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.

Public meeting: no war on Iran

The Iranian people – devastated by sanctions and subjugated by their own regime – have much to fear. Israel is rattling its sabres. The American public are clearly being prepared by the Obama administration for an attack on Iran. UK parliamentarians are unsurprisingly supine in their acquiescence towards imperialist intervention. For our part, as communists, we are stepping up our efforts to convince people of the necessity of opposing both any future attack, and the sanctions that are currently devastating the people of Iran. It is these people in Iran who, being overwhelmingly at odds with their regime, must be the ones to settle scores with the likes of Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Progress will come as a result of revolt from below, not imperialist intervention from above. US, or Israeli, attacks would be a disaster.

In response to the growing threat of war against Iran activists from the Milton Keynes Stop the War group and the Hands Off the People of Iran campaign have got together to organise a joint public meeting setting out the case for opposing the war threats and sanctions on Iran. The meeting will take place on Monday 28th May at 7.30pm in Fishermead Trinity Centre, on Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes, MK6 2LA. The speaker will be Moshé Machover who is on the steering committee of Hands Off the People of Iran and a founder of the Israeli socialist group Matzpen. Please put the details in your diary and let others know about it too. It is hugely important that we build the biggest possible voice to counter the war threats and stand in solidarity with the people of Iran.

On the weekend of April 21-22 there is also a weekend school that Hands Off the People of Iran are hosting at the University of London Union on Malet Street in central London. This is an excellent opportunity to examine in more depth the issues behind the war threats. There will be a number of speakers over the weekend including Iranian socialists, John McDonnell MP, Moshé Machover, and NUJ President Donnache De Long. Full details are on the HOPI website.

War threats intensify

It is clear that the Obama administration is preparing US public opinion for war, writes Yassamine Mather (first published in the Weekly Worker)

Image

Israel: ready to attack

 

On Saturday April 14 Iran will attend talks with six world powers. The US has indicated this is Iran’s “last chance” to avoid military intervention and the Obama administration is taking very specific demands to the talks as preconditions for further negotiations: for example, Iran “must immediately close” a large nuclear facility allegedly built underneath a mountain if it wants to avoid a devastating strike.

Other “near term” concessions to avoid a potential military conflict include the suspension of high-level uranium enrichment and the surrender by Tehran of existing stockpiles of the fuel, according to senior US officials. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton made the usual noises about time “running out for diplomacy”, while expressing “doubts” about whether Iran has any real intention of negotiating a solution. In other words, preparing US public opinion for an attack that is possibly already scheduled.

The preconditions put Iran’s Islamic government in an impossible situation and, although Tehran might use the talks to buy more time, accepting such conditions would represent such a terrible humiliation that it would be tantamount to political suicide for a dictatorship whose unpopularity continues to rise. But, there again, the US is hardly aiming to make life easy of the theocracy. In Tehran, some senior clerics are hoping that the 12th Shia Imam will make his reappearance even sooner than they are apt to predict.

As for Washington, in an election year the Obama administration has decided it cannot afford to look “weak” on Iran, as the Republican right ups the pressure for military action. To add to the pressure, the US navy has announced the deployment of a second aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise, to the Persian Gulf region, where it will join the USS Abraham Lincoln. This will increase its ability to launch a massive air war on Iran at short notice.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Centre for Research on Globalization quoted political analyst Ralph Schoenman to the effect that Nato and the US are arming Israel with missile capacity in relation to a “projected and planned attack upon Iran”, According to Schoenman, Italy’s sale of 30 M-346 training jets to Israel is part of these preparations. And the Israeli military has gained access to airbases in Azerbaijan, according to Mark Perry of the journal Foreign Policy:

“Obama administration officials now believe that the ‘submerged’ aspect of the Israeli-Azerbaijani alliance – the security cooperation between the two countries – is heightening the risks of an Israeli strike on Iran … senior diplomats and military intelligence officers say that the United States has concluded that Israel has recently been granted access to airbases on Iran’s northern border.” One “senior administration official” is quoted as saying: “The Israelis have bought an airfield … and the airfield is called Azerbaijan.” [1]

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz is even more terrifying: “The roulette wheel continues to spin and the ball falls into a different numbered slot every time. Following defence minister Ehud Barak’s estimate that around 500 Israelis will be killed in the event of a counterattack by Iran, Israel air force performance analysts have recently published a study calculating that around 300 Israelis will die if Israel launches a war against Iran.” The paper criticises the Israeli government for its “obsession” with an Iranian “hypothetical nuclear bomb”, allegedly “forgetting the threat” of Iranian and Syrian chemical weapons. It calls on Netanyahu to protect Israeli citizens against an Iranian assault: “So, dear Bibi, ahead of the hot summer, we’ve got a tiny request. Give us gas masks.” [2]

For most Iranians the war has already started. After months of denials the ministry of oil admits that Iran’s export of crude oil has dropped sharply even before the EU embargo from July has officially started. Insurers are showing growing reluctance to cover tankers carrying Iranian oil and refiners are said to be “increasingly wary” of crude from the country because of the threat posed by sanctions. China, India, Japan and South Korea are the four biggest buyers of Iranian crude in Asia, and all of them have cut imports.

However, Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remains in denial, claiming this week that the country has enough capital reserves to go “two to three years” without selling oil. It is difficult to believe such claims, when the government’s efforts to improve the plight of the currency so clearly failed – the Iranian toman dropped to half of its value against the dollar in January 2012.

Iran’s car manufacturing industry is also facing a serious crisis after Peugeot Citroen, fearing the enforcement of US-led financial sanctions, stopped its trade in February. Iran was Peugeot Citroen’s second-biggest market in 2011 in terms of trade volume. However it came under increasing pressure after a US lobby group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), called on the US Congress to investigate the French car company’s transactions with the Islamic Republic.

In addition, top financial institutions such as Société Générale and the Rabobank Group have stepped back from business with Iran in recent months, fearful of political risk and logistical difficulties covering every aspect of financial transactions (including areas not directly affected by sanctions). Smaller banks that are willing to continue business with Iran demand much higher fees. According to the Wall Street Journal, “firms and other intermediaries still brokering these trades are charging more than 6% per transaction for legitimate trade deals with Iran, on top of traditional banking fees … Other institutions involved in financing legitimate trade with Iran declined to speak on the record, saying they feared publicity could lead the US treasury to increase its scrutiny of their US-dollar operations.” [3]

The response from Iran’s pragmatist capitalist ayatollahs is clear: let us resolve our differences with the US. This week former Iranian president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani criticised the country’s current foreign policy – in particular the absence of formal diplomatic ties between Iran and the United States. In an interview with the Iranian International Studies quarterly journal, Rafsanjani stressed the importance of direct talks with the US.

Rafsanjani said that in a letter to ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he had urged the former supreme leader of the Islamic Republic to “resolve” seven outstanding issues while he was still alive, one of them being the poor state of US-Iranian relations: “I wrote that our current approach, which is to not talk or have any ties, cannot continue. The US is the world’s leading power. What is the difference, in our view, between Europe and the US, or between China and the US, or between Russia and the US? If we negotiate with them why can’t we negotiate with the US? Holding talks doesn’t mean we’re surrendering.” [4]

Iranian allies?

The Iranian regime, the Shia occupation government in Baghdad and Iran’s allies in the Lebanese Hezbollah are all following events in Syria with great concern. The fall of the Assad regime would be a serious blow to the Shia camp and Tehran feels more and more isolated in a Sunni-dominated Middle East. For the last three decades much of the Arab media has blamed Iran for meddling in internal Arab affairs – not only in Iraq, but also in Lebanon and Bahrain.

In Palestine Hamas has distanced itself from both Iran and Syria. Strengthening its relations with Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, it has denounced the Syrian regime’s crackdown on its opponents and stated that it would stay ‘neutral’ if Israel attacked Iran. As a result of this shift Hamas is now getting a highly negative press in Iran, which hopes that at least it will be able to rely on Hezbollah. However, even there the relationship is not what it used to be.

In June 2011, Lebanon’s new prime minister, Najib Mikati, formed a government in coalition with Hezbollah. While Israeli and US officials are keen to exaggerate the role of Hezbollah, the reality is that financial, political and therefore military power remains firmly in the hands of Christian and Sunni parties. Iranian finance might have helped Hezbollah set up a social-service network in the Bekaa valley, allowing it to recruit fighters and acquire an arsenal of rockets, but there is no comparison between this and the multimillion-dollar investments by Saudi Arabia and Gulf Cooperation Council countries in Lebanon.

Hezbollah was set up in 1983, under the Iranian ‘reformist’ premiership of Mir-Hossein Moussavi (currently under house arrest) and some Hezbollah leaders have longstanding relations with Iranian clerics and revolutionary guards currently out of favour in Iran because of their support for the ‘reformist’ movement. In fact, wary of the instability in Tehran since 2009 and a slashing of Iran’s annual budget for Hezbollah by 40% in early 2009, Hezbollah has been forced to impose austerity measures, reducing salaries and staff numbers and placing many construction projects on hold. In addition the party is being challenged at home by the indictment of several of its members for the murder of former Lebanese prime minister Rafiq Hariri.

All in all, Hezbollah is not as powerful as the US and its allies claim and, although in the event of a military attack on Iran it will do what it can to support a Shia ally, the organisation is not in a position to prove an effective deterrent to military attacks. This is why raising false hopes about the ability of Hamas or Hezbollah to stop an attack on Iran is so misplaced.

Genuine solidarity with the people of Iran has to come from anti-war forces beyond the Sunni-Shia divide in the Middle East. We in Britain and elsewhere need to raise awareness of the current situation in Iran and the region so as to build an effective anti-war campaign. Next weekend’s school organised by Hands Off the People of Iran in London will be an important part of such an effort.

Hopi’s opposition to war and sanctions, as well as to the Islamic Regime, is attracting new support in Britain and abroad. Iranian comrades in Canada joined the anti-war protests last month in Toronto, where Hopi posters were prominent, and this prompted discussions and debates with the Canadian anti-war alliance. When I debated James Clark of Toronto Coalition to Stop the War in a TV broadcast, he agreed with many of the points we have raised over the last few years. A further debate is planned and we hope to make similar interventions in Vancouver and Montreal. Hopi’s principled position is also supported by a number of Iranian leftist activists in Chicago and Washington. Over the next few weeks we intend to widen our activities in North America – opposing war, while building solidarity with Iranian workers, students, the women’s movement and Iran’s oppressed national and religious minorities. The April 21-22 London school will hopefully feature an online session to coordinate solidarity with activists in North America.

In France the collective around the journal Carré Rouge has played an important role in introducing Hopi to the French left. Translations of many Hopi articles in both the printed and online versions have helped us gain supporters in the French-speaking world. We hope this cooperation will lead to Hopi meetings in France and Belgium.

Marathon support

This Sunday, April 15, 40 runners representing Workers Fund Iran will take part in the Vienna marathon to raise money for the charity.

Workers Fund Iran was set up in December 2005. It aims to reduce and relieve poverty amongst Iranian workers (employed and unemployed), who are victims both of the economic policies of the Iranian government and the sanctions imposed by imperialism. It aims to put at the centre of its activities the need to rebuild international solidarity – directly, with the workers of Iran. WFI is involved in many fundraising activities to support its work, ranging from social gatherings to solidarity cricket. Yet another WFI tradition is perhaps the ultimate test: marathon running. Last September WFI participation in the Berlin marathon raised well over €500.

Over the last few years Workers Fund Iran has sent funds to a number of working class families, including contributing to the medical expenses of a well known trade unionist, and helping with the housing costs of a number of working class families particular badly hit by the poverty that is affecting large numbers. Of course, WFI has very limited resources. However, every penny collected in the UK is sent to Iran – the charity’s administration and management is run on an entirely voluntary basis.

As the war threats intensify, it is more important than ever to extend our solidarity. Please be generous in your sponsorship of our runners. Go to https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/workers-fund-iran-11724/donate, where your contributions will be gratefully received.

Notes

1. www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/03/28/israel_s_secret_staging_ground.

2. Ha’aretz April 8: www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/a-tiny-request-on-the-eve-of-an-iran-war-1.423197.

3. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303299604577323601794862004.html.

4. http://en.irangreenvoice.com/article/2012/apr/04/3586.


Galloway shows what can be done

How can the left make the most of the Bradford West result? Peter Manson joins the debate (first published in the Weekly Worker)

ImageGeorge Galloway’s tremendous win for Respect in Bradford West has given the left a real boost. Standing on an anti-cuts, anti-war, anti-establishment platform, he swept to victory with a huge 55.9% share of the vote.

It is fair to say that this result took everyone by surprise – apart from the Respect campaigners on the ground, who began to realise within the last week or so that they had an excellent chance of winning. I have to admit that I was among those who thought Galloway would do well to save his deposit – especially after his failure to get elected to the Scottish parliament last year, where the Coalition Against Cuts list he headed in Glasgow picked up only 3.3%.

But at least I was not caught out quite so spectacularly as Paul Routledge in the Daily Mirror. The early edition the day after the election carried a short piece on his political chat page headed “Imran races to victory”. This began: “By the time you read this, Imran Hussain will have been declared Labour MP for Bradford West … I would put my best shirt on a win for Ed Miliband’s candidate in the by-election. Local boy Imran will make a good MP. And I would put my second best shirt on the Tories coming third behind either Ukip or Respect, with the Lib Dems nowhere … These are real votes cast by real people, who have considered Osborne’s budget and the scandal of cash for access to number 10. Their verdict counts” (March 30).

It seems those “real people” also considered the main alternative – the party that had held the ‘safe’ Labour seat of Bradford West for four decades – and decided they did not like it much. But at least Routledge was right about the Tories coming third – although it has to be pointed out that the UK Independence Party (3.3%) did not do quite so well as Respect. As for the hapless “local boy”, Imran Hussain, his main attribute was that he was indeed “Ed Miliband’s candidate” – a Labour yes-man through and through. The rebellion against all three main parties was one of the reasons why he lost, and why the Labour vote slumped to 24.99%, compared to 45.26% at the 2010 general election.

However, there was a rebellion against something else too: the local patriarchal networks dominated by Muslim ‘community leaders’ and businessmen, who had previously delivered the British Asian vote to Labour. Indeed one of the biggest cheers at Respect’s 1,000-strong pre-election rally on March 25 was for Galloway’s call to break with what he called “village politics”: we must “shatter this mafioso grip”, he urged. Hussain, the deputy leader of Bradford council, epitomises such “village politics”. Indeed he inherited his seat in Toller ward from his father!

Labour’s video of its local pre-election rally features lots of speeches in Urdu – something that does not go down too well with the Asian youth, whose first language is English and who consider themselves British first and foremost. And it was the youth that fired the Respect campaign, which saw a high proportion of first-time voters inspired to go to the polls (including many who were not so young).

The pro-Galloway bandwagon developed spontaneously, with many parts of this overwhelmingly working class and often drab constituency coming alive thanks to the dozens of self-made banners, proclaiming, “Vote Galloway” or “Vote Respect”. A large part of the Labour Party local machine, including the election agent, switched to Respect. When Radio Four went to Manningham Labour Club the day after the election, it could only find one person who had voted Labour!

Although the constituency is only around 40% British Asian, the mass switch by Muslims from Labour to Respect and the spontaneous mobilisation of young Asians was undoubtedly a key factor. But Respect won the most votes in all six of the constituency’s wards – including the mostly white working class Clayton and Fairweather Green and the semi-rural Thornton and Allerton, where the Tories usually see off Labour in a two-horse race.

It is all the more remarkable that the local population rejected the patriarchal networks so firmly when you consider that it was those very patriarchal networks that first enabled Respect to get off the ground in the London borough of Tower Hamlets. It was largely due to them that comrade Galloway was elected in Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2005 general election and Respect became the official opposition to Labour with 12 councillors in 2006.

Freak result?

However, Respect had not suddenly appeared from nowhere in Bradford, which was one of the very few cities where the party still had a functioning branch – in fact much of its activity (such as it was before the by-election) had been in this constituency. In 2010 its two council candidates were both in Bradford West (they picked up only a couple of hundred votes each) and in that year’s general election Respect won a meagre 3%, just behind the British National Party candidate. The local branch had a few dozen, mainly Muslim members and had sometimes been able to put on large meetings.

However, ‘official optimism’ aside, in early March very few Respect comrades seriously thought Galloway would be able to pull it off. For example, when a public meeting was called to announce that he would be putting in his nomination, many thought the attendance would be 10-15. But over 50 turned up, even before the campaign had begun. Once it got going though, it really struck a chord in a city where unemployment has suddenly doubled and there was a mood of real anger.

Much of the media has put it all down to peculiar local circumstances combined with Galloway’s underhand campaigning methods – there was a large Muslim population, Galloway played up his own religious convictions (he is a Catholic) and stressed his opposition to the occupation of ‘Muslim countries’. While all that is true, it cannot explain the absolute majority won in a seat where only a minority is Muslim. In any case, it was Imran Hussain who appealed to British Asian voters on the basis that he was the only Muslim contesting; and it was this that Galloway disputed, when he claimed that as a god-fearing teetotaller he was more entitled to the votes of believers than his opponent.

At the March 25 pre-election rally Galloway made frequent religious references and asked the mainly Muslim audience how any believer thinking of backing Hussain would be able to “explain on the last day” why they voted for those who “invade other people’s countries” and slaughter thousands. But it would be foolish to put his victory all down to this factor – just as it is plain silly to allege that Galloway somehow “played the race card” by appealing to voters (both Asian and white) on the basis of solidarity with imperialism’s victims who happen to have dark skins.

On April 1, when Galloway addressed a crowd of over 2,000 at his victory rally in Infirmary Park, he stressed the two main themes of his campaign, which distinguished Respect from the Labour, Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties. First, there was Respect’s opposition to austerity and cuts: “All three parties believe that ordinary working people should pay the price of the crisis”, not the “bankers and financiers who caused it”. Secondly, all three believe that “Britain has the right – the duty perhaps – to occupy other countries”, whereas Respect opposes “British imperial repression”. All this tapped into the mood of working class resentment. He also picked up huge support from students (the university is located in the constituency) for his opposition to tuition fees.

Where next?

Many comrades, including myself, have assumed that Respect is not much longer for this world. Its leadership has been engaged in a lengthy debate about its future following Galloway’s dismal failure in Glasgow and the loss of most of its councillors. With the national council split between those who wanted to effectively wind up Respect as a political party in favour of the Respect Foundation ‘think tank’ and those who wanted to continue contesting elections ‘when the circumstances are right’, a compromise was arrived at whereby the Respect Foundation and Respect now exist side by side. Even though Galloway was in the latter camp, after Glasgow it seemed like just a matter of time before his NC opponents would win the day.

But Bradford has changed all that – at least in the short term. According to Clive Searle, Respect national secretary, the organisation had about 640 paid-up members before the by-election campaign. But in just two days following the election Respect received over 1,000 telephone enquiries and about the same number of emails. Almost 300 new people paid their membership subscriptions via the website out of a total of 700 who had downloaded the application form. While around 30% of these enquiries came from Bradford itself (where scores joined during the campaign), the rest are from all over Britain.

In other words, Respect has probably doubled in size virtually overnight. Its de facto leader is back in parliament, having dominated the news for several days, and it is quite likely it will win more council seats in May’s local elections – certainly in Bradford, where it will contest every ward. In Galloway’s words, “Respect is here to stay”.

However, that statement sits a little uneasily alongside another theme of the campaign: the “treason” committed by New Labour against the working class. At the pre-election rally Galloway said: “I am real Labour. I’m only not in Labour because Tony Blair expelled me.” In his victory speech following the count he condemned the cuts assault and warmongering of the three mainstream parties. However, while he did not give a toss about the Tories and Lib Dems, “I do care about the Labour Party.” He urged it to “turn away from the path of treason set by Tony Blair” and “be a Labour Party again”. It should “stop taking your supporters for granted”.

Comrade Galloway is a left Labourite and it is clear that Labour remains his natural home. You could easily envisage a situation where he was invited back into the fold – just as Ken Livingstone was quickly forgiven for standing as an independent for London mayor against the official Labour candidate in 2000. Blair had rigged the selection process against Livingstone, the obvious front-runner, who stood as an independent and was elected as mayor anyway. When it became clear that Livingstone would defeat Labour again if he stood once more as an independent in 2004, Blair swallowed his pride and readmitted him into the party.

So where does Galloway’s triumph leave the left? Socialist Worker agrees that “his win is a boost for the left in Britain. It underlines the potential for building grassroots opposition to Tory austerity” (‘How Respect won in Bradford West’, April 7). However, Alex Callinicos goes further in an article entitled ‘The key lessons of Bradford West’: “But the power of Galloway’s appeal is also a sign of the residual strength of Labourism. Labour and its counterparts have embraced neoliberalism. So it is quite inevitable that challenges from its left will often be most effective when couched in the political language of traditional social democracy.

“A radical and revolutionary left that plans to have a future has to start by acknowledging the achievement of Galloway and Respect. They have re-opened an electoral space to the left of Labour. We now have all to work together to ensure that this great second chance isn’t wasted.”

It is true that, in a sense, the win has “re-opened an electoral space to the left of Labour”. But if you think that left candidates contesting the May 3 local and Greater London Authority elections will automatically be able to ride on the back of Galloway’s success you are badly mistaken. While he has demonstrated that thousands can be won to vote for a leftwing platform, they will not just vote for anyone – even if their challenge is “couched in the political language of traditional social democracy”, as comrade Callinicos seems to be advising.

The Socialist Workers Party statement welcoming Galloway’s win ends in this way: “The Bradford West by-election should encourage all of us fighting David Cameron’s government of millionaires by strikes, protests and demonstrations – as well as those campaigning for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition at the May 3 elections” (www.swp.org.uk/statement/galloway-election-victory).

This wisely stops short of claiming that Tusc, with its smattering of SWP candidates, should be able to reap the benefit. The problem, as I am sure the SWP recognises, is the question of viability. People voted for Galloway in such large numbers because they believed he could win. Will they take the same view of Tusc? Of course not.

So how does the left become viable? By pretending to be Galloway-style old Labourites, as Callinicos implies? That has been tried and failed umpteen times. We need to end the crippling divisions that so debilitate our forces. However, neither the SWP, Socialist Party in England and Wales nor those leading any of the other left sects shows the slightest interest in seeking to overcome those divisions through organisational unity on a principled basis.

Unity for the sake of unity is not good enough. Usually it amounts to subordination to a section of the trade union bureaucracy or, failing that, to the politics of the trade union bureaucracy. Hence, we need to work out a clear Marxist programme to put before the working class, including in elections. It is only Marxism, not social democracy, that has answers – most of all at a time when the system of capital itself has been seen to fail by so many. We need to operate according to the principles of genuine democratic centralism, where competing tendencies are free to put forward their own ideas in public and openly fight to become the majority, while at the same time uniting their separate forces like a fist behind common actions.

In that way we can become a force to be reckoned with. We can become viable. In that way we might be able to “ensure that this great second chance isn’t wasted”.

peter.manson@weeklyworker.org.uk

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