Issue 171 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published January 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review



Too high a price?

Major and Reynolds point the way?
Major and Reynolds point the way?

Blessed are the peacemakers. As John Major and the Irish premier, Albert Reynolds, stepped out into the media glare to announce the Downing Street declaration on Northern Ireland a week before Xmas, there seemed to be broad support for peace.

Support stretched from the British and Irish governments to Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein and James Molyneaux of the Official Unionists. Major and the British press were quick to turn on the Democratic Unionist leader, Ian Paisley, as he attacked the package.

Suddenly 26 years of violence seemed set to pass away. The unthinkable, an invitation to negotiations from the British government to Sinn Fein, was being proffered to Gerry Adams. Yet any examination of the carefully worded Downing Street declaration shows that it straddles a crucial fault line.

It offers Republicans 'self determination, freely and concurrently given, North and South'. This seems to be a nod towards Irish unity but at the same time the document goes out of its way to reaffirm the Unionist veto on any end to the partition of Ireland.

As Hugo Young wrote in The Guardian:

The most cynical clause is the one which states that the British government has 'no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland'. This is true at a certain level. In 1921 when Ireland was divided Northern Ireland seemed set to retain its successful industrial base centred on shipbuilding, heavy engineering and linen. Fifty years ago Northern Ireland's ports and airfields were vital to control of the Atlantic. Today the economy is in tatters outpaced by the Irish Republic while Northern Ireland has no military value aside from being a training ground for the army.

But this clause is intended to portray Britain as piggy in the middle--trapped between two warring tribes. It masks the reality that Britain has administered Northern Ireland at every level since 1972 and that Britain has, in the absence of any other solution, been prepared to let the killings continue on the cynical basis that they almost entirely involve Irish men and women--Protestant and Catholic.

The new package centres on an attempt to isolate any resistance to the Northern Ireland state.

A Financial Times editorial noted:

Gerry Adams: end of a strategy?
Gerry Adams: end of a strategy?

Gerry Adams and the Republican movement are faced with a dilemma. Having staked so much on getting negotiations with the British government, they can scarcely afford to turn their backs on this package even though it offers them little of substance. At best what seems to be on offer is a Northern Ireland administered by the Unionists and the SDLP under the umbrella of agreement between London and Dublin.

In 1973 a Tory government brokered the Sunningdale Agreement between the mainstream leadership of the Unionist Party, the 'moderate' nationalist SDLP and the rump Alliance Party, whereby they would share in a devolved government of Northern Ireland. Whitehall clearly hoped that this deal would isolate both the Republicans and the Loyalists. The deal collapsed.

What has changed in the two intervening decades?

Firstly, the once monolithic Unionist Party which ruled Northern Ireland as a one party state for half a century has shattered. Once the Unionist leader was invited each year for a round of golf or for a shoot on the grouse moor with the British prime minister. Now the Official Unionists are treated with disdain by the Tories and the British media while Ian Paisley's utterances are met with a mixture of horror and ridicule.

Secondly, there is a deep uncertainty gripping the Protestant population. The realities of economic collapse have brought about profound changes at the top among the businessmen who once provided the mainstay of the Unionist Party. A Financial Times poll shows that 88 percent of Northern Ireland's chief executives back talks with Sinn Fein while 32 percent are prepared to support an 'acknowledgement of the aspiration of Irish unification'. This reflects growing economic links between the North and South within a European Union context.

This uncertainty shows in other ways. At Sunningdale, Ian Paisley would not even sit at the same table as the SDLP, let alone the Dublin government. Now he is in a much weaker position. The Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 which paved the way for this deal brought a lot of huff and puff from Paisley and his Loyalist allies, but in the event they failed to mobilise the mass protests and strikes that they threatened.

Amongst Protestant workers there has also been a shift. The economic collapse of Northern Ireland means that unemployment in areas like Belfast's Glencairn estate stands at 70 percent. Out of the Shankill's population of 27,000, there are 5,000 people claiming income support. Only 13 children who sat their 11 plus last year passed, while no school leavers went on to higher education.

There is a deep bitterness towards the British government. That bitterness can take two directions. Opinion polls have shown strengthened support for Loyalist paramilitaries. Yet that has coincided with a number of strikes against sectarian killings and threats in recent weeks.

On the Republican side, the Downing Street declaration represents the end of the road for the strategy which Gerry Adams has evolved. Republicans have had to accept that there will be no straightforward military victory over Britain. In 1974 the Provisional IRA declared 'The Year Of Victory'. Such hopes led to profound disillusionment.

From its inception Republicanism has always combined the ballot and the bullet. The aim of the IRA's campaign has increasingly been to force Britain to the negotiating table. Now Republicans are faced with a situation whereby if they cease the military struggle there will be little to differentiate them from the SDLP.

Entirely missing is any attempt by the Republicans to address the unemployment, the bad housing and lack of services which grip Northern Ireland, and which flow from Britain's policy of divide and rule. Even if there can be an agreement these problems will remain. Neither Bill Clinton nor a recession gripped EU is about to pour money into Northern Ireland.

Socialists welcome the possibility of peace. But we remain sceptical about the deal and critical of the Republican politics which have carried Gerry Adams down this road. The strikes and protests over sectarian killings show that there is a base for independent working class politics. It is up to socialists to argue that Irish workers, whether Protestant or Catholic, whether living in the North or South, can expect nothing from Reynolds or Major. Together they can fight to create a new Ireland free from poverty, repression and discrimination.


Gathering storm clouds

In Russia's first multi-party general elections since the collapse of Communism a fascist has won a quarter of the votes for the new parliament, the State Duma.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky and his Liberal Democratic Party have the following aims: to ban all political parties, strikes and demonstrations; kick out all non-Russians; restore the Russian empire within its 1977, 1941 or even 1913 borders (including Finland, parts of Poland and, of course, all the former USSR republics); scrap all internal borders within the Russian Federation and restore the old Tsarist system of 'provinces'; stop civil conversion of the defence industry and build up Russia's arms exports.

In Zhirinovsky's new book, The Final Thrust to the South, he writes, 'How I dream of Russian soldiers washing their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.' He argues to extend Russian territory through Turkey to the Mediterranean and into the Middle East.

Needless to say, Zhirinovsky is a vicious anti-Semite. His party has a youth wing called 'Zhirinovsky's Hawks' who wear a dark blue uniform. He is also closely linked to German Nazi outfits such as Deutsche Volksunion.

Zhirinovsky owes a large vote of thanks to Yeltsin for preparing the ground for his victory: the government has made many of Zhirinovsky's ideas 'respectable'. Recently foreign minister Kosyrev made threatening remarks concerning the defence of Russian minorities in parts of the former USSR. This caused president Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan to compare Kosyrev's statement with Hitler's claims to the Sudetenland in the 1930s.

Yeltsin struck out the word 'sovereignty' from the new constitution, removing at a stroke the national status of the republics within the Russian Federation. The 'ethnic cleansing' of Moscow after the October coup is precisely what Zhirinovsky and the Nazis are demanding.

Despite Zhirinovsky's unexpected landslide there is still a distance for him to go to establish the necessary mass base for a fascist regime. As elsewhere in Europe, strong fascist showings in elections are a warning sign. But Zhirinovsky, like France's Le Pen, has to translate that electoral support into an organised force on the ground capable of crushing democratic institutions.

Most of those voting for the LDP are still a long way from this. In the main, the fascists picked up the protest vote against Yeltsin and the democrats. A week before the poll 70 percent still hadn't made up their minds and Zhirinovsky pulled these floating voters.

Zhirinovsky won roughly 25 percent of the vote overall but the turnout was scarcely over 50 percent. Turnout was a mere 38 percent in Vorkuta where militant miners have little faith in politicians any more. In the country's political centre, Moscow, the democrats won three times as many votes as Zhirinovsky, who also lost in Russia's second city, St Petersburg.

Zhirinovsky's party has only 42,000 members and most of this is on paper.

Furthermore, his election rhetoric was populist in the extreme. Thus he kept largely quiet about his real aims, concentrating on law and order, bringing the troops back home and repeated, 'I am a democrat to the marrow of my bones'.

In the presidential elections of 1991 he offered the electorate free vodka if he came to power. This time he didn't go quite so far, but the overall message was the same.

Like his counterparts in Western Europe, Zhirinovsky is heavily reliant on putting on a 'respectable' non-fascist face in order to win his support. This has enabled him to do well electorally. Russia is far from being overrun by millions of hardened Nazis. But the growth of 'respectable' far-right parties can be the seed bed in which hardened fascists grow.

Zhirinovsky understands this very well. Thus his statements since the election have been conciliatory: he is not insisting on places in the government. That way he can keep his hands clean while trying to build a mass movement on the streets.

The election result is a crushing defeat for Yeltsin and the democrats. As a result of their criminal policies one third of the population--44 million people--live on an income below the minimum subsistence wage, calculated on the basis of a bread and potato diet. This is the real source of Zhirinovsky's victory.

But it is also the reason for gathering storm clouds in the mining and other industrial regions of the country. A one day strike by 50,000 miners on 6 December, which dragged on for five days in Vorkuta, won across the board concessions over wages and redundancy guarantees from the government.

Any party that calls to 'ban all strikes' will have to deal with 100 million Russian workers for whom strike action is the main way of defending their living standards.

Yeltsin is now a lame duck president. Zhirinovsky's victory has made a military adventure in Russia all the more possible. Will the generals wait two years until Yeltsin's term as president comes to an end?


No glittering prizes

Just over a year ago the Ayodhya mosque in Uttar Pradesh was demolished by a mob of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters. In the riots that followed, more than 2,000 were killed. It appeared that Congress, which has ruled India almost continuously since independence, was losing control as the country slipped into the chaos of communal violence.

The BJP, a Hindu chauvinist, near fascist party, was in control of four states at the time: Uttar Pradesh itself (India's most populous state, with 150 million inhabitants), Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The BJP had ridden to power in these states in the Hindu heartland on a wave of anti-Muslim hatred. It was also deeply implicated in the events that led to the demolition of the Ayodhya mosque.

The central government, under prime minister Narasimha Rao, which had dithered between pandering to Hindu chauvinism and opposing it, dismissed the four state governments for their involvement in the Ayodhya riot and called fresh elections in these and another two states. A third of the country's 500 million electors went to the polls at the end of November. There were widespread fears that the BJP would do extremely well.

The results came as a surprise. The BJP lost control in three of the states it had governed, keeping power only in Rajasthan. Congress gained absolute majorities in Himachal Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, despite a lacklustre campaign. The most surprising result was in Uttar Pradesh itself. Here a coalition of two regional parties, the Samajwadi Party (SP) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), swept the board, replacing Congress (which was reduced to 28 seats out of a total of 425 seats in the state assembly) and reducing the BJP's share of the seats to 176.

The secret of the SP's and the BSP's success lay in their appeal both to Muslims and to the 'backward castes' and the untouchables: the poorest sections of the Hindu community.

The BJP has suffered a considerable defeat, which is likely to increase internal tensions between those who see the future of the party as stirring up religious hatred and those who see this as too narrow a base.

But despite its defeat, what allowed the BJP to grow in the first place is still there. This has to do with the state of the Indian economy. After independence in 1947 the bulk of the ruling class pinned its hopes on state control of industry as the path to national development. That option has been found wanting and the Indian ruling class has shifted hesitantly and with doubts towards the doctrines of the free market.

In June 1991 the Congress government decided to pursue a policy of economic liberalisation. Rao freed up prices, made the rupee convertible in part and cut tariffs. But the glittering prizes of the free market have proved elusive here as elsewhere.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and of Industry, a national employers' organisation, said recently that reform measures need to be 'properly sequenced' and 'a level playing field' provided. The fear otherwise is of a mass takeover of Indian industry (Coca Cola, for example, has just bought up Parle, the country's leading producer of cola). But the real effect of the policy of economic liberalisation has been on the mass of the Indian population, whose poverty has increased. As the struggle for existence has intensified, so have communal tensions and the explosive growth of sectional parties like the BJP.

With the Hindu nationalist challenge of the BJP now beaten off, the prime minister is under pressure to resume his liberalisation programme, which had slowed because of the unpopularity of Congress. The Economist has urged the government to slash public finances, sell profitable state enterprises and abolish legislation that prevents factory closures and workers being sacked. If this happens then the same conditions that enabled the BJP to flourish can reappear, though one of the reasons for the BJP's defeat in Himachal Pradesh was that it took up pro-market reforms.

And the BJP may be down but it is not out. It remains the largest single party in Uttar Pradesh and it captured Delhi, where elections were held for the first time in 40 years, because of despair about a badly run, polluted city with frequent water shortages and power cuts.

Nevertheless, the elections showed that a reactionary response was not the only alternative to government inspired cuts and economic liberalisation. The parties which won in Uttar Pradesh cannot be relied upon to deliver jobs or improvements for the mass of the poor. But the results show that it was possible to appeal across sectarian divisions. And if the appeal can work electorally then it can also be fought for.

Eyewitness in Kurdistan

We felt the atmosphere of intense oppression from the first day in Kurdistan. The police followed us all the time and many people were terrified to talk to us. When we did speak to people they told us of assassinations and the systematic destruction of villages carried out by the Turkish state.

Two villagers begged us to visit their village, Birik, to witness ourselves what the Turkish forces had done to it. They said that at 6pm on Tuesday 23 November eight lorryloads of soldiers arrived in the village of about 250 people. At 6.30 the two, returning home from a nearby village, saw rockets being fired and heard heavy arms firing for more than half an hour. Above the firing they could hear the screams of women and children. Villagers later told how the army dragged them from their houses and beat them brutally. Three villagers were placed against a wall and executed in cold blood, then the whole village was burnt to the ground.

The villagers were forced at gunpoint to huddle together in the rain all night and 14 people were taken into custody.

The next day 12 of the 14 were released, but two had disappeared. The Turkish press reported them killed in clashes with Kurdish 'terrorists'.

We decided to go and see what had happened for ourselves with two journalists from the Kurdish newspaper Ózgür Gundem.

As we arrived in Birik an old woman came up to us screaming, 'Run for your lives before they shoot you.' Suddenly three soldiers appeared with guns. They rounded us up and took us to the top of a hill. The village had been completely destroyed. Fires were still burning and women and children were picking through the ruins.

We were taken to a contra-guerrilla headquarters at Bismil and held for 12 hours. The two Gundem reporters were paraded in front of us and subjected to humiliating and degrading abuse.

We were moved to the headquarters for the state of emergency area and released after questioning. We later interviewed the two journalists, who told us they had been left in the minibus for a further five hours and were then blindfolded and thrown into a lorry with other prisoners thrown on top of them. They were taken to another camp and interrogated, were both subject to psychological torture and told to sign confessions to being PKK terrorists. This they refused to do and one was beaten. After many hours of this torture, they were driven to a dark country road, placed in the middle of the road and told if they looked back they would be shot.

All this is not unique. It is part of a systematic destruction of Kurdish villages. Hundreds of villages have been destroyed, unknown numbers of innocent Kurdish people slaughtered. There is no freedom of expression, no human rights. The Turkish state is waging war on the Kurdish people. The weapons used against the Kurds are supplied by Britain, France and Germany.

The resistance of the people we met was breathtaking and is the strongest memory I have. A memory burnt into my mind Is one of a group of schoolchildren in Lice, a large town systematically burnt and many of its people butchered. The children made victory signs, avoiding the state teachers trying to stop them ignoring the soldiers looking on.

We have since learnt that the Turkish security forces raided the offices of the newspaper Ózgür Gundem detaining journalists and workers. The reason for this was that on international Human Rights Day Ózgür Gundem ran a front page printing the International Human Rights Convention, with a band running across saying, 'They have violated all these'.

At the same time, reports came through from a large Kurdish town, Cizre, that the state forces were carrying out more atrocities. While Turkey is intensifying the slaughter the West is funding this killing machine.
Mark Campbell
Mark Campbell was part of a trade union delegation to Kurdistan last month

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