Issue 272 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published March 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
|Carving up the world between them|
The next few weeks will see a mixture of bribery and coercion as George Bush and Tony Blair attempt to veil military self aggrandisement in the language of coalition. Whether it takes place through a 'coalition of the willing' or under the cover of the UN, the manoeuvres that have characterised the build-up to war should dispel any illusions of an 'international community' of our rulers.
The Orwellian 'final push for peace' promised by Blair was described by a UN observer as 'the British are doing the diplomacy and the Americans are writing the cheques'. Turkey, which is central to the US plan for a northern front, is the most transparent example of this kind of diplomacy. Despite 90 percent of its people opposing the war and a mass protest surrounding the Turkish parliament scuppering the government's attempts to get an overall majority of deputies ratifying it, it is considering a $30 billion 'compensation' deal with the US. This would be tied to 'assurances that Iraqi Kurds will not get more political or military power during and after any war'. Turkey has persecuted and ethnicly cleansed its own Kurdish population, and attacked Kurds in northern Iraq with US complicity.
The wrangles inside the Security Council have been no less cynical. Bulgaria rushed to back war in anticipation of the US Senate ratifying its Nato membership. Angola was offered $4.1 million by the US for the resettlement of refugees. Chile has been offered the carrot of a more favourable free trade agreement. Mexico is dependent on the US for 85 percent of its exports, and is eager to negotiate a deal on migration. Pakistan has been offered generous loan deals.
A US official described the decision facing Security Council members thus: 'Those countries that receive aid from the United States themselves recognise the importance of donor dollars, and don't need to be reminded.' They will all be aware that in 1991, when Yemen voted against the Gulf War, a senior US diplomat told the Yemeni ambassador, 'That was the most expensive no vote you ever cast.' Within three days the US cancelled a $70 million aid programme to Yemen.
Of course, although the US is militarily dominant, there are competing imperialist powers that would like to put a check on it. This is partly out of existing economic interests--France and Russia have Iraqi oil contracts that they are eager to defend--but it is also about wider, long term strategic concerns. The US depends on oil imports for about 70 percent of its domestic demand, and is due to expend its current reserves in ten years. At current production rates Iraq has 526 years of reserves. But preventing the growth of potential rivals through denying them control of this vital resource is also important. France, Russia and China also all fear that a successful invasion of Iraq will encourage the US to threaten their interests elsewhere--such as Russia's investment in Iran's Bushehr nuclear plant.
So the smaller imperialist powers have also been jockeying to buy Security Council votes. Cameroon has been pointedly reminded that France is its biggest donor. The right wing dictatorship in Guinea is also considering the relative advantages of supporting its second biggest donor, France, and its biggest, the US--whose $200 million a year amounts to about half of the Guinean national budget. The recent defiance of 'Old Europe' within Nato and the EU was another example of the frictions resulting from a particularly emboldened superpower.
All of which makes a mockery of the democratic facade of the Security Council. Set up to police the postwar division of the world, it has either been a conduit for the aggression of the major powers--such as its support for the Korean War and the first Gulf War--or bypassed when those interests became threatened. That the US, which has used its Security Council veto more than any other country, should complain at its 'unreasonable' use is particularly rich, given that in the past 30 years it has vetoed 34 resolutions seeking to restrain its watchdog in the Middle East, Israel.
It is one thing to expose the hypocrisy of our rulers, another to make opposition to war conditional on them. Jacques Chirac, whose party did a deal with the Front National in 1983 (allowing them to get their first council seat), is not to be trusted. Neither is Vladimir Putin, the butcher of Chechnya, nor the dictatorship in China. The UN reflects the relative power of the countries that make it up. Bush and Blair's willingness to ignore their own rules if necessary is a weapon for the anti-war movement to wield. But whatever means they find to perpetrate this assault they must be opposed for the warmongers they are.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Cable & Wireless must be feeling the pinch. It has just sold a single telephone number (118 888) to directory enquiries firm Conduit for an estimated £1 million.
Beware the PFI financed information board at Paddington station. Passengers were surprised to see destinations for a train at platform 4 recently to be Manhattan and Wall Street. In fact the train only made it as far as Newport.
'How do you get the most out of the world's energy resources?' asked the advert for ChevronTexaco (Condoleezza Rice's old oil firm) in the Economist recently.
On the facing page was the answer--the magazine's leader column titled 'Why war would be justified'.
The House of Commons has installed a new e-mail system to protect MPs from a deluge of pornographic 'spam'. Not everyone is happy though. Richard Caborn, the minister for sport, has many of his e-mails blocked because they are addressed to Dick. For some reason the new system also filters out many Welsh words.
Smoke and mirros
The US, which claims to be going to war against the scourge of biological and chemical weapons, is preparing to use such weapons in the prosecution of that war. US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld is planning to arm special forces with toxic agents similar to the 'non-lethal calmatives' that killed 120 hostages in the Moscow theatre siege last year.
The Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, a US military body, has overseen the development of these weapons--only allowed by the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) for internal 'law enforcement'--for use in mortar shells. New drugs that incapacitate the human nervous system are being produced. Suddenly George Bush's promise to 'smoke out' his enemies takes on a more literal meaning.
Under the ironic programme title Clear Vision, the Pentagon's Defence Intelligence Agency is also producing weapons grade anthrax for testing in a CIA-funded project to develop an anthrax bomb. Just as the superpower's 'war on terror' has provided a smokescreen for many regimes to increase repression and aggression, the US's return to the use of weapons banned after Vietnam is bound to lead to their proliferation.
This is no conspiracy theory. Rumsfeld admitted his intention to use such weapons on 5 February--the day Colin Powell presented his hyperbolic 'intelligence' to the UN about Iraq's alleged 'weapons of mass destruction'. As a Labour spin doctor might say, it was a good day to bury bad news.
The next step to stop the war
Where do you go when you've brought 2 million onto the streets? That's the challenge facing the anti-war movement in the weeks following the great international protests of 15 February and as we face an increased build-up to war. The Stop the War Coalition hosted an international meeting of anti-war activists on 1 March to discuss this question, which called for a rolling programme of activity.
Many countries are holding protests on 8 March, International Women's Day. On 15 March there will be further worldwide protests, notably a huge demonstration in Washington DC. A day of international workplace solidarity is due on Friday 21 March. So far the Greek TUC has called a four-hour stoppage, and there will be protests in Italy, Belgium and elsewhere.
A major focus before that in Britain will be the People's Assembly, due to convene in Westminster on 12 March, which will see delegates from all over Britain coming together to discuss both further opposition to war and how the real voice of people in Britain can be heard. One of the main issues now facing those who want peace is how they can influence an isolated and arrogant government which is simply refusing to listen. People are also asking what the alternatives are if Tony Blair continues to refuse to listen.
Hopefully the assembly will mark a deepening of the movement. Delegates will be coming from city-wide meetings, union branches, mosques, city councils, local groups and other representative bodies. Out of it should come a range of ideas and activities which can strengthen the movement.
The international meeting reaffirmed the decision made at the European Social Forum in Florence last November to hold international protests in every town and city the day war breaks out; to build civil disobedience on a mass scale, including strike action, student occupations and school strikes; and to hold coordinated protests the Saturday following war starting.
|Labour Party members protesting outside the Assembly|
The crisis that has engulfed Blair and New Labour will be exposed in the forthcoming Welsh Assembly elections in May. There are signs of real desperation within Wales's New Labour ranks. First Minister Rhodri Morgan has stated that there is 'clear red water between Cardiff and London'. Ron Davies, the former Welsh secretary, has weighed in with a warning that Labour could lose the election to Plaid Cymru, stating that if the Labour manifesto is not radical enough they will face meltdown in the polling booths.
It is difficult to make an accurate prediction due to what is expected to be a very low turnout. Plaid feels that it could hold on to the Rhondda and Islwyn seats, and is very confident that it will be re-elected in the Llanelli seat--these are all heartlands of the Labour Party. Plaid has also targeted Pontypridd and the Cynon Valley constituencies where they feel they are in a position to beat Labour. Again these are the areas of South Wales where the Labour Party has been in power for generations. The crisis sweeping Labour is now so profound that a few tinkerings with the manifesto are not going to be enough to galvanise workers to turn out to vote for them like in the days of old.
The Welsh Labour Party has also become short of the footsoldiers it needs to campaign for it on the doorstep. It is reported that Ron Davies's own Caerphilly constituency is having difficulty finding enough members to make it quorate. Around the area of Blackwood, where I live, the decline in the Labour Party organisation is significant. The ex-mining communities of Fleur-de-lis and Ynysddu, which a few years ago had Labour Party branches, have no such organisation today as members have dropped out of activity and left. Newbridge Labour Party is reported to have been haemorrhaging members over the last couple of years. Cardiff Labour Party has already selected its prospective councillors for the election in 2004 to ensure they had enough people to campaign for the party in the May assembly elections.
The social and political presence that the Labour Party had in local communities, workplaces and welfare clubs has declined markedly as the party has moved further and further away from what Welsh workers perceived as its reason for existing. Thousands of workers in the valleys and beyond funded the party through individual membership and trade union affiliation. The sense of despair and hatred towards New Labour in these communities is very real. It would be wrong to write off the Labour Party in these areas--however, the decline in membership and organisation does leave a vacuum that socialists outside the Labour Party need to contest. The danger of the hostility towards the deprivation caused by New Labour being directed towards asylum seekers is a very real one.
At present Plaid Cymru has cleverly positioned itself to the left of New Labour. On the London anti-war demo there was the Plaid national banner and placards held by 300 of their members. In meetings and demos throughout Wales they have spoken in support of the anti-war movement. On domestic issues Plaid has looked decidedly more Old Labour than the Welsh Labour Party. Its policy is to oppose PFI within the public sector and it has spoken out in favour of the FBU and asylum seekers. Plaid has also cooperated with the Socialist Alliance in meetings to discuss the political fund and its democratisation. All this puts pressure on the Welsh Labour Party as well as local trade union officials. The Welsh TUC has banned Plaid from holding stalls at its conference this year in response.
How socialists react to Plaid Cymru's popularity is central to trying to establish a vibrant and rooted left alternative to New Labour. We need to understand that the motivation for people in Wales switching their vote to Plaid is not a particularly nationalist one, though there is an element of that present. Workers in those stalwart areas of Old Labour feel totally betrayed by the New Labour project.
Plaid starts from the disgruntlement of former Labour supporters and connects with them with its talk of 'Old Labour' values. It then adds a nationalist twist with references to how Wales has been specifically underfunded and cannot get a voice in Westminster. Added to this Plaid obviously raises the issue of the language, but is careful not to make this central in the former coalfields of the South Wales valleys, as this is not experienced as the most important issue concerning people. Plaid's brand of nationalism is flexible and allied to a social democratic ideology similar to that of the Labour Party.
Socialists should not conclude that Plaid's success at the polls is a sign of a major increase in nationalist ideas among Welsh workers. However, socialists do need to take on their arguments with regard to their solutions for Welsh workers. This is the weak link for Plaid. It accepts all the arguments of the free market and its consequences. It talks of the need to encourage Welsh businesses, which they see as more progressive than 'foreign capital'. At the same time it states that it would continue to encourage US and Japanese firms to invest. This implies the continuation of a low wage economy and huge tax handouts to the multinationals. These are the very policies which turn people against New Labour in the first place. Only grassroots-based, locally responsive socialist politics can provide a real alternative.
Still producing hot air
'Green Monday', went the Downing Street spin last month as Tony Blair introduced the government's new energy white paper. Unfortunately there was enough hot air in it to power a turbine.
The media headlines were filled with a government commitment to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. This waste product--caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal--is one of the major causes of the 'greenhouse effect'. This warming of the earth's atmosphere produced a 0.6°C average temperature rise last century, and this could increase by a further 6°C by 2100-- leading to devastating floods, hurricanes and droughts--unless urgent action is taken. Unfortunately, the white paper was vague on urgent action.
A proposal to reduce CO2 by 60 percent by 2050--far beyond the political lifetime of anyone making the promise--isn't exactly conducive to political accountability. Even if it was achieved, this is the minimum reduction scientists believe is necessary as an average across the world. But highly industrialised countries like Britain are disproportionately responsible for greenhouse gas emissions.
Meanwhile a previous target to reduce emissions by 20 percent by 2020 was downgraded to 'an ambition'. Rarely can the word have been used with such conservatism. This is because even the government's meagre target to have 10 percent of the country's energy provided by renewable sources by 2010 looks likely to be broken. The reason is lack of political will and a habitual deference to the market.
Currently renewable sources account for only 3 percent of Britain's energy, yet Britain has one third of Europe's entire potential for offshore wind energy and four fifths of possible tidal power sites identified by the EU. But multinationals that provide or depend on fossil fuels have enormous economic power, which has been used to lobby, bribe and stifle the development of alternative energy sources. The government has made a token investment in research and development into renewable energy--£350 million over four years, compared to the £7 billion due this year for the nuclear industry. What has gone without question is that this energy should be supplied commercially for a profit.
The report's attitude to nuclear power highlights this point. Its primary disadvantage is not, apparently, that it is a highly dangerous source of toxic waste, but that 'its current economics make it an unattractive option', a reference to the recent £3 billion bailout of British Energy. But it leaves the door open for a return to nuclear power should firms supplying renewables not prove quickly profitable. Meanwhile the government continues to build roads rather than invest in public transport and aims to double UK aviation--the fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions and conveniently exempted from the Kyoto climate change treaty.
Blair has convinced himself that economic expansion can be combined with a drop in carbon emissions without significant government intervention. But Britain has only made slight reductions because the service sector predominates over manufacturing--which is unrealistic as a global model. So in a country with some of the most favourable economic and climactic conditions for reducing carbon emissions we are still unlikely to meet inadequate targets set at Kyoto.
Underpinning this logic is not an assessment of the most sustainable way of fulfilling energy needs, but an attempt to encourage business that there's money to be made in sustainable energy. In the long term this may be true, but capitalists rarely work on this kind of time scale. In the meantime they're prepared to destroy the planet for the sake of profit.
Relive the protests
The massive anti-war have produced no shortage of reports and comment on the internet. A good place to start is www. punchdown.org which claims over 200 pictures from 133 global demonstrations, including over 40 cities in North America and one in Antarctica.
Many newspapers ran reports covering the demonstrations. The New York Times report of 17 February, available at www. nytimes.com (registration required) gives a US take on the London demonstration and the crisis facing Blair, commenting that in Europe 'the breadth and magnitude of the demonstrations opened a rift between ruler and the ruled, convincing many that street protest had overtaken conventional democracy in expressing the popular will'.
One of the great things about the internet is that you can access international newspapers and their archives, getting a global perspective on events. There are a number of websites that provide links to international newspapers--but try the Internet Public Library's list at www. ipl.org, which includes a good number of Middle Eastern English language papers.
For an alternative view on the protests, indymedia.org is good, and a socialist perspective can be found on the websites of Socialist Worker's sister organisations--find them through the IS Tendency's website at www. istendency.org
Many of those who attended the London protests never reached Hyde Park, or couldn't hear the speeches due to the huge numbers present. www.cableradio.co.uk provided a useful service with their live online coverage of the speeches made recordings of which can be found on their website.
George Bush and his planned war have spawned many spoof e-mails and humour sites. www. dubyaspeak.com gathers many of Bush's pearls of wisdom ('Bushisms' as they are becoming known) into one place to entertain and terrify you. According to the site, when asked by a reporter, 'Given the size of the protests in England over the weekend, do you have any concerns that Tony Blair might pay a serious political price for supporting you on Iraq?' Dubya answered, 'First of all, you know, size of protest, it's like deciding, well, I'm going to decide policy based upon a focus group.'