Issue 201 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published October 1996 Copyright Socialist Review


Editorial, US Imperialism, Kurds, Bosnia


The crisis of Labourism which has opened up since the TUC is unprecedented.

Barely eight months before an election Tony Blair's Labour and the union leaders are at each other's throats. What should be a period of unity inside labour's ranks, as election victory seems within its grasp for the first time in 17 years, has turned into public argument and division.

These events have created opportunities for socialists not seen since the campaign against pit closures in 1992, as arguments about socialism, the role of the unions and how best to fight the bosses are once more on the agenda and New Labour's response is increasingly found wanting.

Blair would love a split from the unions but even he could not have predicted the howls of rage emanating from the TUC general council following attacks by him and his followers. Similar discontent is likely to surface at the Labour Party conference which is taking place after we go to press.

Any attempt to split Labour from the unions is fraught with difficulties and will remain so until well after the election, ensuring that the issue remains in the spotlight. Blair is caught between the Tory press baying for further attacks on the unions and the continuing ferment inside the movement which he will cause if he concedes to such demands.

Once the situation starts to unravel, there is no knowing where it will end.

What is already clear is that Blair is doing damage to some of the most fundamental relationships inside the labour movement. This means he will find it extremely difficult to call on those who should be his most trusted lieutenants the union leaders to contain future unrest under a Labour government.

The reasons for Blair's actions have little to do with electoral considerations, just as his constant reassurances to City of London dinners are not about persuading bankers and stockbrokers to vote Labour.

Instead they are designed to send signals to workers and especially public sector workers who have had their wages held down over the past three years that they can expect no favours from a Blair government.

The problem for the Blairites, however, is that they are pulling in the opposite direction from most Labour supporters over a lot of these questions. Opinion polls repeatedly show big majorities in favour of more public spending, of taxing the rich, of paying a minimum wage and of public ownership.

Tony Blair says that he wants to govern for the whole nation, not particular interest groups such as the trade unions. But no one governs for one nation, because class divisions override everything else. blair intends to run things on behalf of the ruling class as the Tories have done for the past 17 years. In the process he is prepared to dismiss the unions as though they represent nothing even though they are by far the biggest voluntary organisations in Britain and union activists outweigh political party activists in number.

The huge ideological turmoil which has arisen stems from the fact that Blair's action has undermined the separation between politics, ideology and economics which characterises capitalist society. By intervening so directly in all these areas he has politicised the debate and created a radicalisation which runs counter to his intentions and has ended his easy ride as Labour leader.

This debate creates openings for revolutionary socialists. Unlike the debate over the abolition of Clause Four, which was over a part of Labour's constitution that had only symbolic meaning, this argument is about the very future of the working class movement. It is unprecedented for such a crisis of reformism to break before a Labour government comes into office. It is this historic opportunity which socialists have to seize if we are to create a real alternative to Labourism.

The statement to Tony Blair, sponsored by Socialist Worker, calling on Labour to stop the move to the right, is an essential first step in grouping the left both inside and outside the Labour Party to fight for socialist politics. For more on Labour and the trade unions see pages 9-13 `Collision course?

Middle east

Peter Morgan

The fighting which erupted in Ramallah between Palestinians and Israeli troops just as we went to press was the most serious since the supposed `peace' began. Several Palestinians were shot dead as the Israelis opened fire on children in a move which can only reinforce the increasing bitterness which Palestinians feel at the repression they face from the right wing Israeli Netanyahu government.

The feeling that the peace has been to Palestinians' disadvantage is echoed throughout the Middle East. Attempts by the US to broker stability in the region have blown up, and have forced even pro-US regimes such as Hosni Mubarak's Egypt to think again.

The Americans are caught in the short term by Clinton's need for stability during his re-election campaign, but in the longer term have equally great problems. This was demonstrated by last month's bombing of Iraq, which revealed the contradictions facings the world's major imperialism.

The US came out of the Gulf War of 1991 with a feeling that it had removed the `Vietnam syndrome' that had dogged it since its defeat in Indochina in the 1970s. But instead of entering a period of unrivalled US global superiority, and a new world order of peace and stability, the whole region is a tinder box that threatens to erupt into another round of conflict.

The US bombing was on the pretext that Saddam Hussein had breached the 36th parallel in northern Iraq to support the Kurdish Democratic Party (the KDP) against its long time enemies, the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK). The KDP feared that the PUK was receiving support from Iran, hence the call for Iraqi military assistance.

The aim of the US during the Gulf War was to break the power of Iraq once and for all. George Bush knew at the time that if the US was to play a major role in the post Cold War era it had to prove it was still capable of patrolling the globe to defend US interests of which the oil rich Middle East is crucial. The fear then was that a whole number of regional powers and anti-imperialist movements may have felt able to flex their muscles without superpower retaliation. But even though the US emerged from the Gulf War victorious, the problems still remain and they threaten to erupt today on an even greater scale.

The recent bombing was greeted with criticism from most of the US's former allies who formed the coalition to fight the Gulf War. Only Britain backed Clinton all the way. France refused to endorse the missile strike and is unwilling to join the US and Britain in patrolling the extended no fly zone in southern Iraq. Russia strongly criticised the raids and neither Saudi Arabia nor Turkey was prepared to allow its territory to be used as a launchpad for strikes against Saddam Hussein. And unlike during the Gulf War, when the US was able to use the guise of the UN to launch attacks against Iraq, this time the US was unable to get a resolution though the UN Security Council because of opposition from other members.

But beyond the recent conflict there are other forces at play which threaten to destabilise the whole region even further. By attacking Iraq for helping the KDP the US has run the risk of inadvertently helping Iran, whose government has recently supported the PUK a government the US regards as its major enemy in the region. It is certainly a major power. Iran has built a naval force which could close the Straits of Hormuz, through which one fifth of the world's oil flows. Senior US navy officials say that `Iran poses the most significant threat to their primary mission in the Arabian Gulf to keep the Straits of Hormuz open.'

This comes less than ten years after the end of the Iran-Iraq war which saw the US navy sail into the Gulf in 1987 to tip the balance in favour of Iraq. The aim then was the same as today to protect US oil interests. But today the US hasn't the authority to impose its will in the same way.

The other major regional power which is flexing its muscles is Turkey. The bombing by the US led the Turkish government to declare a `danger zone' on the Iraqi side of the border between the two countries. The resemblance to Israel's `security zone' in practical terms a zone of occupation in south Lebanon is all too apparent. The Turkish government has also been involved in a brutal war with the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) for 12 years which has cost some 20,000 lives.

Turkey has launched many violent incursions into Iraq in pursuit of its own Kurds with Iraq turning a blind eye. So the Turkish government is quite happy for the current regime in Iraq to prevail.

During the Gulf War, Turkey was an invaluable friend of the US led coalition today it has wider interests to consider. The government has recently signed a security pact with Israel which allows for joint military exercises. It is also involved in conflict with Greece which currently has the highest defence budget of any EU member some 5 percent of gross domestic product annually. The possibility of war between these two countries in the not too distant future cannot be ruled out.

The tensions and conflicts threaten not only the oil rich countries of the Middle East but also the borders of Europe. In this situation there is no easy way for the US to impose its will on the region. Although the US remains the strongest imperialist power, both economically and militarily it is weaker than it has been for many years.

At the same time we are seeing the emergence of other forces such as the military expansion of Iran and Turkey who both have interests of their own to defend. The new world order is fraught with further dangers.

What divides the Kurds?

Although the 4 million Kurds of Iraq are the ones who are often in the news, they constitute at most one sixth of the total Kurdish population of the Middle East.

That population is between 24 and 26 million people. About half of these 13 million live in Turkey, where they form about 23 percent of the population. Iraq's 4 million Kurds live at the heart of their former homeland the mountains and plateaux where Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq all meet. All four countries are determined to prevent the Kurds from uniting and fiercely oppose the prospect of an independent Iraqi Kurdish state.

The recent dispute in Iraq has been between the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP) under the leadership of Massoud Barzani and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) under the leadership of Jalal Talabani. These two groups have been enemies for many years, but following the Gulf War an uneasy truce was declared after attacks from Saddam Hussein. The imposition of the no fly zone in northern Iraq and the withdrawal of Iraqi forces allowed the area to come under control of these two parties. Elections in 1992 saw both win exactly equal representation in a new Kurdish parliament, but the tensions remained.

The KDP, until recently, was more rurally based and had its main strength in the far north of Iraq, controlling the lucrative customs point on the Turkish border. The PUK tended to be more urban and controlled the regional capital Arbil, much of the centre and the south east.

The Iraqi regime has always exploited the splits, making truces first with one side and then the other. Only its vicious onslaught on the Kurds at the end of the war with Iran in 1988, which included mass deportations and chemical attacks on villages, temporarily united the two factions.

The fragile alliance between the KDP and the PUK broke down after 1992 as they competed for control of the `safe haven' under a double blockade the whole of Iraq was subject to UN sanctions, but at the same time Saddam Hussein withheld supplies from the region. A clash over a piece of land in March 1994 led to 2,000 deaths and a renewal of hostilities.

An attempt by the US and Turkish mediators to impose a truce between the two sides last year broke down as the US, beset by budget problems, failed to supply the funding for the ceasefire monitors.

The KDP felt increasingly threatened following Iranian support for the PUK when they invaded northern Iraq and attacked KDP bases. Barzani has long held semi-secret contacts with Baghdad and decided that an alliance with Saddam Hussein allowed the KDP the hope of re-establishing its authority. In another twist, following the taking of Arbil and Sulaimaniya by the KDP, Barzani met Turkish and US officials, further threatening to switch allegiances.

Meanwhile the attacks by Turkey against the Turkish Kurds, the PKK, continues. The solution lies not in supporting western intervention in Kurdistan, or in relying on one country to support one group of Kurds against another. Rather it lies in Kurds fighting for national independence.

Bosnia: Electoral cleansing

Sabby Sagall

Western rulers and Nato commanders have greeted the Bosnian elections with a fanfare of complacent rhetoric. The elections were supposed to end four years of bloody civil war, to preserve Bosnia's territorial integrity and to begin to reverse the ethnic cleasing of 2 million people (out of a prewar population of 4.4 million of whom 44 percent were Muslim, 31 percent Serb and 17 percent Croat). Under the US brokered Dayton agreement which ended the war last November, refugees displaced from their land and homes were to be allowed to return.

There were to be no less than seven different elections: for the three person joint presidency of the whole country, for the president of the Serb republic, a national parliament, separate assemblies in the Bosnian Serb republic and the Muslim-Croat federation, `cantons' in the Muslim-Croat federation and, finally, local municipal elections. Votes were allocated to territory, and not ethnic group (51 percent of the country was allocated according to the Muslim-Croat federation and 49 percent to the Bosnian Serb republic). And people could register to vote in the areas where they lived before the outbreak of hostilities in April 1992. A Nato force of 60,000, including 20,000 American troops, was dispatched to police the elections and to facilitate repatriation.

The US government argued that Bosnians, if given a choice, would vote for candidates standing for reconstruction rather than war. They also seemed to believe that the conditions for free elections could be created: freedom of expression, assembly and movement, free and equal access to the media by all shades of opinion and open debate.

What has been achieved? The fighting has stopped (for now). There has been an exchange of prisoners and territory. Nato troops removed mines and barricades from the military frontline, allowing anyone, in theory, to come and go at will.

But the balance sheet leans heavily on the debit side. War criminals, meant to be arrested, have roamed freely over the country. The boundary line became in many cases too dangerous to cross. An additional 90,000 people are estimated to have been expelled from their homes this year. Further, the conditions under which campaigning took place made a mockery of free elections. The Serbian and Croatian leaders allowed no freedom of the media in the areas they controlled. In Sarajevo the Muslim leader Alia Izetbegovic prevented the launching of an independent, multi-ethnic television service.

Opposition leaders in all three communities suffered intimidation. Haris Siladzic, the former Muslim prime minister, attempting to build a multi-ethnic party, was beaten up by members of the Muslim nationalist SDA. Freedom of movement was severely curtailed. Members of ethnic groups found outside their allotted areas were often threatened by truncheon wielding police or sectarian gangs. There was no telephone communication across the ethnic boundary.

Ethnic cleansing was complemented by `electoral cleansing'. Serbs who fled from Muslim-Croat areas to the Bosnian Serb republic were forbidden to return. Bosnian Serb officials bribed displaced Serbs living in non-Serb areas with aid and houses if they registered in the Serb republic. Some 240,000 Serbs took up the option.

Of the 400,000 displaced Muslims registered to vote in Serb areas, only 20,000 crossed the ethnic frontier. At least seven Serb mayors vowed to stop them. Indeed, the municipal elections were postponed until next year because of widespread evidence of nationalist rigging of voter registration. Hence, though voting was intended to be according to area of residence, in reality it took place overwhelmingly along ethnic lines.

The elections were intended to create shared multi-ethnic institutions that would begin to knit a divided Bosnia together again.

But the principal leaders of the three communities campaigned on narrow nationalist platforms. They either openly called for secession or put forward policies whose logic is separation. An exception was Haris Siladzic who won only 14 percent of the Muslim vote.

Hardline nationalists swept the board. Izetbegovic was elected chairman of the joint presidency with 630,000 votes, compared to 508,000 votes for Krijisnik, the separatist Serb candidate. The Serb vote was split, however, with a moderate nationalist candidate, Ivanic, polling 242,000 votes. Itzebegovic won more than 80 percent of the Muslim vote, Zubak 88 percent of the Croat vote and Krajisnik 67 percent of the Serb vote. But further evidence of rigging came from the

turnout figures: 98.5 percent for the Serbs, 103 percent for the Muslims! It is clear that the west in particular the US is trying to cover up the widespread incidence of fraud illustrated by these figures. As one United Nations analyst put it, the numbers voting are so inflated that `it's as if nobody died at all throughout the entire war.' The elections were steamrollered by the US government, desperate to withdraw American troops in time for November`s presidential election. Clearly, therefore, the polls have less to do with creating a permanent peace than with providing Clinton with a foreign policy feather in his electoral cap. However, they have merely served to legitimise ethnic cleansing and to consolidate the partition of Bosnia.

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