Issue 265 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published July/August 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Israeli tanks reoccupy Ramalla|
Yes, it does mean a 'bloodbath'. Even Shimon Peres, Israel's hapless foreign minister, said it in response to Bush's infamous Palestine speech. But the wider and even more frightening possible implications were missed. Dangling the prospect of a Palestinian state sometime in the future, while imposing the deliberately impossible demand that the Palestinians change their leadership first, is a recipe for chaos.
In the speech there is no criticism by the US government of Sharon's army trying to impose order on the chaos they have created. At the time of writing the Israeli army was reoccupying most of the West Bank and drawing up plans for a 'massive' operation in Gaza. What is not reported is that the right wing think-tanks advising Bush, and a key section of Sharon's own cabinet, are talking up the prospect of 'transfer'. This is the removal of the Palestinan population from the West Bank to Jordan--ethnic cleansing by another name. This is a policy which regularly surfaced as a possible Zionist option throughout the last century.
The problem they have is softening up public opinion. But chaos continues--killings on all sides seemingly spiralling out of control combine with the anti-Arab racism now sweeping Israel. Even a mainstream Israeli leader like former Labour prime minister Ehud Barak can denounce Arab culture as a 'lying culture', something 'alien to the western Judeo-Christian tradition. This may be the perfect opportunity for the Israelis to carry out their forced removal of Palestinians.
George Bush had a message for the Palestinian people last month: you're on your own. There will be no international condemnation of the brutal occupation and repression being carried out by Israeli troops. Ariel Sharon can commit his war crimes with impunity, safe in the knowledge that the US aid on which Israel depends will continue. Bush's long awaited speech called for a 'provisional' Palestinian state conditional on the Palestinians electing a new leader to replace Yasser Arafat. Even the British government balked at this one.
The proposed removal of Arafat adds another name to the rather long list of those regimes which Bush's government wants to change--forcibly if necessary. The Palestinian leader joins those of Iraq, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, among others, as having displeased the US president by being allegedly too soft on terrorism. No wonder the most right wing Israeli parties are delighted with the speech--and no wonder the Palestinians are despondent. The response of the Palestinian Authority and the Arab rulers elsewhere in the Middle East has been feeble in the extreme, as their dream of influencing western opinion through diplomacy and gentle pressure disappears before their eyes.
Bush is not interested in peace in the Middle East, except insofar as continued war delays his plans for attacking Iraq. In the meantime he has publicly announced that CIA operatives will try to topple Saddam anyway. If peaceful regime change fails then he is banking on invasion. Some of the most influential in the White House believe that the solution to the Middle East lies in crushing Iraq and then enabling Israel to fully settle its scores with the Palestinians.
That way disaster lies. Bush enunciated in early June his doctrine of 'pre-emptive intervention'--an open declaration of war against any part of the world suspected of 'harbouring terrorists'. He regards it as his right to go round the world intervening at will. This will only add to the failures of the war against terrorism. Despite thousands dead in Afghanistan, there is no peace, no democratic government, and no sign that Al Qaida has disappeared. The Middle East and south Asia are now in turmoil, without a political solution or permanent resolution but just endless war.
But the US is meeting resistance--from the Palestinians themselves, from the masses in the Arab world, and from the solidarity and anti-war movements around the world. Those movements are making common cause with the growing movement against capitalism, as more and more people make the link between capitalism and war. The problems dogging the Bush administration in recent weeks are in part because it is meeting resistance around the world.
The struggle therefore is not simply for a Palestinian state. Events of recent weeks have shown that any such internationally agreed state would be a Bantustan, under the economic and military dominance of Israel. The fight should therefore be for a democratic, secular state, where Arabs, Jews and Christians could live together as they have done for most of history. Even more, it is a fight for a society which rejects the priorities of capital and war.
BETWEEN THE LINES
The big brother house in Westminster
New Labour likes to vaunt its modernising project--particularly when it comes to the rights of the individual. Yet its obsession with the right wing agenda--particularly crime, benefits, asylum seekers and now terrorism--pushes it in the direction of strengthening the state and eroding civil liberties.
Last month Tony Blair promised a new white paper, the eleventh piece of criminal justice legislation since Labour came to office in 1997. It would ditch the double jeopardy rule that prevents people being tried twice for the same crime--even though the Macpherson inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence rejected the move.
There would be a new intermediate tier of justice, where a judge sitting with two lay magistrates tried cases too serious to be tried by magistrates on their own, in practice imposing even tighter restrictions on the right to jury trial.
The home secretary, David Blunkett, has revived the idea of introducing a computerised identity card--though in typical New Labour speak these are called 'entitlement cards'. Typically, it was announced that the new card would be tested on asylum seekers and their dependants first. Their card contains a mini-microchip holding such information as a complete set of fingerprints, a digital photograph, home address, date of birth, family members and serial numbers. The Home Office also wants to plan for a 'national compulsory card' which will replace passports and driving licences.
Access to computer information also underlies New Labour's other recent attempt to undermine civil liberties. It put a draft order to parliament to allow a wide range of governmental departments, as well as all local authorities, fire authorities and a long list of quangos, to snoop on private communications. The draft order would allow them to compel telephone companies and internet service providers (ISPs) to hand over detailed personal information about individual users. None of them would have to apply to the courts. Conducting surveillance operations would be their decision and their decision alone. The legal checks to avoid abuse would be minimal. The commissioner in charge of 'interception of communications', Lord Justice Swindon Thomas, has an office of two people--not enough, he complained, to open the mail.
Such was the fierce opposition from all sides that within days David Blunkett beat a retreat, saying that a 'full consultation on the issues raised' would now take place. So a climbdown--but for how long? The draft order was made under the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA), which became law in 2000. RIPA provided the home secretary with new powers of interception specifically aimed at ISPs.
ISPs would be compelled to incorporate computer technology that security services would use to monitor the flow of information. All privacy on the net would be lost. Individual users would also be obliged to surrender the code for any encrypted messages on pain of being sent to jail for up to two years. This would have reversed the traditional burden of proof, in which you are presumed innocent until found guilty.
Surveillance is not restricted to state bodies--it is now central to industry. Every time you use a supermarket loyalty card, or switch on cable TV or access your favourite website, someone somewhere is monitoring you.
There are two and a half million CCTVs dotted around Britain. Some, notably in the London borough of Newham, are now being linked up to a facial recognition system which will track criminals. It doesn't work (as even the police admit). Nor is Britain alone in increasing electronic surveillance of the internet. It is also a battleground between countries which accuse each other of stealing commercial secrets. Blunkett's plans followed the European Parliament's surprise decision to give EU governments sweeping powers to monitor telephone, e-mail and internet communications.
New Labour, having shed its socialist credentials, is now throwing overboard its democratic commitments. The attack on civil liberties is intimately bound up with its desire to strengthen the system's ability to exploit. The more it can track its citizens, the more it hopes to snuff out organised resistance. But in the end millions of us taking action on the streets and in the workplace are more powerful than the most powerful surveillance controls any Big Brother can dream up.
|Fighting for a better world in Seville|
The echoes of last year's anti-capitalist protests in Genoa are still being felt all over Italy. They were heard quite literally last month in Florence, during the first showing of the film Carlo Giuliani ragazzo, a documentary about the last day in the life of the protester who was murdered by the police. Some 2,000 people packed into the city's largest theatre and gave the director a standing ovation.
It was no coincidence that the premiere was organised in Florence, as the city will host the European Social Forum (ESF) in November. In a debate which followed the showing Vittorio Agnoletto, one of the main organisers of the Genoa protest and the coming ESF, called for 'the spirit of Genoa' to be used in mobilising for the ESF--a broad coalition of forces, often involving radical ideas.
Most decisions on the ESF will be taken at an international level, but what will become crucial is organisation on the ground in Florence. The Florence Social Forum (FSF) came together spontaneously when people returned from Genoa last July--they were angry and wanted to protest against police violence. Sara Nocentini, one of the six spokespeople of the Florence Social Forum says, 'All that was needed was a quick ring-round, and 10,000 people demonstrated virtually spontaneously.' Since then a permanent structure has been built, and the FSF has become part of the local political scene. For example, in January university lecturers turned to the FSF for help with a demonstration they wanted to organise. Some 15,000 people marched through the streets. In April the FSF took part in the local demonstrations in support of the general strike. They also made it a 'generalised' strike by protesting outside temporary work agencies, criticising their lack of job security.
As an independent force the FSF has involved local people, such as on the 10,000-strong demonstration in May against a racist immigration law. They also organised several torchlight processions in support of the Palestinians when the Israeli army attacked Jenin. As Sara says, in a situation where people are totally fed up with Labour-type parties, 'The movement manages to reach an audience which doesn't want to listen to political parties anymore.'
One of the key strengths of the social forum movement is its links with the trade union movement. One of Italy's biggest, the Fiom engineering union, has officially been part of the movement for a year now. Mauro Fuso, Florence provincial secretary of Fiom, regularly goes to the meetings. 'When multinationals such as General Electric take over companies in Florence, workers directly experience the effects of globalisation through sackings and so on,' he says, 'social forums are places where globalisation is discussed critically, and we want to be involved. They've got radical criticisms to make, and they force us to think about things differently.'
But all is not sweetness and light in Florence. The equivalent of New Labour, the DS, runs the council, along with the Greens and Catholics, and has been consistently trying to privatise local services. Yet at the same time DS councillors attend social forum meetings, claiming they support the movement's policies. The slogan 'Think globally, act locally' is posed very starkly in Florence. The council has recently privatised council-owned chemists, the municipal milk service, and many council houses. Now it wants to set up public-private partnerships to run museums, libraries, and most council houses. It's also proposing a tourist tax, in which any bank transaction will go into a public-private fund, partially run by managers of big local hotels.
The FSF are planning a series of 'ESF Sundays' over the coming months--carnival processions through working class areas explaining what the ESF will be. Sara adds, 'The lesson from Porto Alegre is that it has to be a party as well, not just debates.'
There are also more serious reasons to come. As Mauro from Fiom says, 'Anyone can come and bring their own point of view on globalisation.' And Sara adds, 'If you don't come, you'll miss the chance of being where all the peoples of Europe will come together for the first time and discuss the building of a new future. Nowadays it seems that whether Blair or Berlusconi is in power, there's very little difference between them. So come to Florence, and protest against the Blairusconis of this world and their faith in market forces.'
One minute past midnight, 20 June in Seville, and we were witnessing something strange. Some 200 young activists were marching round the packed old town waving red and black flags, chanting that the general strike had started, and demanding the bars close. Many landlords obeyed, shutters slammed down, and drinkers went out onto the streets with a smile.
In the morning almost everything was shut. Most had stickers or posters proudly displayed in the window saying 'Closed for the general strike'. At 5am there were 50 pickets at our local bus garage, barricading the entrance. By 7am there were 300 pickets outside the main Seville hospital. The streets were littered with strike leaflets. By midday strikers and supporters were gathering for the strike demonstation.
This was a celebration of resistance. Everywhere there was anti-government chanting. As one striker said, 'This isn't only about workers' rights--the problem is this government supports business against the whole people.'
The next 48 hours was a whirlwind of meetings, protests, street stunts and fevered political debate. The university was taken over by the Seville Social Forum, which organised packed forums on militarism, fighting the far right and privatisation.
The spirit of anti-capitalism infected the whole city. Over 100,000 people assembled for the final demonstration on Saturday night and the mood was captured by the simple chant, 'Anti-capitalista! Anti-capitalista!'
These are historic events. The general strike created the biggest mobilisations in Spain since the fascists were brought down in the mid-1970s. Over half a million marched in Barcelona.
At the same time the rebirth of resistance is throwing up big questions, and relatively small groups of revolutionaries on the demonstrations made a very big impact. As a local Andalucian paper said, 'This is a movement on the rise.'
|Marching to defend asylum seekers|
Labour's intellectuals prepared the party's current lurch to the right on asylum and immigration. Blairite thinkers in the 'Policy Network' said Labour must adopt the policies of the far right to stop the growth of the far right, and in particular must attack asylum seekers. Recent initiatives by Tony Blair, David Blunkett and Jack Straw show the message was received and understood.
The Policy Network is Peter Mandelson's Third Way thinktank. In early June it hosted an awayday at Hartwell House, a Buckinghamshire hotel, for Blair, Gordon Brown, Patricia Hewitt, and newer Blairite stars like the Miliband brothers and Ruth Kelly. Blair's influential pollster Philip Gould alarmed this audience by saying his 'soundings' showed that 'angry young white men' were about to desert Labour for a 'Le Pen like figure' unless the party embraced their hostility on asylum and immigration.
Gould's thesis is like the schoolboy excuse, 'He made me do it.' Blair's guru is arguing for accommodating racism, but claims this is the fault of young working class men, not civilised intellectuals like Gould himself.
Gould's prediction is a fantasy--recent electoral gains for the BNP may be a reminder of the need to fight fascism, but they do not represent a massive shift to the right in the electorate. Even the BNP successes in Burnley fail to fulfil the Gould thesis. The result in Cliviger showed the fascists won seats from middle class Tories as well as working class Labour voters.
Gould produces these results by 'focus groups'--guided discussions which reflect the prejudices of their organiser more than public opinion. The danger is that his prophecy could become self fulfilling, as the government responds with new positions on immigration which shift the public debate rightwards.
Labour's other leading intellectual, Tony Giddens, also a Policy Network member, began developing the new immigration agenda in May. Giddens said that Labour must respond to the Le Pen vote by being 'tough on immigration, but tough on the causes of hostility to immigrants'. His argument that Labour must reflect 'people's anxieties' on immigration will itself of course increase hostility to existing immigrants.
Gould's message was amplified by Peter Mandelson, who came out of the seminar declaring that the government must 'crack down on immigration'. Mandelson also said that 'public anxieties about crime, asylum and immigration should be addressed'. Official initiatives followed.
A confidential Number Ten memo revealed plans to use the armed forces against asylum seekers, with navy warships intercepting boats in the Mediterranean and the RAF flying refugees out of Britain in 'secure bulk removals'. At the same time Jeff Rooker at the Home Office proposes returning Somali and Afghan asylum seekers, claiming that both countries now have 'good local government'.
Labour's biggest lunge on asylum left the party flat on its face--Blair and Blunkett proposed cutting off aid to countries who let their citizens escape to Europe. The Foreign Office bizarrely described the plan as 'part of a wider effort to fight corruption and encourage good governance, accountable policing and independent judiciaries'. Jack Straw's officials claim that Europe using the award of aid to change the laws, courts and police procedures in developing nations makes their judges more independent and their police more accountable.
The proposal at the Seville summit of the EU last month was made in concert with Blair's right wing partners in Europe, Spain's conservative prime minister, Aznar, and Italy's Berlusconi. The grotesque plan was even rejected by France's Chirac, a right wing president who faces a much more significant fascist challenge. Clare Short was moved to break ranks and describe the scheme as 'morally repugnant'.
Labour failed to bring the EU behind the plan to economically bully non-EU countries, although the European Presidency Statement still allows trade sanctions and other economic measures against countries deemed to have an 'unjustified lack of cooperation in joint management of migration flows'. Labour is pursuing the idea of trade sanctions against the developing world and ID cards at home to 'send a powerful signal' on immigration. Blair's government simultaneously dragged the immigration agenda further to the right and gave off an air of hysteria and incompetence.
Labour's other 'crackdown' measure on asylum--David Blunkett's new detention camps--remains on the table. David Blunkett will not be discriminating against asylum seekers' children by forcing them to be educated separately in these new detention camps. Instead the home secretary will hire somebody else to discriminate for him. Each of the three new centres will be privately built and run.
The centres, designed to imprison 'economic migrants', will in fact be run by economic migrants--Group 4, Wackenhut and Sodexho, the firms who run Britain's immigration detention centres and private prisons, are Danish, American and French multinationals. Group 4 is likely to run one of the camps, even after the disaster of the fire at Yarls Wood. Not only does it remain one of the Home Office's favourite contractors, it is also doubling its chance for success by taking over its nearest competitor, Wackenhut.
|Chirac and Raffarin are confident--for now|
Many commentators interpreted the mainstream right's victory in the French parliamentary elections in June as a return to normality after the shock of Le Pen's showing in the presidential election last April. The big majority for president Chirac's UMP (Union pour la majorité présidentielle) coalition and the fact that the defeated Socialists achieved more or less the same vote as in the last general election of 1997 appeared to herald the recovery of the mainstream, apparently confirmed by the falling away of support for both the National Front (FN) and the revolutionary left since April.
The right returned to power because it was able to seize the initiative following calls from the entire political establishment to back Chirac against Le Pen for president. Chirac moved immediately to herd the various factions of the mainstream right into a coalition designed to win him a parliamentary majority and so avoid another period of cohabitation between a right wing president and a left wing government. Both the right and the Socialists insisted on the need for tactical voting to avoid a repeat of the presidential election, so marginalising the smaller parties.
Although the Socialist vote held up, frustration with the record of the left in government, the cause of Jospin's presidential failure, has fatally weakened his 'plural left'. The Communist Party lost half its 1997 electorate, winning just 1.2 million votes, while each of the leading partners in the coalition--Robert Hue for the Communists, Jean-Pierre Cheve`nement for the Pôle Républicain and the Green Dominique Voynet--lost their seats. Martine Aubry, the minister responsible for introducing the 35-hour week, widely tipped as the Socialists' next presidential candidate, was another casualty. Her defeat in Lille, the result of bitterness at the way she allowed employers to twist the 35-hour week to their own advantage, opens the way for a Blairite successor to Jospin.
In both rounds of the parliamentary election the single most popular option was abstention, chosen by almost 40 percent of those eligible to vote in the second round. The UMP's victory was achieved with the first round support of less than a quarter of registered voters. No existing government has been able to retain power in any of the six general elections held in France since 1978 .
This crisis of representation characterises French politics today and promises to haunt Chirac and his new administration. In this context the Front National's score of 11.34 percent gives no cause for complacency. Although down on Le Pen's presidential showing, the demands of standing over 500 candidates in the parliamentary elections require a higher level of organisation than the presidential campaign. The total vote for the extreme right, down nearly 3 percent on its 1997 score at around 12.5 percent, indicates the damage done by the FN split in 1999. It also highlights its failure to capitalise, at least in the short term, on Le Pen's presidential success.
This is largely due to the powerful anti-fascist backlash which greeted the news of Le Pen's presidential score. Millions demonstrated against the FN during a fortnight of relentless activity between the two rounds of that election. But given such militancy, why did the revolutionary left, which topped 10 percent of the presidential poll, not perform better in the parliamentary elections? Although Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and the Ligue Communiste Révolutionnaire (LCR) improved slightly on their 1997 vote, they won less than 3 percent of the poll. This failure to hold on to more than a fraction of their presidential electorate, numbering almost 3 million, highlights political weaknesses which allowed the initiative to slip away between April and June.
Part of this can be ascribed to the bandwagon which was built up by the chorus of voices (including the LCR's) calling for a vote for Chirac against Le Pen. But the pressure to vote tactically in June would have been countered more effectively had LO responded to the LCR's call for unity of anti-capitalist forces, beginning with a united campaign of the far left in the parliamentary campaign. Lutte Ouvrière's sectarian refusal to cooperate deprived the far left's electorate of a clear alternative to the mainstream left in June. In many constituencies people were faced with a choice between candidates from both groups. In most of these the desire for unity led people to identify with the LCR rather than LO. Lutte Ouvrière, its vote down by over a quarter on its 1997 score, has set itself against unity on the left. In doing so it has broken the dynamic which had built up around its presidential candidate Arlette Laguiller over the past seven years. This has provoked an internal crisis in the organisation with some members leaving to join the LCR.
The coming months will see an offensive against ordinary people by a newly confident right. Symbolic of this confidence is the return of Alain Juppé to centre stage as the key figure in the construction of Chirac's UMP. Juppé's term as prime minister in the mid-1990s was wrecked by a massive public sector revolt against his programme of social security cuts. His return, like the recent resurgence of Le Pen, is symptomatic of the present period.
Since the mid-1990s, despite the revival of industrial militancy, the emergence of a vibrant anti-capitalist movement and electoral success for the revolutionary left, the failure to establish a political current around which these forces can unite has offered the left's enemies the chance to regroup. These enemies have returned weaker than before, bruised by previous confrontations. But as mainstream political parties creak in the face of polarisation and volatility, the stakes are rising. New struggles against the present government are sure to emerge, offering opportunities for the left to regain the initiative. Failure to do so will in turn provide further scope for the far right to grow.