Issue 190 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1995 Copyright © Socialist Review
A new and much more deadly horror came to the Balkans last month. Its creator was the Nato powers, who by unleashing their air strikes and cruise missiles against the Bosnian Serbs ensured even greater ethnic cleansing as thousands of Serb refugees fled from the offensive of the Bosnian and Croatian governments.
The aim of the air strikes was to decisively weaken the Bosnian Serbs, to ensure the ground offensive would be a success.
The action smacks strongly of the tactics employed during the Gulf War against Saddam Hussein in 1991, where superior Western air power meant the outcome of ground battles was made much more certain. And--as was the case with the Gulf War--such intervention created much greater atrocities than the ones it was supposedly dealing with.
Those on the left who have repeatedly called for such intervention should reflect on what the outcome already is. The numbers of Bosnian Serb refugees are now estimated at over 250,000 making it the biggest movement of population in Europe since the Second World War.
Whole swathes of Bosnia--as well as the historic Serb region of the Krajina--have now been totally ethnically cleansed of Serbs. The Independent journalist, Robert Fisk, has filed numerous reports of atrocities against Krajina Serbs. Many of the older Serbs, unable to flee, have been murdered, their houses looted and burnt.
All this is ensuring that multi-ethnicity is a thing of the past in much of the former Yugoslavia. The Western powers may throw up their hands in horror at the worst extremes now taking place against the displaced Serbs, but they have been willing to turn a blind eye to many of the atrocities. Indeed the US brokered the current military alliance between the Croatian state and the Bosnian government. The US ambassador to Croatia, Peter Galbraith, has referred to the Krajina Serbs--who have lived in the region for 400 years--as 'so called local Serbs', thus encouraging the idea that they should be driven out of the region.
The Bosnian government--still hailed by many on the left as an example of multi-ethnicity and peaceful intent--has shown in recent weeks that its past restraint had more to do with relative military weakness than anything else. And the Bosnian state itself is becoming much less ethnically diverse as the war progresses. As the Economist said recently:
The outcome of the 'peace talks' is still unclear, but the signs are that Croatia and Bosnia are holding out for more land than the US originally wanted to give them. In addition, the Bosnians are insisting that Bosnian Serbs cannot secede even though that is clearly the wish of many. The proposed carve up will only reinforce the ethnic divisions which exist. The Bosnian Muslims will also find themselves under pressure from their allies who want a greater Croatia.
Croatian president Franjo Tudjman is threatening to take Eastern Slavonia, which joins directly onto Serbia, and the Bosnian government is talking of invading Banja Luka, where tens of thousands of Serb refugees have taken shelter. This will only result in further bloodshed and ethnic cleansing.
Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic has so far done little to help the Bosnian Serbs, preferring to compromise with the Western powers. But further invasion and ethnic cleansing puts even greater pressure on him to intervene, especially if Croatia fights in Eastern Slavonia.
So far the balance sheet of the Western backed Croatian-Bosnian offensive plus the air strikes has been to bring a much bloodier war to the region and to make it harder for the ordinary people of whatever nationality to live in peace.
The culprits in this are the Western powers, who have used the region for their own cynical ends. Those who urge intervention for peace by force should reflect that this has brought us a more deadly war.
See also p22-23 and letters p34-35
On 15 August the South Korean state celebrated its 50th anniversary. To mark this event, and to highlight the country's transition to liberal democracy, President Kim Young-sam announced an amnesty. It proved to be a farce. Various members of the establishment jailed for corruption were freed, but, apart from a handful of aged Stalinists imprisoned 40 years earlier, no political prisoners were released.
In 1994 alone, 363 people were charged under the National Security Law, a Cold War piece of legislation which even one district court has questioned as archaic and unconstitutional. Among those arrested were about 30 members of the International Socialists of South Korea, taken in a series of police raids on 15 October last year. So far four members of this group, Choi Il-bung, Yee Heh-sook, Go Hee-yong, and Kim Dong-chol, have been sentenced to prison terms of between a year and 18 months. Other cases are continuing.
Choi Il-bung, a left wing publisher, had already spent a year in jail in 1992-93. The new charges against him drew heavily on the evidence of a police informer and on his prison correspondence. The court dismissed the charges based on such flimsy sources, but convicted Choi on the basis of draft translations of Western socialist books he was planning to publish and of a photograph of him at a May Day meeting clutching a copy of the ISSK's newspaper!
In his statement to an appeal court Choi contemptuously dismissed the prosecution's accusation that the ISSK was planning to organise an armed uprising as soon as it had 3,000 members. Drawing on the example of the Russian Revolution of October 1917, he insisted that a socialist revolution can only be made by the mass of workers.
Choi challenged the state's hypocritical accusations of violence:
And against the charge that the ISSK is 'an enemy-benefiting organisation', that is a supporter of the North Korean regime, Choi said, 'The North and South Korean states are part of the same system that is hostile to workers' challenges. As of now, the North and South Korean regimes--by pretending to be hostile to each other, and through real hostilities--have been quelling their domestic resistance.'
At his inauguration in February 1993, as South Korea's first civilian president since 1960, Kim Young-sam promised that the country would become a 'freer and more mature democracy', where 'justice will flow like a river.' According to Amnesty International, 'in spite of these words, Kim Young-sam's government has done next to nothing to end human rights violations.' The plight of the ISSK illustrates this very clearly.
The government's continued resort to repression reflects both divisions within the ruling party and pressure from below. Faced with a militant telecommunication workers' strike in the summer, the regime even went so far as to arrest union leaders who had taken sanctuary in a temple and a church--a step which even previous military dictatorships had avoided taking.
The Committee to Defend South Korean Socialists will mark the first anniversary of the arrest of Choi and his comrades by holding a series of protests in the US, Britain and other countries. Further information can be obtained from the committee c/o 265 Seven Sisters Road, London N4 2DE; phone 0171 538 5821; fax 0171 538 0018.
In the 1930s it was the pools and horses that provided people with at least some semblance of hope in their lives, today it is the National Lottery. It offers people the dream of being able to effortlessly transform their lives.
For many it is the dream of parachuting out of the working class altogether, of winning millions and joining the ranks of the super-rich. For most people, the dream is not of becoming one of the exploiters but of being able to tell the boss to get stuffed, to act generously towards family and friends, of never having to worry about money again.
For others the dream is more modest, of winning enough to pay off some debts, treat yourself and have a bit of breathing space before the real world of necessity crowds in again. It is, of course, only a dream. The odds for winning even £1 on a scratchcard are 10 to 1, on winning £10, 114 to 1. The odds against winning the jackpot are, of course, astronomical. It is a mug's game, but nevertheless an estimated 30 million people take part every week.
The commercial success of the National Lottery has been phenomenal. Initially, Camelot, the company which runs it, estimated that the annual turnover would be in the region of £3 billion but now even conservative estimates are that it will exceed £5 billion. At the moment people are betting £100 million a week.
While some of this expenditure has been at the expense of other forms of gambling (bingo, the pools and bookmakers have all been hard hit with hundreds of jobs going), the amount spent on gambling in Britain has more than doubled since the lottery started. In the second quarter of this year an incredible 0.2 percent out of the 0.8 percent increase in consumer spending was on the National Lottery.
While the lottery's success obviously reflects the worsening situation in which people find themselves, it does not only serve an ideological function. The lottery is, in fact, a highly regressive tax, the equivalent according to the Investor's Chronicle of 2p in the pound on the basic rate of income tax. It takes a far greater proportion of the income of hard up punters than it does of the better off. Every week huge sums are collected from the working class with a significant proportion of them being redistributed to the rich.
Camelot's shareholders (De La Rue, Racal and Cadbury Schweppes) are busy enriching themselves with what amounts to a licence to print money. But for sheer gall it is the way that the money set aside for 'good causes' has been allocated that takes the prize.
The £12 million handout given to the Churchill family was the first indication of exactly how brazen the Tories were going to be in looking after their own.
This was followed by the £55 million, yes £55 million, given to the Royal Opera House, further endowing an already heavily subsidised leisure activity patronised almost exclusively by the rich. Even more incredible is the £1.4 million given to Eton College towards the building of a multi-million pound sports complex. Eton already has some of the best sports facilities in the country and offers its £12,000 a year pupils a choice of over 40 games. Obviously this is not good enough for the children of the rich and famous, including that disadvantaged product of a broken home, Prince William.
At the same time traditional charities, far from benefiting from the lottery profits, have actually seen their income fall. The Association of Medical Charities which represents 73 charities says its members expect to lose £20 million this year. The latest moneyspinner the lottery has announced is the launch of lottery merchandise. These products are predicted to bring in another £10 million a year. Camelot will receive 10-15 percent of this revenue but the good causes will only get half of this amount.
The lottery is a Tory con trick which provides fraudulent hope while redistributing wealth from poor to rich.
This month's Labour Party conference looks like it will be yet another step along the road of Tony Blair's 'unfinished revolution'. He will use the opportunity to give the impression of a united 'new' party whose policies fit the latest opinion poll like a glove. Or as Harriet Harman has said, 'There are a whole range of issues in which we are broadly in step with public opinion, but we need to refine the way we present them to make sure we get our message over with absolute clarity.'
Yet despite the gloss and hype that the conference will be surrounded in, the effects of the last few months' rumblings against Blair are still being felt. As his master plan for a centralised social democratic party, where all power rests at the top, becomes more apparent, the more unhappy people become.
The recently leaked internal document written by Labour strategist Philip Gould shocked many Labour loyalists with the claim that Labour was not 'ready for government'. Even more shocking for many was the fact that the leadership is obviously still using Thatcher as a model for 'New Labour'. The document states that Labour 'does not have a political project that matches the Thatcher project of 1979' and goes on to describe the aim of the leadership to create in the party a 'unitary command structure leading directly to the party leader'. It is clear that limiting the block vote of the unions and the power of conference is about creating an autocratic leadership which even excludes the deputy leader, John Prescott.
Blair will be hoping to have a more appreciative audience at the Labour conference than he experienced at the TUC conference last month. After this lukewarm reception it must have been a relief for him to have been back amongst friends on his 'bacon and egg' tour of talks with managers and business men. This was reported in the Financial Times as a great success, 'Unlike his nervous performance at last week's TUC conference where his jokes fell flat, Mr Blair had his business audience guffawing several times. Perhaps he was more in his element.' In recent weeks Blair has consorted with anti-union bosses such as Richard Branson and even met with Rupert Murdoch just before the TUC conference. He feels more at home with the high salaried suits talking of competition and saying that 'the country needs entrepreneurs and people who can go out and make an awful lot of money', than he does talking of the poor and homeless to a room full of trade unionists who have the temerity to propose a minimum wage of £4.15. It is clear that Blair is more likely to mix with people who pay those sort of wages (or less) than he is people who have to live on them.
Those unhappy with Blair's shift to the right are dismissed as 'mere flotsam and jetsam' and their disagreement as 'not a serious intellectual argument against change'. But with each speech and interview he increases the unease felt by a growing number of Labour supporters. Whether it's the judging of an essay competition for a public school, or promising tax cuts, or Jack Straw's tirade against beggars, it seems there is nothing sacred in the leadership's quest for respectability in 'middle England'.
The bitter resignation of Kevin McNamara shows just how deep the concern runs within the Labour Party. He criticised Blair's statement that Labour in power would give the unions and business equal treatment saying that, 'Labour's historic role is on the side of the dispossessed not the possessed.'
When Blair calmly mentions that anywhere else in Europe Labour would be called social democrats he shows that he has no time or sympathy for the thousands of Labour activists who fought to defend Labour from the defectors of the SDP. He has nothing but disdain for those in his party whose commitment to the poor, homeless and unemployed is more than just empty rhetoric to be dragged up when a speech is falling flat. When he says that these people 'require not leadership but therapy' all his prejudices are shown up. His starting point is not 'how will my policies affect those at the bottom of society or those traditionally excluded from power?' Instead it seems to be, 'how will my wealthy neighbours or the other parents at my son's opted out school react to this?'
Attacks on the liberals for their 'old style tax and spend' policies are only a taste of what is to come in the run up to the general election. Creating an atmosphere of pre-election fever this early is all part of Blair's strategy of characterising any dissent in the party as blatant sabotage of what he sees as Labour's last chance at power. The recent decision against the selection of Liz Davies as a parliamentary candidate, whose only crime was to fight the poll tax, shows this.
The last month has shown just how high a price Blair is prepared to make us pay to get into government. Socialists need to point out that Labour's current popularity is based not on what unites it with the Tories or 'middle England' but on what Blair seems most keen to distance himself from: support for the NHS, the welfare state and decent education. More and more people are unconvinced that the high price is worth paying.
With the announcement on 18 September of another year of public sector pay controls, the government has, in effect, declared a five year freeze on the pay of public sector workers. 'Running costs'--mainly pay--are to be restricted to 1993 levels until March 1998. No government has ever tried to restrict public sector pay like this before and got away with it. Yet the resistance we expected has largely fizzled and died, with the main exception of the London Underground. Why?
The first answer is that the government's policy is not nearly as firm as it might appear. Alongside the freeze on the pay bill there has been an informal policy that no pay increase should be greater than 3 percent--or, just as important, appear to he greater than 3 percent.
This is still less than the current rate of inflation, but it has allowed sufficient scope to the trade union bureaucracy to negotiate pay rises and deflect or dissipate workers, anger. Most public sector workers have had 3 percent, plus increments in some cases, and some disguised deals have been higher
But one consequence of this is a war of attrition at local levels, where managers right across the public sector--the Post office, the fire service, councils, the NHS-are cutting jobs, conditions and services to comply with the order to freeze costs. The result is local flare ups, some victories and some defeats, but no generalised fightback.
The role of the upper echelons of the trade union bureaucracy in this is crucial. Occasionally, as in the case of Lew Adams of Aslef, they have blatantly forced through a shabby compromise in the teeth of rank and file hostility. More usually they have strung out negotiations and dressed the deal up as the best that could be obtained. The most obvious example is the NHS, where opposition to local pay has forced the government to back off and agree to what amounts to a guaranteed national pay increase. This is a setback for the Tories and NHS trust managers. But it still leaves the way open for managers to introduce local pay for those on trust contracts--ie those who are new recruits or who transfer jobs within the NHS.
It is a mistake to think the bureaucracy act like this simply because of the 'Blair factor'. Obviously, they are desperate for a Labour government--but much of the most craven behaviour comes from those on the left of the bureaucracy, such as Adams and Bickerstaffe, who are not at all gung ho for Blair. The problem is that the bureaucracy reflects all the accumulation of pessimism of 16 years of Tory government. The bureaucrats ignore the fact that the Tories are incredibly weak. They ignore the weakness and lack of confidence of most public sector management (as we saw with UCH management forced to back down from sacking Dave Carr by the threat of strike action). The strike ballot has become a key weapon in their armoury, both to try and wring concessions from management and to keep their members' anger at bay.
What about private sector workers? There are still very few all out strikes--but there is a lot more action, reflected in recent reports that top company bosses are worried about the extent of low level industrial action. Meanwhile, basic pay increases have gradually crept up, matching the rise in inflation. For example, the average increase in the engineering industry rose from 2.9 percent in January to 3.4 percent in July. In the private sector as a whole, most settlements are now worth 3.5 percent or above.
On top of this, employers have increasingly been paying lump sum bonuses, sometimes related to productivity, sometimes as a sweetener. And there has been an enormous increase in the number of workers receiving tax free Profit Related Pay (PRP). More than 2.5 million workers now receive part of their pay tax free under PRP--approaching one in six of the private sector workforce. So basic pay increases around the inflation rate are being boosted in some cases by quite large lump sums.
All this means that the government has been able to keep the lid on pay, but that organised workers do not feel cowed. There have been increased signs of confidence returning. But the breakthroughs have not yet occurred.
The sharpest row in over a decade has opened up inside Germany's opposition Social Democratic Party (SPD)--the equivalent of the British Labour Party. At the end of August SPD leader Rudolf Scharping sacked his economic spokesman Gerhard Schröeder, the state premier of Lower Saxony. It came after months of barely concealed rivalry between the two, with Schröeder, looking to unseat Scharping before the next national elections in 1998.
Much of the German media has put the split down to the personalities of the two contenders. Scharping has long been viewed as uncharismatic and a vote loser while Schröeder, has been built up as the exciting and dynamic face of Social Democracy. However, the issues involved go way beyond a beauty contest.
Since losing the general election in October of last year the SPD's support in the opinion polls has slipped a further four points to 32 percent. The ruling Christian Democrats (CDU)--the German Tories--continue to poll nearly 40 percent. In local elections in the heavily working class area of Bremenshafen last month the SPD polled only 29 percent, the CDU 36 percent and the Nazi German People's Union (DVU) 6 percent.
Against this background Schröeder, has led calls for 'modernising' the party--with echoes of Tony Blair. He claims that the 'old distinction between left and right has been replaced by that between modernisers and traditionalists'. He has backed employers' calls for greater flexibility, including Saturday working, and was instrumental in cutting the deal at Volkswagen two years ago which led to the four day week with loss of pay. His solution to the SPD's election failure is to shift the party dramatically to the right.
Under Scharping, however, the party has scarcely followed a left wing course. Rather than attack the government he has followed a policy of 'constructive opposition'. This has meant allowing attacks on the welfare state to pass through the second chamber of parliament where the SPD has a majority. In the last few years the SPD has also backed a tightening of immigration controls and a right wing minority broke ranks to support the sending of German forces to Bosnia.
Scharping is no left winger. He met with the powerful right wing Seeheimer group of the party in February in Tutzing and pledged to push through their agenda. The right has attacked him because he has not delivered quickly enough. He has not opposed the employers' offensive against the unions but has talked of mild social reforms he would introduce if in government, such as increasing child benefit to 200 deutschmarks a month.
Schröeder, says that no reforms are possible until Germany is made more competitive. In turning against reform he has attacked not just the left but even moderate sections of the party as he cultivates a 'pro-business' image.
He claims that the poor showing of the SPD reflects the disappearance of the working class. This is precisely at a time when employers' attacks are forcing more Germans to think of themselves as workers than for over 20 years. He goes on to blame workers and the unions for weakening German productivity.
But the signs are that many workers and SPD members do not accept the modernising message. Volkswagen workers carried effigies of Schröeder, alongside ones of their boss when they struck against flexibility in August. Scharping was responding to pressure from below when he sacked Schröeder, two days later.
The argument will run on at least until the SPD conference in November. Scharping remains a compromise candidate between a right wing who follow through his logic to abandon any notion of reform and those who still look to changing society.
Large numbers of workers are becoming alienated from official politics and unwilling to put up with further attacks on their conditions.