Oct 26 2008

Emancipation & Liberation Index 16

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 6:28 pm

Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 16, Spring 2008

Issue 16 Cover

Issue 16 Cover


Oct 26 2008

Man’s Best Friend?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 6:09 pm

This experience comes from leafleting during a council by-election in the Lochee ward in Dundee, but I imagine that what is described in this little ditty is transferable to anywhere that dogs lurk unseen, waiting to give their canine judgement on political activists of any persuasion.

For we, who politics inspire,
There is a time when we’re on fire.
Elections, they are always busy,
So much goes on we end up dizzy.
Hustings, meetings, stalls—all vital
But there’s a task which every night’ll
Turn each of us into a drudge,
Aye, leafleting’s a weary trudge!

There’s letter boxes, sharp it seems
As any shiny guillotine.
There’s stairs to climb that take your breath,
You puff, you pant, feel near to death.
Blasted by wind and soaked by rain,
You think to yourself, Never again!
But the biggest danger in the end
Comes always from a man’s best friend.

Some dogs keenly vent their wrath
The second that you’re on the path
That leads from garden gate to door,
They bark, they growl, they howl, they roar.
And from the noise they make you know
If up that path you should dare go.
Does it sound big? Does it sound small?
It’s up to you—your judgment call.

But there again, there is the hound
Which doesn’t make a single sound.
Behind the door he’ll silent sit,
Waiting for some dim half-wit
To put his hand through the front door.
What savage dog could ask for more?
He loves a fool who careless lingers,
And doesn’t, quick, withdraw his fingers.

The first you know’s when something slams
Against the door, it seems the jambs
Themselves, they must be near collapse
As Fido, furious, rabid, snaps
At your fingers, teeth bare, flashing,
To the bone incisors slashing.
And then, the bit that really narks,
The damage done it’s then he barks!

Your curses make the air turn blue,
It’s A & E next stop for you
As there you stand, your fingers bleeding,
An anti-tet and stitches needing.
Now here’s the thing that’s to be learned,
Like all good lessons it’s hard earned.
Leafleting that’s swift and brief
Keeps human flesh from canine teeth!


Oct 26 2008

Life With You

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 6:02 pm

by The Proclaimers

Like many people I have liked the Proclaimers for years. I really enjoy their love songs which have a Tom Leonard quality to them in terms of their ability to express profound emotions in the language of the working class. I was therefore really pleased to be given Life with you as a recent birthday present. Good to sing along to during my 40 minute drive to work I thought. And so it is – you find yourself drumming at the wheel while belting out the lyrics. This, however, is more than an album of memorable choruses. It is very angry, bitter, highly political and completely relevant.

Proclaimers album cover

Proclaimers album cover

In Recognition is a republican anthem for the 21st century as it viscerates the hypocrisy of those who buy into the honours system leaving no excuse open to those who, put the crown / before or after their name.

We could all name those so called champions of the working class who capitulate to patronage and monarchy and who leave us questioning their years of contribution to the labour movement when they eventually bend the knee to the crown for personal gain.

Celebrities too are singled out for scathing sarcasm when they take a gong for bravery upon the stage. The irony of their deed as they stand beside wounded squaddies is completely lost on them.

Blair has no hiding place as they demand an apology for the bloody carnage that is the war in Iraq. This theme is continued in The Long Haul which emphasises the consequences of the West’s current fight against evil empires which are now Islamic as opposed to those which were communist in the 20th century.

For me, by far the most refreshing tracks were those which hammered into religion in a way that was militantly secular. – New Religion and If there’s a god.

I love the clarity which expresses their disbelief that so many people will suspend their rational faculties in order to feel a sense of purpose through ridiculous nonsense. Give me a zip for the back of my head / I want to join in too sums up their contempt for those weakest seeds who need to find nourishment in the mystic and the supernatural.

Charlie and Craig are fearless in combining their popular art with the radical politics which is clearly so much a part of them. They throw in a great wee song about misogynist song lyrics which also shows their ability to stand against the ‘anything-goes’ liberal trend. They are confident enough, as they have always been, to dare to be different and not care if that is regarded as somehow homely and not hip. They are however far from playing it safe. Their lyrics are more dangerous than those of any gangsta’ rapper, who needs to call women bitches or whores.

They come through this album as really sound guys that you would want to have as your pals. They are sensitive men who are angry about huge issues. There is no narrow nationalism here. These are Scottish artists who are internationalists.

All this and sensitive love songs too. Whole wide world and Blood lying on snow are imbued with a sexy longing for physical and emotional fulfilment with someone you can love. And finally a cracking proclamation of love and commitment in Life with you. It hasn’ae been off my CD player for days. Windows down and giving it laldy – it makes going to work almost bearable.

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Oct 26 2008

Democracy 2

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 5:25 pm

Review: Alan Graham

Keynesian Economy Simulator
Format: PC
Publisher: Positech
Developer: Cliff Harris (probably in his bedroom)
Price: £15.28

Bourgeois Democracy: Another simulation

Following on from the original Democracy, Clif Harris has released a sequel: imaginatively titled Democracy 2. The game is a simulation of politics. You have been elected President of X country and have to choose which policies to implement or not and how to deal with dilemmas and problems.

The social model

Unlike its predecessor, Democracy 2 has fictional countries which are caricatures:

  • Bananistan:Socialist and Agricultural
  • Biblonia: Religious State
  • Freedonia: Liberal and atheist
  • Gaiatopia: Eco-aware state
  • Gregaria: Wealthy and capitalist
  • Koana: Capitalist Heaven
  • Malaganga: debt ridden, compulsory voting
  • Mexilando: military state, monarchy
  • Zambeezia: Agricultural, poor

One nice addition is the party system, you choose who to be rather than just have opposition. There is a large list, and like all things in this game, can be modified by the player. If you wish to be the SSP with the Tories as opposition, go ahead and add them. Fancy being the Bolsheviks, just add the title to the list.


Like the first game there is a delicate balance to be maintained. I ran the socialist state, and had managed to get 55% of the population to be members of the Socialist Alliance. The only major problem I had was an Asthma epidemic. The only link I could see was Air Quality and the biggest effect on that was air travel. To cut air travel the only option I could see was a Carbon Tax. This was unpopular with the group everybody but I figured it wouldn’t be that much. Within 4 turns there were 0 members of the party and asthma epidemic was still rife. Further playing around would probably reveal the correct balance to maintain – maybe youth clubs and free school meals with an increase in funding to state hospitals with a very low carbon tax is the answer.

Virtual socialist

Virtual socialist

And that is the beauty of this series of games, it shows in simple terms how sloganeering and promises of policies which appear to solve problems actually work in the real world and not through the lens of sympathetic media assuring us that X policy is the answer.

The one major limitation of the game is the economic model. The worldwide market crashes and there’s a recession. You see GDP plummet so what do you do? There’s no option to fiddle with interest rates or model of inflation. It means the simulation limits itself to policies and their effect but not the economy.

On Income Tax, this game seems to have the same flaw as it’s predecessor: fraud. If there is welfare fraud you can crack down on it. It doesn’t have the option of cracking down on Tax Avoidance by the highest earners. Fair enough, this mirrors real life, and you can add it in yourself, but it means you have to play a reformist by lowering income tax to allow the middle class to be moderately happy.


There has been an increase in policies to over 100, including ID cards, hybrid cars and micro generation grants. The dilemmas and situations seem about the same, with a few added and removed.

What’s new?

There have been a number of additions, Ministers, political capital, opposition groups, voter detail and encyclopaedia are the most significance.


You start off with 6 ministers, each of which have different loyalties and you can fire them and appoint new ones. Maybe it would be a good idea to replace that Tax minister who has sympathies to the Middle Class and Capitalists with John Doe who sympathiseswith Socialists and Trade Unionists? Each minister has different loyalty and experience (these generate Political Capital), the sympathies help influence those demographics to support you.

Political Capital

The major new addition to the model has been Political Capital. In the first game you could bin all the policies and add which ones you like. Now it takes political capital to raise, lower or cancel policies as well as introduce new ones. If each of the 7 ministers generate 3 political capital per turn then you get 21 each turn added to the pool. To raise income tax takes 34, to remove university grants takes 19 whilst introducing Micro-Generation grants takes 1. This reflects how much each change will cause people to support or oppose you.

Opposition Groups

The threat of a coup has been expanded with your intelligence services keeping tabs on everyone from The Army of God and the Socialist Army to the Secular Society. If you have no religious people then you probably don’t have to worry about the Army of God, if you are playing in the Theocracy and fund stem cell research whilst banning the teaching of creationism in schools, then you may have something to worry about from them although the Secular Society will probably back off a bit.

Voter Detail

Fat Cat

Fat Cat

Previously, voter demographics were defined by number and how they support your policies. It seems to have been expanded, with focus groups showing how cross sections of society support you. There is likelihood of them to turnout to vote and to vote for you. Added to this is the party membership, although this is again simplified into two parties with most votes winning the election. Once you lose it’s game over too, perhaps the next in the series will introduce multiple parties and the FPTP system: choosing ministers from your pool. It would be more in depth but move the games from being simulations to explain basic politics to being a simulation of politics.


There is still a flaw in the model however. At the start there are new options including the option to set the number of socialists in the country. Having dragged the slider to the end I was happy to see 100% socialists. Woo, I can finally try raising Income Tax and introducing Free School Meals to see my popularity grow. Unfortunately it went down. It turned out that 65% of the Socialists were also Capitalists. Each voting demographic is counted as separate and each individual voter can belong to multiple groups including contradictory ones. My carbon tax example earlier could have got the same result if 100% of people were Environmentalists but 60% were car users and 0% commuters.


Lot’s of policies and voter groups now have some explanatory notes to help you understand what they mean. When choosing Income Tax levels you can see the top levels in various countries and the income scales in the US. Choose Socialists and you can see a page of pretty non-biased explanation and some key dates from the publication of The Communist Manifesto to the abandonment of Clause 4.


There are a number of things which seem worse than Democracy: mouse scroll speed is frustratingly slow, lowering accessibility, the movement to caricature countries, the limitation on changing policies. Most of these can be addressed however through customisation. Change capital required to 0 and add your own countries.

Positive changes have included a UI update with new options and the Minister system adds a touch of realism. You can still customise it as much as you want and for a game it is very cheap with a real educational value. There is a demo available of both games which allow you to have a few turns and to get the feel of them. Overall if you don’t have Democracy, try this one, if you have Democracy then only get it if you really enjoyed it.

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Oct 16 2008

Punk, Politics and Perdition

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 8:18 pm

Mary McGregor interviews communist and actor, Tam Dean Burn.

Tam Dean Burn, by Geraint Lewis

Tam Dean Burn, by Geraint Lewis

Tam Dean Burn is the most respected political actor in Scotland today. He was born in Leith and grew up in Clermiston, a west Edinburgh housing estate. He went to Queen Margaret College to study acting at a time when working class men were encouraged to take up the profession. Tam cites James Dean and his teacher, Ken Morley (Reg in Coronation Street) as his early influences on his acting.

I first met Tam in 1993 when he was in Dundee appearing in court for Breach of the Peace on the Timex picket line. He had famously jumped onto the front of one of the scab buses and earned the nickname ‘spider-man’. Tam introduced me to communist politics. When I spoke to him recently I found him, as ever, full of ideas and challenges to orthodox Marxist thinking.

So apart from Reg from Coronation Street and James Dean, are there any other artistic or political influences that were pivotal because I am interested in the point where the art and politics started to merge?

I got into punk at the very beginning. I was ready for it, because of the type of bands I was already listening to, like Dr Feelgood. It was the difference between those who were into Yes, prog rock and heavy metal – they were more middle class – and those of us that were into pub rock bands such as Dr Feelgood and Sensational Alex Harvey Band. When punk came along I was totally up for it. It was like a personal, social revolution that really got me going politically as well.

At my first show after leaving Queen Margaret’s, I had a chance to combine all the elements of politics and art. We did a play at the Edinburgh Festival with my wee brother’s band, Fire Engines, with some songs that had been written especially for the show that I was singing. It was initially a 2-hander called Workers of the world confess, looking at the relationship between the boss and the worker in the form of a confession. We developed a cantata it was called Why does the pope not come to Glasgow? As we were in rehearsals we got the news he was coming and we just thought – the power of theatre! It was a good strong political piece. We had discussions as an essential part of the show. The guy who wrote it George Byatt was an old anarchist. Immediately me and George started to tussle as I started to go down the communist road even though I saw myself as an anarchist punk at the time.

The Dirty Reds, our band, had a gig for Edinburgh University Communist Society who were trying to latch onto this punk thing going on. They had banners with Marx and Engels. I said, Fuck all this old fashioned shite! We are anarchists! People started jumping up and pulling them all down. I have often chuckled to myself as to what my comrades in years to come would have had to say about that.

I went to the Soviet Union in 1983 for a holiday with a friend. We thought we would be with old trade unionists, but it was geared towards young folk and we found ourselves there with a big posse from Liverpool including this post punk band called Echo and the Bunnymen, so we had a great time. I was very romantic about the Soviet Union.

What about big political events back at home?

It was really the miners’ strike in 1984 that made me realise I had to be in an organisation to have any real impact. I got involved in the Miners’ Support Group in Edinburgh so I was looking around the different left wing organisations. I wanted to be in the Communist Party but I could not really work out where they were in Edinburgh. They did not really seem to exist. I had an aversion to Trots because of their view of the Soviet Union. Although the Militant did seem to be the most dynamic organisation around. I did collect with them outside football grounds for the miners. I went through their induction programme but then found I could not go with them. Their main man was more trade union based. They did not believe in the dictatorship of the proletariat and they certainly did not support the Soviet Union. I then picked up on the paper The Leninist. What they were saying about the miners’ strike really gob smacked me. I was not able to put it into practice but I started communicating with them.

By the time of the Poll Tax I had moved to London and had got much more involved with the Leninist and was politically organised by them. This was a totally positive experience because what I had always been trying do was find a way to combine the politics with the culture. I was being encouraged to do that. Although it was a small organisation, there was a lot of time and resources put into what I was trying to do culturally.

I had picked up on the type of agit-prop that Ewan McColl had been doing with the YCL in the late 20s and early 30s, like street theatre on the issues of the day. We started by doing the original sketches and then developed our own versions of them with issues like the Poll Tax and Ireland.

There was a great sketch about Indian workers that had been banged up for being members of a trade union. It was done behind these six huge banner poles that you would have on a demonstration and they made the bars of the cell. At the end of the piece the bars would get smashed down through class struggle and international solidarity. In 1988 we adapted the sketch to Ireland and called it 20 years. This was because it was around 20 years since the start of the most recent troubles in Ireland. This was all done as part of the Workers’ Theatre Movement.

We also developed a political cabaret which was hard hitting, honouring the dead hunger strikers in Ireland. This was part of a polemic with left Labourites and their ‘Time to Go’ campaign. I remember performing 20 years before a big demo that they were organising. We were playing it and getting a great response from the marchers because invariably they were the best audiences; the most partisan. The organisers wanted to stop us and I remember a big guy wi’ his hand on my shoulder saying, You have to stop! You have to stop! but there was no way they could stop us because of the response we were getting from the crowd.

It was the same wi’ the dockers in 1989. We performed in support of the Tilbury dockers and their struggle to stop the privatisation of the docks. I remember their leader saying that what we had said in a 5 minute sketch is what he would have liked to say in a 20 minute speech. You could sense the value of what we were about and what we were trying to achieve. With the Poll Tax sketches we realised that we could get our message across by using mega phones. By having everybody ‘megaphoned up’ you could really blast across a message.

We also combined street theatre with a political cabaret called the Internationale where we could start doing things that worked more effectively indoors. We would invite people to come along and do themes like Ireland or International Women’s day. It was being able to be a sort of memory for the class as well of celebrating events like that. There was a real attempt to tie together as much as I could of the culture and the politics.

You have continued to do that. The last overtly political thing I saw you do was Perdition

(A play by Jim Allan that dealt with the collaboration between Hungarian Nazis and Zionists that led to Jews being killed.)

Yes, there have been differences when I have been able to pull together performances myself, like that, and those roles that I would do as a job. I am always looking for possibilities. Perdition was a special one. It had been 20 years since the play was originally going to be performed at the Royal Court theatre in London. Then they pulled the plugs on it at the last minute which is unheard of now.

The Zionist lobby now isn’t nearly so strong that they could pull off something like that. Our performance of it was still controversial. It was suggested by the SWP that it was ‘bad taste’ to do it in Holocaust Memorial week. Perdition was directly about the Holocaust and about the way that Jews were basically being sacrificed for the Zionist cause. The Holocaust Memorial week was exactly the right time that we should have been doing it. I think that says much more about the SWP than it did about us.

Doing it in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee and seeing too that you didn’t need a full production – the actors were doing it as a reading with the scripts in their hands but that made very little difference. It was theatre about ideas with good actors doing it and able to put it across. It’s a form of entertainment that is my favourite because it’s stimulating and you are a lot more engaged as an audience. It has an archetypal dramatic form of the courtroom. That form has been used so often. It works because people know they, the audience, become a jury. You are engaged in it in that way and you are implicated. It was a good strong piece.

Has it become easier or harder to express your communism through your art as you have become an established actor and moved away from street theatre?

It has become harder because I am less organised now. Unless you are a practising communist, you cann’ae really call yourself one. That is still of course where my heart lies but I have been open to a lot of other influences as well. I don’t get the opportunity to express myself in quite the same way which is mair to do with the times than me, so I have to find different ways of doing it.

But you made it happen with Perdition it was very much your baby?

Well, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign in Scotland is very dynamic and it was through discussions wi’ them that I was able to make it happen. When you are encouraged and supported these things can take place. A lot of the time people are pretty shabbily organised politically so it is not like a great deal goes on. I didn’t find the same opportunities to go at things within the SSP. There would be the odd, little event and I know some people did some things but I felt culturally it lacked something. It settled for a lower common denominator for culture and that can be a great problem within politics.

What should the stance of a revolutionary socialist be towards art especially under capitalism? Should there be a more serious approach amongst revolutionary socialists towards the whole concept of art?

Absolutely, especially when I think of the influence of William Blake on me over the past few years. He has been with me through the last two years because I’ve been reading all his poems and prose on a radio programme every week. I have been reading a lot about him as well. His view is that the way we look at politics is too narrow. It is too materialist. He believes that unless you have a spiritual element to what you are going for and a sense of moving beyond the three dimensions that we accept, it’s worthless. His idea is that imagination is the most important thing of all.

In the past as far as materialists go, we look on it as labour that would define us that is what fired the mind. But for him the imagination and poetic vision is what we should laud and pay attention to. It’s a duty for all of us to build Jerusalem by that artistic, poetic vision and imagination. That’s given me some sense that we are looking on things far too narrowly. I know he would be looked on by some Marxists as completely idealistic – a radical idealist and even revolutionary but I just think who is to say you’re right. Blake says, To see a world in a grain of sand.

Even science now is looking on the tiniest particles as microcosms of the whole. I’ve thrown myself mair open to things. A big part of me is opening up to questioning. The most important thing is we need to be questioning for truths. The left is not willing to discuss what has become clear that the official theories of what happened on 9/11 and 7/7 just do not add up. People are scared. I see the left like that, they are scared to look at these type of questions. If these actions were state terrorism, if they were false flag operations, then that’s what we’ve got to take on board.

There was a point when the SSP was tied up with the anti capitalist/ anti globalisation movement. That was so important for the SSP – the way that the SSP opened itself up to a lot more people and that is what really gave it an impetus into becoming a force in Scotland. Then it narrowed itself back down into a typical left wing grouping. It is only now that we are seeing how important the anti capitalist movement was. Everybody was guilty of squandering that opportunity. That’s the type of thing we need again.

There’s only a few individuals on the left saying its a set up job and we’re not buying into this. If people recognised what our enemy was really up to, a lot more people could be galvanised. I think there is a sort of fear and cravenness and conservatism. Then you start to think who is actually being fingered here. Who has been stopping this getting out? Who is calling the shots and moving the organisations away from questioning this. We can’t let the official view dominate as it does. I ever so slightly raised my baldy heid above the parapet to put it into the letters column on the Weekly Worker. It was just so pathetic the response I got back. The same nonsense arguments – utterly unscientific – pathetic.

Her Madge at Claton Hill demo, Edinburgh, taken by Myra Armstrong

'Her Madge' at Claton Hill demo, Edinburgh, taken by Myra Armstrong

I’ve interviewed David Icke and he would be considered a lunatic and they have been able to put that across. I treat everything he says with a degree of caution but there is more of his stuff that I have heard him say that is coming true. What we are moving towards is a micro chipped population. If this happens, we are back to being slaves again when they have us under that control. They started with animals they are now talking about prisoners. That is the very foreseeable future when we are all micro chipped then we are really fucked.

Do you think that artists have a responsibility to highlight these dangers in society?

Yes in a sense but the responsibility even mair so is to try and find out what the positives are and to be able to encourage people. I think that culture generally is somewhere that the battle can be fought wi some degree of success. Where as other areas at the moment it just seems much harder. Obviously a lot goes on online with young people and the way they are able to communicate with each other and I think the dam will burst. I am always trying to find alliances and means to be able to put forward ideas.

You mentioned young people and how they get involved. How do you view YouTube and things like that?

Its how its used. It can be turned on itself. Things can be turned into their opposites. So they can be used in a positive or a reactionary way. It can be used to dazzle and occupy and control. With something like Facebook; the political motivations behind that were really pretty apparent. It is a further degree of surveillance. Even with the internet itself. It was the American military that introduced it initially. What are you telling me that they had the benefit of humanity in mind? It has been a means of control from the start but at the same time, they have to allow it to develop. They have to hope it doesnae turn against them. But you know it can be used in all sorts of ways. It was the anniversary of Rachel Corrie’s death (US peace activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer in Palestine) and through the net we saw they were encouraging people to speak her words at events. We recorded on a mobile phone outside parliament where it is illegal and outside the American embassy and banged it up on Youtube and its there to be seen. That becomes world wide. As with everybody, we are just waiting for things to rupture and explode in a positive fashion.

With Emancipation and Liberation, it is criminal that you do not have your website more up to date which could be a real benefit to people [Website Ed – rectifying that now, we fell behind]. You can see the way the Weekly Worker has given people an opportunity to express themselves. You have got to offer encouragement to people, via the internet and show that there are people attempting to provide answers. It is our duty to try to encourage that.

Republicanism? You participated in the Calton Hill Declaration. What does being a republican mean to you?

It was there from the very roots of my political organisation. Both in terms of being a Hibs supporter because we supported Irish republicanism, from the terraces and from my understanding of Punk. We had complete disdain for the monarchy and the desire for a republic. These type of things are crucial. Once you get your eyes opened to these questions you can accept no compromise on them. Republicanism is an absolute bottom line of democracy, particularly in this country. I have always been wary about nationalism. I’ve never been drawn to that in any way apart from when it is revolutionary which I saw wi Ireland. But republicanism is a total line for me so I was happy to play the queen at the Carlton Hill event. Always happy to get a frock on.

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Oct 16 2008

Workers, Serfs And Slaves: Managed Migration And Employment Rights

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:58 pm

Reprinted from the No One Is Illegal website

Whatever the merits of Tony Blair’s recent retrospective apology for Britain’s leading role in the slave trade it would be less hypocritical if his government was not developing a modern system of slavery and the reintroduction of sweated labour through the reshaping of immigration controls.

The mechanisms of immigration control are changing. They are locating themselves in the workplace and on the factory floor. The agents and enforcers of controls are becoming employers. They are the managers of New Labours managed migration.

Managing managed migration

In fact this role began with the 1996 Asylum and Immigration Act which imposed criminal sanctions on bosses who employed those without the correct documentation. The real targets of these sanctions were never intended to be the employers but rather the undocumented, the sans papiers, the illegals, whose immigration status they were expected to police. The intent was to transform bosses into partners in control through the fear of criminalisation.

The statistics speak for themselves. For example in 2004 there were 1098 successful operations (i.e. raids) by the immigration service, which resulted in the arrest of 3,332 workers – but the successful prosecution of only eight employers! In the previous year only one boss was successfully prosecuted but 1,779 workers arrested, removed from the workplace and presumably deported.

The 2006 Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act introduced civil penalties against employers as a deterrent against hiring those without status or without the correct status. Bosses will now have to check an employee’s papers at regular intervals to avoid employing an irregular worker. Most immigration documents are time-limited. Yesterday’s lawful entrant can become tomorrow’s sans papiers.

And it gets worse. Under the law regulating gangmasters – the Gangmasters Licensing Act introduced in 2004 after the drowning of Chinese cockle pickers – gangmasters will only preserve their registration if they show they are policing and refusing to employ undocumented workers.

There has been considerable publicity given to the new points system controlling the entry of migrant workers as detailed in the government’s white paper, A Points-Based System: Making Migration Work For Britain. Virtually nil publicity has been given to the requirement that employers will have to register before they are able to recruit overseas labour, and may jeopardise that registration if they are connected with employees who breach immigration law. Furthermore employers will have to report their employee(s) to the Home Office for absenteeism.

According to the White Paper:

Sponsors will be required to inform us if a sponsored migrant fails to turn up for their first day of work, or does not enrol on their course. Similarly they will be expected to report any prolonged absence from work or discontinuation of studies, or if their contract is being terminated, the migrant is leaving their employment, or is changing educational institution. Sponsors will also need to notify us if their circumstances alter, for example if they are subject to a merger or takeover.

Unprecedented surveillance

This level of surveillance is unprecedented in peacetime. Except today there is a new war – a war against workers. This primarily presents itself as a war on the undocumented. However the war extends even to the documented given the tenuous and circumscribed nature of immigration papers. It also extends to European Union workers. Workers from the new EU East European accession states are restricted in obtaining benefits and are bound by employment restrictions such as the need to register for work with the Home Office, a requirement which in itself may drive such workers into the underground economy of sweated labour (and it now seems there is an intention to restrict entry for Romanian and Bulgarian workers). It is a war on all imported workers.

Shifting the focus

The new factory floor mechanisms of control reflect the shift in the focus of immigration controls themselves.

For the last decade the focus, the demons, of control were asylum-seekers. In the 1970s and 1980s it was husbands from the Indian sub-continent who were accused of contracting marriages of convenience – along with children seeking to join parents here – and were accused of not being genuine as claimed. In the late 1960s it was Asians from East Africa… and it can go back in time to communists in the 1920s to Jews fleeing Tsarism at the turn of the century (leading to the first controls – the 1905 Aliens Act). Immigration controls always have their latest demons, real or imagined. Today it is “economic migrants” – whose labour is needed but whose presence is unwanted.

When it comes to migrant workers then, like every other construct tainted by immigration law, the very use of the term rights is an abuse of vocabulary. What rights the documented – those migrants with permission to enter and work – possess are usually impossible to enforce. The ability to bring a case for unfair dismissal requires having been in employment for a year – an impossibility for short-term, temporary labour. The right to a written statement of employment terms is pointless for those not literate in English.

And not all employment rights apply even to the documented. Parental rights under the Working Time Regulations – parental leave, time off in a family emergency, flexible working conditions to care for children – none of these appear to apply to the documented migrant at least where the child does not reside in the UK.

The undocumented, those without leave to be here and/or work, are simply non-persons. They are literally illegal – they live outside of the law, hunted and harassed by the law and without the protection of the law. For instance they cannot enforce their contracts of employment, secure payment of the minimum wage, claim unfair dismissal, demand not to have unlawful deduction from wages, indeed claim to have wages at all. The Court of Appeal in one case, [name removed on request of worker] has in essence confirmed all the above in deciding that an undocumented worker cannot bring a case against a boss under the Race Relations Act. Even attempting to join a union where the employer attempts to impose a non-union shop becomes a major obstacle as undocumented workers cannot assert a breach of trade union rights – as they have no trade union rights.

One of the suggestions made in a recent book showing the relationship between immigration status and employment rights (Labour, Migration and Employment Rights published by the Institute of Employment Rights) is that the laws against discrimination should extend to immigration status. As a practising lawyer I once thought this as well. However I now think this is as utopian – i.e. conceptually impossible – as is the demand in some quarters for fair control. Fair controls are utopian because by definition controls are both discriminatory and unfair. Just so, the issue is not one of achieving equality of immigration status. The issue is one of getting rid of immigration controls and indeed of status altogether. This might well require a revolution. Fair or non-discriminatory controls would require a miracle.

It is hardly possible to exaggerate the gravity of the situation. The economic rank of the documented, of those with papers, is at its best often equivalent to the villein or serf under feudal law – just as the villein was tied to the land and could not move elsewhere so the documented, other than the most skilled, is tied to the job and therefore the master. The sans papier is akin to that of a slave. It is true that the s/he does have one essential feature in common with the supposed free labourer under capitalism. So Marx in the – did not define slavery in terms of economic relations but as a relation of domination – with domination being direct under slavery and indirect under capitalism. However the undocumented in all other ways is quite distinct from all others under capitalism. The sans papier is entirely at the mercy of his/her master/mistress.

Slave-like conditions

The precariousness of even the documented means they can easily slide into the world of those without papers. And those without papers and not already in detention are driven into the slave-like conditions of the underground economy where they service the rag trade, fast-food joints, garages, nursing homes and sex joints of our metropolitan centres. Then when their work is no longer required, or when they are so exhausted by work that they have no energy to fight to stay, they are transported (deported) in accordance with the economic needs and national prejudices of their masters in the UK – often to be returned into the hands of the masters from which they escaped in their country of origin.

In British immigration law recent statutory measures have judicially sanctioned these slavery analogies even further. Under the latest 2006 legislation those about to be deported and incarcerated in removal centres will now be allowed to work. But this work will not attract the rewards of a free labourer but rather those of the prisoner. Section 59 of the Act specifically provides that the law relating to the national minimum wage shall not apply.

However Section 10 of the 2004 Asylum and Immigration Act represents an even more vivid example of the statutory confirmation of a slave like existence. This makes provision of housing and other poor-law support for certain refugees to be conditional on their undertaking community services. These are refugees whose claim has been rejected by the Home Office but are unable to return home because of circumstances beyond their control – because they are stateless or ill or (paradoxically in the case of a rejected asylum application) the country of return is too dangerous. Section 10 transforms asylum-seekers into slaves. It makes their labour compulsory, as refusal to participate will result in deprivation of housing and other support. When the Act was being debated in its committee stage in the House of Lords (15 June 2004), Lord Rooker encouraged voluntary sector groups to get involved in tendering for this slave labour. He also suggested that this compulsory refugee labour could be used for the maintenance of the refugee’s own accommodation – which is a way local authorities and private companies can get otherwise run-down unlettable properties updated for free.

Successful resistance

There has been successful resistance to the implementation of section 10. In Liverpool the YMCA tendered for the scheme. But after outrage was expressed by the undocumented and their supporters the tender was withdrawn.

It is these slave-like conditions enforced and reinforced by immigration controls that indicate the impossibility of such controls being sanitised by reform or other legal mechanisms. The only options are abolition or further repression. Likewise classical slavery was incapable of reform – it had to be abolished. One writer (William Fisher) in describing forced labour has said In most contexts they were treated as things – objects or assets to be bought and sold, mortgaged and wagered, devised and condemned. He might as well be referring to today’s sans papiers. In fact he was describing the ideology behind the institution of ante-bellum American slavery. The 1696 Slave Code of South Carolina began by proclaiming Whereas the plantations and estates of the Province cannot be well and sufficiently managed and brought into use, without the labor and service of negroes and other slaves…

Substitute “economic migrants” for negroes and this well expresses the rationale, and uses the same language, as New Labour’s managed migration. It is not so new after all.


Oct 16 2008

The SSP Gives Its Support To The ‘No One Is Illegal’ Campaign

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:46 pm

Taken from SSP website

If anybody had any illusions that Gordon Brown was going to be a better and more principled Labour leader than Tony Blair, they were soon rudely shattered. When Brown declared his support for British jobs for British workers, at the Labour Party Conference, he lifted a slogan straight from the BNP and National Front. His intervention made racist scaremongering respectable again. Both the TV and ‘quality’ press launched a media frenzy about the numbers of immigrants in the country, and the projected growth of the UK’s population by 2016.

If Brown was to make any attempt to implement his sound-bite policy, he would have to withdraw the UK from the EU. Tens of thousands of British workers, working abroad, would have to return home. Following the same logic, foreign-owned firms should be asked to close down their UK operations, and British firms be asked to confine their operations to the UK. Calls for repatriation (and worse) of all foreign-born workers would soon follow.

Racist posturing

It doesn’t take any imagination to see who benefits most from such racist posturing. Brown isn’t stupid, so why does he stoop to the gutter and imply support for a policy he has no intention of implementing? Attempts to hold on to the support of embittered and demoralised Labour supporters can’t be the whole answer. Such calls can only buy time. When they are not honoured, support will drift elsewhere, with the BNP being the most likely to benefit. They will be to the forefront of those pointing to yet another New Labour ‘pledge’ not honoured. They will play to the growing cynicism of an electorate that is losing sympathy for the mainstream parties.

There are two main purposes behind Brown’s call. Business, both big and small, wants to take advantage of cheap labour. The best way to do this is to have a two-tier workforce. New Labour’s drive to marginalise and outlaw immigrant workers is not so much designed to remove them permanently from the country, as to create a pool of workers who can be super-exploited. They have little or no recourse to legal protection. Furthermore, when such division is promoted between the two sections of the workforce – those with, and those without, rights – it becomes easier to fuel racist resentment and set worker against worker.

Dawn raids

Every now and again, there can be televised dawn raids, broken down doors, terrified children, police escorted removals and deportations, to show the government is acting ‘tough’. These activities are designed to whip up racist resentment amongst the legal workforce. They also push other outlawed migrant workers even further underground and hence make them even more vulnerable, in the face of a whole host of would-be exploiters.

Eastern European farm workers contribute to British society

Eastern European farm workers contribute to British society

A good example is the furore raised over all those eastern European workers who have arrived, particularly in England’s eastern counties. They mainly do menial work on farms, in food processing plants, and a whole host of service industries. The press has pointed out that these migrant workers are putting pressures on services such as schools. As it happens, the majority of these people are legal EU migrant workers, who pay tax. Nobody is asking why the large amounts of tax, which have been collected from these workers (with relatively few claims), have not been used to provide new services for the benefit of both indigenous and migrant workers and their families. No, their taxes, like those of other workers, are increasingly diverted to paying for endless wars, and to line the pockets of big business through PFI contracts. Instead, the government wants to divert attention from this shared reality, the better to divide workers and to set us against each other.

Those illegal workers, who don’t pay tax, are super-exploited by companies which make massive profits. These companies evade taxes on their profits. This situation could simply be ended by giving legal status to all workers, and by enforcing the minimum wage.

It is interesting to compare the treatment of commodities and profits, in the global corporate economy, with the treatment of migrant workers. Countless products, manufactured directly, or subcontracted, by global corporations, such as Nike, are made in semi-slave working conditions in Asia and elsewhere. These corporations ensure that the IMF, the World Bank and the World Trade Organisation enforce policies, which ensure the free movement of both their products and their profits. When it comes to the workers making these products and profits for companies, it is a very different story.

‘Deserving’ and ‘undeserving’

A misleading division is often made between asylum seekers and economic migrants. This suggests there is a split between ‘deserving’ victims of repressive political regimes and ‘natural’ disasters, and the merely economic and ‘undeserving’ job-seekers. The reality is that both movements of people are mainly a consequence of the political operations of global corporate capital, and of US/UK (and other state) sponsored imperialism.

Structural Adjustment Programmes have been imposed upon the ‘Third World’ to ensure that any government subsidies for health, education, fuel or basic foodstuffs are removed. State-owned companies have to be sold off, usually to global corporations. People are forcibly removed from their land. Agribusiness is promoting a ruthless policy of enforcing GM products to outlaw non-patented food production, leaving small producers at the mercies of hostile courts. Water is being privatised and access denied to non-payers.

Morecambe Bay, where 23 Chinese cocklepickers drowned in 2004

Morecambe Bay, where 23 Chinese cocklepickers drowned in 2004

As a consequence of all these policies, massively increased poverty is leading to more social tensions. These create the mayhem associated with inter-ethnic and inter-religious in-fighting. Warlords and gangsters make their own direct deals with the global companies. Where people actively resist, as in Colombia, corporations (backed by the US and UK) resort to death squads. Otherwise, imperial armies simply invade. Not surprisingly, millions of people are uprooted in the process and take, often desperate, measures to ensure their families are safe(r) and have some form of livelihood. These conditions explain why millions are forced to move around the world looking for work.

There is no problem for the rich and powerful when it comes to their international travel. Every country offers them motorway connections from the airports, luxury hotels and entertainment (including ‘cheap sex’). For the poor and outcast it is another story. They have to make tortuous journeys across the world, paying private people traffickers and bribing government and local officials. When (or if) they arrive at their destination, they are often employed by ruthless gangmasters. Women and children can end up as sex-slaves. The horrible deaths of ‘illegal’ migrants, found suffocated in a truck at Dover, or of the cockle-pickers drowned in Morecambe Bay, are but the tip of the iceberg. Unknown thousands die each year, drowned at sea, dehydrated when crossing deserts, or frozen to death, without adequate shelter. The fact that the conditions, and the abuse such migrants face, when they finally arrive, are so bad, just lets us know just how terrible the conditions are, from whence they have fled.

‘Naturalising’ the profits

Big business has no problem ‘naturalising’ the profits it makes from ‘illegal’ workers. The banks make no distinction between the differing origins – legal or illegal – of the money deposited with them. Once it has passed into their vaults or electronic accounts, it doesn’t matter whether it has its origins in profiteering from underpaid workers, drug dealing, prostitution, extortion, terrorism, or arms trafficking. Recycled, this money then becomes available to all ‘respectable’ and legal commercial borrowers. The Royal Bank of Scotland doesn’t want to know about the conditions workers face in the Burmese oil industry it helps to finance.

Big business asks no questions when it comes to the source of their profits. So we, in the SSP, should make no distinction between native-born and other workers, living in Scotland, when it comes to fighting for rights, or to winning support for a socialist future. We see ourselves as the representatives and organisers of that section of the international working class living and working in Scotland. We only recognise ‘illegal’ worker status in order to combat it. The fight to unite our class internationally, and to oppose all attempts to divide us, is as important today, as past heroic struggles to emancipate chattel slaves, to liberate women and to enforce workers’ rights. Indeed, the fight, to prevent the imposition of outlaw status on millions of workers, shows us that all three of these great campaigns still need to be re-fought.

When Marx raised the slogan, Workers of the World Unite, he did not insert a prefix ‘Legal’ before ‘Workers’. This is why the SSP gives its full support to the ‘No One Is Illegal’ Campaign.

No One Is Illegal
c/o Bolton Socialist Club
16, Wood Street
Website: http://www.noii.org.uk

E-mail: No One Is Illegal

Motion passed at October 2007 SSP Conference

The Scottish Socialist Party recognises that the global corporations, and the national state governments at their beck and call, are pursuing a vicious strategy to divide the international working class. Immigration controls are being used to force millions of people into illegal status. i.e. outlaws.

This is being done to promote two tier workforces with illegal workers being subjected to super-exploitation, constant harassment and demonisation. This strategy is also designed to promote fear and racism amongst those workers enjoying legal status and to force legal workers’ organisations, whether political or economic, to pursue sectional protective measures (e.g. increased tariffs on imports, migrant worker quotas) instead of upholding genuine working class international solidarity.

To counter this strategy of dividing the working class through immigration controls, this Conference agrees to support the No One Is Illegal Group, which campaigns:-

  • i) in opposition to all immigration controls
  • ii) for internationalism and global links
  • iii) for the self-organisation of those affected by controls
  • iv) for work within the labour movement


Oct 16 2008

Hands Off the People of Iran

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:31 pm

Report of the campaign’s founding conference

On 8th December 2007, over 80 people gathered in central London for the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) founding conference.

HOPI was started early in 2007 by Iranian activists in the UK and UK left groups, to oppose imperialist war with Iran whilst supporting the struggles of the Iranian people. It has grown into a group with a diverse range of support, and the conference reflected this – there were people from several UK and Iranian left groups as well as trade unionists and non-affiliated individuals.

HOPI activists in Glasgow demonstrating against the Iraq war

HOPI activists in Glasgow demonstrating against the Iraq war

One of HOPI’s most essential aims is stopping imperialist war with Iran – an effective form of solidarity and perhaps the one we can do most for. The US National Intelligence Report, which had been a bit of a shock in stating that Iran had no nuclear weapons after Bush’s repeated claims that it did, was published less than a week before the conference. In their opening briefing papers, Mike Macnair (CPGB) and Israeli socialist Moshe Machover said that we couldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security by this – Bush and his allies had already stated that Iran is still a threat, and the possibility of war is still very real.

The conference resolved to build a network of local branches that can respond quickly to international political developments, and to campaign for trade unions to commit to protests in the event of war. Links will be built with other, similar groups nationally and internationally.

However, in late 2007, HOPI tried to affiliate with the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), and were refused, for rather spurious reasons (including that HOPI is “entirely hostile” to the aims of Stop the War – perhaps because of the ambiguity of StWC’s stance on the Iranian regime, or perhaps because of sheer factionalism). The conference firmly agreed that it was essential to keep on trying to work with StWC, and HOPI will not give up despite the determination of the StWC leadership to exclude us. There were members of StWC at the conference, and, on the ground, there is considerable support for HOPI within StWC. A motion on the subject, passed overwhelmingly, urged HOPI members to join StWC and support its activities, as well as arguing for the unity that is so badly needed in the movement.

Motions were passed to focus HOPI’s other activities on solidarity with women, students and trade unionists over the coming year. The issues surrounding lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender people in Iran were brought up, as the founding statement did not mentionthem. Homosexuals are liable for the death penalty in Iran, and it is obviously important to acknowledge and support their struggles against the regime – the conference readily gave them equal precedence with the struggles of the women’s, workers’ and students’ movements.

David Mather (HOPI Glasgow) emphasised, in his briefing paper, the need to think about sanctions. He pointed out that sanctions ultimately affect the people more than the government, and that, in fact, the Iranian regime is already using threats such as sanctions as an excuse to crack down on dissidents in the name of national security. An amendment to the founding statement, from HOPI North West, was passed, cementing HOPI’s opposition to sanctions.

Permanent Revolution proposed an amendment to the founding statement cutting out the line For a nuclear free Middle East in a nuclear free world. This was hotly debated, several comrades arguing that Iran should have the right to nuclear weapons while its main enemies have them. This argument was not directed towards getting that view into the statement; it was used to argue for HOPI to take no line on it. However, other comrades felt strongly that we should be directly opposing the idea of nuclear weapons, as in the event of any nuclear attack – instigated by the ruling class – would affect the working class the most, and for socialists to take a neutral stance was not an option. The amendment wasn’t passed, but the emphasis was changed to call more obviously for the nuclear disarmament of the US, Britain and Israel.

The conference allowed plenty of time for the discussion of all these issues and showed all motions and amendments on a screen which was updated as amendments were put forward, which meant that all the proceedings were clear. All this led to lively debate and a sense of optimism at the diversity and democracy of the campaign, which bodes well for the future of HOPI as a new and promising force in the anti-war movement.


Oct 16 2008

Iran And The New Threat Of War

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:23 pm

Over the last few days US websites have been full of debates about an article first published on the US News and World Report website. This was sparked off by the sudden resignation of the top US military commander for the Middle East, William Fallon.

The six reasons can be summarized as follows:

  • 1. Fallon’s resignation: he had recently been quoted ruling out any military attacks against Iran.
  • 2. Cheney’s peace trip: his trip to a number of Middle East capitals is seen as possible preparation before military action, it is thought Cheney will ask Saudi Arabia to increase oil supplies if Iran’s oil is cut off.
  • 3. Israeli air strike on Syria – it is now reported that

    the real purpose of the strike was to force Syria to switch on the targeting electronics for newly received Russian anti-aircraft defenses. The location of the strike is seen as on a likely flight path to Iran (also crossing the friendly Kurdish-controlled Northern Iraq), and knowing the electronic signatures of the defensive systems is necessary to reduce the risks for warplanes heading to targets in Iran.

  • 4. Warships off Lebanon: Two US warships have taken up positions off Lebanon since early March.
  • 5. Israeli comments: Israeli President Shimon Peres said earlier this month that Israel will not consider unilateral action to stop Iran from getting a nuclear bomb.
  • 6. Israel’s continued war with Hezbollah.

One would have thought given the seriousness of the current threats, Iran’s Islamic regime would seek less controversy at home and concentrate on the external enemy, yet the reactionary clerical rulers are adamant to continue their attacks on the most basic rights of Iranian workers, women and students.

Protests continue

As workers in many factories and plants continued their protests against the government’s neo liberal economic policies, Iranian Hezbollah and the religious police were used to attack the demonstration. Workers in Gavehsan dam, Minoo sweet factory in Tehran, textile workers in Poushine Baf factory in Ghazvin, railway workers in Tabss and cement workers in Nahvand were amongst the thousands of workers who protested against the job losses, privatisation and non payment of wages in the last week alone.

At the same time Iranians went to the polls on the 14th March. Even by the standards of the Iranian regime these elections were considered a sham by the majority of the population and the very low turnout reflected dissatisfaction with the government and the fact that no one has any illusions with ‘reformist’ factions of the Islamic Republic party.


Before the election, the unelected Guardian Council used its powers to disqualify 1,700 candidates on grounds of insufficient loyalty to Islam (even though most of them were candidates of the Islamic Republic party!). In the working class areas of south Tehran, most people were proud that they boycotted the elections and mocked the regime’s claims of high participation in the elections. Hundreds of ‘reformist’ candidates were banned from participation, however given the abysmal failure of this faction when it wasin power for 8 years, many inside Iran doubt the effect of the ban on the outcome of these elections.

The reality is 29 years after the Islamic regime came to power, very few Iranians, except the devoted paid supporters of the Shia regime, have any illusions about the various factions of Shia Islam in power. The young who constitute 70% of the population are getting increasingly impatient with middle age and older Iranians who according to the young ‘are more willing to make compromises with the current regime’.

All of these prove once more the correctness of HOPI’s positions against imperialist war , against Iran’s Islamic regime and in solidarity with social movement inside Iran. It is time the antiwar movement took up positive action in supporting the struggles of Iranian workers against war , against neo liberal capitalism.

Join HOPI at the HOPI website

SSP Policy

(Agreed at Oct. 2007 Conference)

The SSP supports the Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI) campaign which aims to build and organise practical solidarity with the growing movement against war and oppression in Iran. We encourage SSP members to participate in the campaign’s activities.


Oct 15 2008

Turkey: A Country At War With Itself

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 16RCN @ 7:58 pm

Steve Kaczynski explains the link in Turkey between head scarves and the Turkish army’s invasion of Iraqi Kurdistan

Recently, two issues involving Turkey have received wide coverage in the international media. The first is Islamic head scarves, the second is the Turkish army incursion into northern Iraq. I will look at these matters in turn.

In February 2008, the moderate Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP), the ruling party in parliament, put forward a constitutional amendment allowing Islamic headscarves to be worn in universities. This was passed – the AKP has a clear majority and in any case the amendment was supported by the deputies of the far right MHP (Nationalist Movement Party), an opposition party in parliament.

Before, during and after the vote, there were protests by people and parties who think the secular order of Turkey is being overturned gradually. Another opposition party, the CHP (Republican People’s Party), has been heavily involved in these protests, claiming, as is common in mainstream Turkish politics, to be defending the principles of the Republic founded by Kemal Ataturk in 1923.

Turkey is not the only country in the world where Islamic head scarves and clothing have been controversial, subject to bans now or in the past. To look at the issue specifically in that country, it is necessary to delve into its past.


The Republic and its predecessor the Ottoman Empire are predominantly inhabited by Muslims, the majority Sunni. The Ottoman Empire was heavily influenced by Islam in every area of life, with this permeating everyday life, including how people dressed. On the other hand, the Empire’s decline caused its rulers to attempt to Westernise, notably with the Tanzimat reform in the 19th century. This included changes in clothing – the fez worn by Ottoman men in the latter stages of the Empire was actually an attempt to adopt clothing more Western than what went before (men wore a turban earlier).

When the Republic was founded by Ataturk, a major attempt was made to continue to Westernise. The fez was banned, and even today, especially in the countryside, men can be seen wearing the kind of flat caps popular in Western Europe in the 1930s. These were meant to replace the fez.

Ataturk also encouraged women to wear Western-style clothes, and bans on wearing Islamic headgear in public buildings such as universities were introduced, though not always strictly enforced. However, these kinds of reforms never really penetrated the countryside – many Turkish women continued to wear headscarves in everyday life.

Powerful servant, dangerous master

While Turkey is often described as a secular state, this picture needs some qualification. The socialist weekly magazine Yuruyus (‘March’) noted (February 10, 2008 edition, page 9) that the state in Turkey has always been a religious one. Its religion is Sunni Islam. The government’s Office Of Religious Affairs is a powerful department and the state carefully supervises Islam, often using it for its own purposes. After the 1980 military coup, Islam was encouraged by the allegedly secular generals, partly to turn people away from more suspect ideologies like socialism. The attitude of the generals and secular politicians seems to have been that Islam was a powerful servant but a dangerous master, and they acted accordingly.

The worldwide surge in political Islam in the later 20th century also affected Turkey (Iran, which had an Islamic Revolution, is a neighbour). The controversies over headgear and related issues really boil down to Islam ceasing to be the servant of the state, and becoming its master instead. It is against this background that moves to rescind the ban on head scarves should be seen, as well as resistance to lifting the ban.

The controversy was graphically illustrated in the Turkish satirical magazine Le Man in October 2007. A cartoon strip was published describing a young Turkish woman going to a fancy dress ball at a university wearing her headscarf and an eye mask. She gets into an argument with a man dressed as Jesus Christ, and others at the party notice that she is wearing Islamic clothing. People dressed up as clowns or as Dracula berate her, saying they are children of the Republic and demanding that she leave the premises. She flees down the stairs past a bust of Kemal Ataturk, looks at it and reflects, I am very alone, my father (referring to Ataturk).

How does the left react? Some oppose the lifting of the ban, worried about creeping Islamism. Others see no side to choose between the secularists and the Islamists, noting that the AKP does not defend freedoms that have no tinge of Islam about them, such as the right to be a socialist or the right to strike. It is good that women who feel so inclined can wear the headscarf in university. But it is bad if it is a step towards making women wear one in public, as happens in Iran.

So far, the army generals seem to accept the lifting of the head scarves ban. This may be because they have been given a free hand by the AKP with the other major matter on the agenda, the Kurdish question.

The guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) have long had bases in northern Iraq, where Kurds live on both sides of the Turkish-Iraqi state frontier. After their leader Abdullah Ocalan was captured in 1999, the PKK insurgency, which has gone on since 1984, entered a relative lull (the PKK has repeatedly declared cease-fires but the Turkish state has never accepted them). However, recently the PKK has stepped up its armed activity. It is not clear why. Using Islamism, the AKP has made some inroads into the PKK’s support base (many Turkish Kurds are devout Sunni Muslims and thus a key AKP target constituency) and it may be that the PKK is trying to arrest this process. Few real concessions have been gained from the government, whose resistance is futile mentality and general’s epaulettes prevent it from coming up with a Turkish equivalent of the Good Friday Agreement, and frustration might also be a factor in the PKK attacks. And last but not least, the autonomous region in northern Iraq has given a major boost to Kurdish nationalism.

Threatening noises

The Turkish state has made increasingly threatening noises about the PKK guerrillas in Iraq. In fact, many PKK guerrillas are based well inside Turkey and have not crossed from Iraq, but this was overlooked. After the PKK sprang a particularly successful ambush near the Iraq border in October 2007, killing and capturing a number of Turkish soldiers, the Turkish authorities began beating the war drums. A huge wave of chauvinism was encouraged in Turkey (I was there at the time), with Kurdish and left-wing institutions and individuals being attacked by patriots amid a lynch-mob atmosphere. (The far-right lynch mob is a recurring feature of late Ottoman and Republican Turkish history.) A certain amount of anti-American feeling was generated by the apparent refusal of the Americans to let Turkish forces pour into northern Iraq. However, behind the scenes terms and conditions were being negotiated. Also, the AKP government passed a resolution permitting the Turkish armed forces to cross into Iraq if they felt the need to do so.

In December, the Turkish air force carried out air raids on northern Iraq which were apparently aided by intelligence from American sources. It was claimed in the Turkish media that hundreds of PKK guerrillas were killed. This was apparently not enough, even if it is assumed that the figure was anything other than propaganda. It was generally thought that the Turkish army would carry out land operations after the spring thaw, since the region is like an icebox in the winter and movement is difficult. However, presumably with the aim of taking the PKK by surprise, the Turkish army suddenly attacked on February 21, 2008.

Claims and counter claims

There was heavy fighting for about a week inside northern Iraq, then the Turkish army announced its withdrawal, claiming to have achieved its goals. It claimed to have killed over 200 PKK guerrillas, saying it had lost 24 soldiers and three village guards (a kind of militia recruited by the Turkish state from villagers, often under duress). The PKK claimed to have killed over 100 soldiers, admitting to losing nine guerrillas at the time of writing. The Turkish attacks seem to have been massive and aided by American intelligence information. There has been controversy in Turkey about the operation ending the day after US Defense Secretary, Robert Gates, called on the Turkish armed forces to pull back. However, the Turkish state has too many links to the Americans to seriously contradict US wishes.

Many Kurds in Iraq suspect their autonomous region was as much a target of the attack as the PKK, and was perhaps the real target. The operation was a kind of warning to them. Iraq President, Jalal Talabani, has been invited to Turkey. It was claimed in the Turkish media that he approved of the Turkish attack in private while condemning it in public. This is possible, though the Turkish media capacity for engaging in psychological warfare should never be underestimated.

The Turkish state has said it will invade the north of Iraq again if it feels it is necessary. Certainly the pro-system opposition parties think not enough has been done. The leader of the CHP, Deniz Baykal, complained in parliament on March 4 that the operation’s work had not been completed and MHP leader, Devlet Bahceli, said the way had been paved for deep disappointment. More fighting is almost certain, and possibly also another large cross-border incursion into Iraq by Turkey when the snows melt.

Internal repression is on the increase in Turkey, with the quest for enemies within (and without) being renewed. “Terrorists”, a very flexible term in Turkey, are a favourite target and have long been so, but there have also been murders and serious assaults on Christians in recent years, and while there is no sign the AKP government actually approves of them, it must be said that these things are as much a part of Turkey’s political Islam as the AKP’s election results. Turkey is a country at war with itself, and on more than one front.


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