Category Archives: Weekly Worker

Anti-war anniversary: Party with all-round strategy needed

Moshé Machover looks back at a decade of anti-war protest. This is an edited version of his speech to the March 9 ‘Ten wasted years?’ school, organised by the CPGB

Moshé Machover (photo credit: David Isaacson)

Moshé Machover (photo credit: David Isaacson)

The high-water mark of the anti-war movement was the great demonstration of February 15 2003, the biggest that I have participated in – and I am sure that is true for many others here too. It did not stop the war and it would have been very surprising if it had, but nothing very much seems to have come out of that movement. The question is why?

Of all the similar wars of intervention – what have been called ‘slaughter for humanitarian purposes’, perpetrated on behalf of the US-led ‘international community’ – the Iraq war was the only one that generated such protests. The first I can recall was Kosova in 1999, over which much of the left was confused; then there was Afghanistan in 2001; more recently there has been Libya, Syria and Mali. Remarkably also in the case of Libya much of the left was divided, and again it is worth asking why.

Some have claimed that the big Iraq demonstration 10 years ago was responsible for preventing war against Iran today. I think this is highly doubtful – there are many other considerations. Of course, the march was not without use – just the feeling of being in such a big crowd is a good thing. But my question is, why have we been unable to repeat such large demonstrations?

The attitude of the organised left – in Stop the War Coalition it was mainly the Socialist Workers Party and later the section of the SWP that split to form Counterfire – is that the anti-war movement provides an opportunity not to assert the revolutionary socialist view, not to assert a Marxist analysis of the impending war, but to use this movement for ‘leverage’. I mean leverage in the sense of using a small weight to move a larger one. A small group hopes to use the movement in order to move a much larger public through some kind of ‘united front’.

In my first real political activity I was sent by a Stalinist-Zionist movement to collect signatures for a worldwide peace petition during the cold war. Some communist parties were very small, but could ‘lever’ a lot of peace-loving people through these organisations. Of course, the Stalinists had no intention of making a revolution – they were about defending the Soviet Union – and on these terms the peace petition worked quite well. They did get leverage through a whole series of organisations that are very reminiscent of the types of bodies run by the SWP, Counterfire and so on that we have today. There was the Democratic Youth Movement, which had a succession of festivals in the ‘people’s democracies’, the Democratic Women’s Movement and a whole series of fronts for the various CPs.

But there is a price to pay for this doubtful privilege: you have to moderate your own analysis, as those people you are trying to lever are not entirely stupid: they do not want to be manipulated and they are prepared to form this kind of long-term alliance only provided that the left does not say things that they strongly disagree with. In February 2003 you could see SWP posters and placards, but there were many more Liberal Democrat placards – and, of course, Lib Dem support vanished not long after that – and there were also very big Islamic groups taking part.

Now, I am not implying in any way that far-left groups should not have taken part in this huge demonstration or in other anti-war movements. But they should have used the occasion to put forward their own specific revolutionary-socialist analysis of the situation. What was missing was a distinct, working class, leftwing presentation. The far left felt it had to adapt to what its bourgeois partners were thinking about the war.

Anti-war arguments

Some of the people who march against war are pacifists, who just think that war is bad. Again, I am not saying that we on the far left should not concur that war is a horrible thing, but this is not the mainargument – it is an additional, a supporting argument against war.

Others have opposed some interventions because they say they lacked ‘international legitimacy’ or ‘legality’. In the case of Iraq it was clear that, as Blair stated, there would have to be a second United Nations security council resolution, so even in his terms it was not legal. And this actually influenced a lot of people: the Liberal Democrats opposed the Iraq war (until it actually began) on the grounds that it was illegal. Had the UN passed a resolution making the invasion legal, then they would have had no argument. Again, it is not a bad idea to point out the illegality, but this is not our main argument.

Then there are those who oppose war because it is so expensive. In fact this ‘cost of war’ argument is made not just by those who oppose wars, but also by those who wage them. There is a certain conflict of interest here, because war is very expensive, especially in these times of austerity, when so-called ‘defence’ budgets are being cut. But there is also the so-called ‘defence’ industry, which does not want to cut back.

Some people oppose war on the grounds that aggressor states have evil or unjustified aims. In the case of Iraq it was a very widespread argument that what the Americans were really after was Iraqi oil, which is to some extent true, but I do not think this was the main reason for the intervention and this certainly should not have been used as a main argument by Marxists. For example, the only resource Afghanistan had going for it was lapis lazuli, used for blue dyes!

Another argument made against the Iraq war was that Saddam Hussein did not have the weapons of mass destruction which he was accused of stockpiling. But suppose that he did! And, by the way, no-one was seriously claiming that Iraq had atomic weapons. The term ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is in itself deceptive: it lumps together hydrogen bombs and mustard gas. And when Blair said that Iraq possessed WMD he was talking about poison gas. Again, what if Iraq did have this?

The problems of these arguments about the secret, evil intent of the aggressors are twofold. One, there may not always be obvious ‘evil intent’; the reasons given for war and intervention may be semi-convincingly depicted as humanitarian, as in the case of Libya. These rebels in Benghazi are going to be slaughtered so ‘we’ must save them. If your main argument against the imperialists’ intervention is that they are doing bad things, but this is not immediately apparent, then you are disarmed. And this is actually what has happened to a lot of people on the left – not just the usual suspects, but people who ordinarily should know better. They are confused and have justified (or semi-justified) the intervention in Libya.

On the other hand, if you are not ready to justify the intervention on such grounds but want to oppose the war on the basis of ‘good versus evil’, then you are pushed into actually idealising the victim of the aggression. This is very obvious in the case of Iran, where some of the bigger masses that the left groups seek to leverage are devout Muslims, who are not averse to a harsh theocracy. It is not that the planned American-Israeli war against Iran is ‘good versus evil’ in the way it is portrayed in the bourgeois pro-war press, but merely a reversal of this position – suddenly these regimes become staunch ‘anti-imperialists’.

I think that the lesson of all this is the need to organise independently – not in the sense of refusing to act together on a specific issue in a tactical way with people who have other motives. But one should do it in a way that does not inhibit us from putting forward our own analysis.

Who and why

The question then is, what should be our main argument against these interventions? At this point I cannot resist telling you a story from the Talmud. The Talmud is a huge compendium of Jewish legal and theological disputations ranging over several centuries, but it also contains various stories. Some of them are just fairy tales, but others are reports of actual events. One of them recounts a discussion between three sages towards the end of the 2nd century in Palestine, which was then under the rule of the Roman empire. The discussion was over the attitude that should be taken towards the Romans.

The first sage says that the Romans are not so bad. They build markets, bathhouses, bridges. They bring civilisation. The second sage keeps quiet in the discussion. The third sage says, look, it’s notwhat the Romans do, but what they are doing it for. They build markets as places for lodging whores. They build bathhouses for their own enjoyment, and they build bridges in order to collect tolls, to tax us. So don’t look at what is done: look at who does it and why.

According to the story, a fourth sage overheard this conversation, blabbed about it, and it got to the authorities. The first sage who praised the Roman empire was not touched. The second sage who had kept silent was sent into internal exile. But the third one had the death sentence passed against him and he had to go into hiding. I think this is a very instructive tale, which has a moral lesson.

The question is not whether or not the purported immediate aim is good or not – to save the rebels or whatever. The question is what the bigger picture is about: why are these wars being waged? You can make a whole list of interventions carried out for ‘humanitarian purposes’. It is a system, a method – although this method of justifying war is relatively new, a post-cold war phenomenon.

All the big wars in modern times, up to and including World War II, had been between the major capitalist countries over the competitive division of the world between themselves, over who could become the ‘top dog’ of the imperialist hierarchy. I think another war of this type is unlikely, at least for the foreseeable future. It may arise again – no-one can prophesy with certainty – but if it does it would be entirely catastrophic, given the weaponry that exists. So the last one in history for the time being is World War II.

Then during the cold war the world was divided, polarised, between the two main superpowers. They had a whole series of agreements to achieve this – Yalta, Tehran, Potsdam. In the period from 1945 through to the collapse of the Soviet Union and its satellites, wars were tools for the policing by the respective superpowers of their own mutually agreed spheres of influence. There were also conflicts between the two big blocs in cases where the borders were not sufficiently clearly defined – Korea certainly was a war of this kind and Vietnam arguably so. But additionally there were wars within the blocs, where one power would exercise itself militarily within its domain and the other superpower would not intervene. For example, the USA and its allies did not intervene when the Soviet Union made a regime change in Czechoslovakia in 1948, or when it intervened very forcefully in Hungary in 1956. Some Hungarian rebels called for American intervention, but that did not happen, as it was contrary to the established agreements and would have been destabilising.

Nor did Stalin intervene when the west crushed the resistance in Greece. Immediately after World War II, the Greek Communist Party and its resistance movement were as important as they were in Yugoslavia. But in Yugoslavia the west did not intervene and allowed the partisans to take power, while in Greece the imperialists, Britain mainly, did intervene, because, according to the agreements between the two major powers, Greece was in the western domain. Stalin not only did not intervene, but he actively betrayed his communist allies in Greece.

That period ended in the early 1990s with the collapse of the Soviet Union, and now we have a world which is structured differently, with one major power at the summit of the capitalist pyramid. It is not a case of the ‘imperialist countries’ versus ‘the colonial countries’ – each state has a role within this hierarchy. It is an intricate system, but certainly there is a top dog. And that top dog would like to assert its right to police the world as it wishes. So, instead of two domains, where in each case there is a major power policing its own backyard, we have one world, one domain, with one superpower that claims, along with its major allies – not least Great Britain and Israel – that it has the right to police the whole world.

Strategy

It is on these grounds that imperialist war must be resisted. It is part of the capitalist system – and a vicious and dangerous part from the point of view of revolutionary socialists. What the US is trying to do is to legitimise and to normalise its role as world policeman, and it is this that we ought to oppose. This is the major argument that I think the left should put forward in opposing wars.

We should never support a war undertaken by our own ruling classes. Often they are undertaken for domestic reasons. Kissinger said of Israel: it has no foreign policy, only domestic policy; and this is actually true of most states – their foreign policies result from internal class contradictions.

Of course, there are additional arguments that are useful to mention in each case, but this main argument applies just as much to Mali, Syria and Libya as it applied to Iraq and will apply to Iran. It is in principle incumbent on the left to oppose this role of world policeman. Why? Because we know what would happen if there were the possibility of socialist revolution anywhere: this world policeman would bring its power to bear against us. That is why it is essential to build up our opposition both practically and theoretically in order todelegitimise these police actions.

Finally I think it is important to distinguish between a ‘single issue’ form of opposition and one based on class analysis. It is the difference between protest and the presentation of an alternative. In order to do protest you do not really need a single, mass organisation based on the working class, and armed with a socialist programme. All you need is an organisation like STWC, which resists bad wars. Then you have another organisation to resist the cuts.

But in order to actually present an alternative you need an all-round theory, an all-round strategy. You need an organisation, a party. A party that is not just about protests, but whose main purpose is about presenting an alternative to the existing order of things.

(This article was first published in the Weekly Worker)

 

Advertisements

Help us take further steps forward – donate

Mark Fischer reports on a solid first week for our annual fundraising drive and on an important political advance for our organisation

The CPGB’s annual fundraising drive, the Summer Offensive, has had a really good start. At the launch on June 30, the comrades present pledged a tremendous £13,100 towards our £25,000 overall target. This is an excellent beginning to what is traditionally an important and instructive period of work for our organisation.

But before we go into the details of the money actually received, let’s tidy up last month’s Weekly Worker fighting fund news. The June fund came up just short, with a final total of £1,396 – £104 shy of its monthly £1,500 target. A pretty solid £78 came in on the Thursday and Friday of last week to make the final pot more respectable; particular thanks to PM’s £20 in that last-minute surge and the same amount from BL.

There is sometimes a little bit of a stutter at the beginning of the SO when Robbie Rix is temporarily boxed and I take over the money duties for the two-month SO duration. Comrade Rix has asked me to reassure readers that, although money donated to the paper will count towards the SO, the money directed to the Weekly Worker will be used exclusively for that purpose. So the £322 in standing orders paid to the paper in the first few days of July has not only boosted the SO, but will actually help the Weekly Worker pay its bills.

Overall, since last Saturday’s launch, £1,987 has landed in the SO coffers – impressive! The outstanding performer in this has been comrade PK, who – having pledged £700 on June 30 – actually gave us £900, all in one go, a few days later! Others deserve mention for their contributions – in particular, comrade TB is writing off hundreds of pounds owed to her, debts mostly accrued during work on the redesign of our website (see below).

As I wrote last week, we are again placing the drive to support the Weekly Worker at the core of this year’s campaign. Our paper attracts the overwhelming bulk of its readership online, of course, and many comrades who are part of that ‘Weekly Worker Thursday surge’ on the internet will be pleased to see that the long-awaited relaunch of our website has finally happened.

So far the responses have been extremely positive. Despite the joshing tone of one CPGB supporter’s comments, his general sentiments are pretty typical of the comments we have had since we relaunched in the past few days: “Fuck me,” he writes delicately, “I thought I had more chance of seeing adequate time for debate at an SWP event than I did of ever seeing a new party website.” But he adds: “Joking apart, I’m impressed – a huge step up in terms of clear information.”

I know what he means. On one level, it is just a relief to see the thing go live, frankly. When our site was attacked and taken down in June 2009, we were determined to take it as an opportunity, not simply a setback. We quickly reconstituted an interim site for what we were convinced would be a short transition period (somewhere, quietly, a cantankerous god of the internet chuckled) and set about reshaping our website as a resource that might more adequately reflect the depth and range of this organisation’s political and programmatic work over the past 30 years or so.

Quickly, however, we ran hard up against our skills limitations compared to our ambitions. We tried short cuts of various sorts – buying in expertise; detailing some comrades to work almost exclusively on the site, whatever their personal aptitudes or interests; searching for content management systems that would enable even a Freddy Flintstone clone to manage things; etc.

In fact, all these initiatives – although none were the answer in themselves – facilitated the emergence of a team of comrades who were clearly the attack pack that would finish the project. And they have. We owe them a tremendous debt. I think those comrades – and our organisation in general, when it gets over its simple pleasure of having the new site up at last – will admit that there is still a great deal of work to be done. We have moved forward in our aim of providing “clear information” to the workers’ and progressive movement, but we are still a distance from where we need to be. The site is an advance technically. But it represents a far more important political step forward.

We are proud of the comrades who have worked so hard to get the new site off the ground. And we are also proud of all those readers and supporters who have helped finance the launch through their donations. But there is a lot more to do, and it is obvious where a good portion of our SO receipts will be spent.

So, comrades – like the new website? Do you think, like the comrade quoted above, that it enhances the mission of the Weekly Worker to provide “clear information” to our movement? If yes, what’s stopping you? – donate!

Joining forces against war and expulsions

Milton Keynes Hands Off the People of Iran and the local Stop the War Coalition group joined forces for a meeting on the threat of war against Iran reports Dave Isaacson (this report was originally published in the Weekly Worker).

Moshé Machover (left) and Dave Isaacson at the meeting. Photo: © Brian Robinson.

Comrades from the Hands of the People of Iran campaign in Milton Keynes have responded to the recently escalating sanctions and war threats against Iran by working closely with the local Stop the War group to build opposition to any imperialist intervention. We worked together to organise a joint Hopi/STW public meeting to discuss these issues on Monday May 28.

Over 20 people attended, which for a town such as Milton Keynes is reasonable. The meeting was addressed by Israeli socialist Moshé Machover, who is also a member of the Hopi steering committee. He gave an excellent opening, looking at the reasons why policymakers in the US and Israel want to see a change of regime in Iran and why some actively favour the methods of war to achieve such an aim. Moshé examined the long-term strategic interests of Zionism in Israel in particular. He argued that these interests flow from the fact that Israel is a certain type of colonial settler state, based upon the total exclusion of the indigenous population, to the extent that this can be achieved (unlike some other settler states such as South Africa and Algeria, where native peoples were needed for their labour-power).

With Israel’s determination to scupper any hopes that Palestinians have for an independent sovereign state on the one hand, and the Zionist nightmare of ‘demographic peril’ (the fear that the growing Palestinian population will increasingly outnumber Israelis) on the other, the very presence of the Palestinians is intolerable to Zionism. Comrade Machover explained that the solution that many Zionists have longed to put into practice is to simply expel the Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza: ie, ethnic cleansing.

Indeed the current Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is on record telling students in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in November 1989 that “the government had failed to exploit politically favourable situations in order to carry out ‘large-scale’ expulsions at times when ‘the damage would have been relatively small. I still believe that there are opportunities to expel many people’.” Israeli provocations that lead to a regional conflagration involving Iran and the US could create just the “politically favourable situation” Netanyahu wishes for – a sideshow while they ethnically cleanse the Palestinians.

Moshé’s talk was well received and there were some very interesting questions which prompted further discussions on issues such as the current conflict in Syria, Israel’s own development of a nuclear arsenal, and an assessment of the Occupy movement. One speaker expressed scepticism about the scale of the ethnic cleansing Moshé argues Israeli politicians would like to carry out. He felt that such a thing would just not be acceptable in this day and age. Moshé responded that it is precisely our job to make sure that such acts are made unacceptable, and indeed made impossible, through our collective opposition. To achieve such aims we need political organisation and a programme.

Everybody I spoke to left feeling that the meeting had been a success. Everyone took home Hopi literature and many bought a copy of the Weekly Worker or of Moshé’s new book – Israelis and Palestinians: conflict and resolution. As well as Hopi and STW, the local Palestine Solidarity Campaign branch was also present with a stall. These are all good signs that people are taking the issues seriously and want to learn more.

As Moshé explained at the end of the meeting, this summer is a particularly dangerous one for the Middle East. We must keep a close eye on the situation and do all we can develop the ideas and organisation we need to pose an internationalist and socialist alternative to imperialism and Zionism. Hopi is very clear: we stand in solidarity with the Iranian people – not their regime – and oppose all sanctions and war threats. In Milton Keynes we will continue to work closely with the local STW group (which incidentally displays none of the sectarianism towards Hopi that we have experienced at a national level). It is also worth mentioning our gratitude to Milton Keynes trades council, an affiliate of Hopi, who financed the meeting with a £100 donation.

Audio files of the opening speech and answers to questions at the meeting are available to listen to on the HOPI website. Thanks to Brian Robinson for producing the recordings.

Iran: imperialism finds new pretext for threats

Yassamine Mather

As Iranian workers went out in remarkable numbers for May Day, a new dispute over some small islands in the Gulf shows that despite apparent progress on the nuclear question a new source of tension has been found. Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran reports (first published in the Weekly Worker).

A week can be a long time in politics, but in Iran it can seem more like a year.

Last week, as news agencies were reporting rumours of the regime’s possible retreat over its nuclear programme, the price of gold dropped on the Tehran exchange market – a clear sign of reduced tensions between western powers and Iran. The factional fighting of recent years also seemed to belong to the distant past, as figureheads of various factions of the regime, including those arch enemies, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the current incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, attended the meetings of the National Expediency Council. They even managed to smile for the cameras in a pre-arranged photo-shoot.

However, then came news of another conflict in the Persian Gulf – this time between Iran on the one side and Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries on the other. Arab and US media reported that the Peninsula Shield Force, the military coordinating army of the GCC, had been carrying out military manoeuvres to “test harmony and coordination among ground, air and naval forces and their readiness”.

The military exercise was seen as a response to Iran’s continued occupation of three islands in the Gulf – the tiny Abu Musa and Greater and Lesser Tunb islets, near the mouth of the Straits of Hormuz, that was seized in 1971 by the shah after British forces left the region. Abu Musa, the only inhabited island of the three, was placed under joint administration in a deal with Sharjah, now part of the United Arab Emirates. They have since been a bone of contention with the UAE, which claims sovereignty over them.

While the dispute seemed to have been forgotten for most of the decades since, in the last two months the UAE has been mounting increasingly vocal demands for the return of their territory – with the backing of the GCC and the Arab League. This, of course, has brought an angry response from the Iranians, who vowed to “crush any act of aggression” and prompted a visit to Abu Musa by Ahmadinejad a few weeks ago. In Tehran the rumour is that even the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, was not aware of the trip before it took place – on the eve of the international nuclear talks.

After Ahmadinejad’s trip to Abu Musa, the foreign minister of the UAE recalled its ambassador to Iran, claiming that it amounted to “flagrant violation” and an “occupation”. But things did not end there. The UAE succeeded in convincing the other Persian Gulf states to support it and the GCC issued a statement condemning the visit.

No-one can be in any doubt that the renewal of this dispute after 41 years is a pretext for a much wider conflict between Iran and the leaders of the Persian Gulf states, who nowadays are taking a prominent role in opposition to the Islamic Republic. The Gulf emirs are convinced that Iran is seeking to harness the forces unleashed by the Arab uprisings in order to destabilise their own internal control and, rather than wait for events to overtake them, have clearly decided to use the dispute over the islands as a lever to ramp up their hostility towards Tehran.

Of course, it is unlikely that the Gulf states will go to war with Iran. However, they have become an integral part of US plans for regime change in Damascus and Tehran. One option they are certainly taking up is increasing their support for groups opposing the Syrian and Iranian regimes. But, as the Saudis, Emiratis and Qataris try to vent their frustration with Tehran on Syria, they will almost certainly provoke Iran to adopt retaliatory measures. But over the last two weeks, without waiting for such a response, the US mainstream media have been portraying the dispute as yet another example of Iran’s ‘irresponsible warmongering’.

Most Iranians believe the issue of the ownership of the islands has surfaced now as part of the campaign to put pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme. They do not believe the Emirates’ claims to be acting independently in this matter.

Internal conflict

As most of the world was concentrating on elections in Europe, the second round of polling for the Islamic parliament, the majles, took place in Iran. Results declared on May 5 showed the Iranian president’s support crumbling, with ultra-conservative rivals consolidating their hold on the majles. Ahmadinejad’s supporters won only 13 of the 65 seats contested in the May 4 vote, further reducing his power base in the 290-seat legislature. The president’s opponents won 41 seats and this follows the victory of Khamenei loyalists in the first round of voting in March, when they had already secured an outright majority.

On the day the increase in that majority was announced, conflict between the president and the majles reached new heights, as the ‘integration committee’ rejected Ahmadinejad’s proposal to increase revenues from subsidy cuts – a move which could effectively block the implementation of the second stage of the subsidy ‘reform’ plan.

Ahmadinejad had presented the draft of the national budget bill for the Iranian year beginning on March 20 on February 1, in which it was proposed that the revenues from subsidy savings would be increased from about $44 billion to $110 billion. And last week the government decided to suddenly remove controls on energy prices to complete the implementation of the subsidy ‘reform’. The majlis voted to say this decision is illegal because it runs counter to the agreed ‘reform’, which allows for the subsidies on fuel, electricity and certain goods to be cut over the course of five years. Too deep, too fast. Majles speaker Ali Larijani started legal action against Ahmadinejad, at the same time as two complaints were sent to the judiciary, accusing the government of “incurring irreparable damage” to the economy by violating foreign exchange laws, “at a time when the country faces numerous sanctions”.

Clearly the short-lived peace between various factions of the Islamic regime, forged by the supreme leader, has already broken down – with serious implications for the president.

Meanwhile, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton urged India to do “even more” to cut its purchases of oil from Iran to keep up the pressure on that country to prove its nuclear programme is peaceful. As a result of sanctions, drugs for cancer, heart disease and several other ailments are now in short supply, according to the ‘reformist’ daily, Shargh. The shortage is the result of international sanctions against the Islamic republic, the implementation of subsidy cuts and foreign-currency exchange-rate fluctuations that Iran has experienced in recent months, claimed the newspaper. Supply of the affected drugs has reached “worrying levels”, it said.

May Day

However, the conflict is not restricted to infighting within the regime. This year, Iranian workers participated in a surprisingly large number of May Day protests – some organised through activist networks, and many more occurring within industrial complexes. After hearing of similar protests elsewhere, workers demonstrated outside the gates of their workplaces demanding action over low wages, non-payment and lack of job security. All these issues have been compounded by sanctions. Many workers held up placards saying “We are hungry”.

A small, impromptu gathering took place in the Kurdish city of Sanandaj. According to reports by the Free Union of Iranian Workers, on May 1 hundreds of workers congregated in that city chanting, “We are workers, we are hungry”, and “Workers’ solidarity”. Other signs read: “Bread, housing, liberty” and “Imprisoned workers should be released”.

May Day 2012 will be remembered as the day Iranian workers managed to raise their voice despite the difficult circumstances they face – not just in terms of the appalling economic conditions resulting from sanctions and the regime’s attacks, but also under circumstances of an increasingly repressive religious capitalist dictatorship. For Hands Off the People of Iran this means redoubling our efforts in solidarity with Iranian workers, to make sure their voice is heard above all the talk of war, sanctions and territorial recriminations.

yassamine.mather@weeklyworker.org.uk

Don’t forget the upcoming public meeting, ‘No war on Iran’ on Monday May 28th at the Fishermead Trinity Centre, Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes. Speaker: Moshé Machover. Jointly organised by HOPI and MK Stop the War.

Osborne’s budget: revenge of trickledown economics

George Osborne’s budget shows that we are not ‘all in it together’, writes Eddie Ford (first published in the Weekly Worker)

Budgets ain’t what they used to be. Once upon a time the chancellor and his colleagues were expected to maintain a state of strict purdah. Every chance meeting between a treasury official and a journalist had to be formally reported during the weeks before the statement. Hugh Dalton, the Labour chancellor, was forced to resign in 1947 because, whilst walking to the House of Commons to give the autumn budget address, he made an off-the-cuff remark to a journalist hinting at some of the tax changes to be made – which were then printed in the early edition of the evening papers before he even had time to complete his speech and while the stock markets were still open. Scandal. Dalton resigned.

Whether sadly or not, those days are almost certainly long gone. Pre-budget leaking is now a long established political pastime, almost an obligatory ritual. This year though the numbers of leaks was unprecedented. But the reason for that is fairly obvious: the scramble for credit within the coalition government, as Liberal Democrats and Tories both try to show their supporters they are fighting their corners. The Liberal Democrats want to prove that they are not Tories and the Tories want to prove that they are not Liberal Democrats. Also, when it comes to anything that might potentially impact upon the wealthy, the Tories find leaking a useful way of discovering what their backers think – not least those individuals who donate so generously to the Conservative Party.

Distorted

George Osborne’s budget was essentially one for the wealthy – hardly astonishing, given that over 20 cabinet members are millionaires. The basic assumption was that those at the top of society are the wealth-creators and hence need to be incentivised – lots of carrots – to encourage them to create yet more ‘wealth’ (ie, make larger profits and grow even richer). Given this grotesque premise, tax cuts – personal and corporate – are a vital necessity if we are to unleash a wave of entrepreneurship that will in turn create jobs for those languishing at the bottom.

Meanwhile, the working class and the poor find themselves at the wrong end of below-inflation increases to the minimum wage, less generous tax credits, regional differentials in public sector pay, and so on. In other words, the budget saw the unwelcome return – or revenge – of trickle-down economics. Not that it had ever gone away, of course.

The budget flagship, at least for the Tories, was the reduction in the top-rate of tax from 50p to 45p – so party time for Britain’s richest 300,000 households. Indeed, it would have been further reduced to 40p if Osborne had got his way – he told the treasury select committee on March 27 that he had not assigned a “special status” to the 45p rate, which would be kept under “review”. But the idea was blocked by David Cameron and Nick Clegg, the latter saying he would only accept a 40p rate if a ‘mansion tax’ on properties worth more than £2 million was introduced – something rejected out of hand by the prime minister. Cameron likes to look after his buddies.

Osborne disingenuously argued that the 50p rate had “distorted” the economy by “encouraging” tax avoidance. Presumably the poor, downtrodden super-rich had no choice but to employ armies of extremely well remunerated accountants and financial advisers to exploit every tax loophole (but it hurt them to do so). Osborne surely missed an opportunity to develop this logic to its fullest extent and declare that from now onwards the rich would not have to pay any income tax at all. That way, no more ‘distortions’ would be introduced into the economy and the rich could finally enjoy guilt-free sleep.

Cutting the top rate of tax down to 45p, Osborne argued, would only cost the exchequer £100 million – given that the current rate “raises at most a fraction of what we were told” and, in fact, “may raise nothing at all”. But a recent HMRC report he referenced indicated that the 50p tax rate raised £1 billion in its first year (2010-11) – far less than the £2.6 billion originally predicted, admittedly, but this was mainly due to people ‘forestalling’; that is, being paid early ahead of the introduction of the 50p rate in April 2010 in order to avoid paying it. But “nothing at all”?

Further defending top-rate reduction before the treasury select committee, Osborne posited that “dynamic modelling” suggested the 45p rate was likely to lead to a smaller loss of revenue than retaining the current rate. His calculation is based on the economic model known as the Laffer Curve, which hypothesises that under a 0% rate no tax is paid and at 100% no tax is paid either because no-one will bother working: therefore the trick is to locate a midway point that will optimise income.

According to basic arithmetic, the cost of cutting the top rate will be £3 billion in the first year, rising to £4 billion by 2016-17. But Osborne would have us believe that the net cost would fall to just £100 million or so thanks to the extra revenue from wealthier people working harder and harder – by the sweat of their brow – and gratefully bringing ‘home’ their monies stashed away offshore now that we have a “competitive top rate of tax”. Voodoo economics, UK-style. Straining credibility even further, Osborne asserted that, taking into account such calculations, the rich (people like himself, for instance) would end up paying five times more tax as a result of all the measures taken in the budget. Naturally, the chancellor said that his budget was “unashamedly” pro-business and would help the country “earn its way in the world”.

Another major plank of the budget was the imposition of a 7% stamp duty on properties worth more than £2 million – with immediate effect. Currently the tax is levied at 5% for all properties over £1million. Additionally, the duty on residential properties over £2 million which were purchased via an offshore company would increase from a paltry 0.5% to 15% – leading some to describe it, approvingly or not, as a “workable” mansion tax. Yet, obviously, this new rate would only affect a small number of properties, owned by the likes of Sir Mick Jagger and Ringo Starr – or Russian oligarchs.

For example, the latest statistics from the Land Registry showed that in November 2011 there were 121 homes sold for more than £2 million in England and Wales – accounting for just 0.2% of the 57,967 homes sold that month. Under the current system, if all those people paid stamp duty – a highly unlikely eventuality – it would raise £142.2 million. At 7% it would raise to £198.8 million, an additional £56.8 million. Not exactly staggering amounts of money. In reality, it is extremely doubtful whether the treasury will be able to collect the extra stamp duty from the Russian oligarchs, oil sheikhs, bankers, private consultants, rock stars Hollywood actors, footballers, etc – famous for their creativity when it comes to avoiding tax.

And, of course, what the chancellor takes from the rich with one hand he gives back with another. Hence on page 63 of the red book he sneaked in an inheritance tax exemption for non-domiciled individuals. Presently, a taxpayer domiciled in the UK can transfer their entire £325,000 inheritance tax allowance to their spouse if they are also based in Britain. This figure is reduced to £55,000 if a UK taxpayer makes a transfer to a spouse who is not domiciled in the UK. Osborne said he would increase this, though has so far declined to set a figure.

‘Granny tax’

Just about the biggest budget fuss has been over the so-called ‘granny tax’. Citing the need to “simplify” pensions, Osborne intends to freeze age-related allowances (ie, the amount of income that is tax-free) for half of Britain’s pensioners by the end of the parliament. The treasury says this will bring an extra 230,000 into the income tax system, saving the government £1 billion by 2015.

Currently, the allowance is £8,105 for those under 65 (changing to £9,205 in the 2013-14 financial year), £10,500 for those aged 65 to 74, and £10,660 for those aged 75 and over. However, this ‘extra’ allowance is gradually withdrawn from those pensioners with a taxable income of between £24,000 and £29,000 – about 10% of all pensioners – and anyone with an income of more than £100,000 has all their personal allowance gradually withdrawn regardless of age.

Practically meaning that from now on anyone turning 65 after April 5 2013 will get the same personal allowance as the under-65s, but someone who turns 65 just before the same date will still get the £10,500 personal allowance. As for people on the basic state pension and pension credit (some 50% of all pensioners), they do not earn enough to pay income tax, so will be unaffected by the changes. They constitute about 50% of pensioners. Therefore that leaves a middle stratum of pensioners whose income is likely to be made up of a combination of state and private pensions, as well as some money in savings accounts – the near mythological decent, hard-working, ‘responsible’ pensioners who have ‘done the right thing’ all their lives. Prudently saved a bit each month and loyally voted Tory each election – possibly. This large grouping might well feel the tax goalposts have suddenly been moved, leaving them with less than they might have expected. The treasury’s own statistics show that, taking inflation into account, Osborne’s measures will leave 4.41 million people worse off by an average of £83 a year come 2013-14.

Under the budget we can see that we are not “all in this together” – always a cynical lie. While the top 10% of earners and the super-rich with their Mayfair pads will certainly gain, the poorest will lose the most. A living insult to the unemployed, disabled, poor pensioners and the 200,000 part-time workers, who are having their tax credits snatched away this April. That is when the qualification threshold is raised from 16 hours to 24 hours – at a time when the bosses are slashing employees’ hours due to the economic environment. Resulting in a grim situation where low-income families with parents in part-time work, more often than not because they could not find full-time employment, could lose nearly £4,000 per year. How are they in the same boat as Elton John or, for that matter, everyone sat round the cabinet table?

The entire budget is a monument to the government’s blatant failure to deliver its central promise. The coalition commitment to getting rid of the deficit within its first term was premised on a 2%-3% growth rate, but that now looks like a fantasy figure. The recession in the US and Europe, combined with the government’s own suicidal austerity programme, has seen government spending increase, as it forks out ever more money in the form of unemployment benefit, housing benefit, etc (even after the cuts in these areas).

Bluntly, it is almost a statistical fluke that the UK is not technically in recession. Outside of Osborne’s fiscal Alice in Wonderland, the prospects for the economy are bleak – something confirmed by figures published by the Office for National Statistics on March 28. The economy contracted by 0.3% between October and December last year, more than the 0.2% drop previously estimated by the ONS and other economists. That left growth for the year as a whole at just 0.7% – down on the 0.8% originally pencilled in. Furthermore, the ONS said real household disposable incomes in 2011 as a whole fell 1.2%, the biggest drop since 1977.

Not exactly a sign of roaring success, George.

eddie.ford@weeklyworker.org.uk

Fresh attacks as unions retreat

The capitulation of many trade union leaderships, the further attacks on workers living standards that will result, and the rotten failure of lefts bureaucratic horse-trading demand we rebuild the rank and file, says Chris Strafford.

As chancellor George Osborne was unveiling his March 21 budget combining tax cuts for the rich with further austerity attacks on the majority, he did so in the knowledge that the unions leading the fight to defend public sector pensions have effectively shelved plans for another day of action.

The executive of the Public and Commercial Services Union, meeting on March 19, voted by a large majority not to strike on March 28, despite the 90.5% rejection of the government’s derisory pensions ‘offer’ and 72.4% vote for further action. While the 33% turnout was actually reasonable compared to similar ballots, several EC members, including comrades from the Socialist Party in England and Wales, argued that, in view of the earlier decisions by the National Union of Teachers and University and College Union to limit March 28 protest walkouts to London, it would be better not to test the loyalty of the large section of non-militant PCS members and to work instead for a national strike in April, when there is still a chance that Unite, together with the NUT, UCU and some smaller unions, will come on board. The membership of the NUT and UCU have both recently voted for further national action by convincing majorities.

The unified opposition to the pension reforms witnessed in the November 30 mass strike collapsed in disarray over the winter, with the Unison, GMB and TUC leaderships doing the capitalists’ work by caving in before the government’s proposed ‘heads of agreement’. In effect they have accepted the ‘principle’ that public sector workers must work longer and pay more in exchange for a reduced pension. That left the unions split between the capitulationists (Dave Prentis of Unison, Paul Kenny of the GMB, the TUC’s Brendan Barber et al) and the rejectionist unions (PCS, UCU, NUT). Speaking to 150 activists in Manchester at a Unite the Resistance rally on February 29, PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka correctly characterised the surrender of Prentis, Kenny, etc as a “mistake of historic proportions”.

March 28 could have been an opportunity to instil confidence into other workers, persuading them to take action and pile pressure on the bureaucracies of Unite, Unison, GMB, etc to act. But there was also the danger that a damp squib could have led to further demoralisation and we would be left to fight hospital by hospital, school by school and region by region. Unless we do better than this our movement could take a beating my generation has never seen.

Clearly Serwotka was right – a divided trade union movement in retreat has opened the door to even harsher attacks. And now its seems that the government is preparing the destruction of national agreements, whereby the same pay rates, pensions and working conditions apply to every public sector worker across the country. Millions would be pitted against each other and the weakest and most poorly organised would be worst hit. This is intended to be part of the process of ‘rebalancing’ the economy. In other words, driving down of conditions and pay of the public sector to the level (or below) those suffered by many, often unorganised private sector workers.

Apparently the first workers to be hit by this ‘regional’ attack would be the 100,000 staff employed by the department for work and pensions, over 20,000 in the home office and 16,000 in the department of transport. For public sector workers this is yet another downward pressure on real wages. If you add to the increase in pension contributions and the threat of regional pay relatively high inflation, pay freezes and the increase in VAT, then living conditions are clearly going to take a nose-dive if the coalition gets its way. In this context trade union sectionalism will allow the capitalists to further play workers off against each other. Not simply on the basis of grade or longevity of service, as with the pensions dispute, but north v south, city v countryside and Scotland/Wales/Northern Ireland v England.

As a member of Unison at Manchester Royal Infirmary commented to me, regional pay within healthcare will result in a further deterioration within understaffed, overworked and mismanaged hospitals. As union organisation is undermined yet again, the best healthcare workers will migrate to more highly paid areas and the Tories will have got what they wanted: good healthcare for rich areas only, with working class areas reduced to basic services. The impact on patients caused by the driving down of wages has a precedent. The privatisation and outsourcing of elderly care, resulting in the stagnation of wages has had a marked, negative effect on the provision of care and support for the elderly.

Trade union sectionalism already aids the divide-and-rule strategies of the capitalists. During the miners’ Great Strike of 1984-85, it was clear that this was not simply a battle over conditions or the mines, but an attempt to break working class resistance. A resistance that coloured the political landscape in the post-war period of working class self-awareness and militancy. Yet the miners were defeated because they and their union were left to stand alone, as the spineless TUC leadership limited its ‘solidarity’ to tokenistic gestures, while other unions were bought off by Margaret Thatcher. This betrayal has been played out many times since.

It is therefore incumbent on us as a revolutionary left to consider alternative strategies within the unions. The broad left strategy first sponsored by the Stalinists, was later eagerly taken up by the likes of SPEW and the Socialist Workers Party. But this never-ending fight for union positions conducted by the few is nothing but a sick game of musical chairs between leftwing and rightwing bureaucrats for the top posts.

Where the trade union bureaucracy acts as an obstacle to action and resistance we must seek to go around it, as well as continuing to work through official structures in order to transform the unions. In my view the Occupy and Indignados movement has begun to help the revolutionary left relearn tactics we had long forgotten and the recent pickets against workfare managed to push back the employers and the government on key aspects, where they lost the argument nationally. These protests resulted from the organised left working with activists from campaigns such as UK Uncut. Occupations of public spaces, workplaces and symbols of capitalist dictatorship opened up a space for discussion in which thousands could consider the possibility of an alternative to capitalism. Their crisis and our resistance has taken a heavy toll on capitalist realism.

Within the trade unions and our workplaces we must begin to fight for policies that unite workers regardless of grade or union affiliation. We need to combat sectionalism by reviving the demand for industrial unions: one industry, one union. We have to stop playing the bureaucrats’ games – horse-trading for this or that position and giving left cover to the like of Unite’s Len McCluskey. The revolutionary left, though weak and disparate, could make a real start in beginning to organise the rank and file. The SWP’s Unite the Resistance and the Socialist Party’s National Shop Stewards Network are fake rank-and-file initiatives, whose real aim is to act as a front for and recruit to ‘the party’. We need to build real spaces and networks within which workers are able to organise campaigns and solidarity, bypassing the bureaucratic structures whenever necessary.

Iran: all options remain on the table

Rhetoric about Iran is all too reminiscent of the prelude to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, warns Ben Lewis (first published in the Weekly Worker)

On Monday February 20 parliament debated the prospect of military intervention against Iran. This against a background of increasingly bellicose rhetoric from the United States and Israel, as well as the recent report of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The debate was initiated by Conservative MP John Baron, perhaps the only Tory MP who opposes an attack on Iran. His motion was simple and straightforward: “This house believes that the use of force against Iran would be wholly counterproductive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons; and calls upon the government to rule out the use of force against Iran and reduce tensions by redoubling diplomatic efforts.” Malcolm Rifkind, Tory chairman of the intelligence and security committee, moved an amendment that completely changed its content. The amendment deleted everything except “This house” and replaced the rest of Baron’s motion with: “… supports the government’s efforts to reach a peaceful, negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue through a combination of pressure in the form of robust sanctions, and engagement led by the E3+3 comprising the UK, US, France, Germany, China and Russia; and recognises the value of making clear to Iran that all options for addressing the issue remain on the table”.

It was perhaps no surprise that a cross-party consensus quickly formed around the Rifkind amendment, which was passed by an overwhelming majority of 285 to 6. Those who voted against the amendment were Labour MPs John McDonnell, Paul Flynn and Dennis Skinner; Jonathan Edwards of Plaid Cymru; Mark Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour Party; and Baron himself.

That meant, of course, that an overwhelming majority of Labour MPs lined up for war. Michael McCann deserves particular mention: “diplomacy and sanctions should not be our only options – nothing should be ruled out”. Diane Abbott, who has often spoken out against war and occupation, voted for the Rifkind amendment: ie, in favour of “robust sanctions” and against clearly spelling out that military intervention was off the cards. But then Abbott is now one of Ed Miliband’s shadow ministers.

It would appear that we are now closer to some sort of strike against Iran than we have been for quite some time. Reinforcing the sense of urgency, Baron reminded us that, given “tough new sanctions, state-sponsored terrorism and naval forces in the Gulf”, this “may be the only opportunity” to debate Iran before an Israeli air-strike, perhaps even a “regional war”.

Baron’s speech in support of his motion criticised “yesterday’s failed policies” of “sanctions and sabre-rattling”. Contrary to the stated aims of those supporting them, he said, sanctions and threats of military action only had the effect of strengthening the regime, particularly the “hard-liners”. He also did a good job of pointing out the shortcoming of the IAEA’s report on Iran, highlighting that there is not a shred of “concrete evidence” of an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Given the utter disaster that ensued following the questionable evidence concerning Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” in 2003, we should be very wary of another disastrous war, said Baron. His request to foreign secretary William Hague to say where the evidence of Iranian nuclear weaponry could be found in the IAEA report fell on deaf ears.

That said, his case was significantly weakened by the fact that he questioned whether Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had actually called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” – apparently, the complexities of Farsi might mean that he was simply calling for “regime change”. The problem with this kind of apologia for the theocracy’s impotent rhetoric is that it buys into the ‘logic’ of the warmongers in Israel, the US and the UK: if the mullahs do want Israel “wiped off the map”, they must be prepared to launch a nuclear strike on that country, which means they must be developing the ability to do so, which means other Middle East powers will rush to develop nuclear arms themselves, which means there will be a “second cold war”.

Anti-war case

As Hands Off the People of Iran supporter John McDonnell was able to point out, the notion that the current sabre-rattling results from Israeli fears of a nuclear holocaust is frankly absurd. While it is “open to doubt” that Iran is close to having nuclear weapons, the issue “is really about nuclear capability – which is a threat only if one believes that nuclear weapons will be used”. And no-one does really believe that. If we are anxious about nuclear proliferation, he said, we have to “start with the root cause”, which is “Israel illegally gaining nuclear weapons”. The way forward had been spelt out by former British ambassador to Iran, Richard Dalton, said McDonnell, when he called for a “nuclear-free zone across the Middle East”. But that would mean facing up “the issue of Israel holding nuclear weapons”.

Comrade McDonnell pointed out that he is no friend of the regime: he has consistently tabled motions supporting campaigns like those of the Tehran bus workers and against the persecution of film director Jafar Panahi. But sanctions and the threat of military action “are strengthening the hard-liners in Iran and hurting the Iranian people, who are desperate to throw off the yoke of that theocracy”.

Sanctions represent “a siege of Iran”, which means we are “already at war by proxy”. As a result, Iran’s currency is collapsing, imports of grain are drying up and “people are becoming impoverished”. This is hardly “undermining the regime”. On the contrary, it is “hardening support for it by giving it the excuse that an external enemy is causing the impoverishment and hunger”.

Finally he referred to Israel’s “own domestic political agenda”: the “crisis atmosphere suits Netanyahu and the hawks who surround him”. Which was why there have been “covert military actions” carried out by organisations and individuals trained by Mossad. These acts “have prompted more terrorism around the world through Iran-sponsored attacks”, while the Israeli-sponsored “cyber-war” has “provoked even more retaliation”.

However, the eight-hour debate was dominated by the ratcheting up of threats. Labour MP Michael Mann was keen to draw on the example of Nazism and portray Ahmadinejad as the new Adolph Hitler. Apparently a recent conversation with one of his constituents who was present as the Nazis marched into Vienna had reminded him of Edmund Burke’s vacuous remark: “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” Absolutely sickening stuff.

With those on the ‘opposition’ benches going to such hawkish lengths, Rifkind’s case for leaving “all options open” sounded highly restrained by contrast. He made the rather odd point that if Baron’s motion were adopted then this would, paradoxically, increase the likelihood of military intervention against Iran. Why? Well, the Israelis would feel deserted by their allies and thus compelled to act unilaterally. At this point, John McDonnell intervened with a timely and well-aimed question: what sanctions would be imposed on Israel, were this to happen?

None, of course. In fact an Israeli strike might not be such a bad thing: “The Israelis acted unilaterally against Iraq when they removed the Osirak reactor, and both the western world and the Arab world breathed a huge sign of relief. It would ultimately depend on how successful the Israelis could be, and that is a separate question.”

That said, for the most part both Rifkind and foreign secretary William Hague were particularly keen on stressing two things: that the US was the “key country” in thinking about these questions (ie, the US will ultimately decide, and Britain will follow its lead) and that they would, of course, prefer a “peaceful” solution based on sanctions and “dialogue”: ie, negotiations with a pistol pointed at the head of those on the Iranian side of the table. After all, diplomacy requires “carrots and sticks”.

Rifkind stated that if it did come down to US-sanctioned military action, the “adverse consequences” would only be “relatively temporary”, with “short to medium-term” effects for a “few days, weeks or possibly even months”. The alternative, however, was the “permanent” prospect of an Iranian state with nuclear weapons. The circumstances under which such ‘pre-emptive’ military action might take place were, of course, a “military question” that should not be discussed in parliament.

According to Hague, “Our quarrel emphatically is not with the Iranian people” – although it is fine to wreck their lives through sanctions, it seems. No, “we want them to enjoy the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as we do and to live dignified lives in a prosperous society”. But “the Iranian government’s current policies endanger the interests of the Iranian people themselves, as well as undermining global security”.

This government celebrated the Arab spring a year ago by sending a delegation of British arms dealers around the Middle East – led by the prime minister – so they could ply their wares to a series of dictators. David Cameron showed himself more than willing to continue selling rubber bullets, tear gas and heavy arms to Kuwait, Bahrain and Yemen immediately after his visit to Egypt in February 2011. Weapons to be used against those fighting for some sort of “dignified” existence in the face of “appalling” abuses of their human rights.

Behind all the delusional, self-righteous crap, though, lies an undeniable drive to war. Labour rebel Paul Flynn made the obvious point that the debate and the rhetoric deployed by the politicians has a distinct feeling of 2003 about it. This should be of enormous concern to all of us committed to any notion of democracy and progress in the Middle East and beyond. Almost 10 years on, and after the trail of death and destruction in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, our rulers are now contemplating a repeat.

We must do our utmost to oppose any such intervention. What is more, we must highlight the real motives behind the rhetoric: the US, through its main regional ally, Israel, is attempting to regain full control over a region that is going through extremely rapid change. We need the biggest, most militant and most daring show of opposition to their project. At all times we must expose the duplicitous lies of ‘our’ leaders and strengthen the force that can stop wars and a further descent into barbarity: the international working class movement.

ben.lewis@weeklyworker.org.uk