Dec 03 2015

THE WAR IN SYRIA

We are posting three pieces dealing with the situation in Syria. The first is the emergency motion passed overwhelmingly at the RISE National Conference in Glasgow on December 5th. The second was written by the World to Win Editorial Board just after the vote at Westminster to openly extend UK state involvement in the war in Iraq to Syria. The third by Allan Armstrong (RCN and RISE) was written just prior to the Westminster vote, and was included in the E&L special bulletin for the RISE conference.

 

1. EMERGENCY MOTION ON SYRIA PASSED AT THE RISE CONFERENCE ON DECEMBER 5th. 

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Following:
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Jul 29 2013

EGYPT, THE ARMY AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD – TWO REACTIONARY FORCES

 

Below are  two articles on the new situation in Egypt. The most recent one is a statement from the Socialist Party of Malaya on the violent military suppression and killing of unarmed Muslim Brotherhood protestors in Cairo. The second written by  Yassamine Mather of the CPGB-WW, in response to the arrest of Morsi-led Egyptian government, whilst highlighting its reactionary nature, also argues that no-one should have illusions in the role of the army.

1. RELEASE MURSI AND STOP THE VIOLENCE IN EGYPT!

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Bodies of Muslim Brotherhood supporters killed by the Egyptian Army in Cairo

 Morsi was removed by the military establishment in order to contain the rising revolutionary waves in the streets, and to prevent the deepening of the revolutionary movement. The military has hijacked the revolutionary process.

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Apr 17 2011

Opposing the imperialist suppression of the revolution in North Africa and the Middle East

Here are 4 items relating to the current situation in Bahrain and Libya

1. SSP Conference motion, 3 April 2011

2. Article by Moshe Machover – The long road of the Arab revolution

3. Article by John McAnulty (Socialist Democracy – Ireland) the test of Libya

4. Article by Pepe Escobar – Exposed the US-Saudi Libya deal

Motion proposed by the SSP Executive Committee (before the UK intervention in Libya)

The Scottish Socialist Party stands fully behind the struggles taking place. We fully support the demands to create a new Arab world on the principles of democracy, secularism, civil rights and in particular the rights of women.

We support the demands for social and economic policies which promote equality and social justice and for the elections of governments which challenge imperialist ambitions in the region and which demonstrate active solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Amendment initiated by RCN members and proposed by Glasgow North East SSP branch

1 – Conference notes its enthusiastic support for the wave of mass protests sweeping through the Arab world, as people fill the streets demanding the end to entrenched dictatorships and the defence of democratic rights. So far, these protests have led to the toppling of Mubarek in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. We look forward to more victories for the democratic insurgents throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

Toppling dictators can only provide the first step in the creation of a genuinely democratic and just society. The SSP stands in solidarity with the progressive democratic forces in the Arab World as they organise to secularise these societies, advance the rights of the working class as it endeavours to form viable trades unions and narrow the vast differentials in income and wealth, and press demands that undermine the autocratic patriarchy that oppresses women and distorts gender relations for all.

2 – The occupation of Bahrain by troops from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States is an ominous development. Unable to suppress popular demands for greater democracy, the Bahraini elite, totally corrupt and discredited, has turned to the theocratic rulers of Saudi Arabia, with its sizeable military forces equipped by the US and UK. The SSP calls for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops from Bahrain. We demand that the British government stop selling arms to Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and any other government which has contributed troops to the occupation. We join with the people on the streets of Bahrain demanding the overthrow of the monarchy and its replacement by a democratic government responsible to all of the people.

3 – The SSP opposes the military intervention in Libya of the US, Britain and France in Libya, and will actively participate in wider coalitions that demand an immediate halt to the air strikes, while opposing the extension of military operations to the use of ground troops. Western imperialist powers have no interest in promoting democracy in Libya, or anywhere in the Arab world. Their sole goal is to obtain greater control over Libya’s oil resources.

At the same time, the SSP supports he struggle of the Libyan people to topple the Gadaffi regime. The Libyan government was an entrenched, brutal dictatorship and a corrupt one also. In these essential characteristics, it differed little from many other autocratic regimes in the region, which have become the target of popular insurgencies. Our opposition to military intervention in any form by the Western powers in no way implies support for the Tripoli regime.

Passed overwhelmingly by the SSP Annual Conference in Dunfermline on 3.4.11

The Long Road Of The Arab Revolution

by Moshé Machover, a long-standing international socialist now exiled from Israel

Libya: Saving the revolution killed the revolution

It is very difficult to talk in a coherent way about a process which is unfolding and where things are changing all the time. What I would like to do is to initiate a discussion and explore some ideas about where the revolution is going, and what we should expect in both the short term and longer term.

But, given the contention on the left, I think we should start with Libya. There is a lot of confusion, and I think that this is partly for understandable reasons. I am not referring here to the ‘confusion’ of those who effectively cheer the imperialist intervention. Groups like the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty are in my opinion simply social-imperialists.

I am actually talking about socialists – people I regard as comrades, such as Gilbert Achcar, who is not a social-imperialist and is very critical of western intervention and of this ‘coalition of the willing’ (and partly unwilling!) that is being sent to ‘protect’ the Libyan revolution.

There is a genuine problem, and it would be unfortunate to appear callous and uncaring about the fate of those in Benghazi who were penned in and faced the terrible prospect of being massacred. Given the despair they are in, I would not actually be too critical of them for calling on the so-called ‘international community’ for help.

We have to be clear that the ‘international community’ is itself an ideological construct, a term used in order to conflate the US-led global hierarchy of states on the one hand and global public opinion on the other. There is world public opinion – civil society – which has real humanitarian concerns, and then there is the so-called ‘international community’, which is the nom de guerre of the US and its followers.

Why Libya?

Why did they go for Libya and not other places? For me there are three main reasons. Firstly, there is the question of oil. Do not underestimate this factor. Of course, the quantity of oil Libya offers is next to nothing in comparison to Saudi Arabia, but it is its quality which makes them interested in it. It is just about the best oil you can find, particularly for aircraft fuel.

Secondly, they have been asked to intervene this time around, which is crucial in providing them with an ideological and political cover: nobody asked them in Egypt or in Yemen; nobody even asked them in Bahrain.

Thirdly, although Gaddafi’s Libya ceased to be a ‘rogue state’ from around 2003, there is some truth in the claim that, from the standpoint of the imperialists, Gaddafi is still a rogue. Why? Well he is obviously a little bit crazy and very unreliable for them. So, although he is ‘our friend’ now (or was until very recently!), he was never somebody who could be fully trusted, as he is unstable in every possible manner – including mentally. How anybody can take him seriously after hearing him speak is simply beyond me.

The Saudis are also cautiously in favour of intervention in Libya because they do not like Gaddafi either. They remember all his leanings towards Islamic Maoism, the Little green book and his own conception of jamahiriya (people’s power). The Saudi regime is very traditionalist and as such they find all of this stuff very unsettling. Gaddafi has created his own ideology – even his own version of Islam! This has also been a factor in ensuring that he has very few allies in the Arab world more generally.

Anyway, I would like to comment on Achcar’s remarks about Libya. Whilst he is wrong to lend support to the intervention, he has a few sensible things to say on the situation and I would recommend reading him.[1]

But he omits some important things. It is my view that the Libyan revolution is already defeated. From the moment the Interim Transitional National Council felt it had to invite this intervention it became clear that it was unable to overthrow the regime. As Marx observed a long time ago, revolution is needed not only to overthrow the powers that be, but also to transform the people who are making it – the process of revolution is a transformative one which gives the masses confidence in their ability to change things and to be masters of their own fate. Once you call on other forces to intervene, all this is lost, and in this sense it is a defeat.

The second remark which I think I would add to Achcar’s analysis is this. It may well be that inviting these forces into Libya is the lesser evil, compared to being slaughtered. But it is still an evil. Sometimes one must accept and put up with the lesser evil, but one must never demand it. The people who are not only demanding, but cheering the intervention are renegades to the revolutionary idea. If it is a lesser evil but it comes to pass anyway, then you have to protest against it, you have to denounce it.

I have made the analogy before, but imagine that there is a group of people surrounded by the Ku Klux Klan and are about to be slaughtered. They then invite protection from the Mafia. The Mafia will, of course, give you protection – but will then install a protection racket if it can. The Mafia that is the so-called ‘international community’ is not even sure if it can institute this protection racket anyway; but it will do its damnedest.

Moreover, the no-fly (now no-drive?) zone is dangerous not only in its immediate effect on the outcome in Libya. It also sets a worrying precedent. Once you give these forces the legitimation to act as the global policeman, then next time they will use it as they please – not for the lesser evil, but the greater one. Giving such forces legitimacy is in the worst interests of revolution both in the Arab world and beyond – it is in the best interests of counter-revolution, because that is how they are going to use it. It is not simply this situation on its own, in isolation, but what it implies for the future as well.

Also, when our rulers make war it is very bad for us – this is a point made by Marx. Think back to Thatcher and the Falklands war – her government was set to lose the general election.

I think the reason why there was less opposition to Libya than Iraq was because the latter was obviously going to be a land invasion. A ‘no-fly zone’ appears to be a much safer, less risky version of war, which is more like a computer game than anything else, so it is more popular – especially if you can justify it on ‘humanitarian’ grounds – without the risk of getting bogged down in a long and drawn-out war.

Not only is the left divided in its reaction, but so too are the imperialists. In each of the countries where people are free to express divergent opinions you see some maintaining that this move is not a good idea and that one can never know how it will end. It is certainly going to be a messy situation.

Whilst I have claimed that this moment marks the defeat of the Libyan revolution, I have not said that it is the defeat of the Arab revolution. I certainly hope it is not! This is just one sector of it, but it is not accidental that this defeat happened in a country like Libya. The reasons are quite clear.

Libya is one of the largest countries in Africa, most of which is desert. But it has a very small population of around six or seven million people, most of whom are divided along tribal lines. This is important. Compare it, for example, to Iran. Both are oil-producing countries that receive a large revenue from oil. This has led some to characterise Iran as a kind of ‘rentier state’ that does not depend too much on tax revenues from its own people. This allows it to provide handouts and sweeteners. Yet its population is around 11 times that of Libya, so even with the inflow of royalties from oil it cannot bribe that many people. As we know, the economic situation in Iran is dire.

This is different in Libya, where the revenue (or some of it) is spread out amongst far fewer people and thus leads to phenomena like low unemployment, etc. Indeed, the fact that Gaddafi made peace with the imperialist order back in 2003-04 (who will forget that handshake with our very own Tony Blair?) actually increased his ability to use this enormous wealth, even after siphoning off much of it for himself and his family. After all, he is a kleptocrat – just like his colleagues, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, Ben Ali in Tunisia, etc. We should also mention the Saudi royal family, who do not even have to steal to get their wealth because there formally the oil is actually theirs – there is no distinction between the public purse and the private purse of the king. (In Britain this identity was abolished in medieval times.)

But even after deducting all of this kleptocratic rent, there is enough left over for Gaddafi to bribe enough of the population, to hire mercenaries and so on and thus try to prevent what happened in Egypt and Tunisia. Libya’s social structure is also less developed, less advanced than in those neighbouring countries. I think you can also notice this in the composition of the opposition – it is much more dominated by people who were tribally opposed to Gaddafi’s regime, and there is a much higher proportion of Islamists than in both Tunisia and Egypt.

It would be foolish to predict how exactly things will pan in out in Libya. There might be a situation where it is divided between east and west and there is a civil war of attrition lasting for some time. Or it could end one way or the other. But, to the extent that there was a popular uprising, I think the people have lost ownership of this process and thus the revolution is defeated.

Other hot spots

This is not so in other parts of the Arab world. There are still very positive dynamics in Syria, for example. Syria is the second most important Arab country after Egypt. If Egypt had, by virtue of its large population, been the leader of the Arab people up to the time when it made peace with the US and Israel, then Syria is now the claimant to this role.

In fact, I recently looked back at theses I had co-written in the mid-1970s, and what we said back then was that the Syrian Ba’ath was making a bid for the leadership of the Arab world. Iraq, the other large Arab country, has never managed to stake a claim on this role. Saddam Hussein had a project to do so, but for various reasons he did not achieve this.

Events in Japan and Britain have squeezed the reporting of Yemen, but things are going forward there too. And very few people mention Bahrain, which is in a catastrophic situation. What some feared would happen in Libya is happening right now. There the regime – aided by forces it invited from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states – has actually invaded the hospitals. So if you are wounded on a demonstration and taken to hospital you are likely to be killed. We are seeing a massacre of unimaginable cruelty.

Bahrain is the source of the pearls of Arabia. Now these forces have demolished the symbolic pearl in Pearl Square, where enormous demonstrations took place. This is a huge insult to the people who occupied the square – some still risk their lives demonstrating there. Here there are signs of the revolutionary process receding, whilst Yemen and Syria are still going forward. This is no coincidence: it can be traced back to social structure.

Yemen is the product of a forced union of the north and south – two areas with a vastly different social composition. North Yemen is tribal and very backward in its economic and social development. South Yemen is mostly made up of the former British colony of Aden. Politically it was also very developed. For a time there was a self-styled socialist republic here, which was then overthrown by an internal coup and external forces from other countries and from North Yemen. This localised would-be socialism had some very democratic ideas. In the heyday of socialist revolution in South Yemen it said and did a lot of things which went beyond Stalinism. There was a real struggle which took place there between Stalin-style communists and real communists. Of course, they were very limited as to what they could achieve and in the end they were defeated. But in terms of its political development, South Yemen was probably the most advanced country in the Arab world.[2]

Whilst it is now merged with the very different North Yemen, we can still see this influence of working class struggle and organisation today: we see a radical intelligentsia and the heritage of a well-organised workers’ movement making its mark on the events unfolding there.

There were only a few countries in which there was a sizeable working class movement in the Arab world beyond South Yemen. The largest Communist Party, which was highly Stalinised, was in Iraq. But when the monarchy was overthrown in 1958 it was the only party to emerge intact from the underground. The coup to remove the monarchy was a military one, but on the civilian political scene the Communist Party almost had a monopoly. Of course, this was wasted because of its policies and so on. I am old enough to remember when Anastas Mikoyan came to ‘advise’ the Iraqi Communist Party following the fall of the monarchy in 1958-59. He actually told them not to rock the boat and to maintain the Soviet policy of ‘peaceful co-existence’ with the west – a revolutionary policy in Iraq would have undermined this and was thus to be avoided. This marked the beginning of the decline of the CP, and what remains now is really shameful. It is not even an anti-imperialist force, let alone a force for socialism.

The third country where there was a strong movement, albeit a Stalinist one, was Syria. Syria had a fairly sizeable Communist Party led by the Kurd, Khalid Bakdash. It is a very mixed country with quite a lot of Christians, Jews, Armenians and all sorts. Again because of its Stalinist policies the CP declined. But, once again, traditions have been retained which survive to this day.

Those like me who had been in a Stalinist Communist Party will perhaps understand what I am trying to describe. These parties were tools of Stalinist foreign policy. Nevertheless, they organised the working class and a lot of their members were true, genuine working class militants who learned a little bit of Marxism (of course, in a rather doctored version). But they were called on to read some of the classical writings and this did leave something behind, in spite of all the betrayals and so on. Wherever there were powerful CPs there is a tradition which lives on today. This is not true of Iraq, but that is partly because of other factors, such as the complete destruction of the country following the invasion. So there is a sense in which these organisations have left behind them a heritage which is still worthwhile.

Qatar is a genuine exception in all of this. It is a very rich place and its ruling family is playing a very clever game. There have been calls for demonstrations there too, but very few people have turned up. There is opposition, of course, as there is everywhere. But for the time being business is business – and part of the business of the Qatari ruling family is Al-Jazeera! They are actually profiting from the Arab revolution and – for the moment at least – they do not feel threatened by it. Whether they will succumb to it or not remains to be seen.

As for Al-Jazeera itself, it is interesting to look at how in many ways it presages Arab unity. It is not a coincidence that what symbolises Arab unity is one of the most modern forms of communication. It is Arab unity in the form suited to the 21st century. It has Arab workers from all over the region.

It originally started as an offshoot of the BBC World Service, but the BBC turned out to be too conservative and restrictive, too bound up with American and British interests in the region. Al-Jazeera actually broadcasts much of what the Arab masses want. Let us not overstate this: the station is hardly the voice of Arab communism! Nonetheless, it is run by secular democrats whose coverage is not based on sound bites like the BBC World Service. On Al-Jazeera they actually have discussions, where people are allowed to develop their positions – not just those who support the Arab revolution, but also Israeli politicians and American conservatives, for example. This is very educational, making it in my opinion the most informative news service in the world (especially now that the BBC World Service is being cut).

Expectations

It would be foolish to prophesy. Things are still unfolding and numerous options are presenting themselves. But it would also be foolish to expect too much. I think it is unlikely that we will see even a progressive kind of bourgeois democratic regime emerge, or some kind of social democratic arrangement. These things do not come about with just one push. This revolutionary movement is only the first of a whole historical process, which is only in its infancy.

History is important. In 1848 there were revolutions throughout most of Europe, which on the face of things did not succeed: they did not actually overthrow all the reactionary regimes. Nevertheless, it did not come to nothing. It left a certain tradition and a certain heritage which was then taken forward in the next step.

Look at what happened in Portugal in 1974-75. The revolution took on a very left-wing and radical direction, but a lot of it was reversed. What we have in Portugal now is not that much different to what exists in many other European states. However, if you speak to people who took part in this revolution then you will notice that it lives on in their consciousness – it matters when you have experienced the overthrow of a dictatorial regime and lived through a period of people’s power, etc. It forms the basis of the next step.

So even the most realistically optimistic scenario is not for all the old regimes to be overthrown and replaced by liberal, social democratic administrations. It will probably be far short of this. But the longer-term effects will be more profound. The world has changed already in many ways. First of all, from the point of view of the US-led imperialist order the Middle East is no longer something you can regard as a safe zone. The whole policy of the US in the region – the most strategically important in the world due to oil and the Suez Canal – was based on the fact that, whilst US policy-makers were very clearly aware of the discontent of the masses, they believed in the ability of the rulers to keep it under control and repress it.

There was actually a non-conservative project to introduce the imperialist version of democracy to the Middle East. The neocons (not George Bush, by the way, who simply provided patronage for the whole project) realised that the Saudi Arabian situation was no longer sustainable and were thinking very far ahead. They knew that there would eventually be some sort of revolt or uprising there, and thus came to the conclusion that it would be better for them to instigate and control the impending transformation. This is certainly true. The whole project foundered because the first stage failed so miserably – Iraq proved not to be the beginning of a smooth transition to western democracy but a very bloody mess. The whole thing became discredited.

Conspiracy theory fans like the remnants of the Workers Revolutionary Party, who tend to uphold Gaddafi as some sort of ‘anti-imperialist’, actually infer from this that what is going on must be the product of neocon plans. But this is completely wrong. They were hatched precisely in order to pre-empt what is actually taking place – ie, instead of something driven by the initiative of the people, something they could instigate and manipulate themselves.

Indeed, this revolutionary wave was not without previous tremors – even in Libya. In 1995, for example, there was a local uprising in Benghazi – no coincidence, of course. It was drowned in blood. But there have been uprisings in every one of these countries – protests that the regimes were able to suppress. But that period is now over. Nothing is the same. This is also reflected in US lack of confidence in relation to the unfolding events. They are no longer sure if they can keep this region under control. With the exception of Syria, all of the countries gripped by revolution are allies of the United States and, at least implicitly, of Israel.

Although in the Egyptian and Tunisian protests you did not see many slogans such as ‘Down with the United States’ or ‘Down with Israel’, this was because the protests were dealing with the immediate task at hand – ie, overthrowing the regime. If you actually watch journalists talking to ordinary people, as Al-Jazeera did, then it becomes clear that they were not simply protesting about unemployment or the corruption of the various regimes, but about the fact that those like Mubarak are lackeys of imperialism, and the shameful conditions of the peace treaty with Israel imposed on them.

When you hear interviews with Syrians though, they assert that one thing they do not mind about the regime is the fact that it is opposed to the US and does not toe the Israeli line. It is hated because of repression and the state of the economy, but not for foreign policy. It is important to observe what people are saying, rather than just what is on their placards.

All-Arab

I would like also to point out that we are witnessing an all-Arab revolution. The Weekly Worker has been quite correct on this. Whilst I would rather call it an all-Arab revolution than a pan-Arab revolution, as the Weekly Worker does, this is simply a matter of terminology.

I am slightly puzzled by the fact that many from the Trotskyist tradition refuse to accept the idea of an Arab revolution. One good example of this is Stuart King of Permanent Revolution. Whenever I have spoken on Arab unity and he has been present he has raised a number of rather odd objections. On the one hand, he says, the Arab world is far too disparate and there are many national minorities (the Kurds, the Israelis and so on) and further nationalities which he invents, such as the Maronites (a religious denomination).

On the other hand, he then questions why we should be opting for Arab unity: why not opt for regional unity, which would include Turkey and Iran? Of course, in the long run we will have a united socialist world. But the affinity between England and Scotland, for example, is not the same as the affinity between England and Japan. You would not expect unification to proceed at the same rate everywhere. In the long run – and this will take many generations – the world will, of course, be one and there will be no national frontiers. But this cannot happen all at once. To bring in Iran, with a different history, language and some record of estrangement from and conflict with the Arab world, strikes me as rather strange. Further, it is ridiculous to bring in Turkey, which was the imperial master of the Arab world, as a partner on the same level as – let us say – Hadhramaut and Oman.

Given that the Arab revolution is an idea associated with Michel Raptis (Pablo), perhaps this hostility to Arab unity can be traced back to an old Trotskyist sectarian quarrel which has outlived its meaningfulness. To me it makes no difference whether the idea came from Pablo. He may have got one hundred and one other things wrong, but he was right on this question. He knew the Arab world very well and this idea was enthusiastically picked up. I got it from a comrade of mine, who was my main mentor on Middle Eastern matters. I am referring to the Palestinian Arab Marxist, Jabra Nicola, who died in London in 1974. He was a Trotskyist. I was and am not. But I learnt a lot from him.

Anyway, quite clearly the revolutionary contagion in the Arab world is far more direct and immediate than, for example, the spreading of revolutionary sentiment across eastern Europe in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The Arab world is more like a single nation divided into sub-nationalities. If you want a rough analogy, then I would say it is like Italy, where there is the Italian nation, but within it there are the Sicilians, Tuscans, etc, who are akin to sub-nationalities. In fact, in the period of World War I, when there was the promise of uniting the Arab world, explicit comparisons were made with Italy. Many were arguing that the Arab world should be treated like Italy under Garibaldi and so on. The British actually mobilised support against Turkey using this very promise of Arab unity. Of course, this was later betrayed.

Even if you compare the Arab region with the Spanish-speaking part of Latin America, the historical and linguistic ties are much closer in the former. Indeed, many of the Latin American countries are historically not mainly Spanish – they have their own indigenous histories and cultures. Not so in the Arab world.

Today, one of the modern attributes of a nation is that it is a people who get their news from the same television station! In this respect, all the Arab world is one nation. Do not underestimate this! The rulers know this very well. Indeed, some of them have even blamed Al-Jazeera for the revolution, which is, of course, exaggerated. But it reveals a truth.

It matters a lot when people watch the same programmes and can communicate with each other in the same language – something which is increasingly done online, of course. And again, whilst we may not have seen placards addressing the question of Arab unity (beyond, for example, ‘Solidarity with Tunisia’ in Egypt and so on), when you actually talk to activists and hear them being interviewed then you notice a big change. The desire for and drive towards Arab unity was very much alive from the 1950s onwards, especially around the time of the Suez war. It lasted right through to the 1970s, but then it declined. And if you spoke to Arab comrades in the 1980s and 1990s then they would say that Arab unity was a lost cause, it was not going to happen, there was too much divergence, etc. But now if you speak to them it is clear that the idea is back on the agenda.

It is not simply the same language, culture and history which is important. It is also an economic need. This should be a very important consideration, especially for Marxists. Currently divided up into one big state, a few medium-sized states and then a lot of mini-states, the Arab world as it actually is does not make sense economically. The distribution of the population and natural resources is very skewed and uneven. The riches of Libya and Saudi Arabia, for example, could finance the extensive development which is needed in a country like Egypt. A country like Syria has a lot of fertile land which is underused. The dispersal of all these human and natural resources means that it makes no sense to keep them apart. The first step could be something along the lines of the European Union – first and foremost an economic union – but without the reactionary agenda.

Unfortunately it would seem that the Arab bourgeoisie is incapable of actually leading this transformation. Achieving such a union requires the mobilisation of the working class, and indeed the leadership of the working class. The bourgeoisie has tried to do this – and not just the Egyptian and Syrian bourgeoisie. Even Gaddafi had a Mickey Mouse project for Arab unification.

I think that a ‘Bismarck scenario’ is unlikely in the Arab revolution. Uniting Germany in ‘blood and iron’ was made possible by the particular role which Prussia played in relation to the other German states. It was a highly militarised state – one of the biggest military powers in Europe. On the other hand, the other German states were smaller and much weaker militarily. In terms of the Arab world today, it is not simply that a Bismarck does not exist, but that there is no Arab Prussia. Egypt is by far the largest country in the Arab world. But I think that the scenario of Egypt invading Syria and so on is a remote one. Saladin, for example, did invade and unify a large part of the Arab world, but that was in the 12th century, not the 21st. I do not think it is realistic now.

The bourgeoisie, of course, could achieve Arab unity by its own means, but I think this is unlikely. Recent historical experience suggests why. The United Arab Republic, for example, was initiated by the Syrian bourgeoisie, not Nasser and the Egyptian bourgeoisie. They thought it would protect their interests and that it would be better to work together with others of their class interest in the Arab world. But, when it actually came about, the Syrian bourgeoisie was not so keen because it found it was being competitively undermined by the much larger and more powerful Egyptian bourgeoisie. They found it was too bad for business.

This is a dilemma for the various national capitals, which base themselves on snatching a bigger part of the market and so on. It looks very unlikely that the bourgeoisie will transcend its immediate interests in order to unite the Arab nation. To do this you need a class which is not held back by competitive, immediate material interests, but can think in a more international sense: ie, the working class.

Of course, that would require the working class to organise, and for this a whole historical period will be required. That is why I am saying that in the short term we should not expect too much. We need a period in which the working class can actually organise and create its own political leadership, which can then start a new revolution aimed at uniting the Arab world.

Notes

For the interview, see www.zcommunications.org/libyan-developments-by-gilbert-achcar

See F Halliday Arabia without Sultans London 1974.

originally published in Weekly Worker, no. 859

The Test Of Libya

by John McAnulty – Socialist Democracy (Ireland), 3 April 2011

The revolutionary upsurges in North Africa and the Middle East should be serving as a revitalising jolt for revolutionary socialists elsewhere. After decades of isolation, finally they are able to contribute fully: to offer the tools of Marxist analysis, to offer the examples and lessons from earlier historical upsurges, to build solidarity from a working class perspective.In many cases this is what has happened. However, as in the case of circulatory diseases, the return of blood flow may simply confirm that the affected area is dead and allow the processes of gangrene and decay to set in. Such has been the case with Gilbert Achcar, a well-known academic with a long history of involvement with the Fourth International. Achcar, under the pressure of revolutionary upsurge, has completed a journey from revolutionary socialism to liberal commentator with a declaration of support for imperialist war in Lybia.

Achcar says:

The resolution is amazingly confused. But given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would have inevitably resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it….. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can’t in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.

Achcar denounces dogmatism, a growing habit in the socialist movement by those who, after years of endorsing an amorphous anti-capitalism, find themselves uncomfortable when Marxist theory is applied to real events.

Yet his whole position is one of bombastic and pompous dogmatism. He asserts a scenario about Libya that, unless we bow down to his supreme authority as academic commentator, he cannot possibly know. Not only that, he asserts as gospel that future developments can only take one path without imperialist intervention and that there is no alternative to supporting this intervention.

However it would be a mistake to debate Achcar on these grounds. He does not know fully what is happening in Libya and neither do I. What we have to stamp upon is a deeper arrogance – an arrogance that sees the language of Marxism as something posed within exaggerated quotation marks – proof of the writer’s erudition and knowledge of the mystic texts, to be discarded immediately once we encounter the real world. When we examine Achcar’s text we find that Marxism is absent. What we are dealing with is a humanitarian argument, full of all the illusions of the bog-standard liberal shaking their head over the Sunday newspapers.

What is the alternative to humanitarian concern? For Marxists all struggles are the struggles of contesting classes. The imperialist powers, representing the highest stage of capitalism, have interests that are antithetical to those of the working class. The working class may not appear as an organized force, but that does not mean that it has no interests that will not be advanced or suppressed by the outcome of specific struggles. Finally Marxism tells us that struggles have a broader context. The interests of the workers are not restricted to a national stage, but have a regional and global dimension. So solidarity is not a way of applauding each other’s struggle at a distance, but a way of recognising that the workers in Europe, the US and around the world are involved in a common struggle against capitalism and imperialism and the task of solidarity is to bring our common interests to the fore. The significance of the cruise missile socialists is not that they are standing back from the struggle in Libya, but in rejecting the common struggle, they are standing back from struggle full stop. They then become subject to moralism produced by the whims and pressures of bourgeois public opinion which is often formed by the imperialists themselves. This is the significance of Achcar’s failure.  We are involved in a common struggle and he has moved to the other side, not in some far away country but in fighting the capitalist state in which he lives.

So what is the context of the struggle in Libya? The context is the wave of revolution sweeping across the region. This revolution is the spontaneous uprising of young people demanding democracy and also seeking social change that will deliver jobs and a decent life. Immediately these revolts are objectively anti-imperialist. The structures they are struggling against: The monarchies, the dictatorships, the Israeli state, the countries directly occupied – all these are sponsored by Imperialism and together constitute a mechanism of imperialist rule.

What is the response of the various regimes? They seek to directly suppress the revolts. Where necessary they offer minimal concessions also with the aim of demobilising the resistance. This strategy is also the strategy of imperialism. Where possible, force is used to crush the resistance, as it was in Bahrain with the direct involvement of the US in planning the counteroffensive and in Iraq where US occupation troops are still present. Where concessions have to be made elements of the regime are sacrificed rather than the regime itself. Attempts are made to shape the emerging opposition so that minimal changes are required.

The imperialists are struggling because for years they have argued that the only alternative to their client regimes is Islamic fundamentalism, yet the opposition that emerges is secular and democratic. The regimes have one overarching advantage. After decades of repression there are few democratic and working class movements in existence. The revolutionary forces urgently need time to develop programme and organization. That is the starting point for solidarity. Not to weep salt tears or to shout encouragement, but to pass on what we have learnt – that the class interests of capitalism within their movements will lead to their betrayal and defeat, that objective anti-imperialism must move on to become a conscious struggle, that that conscious struggle can only be based on the working class and that the only political basis for such a movement is socialism.

So, starting from the standpoint of class struggle we are able to take a general perspective on imperialist strategy in relation to the revolutionary upsurges. It is general, it lacks detail but it does give a framework for analysis and action.

So why the military intervention in Libya? Well there are a number of factors we can be sure of. One is that Libya produces oil and that the battles have ebbed and flowed around a massive oil production centre. Secondly the calls to arms have been led by France and the British, the countries who have in the recent past had the strongest ties with the Libyan regime. One analysis that has been offered was that these powers doubted Gaddafi’s ability to restore order and believed that either the overthrow of Gaddafi or partition was the best way to protect their investment.

It has been argued that the US is a reluctant participant in the Libyan adventure. The evidence does not support this. Obama deliberated, but he authorized covert operations in Libya at an early stage and when he did act, used overwhelming force and constructed a UN resolution that offered carte blanche to the imperialist powers.

The reason given for intervention by US defence chief Robert Gates was that continued unrest would destabilise Morocco and Tunisia. Having been caught on the back foot by the upsurge, the US was constructing a regional strategy. Being able to add military intervention to the mix greatly strengthens their hand.

There is one other element of importance. That is that French agents, alongside British and US covert forces, were in Benghazi from an early stage, that they were in contact with members of the Transitional Interim National Council, including people who had recently been members of the Gaddafi regime and that they very quickly recognized that elements of the council would be willing collaborators with imperialism. The military intervention against Gaddafi followed on the heels of this. It does suggest very strongly that imperialist powers received an offer they couldn’t refuse in terms of guarantees of imperialist interests in Libya.

When you put this alongside a constant drive to pull defectors from the regime, imperialist strategy in Libya looks remarkably like everywhere else in the region. Where you have to, sacrifice the dictator, then fight like hell to preserve the regime or install a close copy. What are the effects of imperialist intervention? Right away a mass uprising becomes a civil war. Gaddafi gains renewed legitimacy as the defender of the nation against imperialist invasion. Doubters in his own ranks are now traitors. Those in the uprising correspondingly loose political authority and the pace of events moves away from politics and mass action to the military decisions of the imperialist powers.

Within the opposition camp power moves away from the masses and becomes concentrated with those who hold the ear of the imperialists. The European powers meet in London to decide the future of Libya, for all the world like a colonial conference from past times lording it over Africa.

Marxists have a special role to play within the revolutions and in solidarity with them. We stand unconditionally for the democratic rights of the Arab and North African masses. We stand firmly against imperialist intervention, without making the mistake of endorsing Gaddafi or states such as Syria as in some way anti-imperialist.   We argue specifically for the self-organization of the working class and for a socialist solution in the understanding that a democratic capitalist society is not a possible outcome to the present struggles in a period when capitalism no longer supports even the limited democratic structures and freedoms of the past.

The revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa will constitute a defining moment in the revolutionary history of this century. The struggles they have initiated will continue for many years and will help define the politics and organization of the working class movement across the world.

For all these reasons it is essential that revolutionaries repudiate Achcar, the cruise missile socialists who stand with him, and organizations such as those in Denmark, Germany and Portugal who have voted to support imperialist intervention.

We must unite, both politically and organizationally, in defence of revolution, in opposition to imperialist intervention and in solidarity with the workers. A valuable start has been made by commentators such as Alex Callinicos and Pham Binh.In his defence Achcar argues that he would be the first to demonstrate for UN intervention and a no-fly zone if there was a further attack on Gaza. He will stand alone. Our task as Marxists is to explain that UN intervention is imperialist military adventure and that no-fly zones are simply a passport to war without boundaries or restraint. Our task is to overthrow imperialism, to defend the Arab workers by attacking it in its heartland, not to weave stupefying fairy tales about its ability to civilize or pacify.

originally published on:- Socialist Democracy

Exposed: The US-Saudi Libya Deal

by Pepe Escobar,
 Asia Times, April 2, 2011

You invade Bahrain. We take out Muammar Gaddafi in
 Libya. This, in short, is the essence of a deal struck 
between the Barack Obama administration and the House
 of Saud. Two diplomatic sources at the United Nations 
independently confirmed that Washington, via Secretary
 of State Hillary Clinton, gave the go-ahead for Saudi
 Arabia to invade Bahrain and crush the pro-democracy
 movement in their neighbor in exchange for a yes vote
 by the Arab League for a no-fly zone over Libya – the
 main rationale that led to United Nations Security
 Council resolution 1973.

The revelation came from two different diplomats, a 
European and a member of the BRIC group, and was made
 separately to a US scholar and Asia Times Online. 
According to diplomatic protocol, their names cannot be 
disclosed. One of the diplomats said, This is the
 reason why we could not support resolution 1973. We
 were arguing that Libya, Bahrain and Yemen were similar
 cases, and calling for a fact-finding mission. We 
maintain our official position that the resolution is
 not clear, and may be interpreted in a belligerent
 manner.

As Asia Times Online has reported, a full Arab League 
endorsement of a no-fly zone is a myth. Of the 22 full members, only 11 were present at the voting. Six of
 them were Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members, the 
US-supported club of Gulf kingdoms/sheikhdoms, of which 
Saudi Arabia is the top dog. Syria and Algeria were 
against it. Saudi Arabia only had to seduce three
 other members to get the vote.

Translation: only nine out of 22 members of the Arab 
League voted for the no-fly zone. The vote was
 essentially a House of Saud-led operation, with Arab
 League secretary general Amr Moussa keen to polish his 
CV with Washington with an eye to become the next
 Egyptian President.

Thus, in the beginning, there was the great 2011 Arab
 revolt. Then, inexorably, came the US-Saudi counter-
revolution.Profiteers rejoice Humanitarian imperialists will spin
 en masse this is a “conspiracy”, as they have been
 spinning the bombing of Libya prevented a hypothetical 
massacre in Benghazi. They will be defending the House
 of Saud – saying it acted to squash Iranian subversion 
in the Gulf; obviously R2P – “responsibility to 
protect” does not apply to people in Bahrain. They will
 be heavily promoting post-Gaddafi Libya as a new – oily
- human rights Mecca, complete with US intelligence
 assets, black ops, special forces and dodgy
 contractors.

Whatever they say won’t alter the facts on the ground -
the graphic results of the US-Saudi dirty dancing. Asia
 Times Online has already reported on who profits from 
the foreign intervention in Libya (see There’s no 
business like war business, March 30). Players include 
the Pentagon (via Africom), the North Atlantic Treaty
 Organization (NATO), Saudi Arabia, the Arab League’s
 Moussa, and Qatar. Add to the list the al-Khalifa
 dynasty in Bahrain, assorted weapons contractors, and 
the usual neo-liberal suspects eager to privatize 
everything in sight in the new Libya – even the water. 
And we’re not even talking about the Western vultures 
hovering over the Libyan oil and gas industry.

Exposed, above all, is the astonishing hypocrisy of the
 Obama administration, selling a crass geopolitical coup 
involving northern Africa and the Persian Gulf as a 
humanitarian operation. As for the fact of another US 
war on a Muslim nation, that’s just a kinetic military
 action.

There’s been wide speculation in both the US and across 
the Middle East that considering the military stalemate
- and short of the coalition of the willing bombing 
the Gaddafi family to oblivion – Washington, London and
 Paris might settle for the control of eastern Libya; a
 northern African version of an oil-rich Gulf Emirate. 
Gaddafi would be left with a starving North Korea-style 
Tripolitania. But considering the latest high-value defections from
 the regime, plus the desired endgame (Gaddafi must 
go, in President Obama’s own words), Washington,
 London, Paris and Riyadh won’t settle for nothing but
 the whole kebab. Including a strategic base for both 
Africom and NATO.

Round up the unusual suspects One of the side effects 
of the dirty US-Saudi deal is that the White House is 
doing all it can to make sure the Bahrain drama is 
buried by US media. BBC America news anchor Katty Kay
at least had the decency to stress, they would like 
that one [Bahrain] to go away because there’s no real 
upside for them in supporting the rebellion by the
 Shi’ites.

For his part the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin 
Khalifa al Thani, showed up on al-Jazeera and said that
 action was needed because the Libyan people were
attacked by Gaddafi. The otherwise excellent al-Jazeera journalists could have politely asked the emir whether 
he would send his Mirages to protect the people of
 Palestine from Israel, or his neighbors in Bahrain from
 Saudi Arabia.

The al-Khalifa dynasty in Bahrain is essentially a 
bunch of Sunni settlers who took over 230 years ago. 
For a great deal of the 20th century they were obliging 
slaves of the British empire. Modern Bahrain does not
 live under the specter of a push from Iran; that’s an 
al-Khalifa (and House of Saud) myth. Bahrainis, historically, have always rejected being 
part of a sort of Shi’ite nation led by Iran. The
 protests come a long way, and are part of a true 
national movement – way beyond sectarianism. No wonder 
the slogan in the iconic Pearl roundabout – smashed by
the fearful al-Khalifa police state – was neither
 Sunni nor Shi’ite; Bahraini.

What the protesters wanted was essentially a
 constitutional monarchy; a legitimate parliament; free 
and fair elections; and no more corruption. What they 
got instead was bullet-friendly Bahrain replacing
 business-friendly Bahrain, and an invasion sponsored 
by the House of Saud. 

And the repression goes on – invisible to US corporate
 media. Tweeters scream that everybody and his neighbor
 are being arrested. According to Nabeel Rajab,
 president of the Bahrain Center for Human Rights, over 
400 people are either missing or in custody, some of 
them arrested at checkpoints controlled by thugs 
brought in from other Arab and Asian countries – they 
wear black masks in the streets. Even blogger Mahmood
Al Yousif was arrested at 3 am, leading to fears that 
the same will happen to any Bahraini who has blogged,
 tweeted, or posted Facebook messages in favor of
 reform.

Globocop is on a roll Odyssey Dawn is now over. Enter
 Unified Protector – led by Canadian Charles Bouchard. 
Translation: the Pentagon (as in Africom) transfers the kinetic military action to itself (as in NATO, which
 is nothing but the Pentagon ruling over Europe). 
Africom and NATO are now one.

The NATO show will include air and cruise missile
 strikes; a naval blockade of Libya; and shady,
 unspecified ground operations to help the rebels. 
Hardcore helicopter gunship raids a la AfPak – with
 attached collateral damage – should be expected. 

A curious development is already visible. NATO is 
deliberately allowing Gaddafi forces to advance along 
the Mediterranean coast and repel the “rebels”. There 
have been no surgical air strikes for quite a while.

The objective is possibly to extract political and
 economic concessions from the defector and Libyan
exile-infested Interim National Council (INC) – a dodgy 
cast of characters including former Justice minister
 Mustafa Abdel Jalil, US-educated former secretary of 
planning Mahmoud Jibril, and former Virginia resident,
 new military commander and CIA asset Khalifa Hifter. 
The laudable, indigenous February 17 Youth movement -
which was in the forefront of the Benghazi uprising -
has been completely sidelined.

This is NATO‘s first African war, as Afghanistan is NATO‘s first Central/South Asian war. Now firmly
 configured as the UN‘s weaponized arm, Globocop NATO is 
on a roll implementing its strategic concept approved
 at the Lisbon summit last November (see Welcome to 
NATOstan, Asia Times Online, November 20, 2010).

Gaddafi’s Libya must be taken out so the Mediterranean
- the mare nostrum of ancient Rome – becomes a NATO 
lake. Libya is the only nation in northern Africa not
 subordinated to Africom or Centcom or any one of the 
myriad NATO “partnerships”. The other non-NATO-related
 African nations are Eritrea, Sawahiri Arab Democratic 
Republic, Sudan and Zimbabwe.

Moreover, two members of NATO‘s Istanbul Cooperation 
Initiative – Qatar and the United Arab Emirates – are 
now fighting alongside Africom/NATO for the first time. 
Translation: NATO and Persian Gulf partners are
 fighting a war in Africa. Europe? That’s too 
provincial. Globocop is the way to go.

According to the Obama administration’s own official
 doublespeak, dictators who are eligible for “US 
outreach” – such as in Bahrain and Yemen – may relax ,
and get away with virtually anything. As for those 
eligible for “regime alteration”, from Africa to the 
Middle East and Asia, watch out. Globocop NATO is 
coming to get you. With or without dirty deals.

Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the
 Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble
Books, 2007) and Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad
during the surge. His new book, just out, is Obama does
Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). 

He may be reached at:-
pepeasia@yahoo.com.

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Dec 02 2010

Feed The World

Africa’s new global role for the 21st century?

Hands up anyone who thought that the G8 and G20 conferences were modern inventions at which the rich and powerful decide the fate of the world. It could be contended that they had a precursor one hundred and twenty-five years ago.

Between November 15, 1884, and November 26, 1885, the major European colonial powers met in Berlin at a conference under the leadership of the German chancellor Otto von Bismarck.

The stated aims of the Berlin Conference were promoted as controlling the slave trade and the furthering of humanitarian aims and ideals on the African continent.

The conference did indeed pass resolutions concerning the welfare of Africa and the ending of the slave trade. However, all of this was just so much window dressing. The true purpose of the Berlin Conference was to divide up the continent of Africa among the imperial powers in such a way that they would not come into financially expensive and wasteful armed conflict with each other.

And how they succeeded.

A look at a political map of the African continent will show some very strange boundaries, many of them long and straight, unlike, for example, Europe. This came about as a result of the Berlin Conference.

As the Berlin Conference divided the continent between the European colonial powers the borders that the conference decided upon did not follow mountain ranges, rivers nor even ethnic groupings.

Indeed, the arbitrary borders that the conference imposed meant that ethnic groups were split by those borders, a situation which continues to be a source of trouble which haunts the continent of Africa to this day.

However, nothing remains forever and, as time moved on, one by one the countries of Africa declared their independence from their imperial masters. But now, at the start of the 21st century there are fears that a new and very controversial form of colonialism is taking place in Africa, and again, as in the 19th century, it is the rich and powerful who are doing the colonising.

The 21st century’s version of colonialism is all about food. Vast tracts of the African continent are being bought up or leased for the production of crops for export.

Those buying or leasing the land are a mixed but not too surprising bunch. Among them are rich and powerful countries such as China, Saudi Arabia and India among many others, but also to be found are the usual suspects of capitalism, those you can find wherever there are opportunities for exploitation — hedge funds, pension funds, commodity traders, investment banks, multinational corporations, grossly rich individuals, &c., pretty much the usual collection of spivs and profiteers who will turn up like a shark unerringly following a blood trail whenever the poor are to be exploited for profit.

There are various reasons for the rush to what many have described as a land grab.

  • The global food shortages following on from steep rises in the price of oil in 2008.
  • The EU’s assertion that, by the year 2015, 10% of all fuel used for transport has to be obtained from plant-based biofuels.
  • Growing global water shortages also play a part..

To achieve the EU’s required 10% biofuel target it is estimated that an area half the size of Italy would have to be turned over to biofuel production, surely an obscenity in a continent where millions go to bed hungry each night.

Saudi Arabia has another good reason for outsourcing its crop production. It is one of the Middle East’s biggest wheat growers but recently announced that it intends to reduce domestic wheat production by 12%. The Saudis intend to make up the shortfall by purchasing/leasing land in Africa to grow crops on. This tactic will also help to conserve Saudi Arabia’s scarcest asset, namely its precious water supply.

Water, oil, food—the resource wars of our oncoming century.

With the world population estimated to grow to around 9.1 billion by the middle of this century and global demand for food likely to rise by 50 per cent, the lack of fresh land for cultivation domestically means that many developed nations are now taking steps to secure their food supply by growing crops in Africa for export to and consumption by their own domestic markets.

What makes Africa such an attractive agricultural opportunity for capitalist countries / transnational businesses? The cheapness of the land is one of the major attractions. As arable land grows scarcer in Europe and the USA, it can be purchased for around $350-$500 per hectare in Zambia. That same hectare in the United States would cost round about 10 times as much.

But land and its ownership is a contentious thing in Africa.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation believe that only about 14 per cent of land suitable for cultivation is presently being used. But very little land in Africa has documented ownership and much is community owned or even in some cases state owned. Even land that is apparently empty may be subject to intricate patterns of customary usage.

Yet governments in Africa are keen to sell and lease their land in order to provide income from what they see as an underdeveloped resource and also to bring employment to their countries. The reality of the jobs that will be created is that most of them will be as low-paid agricultural labourers or in the provision of security for the foreign investors. The corporations investing in these schemes are probably not head hunting new CEOs among Africa’s tribes.

International Land Coalition policy specialist Michael Taylor put it this way:

If land in Africa hasn’t been planted, it’s probably for a reason. Maybe it’s used to graze livestock or deliberately left fallow to prevent nutrient depletion and erosion. Anybody who has seen these areas identified as unused understands that there is no land in Ethiopia that has no owners and users.

It is estimated that in the last three years that 50 million hectares of land in Africa has been acquired, or is in the process of being acquired, by wealthy countries, individuals and corporations. To give a perspective on that figure, 50 million hectares is more than twice the area of the United Kingdom.

Ethiopia has over 13 million of its population dependent on food aid, making it one of the world’s hungriest nations. The Ethiopian government, however, in deals done with wealthy countries, corporations and individuals, is prepared to lease out three million hectares of its best land to them.

Nyikaw Ochalia, a native Anuak from Ethiopia’s Gambella region, in an interview in The Observer, dated March 7, 2010, stated:

All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it.

It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella.

The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing that local people see is people coming with lots of tractors, to invade their lands.

All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. The land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.

The Oromo people form about 50 million of the 80 million population of Ethiopia. In an open letter dated February 25, 2010, to Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations, Haile Hirpa, president of the Oromo Studies Association, describes his people’s plight.

In the letter he tells of how the Oromos are being evicted from their land by the Ethiopian government and how their confiscated land is being sold to various countries, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, China, India and Egypt among them.

On March 4, 2009, the first food crop arrived in Saudi Arabia which had been grown in Saudi farms abroad. At the same time in Ethiopia the Oromo people were dying in a man-made famine.

Ethiopia, is, of course, by no means alone, and other countries affected by the new agri-colonialism of Africa include Uganda, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Sudan, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Zambia and the Congo.

The Congo (DRC) has done a deal with South Africa whereby it will lease nearly one-third of its land to South African investment for a period of 99 years. If the South Africans use the same model for agricultural development in the DRC as they did domestically it does not bode well for the small-time farmers.

Millions of subsistence farmers and labourers in South Africa were forced to leave the land and move to the squalor of the townships of the big cities as their land rights were taken from them.

Again, the problem exists for the indigenous people of the DRC, and indeed, almost anywhere in Africa, that virtually no documentation exists to prove their legal right to the land, making it easy to evict them in the name of progress.

There is also a huge environmental cost to the deal between the DRC and the RSA in that any rainforest obstructing the deal will be destroyed. Any threatening protests are to be dealt with by the military.

None of this should surprise us, really.

The historical record of colonial powers and transnational corporations regarding showing a duty of care towards indigenous populations is somewhere on the spectrum round about the area occupied by the Easter bunny and the unicorn, that is, very imaginative but with not much actual basis in reality.

As foreign money pours in to buy or lease land from poor African countries a couple of examples, one from the past and one currently taking place on another continent, may shed some light on what might be expected to occur.

The lesson of Liberia regarding exploitation of its rubber plantations is instructive. In 1926, the tyre manufacturer Firestone leased huge tracts of land at six cents an acre to harvest the sap of the rubber tree used in the manufacture of tyres. It is the largest rubber operation in the world yet there is very little benefit to the local communities and the use of child labour has been widely reported.

OK, it’s quiz time!

In 1926 Firestone struck a deal whereby they would pay 6 cents an acre to Liberia for land to grow rubber trees on. In the nearly eight decades between 1926 and 2005 there have been many major events and changes—the world has seen global conflict, man has progressed from flying in rickety bi-planes to walking on the moon and every home in Scotland now has an inside toilet. Bearing all this in mind, how much do you think that Firestone were paying Liberia per acre in 2005? Don’t forget to factor in 79 years of inflation as you work out the answer.

To make it a little bit easier the answer is multiple choice, so have a guess if you’re not sure. Was it:

  • (a) An appalling 10 cents
  • (b) A miserly 12 cents
  • (c) an astonishingly generous 15 cents

Ha Ha! Gotcha! Trick question!

Firestone continued to pay six cents an acre until 2005, when the price per acre was increased to 50 cents, then in 2008 it rose again to $2 per acre, still by any measure a huge bargain.

For a major international corporation to pay the same price for nearly eight decades to a poor African country for the use of its land is beyond exploitation, the word exploitation is simply not big enough to encompass the corporate greed involved in this shabby deal.

In an interview with finalcall.com in August 2008, Elmira Woods, who has Liberian roots, and is director of Foreign Policy in Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, an independent think tank and research institute based in Washington DC., said,

We know that Africa has been at the centerpiece of the global economy for five hundred years since the days of slavery.

From the time that we as African people were pushed into slavery to sustain the economies of the West until today, you have had the African economies, the resources that come from the continent whether it is steel or iron ore that creates the steel that comes from Africa, or it is rubber that you could not have the tires on the cars without, the rubber that comes from Africa.

These vital resources for the global economy come from the African continent. What has happened, just as in the days of slavery and in the days of colonialism, Africa is looked to as a place to extract the resource and not really to develop the people.

I think that there has been a sustained effort to under develop Africa, really for five hundred years.

So you have corporations whether it’s the big oil companies now, that are celebrating historic high profits and yet the communities on which the oil lies will have no schools, poor housing, inefficient or non-existing health care and no roads to speak of.

I mean complete degradation of these communities, in spite of the fact that oil has been flowing from some of these communities in Nigeria, for example, since 1956, yet the communities remain without any of the basic necessities of human survival.

This is the problem, especially multi-national corporations going after their greed, going after resources and not seeing the people. And just as it was wrong in the days of slavery, it is as wrong today, to have this type of exploitation of a continent.

Another example of how Africa’s indigenous populations should perhaps expect to profit from the current inward agricultural investment can be found across the Atlantic in South America, specifically Brazil.

The development of industrial scale farms dispossessed many of Brazil’s indigenous farmers as the Brazilian government opened up its huge savanna to soy production. US agribusinesses subsidiaries make vast profits and huge soy farms are owned and run by US farmers. In global terms Brazil is now an agricultural superpower, exporting soy, beef, coffee, sugar and much more.

However, despite this agricultural/economic miracle, 25 per cent of the population, that is 44 million people, live on a daily income of less than $1.06 per day. By any definition this is known as extreme poverty.

Brazil is expected to become the world’s fourth largest economy in the near future. That such an economy could have so many people in dire poverty tells us much about capitalist notions of what a successful economy should look like.

And yet, there is a chance that all the rich, powerful countries and various capitalist spivs currently exploiting Africa may yet have their best laid plans undone.

In July 2008 the giant Daewoo corporation leased 1.3 million hectares of land for the production of maize and palm oil in Madagascar. When the population heard of the plans violent protests broke out which eventually led to the overthrow of Madagascar’s government in a coup, and the cancellation of the deal. People power at work?

And there is another spectre haunting the world which may make many or even all such land grabs void. Climate change may yet wreak havoc on African land deals.

Consider this. Seeking to entice sheikhs to invest in buying land for crop growth the government of Pakistan held a road show in Dubai. They promised tax breaks and exemptions from labour laws and even threw in a 100,000 strong security force solely for the protection of their investments. All this, it should be noted, while Pakistan is at war with the Taliban.

Yet the events of July/August 2010 in Pakistan may prove a warning to all those investing or planning to invest in land deals to grow crops abroad for domestic consumption. Unusually heavy rains have produced floods of biblical proportions, made 15 million people homeless, and destroyed domestic crops in the fertile lands of Pakistan. Last week, on August 27, Pakistan suspended all wheat exports.

At the start of September, 2010, there were food riots in Mozambique after the government increased the price of bread by 30 per cent. The root cause of this massive increase was to be found far away in Russia. Due to wildfires much of the Russian wheat crop has been destroyed and a ban has been placed on the export of wheat.

Russia is the world’s third-largest wheat exporter and the export ban has created a global wheat shortage. This has led to a huge increase in the price of wheat on world markets. As a country which imports over 60 per cent of the wheat that it needs the poor people of Mozambique are being forced to pay the price for international capitalist markets.

As the world heats up currently fertile lands may be hit by drought, flood or some other extreme weather events.

If this were to happen would the distressed and starving indigenous population be forced to look on as any crops that survived but were grown on land purchased by outside investors were driven past them for export, accompanied by an armed escort? Surely something like that would never happen.

Was it just me or did anyone else just hear the mournful melody of The Fields of Athenry?[1]

At the G8 summit held in Italy in July 2009 the Japanese delegation tried to push through a code of conduct to govern land grab deals. Never mind any firm legislation, the proposed code of conduct proved too much for the other seven members to support. Eventually, Japan’s proposal was watered down to a promise to develop proposals on principles and best practices for foreign agricultural investment in land with partner countries and international organisations.

Did you have to read that several times before realising that it is so vague and wrapped up in gobbledygook that it is meaningless? Do you suspect that nothing will actually be done regarding regulating this new colonisation of the ‘dark continent’?

At a time when we are expected to pay for the folly of a rich elite’s reckless pursuit of profit through cuts to our vital services, who, reading this, expects that the same elite will pass up the opportunity to exploit the poorest on our planet? It beggars belief, given their past record, that they will pass up the chance of a profit because it might contravene humanitarian ideals.

Was that an echo rolling down the centuries that I just heard from the promises made at the Berlin Conference?

[1] The Fields Of Athenry is a song about the failure of the potato crop, resulting in the 19th century Irish Potato Famine. The failure of the crop that the poor depended on for sustenance meant that millions either starved or were forced to emigrate. During the famine grain was exported to England under armed escort as the starving Irish population looked on. Due to death and emigration the population of Ireland was reduced by one-third in the famine. When French and American ships tried to land with food and clothing to alleviate the suffering of the Irish they were met by British gunboats and diverted to English ports. There the goods were offloaded and reloaded on to English ships (at a price) to be transported to Ireland. Such was the length of the delays that most of the foodstuffs had rotted by the time they sailed for Ireland. Newspapers of the day, including The Times, published articles and editorials in which they claimed that the potato blight in Ireland was God’s punishment because they were a largely Catholic country.

The Fields of Athenry

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young girl calling
Michael, they have taken you away,
For you stole Trevelyn’s corn
That the young might see the morn,
Now a prison ship lies waiting in the bay.

CHORUS

Low lie the fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing
We had dreams and songs to sing
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

By a lonely prison wall
I heard a young man calling
Nothing matters, Mary, when you’re free,
Against the Famine and the Crown
I rebelled, they ran me down,
Now you must raise our child with dignity.

CHORUS

By a lonely harbour wall
She watched the last star falling
As that prison ship sailed out against the sky
Sure she’ll wait and hope and pray
For her love in Botany Bay
It’s so lonely ’round the Fields of Athenry.

CHORUS

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