The Iraq war can no longer be ignored; the fall of Mosul and the end of imperial delusions of grandeur

The fall of Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, to the Islamist guerrillas of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), represents not just a defeat for the Iraqi army and the US-supported regime in Baghdad. It also stands as the end of a whole set of US imperialistic policies, designed to bring Iraq under its total control. The seemingly sudden dissolution of the Iraqi army in Mosul is a defeat for US imperialism that shatters decades-long policies that formed the backbone of US conduct in the Arab world, delusions of imperial grandeur and empire-building that must now be brought to an end. The capture of Mosul, Iraq, by Islamist rebels and Iraqi Sunni insurgents is a defeat for US imperial empire-building, on the same magnitude as the scattering of the remnant forces of the misnamed Republic of Vietnam from Saigon in 1975.

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Only a few months ago, on this blog, the current author made note that the eleventh anniversary of the Iraq invasion was studiously ignored by the corporate media, promoting the impression that Iraq, while still having some remaining problems, has largely settled down into a functioning society. The implicit message in ignoring that anniversary was that the architects of the 2003 invasion were generally vindicated in their decision to go to war. Former UK prime minster Tony Blair, one of the main enthusiasts for the Iraq war, has made numerous comments in the media, defending his decision to lead Britain into the American-driven invasion.

All these imperial delusions have come crashing down, as the Iraq war literally exploded, and the consequences of that invasion are plain for all to see. The decision by the US and Britain to unilaterally invade Iraq has resulted in the destruction of that society. The seizure of Mosul by forces loyal to ISIS, represents the collapse of the US imperial project in Iraq.

The 2003 invasion, launched on the false pretext that Iraq possessed ‘weapons of mass destruction’, intended to install a regime that was compliant with US and British business interests. The Maliki regime, composed of CIA assets, pro-American politicians, war profiteers, and associated Kurdish warlords, now stands humiliated and in tatters, its armies refusing to fight the Iraqi insurgency. American and British imperial hubris stands condemned, as the army on which they spent billions of dollars proved ineffective in responding to insurgent attacks. As Jeremy Corbyn, MP for Islington North in Britain has stated, the overrunning of Mosul, followed by the quick seizure of other cities by the Iraqi insurgents, represents the unravelling of a century of imperialism. Focusing on the oil and gas resource of Iraq, and the wider Middle East, the US and Britain wanted to expand their economic and military influence across the region, and have devastated Iraqi society in the process. This set of policies now stands condemned, as the consequences of imperial intervention threaten to engulf not just Iraq, but the region as well.

Capture of Mosul

Patrick Cockburn, the veteran foreign correspondent for The Independent newspaper, detailed the initial fall of Mosul to the ISIS, and the subsequent developments in the rest of Iraq. His articles, republished in Common Dreams, are a valuable resource for an up-to-date analysis of the political and economic situation inside Iraq. Cockburn states that while ISIS guerrillas provided the front-line ‘shock troops’ in the capture of Mosul, they are just one component of a more generalised Iraqi, largely Sunni, uprising against the pro-American regime in Baghdad. While the emergence of ISIS as an important factor in Iraqi politics heralds the rise of an Islamist program for Iraq, the seeds of rebellion against the Maliki regime go back to 2012-13. Since 2013, peaceful, political demonstrations have been occurring against the sectarian policies of the Baghdad government. The latter responded with violent repression, and thus drove thousands of Sunnis into the arms of the insurgent groups.

The social and economic grievances of the Sunnis were ignored by Maliki, and he resorted to brutal, oppressive measures (much like President Assad in neighbouring Syria) to suppress any resistance to his rule. The Sunnis, disenfranchised and excluded economically and politically by the Baghdad government, have been agitating for a number of years to end the sectarian order established after the 2003 invasion. The growing Sunni revolt, documented by Cockburn, demonstrated that the Maliki regime had no popular support or legitimacy outside Baghdad and the associated Shia militias that have helped to prop up that government. Maliki was bound to fail to gain any traction for his heavily sectarian project. A number of different insurgent groups, some ex-Ba’athist officers, Iraqi nationalists, and others have all joined in the armed rebellion and helped in defeating the Iraqi army in Mosul and other northern Iraqi cities. As Patrick Cockburn stated, ISIS was not the only Sunni militant group to rise up; it was part of a multi-pronged, carefully coordinated armed uprising that left the Baghdad government aghast and paralysed by inaction.

The fall of Mosul, and the ease with which it was captured by the insurgents, confirms that Baghdad had no political support, and its army refused to fight for it. Thousands of Iraqis did flee the fighting in that city, and the mass movement of refugees increased as town after town fell to the ISIS guerrillas. Iraqis, particularly from the ethnic minorities, are wary of the brand of extreme Sunni fundamentalism and the vision of a caliphate promoted by ISIS. However, not all Mosul residents feared ISIS, in fact, they were more worried about the prospect of barbaric Iraqi army counterattacks. One resident informed The Guardian newspaper that:

I feel we have been liberated of an awful nightmare that was suffocating us for 11 years. The army and the police never stopped arresting, detaining and killing people, let alone the bribes they were taken from the detainees’ families.

“Me and my neighbours are waiting for the news that the other six Sunni protesting provinces falling in the hand of the Isis fighters to declare our Sunni region like the three provinces in Kurdistan.

It is not just The Guardian that is reporting this sentiment from Mosul residents. The loyal lapdog of the US empire, the New York Slimes, covering the ongoing offensive by ISIS in northern Iraq, reported that ordinary Iraqis were unified in their opposition to the Maliki government. The New York Slimes recorded the reaction of Iraqi and American officials to the scale and speed of the ISIS-insurgent uprising:

As the dimensions of the assault began to become clear, it was evident that a number of militant groups had joined forces, including Baathist military commanders from the Hussein era, whose goal is to rout the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki. One of the Baathists, Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, was a top military commander and a vice president in the Hussein government and one of the few prominent Baathists to evade capture by the Americans throughout the occupation.

“These groups were unified by the same goal, which is getting rid of this sectarian government, ending this corrupt army and negotiating to form the Sunni Region,” said Abu Karam, a senior Baathist leader and a former high-ranking army officer, who said planning for the offensive had begun two years ago. “The decisive battle will be in northern Baghdad. These groups will not stop in Tikrit and will keep moving toward Baghdad.”

The lack of support for the Maliki regime is a searing indictment of the political system established by the Americans, and their associated Iraqi collaborators, since the 2003 invasion. The institutionalised sectarian division, the main feature of the Baghdad government, has further worsened relations between the Sunni and Shia communities, and between the Muslim-majority and the Christian minorities. The Shia parties, such as the Islamic Dawa party of which Maliki is a leader, failed to be inclusive and build political support among the population. The reason that the Iraqi army dissolved so quickly is that nobody was willing to take up arms and sacrifice their lives for a despised regime.

ISIS, an offshoot of  Al Qaeda, advocates a Sunni fundamentalist vision, and works to establish a caliphate in the areas that it controls.  Whether it has the support of  the local population for its narrow platform of a Sunni fundamentalist, religiously-based political order remains to be seen. However, since taking Mosul in June 2014, residents have reported that life is returning to normal. Time magazine reported that the residents of Mosul are getting on with their jobs, resuming their businesses and that life is actually getting somewhat better. In spite of the warnings of the implementation of strict, literalist interpretations of Islamic Sharia law, residents are reporting an improved atmosphere. From the Time magazine article is the following snippet:

“Do you know how it was in Mosul before ISIS came? We had bombings and assassinations almost everyday. Now we have security,” said Abu Sadr, who asked to be identified by a nickname, from his home in Mosul’s Hay Al Sukar neigbourhood. “I’m going to work, going to the market, like normal, and people are coming back to the city.”

According to Abu Sadr it is basically life as usual in Mosul. There is little of the tyrannical Islamic Sharia enforcement the group’s name has become synonymous with. Abu Sadr has seen Pakistani, Afghani and Syrian fighters amid the Iraqi ISIS recruits, but says the fighters have yet to adorn the city with their signature black flag. They fly them only above their checkpoints, which some residents say are fewer than the army had there, two weeks ago.

The fact that ISIS rule is seen as less threatening, even though the Islamist guerrillas espouse a brand of extreme Sunni chauvinism, indicates the widespread hostility to the Maliki government. This does not mean that the sectarian nature of ISIS is to be downplayed; far from it. But this does demonstrate that the central state in Baghdad offered nothing to the people in Mosul and other parts of the country.

Sectarian order comes crumbling down

However, this does not mean that ISIS will be any more successful than Maliki in restoring the basic services necessary for a functioning society. Though they are off to a good start; Mosul has a consumer protection office where people can air their grievances, amnesty has been offered to those from the security services should they lay down their arms, and social services are being provided. However, while Mosul, Tikrit, Fallujah and other cities have fallen easily, Baghdad will not be so easy. As Professor Juan Cole writes, the insurgents have picked a fight they cannot win in Baghdad, if they do not appeal to the Shia masses in the south of the country. Without a power base to sustain them, the Iraqi insurgents can cause damage, make some gains in Baghdad, but they cannot win the city on their own steam. Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the pre-eminent Shia authority in Iraq, called on all Iraqis, regardless of religious orientation, to rise up and organise a sturdy defence of Baghdad against the ISIS guerrillas. Thousands have responded to the call. Various Shia religious parties, including the Mahdi Army, the militia of the Sadrist bloc headed by nationalist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, are forming brigades to defend Baghdad and the holiest Shia shrines located in the south of the country from attacks by ISIS.

It is interesting to note that Sistani, while a Shia, did not include any reference to jihad, or any sectarian appeals, in his statement. He specifically asked that Iraqis join the national army, not private or political-party-based militias, and he appealed to a sense of patriotism and nationalism. He went so far as to call ISIS ‘terrorists’, a designation not taken lightly in the political climate of the Arab and Islamic worlds. He reiterated that the defence of the country was paramount. This message, coming from an important and revered religious figure like Sistani, is important because it demonstrates that Arab nationalism still has a resounding resonance in Iraq. Sistani did not directly mention Maliki, but in his pronouncements, it is clear that Sistani is finding fault with the sectarian political order that arose in the aftermath of the US invasion.

Responsibility for the current crisis resides with the imperialist powers

The Iraqi state is going through its worst crisis since the worst days of the Iraqi insurgency and subsequent sectarian warfare in the mid-2000s. Maliki and his associated Shia politicians certainly shoulder a heavy burden of blame for the current impasse. Maliki and his Shia sectarian policies have resulted in a state where the main institutions of the army, police, parliament, and associated militias are controlled by Shias. But this is only one part of the story. The ultimate responsibility for the sectarian fracturing of the country lies with the policies of the United States. As Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker newspaper writes, “The principal cause of this crisis is three decades of U.S. imperial policy that culminated in Bush’s 2003 invasion.” In his extensive analysis, Smith notes that the first Gulf War of 1991, followed by years of crippling sanctions, devastated a functioning society that provided healthcare, education and services for its citizens. Iraq never fully recovered from deleterious effects of the 1991 aerial bombing campaign, a programme of aerial warfare on a par with the Allied bombing of German cities during World War Two.

It is true that sectarianism existed prior to the 2003 invasion. The Ba’athist party built a Sunni top-heavy state, with the top levels of political and military power going to Sunnis. The lucrative government contracts to conduct business were usually awarded to Iraqi Sunnis. However, each town had its own mix of religious and ethnic groups, and there was nothing like the fratricidal sectarian warfare that we see today. The responsibility for the explosion of sectarian violence in Iraq resides directly with the US and Britain, fomenting ethnic and religious divisions in order to fragment a determined opposition. The traditional tactic of divide and rule was implemented by the US occupation authorities, backed up by savage repression. In an article written in 2013, Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker explained that the US adopted the Lebanese model for Iraq, attempting to Balkanise the country, exacerbate ethnic tensions and apportion power according to sectarian loyalty. Sectarian polarisation was not the product of ‘ancient hatreds’, or the result of a ‘clash within a civilisation’ as the New York Slimes columnist David Brooks once opined.

As Sami Ramadani, Iraqi exile and senior lecturer in sociology at the London Metropolitan University explained, the sectarian hatred is promoted by the imperialist powers, and this partition would be a recipe for endless wars. Iraq is not a random aggregation of disparate ethnic and religious groups all straining for the first opportunity to slaughter each other, Ramadani elaborates in his article. He does not spare the Ba’athist party from blame, criticising its Arab-centric ideology and its marginalisation of the poorest segments of society. The Ba’athist party had no love for the Kurds, and possessed a strong anti-Shia undercurrent in its political operations. The largest mass political organisation, and the most multicultural, was the Iraqi Communist Party, until decimated by Ba’athist repression in the 1970s.

Ramadani reserves his most scathing criticism for the US invasion and its aftermath, holding it responsible for the worst upsurge of violent sectarianism in Iraq’s history. Ramadani wrote that;

The most serious sectarian and ethnic tensions in Iraq’s modern history followed the 2003 US-led occupation, which faced massive popular opposition and resistance. The US had its own divide-and-rule policy, promoting Iraqi organisations founded on religion, ethnicity, nationality or sect rather than politics. Many senior officers in the newly formed Iraqi army came from these organisations and Saddam’s army. This was exacerbated three years ago, when sectarian groups in Syria were backed by the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

It is this officer class that this month abandoned Mosul and a third of Iraq’s territory to the terrorists of Isis, beefed up by thousands of foreign fighters, members of Saddam’s Ba’ath party, and the Islamic party (a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood). It has also become clear that leaders of the Kurdistan regional government have expanded their control and implemented a de facto ceasefire with the sectarian insurgents.

Iraq’s partition would only benefit the arms manufacturers, oil companies and war profiteers.

The ultimate responsibility for the calamitous state of Iraq today lies with the long history of imperialist interference in the Arab and Islamic worlds. The 2003 US invasion is just the latest in a long line of imperialist interventions, starting with the redrawing of boundaries at the end of World War One, without the consent or input of the Arabic-speaking peoples. As the Ottoman Turkish empire collapsed, Britain, France and the other powers rushed to carve out spheres of influence for themselves, with the Arabs and Kurds failing to gain self-determination.

Mick Armstrong, writing for the Red Flag newspaper, correctly observes that the imperialist states, determined the dominate the resource-rich areas of the Middle East, resorted to divide-and-rule tactics, propping up proxy forces that were amenable to their economic and political interests. Armstrong writes of how the British, given the mandate to govern Iraq, formed alliances with friendly pro-British Arab forces, installing a puppet king from the Hashemite clan as their ruler in the newly formed Kindgom of Iraq. Whenever the Iraqis rose up to resist this arrangement, as they did in the 1920s, the British resorted to aerial bombing to bring the recalcitrant indigenous people back into line.

Sectarian policies, implemented by the United States, are only the latest incarnation of imperialist meddling in Iraq. The sordid consequences of this long history of violent interventions by outside powers is now plain for all to see. The capture of Mosul is not only an indictment of the US occupation’s divide-and-conquer strategy and inflammation of sectarian tensions. It is also a searing indictment of the 2003 US invasion, an invasion that is still causing casualties, because it destroyed an otherwise functioning society. The crimes of imperialism in this region are becoming more glaring in the light of the debacle the US has suffered in Iraq. As Seumas Milne of the Guardian explained in one of his many articles on Iraq, the Arab and Islamic worlds are living with the disastrous consequences of imperialist attempts to control their resources and futures.

The Iraq war was not just some ‘tragic mistake’ or ‘error in judgement’ as many corporate media pundits would have us believe. It was a deliberate, coldly calculated predatory crime that resulted in millions of deaths, the outflow of refugees, and the poison of fratricidal sectarianism taking hold. While ISIS is a takfiri, Sunni fundamentalist group that will be unable to appeal to a broad segment of the Iraqi population over the long run, the political and economic order against which they are fighting is a criminal regime born of a violent occupation and sustained by rampant sectarianism. The grievances of Iraqis against imperialist interference in their affairs are real and legitimate. It is time to listen to the Iraqis and let them determine their own future.

 

John Pilger’s Utopia – uncovering the heart of darkness in the ‘lucky country’

Pilger’s latest documentary about the ongoing plight of the first Australian nations is confronting, powerful and disturbing. Every Australian should watch it.

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The fiercest critic of my writings and constant reader of this blog is comrade Sonia. She frequently berates me for not writing about the country of my birth, Australia. She contends that I spend too much energy and attention on international issues, and not nearly enough time on important issues at home. Well, after much careful thought, comrade Sonia is absolutely right. This one is for you.

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Back in the 1970s when I was in school, we participated in school activities and ceremonies commemorating Anzac day. While we did not attend school on the actual public holiday, the following school day involved lessons about the Anzacs. Part of the commemorations required getting all of the senior students to salute the Australian flag. We lined up alongside the flagpole, watching the fluttering Union Jack being raised, and we dutifully saluted as it was hoisted in silence. The school assembly would listen to readings of stories about the Anzacs, the Australian soldiers who served in overseas wars, usually at the service of an imperialist power, as cannon-fodder, fighting and dying under the flag that we saluted.

Little did we know that there was another war, a war that was never explained to us, but a type of warfare directly relevant to our experience as Australians. It was a war conducted on our continent, the consequences of which are still with us today. This war is ongoing; the tactics may have changed, but the effects are just as deleterious.

Some forty years later, I watched a screening of Utopia, the latest documentary by veteran Australian journalist John Pilger. This is the fourth time that Pilger has explored the issue of the first Australian nations, documenting the genocide, dispossession and brutality of the English war of conquest and its continuing effects. Utopia is a powerful, searing indictment not only of the British invasion and subsequent dispossession of the indigenous nations, but the ongoing denial of that war and the continuation of that occupation by other means. The fact that indigenous Australians still suffer lower life expectancy than non-indigenous Australians, die from vaccine-preventable diseases in greater numbers, and live in squalid, decrepit conditions in outback Australia is not only documented by Pilger, but also stands as an indictment of the wilful ignorance of these conditions by the wider Australian community.

Pilger cleverly takes episodes from the lives of Australians, both indigenous and non-indigenous, to demonstrate his case that widespread ignorance and racism still pervade the wider white Australian community. A revealing segment in the documentary is when Pilger, on the misnamed ‘Australia Day’ in 2013, walks through the streets of Circular Quay in Sydney, asking random people why they are celebrating on a day which should rightly be remembered as the beginning of an invasion. The vox pops-style street questioning is a tactic at which Pilger is brilliant. He asks one man, his face dutifully painted with Union Jack flags and wearing appropriate ‘Aussie’ flag t-shirt, why he is celebrating this Australia Day. Stunned, the man belligerently asks why Pilger is bothering with such a question. As Pilger explains that actually 225 years ago on this day, the invasion and dispossession of the indigenous people began, the man sneers, turns away and dismisses Pilger with the phrase ‘see ya later mate’. He reserves one last parting shot for Pilger; out of the side of his mouth he arrogantly spat out the words ‘you’re full of shit…’, and with that the conversation ended. White Australia still has difficulty facing up to the reality of how Australian capitalism was built, and how it is continuing to suppress the first Australian nations.

Utopia is a community that Pilger visits. It is located some 200 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs. Indigenous families live here in ramshackle buildings, with no running water inside, no transport, no regular health service and no electricity. Infectious diseases are rife due to the unsanitary conditions, and the health care workers allocated to this community are doing their best with the limited funding and equipment they have. The kitchens, toilets and bathrooms, if they can be called that, are malfunctioning and unhygienic. It is not uncommon for families to sleep outdoors with mattresses on the ground. Cockroaches and pest infestations are regular occurrences, with cases of cockroaches crawling into the ears of adults and children.

This is the economic and social chasm that divides non-indigenous Australians from the first nations. As a contrast to the impoverished, Dickensian conditions of the indigenous people, Pilger takes a trip to Palm Beach, located in the northern suburbs of Sydney. He interviews a hotelier at that beach, whose hotel has rooms overlooking the waterfront. She proudly explains to Pilger that during peak times, she has a brisk business, charging 30 000 dollars per week for the choicest rooms. Yes, 30 000 dollars per week.

Pilger takes aim at the false pretenses and devastating consequences of the Howard-era 2007 NT intervention, a campaign to reassert and extend the authority of the Australian capitalist state, and its business interests, over land that belongs to indigenous communities. After a media campaign composed of lurid, sensationalised – and completely false – allegations of pedophile rings forcing indigenous children into sexual slavery, former Prime Minister John Howard launched a military-police intervention, driving indigenous communities off their land, suspending the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act, eroded the social welfare measures, pitifully inadequate as they are, available to indigenous people, and opening up vasts tracts of land to commercial exploitation.

It just so happens that the Northern Territory is incredibly rich in natural resources, particularly uranium. The mining companies, the large transnational corporations that dominate the Australian economy, were beneficiaries of this intervention. While the Howard government began this intervention, the subsequent Labour governments of Rudd and Gilliard did nothing to stop it. Subsequent investigations into the allegations of child sexual abuse in the indigenous communities found no evidence of pedophile rings, sexual slavery or child trafficking. The central justification of the intervention was demolished, yet the policies implemented in its wake continue.

Pilger reveals a side of indigenous struggle rarely commented on by non-indigenous Australians – industrial action by organised working class indigenous workers. Pilger interviews Arthur Murray, a cotton picker who along with his comrades, went on strike in the 1970s for equal pay and to protest dangerous working conditions. Indigenous workers were always paid lower than their white counterparts, working in unsafe conditions, while turning a profit for the Australian companies that exploited the resources of indigenous land. Murray and his fellow workers were dismissed as Communist troublemakers and agitators. Pilger emphasises the struggle by the indigenous stockmen employed at Wave Hill cattle station, where in the mid-1960s, Gurindji stockmen walked off the job for equal pay. It was the longest strike action in Australian history, lasting from August 1966 until 1975. The Whitlam government at the time finally handed back at least a portion of the cattle station land to the indigenous Gurindji owners. The divisions of race, always important in Australian capitalism, are based upon and magnified by the divisions of class. Pilger does talk about the mining companies, those corporations that exploit the resources of this land, but continue to deny the presence and rights of the original owners.

There is so much more in Pilger’s documentary, that you have to see it for yourself. As part of the larger colonial-settler project of occupying Australia, skin colour became an obsessive preoccupation. Race and racial divisions were invented to further widen the antagonism between the first nations of Australia and those who have come from overseas. I referred to the heart of darkness in the title of this article; and this expression has usually been used to refer to the darkness of the conquered people, whether they be the indigenous people of Australia, or in the context of the colonisation of Africa, the dark-skinned inhabitants of that continent.

But Pilger’s documentary taught me that this obsession with race is completely distracting and unnecessary. The heart of darkness has nothing to do with skin colour; the darkness is the imperialist project itself, the building of a settler-colonial society on the backs and suffering of the original nations, whether in Australia, Africa, or Israel for that matter. The darkness is in our minds and hearts, not in the colour of anyone’s skin. Constructing an unequal economic and political system, reserving privileges for a tiny minority class of financial-energy-banking oligarchs, while the majority sinks into poverty, is the dark ideology enveloping our society. Denying justice to a dispossessed people, undermining their ability to work, live and educate themselves, reveals a dark fanatical ideology at the heart of Australian capitalism. Pilger calls this the secret history of Australian apartheid.

After watching Utopia, it is clear to me that the Australian flag, its Union Jack, is a butcher’s apron. I will not be saluting it anymore.

 

Europe is a hotbed of ultra-right extremism

The ultra-right anti-immigrant parties are making sweeping gains electorally and politically in Europe since the economic crisis erupted in 2008. While focusing on the threat of Islamic extremism, real or imagined, we have ignored (in some cases encouraged) the growth of a greater and more urgent threat – the ultra-right parties that are targeting working people, ethnic minorities and the most vulnerable sectors of the crisis-ridden capitalist system.

Since the onset of the 2008 breakdown of the capitalist economic system, the political parties and organisations of the Left have been gaining ground. The growth of workers organisations, socialist parties and organised labour in Greece, Spain, Italy, and other European countries points to an encouraging resurgence of resistance to attacks by the capitalist financial elite. More people are recognising that austerity measures means that the burden of economic recovery will be paid by the people suffering from the economic malaise, and the people that caused the crisis are avoiding taking any responsibility.

However, while the Left has reaped rewards from the breakdown of the capitalist order, let us not be complacent – the economic crisis has also seen a surge of support for the ultra-right. The anti-immigrant parties, marketing themselves as ‘Euro-sceptics’, have exploited the grievances of workers and dispossessed people in Europe to make sweeping electoral and political gains.

As the mainstream bourgeois parties roll back the social and economic gains of the post-World War Two European system, privatising health care, education, and removing social benefits, more people are being pushed down into poverty and living in precarious financial circumstances. The ultra-right parties have gained significant traction in terms of their electoral appeal, and have mobilised thousands of members and supporters to influence the political process in various European countries.

To be sure, the ultra-right parties have been organising and active since the dissolution of the Eastern Bloc in 1990-91. They have appealed to the nationalist sectors of the population, railing against the injustices (real or perceived) of a growing European Union. Their populist opposition was always one of anti-immigration, in particular anti-Arab and anti-Islamic racism. Islamophobia is a vote-winner, and the populist appleal against the new and latest ‘outsiders’ has proven to be electorally beneficial. The French National Front has been the best exponent of this strategy.

The ultra-right parties in Eastern Europe have traditionally been anti-Semitic, drawing on the political experiences of these countries during the 1930s and 1940s when they were capitalist nation states. Anti-Semitic politics was a constant feature of the Eastern Europe nations in the inter-war years. With the reintroduction of capitalist in the early 1990s, openly fascistic and ultra-right parties started making a comeback. Cultural nationalism, and hostility to immigration, found an organised political expression. This political current has reached levels of political power in at least one Eastern European capital, Kiev, the Ukraine.

For the first time since 1945, political parties that trace their political lineage to wartime Nazi collaborators have taken key positions of power in a European country. The Kiev regime, installed in early 2014 after a popular uprising against the previous oligarchic government of Viktor Yanukovych, openly lionises those Ukrainians who fought alongside the Nazi German forces during World War Two. These ultra-nationalist and anti-Semitic Ukrainians killed Jews, Poles and anti-fascist Ukrainians in their roles as auxiliaries of the German army. The Svoboda party, which forms part of the Ukrainian Right Sector, routinely denounces the presence of Jews, Russians and other minorities in the Ukrainian polity. Stepan Bandera, the wartime leader of the Ukrainian nationalist organisation, led the pogroms against Jews, Russians, Poles and ethnically cleansed the areas he controlled as part of an effort to create a racially pure Ukrainian state. Bandera is currently hailed as a hero by the new far right Kiev government. There are positive references to the ‘Galician SS’, Hitler’s term for those Ukrainian collaborators who carried out his project of ethnic genocide during the war.

While there are no tears for the ousting of the oligarchic Yanukovych regime, who had integrated Ukraine into the capitalist system and traded with the EU and Russia, there are no celebrations for the mass fascistic parties that have taken power in the wake of the 2013-2014 putsch. The Ukraine of Yanukovych walked a fine line between the competing, balancing interests of the European Union and Russia, placating both sides and maintaining the Ukraine as a ‘buffer’. However, with the help of the EU and the United States, the most pro-Rightist forces, openly spouting their brand of anti-Semitism and white supremacism, organised the most politically active and coordinated elements of the anti-Yanukovych uprising. The neo-fascistic groups, happily displaying their white-power and swastika-resembling symbols, became the face of the pro-EU Maidan uprising. The ultra-right groups made no secret of their coordinating role in confronting the previous regime, and organising the uprising politically.

We also cannot ignore the role of the United States and European Union in financing and politically encouraging these ultra-right anti-Semitic parties, ensuring that the Right Sector were at the political heart of the Maidan protests. Imperialist-supported regime change is always a strong element in driving the political directions of mass protests in Europe. It is no secret that major US politicians, like US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland, openly supported the Ukrainian ultra-right parties that formed the core of the anti-Yanukoych protests. This corresponds to the general imperialist strategy of incorporating the former Soviet republics into NATO and the western economic orbit. Politically encouraging the ultra-right as a battering ram in Eastern Europe is an integral step in absorbing these states into the imperialist economic and military network.

Not every single person that participated in the Maidan uprising was a card-carrying member of a neo-fascist party, far from it. But when the most politically organised forces are espousing a white-supremacist ideology, ranting against the influence of Russians, Jews, and ethnic minorities, advocating a Hitlerian view of history, and are friendly to the pro-business agenda of the imperialist states, it is all but inevitable that the Kiev regime will gravitate into the orbit of the EU and NATO, a regime in charge of a state right on Russia’s doorstep.

The Yanukovych regime was no friend of the working class, that is certain. That regime was responsible for corruption, maintaining the rule of the oligarchs that have left the Ukraine an economic mess. Yanukovych was part of the oligarchic capitalism that has enriched a tiny handful of billionaires, privatising state assets, and leaving the majority of the population struggling to survive in the post-Soviet capitalist economic order. However, this does not blind us to the fact that the beneficiaries of the Maidan protests have been the ultra-right, mass fascistic parties.

As Seumas Milne pointed out in his insightful article; “So in the week that the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army was commemorated as Holocaust Memorial Day, supporters of those who helped carry out the genocide are hailed by western politicians on the streets of Ukraine. “ Read the entire essay by Milne at The Guardian web site here.

It is not just in the Ukraine that the ultra-right is attaining political success. Hungary has witnessed the rise of its own homegrown variety of fascism, the Jobbik party, with its electoral wing and its paramilitary thuggish branch. Jobbik campaigns on an anti-immigrant, xenophobic platform, and not only wins seats in parliament, but also intimidates its opponents on the streets. Jobbik has contributed to the emergence of anti-Soviet and anti-Russian cultural nationalism in Hungary since the withdrawal of Russian troops in 1989. Winning further success in the wake of the growing capitalist economic crisis, Jobbik has exacerbated anti-Roma sentiments and blamed this particular ethnic group, along with the Jews, for Hungary’s economic doldrums. Any lingering doubts about the racist underpinnings of Jobbik would have been resolved by viewing the leaflets handed out by their supporters. Their campaign literature contained an image from the Easy Rider film accompanied by the slogan ‘Jews are the problem – time to step on the gas!’

Venturing further afield from Eastern Europe, we can see the emergence of a more united, coordinated ultra-right formation across the European continent – a ‘Brown International’ if you will. (Hat tip to Left Flank). In an article by the Greek socialist Thanasis Kampagiannis, the growth and cooperation of various ultra-right parties is examined. Written in January 2014, the author warned of a major electoral breakthrough by far right parties in the general European elections in May – he was proven correct, with the French National Front, exploiting anger about the mounting social costs of austerity, emerging as the big electoral winner in French elections.

After a public relations facelift, the extreme right-wing parties of the National Front led by Marianne Le Pen, and the Dutch Freedom Party headed by the execrable Geert Wilders, announced an alliance of sorts back in November 2013. Couched in the terms of Euro-scepticism, the ultra-right is using the breakdown of the capitalist order, and consequent surge in unemployment, to make significant political gains in the traditionally stable capitalist economies of Western Europe. While they distance themselves from the more openly pro-Nazi parties like the Greek Golden Dawn, they using the same anti-immigrant and populist platform to espouse their views, and they have received a friendly hearing from some mainstream bourgeois politicians as well. The ultra-right of Western Europe, including the Austrian Freedom Party, UKIP in Britain, the Italian Northern League and the Swedish far-right Democrats, have all toned down their more brazen fascistic thuggish image and cultivated an air of political sophistication. However, beneath the veneer of respectability is the strong lurch to the right.

Europe is increasingly resembling the economically and politically chaotic situation that obtained in the 1930s. We are not there yet, however, the coordination of ultra-right parties does present an urgent menace that must be confronted. The article by Kampagiannis above explains that;

If racism was the ticket for the fascist parties to pass from the margins to the central political scene, Islamophobia ensured that their seat would be Business Class. Islamophobia offered the adhesive tissue for the alliance of Le Pen and Wilders.

Open racism ensured that the ultra-right would get a hearing in the parliaments of Europe – Islamophobia guaranteed that they would receive a respectable hearing in the corporate boardrooms and political headquarters of European capital. The outsider enemy was necessary to unite all these disparate formations into a more cohesive force, as encapsulated in the following image from Left Flank;

3-faces-of-islamophobia

Hostility to Islamic migration has been the key electoral strategy that ultra-right needed to gain mainstream respectability, portraying themselves as the defenders of Western cultural nationalism from the intrusions of backward outsiders.

The legitimacy of the mass ultra-right parties must be confronted by an organised, multiethnic Left that opposes all forms of racism and xenophobia. It is not migrants or refugees that are responsible for the worst economic crisis in Europe since the end of World War Two. The capitalist class with its programme of neoliberalism and endless war is directly responsible for the privations of the workers and unemployed in Europe. As Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist politician from England explained, ultra-right populism ignores the true causes of pauperisation and war; blaming one minority group after another is a barren and futile exercise. The free-market fundamentalism that drives our economic programme is to blame. We have taken up the warnings about Islamic extremism (real or imagined) in the aftermath of September 11 and the bogus ‘war on terror’, but have ignored the rise of the greater and very real danger of an organised and politically active ultra-right.

 

We ignore the rise of the ultra-right at our own peril

Throughout the capitalist countries, the anti-immigrant ultra-right wing parties are making electoral advances and gaining new recruits to their brand of xenophobic hatred. We have ignored the rise of these parties at our own peril.

************

Frazier Glenn Miller, a neo-fascist organiser and member of several white supremacist organisations, gunned down three people outside a Jewish Community Centre in Kansas. He was shouting racist comments and anti-Semitic sentiments right up to the point he was arrested by the police. His opinions about race, history and the ‘racial war’ were long known to activist groups, such as the Southern Poverty Law Centre. The details of his long career of racial hatred can be found here. A former US special forces soldier, he organised various white supremacist and Ku Klux Klan groups, and advocated his views in interviews he gave. The law enforcement authorities, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also knew of his activities as a violent white supremacist.

It is not necessary to go into all the details of his activities, but it was no secret that this person, with his track record, would one day turn his hatred and his guns on ethnic minorities in an anti-Semitic rage. What is interesting to note in this case is the reaction of the police chief responsible for the arrest of Miller. Police chief in Overland Park, John Douglass, gave Miller the benefit of the doubt – it was too early, Douglass said, to know for sure whether Miller was motivated by anti-Semitism. While the killing for which Miller was arrested was vicious, opined Douglass, it was doubtful whether the killing could be directly attributed to the anti-Semitic views that Miller held.

That is a telling reaction to a killing that was certainly motivated by an irrational xenophobic ethnic hatred. This is not necessarily completely wrong, because the motivations of criminal culprits must be thoroughly examined. However, this stands in stark contrast to the reaction against culprits from the Islamic faith.

April this year marked the first anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings – a terrorist atrocity that was an outrageous attack on humanity. The survivors are proving resilient and resourceful, there is no question of that. But while the commemorations are held, and the emotions run high, we should not forget the reaction of the authorities. The Boston marathon bombing served as a convenient pretext to further militarise American society, with thousands of police and troops deployed to lock down Boston city and provide a climate akin to martial law. Searching for the suspects is one thing; locking down the entire city and treating the population as hostile and ordering them to remain indoors because there are suspects on the streets is quite another. The irony of the situation is that the suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was found after the lockdown was lifted. His brother, Tamerlan, was killed by federal law enforcement agents in a shootout, the circumstances of which still remain murky.

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston marathon bombing, there was absolute unanimity on what motivated the culprits – their Muslim faith. It was their irrational, religiously-motivated hatred of everything Western and ‘democratic’ that drove them to kill and maim – so the mainstream media reported. The tidal wave of Islamophobia was unleashed – the corporate commentariat was united in its conclusion that Arabs and Muslims needed to be targeted and excluded. For example, Aziza Berg reported for an article in the Socialist Worker magazine that;

Tarek Mehanna, a Muslim American pharmacist from Sudbury, Mass., was approached by the FBI and asked to spy on his mosque [6]. He refused. He later found himself and the antiwar views he expressed online at the center of an FBI investigation.

Spying on and svurveillance of Muslim and Arab communities has continued apace, and students from Muslim backgrounds have found themselves the targets of electronic surveillance.

So there is no question that a Muslim perpetrator is uniquely motivated by an irrational faith to commit savage acts of violence. The distorting lens of Islamophobia, predated the Boston marathon bombings but also inflamed by them, is employed with fervour to denounce this act as a particular vicious example of Muslim barbarity. Perhaps, just maybe, this act was more in common with all the other unfortunate but sadly frequent mass shootings in the United States, where the perpetrators are white. The tragic yet common mass killings in the US all have multiple causes, among them social alienation, mental illness perhaps, internal familial instabilities – all possible causes left unexplored in the case of the Boston marathon attack.

Since that bombing, Boston’s Muslim community has been under siege, the victim of racist attacks. The Islamic Society of Boston has been targeted as an incubator of extremism and hatred. It is no secret that anti-Islamic campaigns directed at the Arab and Muslim communities have proceeded for a long time, and the Boston marathon attack only added more fuel to the fire. While the survivors of that attack are rebuilding their lives, the tragedy is that the Boston Islamic community are the unspoken victims of an organised backlash, facing a wave of repression and hostility promoted by a mainstream media eager to cultivate an aura of panic.

Khury Petersen-Smith, who was at the marathon the day of the bombing, documented the hateful outpourings that the media and authorities have helped to incite in a thoughtful article ‘Unspoken casualties of the Marathon bombing’. He wrote:

Two days after the Marathon, Heba Abolaban and her friend were physically assaulted by a white man as they walked with their children on the street in nearby Malden. Heba, who is Palestinian, told the Malden Patch that the man screamed, “Fuck you Muslims! You are terrorists!” as he punched her. Both Heba and her friend were wearing headscarves.

The criminal actions of Miller could only occur in a society where ultra-right extremism and anti-immigrant xenophobia is normalised. The United States has witnessed numerous protests by extreme right-wing groups – anti-immigration, against Obama because the latter is ‘socialist’ and ‘Muslim’ (?), against increasing taxes on the wealthier class, and against government-funded health care because, apparently, government-funding is reminiscent of ‘communism’. What is becoming normal is the expression of anti-Arab, and by extension anti-Islamic, venom. It is not just the fringe-dwellers, the outcasts, that are joining the anti-immigrant parties. In Galway, New York state;

Glendon Scott Crawford, a General Electric employee, was a prominent member of the community. He was married to the local high school’s librarian and taught Sunday school in a local church. But Crawford was also a member of a radically right-wing tea party/militia group called “Americans Demanding Liberty and Freedom” as well as a self-proclaimed (but unconfirmed) member of the KKK.

On June 20, 2013, Crawford was arrested on charges connected with domestic terrorism. He had been attempting to build a truck-mounted radiation gun that he believed could be used to poison people from a distance. His targets included Muslims and leftists. According to members of the community Crawford was outspoken against Islam, women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, the presidency of Barack Obama and New York’s SAFE Act, a state gun control law passed in January.

As the economic crisis of capitalism continues, and more people find themselves unemployed, struggling to make ends meet, and generally sinking into poverty, they will become alienated. These are the potential recruits for the ultra-right parties and groups. We have seen the rise of far-right parties across Europe in the wake of the economic meltdown. That is the subject of the next article.

Do not believe the hype about recovery – unemployment and inequality are persistent and growing

Previously on this blog, the current author wrote about the issue of unemployment, and how it operates as the revolving door of the capitalist system. Following on from this subject, it is necessary to examine how unemployment has not only become recurrent, but also how the sheer scale of the problem, and the longevity of unemployment periods, have increased.

An article in the Workers World newspaper entitled “Marxism and long-term unemployment” has prompted an examination the role and impact of unemployment more closely, in particular, the increase in inequality. The article above references the work of economist Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, in particular her article on “Is there really a shortage of skilled workers?”

This article demolishes the myth, peddled by the corporate class and their media mouthpieces, that workers are unemployed because of a skills mismatch. The capitalist-corporatist class claims that workers do not have the necessary matching skills, or a wide enough range of skills, to meet the demands of the job market.  The study conducted by Shierholz found that no matter what the skill level of the workforce, unemployment has sharply increased over the years 2007 to 2013. Quote from the Workers World story;

The unemployment rate for workers with less than high school education was 10.3 percent in 2007 and 15.9 percent in 2013. For high school graduates, the unemployment rate was 5.4 percent in 2007 and 9.6 percent in 2013. For workers with some college, the unemployment figures jumped dramatically from 4.0 percent in 2007 to 7.3 percent in 2013; for college graduates, it went up from 2.4 percent to 4.5 percent and for those with advanced degrees, it went from 1.7 percent to 3.2 percent, that is, almost double.

Courtesy of the Workers World newspaper article, we have the following chart, which demonstrates that at all levels of educational achievement, workers are experiencing high periods of unemployment:

High levels of unemployment

So no matter what the level of education achieved by the individual worker, unemployment remains high relative to 2007.

We can see the following chart from the Shierholz study;

High level of unemployment in all occupations

High unemployment is afflicting workers in all occupations, not just some selected industries. And it is not just that workers are being laid off in increasing numbers. The number of job openings is shrinking, while the number of unemployed is rising.

Shierholz, like the other economists at the Economic Policy Institute, is a Keynesian. That is not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to analysing the capitalist market, but it does mean that the fundamentals of the capitalist orthodoxy remain untouched. The extent to which the capitalist economy has recovered since 2008 can be gauged by the following observation; the ruling class has still accumulated wealth, while the rest of us are struggling with unemployment, poverty and a growing difficulty to make ends meet. It is a recovery for the rich, but recessionary conditions for the rest of the population, as Richard Escow put it in an article for Common Dreams. The majority of us have missed out on sharing the wealth from this alleged recovery, and this leads to the next point – you do not have to be a Marxist to understand that we are being fooled by the one percent into believing that we are participating in this recovery – but it helps. Those are the introductory words of an article by Professor Richard Wolff, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. While the large banking and financial corporations have recovered, indeed increased, their profits since 2008, the rest of us contend with high and persistent unemployment.

The purpose of citing the statistics above is to refute a long-standing claim of the capitalist economists; namely, that those who live a comfortable lifestyle and have ‘made it’ are the deserving recipients of wealth rewarded for their hardwork, business intelligence and financial wherewithal. In other words, the current unequal relations in the capitalist system reflect a meritocracy, where only the most diligent and conscientious are rewarded with financial success. That leads to the following conclusion, that those who are poor have only themselves to blame. Their laziness, lack of financial knowledge and apathy are the root cause of their dire financial circumstances.

Any discussion of persistent mass unemployment has to address the inequalities reproduced by the capitalist system. In the Socialist Worker online newspaper, Dylan Monahan wrote an article entitled ‘Snapshots of inequality’. In this overview, Monahan provides a compilation of observations about the growing levels of economic inequality in the United States. Responding to the claim that workers, through persistence and financial knowledge can lift themselves out of the working class and into the ruling elite – what economists grandiosely call ‘intergenerational earning elasticity’ – Monahan points out that the United States, and indeed the other European capitalist countries, has very low social mobility. In fact, it is social immobility that has become a defining feature of the capitalist system.

The snapshot of inequality provided by Monahan in his article also contains another compelling observation;

Since the 1970s, the productivity of U.S. workers has only increased while hourly compensation has remained more or less the same. This yawning gap between productivity and wages benefits the richest 1 percent, which owns 42 percent of the country’s financial wealth. The bottom 80 percent of the population, by contrast, owns barely 5 percent.

Taken together, these figures tell us that U.S. workers have worked harder and harder over decades, while gaining nothing more in wages–in fact, they have lost ground as a consequence of the Great Recession–nor in the financial wealth their labor produces.

It is not the case that the American worker has become ‘lazy’ or ‘inefficient’ and thus deserving of their impoverished status. You may find the detailed explanation that higher productivity does not result in higher wages here on the Washington Post’s economics and politics blog, hardly a bastion of pro-Communist Bolshevik propaganda.

The recovery hype serves multiple purposes – lulling the 99 percent into a false sense of security, soothing the anxieties of bourgeois economists whose careers have been built on promoting capitalist economics as the only sensible course, and reassuring those of us who are suffering that recovery is just around the corner and achievable. This has not meant that the recognition of unemployment and inequality has gone away – US President Barack Obama admits that poverty and inequality are still major issues in his speeches for public consumption. However, the explanation of the persistence of these problems is always reduced to the individual – after all, capitalism is a meritorious system, where the hardworking are justly rewarded, aren’t they?

There is another explanation about how and why unemployment persists at such high levels. This explanation was first elaborated more than one hundred years ago by a certain German philosopher and political economist. In his voluminous works about the capitalist system, he elaborated that the unemployed are a ‘reserve army of labour’, temporary workers to be used and discarded according to the imperative of profit maximisation by the capitalist class. Full employment is never the normal state of the capitalist system, notwithstanding the rhetorical commitment to such a goal by the politicians. Since the 2008 economic debacle, his analysis regarding the law of capitalist accumulation has received renewed consideration. The working class are partially replaceable by new technologies, automation and software. A portion of the workers can retrain and find some employment with the new technology, but the overall trend is to replace people with technological adaptations, robots and algorithms. Economic recoveries are increasingly jobless, with greater numbers of workers unemployed for longer periods. To understand unemployment and inequality in the capitalist system, we can do no better than by starting with the writings of the following person;

The heavyweight champion of the world
The heavyweight champion of the world

 

 

The Iraq war – the eleventh anniversary is ignored

Historical anniversaries are important events to commemorate; they allow us to evaluate the importance of the event and understand its impact upon contemporary life. Celebrating particular war anniversaries indicates what priorities the political order of our society has, and drives the current political debate surrounding our foreign and domestic policies. 2014 will witness the centenary anniversaries of various battles of World War One. Whether those commemorative events are right or wrong can be debated, and their contemporary relevance can be disputed. However, the fact that we choose to remember these events tells us about our character and the current state of politics.

Ignoring the anniversaries of historical events is also a striking indicator about what we stand for in today’s world. Dismissing historical occasions as unworthy of remembrance demeans their importance, and we risk forgetting those things that constitute decisive turning points in contemporary history.

March 20 this year was the eleventh anniversary of the American invasion of Iraq. This anniversary passed largely ignored in the mainstream corporate media. Ignoring this event promotes the deception that the Iraq war can now be relegated to the back-burner; a conflict that was savage but now over. We can assuage our collective conscience that the horrors of this war can be consigned to distant memory.

This collective amnesia was challenged by various anti-war and labour groups. did hold events in their own way to remember this terrible invasion. The online magazine Common Dreams pointed out that the current Obama administration looks quite hypocritical in its hysterical condemnations of the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin, because it was the United States that violated international law and launched an illegal invasion of Iraq back in 2003, and the lethal consequences of that war are still being felt by Iraqis today. The US set the precedent for breaking international law and occupying smaller nations, a principle invoked by Washington only when official ‘enemy’ countries are culpable.

The Truth-Out magazine carried an article by Hugh Gusterson entitled “The Iraq War: Forgotten in Plain Sight”. The author highlights the almost-complete omission of any reference to the Iraq war, avoiding any mention of a country still suffering from war and occupation. The media studiously ignored the anniversary of the beginning of the Iraq invasion. By ignoring that, they can also ignore the ongoing disastrously lethal consequences of that invasion. The refusal to acknowledge the anniversary of the 2003 invasion is in line with the Obama-driven narrative since 2010 that the Iraq war is over, and that US combat troops have withdrawn. This narrative is false, misleading, and only feeds into a false sense of security.

The article by Gusterson cited above details the wilful omission of the corporate media in reporting the Iraq war. With the reduction of US casualties, and since the 2010 fake ‘withdrawal’, the media narrative has sought to portray Iraq as a largely peaceful society slowly but steadily making good since the US invasion. Not only has the number and frequency of news stories about Iraq dramatically dropped, the little reporting that we do obtain is bereft of any historical and political context. The violence in Iraq, the suicide bombings, the killings, are all decontextualized and reported as unrelated to the harmful consequence of the US invasion and occupation. As Gusterson explains:

US media coverage of the Iraq War shifted in other ways, too. The celebrity war correspondents came home with best-selling books and were replaced by second-tier writers or wire service reports. The newspaper articles grew shorter and disappeared into the interior regions of the newspaper of less interest to readers. The stories were less investigative reports or attempts to make vivid narrative sense of the war, and more pedestrian factual reporting of how many people were killed where and by whom.

The weekly reports of violence in Iraq are explained away as the result of centuries-long hatred between the Sunni and Shia communities – in other words, the barbaric natives just hate each other and that is the way it has been for years. With this normalisation of violence in Iraq, the culpability of the US in generating and inciting this sectarian conflict can be ignored and whitewashed.

Make no mistake – the fratricidal sectarian conflict in Iraq is the direct result of the US invasion, and the communalisation of Iraq politics since 2003. The Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, presides over a US-supported political structure that rewards sectarian affiliation over and above cross-ethnic Iraqi national unity. A state of near-civil war, punctuated by recurring bouts of sectarian killings, was created and maintained by the US invasion. As Ashley Smith of the Socialist Worker online newspaper explains, the US used the oldest imperial tactic in the book to maintain its dominance in Iraq – divide and rule.

Political office and power in Baghdad is currently awarded along the lines of sectarian affiliation – and this breaks down a sense of Iraqi Arab nationalism. The Kurds in the north of Iraq have their own statelet, economically dependent on the more powerful neighbour of Turkey to the north. The Iraqi Arab population can be divided into Sunni and Shia component, and the remaining Iraqi Assyrian and Christian minorities find themselves adrift in this new post-invasion setup.

Throughout the history of modern Iraq, the state was never perfectly harmonious to be sure. But it has never been fractured more seriously along sectarian lines than it is today – and that is the direct consequence of the US invasion.

A conference organised by various Iraqi civil rights, workers and trade unions groups heard testimony of the sectarian malignancy that has gripped Iraq since 2003. Called the Right to Heal, conference organisers that while the Obama administration continues to peddle the myth that Iraq now enjoys ‘sovereignty’, the reality on the ground is very different. Eleven years after the American invasion, the society in Iraq remains plagued by sectarian conflict, a lack of basic services and a traumatised population. The Right to Heal conference proceeded as follows:

In two hours of emotionally-charged testimony — curated by the Right to Heal campaign, a joint effort of Organization for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, Federation of Workers Councils and Unions of Iraq, and Iraq Veterans Against the War — the hearing traced the ongoing impacts of the U.S.-led war and occupation. This legacy includes environmental poisoning, Iraqi government repression, sectarian conflict, poverty, trauma, displacement, and death.

The environmental destruction wreaked by nearly two decades of US attacks on the country is becoming more widely known. In 1991, during the first US assault on the country, US forces used weapons contained depleted uranium, and in 2004 during the US attack on Fallujah, white phosphorus was used to decimate the population. A toxicologist who addressed the conference explained:

Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, an environmental toxicologist, testified that U.S. burn pits in Iraq are exposing the Iraqi public to a litany of dangerous compounds, including lead and mercury. Research teams sent to Iraqi hospitals in Basra and Falluja found abnormally high rates of cancer, birth defects, and heart defects, she stated.

The toxic environment of Iraq is another direct outcome of the US invasion.

Speakers from the Organisation for Women’s Freedom in Iraq, the Federation of Workers Councils and Unions, and Iraq Veterans Against the War all made stirring contributions about the devastating impact of the US invasion and ongoing occupation. One major theme emerged from the Right To Heal conference; the US must make amends in Iraq by cleaning up its toxic legacy and stopping carrying out imperial wars of conquest overseas.

While the main architects of the Iraq war are Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and the US Republican leadership, they are not the only culpable parties. The Iraq war is also Obama’s war, a project that he has continued, and defended vigorously in a speech only a few weeks ago. In 2010, amid much fanfare about the withdrawal of US combat troops from Iraq, a number of major changes got lost. It is true that a number of combat divisions and brigades have withdrawn – at least to their heavily fortified barracks. But the US occupation has not ended, indeed, it has continued since 2010. As Seumas Milne stated in an article back in August 2010;

The US isn’t withdrawing from Iraq at all – it’s rebranding the occupation. Just as George Bush’s war on terror was retitled “overseas contingency operations” when Obama became president, US “combat operations” will be rebadged from next month as “stability operations”.

The tactics have changed, but the end goal of occupation, dominating the political and economic process in Iraq continues. It is interesting to note that the post-2010 US presence in Iraq increasingly resembles the British-sponsored Kingdom of Iraq in the 1930s. The British, having occupied Mesopotamia, as Iraq was known, faced a stubborn indigenous and nationalist rebellion in 1920. The English were compelled to change tactics, and set up a semi-colonial administration in Baghdad, having nominal authority over the country. The major economic and political decisions were made by the English ruling class, and Iraq became an economic vassal of the British empire.

The US maintains thousands of private security contractors, intelligence agents and associated military personnel in the country. In fact, as Seumas Milne stated, the occupation has been privatised and outsourced; “There are around 100,000 private contractors working for the occupying forces, of whom more than 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals”, typically from the developing world. “

When an occupation is outsourced, the public relations exercise can begin; the direct military engagement has ended, ‘withdrawal’ has taken place, and now somebody else can do the hard work of fighting and dying in order to maintain the occupation. As Ghali Hassan wrote back in September 2010, the occupation of Iraq has been redesigned and repackaged to make it more palatable to domestic public opinion. As Hassan went on to explain:

We all know there is no Iraqi government; it doesn’t exist. The U.S.-installed and U.S.-protected collection of criminals, religious extremists and Kurdish warlords is not a “government” per se. It is a puppet government of self-serving stooges who are incapable of to have an agreement between themselves, let alone govern the country. Since March 2010, they have been squabbling, fighting and battling over their posts and privileges.

Hassan explained that the contrast in US policy could not be more starker; the US embassy in Baghdad is the size of Vatican city, and there are towns and villages that remained ruined and desolate. While billions of dollars have ‘disappeared’ from Iraq’s oil revenues, basic services like electricity, clean water and health care remain underserviced and unavailable to most Iraqis. The lack of expertise, an impoverished workforce and economic laws that favour privatisation have seen Iraq’s agricultural sector decline, and the number of farmers steadily decrease. In the wake of the 2003 invasion, Iraqi agricultural productivity declined by 90 percent, this in a country as fertile as land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, a cradle of ancient civilisation. Large agribusiness now dominates the Iraqi market, with Iraq becoming a dumping ground for cheap imports.

After eleven years of war, it is time to not only remember the Iraq conflict, but to reject the false narrative that this war has ended. It is time to end the notion that the Obama administration is an “anti-war” government. It is time to reject the poison of sectarianism that is tearing the country apart and revive a vision of pan-Arab nationalism. The International Criminal Court, presuming it is dedicated to the principles of fairness and justice, must ensure that those American political and military officials who designed and carried out this Iraq war be prosecuted for their crimes. The European Union, the United States and the international community should serious listen to the grievance of the Iraqi people, and stop pretending that the Iraq war is resolved. Obama’s deceptions and distortions about the Iraq invasion must be countered; the anti-war president has presided over a criminal occupation that continues to carry out sociocide, the destruction of a society. Eleven years after the American invasion, the modern-day Mongols of Baghdad, the American imperialist power, must be made to pay reparations and heal the wounds of Iraqi society.

Anti-Zionism is not anti-Semitism

In 2005, Palestinian human rights groups and civil rights organisations launched a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against the state of Israel. This campaign has multiple aims, one of them being to pressure the Israeli government to comply with United Nations resolutions, and ensure that its policies conform with international law and the Universal principles of human rights. Specifically, the BDS campaign intends to achieve the full recognition of Palestinians as equal citizens within the state of Israel, to achieve the right of return of Palestinian refugees displaced by Israel since 1948, as demanded by Article 11 of the United Nations general assembly resolution 194, and to end Israeli occupation of Palestinian and Arab land, cease the building of settlements and dismantle the ongoing Israeli West Bank barrier (also known as The Wall).

This campaign has attracted its supporters around the world, including Palestine solidarity activists in Australia. Various socialist and Left groups have strongly supported the BDS campaign. But the campaign has received strident criticism from Zionist organisations, political parties supportive of Israel and the ever-hostile Murdoch media establishment. Professor Irwin Cotler, former Justice Minister in the Canadian government, warned of what he called the ‘de-legitimisation’ of Israel, being promoted by campaigns like BDS. This de-legitimisation is nothing new, he argued, being based in anti-Semitism. Harvard Professor Alan Dershowitz, long known for his support of Israel, went further and attacked the BDS campaign for ‘abetting terrorism’, and for being an obstacle to peace. The BDS campaign has faced charges of anti-Semitism by Australian politicians and trade union leaders as well. Indeed, criticism of the state of Israel, its policies and founding ideology of Zionism is routinely met with the charge of anti-Semitism.

This charge usually serves to silence any debate about Israel’s policies, slander the critic with a tag that is dripping with historic vitriol, and delegitimise any measures by Palestinian and Palestine solidarity activists to achieve full human rights for the Palestinians and the associated Palestinian refugees. If a critic of Israel is motivated by good old ethnic-racial hatred, then their claims for equal rights and statehood recognition are discredited. The supporters of the Palestinian cause can then be ignored, and their claims of Palestinian statehood rejected as the outpourings of the irrationally obsessed, mindlessly hateful partisans of anti-Semitism, motivated by revulsion of the Jewish people and their culture.

Let us examine more closely the issue of anti-Semitism, the claims of Zionism and its realisation in the state of Israel, and the tactic of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Anti-Semitism is an irrational, xenophobic hatred of Jews as a people; regarding the Jewish people around the world as constituting one indivisible, biologically unchanging entity that comprise one nation.

Anti-Semitism is nothing new, being based in the traditional religious, namely Christian hostility to the Jewish culture and people. After the lifetime of Jesus, early Christian attitudes towards the Jews began to harden. Anti-Jewish attitudes and doctrines were part of Christian teaching and popular art from the earliest times of the established Christian church. The gospel of John, written much later than the three other gospel books, contains the most decisive comments indicating a break with Judaism, though this book is less historical than the others. This kind of religious anti-Semitism was partly based on theological differences, competition for followers, and misapprehension of Talmudic beliefs and practices.

The religious-based anti-Semitism of centuries past has been largely superseded by the more modern-sounding, pseudo-scientific anti-Jewish prejudice, which singles out Jews as incapable of assimilating into their host nation, and motivated by a tribalist-racial hostility to non-Jews, and unwilling to adapt to the secular, ‘modern’ values of the West. Modern day, nationalistic anti-Semitism adopted a particular political dimension – to exclude the Jews as a people from the political and economic life of their resident nations. Forcing Jews out of employment, business, suppressing their language and schools; these became part of the political programme of anti-Semitic parties across Europe.

In the nineteenth century, with the rise of secularism and nationalism, the religious ideologies were pushed aside and the traditional prejudice of anti-Semitism was adapted to the changing political and economic conditions of capitalism. Oppressed nations, particularly those in the Ottoman Turkish, Austro-Hungarian, and Imperial Tsarist Russian empires, were demanding their independence and fighting for it. The Jewish populations of Europe, hitherto assimilated into their respective nations, were now articulating their religiously-based teachings of a return to Zion in a more nationalistic form. The Jewish people had been taught that a divinely inspired Messiah would restore them to the allegedly historical homeland of the Jews in Palestine. Never matter that Palestine was home to thousands of Arab Muslims and Christians. This yearning was always a vague aspiration; in the context of nineteenth century nationalism and secularisation, aspirations for a homeland were to take a different turn.

Throughout Europe, nationalist groups were agitating for independence; the Greeks, Serbs, Poles, Ukrainians and other nationalities long suppressed were rising. The authorities in Tsarist Russia, Ottoman Turkey and other European states needed a convenient scapegoat to blame the rising nationalistic tensions. The growth of industrial capitalism broke the bonds of feudalism, and undermined the position that many Jewish communities held in the feudal order. The capitalist system created its own inequalities and imposed suffering on the working class. Workers in various countries, among them the Jewish workers, made common cause to fight against the social and economic oppression of capitalism.

Anti-semitism was the usual outlet to divert growing anger at the economic and political injustices of the time. Immiseration could be blamed on the ‘Jewish usurer’, the stereotype of the shifty, scheming Shylock, extorting the ‘average’ (meaning non-Jewish) worker, gained traction in times of economic distress. Pogroms against Jewish communities were a frequent occurrence in Europe, particularly in Imperial Russia under the Tsar. In this charged context, the Jewish people of Europe began to join revolutionary, nationalist and socialist groups, joining the fight for social and economic justice.

But a new response began to be articulated by a number of Jewish commentators and intellectuals in Europe. They regarded anti-semitism as the inevitable and immutable consequences of living among non-Jewish nations, and that assimilation was impossible. They began to elaborate a new nationalistically motivated yearning for a homeland – Zionism. Lance Selfa, writing in the International Socialist Review magazine in the article ‘Zionism: False Messiah’, explains that political Zionism defined itself the project of establishing an exclusively Jewish state, as a nationalist, colonialist project. Zionism maintains that Jews around the world are a single nation and thus need to establish a separate homeland. Zionism holds that anti-Semitism is an inevitable consequence of the Jewish presence in their host societies.

Moses Hess, a German Jewish contemporary of Karl Marx, was the earliest exponent of this abnormal nationalism. He wrote a book, ’Rome and Jerusalem: The last national question’ (1862), in which he expounded that German anti-Semitism was a fact of life and could not be changed. The Jews of Europe would always be regarded as the outsiders, and that assimilation had failed. He argued that Jewish emancipation by joining the revolutionary struggles of the time was impossible, and that there was only one solution – a separate homeland for the Jewish people.

However, it is with Theodor Herzl, an Austrian Jewish journalist and author fo the book ‘The Jewish State’ (1896) and modern political Zionism finds its most articulate exponent. Herzl argued that anti-Semitism was not only an inevitable product of Jews living as minorities amidst a non-Jewish population, but was also a necessary political ally, compelling Jewish communities in Europe and elsewhere to be driven out and thus further the goal of building a separatist homeland. Zionism is a particular form of Jewish communalism, very similar in goals to the Hindu supremacist and communalist party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that seeks to establish a Hindu-exclusive state in India by expelling Muslims and other minority communities.

Zionism shares with anti-Semitism the basic foundational premise that Jews around the world are a fixed entity, and must be separated from non-Jewish populations in order to be emancipated. This kind of abnormal nationalism, not only required that Jews dissociate themselves from the struggle for equality and economic justice in their home countries, but also find a place to call their homeland. Palestine was not the first destination chosen by the nascent Zionist movement as a homeland; Herzl and the leaders of the World Zionist Organisation (WZO) appealed to the major imperial states of the day for a territory to call their own. At various stages, Uganda, Argentina, Madagascar were all seriously considered as possible homelands for a new Jewish state.

They approached the Ottoman Turkish Sultan, the German Kaiser, and the Russian Tsar, whose regime was responsible for anti-Jewish pogroms, in the vain hope of acquiring recognition for their cause, helping to divert Jewish workers from the revolutionary struggle, and demobilise Jews in the fight against the poison of anti-Semitism. Herzl even shook hands with the Russian minister von Plehve, in 1903. Plehve was the minister of interior and director of the police who oversaw the massive pogroms against the Jews of Kiev and other cities in the early 1900s. The Zionist leaders approached all the imperial powers for favours, no matter how criminal and murderous they were in relations to the Jewish populations in Europe. Zionism, from its very inception, was always an ally of imperialism.

It is interesting to note that Herzl, Nordau, Weizmann and other Zionist politicians wrote about the Jews of Europe in the most disparaging, obscene terms, reflecting their acceptance of the basic ideas of anti-Semitism. Anne Zirin, in her article documenting the ‘Hidden history of Zionism’ notes that the writings of Herzl, Nordau, Weizmann and other leading Zionists are replete with descriptions of Jews as aliens, parasites, bacteria, poisonous elements that cause harm to their hosts. These views stem from the basic premise of Zionism – and anti-Semitism – that humans can be most logically and fundamentally divided into races, and it is useless to struggle against such genetically based racial differences. Herzl himself regarded the anti-Semite as a necessary and dependable ally; he wrote in his diaries that the anti-Semitic countries would be the most interested in expelling the Jews from Europe and assisting their emigration to a Jewish homeland. Herzl surmised that ‘the anti-Semites will become our most dependable friends, the anti-Semitic countries our allies’. Not only were Jews considered a separate race, but also had to be defined as one of the ‘superior’ races, able to build their own state.

With the end of World War One, the imperial patrons that Herzl approached had all been defeated – Ottoman Turkey collapsed and its territories divided among Britain and France; the Austro-Hungarian and Tsarist Russian regimes had been toppled, and newly independent states had taken their place. The one empire that Zionist leaders had approached during the war, and which had committed to building a Jewish national home, was Britain. The 1917 Balfour Declaration committed the British government to the Zionist project of building the Jewish population in Palestine. The British ruling class, and Balfour the then Foreign secretary, were anti-Semitic; they had their own reasons for encouraging Jewish emigration to Palestine. The British military governor of Jerusalem, Sir Ronald Storrs, bluntly declared that the Zionist movement was a useful ally of Britain, dedicated to building a ‘little loyal Jewish Ulster in a sea of potentially hostile Arabism’.

Balfour’s anti-Semitism was not out of place in the English aristocracy and ruling class. Winston Churchill, a rising star of British politics and the secretary of state for air and war, wrote an article for the Illustrated Sunday Herald in 1920 entitled ‘Zionism versus Bolshevism’. In this article, Churchill argued that Bolshevism was a devious product of the Jewish mentality, a perverted aspiration for equality that can never be fulfilled. Jewish people in Europe were gravitating towards this subversive philosophy. After all, were not leading Bolshevik figures in the Russian revolution of Jewish origin? So that is conclusive evidence; the Jewish-Bolshevik conspiracy is afoot to overturn the existing social order. But there is a solution; winning Jews over to Zionism. The best antidote to the virus of Bolshevism and its misguided ideas of racial and economic equality is the doctrine of Zionism; the British government has the responsibility to build a Zionist home for the Jews in Palestine.

The goal of the Zionist project was spelled out quite clearly by its leaders – Palestine must be colonised. The migration of Jewish settlers into Palestine was conducted from the turn of the nineteenth-twentieth centuries not just for creating a new market and acquiring natural resources, important as those goals were. The Zionist movement wanted to create a new type of society, one that demolished the indigenous people – namely the Palestinians – and create a settler-colonial society that was exclusively Jewish. The Palestinian economy had to be undermined and replaced by a new, settler project. This effort undermines the myth, peddled by Zionist groups, that Palestine was a ‘land without a people’ and the Jews being ‘a people without a land’.

Vladimir Jabotinsky, a leading figure of early Zionism and the political father of the hardline right-wing ideological tradition within the Jewish state, explained quite clearly that the Zionist movement had come to Palestine to colonise it and defeat the local population. In a 1923 article entitled ‘We and the Arabs’, Jabotinsky elaborated exactly what the Zionist movement intended to achieve in Palestine: colonisation. He explained that the indigenous population would fiercely resist any attempts at colonisation, and so it was necessary to construct an ‘iron wall’ of separation, until the Palestinians either submitted, were expelled, or were simply liquidated. Jabotinsky expressed the racially biased colonial view of the Palestinians that settler advocates have had of indigenous populations.

Any native people – its all the same whether they are civilized or savage – views their country as their national home, of which they will always be the complete masters. They will not voluntarily allow, not only a new master, but even a new partner. And so it is for the Arabs. Compromisers in our midst attempt to convince us that the Arabs are some kind of fools who can be tricked by a softened formulation of our goals, or a tribe of money grubbers who will abandon their birth right to Palestine for cultural and economic gains. I flatly reject this assessment of the Palestinian Arabs. Culturally they are 500 years behind us, spiritually they do not have our endurance or our strength of will, but this exhausts all of the internal differences. We can talk as much as we want about our good intentions; but they understand as well as we what is not good for them. They look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile. This childish fantasy of our “Arabo-philes” comes from some kind of contempt for the Arab people, of some kind of unfounded view of this race as a rabble ready to be bribed in order to sell out their homeland for a railroad network.

He went on to expound on how exactly he wished the Zionist movement to treat the indigenous people of Palestine:

Thus we conclude that we cannot promise anything to the Arabs of the Land of Israel or the Arab countries. Their voluntary agreement is out of the question. Hence those who hold that an agreement with the natives is an essential condition for Zionism can now say “no” and depart from Zionism. Zionist colonization, even the most restricted, must either be terminated or carried out in defiance of the will of the native population. This colonization can, therefore, continue and develop only under the protection of a force independent of the local population – an iron wall which the native population cannot break through. This is, in toto, our policy towards the Arabs. To formulate it any other way would only be hypocrisy.

Jabotinsky founded a school of thought within Zionism that was sympathetic to the fascist powers of the time. He admired Mussolini’s Italy, and his organisation had cordial relations with leading fascist political leaders in Rome. In 1935, when Mussolini authorised a division of Zionist activists to take on military training in Italy, he described Jabotinsky to the Zionist emissaries of the time as ‘your fascist, Jabotinsky’.

Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism and precursor of the Likud party in Israel, was not the only Zionist activist that sought the collaboration of the imperial powers. The mainstream of the Zionist movement, Labour Zionism, led by figures like David Ben Gurion and Chaim Weizmann, were also applying to the various imperialist powers for their patronage. The Zionist leaders offered to make Palestine an outpost of ‘civilisation’ amidst the ocean of native ‘savages’, the Arabic-speaking peoples. Annie Zirin, in her article about the history of Zionism for the International Socialist Review, quotes the writings of Theodor Herzl, who explained that the new Jewish state in Palestine would form an outpost of European cultivated civilisation against a tide of pan-Arab barbarism. This point is important, and we will return to it later.

Britain remained the imperial patron of the Zionist project, assisting the passage of Jewish emigrants to Palestine throughout the 1920s and 30s. With the revolt of the Palestinians in 1936, Britain changed its tactics and recommended partitioning the country along ethnic lines, allocating portions of Palestine to Arabs and Jews. What is important to note that during all this time, the Zionist movements in Europe regarded the imperial states as allies, and made decisive efforts to place themselves at their disposal. Lenni Brenner documented the efforts of the Zionist leaders to ingratiate themselves with the fascist powers of the 1930s, in his book ‘Zionism in the Age of the Dictators’. Brenner examines the attempts by the German Zionist federation to undermine the campaign against anti-Semitism in Germany, find ways to cooperate with the Nazi regime, and appease anti-Semitic sentiments in Germany in order to facilitate Jewish emigration to Palestine. The visit of a top Nazi SS official to Palestine for six months, as a guest of the Zionist federation, was commemorated with the issuance of a gold medal: on one side, the Nazi swastika with the words ‘A Nazi travels to Palestine’; on the other, the Star of David. The Nazi official in question wrote several article about his sojourn in Palestine, and was enthusiastic about the Zionist project, describing “how Jewish soil under a Jew’s feet “reformed him and his kind in a decade. This new Jew will be a new people.”

Brenner’s book is available online, and makes for a fascinating expose on the willingness of the Zionist leaders to approach any imperialist regime, no matter how murderously anti-Semitic, in order to achieve their goals of colonising all of Palestine.

It is not the purpose of this article to go into a detailed examination of the 1947-48 ethnic cleansing of Palestine by Israeli forces, establishing the Jewish state. The reader can refer to the excellent book by Israeli historian Illan Pappe, ‘The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine’, which documents the plans of the Zionist movement to attain ethnic supremacy in Palestine by expelling the indigenous population. What is important to note is that after its official foundation in 1948, the Zionist state was not only dependent on imperial patronage for its survival, but also became a bulwark of reaction, establishing working alliances with other repressive regimes around the world. Zionism is an essential prop within the larger imperialist system. Nowhere is this aspect of the Zionist state more in evidence than in its extensive military, political, economic and ideological cooperation with the former apartheid state of South Africa.

In 2010, a book detailing this unspoken yet solid alliance was published, called ‘The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret relationship with South Africa.’ The ultra-racist regime of apartheid South Africa was subjected to sanctions and international condemnation throughout the 1960s and 1970s. United Nations resolutions called on states to terminate relations with the white supremacist state. But one state continued and even increased is economic and military cooperation with the white racist regime – Israel. The Afrikaner outpost in South Africa was not just anti-Black, but also had a history of anti-Semitism. The National Party, the South African party that implemented and extended apartheid, had sympathetic ties to anti-Semitic groups, and even supported the fascist regimes in the 1930s. Many of its leaders were themselves members of pro-Nazi groups in South Africa. Yet this was no obstacle for ties between Pretoria and Tel Aviv to flourish.

The Israel-South Africa connection was driven by pragmatic considerations – sharing nuclear technology, military training of their respective armed forces, the development of business ties, and the growth of cultural exchanges. But what is significant to note is that this axis was not just opportunistic; there was a deep ideological affinity between Zionism and white supremacist apartheid. The South African prime minister in the 1970s, John Vorster, described the common goals that both Israel and his regime had – confronting the enemies of western civilisation. Just as Israel was an outpost of white European civilisation up against an ocean of Arab-Muslim barbarism, white South Africa was engaged in a struggle against the onslaught of black African Communism. Tel Aviv and Pretoria were ‘brothers in arms’, forming a mutually beneficial and ideologically driven axis that reinforced repressive practices with regard to their respective indigenous populations.

Hendrik Verwoerd, the South African politician primarily responsible for the extension of apartheid and the creation of black African bantustans, commented in 1961 that: “The Jews took Israel from the Arabs after the Arabs had lived there for a thousand years. Israel, like South Africa, is an apartheid state.” John Dugard, professor of law and former UN special rapporteur to the Human Rights Council on the Human Rights situation in the occupied territories, wrote an introduction to a book published in 2009 called ‘Israeli Apartheid: A beginner’s guide’, where he examines the similarities and differences between the two societies. He should know what apartheid looks like – he is white South African. In 2009, Dugard wrote an article published in the Huffington Post that it is high time to treat the Israeli regime with the same exclusion as was apartheid South Africa. In its treatment of the Palestinians, Israel is implementing its own version of apartheid.

Understanding the history of Zionism, its regard for anti-Semitism as a cement with which to build a new state, and its role as an ally of racist and oppressive regimes, helps us to understand the importance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, the starting point of this article. So is boycotting Israel motivated by anti-Semitism? Absolutely not says Sherry Wolf, an activist with the Socialist Worker magazine and an advocate of BDS. Zionism’s supporters use the charge of anti-Semitism to deflect debate, shut down meaningful dialogue, and downgrade the struggle by Palestinians for their rights. The BDS movement has condemned anti-Semitism and racism in all its forms. As Sherry Wolf explains it, the BDS movement is about achieving economic, political and social equality for the Palestinians. Wolf herself is of Jewish background, and she recognises the historic injustice perpetrated by the Zionist regime against the Palestinians. Brian Klug, senior research fellow in philosophy at Oxford University and a founder of the Jewish Forum for Justice and Human Rights, explains that anti-Zionism has nothing in common with anti-Semitism. Do not poison the debate on Palestine with false accusations. This does not mean that charges of anti-Semitism can be dismissed lightly – far from it. As Tony Greenstein, anti-Zionist activist in Britain elaborates;

Like the boy who cried wolf, the charge of “anti-semitism” has been made so often against critics of Zionism and the Israeli state that people now have difficulty recognising the genuine article…..One of the consequences of this abuse of the term “anti-semitism” is to devalue the currency. It renders it almost meaningless because people assume that allegations of anti-semitism are merely the last-ditch resort of those who are incapable of defending the Apartheid Wall that separates the people of the West Bank from their land, the bulldozing of civilian houses, the wanton destruction of olive groves and crops, to say nothing of the theft of their land.

Let us leave the last word to Omar Barghouti, one of the leaders of the BDS movement, who elaborated on why we should support the BDS movement:

A Jewish state in Palestine (“a state of the Jewish nation”), no matter what shape it takes, is by definition exclusionary; it cannot but contravene the basic rights of the land’s indigenous Palestinian population and perpetuate a system of racial discrimination that ought to be opposed categorically. Any other exclusionary regime in Palestine that denies citizens some of their rights based on their identity — ethnic, religious, gender, sexual, etc. — must be rejected just as strongly.

Accepting modern-day Jewish Israelis as equal citizens and full partners in building and developing a new shared society, free from all colonial subjugation and discrimination, as called for in the democratic state model, is the most magnanimous — rational — offer any oppressed indigenous population can present to its oppressors. Only by shedding their colonial privileges, dismantling their structures of oppression, and accepting the restoration of the rights of the indigenous people of the land, especially the right of Palestinian refugees to return and to reparations and the right of all Palestinians to unmitigated equality, can settlers be indigenized and integrated into the emerging nation and therefore become entitled to participating in determining the future of the common state.

It is time to advocate a secular, unitary and democratic state in Palestine, because this is the equitable, humane solution for all its people.

The Revenge of History by Seumas Milne – essential reading for understanding global politics

Seumas Milne is a regular political writer for The Guardian newspaper in Britain. He is also an associate editor of the paper. He writes weekly columns about political and economic subjects, ranging from the capitalist economy, to British politics, to the ‘war on terror’, and to the fightback by the victims of the imperialist states. His columns are incisive, eloquent expositions of the deceptions, misinformation, and distortions promoted by the corporate-controlled media, and he returns dignity to the profession of journalism. He is a forensic reporter, forever dissecting the messages of the rich and powerful in order to empower readers with the realisation that we need not buy the corporatised messages sold to us.

His writings from 1999 through to 2012 have been collected and printed in the book The Revenge of History: the battle for the 21st century. This volume contains the articles that Milne has written over the decade, expounding on the twists and turns of neoliberal globalisation, the growth of unrestrained corporate power, the anti-globalisation protests, the eruption of US militarism and imperial wars, and the resistance of ordinary people to the impositions of capitalist corporate power. This volume is essential reading for anyone who wishes to understand the workings of the new global disorder since the end of the Cold war in 1991.

The title of the book is an obvious riposte to the widely disseminated yet anaemic thesis of the ‘end of history’ promoted by Professor Francis Fukuyama, a RAND corporation acolyte and spokesperson for US financial capital, in the early 1990s. The contention was the as the Eastern bloc adopted capitalist policies and structures, there was no remaining serious ideological and political challenge to the capitalist prescription. The Eastern European countries, and the world generally, could look forward to a period of prosperity and peace based upon the abundance created by the capitalist institutions. These illusions soon evaporated into nothing, and by the end of the 1990s, the unfettered application of privatisation, unregulated markets and corporate power had run into serious trouble.

Milne examines the progress of the 1990s, and takes their measure. His columns demonstrate that the Anti-1989 era has well and truly erupted. In a chapter of the book entitled ‘In Thrall to Corporate Power’, Milne documents that not only has unrestrained corporate power penetrated Europe, but has also made its way into the political platforms and ideologies of the traditional social-democratic parties of Europe. In powerful articles, Milne lacerates the adoption of neoliberal policies by the ‘New Labour’ administration of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The decades-old established goals of public funding, nationalisation of key industries and a social safety net, enshrined in Labour party policy, were gradually eroded by ‘New Labour’ politicians like Blair and his allies, Mandelson, Brown, Byers and Prescott. Blairite protégés were promoted, and his government, showing its true colours, included former corporate executives. Never before had the leaders of multinational corporations been included in a Labour Party cabinet, until the rise of Blairism. Milne ably demonstrates the corrupting influence that this free-market fundamentalism has had on the British political system, with democratic functioning being hollowed out and replaced by the operations of corporate power. As Milne elaborates in the book (page 81) “The New Labour disposition of social priorities has already made itself felt in the government’s deference to boardroom barons.”

Back in 2001, Milne noted the ‘Return of Anti-Capitalism’ in Britain, examining the surge of anti-globalisation protests, grassroots movements and campaigning organisations that loudly proclaimed their opposition to the wave of mass privatisations and the resultant increase in inequality. The protests were organised for May Day, the traditional Labour day holiday that has symbolised solidarity with workers everywhere. As Milne explains (page 20) “ten years after the end of the cold war and the supposed global triumph of liberal capitalist ideas, the international workers’ day has again become a focus of international protest…” The May Day holiday has provided a common platform of opposition, involving the rejection of capitalist policies in favour of pro-social programmes.

There is one other political feature of Blairism, one that has made an enormous impact around the world. This is in the area of foreign policy. Blairism tied its mast to US imperialism early on, and participated in wars overseas. In 1999, British military forces were involved in the attack on Yugoslavia and Kosovo. Why is this significant? As Milne states in his article from 1999 – this was a war, launched by European powers against another European country on the pretext of ‘humanitarian intervention’ (pages 4-5). Liberal interventionism has become an almost permanent fixture since then, with the US and Britain disguising their predatory interests in the cloak of ‘humanitarianism’. Feigned concern for human rights, in countries designated as ‘enemy states’, has become the favoured propaganda tool to stampede public opinion into accepting imperial wars.

Global justice was to be dispensed by the imperialist powers, in a manner of their choosing and on their own pre-defined terms of justice and human rights. The US attack on Iraq in 2003, the occupation of Afghanistan, the drone strikes on Pakistan and Yemen, are all expressions of deep commitment to human rights, not measures designed to bring recalcitrant peoples into line with imperial interests. Never forgetting his native Britain, Milne is a strident critic of the English capitalist state. Back in 2000, Milne noted Blair’s renewed enthusiasm for ‘humanitarian wars’ in his article ‘Sierra Leone: Raising the crusader’s flag in Africa’ (pages 5 – 7). The deployment of British troops to its former colony was the largest military operation involving English soldiers since the end of the 1982 Falklands War.

In fact, Britain’s humanitarian wars first took off in Africa, shedding any remaining concerns about the savage record of English colonialism in that continent. Milne accurately describes the ‘blanket of cultural amnesia’ (page 6) about the crimes of British and Western colonialism that enables the promotion of new colonial adventures. Never matter that British troops, back in the day of good old-fashioned colonialism, killed Sierra Leonean workers, nailed the severed limbs of Kenyans to signposts to intimidate the population, and posed in pictures with the heads of Malayan guerrillas. All this is irrelevant in the new era of the ‘wars of values’. Milne has a firm grasp of modern history, especially the history of Western colonialism. A sense of outrage at the atrocities committed by the English ruling class permeates Milne’s writings. Milne turns his journalistic fire on the ruling bodies that govern the country of his origin.

Milne regularly denounces the history of Western colonialism, a necessary historical lesson in today’s culturally amnesiac world, to use Milne’s turn of phrase. However, criticising the crimes of the imperialist powers colonial history is not merely an academic exercise, but an essential part of a political and cultural battle for the future. The wilful ignorance and blind dismissal of the appalling savagery and massive scale of the crimes of Western colonial imperialism is part of a wider battle for history.

In his 2002 article “The battle for history: Stalin, Hitler and colonial crimes”, Milne makes the point that while the Nazi holocaust and Stalinist purges were horrific and the numbers monstrous, a whitewashing of Western history makes these atrocities emblematic of the twentieth century. The equally barbaric crimes of French, British, American and other Western imperialisms are portrayed as tame and carried out only in the service of ‘humanitarian’ motives. In this distorted prism of history, as Milne writes, the monstrous atrocities of Euro-Atlantic imperialism are buried beneath an avalanche of manufactured outrage over the crimes of official enemies. The false equation of Nazism with the USSR further serves to bury the other, emblematic horrors of the twentieth century, and distorts our perspective for the future. As Milne writes (page 42):

Consider a few examples. Up to 10 million Congolese are estimated to have died as a result of Belgian forced labour and mass murder in the early 1900s. Up to a million Algerians are estimated to have died in the war for independence from France in the 1950s and 1960s. Throughout the 20th-century British empire, the authorities gassed, bombed and massacred indigenous populations from Sudan to Iraq, Sierra Leone to Palestine, India to Malaya. And while Martin Amis worries that few remember the names of Soviet labour camps, who now commemorates the name of the Andaman islands penal colony, where 80,000 Indian political prisoners were routinely tortured and experimented on by British army doctors, or the huge Hola internment camp in Kenya where prisoners were beaten to death in the 1950s?

If Lenin and Stalin are regarded as having killed those who died of hunger in the famines of the 1920s and 1930s, then Churchill is certainly responsible for the 4 million deaths in the avoidable Bengal famine of 1943 – and earlier British governments are even more guilty of the still larger famines in late 19th and early 20th-century India, which claimed as many as 30 million victims under a punitive free market regime. And of course, in the post-colonial era, millions have been killed by US and other western forces or their surrogates in wars, interventions and coups from Vietnam to central America, Indonesia to southern Africa.

Milne is not dismissing the horrors of the Stalinist purges, neither is he minimising the culpability of the German ruling class for the crimes of Nazism, or ignoring the suffering of their victims. On the contrary, Milne is encouraging us in the West to be honest with ourselves and acknowledge that we have no place for claiming the moral superiority of the capitalist project, while we demonise attempts at social change with the usual conservative objection that radical social movements only led to even larger abominations. This suppression of the colonial West’s savage imperial project only serves to legitimise today’s imperialist adventures, disguised as they are with ‘humanitarian’ clothing. Liberal imperialism is essentially a continuation of the imperialist mission, albeit with different, more covert tactics and newer technologies. However, Milne also points out that this new liberal interventionism, while more cunning in its tactics, will be forcefully resisted by those at the receiving end of its strikes. Milne wrote in 2008 that the defeats of the imperial project in Iraq and Afghanistan have dealt a powerful, if not mortal, blow to the notion that intervention is motivated by concerns for human rights (page 174-175).

Milne’s ability to handle complex social and political issues is demonstrated by his December 2004 article on the role of, and struggle inside, religion. Milne’s sympathies are with the secular political Left, and he makes no secret of the ongoing philosophical conflict between the secular, naturalistic underpinnings of the political Left and the primacy of the supernatural in religion. He correctly notes that the Left has struggled against clericalism, meaning those institutions of organised religion that were or are pillars of the established conservative order. The issues of how the secular Left relates to religion resonate with us until today. However, Milne also correctly observes that many secular parties, particularly in the Arab and Islamic worlds, have failed to attract broad masses of support. Into this breach, the Islamist political currents have stepped in. Added to this is the fact that Western, particularly American imperialism, aims its lethal forces at Muslim-majority countries, and one can see that resurgent Islamism is a force with social and political resilience.

Milne examines how the Left should relate to this conjuncture of politicised religion in the Arab and Islamic-majority countries in his article “The struggle is no longer against religion, but within it.” (December 2004, pages 122 – 125). The wars conducted by the United States in the Middle East, and its proxy the state of Israel, would not be possible without a domestic political climate of intense hostility to Islam as a monolithic block. Indeed, Islamophobia has become the acceptable hatred, demonising the entirety of the Islamic world as uniquely irrational and hostile to the ‘good guys’ of the West. This political agenda is resisted by the insurgent actions of various Islamist groups. The Left, while not abandoning or compromising its basic philosophical platform, should stand in solidarity with the victims of US imperial power, denounce the wars conducted in order to expand access to markets and natural resources for transnational corporations.

In fact, many of the political groups and forces that routinely denounce Islam for its supposedly rigid and uncompromising character, are the very forces that welcome imperial aggression overseas – namely the xenophobic, anti-immigrant Right, the evangelical Christians and some secular libertarians. As Milne elaborates in his 2004 article (pages 124 – 125):

Outright opposition to religion was important in its time. But to fetishise traditional secularism in our time is to fail to understand its changing social meaning. Like nationalism, religion can face either way, playing a progressive or reactionary role.

Milne avoids the sweeping condemnations of religion and religious people – a la Richard Dawkins – and seeks to understand the role of religion in today’s political and social order.

Many of the liberal secularists, who have traditionally opposed religion, have singled out Islam as a unique threat and thus have joined the cheerleading chorus for US expansionary wars and predatory economic practices in Muslim-majority countries. Indeed, many of today’s avowedly secular political leaders, like the Egyptian military dictator al-Sisi, are guilty of perpetrating crimes against their own people with the full backing of the patron, the United States.

There is so much more that Milne has covered in his writings, and it is beyond the scope of the current article to examine each in great detail. The war on terror and the gradual erosion of civil liberties; the 2008 economic crash and its consequences; the end of the unipolar world and the eruption of uprisings; the Arab Awakenings and their impact on the status quo of the Arab world – all these issues are examined at length by Milne. The book contains the eloquent expositions of a political journalist who has studied each topic, become a well-versed expert, and can write an academically sound article but also relate to the general audience. He is not writing for the benefit of other academics and professionals, but for us, the people that are most affected by the crisis of the corporatised imperialist system.

Let us make a number of concluding observations. Milne is an expert at dissecting the lies, distortions and deceptions sold to us by the mainstream media. He is articulating an alternative vision, a vision of a non-corporate world, where decisions about the future of humanity are not made in secret corporate boardroom meetings. He regards the reader as fully capable of becoming cognisant of the class politics, economic inequities and social injustice that has led us to the current unstable global disorder. He also has no doubt that people can organise, and have the capacity and strength to collectively fight back.

Unemployment is capitalism’s revolving door

The online political magazine Counterpunch published an article by Geoffrey McDonald entitled “The Revolving Door of Unemployment”. McDonald examined the concerns expressed by American business magnates, along with US president Barack Obama, about the plight of the unemployed. They all agreed that unemployment currently exists, and that something must be done about it. Many of the corporate leaders that are feigning concern about the high level of unemployment are responsible for policies that create and worsen it. The Obama administration, driven by the ideological imperative to increase corporate profits, has certainly succeeded in driving up private profits, but has also created the conditions for mass and long-term unemployment. Not only has long-term structural unemployment become a major feature of capitalist society, but also job insecurity and low pay for those that find work.

McDonald uses the metaphor of a revolving door in describing unemployment – it is an accurate characterisation. While millions of unemployed have the capacity to work, they are separated from the means and resources to utilise that capacity. Every person has the theoretically legal right of equal opportunity to search and apply for work. Every person can enhance or improve their education, skill set, and job-seeking techniques to land a job. That is all well and good in an abstract sense, but in the real world of the capitalist market, there is one problem – equal opportunity will not reduce the unemployment rate and will not produce a reduction of poverty.

The decisions taken by the financial oligarchy, the tiny minority that owns the productive facilities, natural resources and economic levers that operate the economy, make decisions that affect the lives of the overwhelming majority of the population, the ninety-nine percent of us. For the majority of the world’s people, unemployment is a revolving door, an experience that will happen at some point in our lives. The days of job security are finished. Employment is now temporary, casualised to the point where most of us are temporary economic citizens.

Back in July 2013, the Huffington Post published a story that explained just how widespread the unemployment epidemic really is; four out of five American adults will struggle with unemployment at some point in their working lives, become reliant on welfare payments, and find their economic circumstances deteriorating. The United States now has 46.2 million people unemployed, a record statistic. That means fifteen percent of the population is out of work, idle labour power capacity that remains underutilised. The economic data gathered by the authors of the Huffington Post article also elaborate that the risk of poverty is increasing, and in 2011, 12.6 percent of working age adults (between the ages of 25 and 60) lived in poverty.

This feature of the capitalist system – mass, structural unemployment – is not only an indication that the numbers of full time, secure positions are decreasing. It also indicates, as McDonald points out in his Counterpunch article, that less people are doing more of the work. The increase in production and creation of more products means that the currently employed, shrunken workforce is remarkably efficient at keeping up the production process, so that output has barely slackened. As McDonald explains:

More and more products are generated with fewer and fewer people. Millions are not needed because the workers who are still needed are so productive that everything the employers want to have produced at a profit has already been produced. In other words: people are unemployed, made “redundant,” because of abundance.  The means to produce wealth have become so highly developed that society needs less and less workers. In any other social system, this would be a reason to rejoice. This would mean less toil, effort, and unfree time, and more leisure and fun. Not in the market economy, the “best of all economic systems.” Productivity advances throw millions of people into destitution.

The human face of the unemployment crisis was brought home by an article in the New York Slimes, the lapdog of the US financial-military elite. In a rare display of concern for those who are underprivileged, the New York Slimes examined the downward slide of a previously employed professional in an article entitled “Caught in a Revolving Door of Unemployment”. The news report detailed the life of Jenner Barrington-Ward, an urban professional who has undergone a personal crisis brought on by long-term unemployment:

A five-year spell of unemployment has slowly scrubbed away nearly every vestige of Ms. Barrington-Ward’s middle-class life. She is a 53-year-old college graduate who worked steadily for three decades. She is now broke and homeless.

Ms. Barrington-Ward describes it as “my journey through hell.” She was laid off from an administrative position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008; she had earned about $50,000 that year. With the recession spurring employers to dump hundreds of thousands of workers a month and the unemployment rate climbing to the double digits, she found that no matter the number of résumés she sent out — she stopped counting in the thousands — she could not find work.

She applied herself to the new circumstances, retrained herself, took courses, expanded her skill set and applied for hundreds of jobs- all to no avail. She has been refused work for various reasons, being told by potential employers that she cannot work at fast food outlets because she was ‘too articulate’, could not clean toilets because she did not speak Spanish, and was refused work at a laundromat because she was ‘too pretty.’ At one point, she was told by a prospective employer ‘We don’t hire the unemployed.’ 

With longer-term joblessness comes the concomitant problems of poorer health, increased likelihood and incidence of depression, higher risk of suicide, and strained family relations. Chronically occurring unemployment is also undermining another long-lasting myth about capitalist society, especially its American variant – that hard work and dedication will earn a working class person a seat in the ‘middle class’. Upward social mobility has been promoted, particularly among migrants, to attract and maintain labour for all sorts of industries by the ruling class. Well, that myth is now experiencing a serious decline. Gary Lapon, writing in the Socialist Worker magazine in August 2013, states that the vast majority of working people in the United States will experience unemployment and its associated impoverishment at some point in their working lives.

Long terms of unemployment have deleterious consequences on a person’s mental health, increasing the chances of depression, anxiety and stress-related disorders. Overcoming and managing these harmful impacts can take months, even years. Lapon references a study done by researchers from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, who examined the impact of unemployment duration on health care services and mental health. The study was published in the International Scholarly Research Network in 2012. The researchers looked at the consequences for mental health of participants who had been involuntarily unemployed for more than twelve months. They found the long-term unemployed have higher levels of impaired mental health, are less likely to access health services because of prohibitive costs, and experienced higher levels of chronic diseases, such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease and musculoskeletal disorders.

What should be noted is that while greater numbers of working people are experiencing poverty, and more people are likely to be impacted by periods of unemployment, the financial elite has continued to amass huge fortunes, with an enormous transfer of wealth from the working class to the ultra-rich one percent. According to Business Insider Australia, corporate profits have reached an all-time high, and wages have descended to a record low, in terms of the share of each of the gross domestic product (GDP). Companies are actually paying less to their employees as a share of GDP. Combine that with the fact that fewer people are working today than at any time during the last three decades, one can see that the Business Insider article provides a snapshot of just exactly who is benefiting from the current crisis of the capitalist system. It is not just in the United States that the unemployment situation is worsening; figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (February 2014) demonstrated that unemployment has hit a record high in ten years. An economist with Moody’s Analytics stated that “There’s no spinning it, Australia’s labour market is weak…. Businesses are not confident in future economic conditions so are trimming jobs and working their existing staff harder.” There is a breakdown of the current unemployment rate state-by-state provided by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation here: let us look forward to more intelligent criticism of the ABC from current Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in light of these worsening economic conditions.

Moving across to Europe, the economic crisis is going from bad to worse, with austerity measures only adding to the pauperisation and immiseration of millions of people across the continent. Russia Today published a summary of the findings of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in October 2013. The report, entitled “Think Differently: Humanitarian impacts of the economic crisis in Europe” details the social and humanitarian disaster that has overtaken huge areas of European countries, with snowballing poverty and unemployment. While greater numbers of people are requesting aid from charities, the poor are getting poorer, unemployment has risen sharply, and there is an increase in xenophobia and anti-immigrant politics in Europe. Grown-up children are increasingly reliant on their parents and families for income support, and generations are living together just to pay the bills.

The study drew economic data from the European Union countries, as well as countries in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Balkans. Take note of the Balkans, because we shall return to a particular country that area later in the article.

The full report can be downloaded from the web site of the Red Cross here.

It is not just the economic impact of unemployment that is taking its toll; the deleterious psychological consequences are manifesting themselves as well. It is not just that lack of procuring the basic necessities and energy that undermines physical and mental health, but also:

National Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies report an increased need for psychosocial support to people suffering from depression and other mental health problems, according to the report. A prime example of the ongoing mental anguish suffered by those thrown into poverty has been apparent in Greece over the past three years.

“Suicide rates in Greece have grown drastically by as much as 40 percent between January and May 2011, compared to the same period in 2010, a 50-year high,” the report notes.

Earlier in the article, the current author made reference to the Balkans, a region suffering heavily from the scourge of unemployment and poverty. It is important to return to this area, because over the month of February 2014, we can see the reaction of people that are frustrated and exasperated at the ongoing chronic crisis. They have taken action to redress the imbalance of an economic system that condemns them to live in poverty and despair. The people of Bosnia, living in a state of economic and ethnic apartheid since 1995 with the Dayton accords, have risen up in protest against the mass unemployment, privatisation of industries, the job insecurity and lack of accountability in the political institutions. The uprising has taken place in the main industrial centres of the country, led by ordinary working class people, in an attempt to wrest back control of their lives.

In an extensive analysis of the Bosnian uprising, Michael Karadjis, socialist activist and academic with Green Left Weekly, published an article in the Links online magazine detailing the historical background and context of the Bosnian situation. Since early February 2014, Bosnian workers – yes, the ‘Muslims’ of Yugoslavia, frequently derided in the corporate press – have risen to take back control of the factories, resources and political direction of their statelet. Bosnia was reduced to a statelet status back in 1995 with the signing of the US-brokered Dayton accords, which basically solidified the nationalist-driven ethnic division of Bosnia in cantons, with the Serbs carving out one portion, the Croats gaining control of another, and the Bosnians left to live in squalor in their own, reduced rump statelet at the mercy of the European Union-appointed governors. The nationalist poison had taken its toll, and the US and European powers simply entrenched an apartheid-style system, rewarding the ethnically cleansing activities of the protagonists – with the Bosnian Muslims the ultimate losers.

The uprising is driven mainly by the Bosnian working class, because they have been the ones severely impacted by mass privatisation, unemployment and poverty. With Yugoslavia fragmented by competing national chauvinisms in the 1990s, the Bosnian Muslims have studiously avoided the nationalist contagion, articulating demands such as the following, quoted by Karadjis in his article:

  • Recognise the seniority and secure health insurance of the workers.
  • Process instances of economic crimes and all those involved in it
  • Confiscate illegally obtained property
  • Annul the privatisation agreements
  • Prepare a revision of the privatisation
  • Return the factories to the workers and put everything under the control of the public government in order to protect the public interest, and to start production in those factories where it is possible

It is not the purpose of this article to go into a detailed analysis of the Bosnian context, but suffice it to say that Central and South Eastern Europe experienced the worst rates of unemployment in Europe since the onset of the economic crisis. Detaching Bosnia, and the other former Yugoslav republics, from the Eastern bloc has involved turning them into captive labour markets for the European Union. Integration for Bosnia has meant becoming a semi-colonial appendage of the richer European powers, its resources pillaged in the course of mass privatisation, while the Bosnians were left unemployed. Michael Karadjis notes that Bosnia’s unemployment stands at an overall 40 percent, with youth unemployment reaching 57 percent. Breaking with this program of capitalist austerity is absolutely necessary to resolve the ongoing problem of unemployment and social inequity.

To understand the issue of unemployment, it is necessary to understand the role it plays in the functioning of the capitalist system. Graham Matthews, writer and activist for Green Left Weekly, elaborated on the connection between capitalism and unemployment in an article published in 2009. He referred to the work of a nineteenth century German philosopher and political economist, whose work is making a comeback given the current capitalist downturn. As the capitalist corporations, driven by the imperative to make profits, drive down production costs and increase labour productivity, routinely replace their variable capital – workers and their active labour – with fixed capital, in the form of greater mechanisation and technology. While it is true that new technologies help to drive new industries, workers are displaced from one industry, downsized from their occupations, and labour costs are driven down. Generating a greater amount of labour productivity from fewer and fewer workers is the general goal of corporate power. Workers are continually used and then discarded on an ‘as-needs’ basis. As Matthews explained in his article:

Although it may rise or fall, unemployment itself is a permanent feature of capitalism.

“The greater the social wealth … and, therefore, also the absolute mass of the proletariat and the productiveness of its labour, the greater is the industrial reserve army [i.e. the unemployed]”, Marx said. “The relative mass of the industrial reserve army increases therefore with the potential energy of wealth.”

The unemployed are more than just a permanent “reserve army of labour” on which capital may call, however. They also serve capital by placing a permanent pressure on the wages of those who are employed, encouraging them to work harder for less, at pain of losing their job to someone else.

Viewing the unemployed as a reserve army of labour, temporary citizens if you will, provides an insightful platform for comprehending unemployment as a permanent, structural feature of the capitalist system. While politicians make decisions and implement specific policies that are conducive to creating unemployment, and should be held responsible for the staggering numbers of unemployed that we see today, it should be noted that unemployment is here to stay regardless of specific policy decisions by the political class. Ismael Hossein-Zadeh, professor emeritus of economics at Drake University, Iowa, makes the important point in his 2011 article in Counterpunch that only by mass mobilisations from below, with workers joining together and rising as one, can the nation-wide program of misery and unemployment be reversed. Obscene levels of corporate profits have been made at the expense of ordinary working people, transferring the burden of the economic crisis onto the shoulders of those who are not responsible for creating this economic mess. Only by combining their efforts, rather than begging at the table, can workers achieve an equitable system where the permanent revolving door of unemployment can finally be closed.

 

Drone warfare – now going international

US President Barack Obama gave the State of the Union address in January 2014, where he outlined how the United States is performing economically, the achievements of his administration, and the plans for the future. His speech contained the usual nationalistic clichés, militaristic sloganeering, vacuous rhetoric regarding economic inequality and posturing as the champion of the poor while advocating policies friendly to large corporations.

There is one area of policy that Obama has continued from the Bush-Cheney era. The one policy sphere that Obama has expanded upon during his administration only rated one mention in the entirety of his speech. This is the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, (UAV), popularly known as drones, to carry out wars of aggression overseas, targeting alleged political opponents and spread US imperial power throughout the world.

Drone warfare is the undisputed weapon of choice of the Obama administration. While Bush-Cheney-Rice clique began the process, Obama has expanded the operation and use of drones throughout various countries and continents. In fact, just three days after he was inaugurated in 2009, Obama authorised his first drone strike, in Pakistan, supposedly targeting a Taliban safe house. Actually, the main victims were a Pakistani tribal leader allied to the Pakistani government, and his family.

As Eric Ruder, writer for the Socialist Worker online magazine explained in January 2013, Obama’s drone wars involve black-ops, high-level secrecy, and death and destruction delivered by computer-assisted remote control. To quote Ruder, the United States “can dispatch lethal force half a world away by means that would look familiar to any teenage gamer: the joystick and the video screen.”

Back when drone warfare began in 2001, the United States held a virtual monopoly on the technology of drones and their usage. Well, just as the capitalist economic crisis has gone global, so too has drone warfare. Conn Hallinan, foreign policy expert and writer for the blog Foreign Policy in Focus, wrote an article published in Common Dreams online magazine, in which he explains that now 70 countries have acquired and built, or are in the process of building, their own version of the lethal weapon. As Hallinan explains;

For a sure-fire killer you want a Made-in-the-USA-by-General-Atomics Predator or Reaper, but there are other dangerous drones out there and they are expanding at a geometric pace.

While the rest of us, the 99 percent, struggle with the cost of living and cope with rising levels of inequality, drone warfare is not only expanding in reach and scope, but it is a growing business. Hallinan elaborates that:

Drones have become a multi-billion dollar industry, and countries across the planet are building and buying them. Many are used for surveillance, but the U.S., Britain, Sweden, Iran, Russia, China, Lebanon, Taiwan, Italy, Israel, France, Germany, India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates all own the more lethal varieties. The world’s biggest drone maker is Israel.

The Russian weapons manufacturer, Sukhoi, is developing its own version of predator drone, a 20-tonne attack vehicle that may be used to strike at stationary and moving targets on land and at sea. Israel has been an active participant in the drone warfare drama, producing its own drones and selling the military technology to various customers, mainly the United States. The activist group Drone War UK published an extensive report on the production, proliferation and usage of drones by the Israeli state.

The market for drones is rapidly expanding, and aviation experts contend that sales of UAVs will compose the largest market share of all aircraft sales, and it is businesses in Israel that will reap the rewards. Drone manufacture and proliferation is booming. Confirmation that Israel is using drones itself has arrived in a rather unexpected way; earlier in January 2014, an Israeli drone crashed in the southern Gaza Strip, a Palestinian enclave currently blockaded by Israeli forces.

In November 2013, the Islamic Republic of Iran launched its Fotros drone, capable of flying for 30 hours, according to its manufacturers. Brazil is the leading commercial drone power in Latin America, having purchased the Hermes 450 drone from the Israeli arms manufacturer, Elbit Systems. Brazil has the highest number of drones in the Latin American region, both by purchasing them internationally and manufacturing them domestically.

The European Union’s first armed assault drone, the nEUROn, was unveiled in January 2012, produced by a consortium of European nations. While media attention has focused, quite rightly, on the drone strikes by the United States in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and other countries, the military forces of European states are quietly and confidently building their own fleet of drones.

The United Kingdom, a long-term (satellite) ally of the United States, has built and used drones itself, and in mainland Europe, growing pressure from military lobbies and armaments manufacturers is having the intended effect of pushing more countries to buy and manufacture drones. Chris Cole, the director of Drone Wars UK, quoted the French Defence Minister, Thomas de Maiziere justifying the creation and use of drones by saying that “We cannot keep the stagecoach while others are developing the railway”. Interesting choice of words in 2014 – the development of the stagecoach was surpassed by the railway prior to 1914, exactly one hundred years ago when a little something called World War One exploded on the scene, the result of many factors including an arms race between the European imperialist states.

The main targets of all these drones are not each other, but the people living beneath them. The armaments manufacturers never admit that the principal victims of drone strikes are the civilians in targeted areas. Militarily, they are vulnerable to anti-aircraft systems, demonstrated by the downing of a US drone by the Iranians in late 2011. However, drones are deployed to surveil conflict zones, and strike targets in those areas with impunity, avoiding the deployment of American troops into the war zones. With the failure of the US to win ‘hearts and minds’ in the battle areas of Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and so on, the turn to drones by the US ruling class is an attempt to avoid domestic criticism that foreign troop deployments – and casualties – that are the inevitable result. Removing US casualties as a factor in overseas wars, the US ruling elite was hoping to make foreign wars more palatable to the domestic population. Warfare by remote-control seems like a victimless, ‘smart’ kind of war.

The victims of the drone strikes are speaking up about the atrocities they have witnessed. In an article for AlterNet online magazine called ‘The Constant Presence of US drones in the Sky Traumatize and Ruin Lives on the Ground’, the journalist H. H. Bhojani summarised the experiences of Pakistani children that have gone through the horrific experience of a drone strike. The families that live in North West Pakistan, a constant target of US drone strikes, have experienced firsthand the slaughter, mayhem and bloodshed of these computer-guided weapons systems. Bhojani looks at the story of Nabila, one of many children in the village of Tapi, in the Pakistani northwest. In October 2012, she witnessed her grandmother being blasted to smithereens by a drone strike. She, her brothers and sisters were injured, and while the physical wounds may have healed, the psychological scars still remain. As the article in AlterNet elaborates:

Nabila’s drawings are like any other nine-year-old’s. A house rests besides a winding path, a winding path on which wander two stick figures. Tall trees, rising against the back drop of majestic hills. Clouds sprinkled over a clear sky.

Nabila’s drawings are like any other nine-year-old’s. With one disturbing exception.

Hovering over the house, amidst the clouds, above the people, are two drone aircraft.

Perhaps this is the scene she saw moments before the drone strike, a mental photograph captured with crayons.

The capricious nature of drone warfare makes it all the more frightening for its intended victims. The AlterNet article elaborates further that;

Like terrorism, drones generate disproportionate fear because they can happen anytime. “I’m afraid to go outside. I don’t even see my friends anymore,” Nabila says.

There is increasing attention given to the psychological trauma caused by drone strikes. Psychiatrist Peter Schaapveld spoke of a ‘psychological emergency’ in towns that are the routine targets of drones. He described the children living in drone-stricken areas as being ‘traumatized and re-traumatized’ by the lethal weapons constantly hovering overhead. And what is ironic is that the more that people on the ground are intimidated by drone warfare, the more that resentful and angry young men are being driven into the arms of extremist and fundamentalist anti-American groups, such as al Qaeda. As Schaapveld explained:

[I]nstead of keeping us safe, they breed animosity and tear apart the fabric of some of the poorest and disenfranchised communities in the world,” said Schaapveld. “A hellfire missile costs over $60,000, which could be spent building schools and wells. Yemen needs aid and our support, not drones.”

The full article is available on Truth Out online magazine here.

There are encouraging signs that the horrors of drone warfare are spurring people into action. In November 2013, there was an anti-drone summit in Washington DC, organised by various activist and human rights groups. Gathering people from around the world, the summit heard the stories and shared experiences of people whose lives have been impacted by drones. The political leaders in the imperialist states must be held to account for the criminal actions of drone warfare.

It is only fitting to conclude with the words that the current author used in an earlier article about this subject; that drone warfare is just the latest technological incarnation of strategic aerial bombing, a campaign of raining terror from the skies that has bedevilled the twentieth century:

The Obama administration’s policy of drone strikes is only the latest technological application of the old, discredited, nightmarish and criminal practice of strategic aerial bombing. Its enthusiasts have proposed its supposed ‘surgical’ feature, ignoring the mass civilian deaths and casualties that accompany such bombing. This doctrine is an essential tool of the imperialist states in their quest to build and expand economic empires, and has nothing to do with minimising the loss of lives or damage to property.

……

What kind of political and economic system is it, which fails to acknowledge the people that have died as a result of all the aerial bombing campaigns, and then applies the central doctrine of their killers?