Tag Archives: CPGB

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.


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)



Did primitive communism ever really exist?

Speaker: Lionel Sims (Radical Anthropology Group). This meeting was part of Communist University 2012, the annual school organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (cpgb.org.uk)

The Arab awakening and Israel-Palestine

CPGB members’ aggregate theses passed on June 25. A report of the aggregate can be read, here.

1. The mass movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, etc have been truly inspiring. Hosni Mubarak and Ben Ali have been forced from office due to the bravery and pressure exerted by the masses. People have been and remain prepared to die in order to see an end to the military, semi-military and monarchical dictatorships.

2. There are many factors behind the Arab awakening. Food and other commodity prices have shot up in the recent period. Living standards have been put under greater and greater pressure. Poverty has grown substantially. However, there is more to the Arab awakening than economics. All classes and strata have been swept up in the maelstrom. In other words, there is a movement towards a democratic revolution. That is to be unreservedly welcomed and encouraged. Whatever happens in the short to medium term, US imperialism and imperialism in general has suffered a huge setback. Israel too has been weakened.

3. Communists recognise that the democratic revolution has not really happened anywhere in the Arab world. Some presidents may have gone. But the old regimes remain largely intact. We support those who are fighting for a real, thoroughgoing revolution that clears away all the muck of oppression. Abolish the secret police, replace the professional army with a popular militia, close down the old ruling parties, begin land redistribution and the formation of co-ops, confiscate corrupt wealth, put privatised and nationalised industries under workers’ control.

4. Plans for quick elections and constitutional referendums are rightly opposed. They are not in the interest of the working class. We warn against imperialism diverting, or incorporating, the democratic movement in the Arab world. That is what has happened in Libya. There is also the danger that a declining US will re-impose control by reaching an historical compromise with Islamist forces, specifically the Muslim Brotherhood.

5. We recommend the Marx-Engels idea of making the revolution permanent. The working class is not in a position at the moment to take power in any Arab country. Hence communists want to see not stable government, but an ever widening democratic space available to the working class. Specifically that means demanding free speech, ending censorship, winning the right to publish, the right to form trade unions, co-ops, workers’ defence guards and political parties. Working class parties must not support any bourgeois or petty bourgeois government. They must constitute themselves as parties of extreme opposition. Only when the workers’ party commands a clear popular majority and can realistically hope to carry out its entire minimum programme can taking part in/forming a government be considered.

6. Besides particular struggles to overthrow this or that leader, this or that regime, there is abundant evidence of the continued existence of an unresolved Arab national question. The mass movement in Tunisia fed into Egypt and the mass movement in Egypt fed into Yemen, etc, etc.

7. There are nearly 300 million Arabs in a contiguous territory that stretches from the Atlantic Ocean, across north Africa, down the Nile to north Sudan, and all the way to the Persian Gulf and up to the Caspian Sea. Though studded with national minorities – Kurds, Assyrians, Turks, Armenians, Berbers, etc – there is a definite Arab or Arabised community. Despite being separated into over 20 different states and divided by religion and religious sect – Sunni, Shi’ite, Alaouite, Ismaili, Druze, Orthodox Christian, Catholic Christian, Maronite, Nestorian, etc – they share a strong bond of pan-Arab consciousness, born not only of a common language, but of a closely related history.

8. Arabs are binational. There are Moroccans, Yemenis, Egyptians, Jordanians, etc. But there is also a wider Arab identity, which has its origins going back to the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries. Admittedly the Arabs were politically united for only a short period of time historically: eg, under the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates.

9. It was the disintegration of the Ottoman empire, through the combined efforts of Russian tsarism and Anglo-French imperialism, that triggered the birth of modern Arab nationalism. Hence European capitalism helped both to disunite the old Arab nation and to create the conditions for a rebirth.

10. Hopes invested in the Young Turks quickly passed. So did illusions in platonic imperialism. Britain encouraged Arab nationalism against Ottoman Turkey in World War I, only to disappoint and betray. France and Britain greedily carved up the Middle East between themselves. Pleas for a single Arab state in the Mashreq fell on deaf ears. The creation of Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Transjordan and Iraq suited the needs of Britain and France, but was a crime as far as Arab nationalists were concerned. It ran completely counter to their aspirations.

11. Inevitably the two imperial robbers generated independence movements. The Balfour declaration (1917) and Zionist colonisation in Palestine fed Arab nationalism too. However, the Saudi and Hashemite royal houses agreed to serve as puppets and, together with their British and French masters, again and again stymied the forces of pan-Arabism.

12. After 1945 and the triumph of US superimperialism, the Arab countries successively gained formal independence. But the Arab world remained Balkanised along the neat lines on the map drawn by the old colonial powers.

13. Oil money brought huge riches for the elites in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait, etc. While that allows for a degree of clowning and posturing, the military, political and economic control exercised by the US cannot be hidden. Oil revenue is recycled through the purchase of US and British arms, invested in the money markets of London, New York, Frankfurt, Zurich and Tokyo, or fritted away on palaces, luxury jets, gambling and vanity projects.

14. Hence the situation in the Arab world is broadly analogous to Italy, Poland and Germany in 19th century Europe. The national question remains unresolved.

15. The most famous candidate for Arab unifier was Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-70). This uncrowned Bonapart led the Free Officers’ revolution in 1952, which overthrew the pro-British monarchy of Farouk I. Nasser then oversaw a radical agrarian reform programme, nationalised the Suez canal, allied Egypt with the Soviet Union and put his country on the course of state-capitalist development. This went hand in hand with crushing both the Muslim Brotherhood and the working class movement.

16. Nasser called it ‘Arab socialism’. Especially with his success in the 1956 crisis – an Israeli invasion followed by a pre-planned joint French and British intervention and then an unexpected American veto – Nasser’s popularity soared throughout the Arab world. Pro-Nasser Arab socialist parties, groups and conspiracies were sponsored or established themselves. His name became almost synonymous with pan-Arabism.

17. Nasser demanded that natural resources be used for the benefit of all Arabs – hugely popular with those below. Everyone knew he meant oil. Of course, the house of Saud instantly became an implacable enemy. Yet because of mass pressure the Ba’athist authorities in Syria sought a merger. Despite the repression suffered by their co-thinkers in Egypt, the ‘official communists’ and the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood likewise favoured unity.

18. The United Arab Republic was formed on February 1 1958. Nasser was appointed president and Cairo became the capital. Yet the UAR proved fleeting. Syrian capitalists did not gain access to the Egyptian market and Egyptian administrative personnel were painted by Syrian generals, bureaucrats and top politicians as acting like colonial officials. The union ignominiously collapsed in 1961. Opposition came from the Damascus street. However, from then onwards the UAR became a hollow pretence. It united no other country apart from Egypt.

19. The 1967 six-day war with Israel proved to be the final straw for Nasserism. Israel’s blitzkrieg destroyed the air forces of Egypt, Syria and Jordan on the ground and by the end of the short-lived hostilities Israel occupied the Sinai, the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Nasser was humiliated and died soon after a broken man.

20. As for Ba’athism, though it succeeded in spreading from Syria to Iraq, petty bourgeois nationalism ensured that the two Ba’athist states became bitter rivals. Nor did ‘official communism’ – an ideology of aspiring labour dictators – do any better. Under instructions from the Kremlin the ‘official communists’ tailed bourgeois and petty bourgeois nationalism. Working class political independence has been sabotaged again and again. So has Arab unity. Eg, the ‘official’ Communist Party opposed the incorporation of Iraq into the UAR. State independence became a kind of totem. One disaster inevitably followed another. Mass parties were reduced to rumps or were liquidated.

21. Evidently, Arab reunification remains a burning, but unfulfilled task. The fact that Nasser’s short-lived UAR saw the light of day is testimony to mass support for Arab unity. What was a potent sentiment in the 1950s and well into the 1970s needs to be revived in the 21st century in light of the Arab awakening and given a new democratic and class content.

22. Communists need to take the lead in the fight for pan-Arab unity. This task is inseparable from the struggle for socialist revolution and the formation of mass Marxist parties, first in this or that Arab country and then throughout the Arab world. A Communist Party of Arabia.

23. We favour the formation of a democratic, centralised Arab republic – the form we envisage for working class rule. This can only happen if first the working class sweeps away the capitalist regimes in Egypt, Syria and Iraq: that is, the most populous of the Arab countries. A revolutionary war to unite the entire Arab world – in particular so that the Arab masses can benefit from the oil wealth of the sparsely populated Arabian peninsula – might well be necessary. It would be a just war, a war of liberation.

24. While communists have no truck with Zionism and condemn the colonial-settler origins of Israel, we recognise that over the last 50 or 60 years a definite Israeli Jewish nation has come into existence. To call for its abolition is unMarxist. Such a programme is either naive utopianism or genocidal. Both are reactionary. The Israeli Jewish nation is historically constituted. The Israeli Jews speak the same language, inhabit the same territory, have the same culture and sense of identity.

25. The Palestinian national movement has been sustained only because of the existence of and its relationship with the wider Arab nation. Solving the Israel-Palestine question requires a combined Arab and proletarian solution. Communism and nationalism are antithetical. Nevertheless we champion the right of all oppressed nations to self-determination. In the conditions of Israel/Palestine that means supporting the right of the Palestinians where they form a clear majority to form their own state. Such a state is only realistic with a working class-led Arab revolution.

26. Communists do not deny the right of the Israeli Jewish nation to self-determination on the basis of some half-baked or perverted reading of classic texts. The right to self-determination is not a Marxist blessing exclusively bestowed upon the oppressed. It is fundamentally a demand for equality. All nations must have the equal right to determine their own fate – as long as that does not involve the oppression of another people. Hence communists recognise that the US, German and French nations have self-determination. Today that is generally unproblematic. However, we desire to see that same elementary right generalised to all peoples.

27. The immediate call for a single Palestinian state, within which the Jewish Israeli nationality is given citizenship and religious, but not national rights, is in present circumstances to perpetuate division. Israeli Jews will not accept such a solution – the whole of the 20th century since 1933 militates against that. There is moreover the distinct danger that the poles of oppression would be reversed if such a programme were ever to be put into practice. In all likelihood it would have to involve military conquest. The call for a single-state solution is therefore impractical – Israel is the strong nation – and, more than that, reactionary, anti-working class and profoundly anti-socialist. Liberation and socialism must come from below. It cannot be imposed from the outside.

28. A two-state solution effectively falls at the same hurdles. We cannot expect the Zionist state, as presently constituted, to concede the territory necessary to create a contiguous, viable Palestinian republic. Without a serious transformation in the regional, and indeed global, relation of forces, any such solution will inevitably leave in place the oppression of Palestinian and Israeli Arabs, and will thus be a mockery of democracy.

29. It is the job of communists to produce the change in regional and global conditions that will make a democratic solution possible. Whether this leaves present-day Israel/Palestine as two states, one state, a federal republic, etc will be dictated largely by the course of the Arab revolution. To this end, our immediate demands must be for: the complete withdrawal of Israel to its pre-1967 borders, an end to military interference in the West Bank and the perpetual siege of Gaza, and full democratic and civil rights for all Arabs in Israel.

30. Additionally, for a democratic settlement to be possible, Palestinians must have the right of return – this is a right of habitation decided upon individually, or by family group. It is not a demand for a folk movement of the entire diaspora – which now inhabits not just Jordan, Kuwait, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, etc, but the US and many countries in western Europe too. Communists demand substantial compensation for the Palestinian people as a whole from the state of Israel for the historic injustice that was perpetrated upon them.

31. Only through the process of Arab reunification can we expect the growth of an anti-Zionist ‘enemy within’ the Israeli-Jewish nation and the growth of trust and solidarity between the two peoples and their eventual merger.

32. Equally, the Zionist colonial project and the arbitrary divisions among Arabs are substantially propped up by global imperialism. It is incumbent upon communists in the imperialist countries to force the termination of all military aid to Israel.

Communist University 2011

A week of discussion and debate for a thinking left

Our annual school – Communist University – takes place in a world in flux. The near hysterical euphoria that surrounded the election of Barack Obama in 2008 has evaporated, as US foreign policy is characterised by aggressive continuity – for all the flatulent talk of “change”. Change has come to the Arab world – from below. Millions have risen in defiance of batons and bullets in a revolutionary fight for democracy and freedom.

In the UK, we have see the first stirrings of revolt from the trade union movement against austerity and cuts, with the gargantuan March 26 demo and the coordinated strike action on June 30. The movement across the rest of Europe is further advanced. We have seen huge mobilisations in Ireland, Greece and Spain. The battle lines are drawn.

Given its explanatory power and practical programme, Marxism has huge potential in this period – a potential that is irresponsibly squandered by the sectarian in-fighting and opportunism of the Marxist groups. Communist University points a way out of this mess. Over eight days of intense and open discussion, comrades from a variety of left political backgrounds teach and learn from each other. Differences between comrades are debated in a fiercely partisan way – but without the fear of ‘excommunication’ characteristic of the confessional sects that inhabit much of the rest of the left. The aim is clarity to show the relevance of contemporary Marxism to the huge battles the workers’ movement is facing.

Come and join us this year and make your contribution to the job of politically tooling up our side. Speakers include: Moshé Machover (Israeli socialist) Mohammed Reza Shalgouni (Organisation of Revolutionary Workers of Iran) Owen Jones (author of Chavs: the demonisation of the working class) Camilla Power and Chris Knight (Radical Anthropology Group) Hillel Ticktin (Editor of Critique) Yassamine Mather (chair, Hands Off the People of Iran) Jack Conrad and Mike Macnair (CPGB) Anne Mc Shane (Weekly Worker Ireland specialist)

Saturday August 13 – Saturday August 20
Raymont Hall, 63 Wickham Road, New Cross, London SE4

20-minute walk from New Cross tube station (East London line), 5 minutes from Brockley railway station – there are trains leaving London Bridge Station every 10-15 minutes.

The Arab revolution

On March 27 Israeli socialist Moshe Machover addressed a meeting of the CPGB. He argues that with the involvement of UN and Nato forces, the Libyan revolution had already been lost. The only solution now is an Arab-wide revolution.

Imperialism out, down with the Gaddafi regime

Western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert popular power and the Arab revolution, argues Eddie Ford

Almost inevitably, given the chronically weak state of the working class movement, imperialism has intervened militarily in Libya. Dutifully, both the United Nations and the Arab League, that thieves’ kitchens of despots and dictators, sanctioned the action – even if it seems more like a coalition of the unwilling, or damned, than the willing. And, of course, the House of Commons on March 21 voted overwhelmingly in favour of the latest military adventure, by 557 to 13.

So, under the guise of setting up a no-fly zone to “protect” civilians in Benghazi and elsewhere, the UK, France and the United States – with a few stragglers like Qatar to provide Arab ‘legitimacy’ – have effectively declared war on the regime of Muammar Gaddafi. Maybe even on him personally, United Nations resolution 1973 or not – US-made Tomahawk cruise missiles exploded in his Tripoli compound, but magically failed, presumably, to inflict any ‘collateral damage’ on those unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. Perhaps Tripoli civilians need less ‘protecting’ than Benghazi ones.

Coalition forces appear to be expanding the scope of their operations almost by the hour – launching new air strikes against Gaddafi’s troops outside the (currently) insurgent-held western city of Misrata. US secretary of state Hillary Clinton claims that people “close” to Gaddafi were in touch with other countries asking for advice on “exile options”.[1]

Naturally, in order to justify the attacks, we have being bombarded with crap about “genocide”, “crimes against humanity”, “human shields”, etc – the propaganda war to accompany the real hot war. Mere cant. It cannot be denied that the Gaddafi regime is a foul dictatorship which has violently oppressed the Libyan people for decades and which thoroughly deserves to be overthrown – with communists being amongst the first to welcome the armed uprising against its tyranny. However, such hyperbolic language is being deployed in an attempt to fool us into believing that Libya – unlike other, pro-western, Middle East dictatorships – is a special case and that this ‘humanitarian’ or liberal imperialism will somehow be beneficial to the long-term interests of the Libyan masses. In reply, communists argue that the Libyan intervention will no more bring liberation or democracy to its people than the imperialist overthrow of Saddam Hussein – a former client regime of the west – relieved the suffering of the Iraqi masses. Instead, the brutal imperialist invasion and occupation of Iraq just brought about new horrors and suffering – leaving the country traumatised and dismembered.

Therefore, from that perspective – an internationalist and democratic one – the Stop the War Coalition is to be commended for having staged a protest opposite Downing Street on March 20 against the air assault on Libya. Indeed, not to have done so would have made a mockery of its name. Addressing the 100 or so demonstrators, both Jeremy Corbyn and George Galloway noted that the date marked the eve of the eighth anniversary of Operation Shock and Awe that led to the Iraq invasion and condemned the obvious hypocrisy of the western powers.[2] Where was the no-fly zone over Gaza when it was being blitzkrieged by Israel or, for that matter, the one over Bahrain – which has seen “invited” forces from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates murderously repress the pro-democracy activists trying to emulate the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions?

But, of course, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are friends, and strategic assets, of the west – so it is an entirely different story. Furthermore, compounding the hypocrisy, the UAE is lending military support – to some degree or another – to the imperialist campaign against Gaddafi (it being reported by Reuters that the Greek airbase at Souda, Crete, received a request from the UAE to stand by for the refuelling of 12 Dassault Mirage 2000s and 12 F-16 Fighting Falcons en route to Sicily[3]). Given that the UAE military is busily involved in the suppression of democracy, both at home and in Bahrain, it is utterly absurd – if not near madness – to believe that the very same military can help to bring social advance and progress to Libya.

True, it does have to be said, the STWC demonstration was small and, yes, we in the CPGB are critical of the politics often peddled by its leadership under John Rees (national officer and leader of Counterfire) and Andrew Murray (chair and Communist Party of Britain member) – least of which is its unprincipled exclusion of Hands Off the People of Iran to please the Tehran regime. But it was entirely correct to call the March 20 demonstration. Along with the STWC comrades and others on the left, we say: imperialism out of Libya; down with Gaddafi. Clearly, western intervention in Libya – and the rest of the Arab world – aims to subvert the Arab revolution.

But there are some on the left, totally misguidedly, who have come out in support of the imperialist ‘no-fly zones’ – a misnomer in the sense that we are talking about active and aggressive attacks on Gaddafi’s tanks, armoured cars, mortar and infantry positions, and so on, not just the taking out of air defence systems (situated more by military necessity than cynical political calculation in densely populated urban areas). To see the ‘pro-war’ left at its most degenerate, and downright stupid, you would be hard-pressed to do much better than the social-imperialist Alliance for Workers’ Liberty – which in the past implied that imperialism had a progressive role to play in Iraq by creating a democratic “breathing space” for the working class.

Hence the AWL categorised the March 20 STWC protest as a “pro-Gaddafi demo” and castigated the Socialist Workers Party for its supposedly “oxymoronic line” slogan, “No to intervention in Libya! Victory to the Arab revolutions!” AWL functionary Sacha Ismail also mocked a Counterfire activist for waving a placard calling for “regime change here” (what a terrible demand for a Marxist to raise), asininely remarking: “… as if that solves the problem of what socialists should say about Libya” – before further rebuking another Counterfire member for “leading the chanting” of “Hands off Libya!”[4]

Well, the AWL may have put the moron back into oxymoronic, but such philistine comments only serve to indicate that it has abandoned even the ABC of Marxism – which precisely, as the SWP and Counterfire comrades suggest, consists principally of fighting for “regime change” at home: that is, making revolution. The fact that the AWL finds this so hilarious just about says it all. But then again, as an organisation the AWL specialises in slippery and dishonest polemics – steeped as it is in a sectarian culture so assiduously promulgated by its fading patriarch, Sean Matgamna – in a feeble bid to disguise its instinctive first-campism (ie, pro-imperialism). For example, we have Matgamna’s infamous 2008 “discussion article”, where he rhetorically asked, “if the Israeli air force attempts to stop Iran developing the capacity to wipe it out with a nuclear bomb, in the name of what alternative would we condemn Israel?”[5] Given that the article stressed the right of Israel to self-defence, the implication was quite clear: a pre-emptive Israeli strike on “clerical fascist” Iran would be justifiable.

In this vein, the AWL is up to its old sophist tricks again. Hence, though we are advised by Clive Bradley to hold “no illusions” in the west, we are also informed that to oppose imperialist intervention means “abandoning” the anti-Gaddafi rebels, given that the workers’ movement internationally “does not have a military force of our own to come to the aid of Benghazi”.[6] Therefore, Bradley asserts, there cannot be an “issue of principle” that should make socialists “demonstrate against the one thing which might prevent untold slaughter” and avoid a “crushing defeat for the wave of revolutions” – namely, imperialist military might. Or, in other words, “Yes to Libya” and “not no to the USA”. It is not “our job to try to stop the implementation of a no-fly zone”, since, according to the AWL, the one operated against Saddam Hussein from April 1991 “provided some protection for the Kurds”.[7]

The pro-imperialist logic is plain to see. By the same token, those who opposed the Iraq war in 2003 were guilty of striving to keep Saddam Hussein in power and thus abandoning the people of Iraq to their fate. Similarly, not sending the task force steaming down to the south Atlantic in 1982 – refusing to intervene – would have meant deserting the Falkland Islanders in their hour of need, leaving them to the tender mercies of the Argentinean military junta. Or, just as plausibly, surely it would have been the case that by not declaring war on Germany in 1914 the British government would have ‘betrayed’ or abandoned the plucky Belgian people – or the noble Poles in 1939? For the befuddled AWL, any sort of class analysis seems quite alien – replaced by a liberalistic, and shrilly moralistic, support for the ‘underdog’ at any given moment (which more often than not neatly dovetails with the imperialist agenda).

Of course, the AWL are not the only ones on the left who come in favour of imperialist no-fly zones – although at least most have the decency to arrive at such a conclusion more reluctantly. Thus comrade Dave Osler, a member of the Labour Party/Labour Representation Committee and a former Trotskyist, writes that you “would need to be a liberal of a spectacularly gullible kind” to seriously “maintain that the American ruling class and those other ruling classes invest serious amounts of blood and treasure in the promotion of democracy for democracy’s sake”.[8] Yet, having said that, he goes on to argue: “… once in a while there is a more or less accidental coincidence between what the US wants to see happen in a country and the interests of working people that live there” – Libya being one of those times, he feels. Therefore he is compelled, though he does not find these “words particularly comforting to write”, to “support the no-fly zone”, but “with no illusions”.

As for comrade Andrew Coates (a self-confessed Pabloite), he states – correctly – that “the left has to begin from the premise of support for the Libyan people’s resistance to the Gaddafi tyranny” and that the uprising “takes place within the context of pan-regional Arab democratic revolutions”, being “directed against a bureaucratic capitalist tyranny with close links to international capital”.[9] But like comrade Osler he thinks that the imperialist intervention just so happens to “correspond to the particular needs of the Libyan population under imminent threat of repression by the Gaddafi state machine” – leading him to the conclusion that “blanket opposition” to no-fly zones, etc is “morally bankrupt” and the STWC’s March 20 protest “against the help offered to the Libyan people” is “repellent”. Rather, “in the absence of any other means of international support”, comrade Coates gives “qualified support” to UN resolution 1973, which sanctioned the attacks.

Naturally, communists can understand – and sympathise with – the sentiments underpinning these arguments. Yes, the Benghazi insurgents are massively outgunned by the despicable Gaddafi regime, which responded to the initial pro-democracy demonstrations in the only way it knew – by brute repression and ruthless violence, leaving many dead and injured. Of course, communists agree that those leftists who urge support for the ‘anti-imperialist’ Gaddafi are contemptible – such as the Workers Revolutionary Party with its wretched slogan of “Victory to Gaddafi!”, not to mention the highly practical “Bring down the Cameron-Clegg coalition with a general strike and go forward to a workers’ government and socialism!”[10]

Or the Stalinite Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which exhorts “support for the Libyan government in its fight to crush attempts to take control of Libyan oil out of the hands of the Libyan people”.[11]

However, for all that, by making such arguments comrades Osler and Coates – and others like them – are sailing into dangerous waters: they run the risk of constituting themselves as the leftwing conscience of liberal/humanitarian imperialism. The fact that, as the comrades like to emphasise in support of their position, some sections of the Benghazi provisional government (or Commune, as some have idiotically called it) have welcomed the imposition of a no-fly zone is no measure as to the progressive nature or efficacy of such a move – likewise, a large number of the Irish catholic-nationalist population in 1969 initially welcomed the British military intervention – but within a short space of time they had taken up Molotov cocktails and arms against the same imperialist ‘liberators’.

No, the imperialist intervention into Libya is more akin to pouring water on the flames than re-igniting the spark of revolution, acting to divert the anti-Gaddafi uprising – and the entire revolutionary movement across the Arab world – into safe, containable channels Indeed, if anything, the introduction of no-fly zones, etc runs the real risk of galvanising a measure of patriotic or ‘anti-imperialist’ support behind the regime – which as a consequence may mean that Gaddafi can cling on to power longer and at some future point inflict harsher reprisals against those opposed to his rule.

Unlike scabs such as the WRP, communists wholeheartedly backed the revolutionary democratic upsurge – the revolution – in Libya against the rotten regime, just as we did in the entire Arab world. We want to see all these regimes swept away by popular power, with the working class securing hegemony over the demonstrations, protests and uprisings.

But we envisage this happening as part of a pan-Arab movement, striving for the unification of the Arab people after centuries of Balkanisation, not by repeated imperialist interventions designed to reconfigure western control over the region – using a new generation of elected, ‘democratic’ clients, as opposed to the old-fashioned despots.

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  1. The Guardian March 23.
  2. www.demotix.com/news/631052/stop-war-coalition-protest-against-attacks-libya
  3. af.reuters.com/article/energyOilNews/idAFLDE72K29L20110321
  4. www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/03/20/stop-war-demo-against-western-intervention-libya
  5. Solidarity June 24 2008.
  6. www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/03/20/libya-no-illusions-west-%E2%80%9Canti-intervention%E2%80%9D-opposition-abandoning-rebels
  7. www.workersliberty.org/story/2011/03/09/yes-libya-not-no-usa
  8. www.davidosler.com/2011/03/support-the-no-fly-zone-%E2%80%93-with-no-illusions
  9. tendancecoatesy.wordpress.com/2011/03/18/lybia-the-un-resolution-and-the-left
  10. The News Line March 21.
  11. March 11 statement – Proletarian Online (www.cpgb-ml.org/index.php?secName=statements&subName=display&statementId=39).

Say “no” to imperialist intervention in Libya!

Members of Milton Keynes Stop the War Coalition held an emergency protest to oppose the imperialist military intervention into Libya. More than 100 Tomahawk cruise missiles bombarded Libya within the first day of bombing.

We held aloft our banner saying “No war in our name”, distributed leaflets and collected signatures to a petition calling for an end to military intervention. We chose to stage our protest in Midsummer Place where many people would see it and a high proportion agreed with us that, while Gaddafi is clearly a reactionary dictator, imperialist intervention is not the answer. The Libyan people themselves are the ones who must settle accounts with Gaddafi. Indeed for the last few years the West had been getting along fine with Gaddafi and was happy to do all sorts of deals with him. Their hypocrisy regarding Saudi intervention to crush the democracy movement in Bahrain was also commented upon by members of the public.

Sadly our protest was brought to an early end. Midsummer Place, along with many other spaces in Milton Keynes, masquerades as a public space. It was made clear once again (this is not the first time campaigners have been moved on) that this is not the reality. After a while security were called for and they insisted that we cease our protest (which it must be said was not obstructing or inconveniencing anyone). The owners of these privatised spaces are happy for you to use them to come and shop, but when something more social than the atomised exchange of commodities is attempted on their premises it is never long before security (or even the police) arrive. One day the people of Milton Keynes will have to claim these spaces as their own.

To hear more about the CPGB’s political position regarding the imperialist intervention into Libya, click here to listen to one of our podcasts.