Mar 20 2009

Edinburgh People’s Festival: Inspirational and Educational

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:53 pm

Colin Fox speaks to Allan Armstrong about the vision and mission of the Edinburgh People’s Festival

What made you revive the Edinburgh Peoples Festival after almost 50 years?

We didn’t start off with the intention of reviving the Edinburgh Peoples Festival (EPF). At Hamish Henderson’s funeral in 2002, a group of us, including Bill Scott, Karen Douglas and Craig Maclean, started to discuss Hamish’s achievements. This was the man after all who had formally accepted the Italian surrender in the Second World War, first translated Gramsci into English, was the driving influence behind the Scottish folk revival, wrote Freedom Come All Ye and the John Maclean March, a working class intellectual and the man who founded the Edinburgh People’s Festival in 1951.

Years before I had come across an essay Hamish had written on the significance of the Edinburgh People’s Festival in Andrew Croft’s book Weapons in the Struggle, and it was a real eye-opener for me.

So, a group of us decided to organise a one-off event to commemorate Hamish and his contribution to our struggle. We opted to have it at the Jack Kane Centre in Craigmillar for several reasons. One, Councillor Jack Kane had been the original Chairman of the EPF back in the 1950’s. Two, Craigmillar, on the city’s southern outskirts is Edinburgh’s poorest district and the Edinburgh Festival itself never went beyond EH1. We also had good community activists in the area we could rely on to publicise and promote the show. Things just escalated from there.

I guess looking back we recognised the importance of the original People’s Festival in acting as a foil or critique of the Edinburgh Festival itself. It has never really been designed for the majority of the city’s people. Ticket prices are now disgracefully high. Local indigenous performers will find it difficult to find a stage or platform and are shunted away for the month.

Where does most of the support for the EPF come from?

We found our original support in Craigmillar where we quickly got the backing of lots of local community groups, like the Craigmillar Artspace. We also learned quick lessons. We put on Bill Douglas’s film, My Ain Folk in the Newcraighall Miners’ Welfare without realising that, although people dearly loved Bill, they felt his depiction of their village rather dismal. Nonetheless the area is proud to have produced such talented people. At the last count we have presented shows in 20 different communities throughout the city and Midlothian.

Beyond local support, the EPF has received backing from the organised active Left. Tommy Shepard, who runs The Stand Comedy Club has been a fantastic help. Support has also come from local playwrights Cecilia Grainger and Barry Fowler, and from many key artistic community development groups in Wester Hailes and North Edinburgh.

Local trade union branches have been key to our financial success. It has been their support that has enabled us to take performances to the local communities and always keep tickets at affordable prices. [We usually charge £2 when the performances and events are not entirely free]. We are indebted to Unison healthworkers, posties, railworkers, teachers, firefighters, railway workers and civil servants unions. They have been very generous, partly, as I remind them, because they haven’t been giving out much strike pay over the last eight years!

As a socialist, why do you see it important to promote popular culture?

Art and culture can be thoroughly inspiring and educational. In Gramsci’s writings you can see the blueprint which led the Italian Communist Party to have one million members in the early 1970’s.

My partner, Zillah and I, attended a festival in France in the late ‘80s organised by the French Trotskyist party Lutte Ouvrier (LO). We were amazed to see 30,000 people there in the grounds of a chateau just outside Paris being entertained and enjoying themselves on an array of attractions. Festivals like these are still common on the left in France, Italy and Spain, bringing together tens or even hundreds of thousands of people. It became clear to me that much of the mass support for socialism on the continent, came not so much through public and party meetings, but because of the wider cultural activities of the Communist Parties and groups like the LO.

The French Communist Party’s L’Humanite by all accounts attracts hundreds of thousands of people.

In Britain we have had Miners’ Galas, May Days, and more recently the Tolpuddle Martyrs celebration. In the 1980’s, when I was in the Militant we used to organise huge political and cultural events in the Royal Albert Hall, Alexandra Palace and the Wembley Arena with 8000 people. They were brilliant. I have to admit that I enjoyed those performances with groups like the Who, Billy Bragg, Red Wedge, Paul Weller and Skint Video more than the Conferences. Truth be told, I probably still do!

In your opinion, what have been the highlights of the EPF so far?

There are very many that spring to mind. Perhaps the earliest is the EPF’s ‘discovery’ of David Sneddon, who we found busking on Chambers Street. We got him to perform at the Jack Kane Centre that first year with his group, The Martians and people were really bowled over by him. A few weeks later, I remember, Alan McCombes phoned me and told me to switch on the TV. His daughters had been at the Jack Kane Centre and were telling him that David Sneddon had just won the BBC’s first Fame Academy! The press were all over us for photographs of him at his first public performance, in Craigmillar.

We also had Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson. We cheekily phoned her up and asked if she would perform at our show Bart Comes to the Simpsons. All the kids in Edinburgh are born at the Simpsons Maternity! She was terrific about the whole thing and the show was just a fantastic success.

We also took the comedian, Mark Thomas, and Paddy Hill of the Birmingham Six into Saughton Prison for a show. Originally, it had been agreed that STV would film the event but the governor pulled the plug. The show went on without the cameras and the guys inside thought it was brilliant. They were all over Paddy Hill at the end. We have been back ‘inside’ just about every year since.

We had a line up in 2003 for a cultural debate, or ‘flyting’, which looking back was quite unequalled anywhere in Edinburgh since.

Whose Culture is it anyway? starred Paul Gudgeon, then Director of the Fringe, the irrepressible Richard Demarco, Tommy Shepard, actor Tam Dean Burn, Joy Hendry the publisher, Kevin Williamson, the late Angus Calder and Claire Fox from the Institute of Ideas. They were all going at it hell for leather with poor Sian Fiddimore from Wester Hailes desperately trying to keep it all in order.

Last year, we launched the first of what will become the Annual Hamish Henderson Memorial Talks. It was given by Hamish’s biographer, Timothy Neat. And that went very well, certainly one of our highlights – and I think our first sell out event!

The exhibition we mounted, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, telling the story of the Edinburgh People’s Festivals from 1951 is just excellent. It was subsequently shown last November at Wordpower’s Radical Book fair at the Out of the Blue Art Centre in Leith. It is currently on show at the Jack Kane Centre before it goes off on tour.

With trade union financial backing, we also organised a local Art Competition last year, with £1000 in prize money. This was a great success too and a foray into a new field for us.

Richard Demarco, one of the leading figures associated with the Edinburgh Fringe, has given the EPF considerable encouragement. Do you see this as a sign of wider recognition for the EPF?

Richard Demarco is the only person who has been to every Edinburgh Festival. He has been responsible for bringing over many artists to Edinburgh, including from Eastern Europe, when it was unfashionable to do so. Despite Demarco’s centrality to the Festival and the Fringe he has always been an outsider. He remains driven by a passion for the arts and his effervescence is infectious. He has given the EPF a helluva lot of encouragement. He made a typically passionate contribution to the debate we organised at Out of the Blue in August 2007, on the future of art in an independent Scotland. Elaine C. Smith also spoke in similar vein.

But the truth is the People’s Festival has been treated with complete disdain by the Edinburgh establishment and its media, including the local Evening News. Bourgeois commentators have turned their noses up at the popular culture we offer. Nevertheless, they have grudgingly been forced to recognise our innovative approach on a number of occasions.

The People’s Festival has begun to organise events outside the traditional Edinburgh Festival slot. Why did you decide to organise a celebration of the 90th Anniversary of the Russian Revolution for example?

People have often said that, even if with some exaggeration, that Edinburgh is a cultural desert outside the official Festival in August. The People’s Festival decided to ‘cash in’, if I dare utter the term, on the fact we are here the whole year round. And since we had grown considerably we felt that it was time to try and extend our activities beyond August.

The opportunity came then in 2007, with the 90th anniversary of the Russian Revolution, an event I believe is the greatest of the twentieth century. Others in the People’s Festival saw the possibilities so I approached Trevor Griffiths, the scriptwriter for the film, Reds, and asked him to come up and celebrate the occasion with us. In the interview he did with me at the event in The Stand, Trevor explained that in fact he was the fifth person chosen by Warren Beattie to write the script. Beattie had bought the film rights to John Reed’s classic, Ten Days That Shook The World. Tommy Shepard offered us The Stand for the event on a night in October. The comedian, Paul Sneddon (aka Vladimir McTavish) and Alistair Hulett’s folk group, the Malkies, performed alongside the Oscar nominated Trevor Griffiths. It was quite a night!

We also worked with Edinburgh’s excellent Word Power bookshop to produce the pamphlet, What the Russian Revolution Means To Me. Word Power is are markable resource. Elaine Henry and Tarlochan Gupta-Aura do a great job in sustaining a radical bookshop, when most other left bookshops have disappeared.

The following January, the EPF took on the organisation of an alternative Burns Supper. For the previous decade, this responsibility had been successfully taken on by the SSA/SSP, but it was good to broaden it out. The radical and controversial Burns scholar, Patrick Scott Hogg, spoke, whilst comedian Bruce Morton performed. People even came from as far away as Dublin to attend that one – seeing it advertised on our website!

This January the EPF organised a very successful event to celebrate 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth. Tell us how the contributors were chosen and what else has been planned this year for this anniversary?

We wanted to offer an even better Burns event than that held the previous year. At first we hoped we could get the noted Marxist literary critic and writer Terry Eagleton to speak, but he could not make it. John McAllion stepped in and spoke tremendously well about the link between Burns’ art and his radical commitment in the 1790’s. The ever popular, Vladimir McTavish provided the comedy, whilst we had great musical sessions from the young black American jazz player, William Young, and from Edinburgh’s rising singer songwriter, David Ferrard.

We have also received money from the Lipman Milliband Foundation to produce a pamphlet later this year, What Robert Burns Means To Me.

You have a particular interest in the Scottish artist, Alexander Naysmith. What plans have you for the EPF to bring Naysmith to people’s attention?

Alexander Naysmith is known to everyone but they perhaps don’t realise it, he painted the most famous portrait of Burns. Like Burns, Naysmith was a radical and was blacklisted for his views. He began life as an apprentice coach painter in the Grassmarket before becoming a very successful portrait artist, possibly Scotland’s best, studying under Allan Ramsay, and working in Paris and Milan. But the big mystery about Naysmith is why he suddenly changed to landscape painting apparently at the height of his career. None of the art books will say why, but I know why and actually so do they. It was his politics. His wealthy patrons refused to give him any commissions because he made no secret of his radical republican views. He talked with great passion on the American and French Revolutions during the long portrait sittings. So, under advice from no less a figure than his close friend and ally Robert Burns he took up landscape painting instead. He rose to equal heights in this genre too.

Naysmith was a close friend and collaborator of Burns and out lived the poet by 40 years. He was one of us. And I want the People’s Festival to recognise one of Edinburgh’s people, to organise an exhibition, this August, in the Craigmillar Arts Space, with Naysmith’s portrait of Burns at its centre. We want to make Naysmith’s work and life more widely known. We display work by new artists inspired by him.

Angus Calder is another important writer, who has recently died, associated with Edinburgh. Are there any plans to organise an event celebrating Angus?

There was recently a memorial event for Angus, which I was unable to attend. Angus made many contributions to history and culture and was himself an award-winning poet. He was a member of the SSP and I got to know him quite well. He was a generous and strong supporter of the People’s Festival. I can still remember his contribution at The Flyting we organised in Wester Hailes in 2003. The idea was to revive the great Scottish tradition of cultural polemic, much associated with Hugh MacDiarmid and others, once again largely centred on this city.

The EPF would like to work with others to get more commemorative events organised. We don’t want to take responsibility for everything and I think that’s the best way forward with Angus’s work.

Recently Patrick Scott Hogg asked us if we could organise something to celebrate the great Scottish radical, Thomas Muir. The EPF thought it would be more appropriate that this was done in a West of Scotland setting.

One of Edinburgh’s most controversial figures has been James Connolly. Do you see the EPF trying to reclaim this great socialist republican for Edinburgh?

One of the members of our Committee is Jim Slaven who is well known in the city as organiser of the James Connolly Society. Jim played a key role, in the face of strong opposition, in trying to get Connolly’s legacy recognised in this city. Last August, we hoped to get Terry Eagleton up to speak. This may still happen.

However, in June, Jim was successful in getting the City of Edinburgh Council to organise a one-day event, to coincide with Connolly’s birthday. The event, Over the Water, had speakers from Ireland and Scotland. This June, the EPF hopes to organise a Connolly event in the evening, after the day’s official events. Connolly is very much one of our people and we feel he should be supported by all on the Left especially.

What else has the EPF got organised for this coming year.

We have worked with others, particularly on the Trades Council, in re-establishing May Day in this city. Last year we had Aida Avila from Colombia, Sean Milne, the radical journalist, and Pat Arrowsmith, veteran CND activist, amongst others, as speakers. This year we have Mark Lyons, convenor of the UNITE branch at Grangemouth Refinery, Hilary Wainright, editor of Red Pepper and Matt Wrack from the FBU joining us. We hope to give pride of place to Aleida Guevara, Che Guevara’s daugher, in celebrating 50 years of the Cuban Revolution.

We are also putting on a 20 years after the Poll Tax exhibition, which will concentrate on the role local people and communities played here in defeating this hated measure. The fightback started in Edinburgh, and included such veterans of the struggle as Sadie Rooney, one-time Labour councillor for Prestonfield – until she saw sense!

We also hope to bring a piece of theatre from London’s West End would you believe. The EPF’s producer Barry Fowler is going down to attend the London premiere of Maggie’s End written by Ed Waugh and Trevor Wood in the Shaw Theatre. The play is about the reaction of mining communities in the North East of England to the announcement of Thatcher’s death. Just the job, eh!

It would be great if we could put this on as our first full theatrical production. Even better, if our showing of Maggie’s End coincided with Thatcher’s actual demise!

What event would you like more than any other to put on the EPF?

Along with the photographer, Craig Maclean, I have often discussed the possibility of putting on some free ‘Outdoor Cinema’. Craig and Rob Hoon (from Out of the Blue) have already experimented with projecting huge images on prominent city landmarks. I certainly think the EPF should remain ‘dangerous and challenging’. I like the idea of guerrilla cinema as agitprop!

Edinburgh People’s Festival website

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Mar 20 2009

Half truths, mistruths and anything but the truth— a brief history of a century of wartime propaganda

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:31 pm

Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities.

—Voltaire

The government of the United States had a major problem. It was April 1917, and on the sixth day of that month, eager to get into the First World War, they declared war on Germany.

Their big problem was this.

Although the American government was up for a fight, the American public was steadfastly pacifist. They saw the war in Europe as just that, a European war, nothing for them to get themselves involved in. Something clearly had to be done to get the population of the United States into a more warlike frame of mind.

On April 13, 1917, president Woodrow Wilson set up the Committee for Public Information, or the Creel Commission as it came to be known. The commission was headed by George Creel, a well-known muckraking journalist, the other formal members being the secretaries of war, state and the navy.

With the Creel Commission’s arrival, modern wartime propaganda in the media age was born. Its aim was to turn pacifist America into a society thirsty for war, to make patriotism and hatred of all things German the noblest aim of every American citizen.

In this the Creel Commission was spectacularly successful. Within months of its formation the American public’s mind was filled with hatred for Germany, German immigrants, anything at all German.

How did the Creel Commission manage to engineer such a remarkable turnaround in public opinion in such a short timeframe?

Quite simply, the Creel Commission understood how to use the media that was available to them (radio, telegraph, films, newspapers, &c.), and harnessed it to change public opinion, with appeals to patriotism and a huge disinformation campaign.

Blatant lies about German soldiers murdering babies and hoisting them up on their bayonets were spread, lies supplied by the British intelligence services, whose stated aim was to control the thoughts of the world (or more specifically at that time the thoughts of the influential intellectual and political classes of the United States). These lies were so powerful that they still persist to this day.

The Creel Commission distributed pamphlets, urging the public to keep an eye open for German spies and recruited the then fledgling Hollywood film industry to produce luridly titled films, such as To Hell with the Kaiser, The Claws of the Hun and The Kaiser, the Beast of Berlin.

The Four Minute Men

Telegraphs, cables, radio, all were employed to turn the American population against Germany and all things German, but Creel’s real master stroke was the creation of a group of orators who came to be known as The Four Minute Men.

June 5, 1917, was the date set when all males would have to register for the draft. Many feared a repeat of the draft riots of the Civil War (one of the causes of those riots being a provision whereby those able to afford three hundred dollars could pay a substitute to go and fight for them).

One month before draft registration George Creel unleashed the Four Minute Men on the American public. Their first subject was Universal Service by Selective Draft. In movie theatres the length and breadth of the United States a slide was shown announcing the appearance of the local Four Minute Man.

He would deliver a speech which was never longer than four minutes, a speech designed to stir patriotism and anti-German feeling in the audience.

Four Minute Men were usually local professional men possessed of good public speaking skills, and from May 12 to May 21, cinema audiences were harangued by 75,000 orators, promoting the idea hat in honour of future draftees, registration day should be treated as a festival of honour.

The Four Minute Men were spectacularly successful. On draft registration day, ten million men signed up, where only two months previously no one had wanted anything to do with a European war.

The Four Minute Men went on from this triumph to address their audiences on such topics as Why We Are Fighting and What Our Enemy Really Is. They spoke at lodge and labour union meetings, lumber camps and on Indian reservations.

They operated in 153 universities, there were even junior Four Minute Men who spoke in high schools. By the time the war was over they had given 755,190 speeches to a total of over 314 million Americans. They reached more than 11 million people a month and were the First World War’s most effective form of propaganda.

With the United States finally in the war, and with ever-growing rumblings of discontent and fears of revolution on the home front, the writing was on the wall for the German war effort.

When Germany finally surrendered in 1918, many people on both sides came to realise the huge part that propaganda and the Creel Commission had played in the German’s ultimate defeat, not least among them an Austrian corporal with a funny toothbrush moustache who was to learn the lessons of the Creel Commission well, indeed he was to learn them to devastating, truly devastating, effect.

Right up to the present day the lessons of the Creel Commission are evident whenever states have to convince their populations of the correctness of their decision to go to war, or their support for one side over another in some conflict in which they are not directly militarily involved.

Ruthless

In the very recent past we have seen the Israeli propaganda machine at its ruthless best, defending the Zionist state’s armed wing, the IDF, as it behaved in a manner which would have drawn admiring looks from any playground school bully.

Whenever Israel was challenged or in any way criticised on the enormity of its actions in Gaza, the stock answer on our television screens from a string of literate, media trained Israeli spokespersons was that Israel had the right to protect itself from rockets fired from Gaza.

The lack of questioning of the Israeli government’s party line by a supposedly free media in so-called Western democracies shames those newspapers, radio and TV stations which failed to do so. No reporters were allowed into Gaza and in the hugely compliant mainstream western media, few even bothered to ask the questions, What have you got to hide? or even, But why are Hamas firing rockets into Israel?

Barely anyone connected to the mainstream media explored or attempted to explain the history of the Palestinian conflict, and there was very little mention of the fact that since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 they have mounted what in mediaeval times would have been called a siege of that city.

And while many may disagree with Hamas they are the democratically elected ruling party in Gaza.

Shamefully biased

While there was no chance of Israel losing militarily, there was even less chance of them losing the propaganda war in the west, thanks to the shamefully biased coverage that the savage attack on Gaza received from the compliant BBC and western news channels and newspapers. (I consciously use the word attack and not war, because war hints at some level of comparable military ability.)

No one, however, should really be surprised by the BBC’s compliance. Its attitude toward the Palestinians during the attack was augmented soon after by its shocking and disgusting refusal to broadcast the aid appeal for Gaza, which brought it condemnation from all sides. The BBC pleaded protection of its independence and impartiality, but the corporation is not now, and never has been, a neutral organisation.

Even in its early days, in 1926, during the general strike, it would not allow Ramsay MacDonald the right of reply to Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin. Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director, outwardly gave the impression that he was keen to defend the corporation’s independence and impartiality from the intrusion of the state, but in reality he was prepared to block any views being aired which did not chime with those of Baldwin’s Tory government.

Bearing this in mind, the shockingly biased reporting we viewed on our screens should not leave anyone open-mouthed with astonishment. If a crude rocket fired from Gaza fell on an empty school in Israel, this would receive equal or better coverage than the fact that weapons using the latest technology were falling on occupied buildings filled with real people in Gaza.

Propaganda, it would appear, is not just about stirring up patriotic feelings and creating hatred for the enemy, it can also work at a very effective level for the state by promoting one side’s view in a conflict while largely ignoring the other’s. It can also be a powerful manipulator of perception by what it chooses to omit to tell us.

Not that Gaza is the only example of state propaganda at work in recent times. In the build-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003 we were assured that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction; there were sexed up dossiers designed to scare us; the Iraqi people deserved democracy and not some tyrant ruling over them; and that we were just the people to deliver that democracy to them.

Of course Saddam Hussein was an evil tyrant, but he did not officially become so in the eyes of the West until he invaded Kuwait and threatened the flow of oil to the west. Up to that point he had been a puppet of the west, had even been armed by them, basically allowed to do what he wanted in his own little fiefdom.

When he gassed the Kurds at Halabja in 1988 it didn’t cause too much of a stir in the western media, but once he stepped out of his little box and into Kuwait he became the devil incarnate. Following the first Gulf War there followed a long period leading up to the second, in which sanctions and propaganda were the weapons of choice.

Fever pitch

In the year leading up to the invasion in 2003, the propaganda reached fever pitch. The gassing of the Kurds at Halabja went from an event which had been largely ignored and became a crime against humanity, and the alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction was high on the agenda as a reason for invasion as Saddam was demonised by his former friends.

Sexed up dossiers flew in the face of the evidence of the weapons inspectors who had quietly but effectively been disarming Iraq since the end of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. The propaganda machine went into overdrive, and yet, it didn’t quite succeed, as millions took to the streets around the world to demonstrate against and oppose the planned invasion.

But they went and did it anyway (which is fair comment on the kind of democracy that we live in, and by extension also the one which was planned for Iraq). Of course, no weapons of mass destruction were found, but Saddam was overthrown and Iraq got its democratic government. Oh, yes, and western companies did rather well out of the reconstruction of Iraq.

However, the fact that so many people opposed the war in Iraq demonstrates that even the most vehement state propaganda cannot fool all of the people all of the time. And despite the age of the embedded war reporter being upon us, where reporters are given guided tours of the battlefield rather than roaming free to report what they see, still the truth of the horrors of war, and the things done in our name, occasionally seeps through.

Remember the pictures from Abu Graibh of the torture taking place there? Or the iconic picture of the little Vietnamese girl horribly burned by napalm fleeing her village? Or Seymour Hersh’s uncovering of the My Lai massacre in Vietnam?

Hersh was not actually in Vietnam, but uncovered the story by following a trail of rumour and stories around the United States. Which can only leave you wondering what the huge press corp actually in Vietnam were doing to fill in their time.

Even now, we are living through a time of war time propaganda, as our liberties are curtailed and the state places us all under increasing surveillance, all necessary, we are told, if we are to win the War on Terror.

As socialists, we understand that to win the current war on terror is actually quite easy, it’s just a matter of stopping invading other countries to plunder their resources. By making others feel more secure we thus increase our own security, it’s that simple. Resources thus saved could be used to fight the real wars on terror, such as the terror of the elderly, living on pittance pensions, having to choose between eating or heating their homes in winter.

However, I digress.

From the Creel Commission to the War on Terror, state wartime propaganda has tried, through various mechanisms and with varying degrees of success, to unite populations behind the state’s view.

Ironically, however, a side effect of the creation of the Creel Commission was to have devastating consequences for the left in the United States.

During the First World War, in the States, nearly nine million people worked in war industries and a further four million were in the armed forces. When the war ended, economic difficulties and labour unrest rose to the surface as war industries were left without contracts, leading to many being made redundant.

There were two main union/socialist groups in the United States at that time—The Industrial Workers of the World (the IWW or Wobblies), led by Bill Haywood, and the Socialist Party, led by Eugene Debs.

The Russian Revolution was still fresh in many minds and there was a widespread paranoia regarding anarchists, communists, socialists and dissidents. Following a string of bombings by anarchists, America was beset by fear, in what was to become known as the Red Scare.

Because the IWW and the Socialist Party had both been outspoken objectors to the war, this made them unpatriotic in the minds of much of the American population, and to be even loosely associated with them would arouse suspicion.

A shipyard strike followed by a general strike in Seattle in 1919 was wrongly attributed to the IWW. Charges that they were inciting revolution were levelled against them. Newspaper headlines across the country urged that the strike be put down. The mayor of Seattle guaranteed the city’s safety by announcing that 1500 police and the same number of troops were available to him to break the strike. The strikers, fearing they couldn’t succeed, and might damage the labour movement, called off the strike.

Demonised

All strikes in the next six months were demonised in the press as plots to establish communism, conspiracies against the government and crimes against society.

May Day rallies in 1919 in Boston, New York and Cleveland ended in riots and on June 2 another multi-state bomb plot was uncovered, all leading to an increase in tension, in which workers who went on strike were seen as enemies and fair game for persecution.

The Boston Police went on strike in September, as did the steel workers in a nationwide strike a few weeks later. The Boston police were sacked and replaced, and the steel strike ended without the workers getting any of their demands.

Strikers were branded red and unpatriotic as a general state of hysteria swept the nation. Colleges were seen as hotbeds of revolution and current or prior membership of a leftist organisation led to many secondary school teachers being dismissed.

The Justice Department formed the General Intelligence (or anti-radical) Division of the Bureau of Investigation. It compiled 200,000 cards in a filing system detailing radical organisations, individuals and case histories nationwide.

Thousands of alleged radicals were deported or imprisoned. Counsel was often denied, they were not allowed contact with the outside world and they were often beaten and held in inhumane conditions. (So, Guantanamo was nothing new in America’s history!)

On January 2, 1920, in 33 cities across the United States, more than 4000 supposed radicals were arrested. The New York legislature expelled five socialist assemblymen and 32 states passed laws making it illegal to fly the red flag.

Eventually, saner heads prevailed. Twelve eminent lawyers published a report detailing and condemning the Justice Department’s abuse of civil liberties. The decision to bar the socialist assemblymen was treated with disgust by newspapers and many prominent politicians of the day.

Newspapers came out against proposed anti-sedition bills, in which they saw the seeds of censorship, and business leaders realised that deporting immigrants (many of whom were wrongly branded communist) was leading to the loss of cheap labour. Finally, the Red Scare fizzled out.

Before it did so, however, the propaganda techniques created by the Creel Commission in wartime had extended its tentacles into peace time and dealt a major blow to the left in the United States.

It also gave birth to the modern day public relations business which, with its agenda of controlling the public mind, has never looked kindly on the left, neither in peace time nor in time of war. But it has never been able to quite kill the left off, either.

It should not be forgotten that around the time the Creel Commission was inciting a pacifist population to war that, on the other side of the Atlantic, John McLean stood in the dock of the High Court in Edinburgh on May 9, 1918, charged with incitement to mutiny and sedition, and uttered the unforgettable words, I stand here, then, not as the accused, but as the accuser of capitalism, dripping with blood from head to foot.

State propaganda may commit vast resources to induce their populations to approve of their military ventures, but by putting a socialist perspective on the facts we can always see through the lies and deceptions and shine a light on their darkness.

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Mar 20 2009

Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People –What does it stand for?

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:31 pm

When the RCN used the image of the bare-breasted Liberty from the iconic Delacroix painting as a front cover for our pamphlet, Republicanism, Socialism and Democracy, this provoked a debate in the SSP. Catriona Grant, leading socialist feminist, and member of SSP Edinburgh no 2 branch contributes to the debate.

Why are Liberty’s breasts bared in Delacroix’s painting – Liberty Leading the People? A recent discussion in the SSP raged for a week or two whether Delacroix’s work of Liberty Leading the People was sexist. Is it revolutionary or sexist? Can it be both?

Eugene Delacroix’s Romantic painting of 1830 is probably Delacroix’s most famous work – the bare breasted and footed goddess warrior, triumphantly leading the Parisians with the tricolour in her hand to their ultimate goal for liberty, fraternity and equality! (Sisterhood was never mentioned).

Liberty Leading the People commemorates the July Revolution of 1830 in France, which toppled the Emperor Charles X, a generation or so after the French Revolution. In the painting, Liberty leads the people over the bodies of the fallen. Stridently and encouragingly she holds up the tricolour of the French Revolution in one hand and brandishes a bayonet in the other, the dead being her pedestal, her plinth to declare the revolution – they are victorious.

Why does Liberty in the painting have her breasts on show? Does it matter? Did her dress fall off her shoulders by accident or was she just tardy in her dress? Traditionally, in Romantic paintings, this meant that she was not like other bourgeois, proletariat or peasant women, but having her breasts on show indicated power and even supernatural strength. The bare breasted lady is indeed not a lady at all but a symbol personified by Marianne – a French goddess-like figure and “robust woman of the people”. She symbolises the French Republic. Liberty in Delacroix’s painting is no ordinary woman – she is a revolutionary goddess! She is a goddess-like warrior, who symbolises the Revolution and the Republic, and not a depiction of women’s status in society of the time. This painting pre-dates Impressionists, who recorded what they saw, rather than depicting symbols in a romantic way. Would it have been possible to paint a French mortal woman in this stance? At this time probably not. Only a symbolic woman could have such a role in a piece of historic propaganda rather than a real woman.

So is Delacroix sexist in his subject matter? Well, of course he is! In 1830, it would almost be impossible not to be sexist or patriarchal as the dominant society, even in revolutionary France, was sexist at this time, as was the rest of the Western World. However is the painting sexual and misogynistic? No, I don’t think it is. It’s subject matter is not about sex or sexuality but about the power of the revolution, the breasts are symbolic, not a pair of pneumatic boobs of a ‘page three stunna’.

But what does this painting stand for – is it a revolutionary painting, or an excuse just to see another pair of breasts in a gallery alongside hundreds, even thousands, of other pairs of breasts? As the Guerrilla Girls tell us, only 3% of the paintings in the Metropolitan Museum, in New York, are by women, and of the paintings of women, 83% of them are naked – this is replicated all over the world in art galleries. Women have been objectified over the centuries and so have their body parts, Delacroix is not a feminist but a bourgeois 19th century painter capturing the mood and propagandising the only way he knows how – through Romantic imagery.

Who was Delacroix and why did he paint this picture?

Ferdinand Victor Eugene Delacroix was born on April 26, 1798. He was the son of the ambassador of the French Republic to Holland. His father had been very active during the revolution. Despite his parents dying when he was a little boy, he would be very aware of the revolution and the terror that reigned afterwards.

He began to paint at age of 17. He was hugely influenced by the Romanticist period of painting and later went on to influence the Impressionist movement, particularly Cezanne and Picasso, who copied his paintings. Romantic paintings are paintings, depictions of fantasy, and an expression of feeling – of love, of fear, of desire and even, of revolution. They are emotional paintings not paintings of reason, or of fact.

In 1830, Delacroix watched the fighting in central Paris alongside his friend and fellow painter Eugene Lami. This fighting had erupted not far from their studio. Delacroix was not a participant but a spectator. He wrote to his brother, Since I have not fought and conquered for the fatherland I can at least paint on its behalf. That’s why he painted
Liberty Leading the People.

Liberty Leading the People is sort of a political poster, it’s the ‘No Poll Tax’ poster of its time. It marks the day when the people rose and dethroned the Bourbon King.

Delacroix made a number of sketches. They contained street fighters, individually and in groups. He decided to construct his artwork around the allegorical female representing Liberty. This was a daring concept – having the bloodstained victims of an actual battle, setting a high-flown symbolic figure in the middle of the dirt and triumphant on the bodies, not of our victims, but of her comrades.

Liberty Leading the People is a two-dimensional painting. Delacroix uses linear perspective to give the effect of 3-dimensional space. He uses aerial perspective with the city in the back being smaller and the sky is blue and grey. The battle of July Revolution of 1830 is the subject matter. The meaning of the image, the content, is the people wanting liberty, and the battle the people went through to gain liberty. Liberty leads the people on. Delacroix uses these images to tell the story – looking at the painting you know that there is a victory, a triumph – even if you are not aware of the situation.

The focal point of this work is Liberty. The emphasis is on Liberty because she is the most important figure in the work. Liberty stands out more than the other figures because she is carrying the flag with bright colours of red, blue and white. According to people who know things about fine art, Liberty Leading the People is very much in scale and proportion. The art is in proportion because of the relationship between the parts to each other. No figure is larger than any other figure. An example is the young man to the right of Liberty. He is not larger than the older men to the left of Liberty. The figures are in scale because the figures are the normal or expected size. The shape (hands, arms, feet, torso, head) is all in the right scale to the actual bodily parts of a person.

Delacroix’s spirit is fully involved in its implementation of Liberty Leading the People. He executes the work with the heroic poses of the people fighting for liberty, the outstretched figure of Liberty, the dead figures, and the attitudes of the people following Liberty. Delacroix has given this painting a sense of full participation, no one is passive in the painting. This work has been called the first overtly political work of modern painting.

Shown at the Salon of 1831, the painting was understood in various ways and caused quite an uproar. Working class, a fishwife, and a whore is what the figure of Liberty was called by Outraged of Paris. Critics said that the painting was a slander of the five glorious days, that Liberty was ignoble, and that the insurgents represented a rude class of people, urchins and workmen. The newly blossoming bourgeoisie was shocked by the painting – it was seen as crude and unnecessary.

Liberty’s breasts were seen as shocking, despite the fact the majority of Romantic paintings depicted naked women or semi-naked women, because she was active and not passive. Her breasts, on show with her bare feet, indicate her power and strength as opposed to her sexuality – naked or semi naked women are usually reclining or surrounded by other women – rather, she is in an active stance of defiance surrounded by mortal men.

Women in the first French Revolution

But was it so impossible to depict a real woman involved in the revolution other than a fantasy warrior goddess? Did women not play a role in the French Revolutions? Women – working class and peasant women – have always played a political role. They were responsible for putting food on the table, and during times of hardship, such as famine, when bread was unavailable or expensive, women had traditionally marched to the civic centre to beseech the local government to ameliorate their misery. During the first French Revolution, this tradition would be followed, but with one new development. Parisian women no longer marched to the civic centre to petition the local magistrates, but rather they marched first to the royal palace itself. They sent their petitions directly to the king then, later, they marched to the national legislature. It was the women who rattled the gates demanding bread!

Women in France formed clubs and organised. They met together to learn how to become citizens of a great nation, rather than subjects of a king, and to press for specific legislation. These women wanted equality of rights within marriage, the right to divorce, extended rights of widows over property and of widowed mothers over their children, publicly guaranteed educational opportunities for girls (including vocational training for poor girls), public training, licensing, and support for midwives in all provinces, guaranteed right to employment, and the exclusion of men from specific traditionally-female professions, like dress-making.

In August 1791 the Declaration to the Rights of Man was made known by the National Assembly. In September 1791, National Assembly was replaced by a newly elected body, the Legislative Assembly, a constitutional monarchy. This prompted Olympe de Gouge, female revolutionary, to write the Declaration of the Rights of Women and the Citizeness (1791), possibly the best known tract on the rights of women from the period, as a response to the Declaration to the Rights of Man and its silence regarding women.

But the revolution did not deliver male suffrage never mind female suffrage – only men who paid a certain amount of taxes had a say and unemployment was rife. War against foreign forces who wanted to restore King Louis XVI’s power, the return of political instability and the resulting economic hardship, and their desires for sexual equality, all mobilised women once again to act collectively on their own behalf. This resulted in even more marches, more clubs, more petitions, and the increased use of the taxation populaire.

In 1793, the Society of Revolutionary Republican Women, created by sans-culotte women, lasted only six months, before it was shut down by authorities. These women were revolutionary, militant feminists! Advocating issues of interest to the radical middle class and the Parisian poor, such as penal reform, occupational training for girls, public morality, and economic reforms. At this time the Jacobins demanded, among other things, that all women wear the Revolutionary dress and cockade (a hat that indicated different factions). A law was duly passed to require all women to put on the proscribed articles and when the Républicaines-révolutionnaires tried to have the law enforced, market women rebelled and petitioned the Convention. The Convention seized their opportunity, dissolved the Society, and outlawed all women’s clubs and associations. The women were seen as anti-revolutionary and as traitors. A period of terror and barbarism reigned in France, but women still rebelled and organised. But by 1794, Olympe de Gouges had been guillotined. The people would not rise up again until 1830 (depicted by Delacroix – could Liberty be Olympe?).

Society of Revolutionary Republican Women Manifesto

The National Assembly, wishing to reform the greatest and most universal of abuses, and to repair the wrongs of a six-thousand-year-long injustice, has decreed and decrees as follows:

  1. All the privileges of the male sex are entirely and irrevocably abolished throughout France;
  2. The feminine sex will always enjoy the same liberty, advantages, rights, and honours as does the masculine sex;
  3. The masculine gender [gendre masculine] will no longer be regarded, even grammatically, as the more noble gender, given that all genders, all sexes, and all beings should be and are equally noble;
  4. That no one will henceforth insert in acts, contracts, obligations, etc., this clause, so common but so insulting for women: That the wife is authorized by her husband before those present, because in the household both parties should enjoy the same power and authority;
  5. That wearing pants [la culotte] will no longer be the exclusive prerogative of the male sex, but each sex will have the right to wear them in turn;
  6. When a soldier has, out of cowardice, compromised French honour, he will no longer be degraded as is the present custom, by making him wear women’s clothing; but as the two sexes are and must be equally honourable in the eyes of humanity, he will henceforth be punished by declaring his gender to be neuter;
  7. All persons of the feminine sex must be admitted without exception to the district and departmental assemblies, elevated to municipal responsibilities and even as deputies to the National Assembly, when they fulfil the requirements set forth in the electoral laws. They will have both consultative and deliberative voices. . . .;
  8. They can also be appointed as magistrates: there is no better way to reconcile the public with the courts of justice than to seat beauty and to see the graces presiding there;
  9. The same applies to all positions, compensations, and military dignities. . .

We are told that Liberty is a symbol, however the women who in the 18th Century penned the above could easily have been Liberty. However they may have worn trousers and had their blousons tightly buttoned up (I would imagine).

For those worried about her breasts being on show forever or her catching cold, Liberty is properly attired by the time she appears as a giant statue guarding over Ellis Island in the US, this time her breasts are covered and instead of a tricolore she holds a torch of justice aloft her head.

Liberty has been printed on stamps and the 100 franc note, she remains a poster girl of the 20th and 21st century – featured on the front cover of the RCN’s Republican Communist magazine, Issue 1 and their pamphlet on republicanism, and on Eric Hobsbawm’s Age of Revolution. It is on the front cover of the band, Coldplay’s Viva la Vida album. Liberty Leading the People has inspired many over the decades and centuries.

Long live Liberty!

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Mar 20 2009

Clearances

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:16 pm

From Dornoch we moved further north
not as north as where she was born
but north enough to understand;
to understand her returning

She sat there beneath the sculpture
Of ‘The Emigrants’ at Helmsdale,
Moved by the woman looking back
To the strath that was once her home.

For she too had to leave here
To work in service or in shops;
She too, with some eighty years now,
Lived in the south and not the north

And these years have moved her to tears
And this woman brought them all back,
Yet she sits with son and daughter
Who marvel at her dignity.

Two highland ladies, one in bronze,
And the other in flesh that pains,
Bestow upon a changing world
Unchanging values that redeem.

This is taken from Jim’s latest book of poetry, Being Beneath the Moon. Available for £2.50 including. postage & packaging from Magdalene Press, 2, Carlton Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1NJ.

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Mar 20 2009

Letter From A Contract Worker

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:14 pm

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would tell
of this desire
to see you
of this fear
of losing you
of this more than benevolence that I feel
of this indefinable ill that pursues me
of this yearning to which I live in total surrender…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter of intimate secrets,
a letter of memories of you,
of you
of your lips red as henna
of your hair black as mud
of your eyes sweet as honey
of your breasts hard as wild orange
of your lynx gait
and of your caresses
such that I can find no better here…
I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that would recall the days in our haunts
our nights lost in the long grass
that would recall the shade falling on us from the plum
trees
the moon filtering through the endless palm trees
that would recall the madness
of our passion
and the bitterness
of our separation…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that you would not read without sighing
that you would hide from papa Bombo
that you would withhold from mama Kieza
that you would reread without the coldness
of forgetting
a letter to which in all Kilombo
no other would stand comparison…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would be brought to you by the passing wind
a letter that the cashews and coffee trees
the hyenas and buffaloes
the alligators and grayling
could understand
so that if the wind should lose it on the way
the beasts and plants
with pity for our sharp suffering
from song to song
lament to lament
gabble to gabble
would bring you pure and hot
the burning words
the sorrowful words of the letter
I wanted to write to you my love…

I wanted to write you a letter…

But oh my love, I cannot understand
why it is, why it is, why it is, my dear
that you cannot read
and I – Oh the hopelessness! – cannot write!

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Mar 20 2009

Obamanos: Latinos, The US Election And The Immigrant Rights Struggle

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:59 pm

Dave Moore, a socialist in the US, reports on what an Obama administration means for immigrants’ rights. This is an updated version of an article Dave wrote for Red Banner.

In the spring of 2006, immigrant uprisings swept across the United States, sparked by a vicious bill to criminalize undocumented workers. In city after city, protesters held a sea of placards; one message recurred: ‘Today we march, Tomorrow we vote’.

On November 4th, that promise was kept – and it proved decisive.

Fast-changing demographics and massive voter mobilisation allowed Latinos to impact the US election as never before. Exit polls indicated that 3 million more Latinos took part than in 2004 – a leap from 7.6 to 10.5 million. Battleground states Colorado, Nevada, Florida and New Mexico were carried for Barack Obama by a surge of Latino votes; prominent anti-immigrant legislators were dumped.

This article traces the immigrant rights struggle from the marches to the ballot box and sketches the challenges it faces under the new administration.

From marching to voting

Latinos – interchangeably called Hispanics – represent the largest minority group in the United States at 46 million (15.4% of the population). History belies the stereotype: the border divided many Latinos following the seizure of huge tracts of Mexican territory by nineteenth century imperial war. Unwanted from the outset, Latino experience has long been one of persecution and expulsion.

Today, 60% of US Latinos are native-born citizens (a status conferred automatically to those born of immigrant parents). The rest, immigrants from Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Caribbean and other countries of Central and Latin America, mainly have legal status as naturalised citizens or permanent residents. Of an estimated undocumented populace of 12 million, Latinos comprise 9.6 million – approximately one fifth of all Hispanics. Their numbers expanded markedly through the economic dislocation wrought by NAFTA – increasing by more than 40% since 2000.

Two additional trends fuel the fires of the anti-immigrant right – internal migration and higher birth rates. Latino populations have been dispersing markedly from their historic focus in the southwest and major urban centres, reaching smaller cities and towns across the nation; they also now contribute more than half of all US population growth, the majority from births rather than migration.

Latinos are no homogeneous group, but the experience for most has been bitter in the post-9/11 era. Recast as a ‘national security’ threat, undocumented workers were soon faced with a sharp increase in raids and deportations. States and localities began enacting experimental laws designed to squeeze those without papers. Nativist groups grew in numbers and vehemence. All Latinos felt the chill.

Many Republicans saw electoral advantage in stirring the pot. Others, more strategically, saw opportunity to fundamentally reshape immigration law to better suit capitalist profit. They looked to a cross-party compromise that would include large scale legalization: 2005’s McCain-Kennedy Bill. While it floundered in the Senate, anti-immigrant Republicans in the House rallied behind a very different plan. It would criminalize not just the undocumented but anyone deemed to be assisting their presence in the United States. Menacing, if deeply unrealistic, it threatened capital with massive dislocation. Yet, at the year’s end, the bill passed – and it sparked fully-fledged Latino revolt: huge marches in Washington DC, then Chicago, Milwaukee, Phoenix, next a million on the streets of Los Angeles, on and on, city after city; by April 10th, a National Day of Action spanned over 100 cities; for May 1st, another immense wave of marches. International Workers Day – all but moribund in the US – was spectacularly revived as the ‘Great American Boycott’ – no work, no school, no sales and no buying.

It was an unprecedented high point for immigrant struggles, yet the upsurge was already faltering. April had brought a new Senate bill, far less punitive, that rehashed a clumsy mix of increased border enforcement, a temporary worker programme and, for those resident over 5 years, a protracted path to legalisation. Corporate to its core, the evolving bill addressed some of the movement’s demands and spurred hopes, debate and division. DC policy groups, national organisations and key union figures clutched at a fragile compromise – and feared an escalating movement would jeopardise it. They saw those building for May 1st more as threats than allies with their unequivocal demand for amnesty and rejection of the temporary worker programme. Thus, even as bolder action was being built, leaders tried to stand it down with a competing message of caution. The grass-roots response was still dramatic and widely halted production, but it was greatly blunted. The moment was quickly lost; legislation stalled and mobilisations waned. Raids and deportations increased, while the outgoing Congress pledged billions to militarising the Mexican border.

These events bolstered a voter mobilisation strategy for November’s mid-term elections across the movement, spurred on by foundations willing to fund efforts to raise historically low Latino civic participation and citizenship rates. Thus, groups immersed themselves in registering and turning out new voters, scrupulously non-partisan efforts that nevertheless impacted several key House and Senate races and contributed to the return of a Democrat inclined Congress.

Fresh offensive

Within days came a fresh government offensive: massive raids on meatpacking plants across six states, with over 1,200 workers arrested. In a new move, 270 were slapped with criminal charges. The message was designed for Democrats as much as the movement.

As the new Congress began, President Bush urged a renewed reform effort, calling for a ‘Grand Bargain’ that embraced business demands for an expanded temporary worker program. The resulting bill required yet more border militarisation, and offered only highly punitive and costly legalisation. On top, it demanded 600,000 annual ‘guest worker’ visas. These would establish large-scale indentured servitude: immigrant workers tied firmly to a single employer, on non-renewable visas, with no hope of permanent status and ripe for grotesque abuse. Amid the shifting sands of negotiations, sweeteners were added and some Democrats attempted to remove or blunt guest worker provisions. The mass marches were renewed on May 1st, smaller but still powerful. Amid fevered lobbying, the bill progressively worsened. Two months later, it was dead.

Many states and cities responded with a renewed push to legislate their own anti-immigrant measures.

Meanwhile, the Administration ramped up its attrition: more workplace raids and new schemes to force employers to purge workers with ‘flagged’ Social Security numbers; pursuit of individuals with unexecuted deportation orders became de facto community sweeps. Despite the rhetoric, none of the tactics could reduce the undocumented population, nor did they seriously strive to. Instead, they aimed to further marginalise and subordinate immigrant workers, appease anti-immigrant voters and keep Democrats marshalled behind a strong ‘enforcement’ agenda.

Such was the backdrop as the lengthy presidential race began. Immigration ranked as a consistent ‘top three’ concern for voters. Yet, by the time Barack Obama was confirmed to contest John McCain, it had become the elephant in the room, all but exiled from the campaign trail. As a past sponsor of immigration reform, McCain was the one Republican with a coating of palatability for Latinos and, despite a platform dragged rightwards for the party’s nativist base, he rejected using immigration as a weapon. This owed little to principle and much to the electoral map. In crucial contests, McCain needed significant Latino votes. Instead, they rejected him emphatically.

Obama carried Latinos more than two to one; amongst immigrant voters, he polled 78%.

But while Democrats reaped the dividends, they owed much to a vast array of Latino and immigrant groups who again worked tirelessly to register voters, mobilise turnout and encourage legal residents to pursue citizenship. It was a massive, year-long effort powerfully backed by Spanish language media. Even against 2006, the pool of potential voters had increased dramatically: hundreds of thousands of young Latinos, many with immigrant parents, were now of voting age, while pro-active campaigns, anti-immigrant rhetoric and the prospect of a large fee hike had combined to spur a record number of naturalisations.

Yet even while the movement celebrated success, the all-consuming pursuit of these new voters, with its exclusive focus on citizens, drained many immigrant rights groups, pushing them to neglect their base or give it an ancillary role.

Immigration reform and the ‘First Hundred Days’

When communities are terrorised by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it.

Barack Obama speaking to a pro-immigrant audience, July 2008

With the election concluded, and the Obama-era looming, the movement needed a rapid change of gear. Its first response was a mis-step. A coalition of national groups announced a march in Washington DC for the day after inauguration, aiming to draw 100,000 to the capital to remind Obama of his fine words and demand a moratorium on raids. This was rapidly scaled back and then diffused to small local actions, part caution, part logistics as the scale of attendance for the inauguration event became clear. Nevertheless, a strong humanitarian appeal to end raids has continued as the movement’s overriding theme, drawing considerable support from faith-based groups.

Yet this moral outrage squares off against a truly corporate monster. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) is located at the very heart of the Department of Homeland Security, the Bush regime’s post 9/11 battering ram for a far-reaching assault on civil liberties and a domestic war on immigrants. It has constructed a massive immigration-industrial complex within its domain, recruiting thousands of well-paid, well-armed shock-troops to visit new forms of terror on immigrant communities; it received almost limitless budgets for immigration prisons and border fortifications, feeding obscene billions to Halliburton, Boeing and Corrections Corporation of America, the nation’s largest private prison provider. Over a five-year period, CCA was handed federal largesse to detain almost a million people in deportation, rising to 33,000 beds per day, while moves to press criminal, not civil, charges against many detainees had begun to offer even higher profits from longer, more lucrative incarcerations. On the eve of Obama’s victory, Virginia investors planned a new $21 million private prison to reap burgeoning federal contracts. Clearly they did not expect the trough to run dry.

Thus, while Obama quickly pledged to empty Guantanamo on taking office, those who hoped for boldness on raids and detentions were disappointed. Incoming head of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, predictably ordered a departmental review. Early indications suggest it may bring a heightened focus on apprehending ‘criminal aliens’ (i.e. those with felony convictions), possibly relieving some pressure on the mass of the undocumented. Detention centres, the source of a growing catalogue of horrors and deaths, will be told to clean up their act. Tough gestures can also be expected, including the bolstering of some areas of enforcement. In short, the engine will be re-tuned, yet it may lose little of its familiar hum.

A similar outcome may await a second Bush legacy, E-Verify, an electronic system to check new hires and reject supposedly undocumented workers. Already in use in tens of thousands of workplaces, its ‘voluntary’ roll-out to businesses was increasingly turned into compulsion by both federal contracts and state laws. In February, Republicans demanded that businesses be required to adopt it as a condition for receiving funds from the stimulus package. Democrats rebuffed the attempt. But while the system is deeply flawed and notoriously metes out ‘collateral damage’ to many legal residents, it is far from clear that Democrats will halt funding for the pilot programme, due for renewal in March. Napolitano declares as a ‘strong supporter’ and well-organised anti-immigrant forces will mobilise their base to lobby Democrats, many of whom already believe it can be ‘improved’. Although union, civil rights and many business groups will join immigrant organisations in pressing for it to be scrapped, they will need to make a good fight.

Securing comprehensive immigration reform – including a path to legalisation for undocumented workers – remains the big goal of the immigrant movement. Before the economic crisis unfolded, Obama pledged a new attempt at major legislation during his first year in office. Immigrant advocates lobbying the administration believe that still holds good and hope for movement between September and March. They will contend that reform is inextricable from recovery and keep the administration mindful of the Latino vote. Although rising domestic job losses will disarm champions of a ‘guest worker’ programme, any emerging bill would likely be cut from similar cloth to past bi-partisan formulas and be deeply problematic for the movement.

More imminently, passage of the Employee Free Choice Act – the election payback sought by the US labour movement – would dramatically enhance immigrant rights, cutting loose a wave of new organising better shielded from union-busting attacks. Immigrant and Latino workers, already central to many recent union victories, would be both prominent leaders and major beneficiaries, while the push could also help re-energise the immigrant rights struggle at a crucial time. The bill’s champions include Obama’s pick for Labour Secretary, Hilda Solis, herself the daughter of Latino immigrants. However, at the time of writing, business interests were mobilising efforts to block her appointment – an opening shot in their determined fight against EFCA.

Obama’s ‘First Hundred Days’ end on May 1st. By then, the immigrant rights movement may have little to celebrate, but its activists are sure to be back, proud and determined, on streets across the United States.

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Mar 20 2009

Blame the bosses not ‘foreign workers’

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:52 pm

The SWP gained some notoriety on the Left when it came out against Opposition to all immigration controls in the pre-split Respect. Now, no longer bound by Galloway’s Left British Unionism, Socialist Worker published the following useful contribution to the debate.

Millions of working people across Britain are fearful and angry at the mounting economic crisis. Manufacturing industry is now shedding jobs at a rate of 30,000 a month.

This week 6,000 workers at drugs giant Glaxo Smith Kline will become the latest victims of the jobs massacre. In the car industry, Honda workers face a shut-down until June.

Now this fear and anger has exploded into unofficial strike action with thousands of workers in oil refineries and power plants walking out.

They are right to want to fight this recession. But the central slogan of the current wave of strike action, British jobs for British workers, targets the wrong people and points in a dangerous direction.

Any demand framed in terms of putting British workers first inevitably paints another set of workers – foreign workers – as the problem.

It pits British workers against Italian, Portuguese and Polish workers. It seeks gains for one group at the expense of the other.

But foreign workers are not to blame for mounting unemployment, rampant subcontracting or worsening pay and conditions on construction sites.

The blame for these things lies squarely with the bosses – of whatever nationality – aided and abetted by neoliberal politicians such as trade secretary Lord Mandelson, the high priest of the free market.

Bad track record

The slogan British jobs for British workers was used by Gordon Brown in his 2007 speech to New Labour’s conference. As many pointed out at the time, it has a bad track record.

It was used in the 1930s by Oswald Mosley’s fascist blackshirts to justify attacks on Jewish workers in east London and elsewhere. It was used by the National Front in the 1970s to try and force black and Asian workers out of their jobs.

These attempts to play the race card to divide workers have always been cheered on by the right, by successive governments and by the bosses. But they have been opposed by a powerful counter tradition of unity across the labour movement.

The working class of this country is multiracial and most people are proud of that fact. It is made up of people descended from migrants who came here seeking work – whether from Ireland, India, the West Indies or eastern Europe.

In recent years trade union activists in supermarket warehouses, on the buses and, indeed, in the power industry have fought hard to unionise migrant workers and ensure that everyone is paid the same and works under the same conditions – regardless of nationality.

The chorus of British jobs for British workers pulls the rug from under the feet of those who’ve fought to create such unity.

And it can only encourage those elements who want to echo filthy tabloid attacks on migrant workers. It’s no surprise that the Daily Star and Daily Express – papers that never miss a chance to attack workers or migrants – initially welcomed the walkouts.

The real issue is not the nationality of workers, but the imposition of neoliberal regulations across the European Union (EU) that reduced workers’ rights and aided employers in every member state.

Britain’s New Labour government has championed every such piece of neoliberal legislation. Yet it has also insisted on exempting Britain from the few pieces of EU legislation that could have benefited workers – such as caps on the number of hours we work.

Lord Mandelson is now advising British workers to go and get jobs in Europe – echoing Tory minister Norman Tebbit’s advice from the 1980s that the unemployed should get on your bike.

Of course British construction workers should be free to work in Germany or Saudi Arabia, just as workers from abroad should be free to work here. But when Mandelson talks of a “free market” in labour, what he wants is a race to the bottom. He wants Latvian workers to be employed here on Latvian wage rates, subject to Latvian health and safety laws.

That is why tens of thousands of trade unionists across Europe have held sustained and militant protests against the EU’s neoliberal attacks on workplace rights.

Workers from Italy and Portugal want decent jobs and a decent future, just like workers here. They are our brothers and sisters.

We should join their fight to ensure that all workers across Europe get the highest pay rates, the best conditions and the strongest health and safety laws. Focusing on “foreign workers” also lets Gordon Brown and New Labour off the hook. For the past 12 years they have continued Margaret Thatcher’s work.

They told us it did not matter that manufacturing jobs were disappearing, because Britain was becoming a global financial centre instead. That was before the banks went bust, of course.

They have kept Thatcher’s anti trade union laws intact and continued to privatise our public services. New Labour gave bosses the key to 10 Downing Street, but treated trade unions with contempt. And far too many in the trade union leadership have gone meekly along with this treatment – or even, shamefully, encouraged the British jobs for British workers slogan.

Mounting anger

Anger over how working people have been treated has been mounting and is now threatening to explode. The current walkouts are a symptom of that. And they have shown that unofficial strike action is an effective way to fight.

But think how effective it would have been if trade unions had led such walkouts over job cuts, subcontracting and factory closures, rather than over foreign workers. Such militant action could force Brown to act quickly.

On Friday of last week 400 members of the Unite trade union in Ireland occupied the Waterford Crystal factory to stop its closure. In the same week 2.5 million French workers struck over jobs, wages and pensions, refusing to pay the cost of the bosses’ crisis.

Every worker is facing the same horrors in the face of a global recession. We can’t let ourselves be divided by racism or nationalist sentiment.

We need a united fight that targets the real culprits – the bankers, the multinationals, the politicians. Let’s turn the anger on those truly responsible for this dreadful recession.

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Mar 20 2009

Brown’s Appeal To British Chauvinism

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:44 pm

Mary McGregor highlights the dangers to the working class movement of Brown’s speech to the TUC

I remember hearing the report of Gordon Brown’s speech to the TUC in 2007 and the phrase British jobs for British workers. As someone who has tried to fight the rise of nationalism, chauvinism and fascism all my adult life, I recall a lurching in my stomach and a fearful yet undefined premonition of things to come.

I should not, of course, have been surprised. On the brink of recession and the worst crisis of capitalism seen by my generation, the phenomenon of Labour Nationalism was an inevitable reaction by an unprincipled party out to opportunistically save as much face as possible. A party with clearly no economic or political solutions to crisis, which is as inevitable as the rise of capitalism itself. You would think all these once-upon-a-time firebrands would remember some basic Marxist analysis?

I also remember being astounded by the irresponsibility of using such a phrase – at that time I was unaware that it had been used by Mosley but it was near enough BNP speak to make even the most wishy-washy, liberal, official, anti racist recoil in disgust. Brown was well aware that in the coming months, if he was to stay in power, he would have to keep the unions and organised workers on his side and he was prepared to appeal to latent chauvinism and racism in order to do so.

The fact that the phrase has come back to bite Brown on the bum is small consolation when we look at the wider ramifications of what has happened in the first weeks of 2009.

The background is now familiar to most people. Workers at the Lindsey refinery, when faced with a sub-contracted workforce, made up entirely of Italian labour threatening wages and conditions, was too much to thole. The walkout was followed by a series of militant wildcat strikes which spread across the country and which felt like the first real fight back to the so called credit crunch by organised workers. Normally the left would have been organising buses of supporters to join the picket lines and been urgingthe strikes and the focus of the strikes to spread beyond that of a dispute in a single industry on a single issue. But this was not ordinary because the uniting slogan – British Jobs for British Workers – Brown’s wee mantra from the past – had a real, practical and potentially malevolent connotation.

The strikers deserved our support. It was a dispute about conditions and wages. No one believes the lies that it was possible to bring in the workforce and put them up in a virtual prison ship, so they did not mix with their British counterparts, and at the same time stick to established wage agreements. It was embarrassing seeing the bosses try to dissemble and use ham fisted sophistry to try to convince the public otherwise.

But when you believe in no borders, the freedom of movement for all workers, an end to immigration controls, and the acceptance of all people as brothers and sisters in struggle, then the gap between the rhetoric of the left, and the slogan used so often by the right, represented a chasm for many on the left to bridge.

Impact on consciousness

The dispute showed once more just how weak the left in Britain is; and how we need to deepen our theoretical understanding of not just the nature of capitalism but the nature of people too. We constantly expect people to react as if they too had been reading Marx for years and are inherently socialist at heart. We delude ourselves about ‘the nature of the working class’ as if it is a homogeneous and consistently progressive force. We constantly fail to understand that if people are continually living in a state constructed climate of fear then it will have a material effect on their consciousness, whether the fear is about so called terror threats, or about the fact that their jobs, savings and pensions may go down the Swanney, at any moment. And although many strikers used the slogan ironically to get at Brown, we must realise that the impact on consciousness of campaigning under such a slogan is negative indeed.

The dispute was resolved, not on the basis of good wages and conditions for all workers, but on the basis of Half of the British Jobs for British Workers! and we will put up with poorer wages and conditions for the Italian workforce. Not the positive outcome anyone wanted and not the starting point for the fight against flailing capitalism that we hoped it would be.

The ramifications of this dispute go even further. As well as showing the weakness of the Left, the impotence of trade union officials and the opportunism of New Labour, who all but labelled the workers racist and told them to get back to work, it has given the BNP something extra to bite on.

The BNP are on a bit of a roll at the moment. Election victory in Swanley, Kent, and a close call in Thringstone, Leicestershire has the official anti fascist establishment reeling. Much wringing of hands and calls for broad fronts to stop the BNP getting a predicted 2 seats in the European elections. I can hear the unprincipled calling for an unprincipled lash up under the banner Anyone bar the BNP. Now I want to stop the BNP in its tracks but I know that this can only be done by offering political alternatives to chauvinism and racism, which divides the working class. It will not be done by the same people who coined the slogan “British Jobs For British Workers” now claiming when the going gets really tough they didn’t really mean it!

As Labour scrambles to revive capitalism by bailing out banks and financial institutions while workers face austerity and despair, why would anyone trust them when they say that the BNP is not the way?

It is much harder to defeat the BNP ideologically now than it was in the 70s and 80s, because the BNP is more sophisticated, populist and plausible. No more crude cartoons of black men who were allegedly out to rob and rape at any opportunity. No attacks on the Irish under the guise of being tough on terror and no more crude, up front demands to repatriate anyone who is not white.

Dangerous flirtations

Labour was never averse to resorting to cheap racism in the past, as their attacks on Kenyan and Ugandan Asians in the 1960’s showed. However, today’s New Labour, involved in five imperialist wars, and constantly attacking asylum seekers and ‘illegal’ migrant workers, has created a climate in which ‘polite’ racism is becoming more acceptable, and vulgar racism can thrive once more. When London dockers marched behind the racist anti-immigrantTory, Enoch Powell, in 1967, it took several years work by committed socialists to turn this legacy round; so that the ‘Pentonville Five’ dockers, jailed for their defiance of the Industrial Relations Act, rightly took their place in the forefront of the struggle against Heath’s Tory government in 1972.

When trade union leaders, like UNITE’s Derek Simpson, also flirt with dangerous slogans like “British jobs for British workers”, socialists have a much greater job on their hands. Simpson ‘earns’ £126, 939 annually, as well as having a virtually free house at union expense in London. It is not only the BNP and New Labour, we need to oppose, but all those hypocrites in our movement. This means winning the battle for democracy in our unions, alongside the development of real internationalism.

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Mar 20 2009

Hands Off The People of Iran: Campaign Update

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:36 pm

Hands Off the People of Iran (Hopi) is an anti-war, anti-imperialist organisation which organises in solidarity with democratic, secular and socialist working-class forces in Iran. It believes that, while regime change is desirable in Iran (as it is in the western imperialist countries), this must come from the Iranian people and working class itself and not through any “intervention” by the United States and its allies. Hopi’s slogans are No to war; no to the theocratic regime. The SSP voted to support Hopi at its conference in October 2007.

Since then, the campaign has been growing and gaining strength. As well as establishing local groups around Britain and Ireland, it has also won the affiliation of two major trade unions; the Public and Commercial Services union, and the train drivers’ union ASLEF. It has also reapplied for affiliation to the Stop the War coalition, after its earlier bid for affiliation was rejected by the STW Conference in 2007 on the (dubious) grounds that it was “entirely hostile” to STW’s work.

Hopi has been holding meetings up and down the country concerning the threat of war against Iran; considering what the election of Barack Obama will mean for US policy in the region; discussing how the brutal Israeli onslaught against the people of Gaza will affect the politics of the region; publicising the struggles of Iranian workers and students for democracy; and, most recently, debating the history and legacy of the Iranian Revolution, 30 years on.

Hopi does not believe the threat of war against Iran has lessened with the election of the new US president; however, it recognises that imperialist aggression can take more than one form. For that reason, at the Hopi national conference held in London in December, it was agreed to launch a new campaign Smash the Sanctions. This campaign, launched on 16th March by John McDonnell MP, will aim to provide solidarity with the Iranian masses which suffer from sanctions imposed by the West, sanctions whose effect is to target and disempower the poor rather than the ruling class, and which are in effect a form of soft war. I encourage all Emancipation & Liberation readers to get involved in the Hopi campaign.

Further information can be found at the website: www.hopoi.org

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Mar 20 2009

Isolate ‘Apartheid’ Israel

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 3:23 pm

Nick Clarke analyses the latest stages of Israel’s war on the Palestinians and the role of the solidarity movement

As the media spotlight on Israel’s latest re-invasion and brutal bombardment of Gaza begins to dim, the Israeli state’s punishment of the Palestinian people continues. The explicit aims of the new year invasion were to stop the sporadic missile launches against the southern Israeli towns of Sderot and Ashkelon and to close the tunnels from Egypt that bring much needed supplies into Gaza. The primitive weaponry available to Palestinian forces in Gaza is no match for the high-tech, state-of-the-art hardware deployed by the Israeli state, supplied by their own weapons manufacturers or provided on generous terms by the US and Britain.

However, there was another agenda underlying these overt aims. Firstly, in October 2008, the ruling coalition government led by Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party had unravelled, hastened by the corruption charges facing the Prime Minister. A general election had been called and Tzipi Livni, replacing Olmert as leader of Kadima, found her party trailing Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the opinion polls, by some distance.

To give themselves a chance of beating Likud, Kadima turned to the Israeli state’s favoured scapegoats, the Palestinians. By launching the attack on Gaza, Kadima and its Labour Party partners pandered to the right by adopting Likud’s open hostility to the Palestinians and making it their own.

The fronting of this cynical offensive by Livni almost brought success as by polling day Kadima had eliminated Likud’s lead. However, it was not enough. While they won the most seats, Kadima’s electoral tactics backfired on them spectacularly. The IDF’s onslaught also increased the votes for the ultra right, in particular, Avigdor Lieberman’s party – Yisraeli Beiteinu. Lieberman’s party favours Israel abandoning territory on the West Bank inhabited by Arab families and annexing blocs of Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories. He is also proposing a new loyalty test for Arab citizens of Israel. In other words, he is an open supporter of ethnic cleansing.

Whatever the differences between these Zionist parties as to tactics and policy, they are all committed to their fundamental support for Israel as a ‘Jewish state for a Jewish people’. Again the Palestinians are used and abused at the whim of Israeli electoral politics.

The second, unspoken agenda item was to clear the decks before the Obama presidency began in the US. Using the hiatus following his election but before his inauguration on 20th January, Israel knew that the final days of the Bush presidency would cause them little trouble over the Gaza bombardment and they were not disappointed. Bush’s response, or lack of it, was predictable. Israel wanted the crushing of Hamas and the pacification of Gaza to be complete before Bush left office. This would enable them to negotiate with the US from a position of strength just in case Obama had different ideas about how to handle the Israel/Palestine situation from his presidential predecessors.

Predictable response

They need not have worried. Obama’s response was as predictable as all the others. During June 2008 he made some very friendly noises to the Zionist American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), describing himself as a true friend of Israel and stating

Let me be clear. Israel’s security is sacrosanct. It is non-negotiable. The Palestinians need a state that is contiguous and cohesive, and that allows them to prosper — but any agreement with the Palestinian people must preserve Israel’s identity as a Jewish state, with secure, recognized and defensible borders. Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and it must remain undivided.

So the Palestinians should not expect any equitable treatment from the Obama presidency.

And what of the Middle East envoy of the EU, US, UN and Russia – a certain Tony Blair? He was appointed to this role 2 years ago due to his ‘success’ in ‘resolving’ the Irish War, no doubt accompanied by a healthy remuneration. How could he ever be seen as a credible negotiator in the Middle East following his illegal and enthusiastic part in bloodbath of Arabs that was the Iraqi invasion? This was further compounded by his refusal to condemn Israel’s invasion of Lebanon in 2006, while he was still Prime Minister.

In recent weeks Blair has been awarded the Dan David Prize, through Tel Aviv University for his leadership on the world stage and having shown exceptional intelligence and foresight, and demonstrated moral courage and leadership. Did it not occur to him how acceptance of this award might compromise his nominal role as ‘honest broker’? Presumably his vanity and the $1m prize outweighed this consideration.

Despite having his role as envoy for 2 years, it took Blair until 1st March 2009 to actually visit Gaza. On inspecting the devastation caused by the Israelis, his response was that it was shocking and enormous. That was obvious from the limited footage that came out of Gaza, despite Israeli censorship, during the bombardment in early January. As envoy for the EU, should he not be condemning the destruction by the IDF of projects funded by EU donations? It has taken him almost two months to call for the end of the blockade of Gaza. As with Obama, his silence in early January spoke volumes as to where his allegiance lies.

No imperialist solutions

So while the IDF’s military assault on Gaza has ceased for the time being, the siege being waged by the Israeli state against the Palestinian people has not. Gaza is a concentration camp. Israel still controls what goes in and out by land, sea and air (apart from that smuggled through the tunnels). They allow a drip of humanitarian aid to pass into Gaza. Convoys of food, medical supplies and other essentials such as fuel, including that being supplied by NGOs and the UN, are prevented from reaching the Palestinians who desperately need it.

The blockade, the Wall, the intimidation, the terror and deprivations imposed on the Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza amount to an attempt to crush all resistance, eradicate all historical memory of Palestinian settlement and prevent a Palestinian nation from emerging. The continued second class status, the denial of equal political rights and the continued removal of Palestinians and Bedouin people living within Israel itself, highlights the apartheid nature of the Israeli state. This is reinforced by the banning, in the run up to the general election, of political parties traditionally supported by Arabs in Israel.

Political solutions to the conflict must not be based
on the interests of British/US imperialism or Israeli
expansionism. All bids at imperialist ‘peace’ settlements (Camp David, Oslo and the Road Map) have all failed because they have not addressed the aspirations of the Palestinian people for genuine self-determination, and accept the continuation of Israel as an apartheid-type state, with Jewish people remaining as the economically and socially privileged, dominant political force.

Likewise any attempts made to broker agreements made by the corrupt rulers of the undemocratic Arab police states have been designed to buttress their own positions and privileges. The only meaningful wider support in the Middle East will come from the oppressed peoples in these lands.

All Palestinian refugees who have been displaced since the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 must have the right of return to their homeland. All forms of ethnic cleansing must be opposed and the only truly democratic solution is for a singular, secular, democratic state for all the people of historic Palestine. Such a state needs to guarantee the democratic rights of all minority groups, irrespective of religious beliefs, including the right to practice their religion of choice.

A few on the Left have opposed any effective support for the Palestinians in Gaza. They argue that Palestinians have given their electoral support to Hamas, an Islamicist party. Ironically, it was Netanyahu, who originally gave Israeli state backing to Hamas in Palestine, to undermine the then politically dominant, secular nationalist PLO. However, since the PLO has fallen in behind an imperially imposed two-state ‘solution’, it has become more and more mired in corruption, accepting political backing and money from Israel, the US and the EU. Many now see the PLO-controlled Palestinian Authority as acting in much the same manner as those Judenrat officials who ran the Jewish ghettoes on behalf of the Nazis. It was the failure of the formerly politically dominant socialists in the Bund and communists in East European countries, to successfully defend Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught, that led to the political victory of the Zionist Jewish supremacists amongst the surviving European Jews.

Hamas can, in some ways, be considered as Moslem ‘Zionists’, who want to create a state in which Moslems dominate. They can provide no just and democratic solution for the peoples of Palestine. However, just as the most committed socialists tried to defend all Jews persecuted by the Nazis, so today, we should provide active solidarity with the people of Palestine. As socialists we have to establish our political credentials amongst the Palestinians and other people in the Middle East. This means showing that the international solidarity we offer can be, not only more effective than any pan-Islamicist support, but also offer all the peoples living in historic Palestine an escape from the many forms of exploitation and oppression they face. Socialists also give their support to those Israeli Jews who defend Palestinian rights, especially those who refuse to perform military service.

Practical action, including occupations, has already been taken by students in some of Scotland’s universities, including Glasgow, Edinburgh, St Andrews and Dundee. Students have demanded that the universities boycott Israeli goods, as well as get rid of any investment in weapons manufacturers, such as BAE Systems.

The political atmosphere must be created in which workers also have the confidence to directly implement solidarity actions. The Viva Palestina convoy, which left London in February, with more than 100 vehicles driven by volunteers, is one action which shows the potential to raise wider support, including trade unions. This convoy eventually crossed into Gaza at Rafah on 9th March with £1.5m worth of aid including medical supplies, clothes, food and toys as well as 20 ambulances, two buses, a fire engine and a fishing boat.

The campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against the Israeli state must be supported. The instruments and methods of oppression used against the Palestinians, by Israel today, have echoes of those used against the black population in apartheid-era South Africa. This comparison was picked up by South African dock workers in Durban who in February refused to off-load an Israeli ship in solidarity with the Palestinians as part of a week of action against apartheid Israel.

We have a special duty, living as we do in the UK, given successive British governments’ support for the Israeli state. The role of socialists in Scotland must be to provide practical solidarity with the Palestinian struggle and to support an international campaign to isolate Israel – economically, politically, socially and culturally.

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