Issue 272 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
From Calcuttta to Cairo
India, like the report about Britain (February SR), also saw a spate of anti-war protests--in Delhi, Calcutta and Bombay. In Delhi it was organised by the Committee Against War in Iraq formed in October 2002. Some 3,000 people marched in the heart of the capital, New Delhi, in protest against imperialist plans to attack Iraq. Placards and banners said 'No War on Iraq', 'Down with US Aggression', 'Protest Now or Perish'. Other placards showed the connection between the war and corporations. Students, academics, writers, social activists and workers were part of the march. Dalit (oppressed caste) and Muslim groups were also present to protest against the war in Iraq.
The Indian police were present in full force, with water cannons, batons and guns. They had barricaded the street so that the procession could not march to the American centre. The protesters made no efforts to break the barricade and so the procession was turned into a meeting. People then sang songs of protest and revolution, clapping and playing musical instruments. Leaders from left parliamentary parties and Dalit and Muslims groups spoke in the meeting. Most speakers exposed US claims about the need for war against Iraq and denounced Bush as an imperialist. The Indian government was also criticised for its pro-US policies and for not firmly opposing war.
There were lot of youths who felt frustrated that the protest was not vocal and militant enough. They thought that some parties were not sincere about the need to fight US imperialism and were being populist. They felt that a real revolutionary alternative was needed both to the US warmongering and the hawkish Indian government.
Anti-US demonstrations were also held in Kolkata (Calcutta) and Mumbai (Bombay). People are making their own efforts to organise demonstrations and protest marches. For example, there was a huge meeting organised in the Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, on 9 February where hundreds of students enthusiastically took part. Novelist Arundhati Roy and academics Prabhat Patnaik and Aijaz Ahmad effectively exposed US and British imperialist designs.
During a weekend of anti-war protests in Cairo to coincide with 15 February's international day of action demonstrators were warned of more mass arrests. Riot police surrounded a rally to prevent supporters joining from the streets. They told young activists that they would be dragged to jail.
One of the protesters who was seized the week before has been released. Ibrahim al-Sahary, a journalist, was freed from Tura Prison on the Monday after the demonstration, leaving 11 activists still in jail.
A spokesman for groups campaigning for the prisoners' release said, 'Thanks to all those who have brought pressure on the Egyptian government--your contribution is invaluable and gives us confidence and courage. The news of mass marches in Europe, America and Australia gives us great hope. We heard that there were 2 million marchers in London. We know truly that we are not alone.'
Ibrahim al-Sahary was held for a week in solitary confinement and before his release was blindfolded, beaten and interrogated. Most of the prisoners--arrested since anti-war demonstrations began in mid-January--have been tortured by the use of electric shock treatment and repeated beatings.
Despite the arrests 2,000 people participated in the demonstration in central Cairo on 15 February. They were met by 5,000 riot police. One demonstrator said, 'They encircled us tightly and then openly intimidated people, warning them that they too would be seized. Here prison means beatings and worse--but still people made a great effort to join in. The anti-war movement is attracting many who have not been political activists and who are learning fast about how the state treats us.'
Eleven people are still held. None have been charged--under Egypt's military laws detainees may be held for weeks without formal allegations. Their spokeman says, 'We urge all anti-war activists in the international movement to give us their help by protesting directly to Egyptian embassies. Your work is vital in freeing our friends and giving us the encouragement to continue our struggle.'
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The sight that greeted me on 15 February as the protest against war on Iraq began its slow but methodical move towards Hyde Park was truly amazing. As Andrew Stone predicted in last month's Socialist Review (February SR) it was truly an historic day.
Virgin and veteran, black and white, male and female, mums and dads and children and teens, we marched side by side in a resolute display of what we think of Blair's attitude toward those who have supported his rhetorical eqivocations for the past eight years.
We have meekly accepted his 'spin without substance' and his grandiose designs on international leadership, fearful that a revolt would once again open the door for the return of the right wing infested Tory machine.
We appear to have realised that New Labour's project is the epitome of Tory realism--privatisation, modernisation, public-private partnership and all the other euphemisms that allow the Tory creed its continued advancement, even after we have decapitated the head from the body.
Bush and Blair's purpose is that of world domination and the right to lay first claim to the resources of the world. Empire builders supreme, capitalists extraordinaire, imperialists par excellence, these are the criteria by which they govern.
Tony Benn was right when he roared from the podium that this is a war about oil when it should be a war against hunger, disease, dictatorship, poverty, ignorance, multinationals and globalisation. We must return to socialist values. The word 'humanitarianism' should not be subject to further debasement by the Bush and Blair partnership.
Tony Benn also had a point when he said that if weapons inspectors are necessary in the search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, then why not in Israel, why not in England, why not in the US? If Iraq is guilty of manipulating the resolutions of the United Nations then why is it not relevent to charge Israel with the same oversight?
No, Tony, your arguments are facile, they are the procrastinations of a politician hoist on his own petard and waiting with worried anticipation as the Sword of Damocles hangs over his head.
Prescott bleats out 'trust Tony', that's what leadership is all about. Anyone watching the Panorama programme on 16 February, 'Promises, Promises', revealing the state of public transport and the failure of the beloved ten-year plan will know just how trustworthy 'Two Jags' can be. This evil regime--yes ours, not Saddam's--should be the first to feel our wrath. I pray we have the fortitude to carry on fighting.
George R Waddle
Mike Haynes's article 'Facing Down the Evil Empire' (February SR) identifies the links between the motivation for military proliferation, the desire for war, and questions of global economics, particularly the rise of capitalism. However, the possibility of future conflict in Iraq and elsewhere in the world is about more than US imperialism and western capitalism versus its rivals.
There is the daunting question of human nature itself which the author does touch on briefly. He makes the bold claim that human beings are not inherently warlike. This is open to debate and crucial to questions about human conflict. Beyond this there is the question of the clashing of religious and moral beliefs which have led to many conflicts, irrespective of global economic considerations.
These fundamental points about human nature and the inevitable clashing of cultures need to be considered alongside the purely political and economic issues. We might then get closer to the truth about the nature of war and the struggle to avoid it.
What an excellent article on the late Joe Strummer (January SR), and the lyrics to 'White Riot' still inspire today.
Of course after this single and the excellent first album The Clash made startling progress (the album reached number 12 on its release in Britain). The record company started taking control, and after that the band, despite critical acclaim for their efforts, started churning out what can only be described as corporate slush, and the politics died a death.
The best way to appreciate Joe and his thinking is through The Clash's first album--which reflected 1970s Britain superbly.
Under the extreme right wing views of the Tories in the early 1980s The Clash had very little to say on record, and this was in no small part due to the corporate control. Punk never died--it was just forced out by the right wing plastic people at major labels.
In the early 1980s punk became more underground, with bands like the excellent Conflict, Discharge, Subhumans, Crass, and others.
Much of today's protest was stimulated by that era, which has been conveniently forgotten by the music media.
In his review of Welcome to the Desert of the Real!, the latest book by the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek, Alex Callinicos remarks that despite Zizek's intermittent political 'misses', he's generally 'heading in the right direction' (January SR).
One noteworthy example of this appears in an interview with Zizek published in Ha'aretz, the liberal Israeli newspaper, on 13 January. At the end of the interview Zizek is asked what sort of alternative to capitalism he'd like to see. He replies: 'There's the puzzle. I would say, a new version of what was once called socialism.'
This, to my knowledge, is the first time that Zizek has explicitly used the word 'socialism' to describe his hopes for the future. Previously, he tended to (mis)use the term to describe state capitalist regimes of the former Eastern bloc.
This is a significant move by a leading player in the intellectual debate on alternatives to capitalism--a debate where the 's' word is often conspicuous by its absence. It's a move to be welcomed.
Shaun Doherty's review of Peter Mullan's The Magdalene Sisters (Feburary SR) was spot on. It is also worth drawing your readers' attention to Mullan's earlier masterpiece, The Orphans, which is available on video and DVD.
This is a grim, wonderful, surreal, working class black comedy. Set in Glasgow, it follows the misadventures of three brothers and their disabled sister the night before their mother's funeral.
While not wanting to go over the top, it was one of the best films I have seen, although my mum thought the masturbation scene unnecessary! It is essential viewing.