Issue 257 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
Some local difficulties won't go away
Tariq Ali's comments about Kashmir (September SR) look like an understatement after the suicide bomb in Srinagar, the capital, on 1 October. This killed 38 people in the state assembly building, and looks like it was an attempt by one of the Islamicist groups run by the ISI to provoke a violent Indian reaction. Such a reaction could slide into another war with Pakistan, which would (the Islamicists hope) undermine the deal done between Musharraf and the US government.
The Indian government has, apparently, told the US that if there is another bomb then it will 'have to react'. This is code for air strikes on the Pakistani zone (Azad Kashmir). If that does happen, it would be difficult for Musharraf not to respond in kind. At that point everything does become very dangerous since this time round both sides are very close to having operational nuclear weapons.
The US rulers would like Kashmir simply to go away, since it gets in the way of their coalition. Unfortunately for them even the sole superpower can't just wave a wand. The crisis has its roots in British imperialism, firstly because the state of Kashmir was a British creation, cobbled together in 1849 to repay a useful ally, and secondly because the partition of 1947 was the result of the British forcing communal identities down everyone's throats after the revolt of 1857.
There is no neat solution to the Kashmir problem. Firstly if there was a referendum the losing side would not accept the result and resort to violence. Secondly there is one Hindu majority area (Jammu) which would vote for India come what may. Thirdly there is a Buddhist majority area (Ladakh) which would vote similarly. Unfortunately Ladakh can only be reached from India by a road through the Vale of Kashmir. While you still have India and Pakistan at daggers drawn such a new partition of Kashmir would only be a means to start a new war, probably sooner rather than later.
So there is no 'solution' by national self determination to the Kashmir crisis. While we oppose the Indian army's violent war against the people of Kashmir, simply calling for national self determination won't do the trick. Arguing that the people of India and Pakistan can live together in peace is actually arguing that the two states should not exist. Their only reason to exist is because the contrary argument won out in 1947.
This is a hard argument to make, but the longer socialists avoid it the longer it will be before an effective alternative can be created to the vicious regimes that rule in New Delhi and Islamabad.
Judicial Watch, a non-party public interest law group that fights government corruption in the US, has called for the resignation of George Bush Sr, the father of president George W Bush, from his well paid post as 'ambassador' to the Carlyle Group. This is a $13 billion investment consortium that works for, among others, the construction company run by the billionaire Bin Laden family in Saudi Arabia. Bush Sr gained shares in Carlyle from his trips to the Middle East after the Gulf War he led in 1991. His Secretary of State, James Baker, is now a director of the Carlyle Group, and George W Bush was a director before Baker paved his way in Florida to the presidency.
Judicial Watch has pointed to the corruption that follows from the politicians' involvement in promoting the war against Iraq while working for the Saudi Arabian and Kuwaiti companies that gained most from the war. Prominent among these is the Bin Laden family company. Judicial Watch points out that the Bin Laden family company has been subpoenaed by the FBI, investigating the flow of funds from at least two of his siblings in the company to Osama bin Laden's network. It describes a conflict of interest of 'scandalous proportions' at the heart of the Bush Presidency.
Scandalous is an understatement. It is an atrocity arising from an atrocity, but to members of the global ruling class it is business as usual to be gained from war. The war against global terrorism that drives Bush and Blair to bomb the enfeebled state of Afghanistan is their way of keeping control of states whose ruling classes might grow too rich from the oil resources of the region.
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All Americans, including participants in the Washington peace rally on 29 September, were shocked and sickened by the terror attacks against New York and Washington.
Many Americans, however, even in the midst of national mourning, strongly question the main 'anti-terrorist' measures being advocated by the government in Washington. This is why some 20,000 people took part in this rally, and why people all over our country and the world are joining in similar events. They believe that government and media efforts to transform grief and insecurity into a new war will only increase terrorism against civilians, not end it.
It is important to remember that New York and Washington were attacked by a non-government terrorist network of relatively small size. The US was not attacked by a foreign government. Analogies to Pearl Harbor are false, notwithstanding the steady drumbeat of war talk from the mass media. The dust literally had not settled before the corporate media announced that the US was engaged in a patriotic war for survival against a multitude of unnamed enemies and states. As bad as the terror attack was, it did not constitute a state of war against the most powerful country in world history.
We believe that criminals who intentionally take innocent civilian lives must be apprehended and tried in courts of law. We do not think such actions justify a war against the innocent civilians of other countries. This can only result in a major increase in the spiral of violence that will come back to haunt us with future terror attacks. We also insist that certain new security measures being considered by our lawmakers must not be allowed to abrogate fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution or rely on racial profiling to haul suspects in.
According to recent opinion polls, the overwhelming majority of the world's people support arresting those responsible for the World Trade Centre attack and putting them on trial. But they strongly oppose a new war. This too is the view of a substantial number of people in the US, even though the mass media has sought to convey the impression that there is a terrorist lurking in every dark alley and that virtually all Americans support a new war. The demonstration in Washington was proof positive that a strong opposition to war is developing in our country, more quickly and in more difficult circumstances than in years past.
Our energies must be invested in building a diverse and mass movement of all who can possibly be united to demonstrate in the streets, and take other actions against war and for social progress. There is never an 'inopportune' time to stand up against war, despite some cautious or fearful voices within the liberal camp.
We have within our grasp the most effective method for halting modern day terrorism against innocent civilians. This is to conduct a thorough re-evaluation of Washington's policies towards the great majority of peoples of the world, to take sincere steps to end global poverty and inequality, to discontinue playing the role of world policeman, and to construct a foreign policy based on generosity, respect and fairness towards all peoples, including in the Middle East.
Such action would provide our country with genuine national security and freedom from international terror. It would transform hatred into respect. It would cost far less in treasure and lives. And it would serve as a splendid, lasting humanitarian memorial to the victims of 11 September.
Jack A Smith
Mid-Hudson National People's Campaign, New York
I would like to add a biographical note to Gary McFarlane's review of the new book on Claude McKay (A Fierce Hatred of Injustice, September SR).
Claude McKay is a fascinating figure, representing the way in which the best section of West Indian/American black intellectuals looked to the Russian Bolshevik Revolution as a model to end racism forever.
McKay, after moving from his childhood Jamaica to study at Booker T Washington's Tuskagee Institute, was shocked by the racism he encountered in US society. 'At first I was horrified. My spirit revolted against the ignoble cruelty and blindness of it all', he later wrote.
He soon moved away from the moderate accommodation to capitalism that Washington preached towards the radical pan-Africanism of WEB Du Bois. He moved to New York and soon began mixing in radical circles, admiring the anti-racism of the International Workers of the World.
But it was the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 that truly radicalised McKay. He saw communism as the only way to crush racism and oppression. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were liberating oppressed nations from the yoke of the Russian Tsarist Empire at the same time as the 'free world' of western capitalism was building its racist colonial empires. The Bolsheviks were driving out anti-Semitism at the same time as state-sponsored racism in the US was encouraging the lynchers.
McKay's radicalism and defiance against the murderous pogroms being perpetrated against blacks at that time was epitomised by his magnificent poem 'If We Must Die', first published by the Liberator magazine run by Trotskyist Max Eastman which concludes:
'O kinsman! We must meet the
Though far outnumbered let us
show us brave,
And for their thousand blows
deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the
Like men we'll face the
murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but
In 1919 McKay moved to London, becoming a regular visitor at the International Social Club in Shoreditch, mixing with exiled revolutionaries and the radical British left. He joined Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers' Socialist Federation in January 1920 and became one of two black contributors to its vibrant newspaper, the Workers' Dreadnought. He wrote on a whole number of issues, including the Garvey movement in the US, the coal miners of the Rhondda, racism in the London docks, and the TUC. He also reported on the unity conference which launched the Communist Party of Great Britain.
In 1921 McKay returned to the US where he pursued his literary career, joining the editorial board of the Liberator magazine. The following year McKay travelled to Moscow to attend the Fourth Congress of the Third International. However, when McKay got to Russia he was confronted with a serious hurdle-the American Communist Party refused to recognise him as part of their delegation because he had lined up with a minority in the party that wanted the party to abolish its underground apparatus and organise openly.
The leadership of the Comintern had to step in, publicly snubbing his American colleagues by making him a 'special delegate'. This allowed McKay and fellow black communist Otto Huiswoud to shape the discussion on fighting racism. This resulted in a resolution that praised American blacks for fighting back against racism, pledged to help build an international radical black movement, and demanded that the trade unions allow black workers into their ranks. Lenin warned the American CP to recognise its work amongst blacks as 'a strategically important element in Communist activity'. McKay had a meeting with Trotsky who, aware of the lack of black revolutionaries on the ground, tried to persuade McKay to give up poetry and become a full time organiser. Trotsky failed.
The stark contrast between how a black man was treated in capitalist America compared to revolutionary Russia was not lost on McKay. He wrote, 'Wherever I appeared in the streets I was greeted by all of the people with enthusiasm... My response was as sincere as the mass feeling was spontaneous. That miraculous experience was so extraordinary that I have never been able to understand it... Never in my life did I feel prouder of being an African, a black, and no mistake about it.'
But unfortunately, as McKay himself readily admitted, 'I could never be a disciplined member of any communist party, for I was born to be a poet.' Revolution's loss was culture's gain.
McKay, after living a bohemian and poverty-stricken life in Germany and France for over a decade, returned to New York to light the path for the Harlem Renaissance. Revolted by the rise of Stalinism and the antics of the American CP, he drifted away from revolutionary politics and moved first to a position of embittered political isolation, and then anti-communist Catholicism.
It was a journey that many disillusioned black radicals travelled in the 1930s. But there can be no doubt of the vision of a world without racism McKay saw during his time in revolutionary Russia. As he wrote, 'Never before had I experienced such an instinctive sentiment of affectionate feeling compelling me to the bosom of any people, white or coloured. And I am certain I never will again.'
In an otherwise evocative article on Shostakovich (September SR), Mike Gonzalez misquotes Mayakovsky, who did not write, 'The ship of poetry crashed against the rocks of the state', but, 'The boat of love has crashed against the rocks of everyday life.' Nor, as Mike imagines, did Prokofiev flee to the west, but, on the contrary, returned to Russia from a period of residence in the west and remained in his homeland until he died there on the same day as Stalin.
Mike fetishises 'revolutionary modernism' as a kind of gold standard against which Soviet art should be judged. This is by no means an exclusively socialist position, but has always been the conventional wisdom of art critics in the west, whether political or apolitical-the view that everything went downhill in Soviet culture after the modernist 1920s.
In fact, many powerful non-modernist works were produced under the most grisly days of Stalin, from Bulgakov's Master and the Margarita, Platonov's novels and Tvardovsky's poetry to Mukina's sculpture, Nesterov's paintings, Eisenstein's late films and even Prokofiev's Cantata to Stalin.