC chair, and a Communist Party of Britain (CPB) member raises some further interesting questions about the underlying politics of the StWC.
On the 19th of October Murray expressed this judgement:
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.
Pete Radcliff (Observations from a Third Camp Perspective) writes:
The premise on which the British Parliament agreed to join bombings in Syria was that there would be little risk of a military escalation. Clearly bombings can drive the army and the administration of the ‘Islamic State’ into bunkers or into temporary physical dispersion. But a physical territory can only be captured if taken over by military forces on the ground. Cameron and others supporting the war made out that such a force was in existence.
Saudi’s King and Foreign Minister welcome delegates
Rarely has it been possible to get a snapshot of the Syrian military forces supported by US, UK and France. Cameron played with illusions and words in the British parliament but illusions are insufficient for the US. They need to strengthen their bargaining power in the continuation of the earlier Vienna talks on Syria that may resume in New York next week.
For that reason they authorised Saudi Arabia to co-ordinate the Syrian “opposition” at a meeting in Riyadh on 8th and 9th December. The very fact that they passed on such an important task to the regime at the centre of world Wahabbism and Sunni Islamist sectarianism revealed a lot about both the likely outcome of the West’s bombing campaign in Syria but it also revealed much about the majority of the Syrian militias.
There is little doubt that the Saudi regime is enjoying these times. The royal family have been very active in strengthening their relationship with many politicians across the western world, particularly the US, UK and France. Several US spin doctors have been employed by Saudis to cultivate these relationships. Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the King’s son, has come out with a manifesto for rapid business growth in conjunction with their US and European allies.
But the key issue that currently has western politicians fluttering around the Saudi regime is their claim that they can unify a powerful section of the opposition in Syria – where the West, i.e. US, France and UK, are now embroiled in a war without explicit objectives.
After the huge popular opposition in the US/UK to the earlier Iraq War, the western governments are reluctant to repeat the error they made then by sending in troops to Syria. When the Saudis claim that they can unify a powerful opposition to Daesh and Assad in Syria, that has obvious attractions to western governments. In the continuation of the Vienna negotiations in New York that they hope to call next week they will enter them along with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) in a far stronger position.
The war of that West is currently claimed to be against Daesh. But the Saudi coordinated allies are not so much bothered by Daesh. So a war of the West against Daesh with these allies on the ground will continue to be intertwined with one also against Assad.
If Turkey has its way, the war may even develop into one also against the Syrian/ Rojovan Kurds. Already the Kurds are claiming that the two Al Qaeda backed militias, Jabhat Al Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham are preparing an offensive against them.
The Saudis are less parochial than Erdogan with his obsession with the pummelling of the Rojovan Kurds. The war Saudi wants, along with the array of Islamist forces they are pulling together in Syria, is hugely different to the avowed war aims of the West. Daesh is not their concern. In fact there will be probably continuing covert approaches to elements of Daesh to join with them in a jihad on the increasingly Shia forces around Assad.
But the strains within the wider alliance will not only be between Saudi Arabia and the West but also between Saudi Arabia and the militias in Syria pulled together this week in Riyadh.
There is a shared objective between those militias with their two main sponsors, President Erdogan of Turkey and the Saudi regime. All of them want an authoritarian and sectarian Sunni state. Saudi Arabia is the dominant one of the two state sponsors of these Syrian militias both in their ideology as well as their financing. So the eventual objective will more likely be a satellite state to the Saudi Wahabbist homeland.
However the statement that came out of the Riyadh conference was clearly couched for western consumption. US Secretary of State Kerry was in regular and frequent phone contact with both the Saudi Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir and the powerful Prince Mohammed Bin Salman throughout the Riyadh talks.
The statement that emerged from the conference called for a “democratic mechanism through a pluralistic regime that represents all sectors of the Syrian people”.
The statement is not truthful. An openly avowed statement for a sectarian Sunni state, never mind a Wahabbist one, would blow away the unprincipled alliance between Saudi Arabia and Turkey with the West. Opposition to Saudi Wahabbism in all western countries is growing and their governments would be subjected to fierce criticism if the real aim of the alliance that the Saudis are building was known.
So the statement is little more than what the Saudi tyrants excel in: two-faced double dealing. One might speculate that the conference was probably more of an educational in diplomacy by the Saudis to their Islamist co-thinkers on how you pretend to the West to do one thing whilst you really intend to do the exact opposite.
The coalition declared in Riyadh will be closely controlled by the Saudi regime. Its office will be in Saudi Arabia not in Syria. But central control by Saudi along with their money, arms and ‘volunteer’ fighters will be unlikely to keep the alliance together.
Many of the Islamist militias in Syria will say that they accept the objectives declared at the Riyadh conference and Saudi leadership – after all they want Saudi arms and money.
Despite the spectacular growth of Sunni Islamism in Syria there has also been ever increasing divisions. Possibility of Islamist unity is attractive to many of them but in the ideologies of those movements are strong memories of of what they consider to be past Saudi ‘betrayals’. The fact is that the Saudi regime, the Turkish-sponsored Islamists, the Al Qaeda offshoots and other sectarian forces that attended the Riyadh conference consider each other as treacherous. Read the rest of this entry »
There was piece about George Orwell: The Complete Poetry on Front Row this evening from 23:03
Orwell originally wanted to be a poet and did keep writing verse.
A Dressed Man is a neat, sharp piece.
His Memories of the Blitz is new to me. As the editor of his poems, Dione Venables says of his poetry in general, “It has its moments.” The Blitz has not figured much in poetry though it is prevalent in films and novels. I can recall some lines of Louis MacNeice’s:-
As sometimes in the blackout and the raids
One joke composed an island in the night.
World War I, a war fought by most able-bodied men, not just professional soldiers, produced many poets. But as for the civilian experience of the World War II, many writers – like C S Lewis (Home Guard) and T S Eliot (fire watcher) took part without turning their experience into verse.
Memories of the Blitz
Not for pursuit of knowledge
Only the chances of war,
Led me to study the music,
Of the male and female snore
That night in the public shelter
With seats no pillow could soften,
Where I fled, driven out of my bed,
By bombs too near and too often.
And oh, the drone of the planes,
And the answering boom of the gun,
And the cups of tea in the dawn,
When the flames out-did the sun.
That was a long time ago,
Three years ago, or nearly,
And more has perished than gas-masks,
I could not tell you clearly,
What there can be to regret,
In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.
But the guns have changed their tune,
And the sandbags are three years older,
Snow has kissed the flesh,
From the bones of the German soldier.
The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.
For the song that the sirens sang,
Is sunk to a twice-told story,
And the house where the chartered accountant,
Perished in headland glory,
Is only a clump of willow-herb,
Where I share my sorrow
With the deserted bath-tub
And the bigamous sparrow.
That has some very good lines, especially:-
In a time of casual slaughter,
When the windows were empty of glass,
And pavements running with water.
With the abstract “casual slaughter” against the particularities of the blown out windows and the broken water mains.
Also these relics of an urban war with a high civilian death count:-
The blimp has a patch on its nose,
The railings have gone to the smelter,
Only the ghost and the cat,
Sleep in the Anderson shelter.
Which is evocative, like those grey concrete pillboxes you still find on the coast, sunk into sand. Three years ago “a long time ago” for Orwell who of course did not have much time left himself.
The other day a boy of eleven told me the that his class had been to see an Anderson shelter in someone’s garden. It was very damp and mossy, he said.
George Orwell in the Home Guard
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By Johnny Lewis
I think the reason Hilary Benn’s speech was so effective is not because he had anything to say to respond to Corbyn’s position put forward earlier that day, but because he correctly identified Corbyn’s and much of the entire left’s political weakness over the last 25 years:
– its softness or even support (ie SWP, Counterfire, etc) for fascism and medievalist reaction as long as it comes in some anti western form.
– that even after the fall of the Soviet Union the same old apologist shit still remains strong on the left and particularly the Labour left and the people around the Morning Star: they’re against human rights abuses and “imperialism” except when it’s by Russia and its allies, in which case they use all sorts of relativist arguments to support/excuse it.
– that via Stop The War’s popular front with the right, the left has adopted the old right’s isolationism: the idea that it has “nothing to do with us”.
– the much older Labour Pacifist tradition that Corbyn is steeped in. Despite some notable personal bravery in World War One and in the fight against nuclear weapons, this tradition rejects class struggle or anti-fascist struggle, in favour of impotent, pacifist saintliness.
So this meant even when Corbyn was making the better internationalist arguments against this specific bombing campaign, people knew his and the Stop The War/SWP (etc) left’s record with regard to groups like Daesh is poor.
We should be plain with people on the left that this debate should have been won. The right could play on peoples desire to do something to oppose Daesh and the better suggestions of the left to do this (support / arm the Kurds, end Assad’s bombing, stop the alliances with Turkey and Saudi) were not credible given the left’s history and the nature of some of our ‘comrades’ on the left opposition to bombing.
See also: Comrade Coatsey on the same subject, here
Statement issued today by the Alliance for Workers Liberty:
The House of Commons will shortly vote on proposals to extend UK air strikes to Syria. As Jeremy Corbyn has given Labour MPs a free vote, Cameron is likely to have a majority for extending the bombing.
The government says the renewed military campaign, now including UK, US, France, Turkey and the Gulf States, will be aimed at pushing back Daesh (Islamic State). But it is unlikely to make a decisive impact on Daesh’s position. It is more likely to perpetuate the current stalemate between all the military-political forces in Syria. That is, in fact, the preferred option of the military-political alliance the UK is joining. They want containment of the conflict until a deal on the future of Syria can be agreed.
At the very best the bombing may push back Daesh… in favour of some other Sunni-sectarian Islamist militia. 14 years of US bombing in Afghanistan have left the Taliban and jihadi-terrorism more widely stronger, not weaker, than at the end of 2001.
Cameron’s stance is political, not humanitarian. This is not an attempt to secure security for the ordinary people affected by Daesh’s recent atrocities in Paris or Beirut or over Sinai. It will not create peace in Syria or stem to the flow of refugees fleeing that country. There is no plan to destroy Daesh or end the Syrian civil war.
Cameron wants to look like a statesman in the eyes of the UK’s allies, and have a seat in US world-policy circles.
Meanwhile the Russian state continues to pursue its own political aims, bombing targets in Syria that are of most threat to the Assad regime. That regime has killed and displaced more people in Syria than any other single force fighting there. The primary target of Russian bombing is groups under the “Free Syrian Army”, the same forces which the US, France et al now refer to.
David Cameron claims there are 70,000 FSA fighters in Syria ready to be mobilised in a fight against Daesh. In fact the FSA is only an umbrella term for various forms of political Islamist, from relatively moderate to more hard line. Their main concern is to fight Assad, not Daesh. They are often intensely Sunni-sectarian. They offer no hope of a progressive outcome. Socialists cannot support them and, in fact, the US and UK and France have no plans to endorse them either.
Corbyn’s decision to allow Labour MPs to have a free vote is a big political mistake and will neither heal the deep divisions in the Parliamentary Labour Party nor close the gulf between Labour members, who are mostly against bombing in Syria, and the PLP. In fact it will galvanise Corbyn’s enemies.
We support Jeremy Corbyn and others in the Labour Party and labour movement in their opposition to the bombing and regret they haven’t been strong enough to make the Labour MPs stick by the Labour conference decision against bombing.
In doing so we in no way follow the pro-Assad and phoney anti-imperialist line of the Stop the War Coalition, who have continually refused to condemn the murderous regime of Assad. That regime has killed and displaced millions of people within Syria and caused millions more to flee the country. Our opposition to Western bombing endorses neither Assad nor his allies in Lebanon, Russia and Iran.
The Syrian Solidarity Campaign has rightly criticised the Stop the War Coalition saying, “If Stop the War’s slogan ‘Don’t bomb Syria’ is to have any meaning, let them demand the end of the regime whose bombs have killed so many.
“If Stop the War oppose imperialism let them demonstrate their sincerity outside the Russian Embassy. Let them demonstrate with placards calling for Russia to stop bombing Syrian hospitals.”
Unfortunately the SSC downplay the number of people killed by Daesh and other Islamist forces. Mass graves have been found in the wake of Daesh. They may not have killed hundreds of thousands, as Assad has, but they have butchered many more than we yet know about.
We reject the notion that Islamist-inspired terrorist attacks in France or against Russia, are “blowback” against military action.
Daesh’s actions are not rooted in a knee-jerk response to western imperialism. Daesh has its own interpretation of and programme for the world. It is a far right political-religious movement, and we are fundamentally opposed to it, just as we are to every other far right and fascistic movement. It is in fact Eurocentric to characterise the actions of Daesh in Paris, Beirut and Sinai as just reactions to the foreign policy of the European powers or the USA.
We do not oppose the bombing of Syria because it will make people in “Britain less safe” (i.e. “provoke” Daesh into further atrocities as many on the left we argue), but because the bombing is fundamentally not aimed towards an end to the ongoing and vicious sectarian conflict, and will not bring that end closer. It will serve only to keep the UK, France, and the USA “in the game” — a bloody and reactionary game.
Solidarity with the Kurds!
After the Gulf states, the US and UK’s strongest ally in the region is Turkey.
Turkey has the deepest involvement with some of the anti-Assad forces, including the Al Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra and Daesh itself. Much of Daesh’s oil is transported out of Syria via Turkey.
Turkey is also engaged in fighting the force most able to push back Daesh and Assad in the Kurdish areas of northern Syria — the Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG). These Kurdish forces represent a predominantly secular and largely non-sectarian force in the bloodbath of Syria.
While the Kurds have come under sustained attack from Daesh, Turkey has intervened directly against the Kurds, including attacking YPG supporters and affiliates in Northern Iraq, closing the border to Kurds wishing to join the fighting, repressing Kurdish activists within Turkey.
The UK government’s response to Turkey, its NATO ally, has been to tolerate repression.
The FSA has also taken an Arab chauvinist position against the Kurds, for example excluding them from negotiation.
While not endorsing the politics of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK, the group behind the YPG), we unequivocally back the right of the Kurds to military aid and assistance including their demand for arms.
• They should be able to accept military aid from wherever it can be obtained in order to secure their fight against Daesh, Assad and where necessary the Turkish state.
• The PKK should be removed from the EU and US lists of terrorist organisations.
• If the Kurds demand a “no-fly”, or more accurately a “no-bombing” zone, in order to improve their military position, — an option which is unlikely to be included in the current plans of major imperialist powers, as long as Turkey is hostile to the Kurds — we should not oppose this as we would big-power bombing.
What follows is a statement drawn up by myself. It is based in part upon the AWL’s statement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have not discussed it or “cleared” it with anyone. Critical comments are welcome -JD:
To massacre ordinary workers enjoying a drink, a meal, a concert or a sporting event after work, is a crime against humanity, full stop.
What cause could the Islamist killers have been serving when they massacred 130 or more people in Paris? Not “anti-imperialism” in any rational sense — whatever some people on sections of the left have argued in the past — but only rage against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents. Only on the basis of an utterly dehumanised, backward looking world-view could they have planned and carried out such a massacre. Such people are enemies for the working class and the labour movement at least as much as the capitalist ruling class – In fact, more so.
Modern capitalism includes profiteering, exploitation, and imperialism, but it also includes the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism out of it.
Lenin, the great Marxist advocate of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, long ago drew a dividing line between that socialist struggle and reactionary movements such as (in his day) “pan-Islamism” [in our day, Islamism]: “Imperialism is as much our mortal enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism.”
We, the socialists, cannot bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved. What we can do is analyse the conditions that gave rise to the atrocity; see how they can be changed; and keep clear critical understanding of the way that governments will respond. This must not be mistaken for any kind of attempt to excuse or minimise this barbarity or to use simplistic “blowback” arguments to suggest that it is simply a reaction to the crimes of “the west” or “imperialism.”
Immediately, the Paris massacre is not only a human disaster for the victims, their friends and families, but also a political disaster for all Muslims, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe. The backlash against this Islamic-fundamentalist atrocity will inevitably provoke anti-refugee feeling and legislation, attacks on civil liberties and hostility towards all people perceived as “Muslims” in Europe: that, quite likely, was at least one of the intentions of the killers. The neo-fascists of Marine LePen’s Front National seem likely to make electoral gains as a result of this outrage.
The present chaos in the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic fascists of ISIS, and their inhuman, nihilist-cum-religious fundamentalist ideology.
Throughout the Middle East, the rational use of the region’s huge oil wealth, to enable a good life for all rather than to bloat some and taunt others, is the socialist precondition for undercutting the Islamic reactionaries.
In Afghanistan, an economically-underdeveloped, mostly rural society was thrust into turmoil in the late 1970s. The PDP, a military-based party linked to the USSR, tried to modernise, with measures such as land reform and some equality for women, but from above, bureaucratically. Islamists became the ideologues of a landlord-led mass revolt.
In December 1979, seeing the PDP regime about to collapse, the USSR invaded. It spent eight years trying to subdue the peoples of Afghanistan with napalm and helicopter gunships. It was the USSR’s Vietnam.
The USSR’s war had the same sort of regressive effect on society in Afghanistan as the USA’s attempt to bomb Cambodia “back into the Stone Age”, as part of its war against the Vietnamese Stalinists, had on that country. In Cambodia the result was the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge, which tried to empty the cities and abolish money; in Afghanistan, it has been the Islamic-fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. In Iraq the West’s bungled attempts to clear out first Saddam’s fascistic regime and then various Islamist reactionaries, and introduce bourgeois democracy from above, have been instrumental in creating ISIS.
Western governments will now make a show of retaliation and retribution. They will not and cannot mend the conditions that gave rise to this atrocity, conditions which they themselves (together with their Arab ruling class allies) helped to shape. Ordinary working people who live in war-torn states and regions will, as ever, be the victims.
Civil rights will come under attack and the efforts of the European Union to establish a relatively humane response to the refugee crisis will be set back and, quite possibly, destroyed.
These blows at civil rights will do far more to hamper the labour movement, the only force which can remake the world so as to end such atrocities, than to stop the killers.
Public opinion will lurch towards xenophobia. Basic democratic truths must be recalled: not all Middle Eastern people are Muslims, most Muslims are not Islamic fundamentalists, most of those who are Islamic-fundamentalist in their religious views do not support Islamic fundamentalist militarism. To seek collective punishment against Muslims or Arabs, or anyone else, is wrong and inhuman.
The first, and still the most-suffering, victims of Islamic fundamentalist militarism are the people, mostly Muslim, of the countries and regions where the lslamists are powerful.
The only way to defeat the Islamists is by the action of the working class and the labour movement in such countries, aided by our solidarity.
Refugees seeking asylum in Europe do not in any way share blame for this massacre. In fact, many of them are refugees because they are fleeing Islamic-fundamentalist governments and forces like ISIS. To increase the squeeze on already-wretched refugees would be macabre and perverse “revenge”.
We must remake the world. We must remake it on the basis of the solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality which are as much part of human nature as the rage, hatred and despair which must have motivated the Paris mass-murderers.
We must create social structures which nurture solidarity, democracy and equality, in place of those which drive towards exploitation, cut-throat competition and acquisitiveness and a spirit of everything-for-profit.
The organised working class, the labour movement, embodies the core and the active force of the drive for solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality within present-day society. It embodies it more or less consistently, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far we have been able to mobilise ourselves, assert ourselves, broaden our ranks, and emancipate ourselves from the capitalist society around us.
Our job, as socialists, is to maximise the self-mobilisation, self-assertion, broadening and self-emancipation of the organised working class.
We must support the heroic Kurdish forces who are fighting and defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, opposed by the Turkish government. We must demand that our government – and all western governments – support the Kurds with weapons and, if requested, military backup: but we will oppose all moves by the governments of the big powers to make spectacular retaliation or to restrict civil rights or target minorities or refugees.
Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
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