Aug 05 2002

Northern Ireland – Is the peace process under threat? No, but the working class is!

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:36 pm

Reprinted from Class Struggle Jul/Aug 2002 (bi-monthly – Workers’ Fight – Britain)

In Mid-May, almost exactly one year after the Catholic Holy Cross girls’ school in North Belfast’s Ardoyne was singled out as a target by UDAUFF gangs, the mostly Catholic Short Strand area, in East Belfast, came under attack from the UVF. This time, the loyalists’ objective was crystal clear. It had nothing to do with protecting sectarian boundaries from alleged threats (the pretext used by the UDA last year in North Belfast). In this case, the UVF wanted to demonstrate its determination to drive the 3,000 or so inhabitants of this Catholic enclave out of the predominantly Protestant East Belfast. It began with pipe bomb attacks against houses. Residents were pelted with stones, tiles and all sorts of other objects. Neighbouring shops, GP surgeries, pharmacies, post offices, etc.. were declared no-go areas for Catholics and loyalists thugs used threats and physical force to enforce the ban. Then, at the beginning of June, the queen’s jubilee provided the UVF with a pretext for escalation. They staged a provocation by erecting flags outside the local Catholic church, leading to violent confrontations in the neighbouring streets. A large loyalist contingent invaded the area and went on the rampage, attempting to burn down houses. Several Catholic households were left with no choice other than to move out of the Short Strand. Many more people, on both sides, were treated for injuries, including some from gun shots. Later on, an unprecedented attack took place against a campus of the mixed Belfast Institute of Higher Education, in which masked loyalist thugs went to search for students living in the Short Strand – although, fortunately, they had to rush out before managing to find one.

The authorities’ response was predictable enough. The PSNI (the rebranded RUC) was sent in together with British soldiers. They did very little to stop the attackers. But as soon as gun shots were heard in the area and unionist politicians started making hysterical noises about the IRA having broken the cease-fire, the residents were immediately subjected to house-to-house searches for weapons – as if being attacked by the UVF was not enough already. Of course, this did not stop the loyalist gangs from coming back again and again during the next days! Ultimately the Executive came up with the same old conflict resolution device invented long ago by the British army – more peace lines. By now, the Short Stand area has been almost totally walled off from the neighbouring Protestant shopping streets, which means misery for its residents. Has it stopped thugs from coming back into the area, as security minister Jane Kennedy claimed it would? No, of course not, and why should it have? With the Short Strand sealed off from the rest of East Belfast, the UVF has won a victory and it can only be expected to try to push its advantage even further.

A return to the loyalists’ turf war

One might wonder why, all of a sudden, the UVF has chosen to single out this Catholic enclave which has been there for so many decades. In fact, this is not the first time at all. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the Short Strand has been the target of systematic attacks by loyalists, like most working class Catholic areas in Belfast, but even more often than most.

Since the beginning of the negotiation process, however, there has been a relative lull, with occasional surges of sectarian attacks, but nothing comparable to the recent events. The UVF, which is the strongest loyalist paramilitary group in the area, was busy consolidating its hold in the new context created by the peace process and the prospect of a political settlement. Its political front, the PUP, was striving to establish itself against the two main unionist parties. PUP figureheads like Billy Hutchinson – a former trade-union official at the Harland and Wolff shipyard, before doing time in jail for paramilitary activities – were using a social democratic language designed to appeal to the working class electorate of the pro-Establishment unionist parties. In a bid to capture votes among the liberal electorate, the PUP even made token antisectarian gestures (like its condemnation of Castlereagh borough council for flying the Orange flag, on the grounds that it was an affront to Roman Catholics and nationalists in the area) and posed as a champion of women’s rights against the reluctance or outright opposition of all other parties (Sinn Fein included) to advocate the extension of the British Abortion Act to Northern Ireland.

To some extent these tactics worked, at least initially. The PUP managed to build a small but not insignificant electorate, winning seven seats in the 1997 local election. Even after Blair tightened the rules for the 1998 Assembly election, by eliminating the top up system which had allowed the ten lists with the highest scores to gain additional seats, the PUP still managed to win two seats in the new Assembly. By contrast, the UDP, the other loyalist party linked to the UDAUFF paramilitaries, which had stuck strictly to its tradition by promoting itself as the voice of loyalism, was squeezed out altogether, after losing half of its votes between the Forum election, in 1996, and the Assembly election, in 1998. Clearly there was no space for a voice of loyalism as long as Paisley’s DUP was there to whip up anti-Catholic prejudices for its own electoral benefit.

The institutional set-up that came out of the Belfast agreement had never been intended for the small players. And the two main unionist parties made sure that their lesser rivals were left high and dry on the doorsteps of the various bodies and quangos controlled by the Executive. With time the loyalists groups came to realise that they would never gain a share of the peace process cake through the ballot box only. This realisation was probably one of the main factors behind the faction fight which broke out within the UDA, resulting in fierce battles in its Shankill stronghold. But the final blow to the UDA‘s institutional expectations came when it only managed to get two councillors elected in last year’s local elections. After that, the UDA‘s physical force faction took the upper hand and the UDP was formally disbanded.

As to the PUP/UVF, it did not suffer quite as badly as its rival in the local elections. But out of the 7 seats it had won in 1997, the PUP only retained the four seats it held in the Belfast area.

Predictably what came next, was a return to the turf war between the two groups for their traditional bases, the poorest Protestant working class ghettos in Belfast. The
UDA‘s offensive in Ardoyne, from June last year onwards, was an attempt to challenge the PUP/UVF in Billy Hutchinson’s own stronghold (he is a councillor in the area and a representative in the Assembly). And the odds are that the UVF‘s present attacks against the Short Strand enclave are aimed at pre-empting a similar challenge by the UDA in an area which is the territory of the PUP president, David Ervine.

The peace process can live with it

If so, one can only expect the territorial fight between the two loyalist groups to escalate in Belfast in the coming period. This means a very real threat for all workers in Belfast. It is a threat for those in the Catholic ghettos, in the first place, because they are bound to be targeted whenever one of the rival loyalist gangs decides to make a show of strength, as in the Short Strand today. It should be remembered that, in the 1970s in particular, it was the overbidding between loyalist groups, and their on-going internal factional fights, which resulted in some of the worst atrocities against Catholics. After all, the so-called Shankill Butchers were not a bunch of psychopaths out of a mad house, but a disgruntled faction of the UDA.

But the territorial fight between loyalists is also a threat for those in the Protestant ghettos, because it is for their estates that the loyalists are fighting, and they do not usually confine themselves to using propaganda with the locals. Their main weapon is and has always been terror, including in Protestant areas. How many people have paid dearly, sometimes with their lives, for their public opposition to the loyalist gangs in these areas? It is no coincidence if the UDA has killed roughly as many Protestants as Catholics since the Belfast agreement. As far as these thugs are concerned, for instance, mixed facilities like sports clubs, students’ residences and workplaces, or even mixed households for that matter, are targets which are just as legitimate as republican homes. Many commentators have speculated lately about the possibility of the peace process surviving in the context of this turf war among loyalists. However such speculation amounts to a hypocritical denial of the real nature of Blair’s peace process. The peace process was never designed to protect the population of Northern Ireland’s poor ghettos against sectarian thuggery, let alone to bridge the sectarian gap created by Britain’s occupation over the centuries. It was designed first and foremost to relieve the British state of the political and economic cost of a civil war which was a burden on its budget and deprived British capital and its partners in Northern Ireland of the profits that could have been made out of this ready-made market and labour pool.

For a long time the attempts made by British governments in this direction failed, partly due to the bigoted determination of the Unionist establishment not to share power with anyone, but mainly due to London’s determination to avoid any accusation of conceding to the IRA. This was a catch-22 situation, because after the explosion of the late 1960s, the British army was impotent against the resistance of the Catholic ghettos and only the Republicans had enough influence over these ghettos to impose on them a settlement on Britain’s terms. In the end, it was the Republican leadership who made enough concessions to be admitted to the negotiations.

Only then did the British state decide to twist the unionist parties’ arm, and even then very gently. Right from the start, the assumption on which the negotiations rested was this was a partnership between two sectarian blocks, with Britain as the game leader, in which the Republicans, with the assistance of the SDLP and the Catholic church, would police the future agreement in the Catholic ghettos while the unionist parties, including the loyalists, would do the same in Protestant areas. By implication the population of Northern Ireland was sliced into two sectarian entities and this split was enshrined in the institutions which came out of the Belfast agreement. So for instance, if a member of the Assembly refused to register as either unionist or nationalist, his or her vote would not count for most important decisions.

And how were the protagonists in the Belfast agreement meant to police the agreement among their respective self-proclaimed constituencies? With the same old methods with which they had controlled their territories in the past, of course! Despite all the noises made by British ministers and unionist politicians, the IRA‘s punishment beatings were just as much an implicit part of the settlement as the terror methods of the loyalists. Regardless of their political rivalry with the mainstream unionist parties, the loyalists were expected to serve, as they had always in the past, as convenient auxiliaries for these parties. And this is what they have done so far, by feeding the fears and siege mentality which are so indispensable for the unionist parties to retain their monopoly over the Protestant ghettos. So why would the thuggery of the loyalist gangs endanger the peace process, since it is in fact part of it? Only one thing could put the peace process into question – a decision by the Republicans to pull the plug. But why would they, as long as no serious rival is in a position to overbid them in the Catholic ghettos? Indeed what better perspective is there for Sinn Fein, now that it has succeeded in pushing the SDLP into second place via the ballot box and is enjoying the perks of constitutional politics, with two ministers in the Executive, 108 local council seats and a number of top positions in local government, including the highly-symbolic mayor’s job in Belfast?

Capitalist profit on the rampage

Not only does the peace progress provide a political framework which perpetuates the sectarian divide, it also generates the social ferment on which sectarian hatred feeds. The loyalist gangs would be unable to find recruits, especially among the working class youth, if it was not for the degradation of social conditions in working class estates, which the peace process has done nothing to stop, quite the contrary.

In the run-up to the Belfast Agreement, in 1998, one of the British government’s main arguments to win support for the peace process in Northern Ireland was the promise of a bright and affluent future thanks to what was described as the peace dividend. Of course what was really meant by this was very different depending on the audience which was being addressed. But when Blair addressed a business conference called Investing in peace, in Belfast that year, his view of Northern Ireland’s future was that of some sort of European Singapore – i.e. a low-wage, lowcost, subcontracting economy for Western multinationals. Four years on, despite the economic success story boasted of both by Northern Irish and British ministers, the promised flood of foreign investment has still to materialise. On the other hand, what has already materialised is the low-wage economy that Blair had promised his business audience. As to the peace dividend, it has reached the pockets of a thin layer of rich shareholders and local capitalists. But for most of Northern Ireland’s workers, the only dividend so far is a negative one. According to the Economic Development Forum, a quango which brings together bosses, government officials and union bureaucrats to work out schemes to attract foreign investment, between 1996 and 2001 the province’s manufacturing output increased by 25% in value while its manufacturing exports increased by 109% – and this during a period when a large part of Northern Ireland’s traditional textile and food-processing industries was closing down. In fact, almost all the rise in output and exports is due to just two sectors – cable and aircraft manufacturing – with a very large chunk that is attributable to just one plant, the Canadian-owned Shorts factory in Belfast.

However these rosy figures actually conceal a very different story for the manufacturing workforce. Northern Ireland’s traditional industries, which have now virtually closed down, were mostly labour intensive. But the socalled new growth industries are not. What is more, despite a full order book for executive jets and soaring production, Shorts has been cutting nearly 2,000 jobs over the past six months.

Officially the unemployment count has dropped dramatically since the introduction of the Jobseekers’ Allowance, for much the same reasons as in Britain – people have been shifted onto other benefits, coerced into taking casual low-paid jobs or taken off the dole count for working just a few hours a week. The shift from full-time to part-time employment has rocketed as superstore chains like Tesco and Dunnes were becoming the largest employers. The construction boom generated by soaring housing prices and European funding for business is alleged to have created many jobs. But in fact, it merely provided an opportunity for a whole section of the black economy to surface into legality – and the new jobs offered by these cowboy contractors are neither new nor even real jobs, as many of them carry a self-employed status.

The real content of Northern Ireland’s alleged success story is best summarised by a few facts provided by official statistics. Firstly, Northern Ireland’s ranking in terms of GDP/head among all European Union’s regions has not changed since the beginning of the peace process – it is still in the bottom third of the list, barely better off than the poor Italian island of Sardinia. Second, compared with Britain, earnings per head in Northern Ireland are not going up but down: in 1996, average earnings per head in Northern Ireland were 89.5% that of Britain, but last year they had gone down to 84.5%. But this only reflects the situation for average earnings.

The gap between the top and the bottom of the income ladder has been increasing very fast over the past few years, so that the Northern Ireland working class is a lot worse off, relative to its British counterpart, than is shown by these figures.

A recent academic report commissioned by Trimble’s office gives an idea of the extent of the damage caused by this situation. It shows that a third of the population of Northern Ireland lives in deep poverty – that is in a household whose income is equal to or below 30% of the average income in the province. And out of the population of working age which lives in deep poverty, 26% actually have a full-time job while another 12% work part-time. Of course, the section of the population living in deep poverty is concentrated in the areas of highest unemployment – which are still the old working class ghettos of Belfast and Derry.

What is taking place in Northern Ireland is indeed the entrenchment of a low-wage economy for the benefit of capital in general and British capital in particular. According to some estimates labour costs can be as much as 40% lower in Northern Ireland than in Britain: this is the peace dividend for capital. But for many workers in the province, the peace dividend has turned out to be a drop in living standards if not outright poverty.

Enough of Blair’s cynical hypocrisy!

Like in Britain, time and again Blair has declared war on poverty in Northern Ireland and there are countless schemes with flowery names officially aimed at addressing the problems faced by the poorest section of the population.

The most comprehensive of these schemes was recently denounced in a scathing report by the NICVA, a body which brings together the voluntary organisations operating in the province. This scheme is called Targeting Social Needs, or TSN, and it is a typical example of the cynical hypocrisy displayed by British governments when it comes to dealing with social dereliction in Northern Ireland.

In fact this TSN goes back a long way. It was launched in 1991 by the then Tory Northern Ireland Secretary, Peter Brooke. Its beauty as a government scheme was that it was a non spending programme. It was made up of guidelines which were to be followed by all departments with the view of channelling existing resources towards areas in which urgent needs had been identified. Above all it involved a comprehensive system of monitoring so that hands could occasionally be slapped for failing to target social needs. But of course, as no additional funding was provided (not even for the mountains of paperwork required for the monitoring itself) and budgets were usually too tight, the scheme was bound to be pretty useless. It was a perfect exercise in bureaucratic tokenism.

Nothing changed with Labour’s return to power in 1997. The following year, the Belfast agreement included a commitment to a new more focused social needs targeting initiative. So Blair did what he has done in so many areas: rather than changing the scheme, he relaunched it under a new name – New TSN, of course! The only addition to the scheme was some more monitoring to assess how wellbalanced its implementation was across the sectarian divide. As usual the Labour government embarked on a lengthy consultation exercise, involving a series of conferences, allegedly in order to improve the guidelines. Finally, in 1999, New TSN was relaunched once again, this time with a 268-page document entitled Making it work to back it up. This document included a long series of so-called action plans designed to implement the guidelines. Except that as the NICVA pointed out, this was hot air and rehashed old stuff: although presented as new initiatives, most of these action plans had been started long ago and many had even been completed!

One action plan quoted by the NICVA report gives a measure of the hypocrisy of the whole exercise. It involved taking 5% out of the budget of every school to be redistributed among the poorest. In other words the already inadequate budgets on which all schools are supposed to survive were to be cut without even bothering to assess the actual needs of the poorest schools, nor whether this bureaucratic redistribution did really help them. This sort of tokenistic bureaucracy, purporting to “bridge the gap between communities” at no cost, by taking from hard-up Peter in order to help even poorer Paul, is always useless. But when it is used allegedly to create a level-playing field between Catholic and Protestant areas, it becomes deadly and ends up feeding resentment on both sides. The least badly-off feel that they are being deprived of what little they have by the others, while the worst off get nothing that can help to sort out their problems and blame the former for it. This is how these so-called community policies (which Labour and the new Northern Ireland Executive are so fond of, precisely because they can claim to be doing something at no cost) become a powerful mechanism feeding sectarian hatred in the working class ghettos, especially in the context of public services being increasingly run down everywhere. It is the same kind of tokenistic bureaucracy – that is, plans drafted by the Northern Ireland Executive to provide lodgings, at minimum cost, in neighbouring areas for families on the waiting list in Ardoyne – which was used by the UDA to mobilise support for its attack on the Holy Cross school last year.

But the real cause of the worsening housing problem in Belfast has nothing to do with attempts by Catholics to take over Protestant areas or vice-versa. It is due primarily to Blair’s housing policy, which involves on the one hand pushing housing prices up in order to boost artificially the purchasing power of the home-owning middle class, while, on the other hand, freezing all new construction of social housing and most urgent repairs programmes, in order to save on social expenditure. And, of course, the Executive is party to this attack on the living conditions of the Belfast working class.

Of course, there is still a degree of inequality and discrimination between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The report on poverty quoted above finds for instance that 35% of the Catholic population is in deep poverty, as opposed to 21% among Protestants. And unemployment is still higher in the poorest Catholic areas. But these differences have long been marginal compared to the huge gap between the poor working class ghettos, Catholic and Protestant, and the increasingly affluent leafy suburbs of Belfast where the local establishment lives. The real enemy is the capitalist class and its politicians who are driving the working class of Northern Ireland, as a whole, into a poverty trap and covering up their policy with the rhetoric of the peace process and the cynical hypocrisy of community policies. And they are not just hypocrites who have nothing but contempt for working people, they are criminals who will stop at nothing to turn the screw of capitalist exploitation – even if it results in two sections of the working class being at each other’s throats.

Fortunately the situation in Northern Ireland has not reached this stage, not yet in any case. But the present developments, with the loyalists’ turf war, must be seen as a serious warning. Many workers, both Catholic and Protestant, are sick and tired of having to live behind the so-called peace lines and being subjected to the bigoted hate-mongering of the paramilitaries, just as they are sick and tired of the bosses’ and politicians’ attacks against their living conditions and of Blair’s cynical ploys. The tragedy, today, is that they have nothing and no-one to turn to.

What is desperately needed is a political voice that expresses the common class interests of all working people and jobless in Northern Ireland, regardless of where they live and without making any excuses based on past antagonisms. The working class represents the future for society because it has the potential to end capitalist exploitation and the profit system. It needs a party that looks towards the future and is determined to defeat all attempts at using the old sectarian divide to split, imprison and paralyse its ranks.

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Aug 05 2002

Republicans ‘celebrate’ the jubilee

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:31 pm

Allan Armstrong reports on how republicans around the UK expressed their disloyalty to the Crown

So how did the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations go from a republican perspective? A quick survey of the three and a bit nations making up the UK shows quite a wide variation in response. Undoubtedly the best protest and republican celebration took place in Wales. Cymru Goch, the Welsh socialist republicans, took the lead in this. We provide a report from their paper, Y Faner Goch, of their Festival and the arrest, charging and acquittal of Tim Richards.

Perhaps the biggest surprise though was the lack of response in the Republican heartland of Northern Ireland. The Queen even ventured into County Tyrone, something that would have been unthinkable in 1977, the year of the Silver Jubilee (see John McAnulty’s report in E&L 2). Leading Irish republican, Danny Morrison, spoke at the Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh on the 19th May and entertained us with an account of events in Belfast in 1977. However, when asked what sort of protest should be organised this year, he thought the Queen’s visit should be ignored!

This sort of attitude from the official (for surely, with all the official recognition they get, they can no longer be considered provisional) Republican Movement prompted Fourthwrite contributor, Patricia Campbell, to ask why? After all, the Queen’s union flag adoring supporters came out to catch a glance and greet her. All the ‘Establishment’ parties participated in the festivities (but) Sinn Fein stayed silent, which was considerably different with their stance on her last jubilee visit. Was it a matter of ‘silence giving consent’? Or was it that in true imperialist fashion the ruling classes have extended privilege to enough natives to ensure their easy passage through the territory?

On Sinn Fein’s road to constitutional respectability a lot of republican baggage has had to be dropped. If there had been any unseemly protests, would Alex Maskey have been elected Lord Mayor of Belfast? Following a certain inexorable logic, Alex Maskey, laid a wreath on the British First World War memorial in Belfast during the summer – hardly the tradition of James Connolly! This prompted an interesting correspondence in the pages of An Phoblacht. But what are the political implications of all this? Do Republican leaders now believe that openly asserting their republicanism might be seen as sectarianism by loyalists. And do they believe they show they aren’t sectarian by joining in the Unionists’ imperialist commemorations. It is a sad day when the British state has managed to persuade Republicans they are indeed just one of two warring tribes!

Unfortunately, loyalists don’t respond favourably to such concessions. They took the Jubilee as an occasion to celebrate in the style they know best. The UVF launched its pogrom on the small nationalist enclave of the Short Strand in east Belfast (see Northern Ireland – Is the peace process under threat?) Despite Scotland’s own republican tradition, tentatively beginning with the Cameronians, taken up enthusiastically by the United Scotsmen, the Chartists and of course, John Maclean, there remain many, including leading SSP members, who see the R word as Irish, not Scottish. When the Republican Communist Network called for a republican protest against the Queen’s visit, at the SSP’s Dundee AGM, ISM and CWI speakers decried the use of the word republican. Instead we had a Citizens not Subjects party on Glasgow Green on June 3rd. Keef Tompkinson (ISM), the SSP youth organiser, didn’t take kindly to the RCN criticisms of the political limitations of this event. He protested in the SSP electronic debate. After all 350 turned up for an afternoon in the one-time empire’s second city. Yes, there were nasty letters in the press, but the Scottish establishment didn’t feel challenged. Quite different from the response to the 300 who turned up to Cymru Goch’s whole weekend event in the small Welsh town of Pontypridd.

But Scotland did see a bigger republican demonstration on June 8th in Edinburgh, where several hundred marched (see our front cover). Only this was organised by the James Connolly Society. However, they too were operating under a self-denying ordinance on the jubilee, only one imposed by the Irish Republican Movement, so there was no anti-monarchy protest, despite it being an enthusiastic and successful event (with solidarity for Palestine much in evidence). However, as in east Belfast, this sidelining of antimonarchism didn’t stop an attempted loyalist (and BNP) disruption.

Now, whilst Scotland has its own distinctive republican tradition, this has always linked itself in solidarity with Irish and English republicanism. The SSP is beginning to make some hesitant steps towards republicanism. The last time the RCN raised the issue of the parliamentary oath before the first Scottish Parliament elections, the idea of refusal to swear was poo-pooed. Tommy said he would take the oath with his hands behind his back.

In the event, he made a much more defiant and publicity-making gesture with a clenched fist. At our Dundee conference this year, Tommy even used the dreaded R word three times. And he held a very good, impromptu Citizens not Subjects street meeting, attended by 100, when the Scottish Parliament went on tour to Aberdeen. This got good TV coverage. In Pontypridd Alan McCombes has even stated he supports a Scottish Socialist Republic. It could have been more helpful at the SSP’s Dundee conference, where many of his ISM comrades haven’t yet got the message!

The SSP is expected to do even better in next year’s Scottish parliamentary elections than in 1999. Clenched fist salutes won’t have the same impact the second time round. It is time for all our MSP candidates to openly declare they won’t be taking any loyal oath and to defy any attempt to remove them from the parliament. It is also time to bring the SNP and Labour’s hidden republicans out of the closet. And we can raise the SSP profile even more.

As well as standing for MSP’s on the average wage, we need to have MSP’s who publicly declare their loyalty to the people (who elect them).


Aug 05 2002

Which route for political, working class unity in Britain?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:24 pm

We are publishing the statement by Cymru Goch because it highlights some of the problems hampering the struggle for working class unity in Britain. Bob Goupillot outlines his personal reflections on these problems and suggests a possible way forward.

My view is that all individual socialists and socialist organisations should be inside the
SSP or the Socialist Alliances in England and Wales. As a member of the Republican Communist Platform within the SSP, I know how difficult it can be to operate as a minority faction inside a much larger organisation. It takes discipline and a clear eye on the strategic goal of working class unity. Hence, I believe that Cymru Goch should have stayed inside the Welsh Socialist Alliance, despite the frustrations that they have experienced. This is even more important given that Cymru Goch had taken a superb initiative in organising the best republican response to the Windsor jubilee in these islands. (This was a three day Stuff the Monarchy festival in Pontypridd, which was opened by a speech from Alan McCombes of the SSP.) This has given them a platform to challenge the opportunism of the SWP within the Welsh Socialist Alliance.

The Socialist Workers Party

At present the creation of a single, united, all-Britain working class party appears to be an unlikely prospect. The Socialist Alliances in England and Wales seem weak and disorganised. This is illustrated by some shocking by-election results and anecdotal evidence from Labour lefts in England and Wales who appear to be only vaguely aware of the SA’s existence. Even worse, the SWP, the largest organisation in the Sas, seems unwilling or unable to commit itself to seriously building the SAs or produce a strategy for class unity. Their characterisation of the Socialist Alliance as a united front of a special kind is a block to building a serious working class party (or parties). This is because it sees itself as already being The Party. It is just that the rest of us are too blind to see it.

In Scotland, with the already existing Scottish Socialist Party as an established political fact, such a claim is not credible. Here the SWP has evolved into a platform that never counter poses the independent socialist Scotland programmatic commitment of the
SSP with its own belief in organising on a British basis. As the largest socialist organisation in Britain, the SWP needs to recognise its responsibilities, stop its opportunism and explain to the wider working class (and I suspect its own members) where it stands on the national question and working class unity.

The Socialist Party

The Socialist Party of England and Wales has left the Socialist Alliances in England even though their co-thinkers, the CWI (Scotland), have remained in the SSP. The Socialist Party needs to bite the bullet and rejoin the SAs. A truly class conscious organisation would recognise this as a necessity. Blaming the SWP for everything is not a strategy for taking the class forward. If the SP did rejoin and proved itself serious about building the Socialist Alliances, this would be the strongest political challenge to the SWP that they could mount. Potentially it could win for them the leadership of the class conscious workers. They could repeatedly challenge the SWP on the grounds of Are you serious about working class unity? What’s your strategy? Of course, in order to pose these questions effectively they would have to produce credible answers of their own.

The Scottish Socialist Party

Inside the SSP, we have policies that trumpet our internationalism and we send representatives to conferences on European socialist unity. However, it is difficult to raise the issue of bringing about closer unity with comrades in England, Wales or Ireland. We have no concrete proposals for improving cooperation with socialists in England, Wales or Ireland and hence helping to unite the working class of these islands. There is simply an absence, a gap. Most, negative, responses refer to the weakness of the Socialist Alliances. However, the weakness of the
SAs makes it even more important that the
SSP, currently representing the most organised section of the working class in Britain, gives a lead in promoting unity amongst the working class. Given that the SSP is much further developed than the
SAs and, more importantly, has years of experience of making left unity work, I think that we have a political responsibility to aid pro-unity groupings out with Scotland. It seems to me that there are only three routes to political unity amongst the working class of Britain.

These are:

  1. (A single united party for all socialists in England, Scotland and Wales.
  2. A single party with a federal make-up based on separate sections based in Scotland, England and Wales with the SSP being the Scottish section.
  3. The creation of separate parties in Scotland, England and Wales (or England plus Wales). These separate parties would then need to work together as closely as possible. I will use the term Confederation to describe this structure to distinguish it from the tighter, federal structure of option 2.

Under this scenario, overtures could be made to pro-unity groups in Ireland. [I support all-Ireland Alliances, not those that accept partition. There are opportunities opening on the left, as the Good Friday Agreement and government/employer/trade union partnership deals fail to deliver for the working class and Sinn Fein continues to move to the right.] This Confederation would in turn seek to be part of a wider European and ultimately worldwide Socialist grouping.

Those who declare that they are for the unity of the working class yet reject the single party options, 1 & 2 must, if they wish to remain credible, produce a strategy based on option 3. Those who argue against an all-Britain party must come up with an alternative, practical proposal/plan/strategy. An abstract phrase like through struggle (particularly in the absence of major struggles) will not suffice To comrades in the SSP and the leadership in particular, I would say, let’s be more ambitious and less parochial. We need to be outward looking, even a bit evangelical. Most working class people instinctively strive for class unity. It is that emotion and thought that we need to connect with. There have always been sectarians and narrow nationalists and part of our role will be to expose them by our non-sectarian, internationalist practice. We do not have forever. Let’s have confidence in our experience and ourselves and get on with it. Remember borders are man-made constructs; let’s not turn them into insurmountable barriers.

I think that the following suggestions would move the whole process forward:

  1. That the SSP publicly declares, as one of its aims, that it will aid Socialist Unity in England, Wales and Ireland and to have a real debate within the SSP on how to do it.
  2. That the SSP, whether in the form of branches, platforms or individuals, makes every attempt to communicate directly with SA members down south, much as we did during the Poll Tax, when again Scotland was in the lead. Again using the experience of the Poll Tax, SSP branches could twin with SA branches and build up personal and political relationships.
  3. The SSP should take a lead in organising a conference of all those individuals and organisations that believe that building
    SSP – type parties in England, Wales and Ireland would be a step forward.

The important strategic goal is to bring about effective working class unity. The question of whether this is brought about by an all-Britain Party or cooperation between nationally based SSP type parties is a tactical one i.e. It depends on the circumstances in which we find ourselves and is not, repeat not, one of principle. At this point in history, I am not in favour of raising the slogan of an all- Britain party within the SSP. Our role is to help comrades down south and in Ireland to come together and then let us take it from there. Comrades, lets have a mature discussion without falling into the Brit left/Unionist vs nationalist slanging match (again). The rise of the BNP, Le Pen and the Anti-Agreement loyalist LVF/UDA shows that we have a responsibility to reflect soberly on the way forward. Without a credible and united Left the radical Right looks attractive to those desperate for change and those desperate to avoid change.

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Aug 04 2002

Cymru Goch’s Resignation Letter

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 2:01 pm

To Julian Goss, Welsh Socialist Alliance Secretary

Despite being a founder member of the Welsh Socialist Alliance, Cymru Goch will not be re-affiliating to the WSA for a number of reasons.

Firstly, the WSA has failed to develop as an alliance in terms of attracting non-aligned members who put the alliance before party affiliation. For the first four years of the WSA, Cymru Goch put the alliance first in terms of our priorities and have consistently pushed for a deeper, broader alliance to bring together the left in Wales. We have always supported calls to become a party on the Scottish model – one that united the majority of the Welsh left – but this has been resisted by others for what we feel are narrow, sectarian reasons. An opportunity has been missed.

Secondly, it remains little more than an electoral flag of convenience. The SWP, which is the largest grouping in the WSA, has been content to use the WSA for electoral purposes (alongside other front organisations, such as the Anti-Nazi League and Globalise Resistance), while neglecting to do the long – term local campaigning necessary to build a credible electoral force. Electoral results in the UK general election and subsequent by-elections demonstrate the importance of having a base in Welsh working class communities.

Thirdly, it has failed to understand the need for an independent socialist Wales. Any alliance has to involve compromises and we compromised on this issue, but we are unable to compromise our socialist republicanism indefinitely. We feel our politics are out of step with the majority of the present WSA members – in many ways we’re speaking a different language to most other WSA members.

Cymru Goch will therefore not be re-affiliating to the WSA as an organisation.

We will always be ready to work alongside comrades in the WSA on campaigns in a non-sectarian way and would hope to avoid any electoral clashes in the future. Individual Cymru Goch members may choose to continue as WSA members, which we have no problem with, as we are not a centralist organisation. We will continue to work for the maximum unity of the left in Wales to achieve a Welsh socialist republic and a socialist world.

Cymru Goch, May 26 2002

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Aug 04 2002

Successful republican festival and victory at free speech trial

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 1:59 pm

The following report comes for Y Faner Goch, issues no 134 and 135

More than 300 people attended the three day Stuff the Monarchy festival organised by Cymru Goch in Pontypridd’s Clwb y Bont over the Jubilee bank holiday. Those attending were a broad mix of republican, socialists and greens from across Wales and enjoyed a laid-back variety of debates, videos, music, poetry and drinking.

The event opened with a great speech by Alan McCombes of the Scottish Socialist Party. Alan spoke about the need for a Scottish Socialist Republic in his own country and the way the SSP was advancing that vision. He made it clear both during and after his talk that Welsh socialist republicans would be welcomed in future in Scotland.

The history of Welsh republicanism was explained in two separate sessions by Pedr Lewis and Tim Richards. Pedr outlined the history of the Welsh Republican Movement in the late 1940s and 1950s in a session that delighted many younger comrades and drew praise from IRSP speaker Terry Harkins.

The one notable absentee was Simon Brooks of Cymuned. He pulled out after the Welsh Mirror highlighted the fact that he was sharing a platform with an Irish republican socialist – which in the Mirror’s warped logic became the British leader of the INLA!

However, prominent Valleys socialist republican and member of Cymru Goch, Tim Richards, had his house raided and was charged before being given bail on condition he was banned from Trehafod where the Queen was going to visit! Tim went on to explain the reasons behind this.

Let’s not forget all police officers swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen and we were slagging off the monarchy. I think they were looking for an excuse to criminalise Welsh socialist republicans. The Special Branch is essentially political and its role is to monitor dissent, particularly socialists, greens, anarchists, anti-capitalists, etc. In my case they went one step further by trying to trump up a charge against me for political reasons but it has backfired badly on them.

The support has been great. My first worry was that it might affect my job, but support from my colleagues (Tim is an FE lecturer) has been 100%. In Abertridwr (Tim’s home village), once again the support has been magnificent and it has to be said that the political support has been surprisingly wide. One of the first people to support me was Dafydd Iwan and Welsh Assembly Members from Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Liberal-Democrats, anarchists, greens and so on have been marvellous. It shows that while not everyone might agree with my republican views they feel the police vendetta is a massive overreaction.

It is an interesting reflection on what the establishment perceives as a threat. Unfortunately, they feel quite secure against socialist politics, but less so when it comes to Welsh republicanism. The English establishment are not used to having their Queen criticised by us Welsh peasants. Cymru Goch led the anti-Jubilee protests in the UK and that was not to be tolerated.

The wider implications are that we are going through a dark period in civil liberties. Even before September 11th, New Labour had shown itself as an authoritarian party more interested in law and order than justice. Tony Blair’s government is holding a number of Moslems in prison without trial and has already deported people without any legal justification. Internment is a direct attack on the civil liberties of all of s.

When Tim’s case finally came to Merthyr Tydfil Crown Court, it was revealed that two undercover police officers had attended Cymru Goch’s Stuff the Monarchy festival posing as would-be demonstrators. Socialists and republicans rallied in support of Tim with large noisy pickets outside the court hearing. There was also a positive outcome with excellent public meetings in both Pontypridd and Wrecsam on the arrest and its wider implications for free speeech in the wake of the war against terrorism.

After the case was dismissed, Tim said, I am relieved that this farcical case has been dropped, but I am angry that it should have happened in the first place.

In addition the success of the Pontypridd republican festival has prompted Cymru Goch to make it an annual event for the Mayday weekend.


Aug 04 2002

Colombia, the IRA, US and Manifest Destiny

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 1:38 pm

Matt Siegfried, a socialist and trade unionist activist from Detroit, looks at the implications for the US government’s Plan Colombia

This article first appeared in Fourthwrite No. 10, Summer 2002.

The ruling class of the United States has long viewed everything south of the Rio Grande as its exclusive domain. The United States became a capitalist power based on the genocidal clearing of North America of its native inhabitants coupled with chattel slavery and culling of the huge natural resources existing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It became an imperialist power on the backs of Latin American workers and peasants as well as the wholesale theft of everything from the fruit that hung from the trees to the oil and metals that lay below them. Generations before the US became the global power it is today US marines were enforcing the rule of US corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The justifications have changed, but the relationship has remained the same.

Several recent events have brought the social crises now enveloping many parts of Latin America and the US’s role in them to the attention of the world. The orchestration of the, thankfully failed, coup in Venezuela to the US backed institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, impoverishing dictates to Argentina are examples of what living under the power of the Good Neighbour to the north means to the people of South America. Nowhere is that power more destructive in this hemisphere than currently in Colombia. The US government’s Plan Colombia provides for a massive infusion of money, weapons and training to a regime that presides over one of the most murderous places on earth.

Pax Americana

The target of this Plan is not simply the guerrillas of the ELN or the FARC. Its aim is nothing less than to pacify a continent reeling from global capitalism’s neo-liberal assault begun with the NAFTA and extended south through the machinations of the, as yet unfinished, FTAA. The reasoning for this intervention was first presented in the context of the US government’s War on Drugs begun in the 80’s. Never mind the fact that drug production in the Andean countries of South America is based on the unending appetite of the North American consumer. Never mind that US institutions like the CIA created drug markets, especially of crack cocaine, in impoverished American cities to fund right-wing paramilitaries and dictatorial juntas deemed essential to the Cold War struggle against popular movements in Latin America, bypassing restrictions implemented by Congress. From the Opium Wars of a hundred years ago to the Contra war against Nicaragua and the Prison Industrial Complex of the last decades, imperialism has always viewed the drug trade as a potential tool in its arsenal of subjugation whether as its purveyor or it opponent.

Now, with a new name, the unending war by the United States against the people of Latin America is heating up in Colombia. The FARC especially, but also the ELN, operate in large swathes of the Colombian countryside effectively putting those areas outside of the control of North America and the Colombian government. Whatever one can say about the politics of the FARC and the conduct of its war, they act as an obstacle to the regime of Pax Americana in Latin America, and indeed, the world. The United States will simply not allow a situation to continue where it’s rule is in question, all resistance must be confronted so as to make any resistance seem futile.

Let us briefly present what the US wishes to defend in Colombia through its $1.5 billion support to the Colombian government this year alone. [Sources on all statistics from the CIA Sourcebook and the Canada Colombia Solidarity Campaign] Unemployment was 20.5 percent officially in 2000 and has undoubtedly grown with the world wide economic recession. UNICEF reports that over 1 million abandoned children live rough on the streets of Colombian cities and that, as of 2000, 12 children are murdered every 24 hours by gangs contracted by local merchants who view these children as nothing but pests. The per capita income according to Colombian government statistics was just under US$2,000 a year in 2001. By 1999 22.7 million of Colombia’s 36 million people were living in dire poverty. 50% of all Colombian exports come to the United States and 35% of all imports into Colombia come from the United States for a trade of about US$28 billion annually. This combined with a debt of, in 2000, US$34 billion owed mainly to American banks and financial institutions as well as the private US investment of nearly US$6 billion in 2001 speaks volumes about American interests in Colombia.

Protecting huge profits

To protect the huge profits the US extracts from Colombia a reign of terror has been unleashed on the Colombian people. Nearly half of all trade unionists killed every year in the world are Colombian, 112 in 2000 alone. 2.1 million people are internally displaced, only Afghanistan and Palestine have larger refugee populations. The death squads of the AUC are responsible for the deaths of 76% of all those civilians killed in the last 3 years, amounting to over 14,000 noncombatants killed (10 times the number of combatants killed). Rape as a tool of repression by both the AUC and the Colombian military has been widely reported, and though no reliable statistics can be found it is estimated that the AUC has grown by 70% since 1999, the year US military support to the Colombian government began in earnest. The Colombian military and the AUC, far from being opponents, have an organic relationship – they both serve the same master. The Colombian ranchers and capitalists and the American ruling class need both the legal military and the extra-legal death squads. Any talk of separating the two is a shell game and the responsibility for the atrocities committed by the AUC lie squarely at the feet of the US and Colombian governments. Of course the FARC and ELN have committed, not just mistakes, but serious crimes and should be held accountable by the Colombian people for their actions, but to make a moral equivalent of the violence of the oppressed with that of the oppressor makes a mockery of justice. As the statistics above should make clear joining the guerrillas in many parts of Colombia is, regardless of the specific actions of the FARC and the ELN, seen by many as a decision based on the legitimate need of self defence.

Last summer three men were arrested in Colombia by the government and accused of being members of the IRA training the FARC in the use of mortars and explosives. The 3 men have been held for nearly a year in a prison where violence is notorious and in urgent need of protection from the AUC, which has stated its desireto kill the three, as well as any internationals coming to Colombia in order to show solidarity with those in struggle with the regime or those who suffer as a result of the war. This includes human rights delegations, trade unionists, environmental activists and aid agencies. No evidence has been presented that would pass muster in any legitimate court in America or Europe to prove the guilt of the three, but evidence is not needed to use them as a political tool. The Colombian government has paraded them before cameras to prove that the intentions of the FARC are warlike and opposed to negotiation. The Unionists (Peter King of the DUP was elicited by the Colombian government as an expert advisor) and some British officials are using the three’s capture to show that the IRA have broken their cease-fire, are still involved in terrorism, should be barred from Stormont and the Good Friday Agreement renegotiated without any but the most pliant nationalists. The Southern Irish ruling class has used their arrest in an attempt to stymie the electoral rise of Sinn Fein in the South. With howls about democracy prohibiting political parties from being connected to armed groups. Pretty rich when you consider the history of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to say nothing of those same parties current connection to the Irish Army and the Gardai (as far as I know both of those groups are still armed) as well as the Irish government as a whole’s new relationship with NATO (another rather well armed group) with the Partnership for Peace.

Expanding the War on Terrorism

So what then was the agenda of the US Congress when they opened highly public hearings into the relationship between the IRA and the FARC? It is hard to imagine the reasoning of the US Congress in the context of the Peace Process in Ireland. Why, after the long road of bringing Sinn Fein into bourgeois legitimacy through a process where Sinn Fein and the Provisionals shed nearly every principle which put them in conflict with imperialism that the US government would want now to make them illegitimate? Sinn Fein’s acceptance of British rule and the Unionist veto in Ireland are the lynch pin upon which the Good Friday Agreement is predicated.

Since September 11th and the beginnings of the War on Terrorism the United States has been seeking to expand the targets of that war beyond that of Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. The US has long been looking down the barrel of the gun at the FARC and insurgency in general in Colombia and Latin America. They have known that, on its own, the Colombian government is incapable of re-conquering the country and that public opinion in the US has long been opposed to sending troops to Latin America. In the aftermath of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dirty Wars in Brazil, Argentina and Chile even the notoriously ill informed US public has turned against many of the most brutal policies employed by the US government south of the Rio Grande. It is in this context that the US seeks to make Colombia another front in its War on Terrorism, but clearly there is no tie organizationally or politically between Al Qaeda and the FARC. The United States is attempting to portray Colombia (at least where the FARC operate) as Afghanistan and the FARC as the Taliban to legitimize the continued and intensifying war on the Colombian people.

The three unlucky Irishmen are a convenient tool in this endeavour. Colombia is now as dangerous to world peace as Afghanistan and if you want proof we will concoct enough evidence to prove that not only the IRA, but ETA, Cuba, even Iranian and Zimbabwean terrorists are training there. From their bases in Colombia these internationals terrorists, who on the surface seem to have nothing in common, will return to their countries to fly planes into building just for the sake of it. Truly a Terrorist International to be frightened of! If the consequences of US threats weren’t so deadly real it would be laughable. The fact that the War on Terrorism is so consuming for some policy makers in the US that they would consciously undermine other foreign policy efforts (and in their terms successes like the Irish peace process) is an indicator where politics is currently at in the United States. After Afghanistan, Iraq. After Iraq, Colombia. After Colombia, another and another.

While this writer would find it difficult to call the IRA criminal, if they were in Colombia to assist in the fighting capacity of the FARC against the thugs of the AUC and Colombian military, we cannot assume that is what they were there for. What we do know is that fundamentally the War against Terrorism is not about terrorism at all. Colombians and the rest of Latin Americans have suffered through the early, and God ordained, Manifest Destiny of the North Americans. They have been cruelly exploited during the Good Neighbour Policy of Franklin Roosevelt that smiled as it stole. Acts of genocide were committed as the barbarous hand of the United States smashed the popular aspirations of the Latin American workers and farmers in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. The War on Drugs reinforced and deepened US control over the continent as use by American consumers, and consequently production in the Andes, continued to prove that even in the heart of rich and democratic America millions sought escape from their own misery through drug use. And now the US is telling the people of the world, and of Colombia, that they are either with the US government or against it, with the ashes of Afghanistan as an example to fear.

The War against Terrorism is a continuation of a never ending war by the wealthy nations against those that have made them wealthy through their exploitation. What horror it will bring to Colombia, and the effect it will have on places like Ireland we are just beginning to see. Whatever they chose to call it, the Latin American masses call it by its right name – Yankee imperialism and they are against it.

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Aug 04 2002

Unfinished Business: 11 September, one year on

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 1:30 pm

Twelve months after the attacks on New York & Washington, Nick Clarke examines what their impact has been internationally

It is now one year since two passenger jets were piloted into the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, while another was diverted into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvania. The images of the attack were broadcast around the world, having a profound and disturbing effect. The fact that they were continuously played and replayed on national television added to the heightened sense of shock and foreboding of what was to follow. The Republican Communist Network, like many on the left, opposed these attacks. Our pamphlet September 11th and The War after the War put those events in context and explained why. It concluded with an assessment of what it would mean for global politics and particularly for the left in the UK and internationally. It is important to collate what has happened in those 12 months; what has the effect been on global politics and the anti-imperialist and revolutionary left. We need to be alert to immediate, and longer term, imperialist threats, and to develop our response.

In recent months, the imperialist alliance between Bush and Blair has succeeded in shifting the political and media focus away from Afghanistan, the Taliban and Osama bin Laden. Instead they are concentrating on how to rid Iraq of the usual Western scapegoat Saddam Hussein and his Baathist dictatorship in Baghdad. From the very outset the US was determined to link, no matter how spuriously, the September 11 attacks and al-Qaeda with Saddam, but none of their accusations held any credibility. In fact, prior to 9/11, the CIA probably had more contact with the Taliban than the Iraqi leadership. The US also tried to blame al-Qaeda and Saddam for the outbreak of anthrax attacks that swept across America almost a year ago. Now the evidence points to someone working at Fort Dettrick, the top secret US biological weapons establishment. Most of the briefings coming out of Washington are not about whether there will be a substantial attack on Iraq, but when and how. As a result of Blair’s determination to stand shoulder to shoulder with Bush and the US, he has been publicly parroting the same line. However, it is clear that opposition to war with Iraq is appearing in military and ruling circles. Before dealing in any more depth with the imminent situation regarding Iraq, what has the War on Terror meant in the last 12 months?

What Bush’s New World Order and the ‘Coalition against terrorism’ have meant is the proliferation of state sponsored terrorism around the world. It has legitimised and sponsored the use of official death squads to eliminate internal opposition in all parts of the globe. Whereas before such activity was kept under wraps and the preserve of the darkest dictatorships or murky black ops teams, now we have those same dictators, along with democratically elected governments around the world in every continent, proudly and publicly announcing military action against their own citizens or their neighbours. Bush’s justification for carpet bombing Afghanistan and pursuing regime change in that impoverished divided country has allowed Russia to use the same tactics against the Chechens, India against the Kashmiris, Colombia against the FARC and of course Israel against the Palestinians. US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has given permission for US Special Forces to use lethal force in countries the US is not at war with. He has also sanctioned the boarding and searching of suspicious (sic) vessels in international waters.

So what has happened in the past year?


The Taliban, the stooges of two US allies (Pakistan and Saudi Arabia), were driven from power in Afghanistan by a combination of US carpet bombing, hi-tech surveillance and Northern Alliance forces on the ground. After years of warlordism and the Taliban, ordinary Afghans hoped things would change. What has replaced it? Hamid Karzai’s US-sponsored coalition government was formally endorsed by the Loya Jirga in June. The situation on the ground seems to be as volatile as ever. Tribal and ethnic warlords police their people, while vying for power and influence. The real scope of Karzai’s power goes little further than Kabul. Symbolic of the lack of unity and trust in his coalition government is his decision to replace his Afghan bodyguards with US Special Forces, following the killing of other government ministers.

If reports are to be believed then the main targets of the US, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, are still alive and active. So that’s one of the Coalition’s goals not achieved. This is a double-edged sword for the US. On the one hand eliminate them and claim victory. On the other keep them, and their myth, alive. This justifies US forces patrolling the world, stamping their imperialist prejudices and values with the alibi of making pre-emptive strikes against potential terrorists and enemies of the United States.

The view from Afghanistan is that the US and its local agents are rapidly losing any popularity that they had in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Promised international aid for the country’s reconstruction has been very slow in coming. Combine this with the rising collateral damage inflicted through continuing attacks on Afghan civilians and villages by US forces, and the post- Taliban euphoria and goodwill is draining away. The routine intimidation, humiliation and interrogation of Afghans by American forces continues. In June, the bombing of a wedding party in Uruzam killed 55. No wonder the backlash has started as Americans come under attack almost every night.


Israel continues its ruthless occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Even the independent Bantustans, created by Oslo, have been shown to be worthless. The Israeli-biased Oslo agreement is dead. The US, with Israel’s goading, is attempting to get Arafat replaced, as the leader of the Palestinians. Although this is likely to backfire on them. While the US is unilaterally prepared to go to war with Iraq over a flagrant breach of UN resolutions, it positively condones and connives in Israel’s flouting of 30-year-old UN resolutions. Such hypocrisy is breathtaking. The last few months have thrown up example after example of Israeli atrocities against the Palestinian people: the attack on the Jenin refugee camp, the use of civilians as human shields by the IDF, continual destruction of civilian housing, the routine killing, maiming and brutalisation of Palestinian children, the daily assassination of militants and the exiling of relatives of militants. The list is endless.

At the end of July a 1 tonne missile dropped from an F16 into a residential area of Gaza City, killed 15 and wounded 145. Their target was Salah Shehada, the leader of Hamas’ military wing. The other casualties were just the collateral damage that the US and Israel tolerate, as long as they are Palestinian bodies and not Jewish or American. Sharon bragged that the operation as one of the great successes, stating that Israel cannot reach any compromise with terror; terror must be fought. As the worldwide condemnations of these Israeli actions started to fly, so even the US was sceptical of the shrewdness of this attack. Sharon, the butcher of the refugee camps and the racist leader of an apartheid state, had to apologise for the loss of life. However, this apology was small price to pay for his achievement in destroying a ceasefire that was about to be announced. It had been brokered by, amongst others, EU diplomats, who had got a commitment from the secular wing of the Palestinian liberation movement (the Tanzim militia and the Al Aqsa brigades) to stop using suicide bombers against Israeli cities. Even Hamas stated, before the missile was dropped, that they would do likewise if Israeli forces withdrew from the West Bank and Gaza and stopped targeting civilians. The F16 relies on components supplied from the UK, indirectly to Israel, via the US. Therefore the British government are complicit in these indiscriminate attacks on residential areas. Did anybody really believe Robin Cook, Blair’s first foreign minister, when he laid out the principles of Labour’s ethical foreign policy?

Since September 11 there is no pretence. Jack Straw, Cook’s replacement, does not even bother to try and throw up a smokescreen on this issue. At the height of the recent India-Pakistan tension he was happy to encourage British arms producers to supply the latest military equipment to either, or preferably both, sides – more profit to be made. British arms sales to Israel in the last two years have been £22.5 million – double what they were before the start of the current intifada.

Truth is the first casualty?

Objectivity in reporting and analysis is another casualty of the Twin Tower attacks. Journalists of the calibre of John Pilger, and Robert Fisk are rare gems in the reams and reams of mediocrity and the lazy parroting of government press releases and prejudiced conviction. Murder bombers seems to be the newly-spun term for suicide bombers. While not condoning the use of suicide bombers, it is important to understand the despair, the hopelessness, the alienation that drives young men and women to such ends. At least Cherie Blair tried to show some understanding of the issue and was widely condemned for expressing her thoughts. Steve Earle, the US rock musician, has recently released a song called John Walker Blues, which tries to give some understanding to the actions of the American Taliban, who was captured at Mazar-I-Sharif. Walker has been more vilified than Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, who killed hundreds of Americans. There have been threats of organising a boycott of any radio station that dares play Earle’s song.


Another attack on opposition and dissent has been taken up in Spain. Echoing the British government’s gagging of Sinn Fein in the 1980s, as well as Franco’s oppression of the Basques, the Spanish government has banned Batasuna, the most radical of the Basque nationalist parties, because of their alleged links with ETA. In June, a law was passed outlawing parties deemed to be actively supporting terrorism. At the end of August, the Supreme Court suspended the party’s activities for 3 years: closing its offices, banning demos and rallies. This is a party that has almost 1,000 elected representatives at various levels.


In Colombia Alvaro Uribe, the newly-installed, right wing president, is one of Bush’s newest and enthusiastic recruits to the War against Terrorism. Their joint aim, with the help of right wing paramilitaries, is to crush the FARC army, which controls large areas of the country and number at least 17,000, and the smaller ELN. Their strength, and threat to the Colombian government, was highlighted by their disruption of the new president’s inauguration ceremony, causing a great deal of embarrassment to Uribe and Bush. In standing shoulder to shoulder with Uribe, Bush has lifted restrictions on £1 billion of military aid from the US to Colombia, which was initially earmarked for the War on Drugs, to pay for the Colombian War on Terror and has pledged more if Colombia increases its own military spending. On August 13, the new president announced a state of internal commotion (emergency), an additional 3,000 elite troops, 10,000 new police and a million strong militia who will act as informers, in an effort to defeat the FARC. No doubt US arms manufacturers will be rubbing their hands with glee, knowing they will be at the front of the queue when new weapons contracts are handed out.

Colombia is also willing to play its part in the co-ordinated discrediting of anti-imperialist and liberation movements across the world. Following the arrest last year of three Irish men in Colombia accused of training the FARC, Luis Osorio, Colombia’s prosecutor general, has blamed the IRA for hundreds of deaths in the country. Sinn Fein has condemned his accusations as a disgrace, and Mitchel McLaughlin, Sinn Fein’s national chairman, has questioned whether the three can get a fair trial in Colombia. Very unlikely I would think. It seems as if the concept of a fair trial is becoming a thing of the past, as the Western bourgeois democracies suspend established civil rights and encourage, collaborate and pander to their totalitarian allies. There are a number of examples of the US delivering al-Qaeda and terrorist suspects to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, on the understanding that they will use torture to extract information and confessions from such hostages, which will then be passed back to the US. Thus minimising the US‘s direct human rights’ abuses, but getting the required confessions!


Venezuela has also received the unwelcome attentions of Bush’s administration. In April, a military coup led by the country’s business elite, with the backing of the US, overthrew the elected president Hugo Chavez. However within 48 hours Chavez was reinstated through the mass mobilisation of the country’s poor. The coup started with a protest organised by the country’s business federation, demanding the reinstatement of the pro-US management at the country’s state-owned oil company. A confrontation between the demonstrators and Chavez supporters, set up by the coup leaders, gave them the opportunity they wanted. As snipers opened fire on both sets of protestors, General Vasquez announced on TV that the military had taken over, claiming that Chavez supporters had opened fire on an unarmed crowd, and to give the coup legitimacy claimed that Chavez had resigned. Within hours, Pedro Carmona, head of the country’s confederation of business and industry, an oilman, had been installed as president. His first acts were to suspend elections and laws regulating big business, he dissolved the elected national assembly and the Supreme Court, at the same time declaring a pluralistic vision, democratic, civil and ensuring the implementation of the law. To the delight of the foreign oil companies, big business and the big plantation owners he scrapped 49 laws regulating big business. Following the mobilisation of the masses in huge street demonstrations and serious splits in the armed forces, 36 hours later Chavez was restored to the presidency. Carmona’s US sponsored government had been crushed.

Venezuela is a key supplier of oil to the US, and therefore its stability is vital. Linked with this is Chavez’ willingness to supply oil to Cuba, his opposition to both the free trade agenda of the World Trade Organisation, and the attempt by the US to draw South America even further under its economic control. It is not difficult to find the White House’s fingerprints all over this failed coup. Senior officials in the US government with experience of the Central American dirty wars of the 1980s include John Negroponte, Elliot Abrams and Otto Reich.

These events illustrate the lengths that the US is prepared to go to prevent a critic such as Chavez from challenging their world view and economic interests. So the lesson for more and more countries around the world is that you can have a democracy but only if it coincides with US imperialist interests.


At the end of August Russian helicopters bombed villages in northern Georgia while trying to attack Chechen separatist fighters in the Pankisi Gorge. Their targets allegedly have links with al-Qaeda. So how did the White House respond: Ari Fleischer its spokesman, stated The US regrets the loss of life and deplores the violation of sovereignty he was deeply concerned about credible reports that Russian military aircraft indiscriminately bombed villages…resulting in the killing of civilians. The hypocrisy of such comments defies belief. What about Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Venezuela, Somalia, Panama, Grenada, Cuba, Vietnam…the list is endless. The harshness of the condemnation might also have had something to do with revenge for the recent signing of a large trade agreement between Russia and Iraq. Back to the Bush administration’s main focus on the War on Terror: Iraq. As with most of Bush’s policy initiatives he tends to open his mouth without thinking. He is committed to regime change in Baghdad.


At present there is quite a debate going on amongst the higher echelons of government and the military both in Britain and the US. Bush states that America is prepared to go to war with Iraq alone. It does not need UN resolutions or an international coalition. Bush, with his eager and vociferous hawks, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, believe that the USA, as the world’s only superpower can thunder around the world, like a rogue elephant, imposing its will in any hemisphere or region it chooses, irrespective of international mandates, clear war aims or the chaos and carnage that results. However some caution is being sounded in some unexpected quarters and must go someway to showing the unease in a substantial section of the American ruling class to Bush’s warmongering. The following Republican Party heavyweights have made comments suggesting they are against unilateral US action to overthrow Saddam: James Baker, George Bush senior’s Secretary of State, Lawrence Eagleburger, Baker’s successor and Brent Scowcroft, Bush senior’s National Security Advisor, the current Secretary of State Colin Powell, General Norman Swarzkopf. In Britain, while Tony Blair publicly supports the Bush plan, opposition is growing. This includes significant sections of the government, the Labour Party, the military and public opinion polls: Robin Cook, Margaret Becket, Douglas Hurd, Clare Short, former chief of the defence staff, Lord Bramall and a large number of back bench MPs. Most importantly though is the swelling anti-war mood on the streets. In recent weeks there has been conjecture as to whether Blair will allow a debate in the Parliament, before any commitment of British troops to a war against Iraq. Under the Royal Prerogative, Blair, as Prime Minister, has powers that mean he neither needs to consult his cabinet nor parliament before declaring war. Internationally, apart from the Australian government (who have already pledged troops), most countries oppose unilateral, precipitative US action. In the words of Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, If you (US) strike at the Iraqi people because of one or two individuals and leave the Palestinian issue unsolved not a single Arab ruler will be able to curb popular sentiments.

There might be repercussions and we fear a state of disorder and chaos may prevail in the region.

Mubarak, considered one of the most pro-Western Arab leaders, spoke for most rulers in the region. King Abdullah of Jordan delivered a similar message to Bush in his summer visit to the White House. Pakistan’s Musharaf, an early convert to the War on Terror, warned against a unilateral US attack. Saudi Arabia is saying that Saddam should be dealt with diplomatically. These are all Usfriendly leaders. Their opposition to an attack is based primarily on the popular revolt such US aggression would unleash in their own states, against their despotic regimes.

It is not just the Middle East where official opposition is public. Many European leaders, including Chirac and Shroeder, see the danger of a US attack on Iraq without the fig leaf of a UN resolution. Even prior to any new Gulf War, Iraq is already devastated. Ten years of sanctions have meant premature death to more than a million Iraqis, due to lack of food, good quality water, medical supplies and drugs. Then there also the massive rise in numbers of cancer sufferers, brought on by the huge quantity of depleted uranium ammunition used by the coalition forces in the 1991 Gulf war. This spent, contaminated ammunition still pollutes the towns and cities of Iraq and is responsible for much illness. Due to the sanctions, the Iraqis cannot clean up these radioactive killers.

The role of communists, socialists and the international revolutionary left must be to build a mass, working class movement against imperialist aggression – military, economic and political. Here in Britain, it is not enough just to oppose and rail against Bush and US imperialism, the main focus has to be our own ruling class and its complicity with the New World Order. A mass movement has to be built in Britain, in Europe and worldwide to prevent the ruling classes in all states from engaging in such state terrorism in our name. Neither Washington, London nor Baghdad. It is not enough just to be against such aggression. The bottom line is that capitalism in its imperialist stage cannot act in any other way. It has to be replaced. We have to develop a positive, communist alternative. An alternative based on an emancipation from exploitation and a liberation from oppression, where humanity can really call itself civilised.

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Aug 02 2002

Irish Socialists appeal for support in stand against sectarianism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:29 pm

This is a statement issued by Belfast International Socialists and Socialist Democracy

We, the undersigned, wish to declare our absolute opposition to the growing bigotry and sectarianism within society in the North of Ireland as shown by events at Holy Cross, the Short Strand and countless other incidents.

Far from being the dying gasp of an old order, all the signs are that a new and even more virulent sectarianism is emerging as a direct consequence of the structures and way of thinking built into the Good Friday Agreement. The new institutional sectarianism is not confined to a few bigots. It involves most of the political and institutional structures of our society displaying a willingness to define incidents in terms favourable to bigots, and to collude with and make concessions to bigotry with the end result that sectarian arrangements are built into every level of society.

Thus the self-evident fact that the loyalist organisations are carrying on an organised programme of intimidation, which the main unionist parties are quite happy to excuse while conducting their own campaign, goes without comment. The British administration and the media immediately redefine the situation as community conflict. All the main political parties go along with this and the trade unions offer to act as honest brokers. The inevitable outcome is a settlement that further entrenches religious apartheid and institutionalises sectarianism.

We reject the contention of the British government, sectarian politicians and media commentators that sectarianism is the result of community division that can only be addressed through accommodating or compromising with the demands of sectarian intimidation. Sectarianism is not ingrained in working class communities but fostered by the politics of bigotry and intimidation. Sectarianism can not be combated by appealing to those carrying out the intimidation or acceding to any of their demands.

We reject the logic of sectarian apartheid which states that housing can be allocated by religion and that working people are not free to live in whatever location they desire. We reject proposals for provision and use of facilities on a sectarian basis. We also reject ‘solutions’ that see walls built higher around communities under attack, creating jail like structures in which it is the victims who are imprisoned.

The trade union movement’s lofty condemnation of all sectarianism is cover for its failure to identify the source of bigotry and assign responsibility for the real sectarianism that exists. Its attempts to advise loyalists on how their sectarian politics can be advanced in a more articulate fashion is accommodation with bigotry and not opposition. The trade union role is particularly shameful in that it denies the possibility of an alternative identity, as members of the Irish working class. It stands opposed to the desire of many workers who want to stand with us in defending the right of working people to live and work where they wish, who oppose the programme of loyalist intimidation and who oppose official promotion of sectarian logic involving collusion with, and appeasement of, the bigots.

We the undersigned call for a real campaign against sectarianism within the Protestant and Catholic working class. Many working class people despair of the violence and can see no clear way out of it. Such despair is precisely the object of sectarian attacks. We are confident in the belief that a large current of Irish society seeks a means to declare its opposition to the sectarian solutions on offer and wishes to hear a new voice articulate its hopes.

We the undersigned affirm that only the united organisation of workers across the island and beyond can promise defeat for bigotry and that a first step in this is a united socialist voice declaring No to Sectarianism!

Belfast International Socialists Socialist Democracy

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