Dead Men Left

Friday, October 29, 2004

"Mission accomplished": the Lancet on deaths in Iraq

For those who want to read the Lancet's full report on mortality in Iraq since the invasion, it is mirrored here. (The Lancet's own editorial comment is mirrored here.) The Lancet's meticulously researched figure is some six times the previous most pessimistic estimate. (Lenin and Direland comment further.)

Political disintegration: hanging chads have nothing on this

Another blistering attack from Alexander Cockburn on the collapse of the US Left before the charismatic might of John F. Kerry:

I asked one usually radical friend of mine, now a Kerrycrat, how she could support a fellow who pledges a “better”, wider war in Iraq and then a march on Teheran. “Oh” she said airily, “you can’t believe anything a candidate will say.”

...[V]oting for John Kerry now is like voting for LBJ in 1964 with full precognition of what he was going to do in Vietnam for the next four years. By all means vote for the guy if you think your ballot will really count in keeping Ralph Nader out of the White House, but don’t do so with the notion that all along John Kerry has been holding a secret withdrawal plan close to his chest and that his first three months in office will see the US Marines haul down the colors from the US embassy in Baghdad, scoop Ambassador Negroponte off the roof and head for home.

There was a faint glimmer of this in 1997, with Blair. As Jeremy Hardy said, eveybody knew he was just coming out with the Tory policies to get elected: once he was in power he'd cunningly throw off the disguise and "nationalise the banks, or something." He, like many others, underestimated the complete domination of the neo-liberal consensus: no matter which party is in power, throughout the developed North, the same rules apply on major chunks of economic policy, and the domestic agenda more widely. Even the minimal scope for differentiation offered by what was known, dismissively, in post-1945 Britain as "Butskellism" has been squeezed out. The choice between relatively more or relatively less government intervention in the economy has been made for us, and with it go deeper choices about equity, justice, and the status of our democracy. There will be some squabbling over the implementation of an economic consensus, with a "competition" to perform this task with more or less efficiency; but the direction of policy remains the same.

If that applies even to a nominally social-democratic party like Labour, with its long-nutured roots in the organised labour movement, and its 80-year hegemony on working class politics, how much more must it apply to a creature of the US ruling class like the Democratic Party? (In Britain, there is a peculiar assumption that, if the Republicans are like the Conservatives, the Democrats must be like Labour. They aren't. All the trade union donations in America won't change the Democratic Party's fundamental status as a second pillar of the US political establishment.)

Disturbingly, even where some degree of differentiation might be presumed to remain for a major world power, in matters of foreign policy, the drive towards a consensus has emerged. The Democrats have pathetically trailed the neo-cons throughout the "war on terror", with a few rare (and honorable) exceptions. Kerry is not one of that number. We should not forget that Clinton prepared the way for much Bush Jr's blase disregard for the international order, amongst much else: the strikes on Iraq in 1998, the attack on Serbia and Kosovo, were both conducted in defiance of international law. It is, needless to say, not so much that as a socialist it is possible to privilege international law above all else, or to pretend it represents a manifestation of global values; but without the preparations made by Clinton, the Bush clique's rewriting of the rules in their favour would be so much the harder.

Added to this mix, post 9/11, has been the ready adoption of the rhetoric and the presumed goals of the "war on terror". What these goals consist of is a question never considered; on a day-to-day basis, properly political questions are forced to revolve around the issue of "security", a series of technological quick-fixes - arbitrary detentions, ID cards - that do little but reproduce actual insecurity. In international terms, the "war on terror" has quite clearly come to mean little more than the reassertion of US power globally, most particularly in the Middle East.

This is, perhaps, the driving force behind the steady disintegration of the US political system, seen most markedly in the last few weeks. (Taxloss provides a quick, if slightly too alarmist, summary.) To the well-known scheming of the Republicans, we should add the Democrats's own machinations in stamping on dissent: the near-hysteria that has greeted Nader's principled campaign has been quite sickening, not least when it has been in the service of dead-beat Senator Kerry and "four more years" in Iraq - if not longer. The net result has been to create a climate in which questioning the occupation - let alone addressing wider concerns about the distribution of power and wealth inside America - has become quite impossible. Congratulations, everyone.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Aaargh The Guardian why dear god why?

Yes, it's lazy Islington/Hampstead liberal dinner-party conversation-filler to bang on about how terrible their favouritest paper is; but the Guardian, I mean really, what is the bloody point? Mere days after the cringingly embarrassing Clark County voting fiasco, The Grauniad, presumably running scared after their junk-mailing campaign elicited a ferocious response from US Bush fans ("FUCK YOU LIMEY ASSHOLE IF IT WASN'T FOR US YOU'D BE SPEAKING GERMAN" etc) has seen fit to issue an apology for Charlie Brooker's column on the President. Brooker's thoughts on the US elections, no longer available on the Guardian website, are mirrored here.

Time for a bit of context, because somewhere amongst all the profoundly, desperately humourless harrumphing and scrambling for moral high-ground, the context seems to have got lost somewhere. Brooker's "Screen Burn" appears every Saturday in The Guide, the Grauniad's handy pocket-sized TV guide supplement - well, it plugs clubs and theatre and probably opera and whatnot, too, so it's a TV guide with pretensions - and usually what I do - after tearing open the plastic bag they seal the whole Saturday Guardian in, squealing excitingly (it's like Christmas come early) and throwing away all the drossy interview/lifestyle guide/sport/business sections that make up approx 90% of total Saturday Guardian content - is read The Guide in the following fashion: 1. that bloke on the back, "Ariel View" or whatever it is 2. Jacques Peretti's two-page spread, if available 3. Charlie Brooker. That's in ascending order of reliable amusement, you see (Peretti used to top Brooker, but, alas, his appearances have been so infrequent of late that I am forced to push him down the list.) You're then free to dispose of the Guide, safe in the knowledge that there will be nothing but wall-to-wall pap on the box for the next seven days; as Brooker himself is nearly always keen to point out.

Do you get me? Brooker's opinions are a) self-evidently amusing and b) appear in the sodding TV supplement which ought to lead to conclusion c) they shouldn't be taken too seriously, and short of using eiter d) exclamation marks! to show this isn't serious! hey, we're only joking here! (annoying isn't the word - but it'll do!) or e) prefacing the column with a disclaimer, along the lines of "WE'RE ONLY JOKING, FOLKS! HA HA HA! fuckwits", neither of which appeals, I really can't see how this not taking it seriously business could be made any damn clearer.

Ye gods.

Still, as someone, somewhere pointed out, Brooker used to work with/still does work with/once met Chris Morris, himself no stranger to the inspiration of controversy amongst the dull-witted - cf the Daily Mail's reaction to the Brass Eye paedophilia special, all of which made the whole thing all the more amusing. So I suppose I ought to appreciate this controversy for brilliantly exposing the timidity and hypocrisy of a supposedly left-leaning, liberal newspaper... no surprises there, really. (I might even follow this man, and write a stiff letter of complaint to The Guardian about The Guardian, thus ironically subverting the most developed form of protest amongst British liberals.)

It's further proof of the Guardian's immense problems with the US, too. I think they see Americans as something like the rest of us see spiders: fine when behaving themselves and sitting quietly in the corner, but bloody terrifying when zooming around unpredictably at high speed, with no easy option but to stand on a chair and scream. It's not an unreasonable fear if either beast should arrive with guns, I suppose, but the best thing to do with the particular breed of Republican spider the Guardian has run foul of is to follow the traditional rememdy: trap them in a box with a piece of paper and throw them outside the front door; or, failing that, end the occupation of Iraq.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

You know, thinking about John Peel's untimely death reminded me of this band, and how I'd meant to give them a plug before they got truly famous in order to maintain my all-important credibility with The Kids. Go and download their single, "This Is For the Poor" forthwith. 99p well spent.

"TGWU leader calls for unity against war"

Despite their sudden discovery of the working class, and specifically its trade union leadership, this statement from Transport and General Workers' general secretary, Tony Woodley, has not made its way onto Harry's Place. Woodley says

“It is a time for the tolerant discussion of differences. The anti-war movement must accept that trade unions will always, and rightly, want to offer support to our brothers and sisters abroad, particularly when they are struggling to establish trade unionism in such a difficult environment as Iraq.

“Equally, those of us in the trade union movement must give some credit to the Stop the War Coalition for its achievements.

“It mobilised people when we did not, and it has a right to a different view as to what happened at the party conference.

“We would only be serving the warmongers if we divide now...

“If George Bush is re-elected, the world will remain a deeply dangerous place with new wars threatened—and even if he is defeated, as I hope he is, we cannot afford complacency.

“The anti-war movement is one of the remarkable political achievements of our time.

“Its breadth, strength and unity has helped reinvigorate progressive politics in Britain.

“That has not been without complications. But I am proud of the part trade unions have played in the Stop the War Coalition.

“Certainly, now is not the time for splits or resignations.

“It is a time for unity against the war danger, and unity to get the most rapid possible withdrawal from Iraq.

“We cannot have progress without peace. We will not have peace without a powerful peace movement. Let’s stick together.”

"...unity to get the most rapid possible withdrawal from Iraq." Where are blogland's keepers of the cloth cap now? Where are the furious denunciations of "scabbing"?

More seriously, the T&G has worked very closely with UNISON over the last few years, with the two often providing a political lead to the rest of the union movement, by virtue of both their size and more politically-inclined leaderships. To find an expression of disapproval from Dave Prentis, at UNISON, countered by this clear call for unity from the T&G suggests that talk of a "split" between unions and anti-war movement is somewhat premature.

We will see how this plays out: significant pressure has been felt on union leaders from their own memberships to maintain the clear line on the occupation provided at the TUC. Subsequent events at the Labour Party conference, where a dubious representative of some Iraqi trade unionists presented a militantly pro-occupation case, have not altered that position. That some union leaderships did use Abdullah Muhsin to defuse a challenge to the government makes little difference to the 71% of the British public now opposing the occupation.

Letter from Fallujah

The International Action Center has the text of the open letter sent by civil society organisations inside Fallujah to Kofi Annan. The central paragraphs are as follows:

Your Excellency and the whole world know that the Americans and their allies devastated our country under the pretext of the threat of WMD. Now, after all the destruction and the killing of thousand civilians, they have admitted that there no weapons were found. But they have said nothing about all the crimes they committed. Unfortunately everybody is now silent, and will not even dignify the murdered Iraqi civilians with words of condemnation. Are the Americans going to pay compensation as Iraq has been forced to do after the Gulf war?

We know that we are living in world of double standards. In Fallujah, they have created a new vague target,: AL ZARQAWI. This is a new pretext to justify their crimes, killing and daily bombardment of civilians. Almost a year has elapsed since they created this new pretext, and whenever they destroy houses, mosques, restaurants, and kill children and women they said "we have launched a successful operation against Al-Zarqawi." They will never say that they have killed him, because there is no such a person. And that means the killing of civilian and the daily genocide will continue.

The people of Fallujah assure you that this person, if he exists, is not in Fallujah and is probably not anywhere in Iraq. The people of Fallujah have announced many times that any person who sees Al-Zarqawi should kill him. Now everybody realises that this man is just a hypothetical hero created by the Americans. At the same time the representative of Fallujah, our tribal leader, has denounced on many occasions the kidnapping and killing of civilians, and we have no links to any groups committing such inhuman behaviour.

Excellency, we appeal to you, and to all world leaders to exert the greatest pressure on the American administration to stop their crimes in Fallujah and withdraw their army far away from the city. The city was very quiet and peaceful when its people ran it. We didn't witness any disorder in the city. The civil administration was going well given its limited recourses. We simply didn't welcome the occupation forces. This is our right according to the UN Charter, international law and the norms of humanity. If the Americans believe in the opposite, they should first from the UN and all its agencies before acting in a way contrary to the Charter they signed.


And, just to be clear who we're talking about here, it's signed:

Best regards.
Kassim Abdullsattar al-Jumaily
The Study Center of Human Rights & Democracy

On behalf of the people of Fallujah and for:
Al-Fallujah Shura Council
The Bar Association
The Teacher Union
Council of Tribes Leaders
The House of Fatwa and Religious Education

I am wondering at what point the realisation will sink in amongst the twittering ranks of the pro-war "left" that, for all the ill-founded bravado, Zaqarwi can no more be considered the "resistance" than, say, the US Marine Corp can be considered "democrats". No matter. For those with even a passing concern for humanity's well-being, the seige and bombardment of Fallujah - even now, prior to the post-election assualt - is intolerable.

(For those interested, Socialist Worker has an expanded version of Sami Ramadani's open letter on the Iraq Federation of Trade Unions.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

John Peel

Bugger. This is another big loss.

John Peel, the veteran DJ who discovered dozens of major bands during a broadcasting career spanning 40 years, has died after suffering a heart attack.

For years now, I think I've had Peel - if not actually dictating my musical tastes - as less acting as a voice of (something like) wisdom when confronted by CD racks. My tenuous grasp on the "hip" and the "happening" will slip all the further, I fear. More tributes at the BBC site.

The End of the Clash of Civilisations

I never fail to be amazed by the quantity of corruption, sleaze and incompetence the US/UK occupation of Iraq has managed to stir up with such gusto. Corruption, sleaze and incompetence come with colonial territory, of course: but not on this grand, unembarrassed scale. Iraq Revenue Watch have provided a summary of the Coalition Provisional Authority's audit of its expenditure. Perhaps its most dammning finding is that:

An analysis of the data suggests that of $1.5 billion in contracts, the CPA awarded U.S. firms 74 percent of the value of all contracts paid for with Iraqi funds. Together with its British allies, U.S. and U.K. companies received 85 percent of the value of all such contracts. Iraqi firms, by contrast, received just 2 percent of the value of contracts paid for with Iraqi funds. "Government favorites such as Kellogg, Brown and Root benefited at the expense of Iraqi companies whose workers badly need jobs," said Tsalik.

The report finds that 60 percent of the value of all contracts paid with Iraqi funds went to Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR)-the same company that Pentagon auditors in December 2003 found had overcharged the U.S. government for as much as $61 million for fuel imports into Iraq. A criminal investigation of KBR was launched by the Department of Defense in February 2004.

Disturbingly, it seems Blair, Cheney and Rumsfeld really did believe their own myths: that, having rolled triumphantly into Iraq, all the bounties of the West would fall upon the benighted Arabs. Anything else they did or did not do would be illegitimate intereference with the serene Triumph of Progress.

This is a peculiar combination of the Clash of Civilisations, and the End of History. Those supporting the war, from the "left" or the right, pick their mentor accordingly: the neo-conservative right have swallowed Huntington's thesis whole, whilst the pro-war "left" have spent too long flicking through Fukuyama's tome. We are either assuring the domination of the virtuous West and ensuring our own "security", or acting as midwifes to a post-historical Middle East bereft of ideology - bar liberal capitalism. Instead, as if to confirm the very crudest of analysis of imperialism, the free market attempts to prove that it really was all about the oil.

Monday, October 25, 2004


Apologies for the lazy blogging of late; though I think Sami Ramadani's open letter was worth reproducing in full. So much mud had been flung from the predictable quarters that political clarity about the occupation of Iraq was getting lost in a dirty blizzard of half-truths, lies, and deep misapprehensions.

Here's a couple of new blogs, appraised with almost indecent speed:

Direland, plugged by Lenin, really is rather good. His US-eye view of the Stop the War Coalition is worth a butchers.

Cuango and Spaves: funny and clever and all that jazz.

Europhobia: I only found it because they were being rude about the ESF, but variety is the spice of thingummy. Etc. You know what I mean.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Sami Ramadani on IFTU

Lenin has the dirt on the Stop the War Coalition and Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU). What's clear is just how IFTU has been - perhaps willingly - used by the Blair government to scupper opposition to the occupation of Iraq. The current dispute within the anti-war movement is critical: as last weekend's successful, 100,000 strong march showed, feelings are running high over the occupation. The various debates at the ESF over Iraq seem to have shifted the balance within the movement towards a consistent anti-imperialist position; serious work is now required on the ground to organise and mobilise public opinion.

For another perspective, reproduced below is the open email Sami Ramadani sent in response to the Alex Gordon's remarks on the disruption of the Iraq occupation meeting at the ESF. Ramadani is an Iraqi exile, and opponent of the occupation; Gordon has been the RMT's representative to the UK ESF process.

22 October 2004
Dear Alex,
Your message regarding the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) was copied to me by a friend, and I felt that I must write to you, in your capacity as a representative of the RMT trade union, which has a proud history of struggle for working class rights and international solidarity with workers across the world.

I fully agree with you on two points. Firstly, it was wrong and undemocratic to disrupt the European Social Forum plenary on the occupation of Iraq by an organised small group of hecklers. The second is that no Iraqi was involved in the disruption of the meeting or the shouting down of speakers. I myself was shouted down by the same group of disrupters when I went to the platform to appeal to them to stop the disruption and to stage a quiet and dignified walk-out of the meeting when IFTU general secretary, Subhi Mashadani, starts his speech and to walk quietly back after he finishes.

However, I take issue with the rest of your contribution and appeal to you to take a second look at the dire consequences of the war on Iraq and to revise your opinion of the unelected leadership of the IFTU and of the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP), which dominates this leadership with the backing of the Iraqi National Accord, an organisation of former Ba'athist military and security men led by US-appointed prime minister Ayad Allawi, former Saddamist agent in charge of all Ba'ath party organisations in Europe.

I am sad to say that the (IFTU) leadership, in its present post-occupation reincarnation, appears to have succeeded in convincing you that it is a staunch opponent of the occupation of Iraq and of the institutions set up by the occupation authorities. Alas, this self-projected image of the IFTU is false, and I will explain why below. Before doing so, I draw your attention that I will list, in the course of my arguments, the crucial questions that the IFTU need to answer in relation to the occupation of Iraq and the Allawi regime. In asking these questions I have in mind the fact that Bush and Blair were also against the occupation of Iraq and wanted to end it "as soon as possible." Bush and Blair did do their best to end the dreaded occupation by handing "sovereignty" to the Allawi regime, which in turn "invited" them to remain in Iraq as the "multi-national forces." Bush and Blair are now "fully committed" to withdrawing the troops the "moment" the newly elected government in Iraq asks them to do so. The "presence" of the US-led forces is merely to make sure that Iraq will have free and fair elections. To withdraw the troops now will lead to civil war and the "murder" of all "active trade unionists and socialists." Delete "active trade unionists and socialists" and replace with "free Iraqi men and women" if Bush is making the claim. And to legitimise this entire process the US and Britain asked the UN security Council to pass resolutions noting the transition from invasion to occupation, to occupation-plus-Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC), to "multi-national forces" assisting an interim, but sovereign, Iraqi Interim Government until elections are... The UN Security Council noted all this in resolutions 1483 and 1546. Unfortunately and despite their best efforts to assist the people of Iraq, Bush and Blair are now facing a big problem, not of their own making of course, of some cut-throat terrorists who must be crushed before elections are held in Jan 2005. In order to crush them, many Iraqi cities, Shia and Sunni, had to be bombarded and thousands of homes had to be demolished on top of their inhabitants. This collateral damage could go up as the free and fair election date approaches...

This is not intended to introduce an element of cynicism, but to know what people exactly mean when the say "we are against the occupation of Iraq" and "we are for a free, democratic, secular and federal Iraq" and that "UN resolution 1546 offers the best hope for Iraqis to achieve" these goals. I also have ample and reliable information from within Iraq that the IFTU is not an elected umbrella organisation of all Iraqi trade unions as its name suggests. [The correct translation of the name is: The General Federation of the Workers' Trade Unions in Iraq]. Indeed, the IFTU itself has not officially claimed that there has been such a conference representing democratically elected trade union bodies across Iraq. However, its self-appointed (or rather party-appointed) leaders, including its general secretary, Subhi Mashadani, and its London-based International Representative, Abdullah Muhsin, have unashamedly given such a false impression to British and other trade unions. But once the role of the IFTU and ICP leaders is fully understood, and the historical parallels are relevantly drawn, it would be patently obvious that it was wrong to invite Mashadani to an anti-occupation meeting. No prominent supporter of the Vichy regime would have been allowed to set foot in Britain let alone get near a trade union platform or a rally supporting the French people's struggle against the Vichy regime and its occupation masters. Drawing parallels has its limitation, and one might accurately state that Bush and Blair are not Hitler and Mussolini. The retort to that is: yes but try telling that to the people at the receiving end of cluster bombs, helicopter gunships, and tank fire in their besieged cities and Baghdad working class neighbourhoods. Try telling them that Allawi is not another Vichy.

Most of the current leaders of the IFTU are ICP cadres. And it is impossible to understand the IFTU's policies and line without recognising this fact and
without being acquainted with the party's line and policies. A party that was once a proud organisation that had the support of millions of people in Iraq, in the late 1950's and 60's, is now at the forefront of perfecting the art of justifying the continued US-led occupation of Iraq. The party's slogan, before the invasion, was "No to war and no to Saddam's dictatorship." The first half of the slogan was not acted upon energetically and the opposition to the invasion was tempered by some equivocal statements in the party's main organ, Tareeq Al-Sha'ab, and by its leaders, who surreptitiously took part in pre-war US administration and British government organised conferences of some Iraqi opposition leaders, some of whom later served as collaborators appointed by the occupation authorities. However, this prevarication was dramatically ended few months after the fall of Baghdad to US tanks, and the collapse of Saddam's tyrannical regime. Political imperatives, logic and the interests of the Iraqi people would have necessitated bringing into sharper focus the party's opposition to the war and the subsequent occupation. Instead, the party solemnly declared, on 13 July 2003, that its secretary general, Hameed Majeed Mousa, would join the Paul Bremer appointed Iraqi Governing Council (IGC). Though anticipated by people familiar with the party leadership's history and manoeuvres, that statement came as a shock to some of the party members whom I met in Baghdad last year. From that day onwards, the party was seen by most Iraqis as a collaborationist force, with some of its leaders receiving their salaries from the occupation authorities. Under the hammer blows of the Iraqi people's magnificent struggle against the occupation, the IGC and its US master, Paul Bremer, were so isolated and discredited that Bremer had to disband the IGC last June in favour of passing "sovereignty" to the US-appointed Iraqi Interim Government led by the CIA "asset", Ayad Allawi. The ICP fully supported the formation of Allawi's puppet regime, and has one senior and two junior ministers serving under Allawi and his US bosses. US ambassador Negroponte, the mastermind of terror organisations in El-Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua, and now bunkered at Saddam's Republican Palace in Baghdad, is the real political ruler of Iraq with 160,000 occupation troops and over 40,000 foreign mercenaries at his disposal. He is hard at it to build an Iraqi force to kill other Iraqis and subdue the people using Saddamist methods. So were does the IFTU stand on all this?

You need do no more than read translations of the ICP's communiqués and Tareeq Al-Sha'ab editorials to know were Abdullah Muhsin and Subhi Mashadani get their political line from. Indeed, an IFTU article by Muhsin in the Morning Star last year was almost an abridged translation of a party statement on the political situation in Iraq. What I am trying to put the spotlight on here is not that a trade unionist is exercising his or her right to be also a party cadre but that the party line the IFTU leaders adhere to is, in practice, acollaborationist line. Their protestations to the contrary, misleading some people abroad, are laughable to most Iraqis. The few Iraqis that you met at the ESF were ICP activists, some from here in London and others flown in with Mashadani from Baghdad. They were mobilised to support Mashadani's appearance at the ESF conference. I too, being a friend of some of them, was standing near them to the left of the platform and engaged them in discussion later. Some were in a state of denial about the occupation of Iraq, calling the US-led forces a necessary, if temporary, "foreign military presence." A phrase used by Allawi and the latest ICP central committee communique [dated 26 Auguat 2004]. Others acknowledged the occupation but strongly believed that there was no alternative to joining the occupation-created institutions. The obvious point, of saying you can't end the occupation by serving in its highest levels of political structures, was answered with strong attacks on the notion of armed resistance. I suggested that they could lead the peaceful struggle to end the occupation by following the great example of Ghandi and boycotting the occupation authorities and all their institutions. The answer was "we don't have a Ghandi."

People who are reasonably well informed on Iraq will benefit a great deal from closely examining the IFTU website (set up in London) ( Reading the headlines of the website, you would be forgiven to think that there was no war or invasion of Iraq and tens of thousands of people did not die at the hands of the US-led occupation. Nor has there been a US bombardment of Najaf, the working class districts of Baghdad, particularly Sadr City, Falluja, Samarra and many other cities in the past weeks and months... The IFTU, rightly, very strongly and swiftly condemns the atrocities committed by the terrorist gangs. But they always do so in the manner of Bush, Blair, Allawi and the occupation forces. They always try to portray the hugely popular patriotic resistance as "remnants of the Saddam regime" and "secretive anti-democratic" forces. On the other hand, the IFTU and the ICP are yet to launch a campaign against the massacres committed by the occupation forces. Associating the resistance with terrorist gangs is one of the most insidious acts of the IFTU and the ICP. They dare not condemn the resistance openly, in Arabic within Iraq, but they always issue statements, in the wake of terrorist crimes, trying to surreptitiously suggest that Zarqawi and the other terrorists are the resistance in Iraq.

In fact the only very strongly worded IFTU statement on its website is dated 3rd March 2004 condemning the murder of worshippers by unknown terrorists who bombed Shia mosques/shrines in Karbala and Khadimyia. The wording of the statement is very interesting in the way it mimics the occupation authorities' style of condemning such atrocities. Those particular bombings were widely described by Iraqis at the time as the work of occupation forces' agent provocateurs out to incite civil war between Sunni and Shia. People of the Baghdad district of Khadimya stoned the US forces and accused them of perpetrating the crime. These forces moved in on that day (2nd March) within minutes of the bombing of the famous shrine, thinking that the people would welcome them as their protectors. Obviously, for those who know the reality of IFTU, it is not surprising that the statement does not even mention the occupation.

These one-sided, well-synchronised statements on terrorism are designed to apologise for Bush's policies in Iraq, or for what Blair portrayed as the engagement of the occupation forces in a "second war" in Iraq, the war against terrorism. As it happens, the vast majority of Iraqis reject Zarqawi and his ilk - as do the armed resistance and its supporters in Falluja, Basra, Najaf, Sadr City and across Iraq. Many even suspect that the occupation forces are somehow encouraging the likes of Zarqawi, or at least failing to prevent their crimes, as a way of obscuring the fact that most Iraqis now actively support a patriotic and widespread resistance movement. While rightly condemning Zarqawi, the IFTU and the ICP are keeping quiet about the Israeli-trained American assassination squads. (See reports, undenied by Bush or Blair, published by Seymour Hersh).

Does the IFTU mention anywhere that the occupation forces have admitted that the attacks on them by the resistance rose in August to 2,700 ? Does it mention how many of these 2,700 attacks a month were claimed by Zarqawi? Six. Six headline-grabbing, TV-dominating, stomach-churning moments. The mildest, and furtively stated, criticisms are reserved for the US bombardment of the cities. 'Bombing cities in which civilians die is not the way to defeat the terrorists' is the best we can hope for from the IFTU and the ICP in the way of condemning the US-led war crimes, being assisted by the Allawi regime, which the ICP is part of. Just as Iraq's 25 million people were reduced, in the public's mind, to the threat from weapons of mass destruction, ready to be unleashed by Saddam within 45 minutes, the resistance is now being reduced, with the help of the IFTU and the ICP, to a single hoodlum by the name of Zarqawi. And just as we should have been told, before the war, whether the
45-minutes-from-dooms-day WMD threat referred to "battle field or long range missiles," to judge whether the war was legal or had a moral foundation, we today need to be aware that the IFTU and ICP assisted "war on terrorism" is nothing but a
new deceitful attempt to wage a new war against the Iraqi people, in the interest of the Bush administration and the neo-cons, and to multiply the profits of the transnational companies.

So what does the IFTU stand for in Iraq today? On the front page of the English version of their website there is a picture of the leaders of the IFTU seated under an IFTU banner. The words on the banner are worthy of verbatim translation, because they sum up the IFTU's main demands and platform for Iraq and its working class after the invasion and the occupation of the country: " The General Federation of Workers' Trade Unions in Iraq [this is the full and accurate translation of the IFTU's name] struggles for:
- Defending the fundamental rights of the Iraqi working class.
- Endeavouring to restart the wheel of production as soon as possible
- The immediate improvement of the economic and social conditions of the workers"
It is unreal. No war, no occupation, no torture and murder of workers, no privatisation, no selling of Iraq's assets to the US and British transnationals, no Bremer and Allawi re-enactment of Saddam's 1987 law banning trade unions and strikes, no US bombardment of working class districts, no workers falling victim to radiation emanating from the US and British depleted Uranium shells, no working class children dying of water-borne diseases stemming from raw sewage (also fed into the Tigris and Euphrates), because the greatest military and economic power in the world can't bring electricity supplies to the sewage plants to their pre-war levels,... These slogans remind me of the yellow unions under Saddam when they were allowed to talk about everything, and make all manner of demands, as long as they did not criticise the mass murderer and the political nature of his regime. If you dig deeper into the IFTU website you will find ICP justifications for joining the occupation-appointed bodies dressed up as IFTU stands. The IFTU's Abdullah Muhsin relies on the nimbleness of the party's phraseology when writing, on behalf of the IFTU, on the Bremer-appointed Iraqi Governing Council: "The UN helped in forging a compromise and the idea of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born. Both Iraqis and the UN supported it. The US and UK administrations agreed. In July 2003 the IGC was formed. The IGC, despite the fact that [it] is not the best or the preferred ultimate perfect model of running Iraq post-Saddam, nevertheless remains an acceptable alternative to the US vision. It represents all sections of Iraqi society - including Arabs, Kurds and other nationals."

A Bremer-appointed IGC is "an acceptable alternative to the US vision" ? And there is much more where that quotation comes from. Reading the ICP and IFTU literature might keep one in touch with the surreal, but it gives all well-informed people on Iraq immunity against subterfuge, collateral oxymorons, deceit, dissembling and much more. There is a very good reason why the IFTU and ICP have to camouflage their practice with such contortions: they are addressing the left in Iraq, not renowned for their propensity to be easily fooled about their own society, and they are addressing anti-war and progressive opinion abroad. This is their main role. And that is why the CIA, Bremer and Allawi kept the ICP on board all the US-appointed or approved bodies. Why else would the CIA do that to such a small organisation, which doesn't even register in all the opinion surveys held in Iraq since the occupation? But there is another very good reason: to confiscate the glorious memory, dating back to 1920, of the tens of thousands of Iraqi socialists, secular democrats and, since 1934, communists who died at the alters of British colonialism, Ba'athist fascism and US imperialism in Iraq. There is nothing like renegade, persons or organisations, to accomplish this mean task.

Did the trade unions in Britain take such a considerate and caressing stance towards the institutions set up by the occupation forces in Europe? Or, indeed, would the TUC and the unions have been so supportive of an occupation-imposed authority if Hitler's forces occupied Britain? I am bringing these rather stark examples, because it is sometimes forgotten that the Iraqi people and their land have been occupied by the mightiest military forces in the world and that the Iraqi people expect, and are entitled to, not only sympathy but active support in their struggle for liberation and democracy. They don't expect the collaborators in their midst to be held up as representatives of the oppressed working class and people of Iraq. They certainly don't expect it from democratic and proudly free unions such as the RMT. I have no doubt that the misleading picture painted by the IFTU and ICP leaders has had its toll. I also have no doubt that this is a temporary state of affairs. Not least, because US Abram tanks and Apache helicopters on the one hand and the valiant resistance, peaceful or armed in legitimate self-defence, speak much louder than the honeyed words of the IFTU and ICP leaders.

The RMT and other unions could also examine the fact that, for eight long years, the ICP leaders played a similar role, in relation to Saddam's tyrannical regime, to the one they are playing today in relation to the US-led occupation. From 1972 to 1978, they were tireless in their efforts within Iraq, and here in Britain, to convince the unions and the Labour party to accept Saddam's tyranny as a reformed regime, which was implementing "progressive and patriotic measures," and to support the party in proudly joining Saddam's "Patriotic and Nationalist Progressive Front." They had two party politburo members serving as ministers under Saddam. It was worker, student, and other organisations, which the party then controlled, which undertook that task. All these organisations, including the then IFTU, were later disbanded by the party because Saddam ordered it to do so, as part of being in the "same trench," as he was fond of reminding the ICP leaders. Saddam, who was described then by the ICP leaders as representing the "left wing" of the Ba'ath party, even published a pamphlet entitled "One Trench or Two Trenches?" to remind them of their role, which later included the crushing of the 1977 Karbala uprising. Iraqis, including some ICP members, who continued to expose Saddam's fascist policies abroad, and even those he killed and tortured at home, were dubbed as "infantile leftists" or "reactionary Kurds" by the ICP leadership.

The RMT, UNISON and other trade unions, including my own union, NATFHE, should also take on board the fact that the IFTU wasn't accidentally chosen by the Bremer-appointed IGC as the sole organisation representing Iraqi workers (albeit outside the banned state sector). There are several other such umbrella organisations led by other parties in Iraq, including Iraqi Kurdistan, and including the non-party controlled Union of Unemployed Workers (which is now part of the Federation of Workers Councils and Trade Unions). The IGC's sponsorship of the IFTU was born out of a deal struck between the Communist party and the Iraqi National Accord, led by CIA asset Ayad Allawi.

[NB: My guess is that the IFTU does not correctly state its full name in English, because the Arabic name is the same as the Saddam licensed federation. This will allow it to lay a claim to the vast resources of the yellow unions, of which many IFTU activists were members from 1972 to 1978 when the ICP was in Saddam's cabinet. The Arabic name is claimed by others (accused of being Islamists or former Ba'athists). It is also intended to gain acceptance by appeasing unions abroad and international union bodies, by implicitly admitting, at least in English, that they are not the only "federation of unions" in Iraq.] There are also individual unions such as the Basra oil workers union and the South oil workers union, both of which are strong unions that took part in a widely supported strike, stopping oil exports in protest at the US bombardment of Najaf in August. Both these unions don't recognise the IFTU leadership as speaking on their behalf. Workers across Iraq are entitled to ask what did the IFTU leaders do to lift the siege of Najaf and Falluja and to stop the bombardment of the cities?

One incident that exposed the IFTU's duplicity here in Britain was its active campaign to support Tony Blair's move to invite Ayad Allawi to address the Labour party conference. This is what the IFTU told the Guardian only last month: "The invitation to the interim Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi to address the Labour party conference is a opportunity for those who honourably opposed the war to extend support to Iraqi democrats who are trying, in the most difficult circumstances, to construct a vibrant civil society. Allawi is criticised for having been a Ba'athist but many decent people joined the Ba'ath party - and he was nearly assassinated by Saddam's agents in Britain. The Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions strongly supports the current process to prepare the ground for democratic elections. His presence at Labour's conference is an excellent opportunity for a real dialogue with him. Abdullah Muhsin Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions" Who else could defend and try to legitimise the CIA's man in Iraq, and Saddam's former thug, with such left and liberal sounding eloquence? Having failed in that mission, Tony Blair and other Labour party leaders made sure that the IFTU and the Kurdish partner of an Iraqi minister were given ample opportunity to spread confusion at the conference and get it to, in effect, support President Bush's policies in Iraq. For let us not forget that President Bush also says that the US will leave Iraq as soon as the future elected Iraqi government asks to do so!

That eloquence in defending the US-chosen prime minister extends to the US occupation itself. Let us read, at length, how the US-led occupation is being "opposed" and, at one and the same time, accepted de facto and de jure by the IFTU, echoing its ICP master's voice: "As a consequence of the war, the occupation and the failure of Iraqi parties to agree on holding of a national conference April 2003 to elect a transitional government, the occupation authorities (US and UK) became de facto the transitional authority in Iraq. Their authority was further consolidated by the UN Security Council resolution 1483, which internationalised the occupation of Iraq. The US administration interpreted one of UN resolution 1483 articles, which relates directly to the formation of an Iraqi political transitional authority, as meaning that the new Iraqi political body would exist merely to advise and assist the occupation authority during the transitional period of the occupation. All Iraqi forces rejected this flawed idea. The UN helped in forging a compromise and the idea of the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) was born. Both Iraqis and the UN supported it. The US and UK administrations agreed. In July 2003 the IGC was formed. The IGC, despite the fact that is not the best or the preferred ultimate
perfect model of running Iraq post-Saddam, nevertheless remains an acceptable alternative to the US vision. It represents all sections of Iraqi society - including Arabs, Kurds and other nationals."

So, the Bremer-appointed IGC was the fault of the Iraqis (which Iraqis?) for not holding a national conference, and, in the circumstances, the best possible outcome. The IFTU goes on to list some of the wonderful achievements of the defunct and totally discredited IGC, including: "Preparing the ground to end the occupation, dissolving itself and handing power to an Iraqi interim government (which was achieved on 28 June 2004)" Let us read on to see what a left and liberal sounding defence of the evolution of the US-led occupation looks like, and how one could shelter behind another UN resolution to accept the occupation, in practice, and openly defend the next US-led occupation tactics and the US-chosen regime: "The unanimous UN resolution 1546 on Iraq is an important signal for ending the occupation and regaining Iraqi national sovereignty. It will help to undermine anti-Iraqi terrorism and will assist Iraqi democrats - like the new trade union movement - to help build a secular and secure civil society. Whilst the IFTU is aware that the legacy of Saddam's dictatorship, war, sanctions and the effect of the recent invasion will not be eradicated on June 28th, the IFTU nonetheless welcomes and endorses the commitment given in the resolution to the ending of the power of the Coalition Provisional Authority on that day and handing the political power to the Iraqis. The interim government is not an end in itself- it is a means to an end. Its role must be to prepare Iraq for full democratic sovereignty. This will include full authority and control over Iraq's financial and natural resources. The IFTU will play a full part in this process and will seek to ensure that workingmen and women are alerted to the importance of participating in the democratic renewal of their
country. The IFTU also support the convening of a national conference to reflect the
diversity of Iraqi society. The concrete goal of the national conference is elect 100 seat transitional assembly that will oversee the current interim government until national elections are held in January 2005." Can't be clearer, can it? Even down to using the phraseology of the US generals who officially call all people resisting the occupation as "anti-Iraqi" forces. Every military communiqué, on bombarding Najaf, Sadr City in Baghdad, Samarra, Tel Afar, Falluja and other cities and villages, referred and continues to refer to the eradication of the "anti-Iraqi" forces or terrorists.

It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and ICP are the left-wing sounding, trade-union 'friendly' face of the Allawi CIA-chosen regime and of the continuing occupation of Iraq.

It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and the ICP are part of a left-wing sounding, trade-union 'friendly' campaign to oppose the immediate withdrawal of the occupation forces from Iraq under the pretext of keeping them to prevent civil war and to hold elections in January.

It is time to call a spade a spade: the leaders of the IFTU and the ICP are part of a left-wing sounding, trade-union 'friendly' propaganda war designed to justify the "new war" to crush the resistance of the Iraqi people by portraying entire cities towns and villages across Iraq as hideouts for mass murderers and terrorists such as Zarqawi.

I and many trade unionists in Britain of Iraqi origin, who opposed Saddam's tyrannical regime for decades, were shocked and dismayed that most of the unions at the recent Labour party conference accepted the message from the ICP, IFTU leaders and other Allawi collaborators and voted against a resolution calling for the withdrawal of the occupation forces. This is tantamount to abandoning the Iraqi people to be crushed by the US tanks and cluster bombs. This is tantamount to abandoning solidarity with the workers and people of Iraq. The Iraqi people's blood is as precious as that of the people of Europe who resisted the fascist forces, even if today the British Government and the US administration refuse to count the Iraqis they have killed and are continuing to kill. And Iraqi collaborators can be as treacherous and deceitful as any of the collaborators in Europe under the Nazi jackboot. For the Iraqi people in their besieged cities today, and for the thousands of tortured people at Abu Ghraib and other prisons, the US tanks, helicopter gunships and heavy bombs are no different from the Hitler's forces in France or Albania.

I am confident that Britain's unions and most Labour party members will eventually see through and reject these collaborators, much as the Iraqi people rejected their calls to support Saddam's regime from 1972 to 1978, and much as they are rejecting their calls today to support the US-appointed Allawi regime. I am also confident that Britain's trade unions and most Labour party members will, sooner or later, stand by the Iraqi people's struggle against the US-led occupation and for liberation and democracy.

Best wishes,


Friday, October 22, 2004

Grease to their Rome

Continuing in Guardian-bashing mode, what is their problem with the US? On the one hand, salivating in unpleasant fashion over the lumpen Presidential offering of the Democrat's corporate machine whilst smearing a principled anti-war campaigner; on the other, condescending to lecture the misbegotten, unenlightened wretches of Clark County, Ohio to be jolly good sports and vote for John Kerry. Poor souls: like Paul to the Corinthians, Cortez to the Incas, or Boris to the Scousers, the good folk of far-off Guardian land bore the light of God's Liberal Truth unto the Darkness of American Unreason.

I've never been to Clark County, Ohio. But I can rather sympathise with a certain degree of irritation if this sort of thing were to turn up, unbidden, in my mailbox:

O duty

Why hast thou not the visage of a sweetie or a cutie ... ?

Why art thou so different from Venus?

And why do thou and I have so few interests in common between us?

These sentiments on the subject of duty, so brilliantly expressed by Ogden Nash, may well be yours, dear Unknown, when I, a national of another country, urge you to do your duty and vote in your coming presidential election.

To which...

On the other hand, if America ever needs advice on how to turn our cities into depressing grey shitholes, we’ll drop around pronto! not an entirely unreasonable response. The Guardian spam's instigator, Ian Katz, claims to have been a rather hurt by the some of the vitriol hurled back. couldn't fail to be a little shocked by the volume and pitch of the invective directed our way.

This is what happens when well-meaning liberals give in to the related and substantially incorrect beliefs that

(a) Americans are stupid, Republicans especially so; and
(b) Brits are clever, Guardian readers especially so.

Point (b) is perhaps best left for another time; point (a) leads to the foolish conclusion that, for example, hard-right US Republicans will be incapable of organising their own spam attacks in response. As for the ordinary punters in Clark County: they're not stupid, but they are very, very scared, as this sorry incident shows:

The letter came addressed to her mother, but Beverly Coale wasn’t expecting anything from England. She began to fear the writer had an underhanded motive.

“You think, ‘Is this really a letter from a guy in England, or is it from a terrorist?’” Coale said.

"The Year of Surrenduring Quietly"

Spineless tripe served up fresh by the Guardian today. Britain's top paper for "fruit juice drinkers and sandals wearers" has become a remarkably efficient outlet for right-wing propaganda from those delicate paragons of corporate America in the Democrat Party. Let's take this latest quivering offering and see what we find, shall we?

In 2000 Mr Nader took almost 100,000 votes in Florida. Al Gore lost (after supreme court intervention) by 537 votes. That is why the Democratic party, abetted by many former "Nader's Raiders", shock troops of the civic activism Mr Nader pioneered, have spent six months desperately trying to keep him off the ballot papers.

Every single other minor party candidate in Florida in 2000 took more than 537 votes. Any one of them, therefore, could equally be blamed for Gore's loss on the grounds laid out here. Far more importantly, fully 12% of registered Florida Democrats - 200,000 people - voted for Bush. If nominal Democrat supporters can't be bothered to vote for, or even vote against their own candidate - why the hell should Nader supporters? And notice the last sentence: "...have spent six months desperately trying to keep him off the ballot papers." Democracy in action, Kerry-style.

But this next lump must be hard to swallow, even for dedicated Anybody But Bush converts.

According to recent Gallup figures, when Nader supporters were asked who they would vote for if he were not on the ballot, 52 % opted for Mr Bush.

Nader has a majority of support from otherwise Republican voters. The Democrat's panic now looks especially foolish: Nader is as likely to cost Bush the election, as Kerry. So why the Guardian hatchet job?

For the record, Nader has spoken courageously in defence of Palestine; clearly and absolutely opposed the Iraq war and occupation; spoken against the Patriot Act; attacked the "corporate duopoly" that passes for US politics; promised to increase taxes on the rich, and welfare for the rest... to make it absolutely clear: his programme is, if anything, more radical than in 2000: anti-corporate, and anti-war. His voters are the so-called "Reagan Democrats": pro-welfare, anti-corporation, often union members: those swayed by Republican's grand promises in the '80s and now tasting their bitter fruits - the 401(k) con, the Enron scandal. This a constituency of excluded working class America glossed over by Tweedledee and Tweedledum in Washington. That they will vote for a clearly anti-war candidate is something to celebrate.

On to the breathtaking hypocrisy:

More than 75 former Nader's Raiders published an open letter: "As the recipient of financial and political support from rightwing campaign donors, Ralph is party to a disingenuous effort to split the progressive vote in key states. With the major party candidates in a dead heat, Nader is poised to tip the election to Bush - again."

"...from rightwing campaign donors": this is to repeat a slander that Nader's supporters have rightly labelled the "Big Lie". According to the Campaign for Responsive Politics, precisely 4% of Nader's campaign funding has come from those who also contributed to the Republicans. These Republican donors gave more to the Democrats: $58,000 to Nader, $66,000 to Kerry.

And what of the great white hope for progressive America, John Kerry? Alexander Cockburn has a fantastic article in the New Left Review that makes absolutely clear just how bad Kerry is. It is as precise a statement of the case against a Kerry vote as could be wished for. To pick one example, much is made in progressive circles of Kerry's anti-war credentials. Leaving aside the specifics of his anti-Vietnam war campaigning, which Cockburn deals with at length, a close inspection of Kerry's political formation reveals this:

Kerry’s pedigree has all the appropriate quarterings. He was a founder member of the Democratic Leadership Council, the camarilla of neoliberals that reshaped the image of the Democratic Party as a hawkish and pro-business party with a soft spot for abortion—essentially a stingier version of the Rockefeller Republicans. dlc strategy has been to concentrate on the white-collar professionals and the corporations, particularly in the area of the ‘new economy’, whose ceos Clinton so successfully courted—layers capable of generating campaign contributions far outweighing those of organized labour. The Democratic Party, the argument went, would always be able to count on the working-class vote—it had nowhere else to go. Targeting the New Economy billionaires has had its own, unstoppable logic. As David Friedman of the New America Foundation put it in the Los Angeles Times: ‘the cleansing of working-class concerns from America’s once-progressive politics’ reflects the interests of ‘a new, fabulously privileged elite—including website and computer gurus, actors, media magnates and financial power brokers’, who now exercise ‘unparalleled influence’ over mainstream liberalism and the Party itself. [13] In the categories of this year’s Democratic convention sponsors—Platinum Plus (over $2 million), Platinum (over $1 million), Gold (over $500,000), Silver (over $250,000)—even the largest organized-labour contributions are ranked way down in Bronze.

That so many progressive voices are prepared to raise themselves in screeching chorus for pro-war, pro-business Kerry is a fine testament to Bush's achievement: like Thatcher, he has evidently succeeded in all but neutering an already enfeebled left.

Afghanistan: Welcome to Marlboro Country, Mr Pop

Interview with Iggy Pop in the Big Issue this week (unavailable online). We've covered Mr Pop's opinions on the resolution of the capitalist music industry's deep contradictions before, but here he once again returns to a few political themes. Here is on the intricate connections between the Berlin Wall, Lucky Strikes, and Osama Bin Laden:

"...This cigarette hysteria, this banning, wouldn't have happened if the Soviet Union hadn't disintegrated, but once that happened this country needed a new devil and it was cigarettes. And now we have another new one - with a moustache and a sheet over his head - it's ridiculous."

Give £1.20 to a homeless person and get yourself a copy.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

"I have always wanted to be a statistic, and now I can be one and serve my country at the same time!"

Kids! Sign up now for Spring Break Fallujah 2005!

...if wasn't for the none-too-subtle "VOTE KERRY! VOTE KERRY!" thing they had going on, this site would earn still greater respect. Trouble is, Kerry's "New Army of Patriots" programme does have that slight drafty whiff about it, and he's been keen to stress his commitment to holding troops in Iraq... but never mind...

(Hat tip to Backword Dave)

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

ESF: more responses

My email inbox is straining at the seams, stuffed to the brim with the continuing fallout from the storming of the anti-fascism plenary session at the ESF. Many of the weak defences of the Wombles' attack centre, in Daily Mail fashion, on the supposed "playing of the race card" by Lee Jasper and other signatories to a letter in the Guardian on Tuesday, deploring the disruption. How dare - it is said - a group of black activists suggest that for an all/overwhelmingly(accounts differ) white group of self-appointed guardians of ESF purity to attack an a black and Jewish platform at an anti-fascist meeting might look perhaps a little, well, racist.

There was a notorious incident in the 1970s when the (largely male) stewards' organisation of an Italian far-left group physically broke into a women-only protest on the grounds that it was divisive for the movement. I don't imagine the stewards' group was motivated by sexism as such, but it did not make their actions anything less than sexist.

I don't imagine the Wombles were motivated by racism, either. But racism is more than its liberal definition of intolerance for the "Other" by an individual. Racism occurs in a context of instituitions, prevailing attitudes, and deep-rooted values. When the MacPherson Report spoke about "institutional racism", it was to describe an ugly focus of this context within the Metropolitan Police. It means that those on the left, who claim to be anti-racists, have a particular responsibility to maintain an awareness of how racism occurs in society, and act appropriately. Those "storming the palace" on Saturday utterly failed to do this. There have to be serious questions asked about how and why such a failure was possible.

"Zarqawi: Bush's man for all seasons"

This is an interesting article on Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, containing at least two useful pieces of information:

The US$25 million bounty on his head makes Zarqawi an equal of bin Laden on America’s most-wanted list. Soon Zarqawi started being characterized simultaneously as al-Qaeda’s top operative in Iraq, and the number one promoter of civil war in that country. His organization, al-Tawhid wal-Jihad (Unity and Holy War), cornered the global market of gory videos showing hostages chained, caged and beheaded. The Bush administration went into full gear, wanting the world to believe that petty criminal Zarqawi was holding the world hostage.

What had he actually done until 2004? Not much. Unlike bin Laden in 1998, he never issued a declaration of war against Jews and Crusaders. Because Zarqawi may have been in northern Iraq at the time - training Ansar al-Islam fighters - and because he may have traveled to Baghdad in May 2002 to treat his injured, or amputated leg, was evidence enough for Powell to speak of “a sinister nexus between Iraq and the al-Qaeda terrorist network”. Powell of course never mentioned two crucial facts: even if Zarqawi was really in northern Iraq, he was in a safe heaven for Iraqi Kurds; and Ansar al-Islam was a mortal enemy of Saddam’s Ba’athists. Not to mention the fact that the Pentagon always refused to take out Ansar’s base: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was not interested in obliterating a perfect pretext for the war. Moreover, Ansar could also be used as an ally against Saddam


So, first Zarqawi was used as a justification for the Iraqi war; then he became the reason for why there was no peace. Instead, what sources close to the resistance tell Asia Times Online, is that Zarqawi is a minor player: most Iraqis, Shi’ite and Sunni alike, reject his brutal methods, and even Islamic clerics who support the resistance but criticize Zarqawi’s methods are routinely denounced by Zarqawi as “collaborators”.

Where is his “base”? Zarqawi may have found plenty of funds and manpower in Saudi Arabia, especially after the siege of Fallujah in April, as well as in pockets of the Sunni triangle. Tawhid does exist as a movement, it may have as many as 1,000 members. Once again, the majority of the Iraqi resistance refuse to blow up Iraqi policemen or the desperate urban youth queuing up every day to get jobs in the security services. But for Tawhid, any Iraqi collaborating with the occupation in any way is a legitimate target.

Everything imaginable, in Iraq and elsewhere, has been attributed to Zarqawi: the Casablanca and Istanbul bombings in 2003; the assassination in August 2003, in Najaf, of key Shi’ite player Ayatollah al-Hakim; bomb attacks in February 2004 where more than 100 unemployed people applying for a job with the Iraqi police were killed; the Madrid bombings in March; the beheading of Berg; a wave of attacks in June, with more than 100 dead; the beheadings of the two Americans Armstrong and Hensley and Briton Bigley in September/October. Zarqawi is connected to something like three dozen “terrorist attacks” in Iraq, not to mention countless warnings, threats or communiques. But only half a dozen attacks among roughly 3,000 against the Americans and the so-called coalition can be attributed with certainty to Zarqawi.

There's also some background on US "psychological operations" and all that stuff; to be honest, I generally tend to be a bit wary of such talk. It's not so much that cunning plots to manipulate public politics are not hatched by security services (take Colin Wallace and "Clockwork Orange" in Northern Ireland, for example), just that they are of relatively minor importance. Conspiracies do not make history. The machinations of small groups rarely decide what whole societies can and cannot do. This applies especially under developed capitalism's pressing need for public legitimation and its comparatively open system of political management.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ESF: and finally (for now)

Following the last two posts, I don't want to leave the impression that the event was ruined by this sort of thing. Total attendance was something over 25,000, followed by a demonstration of around 100,000 against the occupation of Iraq; every single meeting I attended (bar one) was notable for both its high political involvement, clarity of arguments presented, and general good humour. Similarly, just from talking to those attending, it's clear that the "movement of movements" across Europe is both broader and far more politically adept than it has been in the past. As a whole, the ESF was a huge success. It is only a shame that two incidents marred things.

By the way, I notice from an earlier post that Impossiblist1904, a regular visitor here, disagrees strongly with the statement printed in the Guardian, reproduced in the previous post. Was anybody else at the anti-fascist meeting who can help clarify things?

ESF: Uncle Bulgaria's shame

And now the other ESF unpleasantness. Ken Livingstone was amongst those due to speak on the "Europe against fascism" plenary on Saturday night. With the resurgence of both the BNP here, and the extreme right across Europe - Vlaams Blok, Front National, NDP - the importance of this question should be obvious: a big, successful meeting, in which various issues were thrashed out and some sense of common political strategy reached would have been of great help. Many comrades attended; such was the ESF, with clashing meetings all over the place, I deliberated a little and went to the Respect fringe meeting instead. I received a text halfway through that saying "ESF occupied", followed by

all the anarchists in Europe have arrived and hijacked meeting on opposing fascism apparently dangers posed by the commercialisation of the esf are greater than those posed by the bnp and the fascists so far they have stopped short of denouncing esf organisers as social fascists but lets see

The event turned out to be a bit more serious than that. Not "all the anarchists in Europe", but a smattering of Wombles had led a small crowd into the meeting and stormed the stage. HUH? had earlier praised the Wombles as understanding the role of "theory" in the movement; after seeing the Tutti Bianchi in action in Prague against the IMF during summer 2000, the Wombles had modelled themselves on the same lines: padding on demonstrations to protect against police violence, and a certain amount of talk about reclaiming spaces, liberating autonomy, and the rest of it. (Their pamphlet, "Love and Rage in the Dying Days of Capitalism" lays much of this out.) Personally, I was dubious about the utility of shoving a sofa down your pants in overthrowing global capitalism, but viewed them as basically harmless and occasionally quite funny.

However, a letter in the Guardian today makes quite clear just how bad the ESF "intervention" was:

We agree with your appreciation of the success of the European Social Forum (Leaders, October 18). However, the storming of the stage of the anti-racist and anti- fascist session on Saturday had nothing to do with how the event was organised. It was the attempt of a tiny minority who oppose the ESF and have had no involvement in it to undemocratically impose their views on the majority and suppress other views by using physical violence.

It was carried out by an exclusively white group of anarchists who had no involvement in the ESF. They entered the building, stormed the platform of black and Jewish speakers, punched the black chair of the session and stole his mobile phone. The next day the same group tried to storm the stage of the demonstration, tearing down the crash barriers and assaulting ESF stewards.

We have never seen such behaviour in the progressive movement in Britain before and it should be totally condemned. The ESF was created to allow democratic discussion of the whole range of views within the social justice movement. No viewpoint was excluded and it is totally unacceptable for a tiny minority to attack that democratic process by using physical violence. That is all the more the case when they violently attack black people to stop us from discussing how to fight racism and fascism.

Lee Jasper
Secretary, National Assembly Against Racism

Ashok Viswanathan
Deputy coordinator, Operation Black Vote

Pav Akhtar
NUS black students officer

I have already vented a certain amount of spleen about a similar incident on the Friday evening. As I said there, the ESF is "soft" target: any sectarian with a grudge could very easily cause a huge amount of disruption due to the necessarily relaxed security at the event. I can at least understand where the protestors against IFTU general secretary Al Mashadani were coming from, much as I think their disruption was at best extraordinarily foolish, and at worst highly anti-democratic.

But this is something else. I cannot begin to imagine what was hoped to be achieved by having an all-white group of presumed anti-capitalists storm the platform of an anti-fascist meeting. To physically assualt the black chair of this meeting, stealing his phone, is to reinforce the folly. If it had been the BNP or the National Front, their actions would be "understandable" in their terms: no doubt breaking up large anti-fascist meetings is something they relish. So what the hell were the Wombles playing at?

Monday, October 18, 2004

ESF: Stalin's revenge

Earlier, I referred, in passing, to two unpleasant incidents that occurred during the European Social Forum last weekend. One of these, the disruption and cancellation of the "End the occupation of Iraq" plenary session, has become the subject of two particularly obnoxious posts from an "ex-Stalinist who's gone liberal and pro-war" at Harry's Place.

(Any post that starts, by the way, with Peter Tatchell's ludicrous, implausible version of events at a Palestine rally deserves to be treated with the deepest suspicion. But no matter. Let's stick to the main point.)

Many of the details in Harry's post are inaccurate to some extent. Taken together, the whole thing is ridiculous. Like the rest of the pro-war "left", Harry does not have the faintest idea, not the merest glimmer of understanding of what anti-capitalism, or the "movement of movements" is, what it represents, what values it holds to, or how it operates. For his information, at least, the ESF operates on a principle of trust: the Porto Allegre Charter of Principles, drafted by Bernard Cassen of Le Monde Diplomatique, amongst others, is specifically designed to promote co-operation between diverse groups. All of this can only operate on the basis of a high degree of mutual trust and respect. All of which means that calling for security - readily available, and provided by Alexandra Palace - to dispose of those determined to disrupt proceedings is politically very difficult, to the point of threatening the whole event. This ESF is a soft target for any disgruntled sectarians, of course; but the supportive and positive atmosphere, so obvious throughout the event, more than compensates for this.

With that in mind, I'll describe what happened on Friday evening. (I stand open to correction on points of detail here: I speak as an admittedly partial eyewitness.) The meeting space was enormous, and packed; capacity was around the 2,500 mark. Listed to appear on the platform were Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition; Sabah Jahwad, of Iraqi Democrats Against the Occupation; Fabio Alberti, from the Italian "Bridge to Baghdad"; Joanna Puszwacka of the ESF Polish committee; Tommy Sheridan, Scottish Socialist Party MSP; and Subhi Al Mashadani, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

IFTU's London represenative, Abdullah Muhsin, had made an earlier appearance at the Labour Party conference to argue against TUC policy on ending the occupation of Iraq. IFTU itself is the only trade union recognised by the occupation authorities, in direct breach of ILO regulations. Understandably, Al Mashadani's appearance provoked consternation. He was, however, present on a clearly-labelled platform, alongside speakers with the most definite views on the occupation; he was the invitee of the British trade unions; and I, like the overwhelming majority of those present, were prepared to allow him to speak on those terms. Frankly, his having been invited, I was hoping he would be - verbally! - ripped apart by the rest of the platform, with the anti-occupation arguments strengthened as a result. As the last paragraph implied, it is the nature of the ESF that pretty large disagreements can co-exist within the Forum: the French hijab ban being a good case in point, with alleged "feminists" arguing in its favour against a wider opposition.

Earlier in the day, I was told that "Iraq Occupation Focus" had pushed an argument for staging a protest in the meeting. This attracted some support, as a statement of opposition ot Al Mashadani's presence. It was, however, a small crowd that initially began the disruption - perhaps no more than 100 - who stood in the central aisle, and booed and jeered as soon as the chair moved to open the meeting. At this stage, there were undoubtedly many who had some sympathy with demonstrators at least voicing a significant concern. It was not, however, my impression that they had majority support.

Sami Ramadani, a lecturer and an Iraqi exile, spoke from the platform to suggest a compromise position. Calling himself a "supporter of the patriotic resistance in Iraq", he proposed that those objecting to Al Mashadani's speech should walk out, and then return for the remainder of the meeting, having made their protest. This divided the protestors: those around Iraq Occupation Focus were in favour of leaving, and the protesting crowd diminished to some twenty or so. Some of these I recognised as supporters of Workers' Power; others were apparently from a Turkish Maoist organisation. Sections of the meeting took up the chant in opposition to "Let him speak"; I am glad to have initiated this.

It being impossible calm this vocal group, the chair placed a vote before the meeting on whether it should continue. Overwhelmingly, the meeting voted to continue. Lindsey German made a quite brilliant speech, straight over the heads of the protestors who she throughly ridiculed, and received a standing ovation as a result. However, as soon as Al Mashadani rose to speak, an attempt was made to storm the stage. His two minders bundled him off-stage; my understanding at this point is that neither the platform nor Alexandra Palace were confident about letting the meeting continue, and it was cancelled. The protestors had to leave down the central aisle through the abuse of the meeting; at one stage, a scuffle broke out.

Really, it is hard to find any excuse for the anti-democratic behaviour here. Workers' Power and its collaborators were clearly out solely to wreck the meeting; a stunt which, naturally enough, played into the hands of the right - sorry, pro-war "left" - as seen at Harry's Place. But to then find Harry's Place concocting a ludicrous plot or conspiracy theory, with the SWP at the centre, is just foul. It betrays an extraordinary political ignorance to simply lump all opposition to Harry's own peculiar politics - semi-post-Stalinist B52 liberalism - as one homogenous mass; though doubtless politically active Muslims are now used to such treatment at the hands of such people. In the end, I share Socialist Worker's assessment of events, sneered at by Harry:

But a couple of dozen people, with no connection to the anti-war movement, broke up the meeting through barracking and intimidation. They ignored appeals from, and a vote by, over 2,000 people in the audience for the meeting to take place.

The hecklers claimed they objected to the presence of a representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU).

Most of the audience also opposed the representative of the IFTU, but did not support the disruption. Well known opponent of the occupation Sami Ramadani told the audience that he opposed the invite to the IFTU, but the meeting must go ahead.

Those who disrupted the meeting have very effectively isolated themselves from the anti-war movement, and have only aided the occupation's most embittered supporters.

ESF: briefly on Palestine

The plenary on "What future for Palestine?" on Friday afternoon deserves a mention. Aside from - once again - being crammed, the 1,500-capacity meeting space being filled way beyond capacity, Yonathan Shapira's contribution from the platform was outstanding. Shapira was a helicopter pilot within an elite unit in the Israeli Defence Forces, until he, with a few colleagues, initiated a letter stating their refusal to fight in the Occupied Territories. Eventually, 27 pilots signed, and sparked off a movement within the IDF and amongst those facing conscription against upholding a murderous occupation. Aside from delivering a very moving and well-constructed speech, Shapira concluded with concrete proposals for the Palestinian solidarity movement: to support sanctions on Israel, to boycott Israeli goods, and to divest from Israel. This was, I think, quite exceptional; that the refusenik movement can move beyond simply a moral opposition to gross immorality, and begin to construct this sort of political programme, is a very positive development. He received a prolonged standing ovation.

(Yesh Gvul, the main refusenik organisation, can be found here. English translation available on the site.)

ESF: quick thoughts

Non-existent posting over the last few days was the result of my attending the European Social Forum in London. If you weren't there, the next one will be in Athens, saving you the irritation of predictably bad London weather: the clouds, scenting an opportunity, duly massed over Alexandra Palace from Thursday morning onwards. (Equal predictable, mere hours after the final demonstration, is the blazing sunshine I can now see out of the window.) Still, the marquees at Ally Pally held up well.

But what to say? Bar one or two instances of unforgivable stupidity (one of which is pretty well recorded here; both of which I will return to at some point), the event was a huge success. Final attendance I'm not sure of: by Saturday, when large numbers of British delegates turned up, all the meetings - plenaries, seminars, and workshops - were packed to overflowing, alongside thousands more wandering between stalls, eating sandwiches, juggling, selling papers, and the rest of it. Presumably something over 20,000 attended. It all still seems a little overwhelming: between the huge delegations from Other Countries, the general hubbub and ruckus, and the exceptionally high level of political debate and engagement, assembling any coherent thoughts on everything at once is rather difficult.

Personal highlights can probably be guessed at: the Respect rally, held in Bloomsbury at the Friends' Meeting House on Saturday evening, was amongst the best political meetings I have ever attended. Like many comrades, I had a grim sense of foreboding about it, and attended expecting to find probably 300-400 familiar faces barely covering the ground floor seating at Friends. It was too far away from the main event, clashed with other clearly popular meetings, and, well, it's only Respect, isn't it?

Total room capacity in the main hall at Friends' is around 2,000: to find filled to the rafters was a genuine surprise. The point with Respect is that, despite long memories of defeats and near-misses electorally, the damn thing actually works. I suspect some of the knee-jerk hostility towards it on the left is as much a conservative reaction to this break from a well-established routine as it is to ingrained sectarianism, incipient Islamophobia, and political myopia - for example.

All the speakers were on top form, George Galloway and Tommy Sheridan particularly so. However, it was Olivier Besancenot, the young postal worker who stood for the Ligue Communiste Revolutionnaire in the 2002 French Presidential elections, who demonstrated well why over a million French citizens were prepared to vote for him. He provided a very clear analysis of left politics in Europe, centred on the reformation of the European working class, and its relationship of the anti-capitalist movement. This unashamedly theoretical speech was justly cheered to the rafters.

Elsewhere, Perry Anderson at the New Left Review's meeting on the US and the UN very rapidly demolished a series of arguments about the UN's allegedly progressive role in world politics. He described it - rightly - as the creature of Cold War politics, well-adapted to a bipolar world, and ran swiftly through its more obvious failings in the last fifty years: from the disastrous creation of Israel in 1947/48, to the First Gulf War in 1991, the idea that the UN exists as a magic wand for good liberals to make nice things happen was ripped apart. Again, an overtly theoretical meeting - Anderson speaking alongside Peter Gowan, Bernard Cassen of ATTAC France and Luciana Castellina of Rivista Italy - was crammed solid; the principal complaint made was that it was simply not theoretical enough.

Faustino Bertinotti's contribution to the plenary on "War, social movements, and political parties" was worth hearing: more for what was said, than the manner of saying. I hadn't realised just how high the regard for the general secretary of Rifondazione Communista was, Bertinotti being greeted by thunderous applause. Fair enough: he took brave step in leaving the so-called "Olive Tree" coalition with Democrazia Sinistra, rejecting the politics of neo-liberalism, and took a further brave step in engaging Rifondazione with the anti-capitalist movement, to great effect at the G8 protests in Genoa. He has now been making noises about re-entering a coalition with the social democrats, and his speech - carefully demarcating the lines of opposition to the "war on terror" and terrorism - seemed designed to reinforce such a move. It was worth hearing for the presentation of how a political party of 100,000 members can deal with the twin pulls of a radical anti-capitalist left, and strong tugging to the reformist right. Bertinotti, as does the whole of Rifondazione, thus performs a delicate and probably unsustainable balancing act: there is a real fight to settle the direction both he and his party will fall in.

Though I didn't attend, I'm told Salam Yaqoob's contribution to the meeting on the hijab, tackling and slicing up the arguments of supposed "feminists" opposing the right of Muslim women to dictate their own appearance. That is precisely the argument Yaqoob uses: that the debate about the ban on the hijab is a debate about a woman's right to choose, a right that applies to Muslim women as much as it does to anyone else. (As an incidental point, her comparison, whilst chairing the Respect meeting, of Tommy Sheridan to Mel Gibson in Braveheart brought the house down.)

I could carry on like this for some time. I think the critical political points that came through throughout the event were, first, that the attitude the movement adopts to the Iraqi resistance will be decisive for its future; and second, that the issue of political representation and political parties is swinging in the revolutionary left's favour. The whole ESF was far more radical than I - and probably anyone else - anticipated: French ATTAC appear to have decided against mobilising, removing one obvious right-wing bloc inside the movement, but the experience of opposing the Iraq invasion and occupation has undoubtedly forced the whole "movement of movements" to become both more theoretically exacting, and more radical.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

"Things can only get better"

My Labour Party conference spy informs me of several amusing happenings a few weeks back. Apparently, one of the highlights of the hectic conference social calendar is the Commission for Racial Equality's "Diversity Disco". This, as I'm sure can be well imagined, is a roaring slathering monster of a bash, attended by near-delirious delegates ready to shake off their Blunketted hang-ups and make like they're Tom Driberg, the Krays are in town, and it's a free bar 'til dawn.

However, I'm told proceedings only really begin to proceed when, preceded by feverish anticipation, the estimable DJ's wheels of steel are cleared for D:Ream's legendary "Things Can Only Get Better". This, as fading memories will recall, was Labour's 1997 election theme tune: after 18 years of Tory rule, it did indeed seem as if things could only get better. Neil Kinnock - poor old Neil - danced badly to it. It was played incessantly throughout the campaign. It was (and remains) an intensely irritating slice of mid-'90s crap pop, and it is a paen passivity: wait, dear frustrated voter, and New Labour will provide. How we all laughed, seven years and five wars later.

And how strange and distant Blair's first victory now seems; yet, as the first few bars envelop the crowd, a transformation occurs: the assembled Labour massive leap onto the floor, a-whooping and a-hollering, waving their hands in the air like they just don't care, all thoughts of besuited dignity abandoned: close your eyes, and it's like May 1st, 1997 never ended. No more Iraq, no more war on terror, no more Blunkett; no more PFI, no more "prudence", no more privatisation. The greatest irony of all? That this awful tune would fit Labour's 2005 election just as well as it fitted 1997. For after seven grim years - things, this time round, really can only get better.

That sod Lenin has made an indentical point to the post below. Marvellous.

Abdullah Muhsin: his speech

It seems Abdullah Muhsin, London representative of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, has been feeling a little apologetic. His dedicated support for the occupation of Iraq at the Labour Party conference went down a treat with the Labour leadership, but seems to have cut less ice with ordinary trade unionists, who attach more weight to their union's policies than they do to Blair's political career. Meanwhile, IFTU's general secretary will be speaking alongside Stop the War Coalition convenor Lindsey German on "End the Occupation of Iraq" at the ESF, so perhaps Muhsin's sheepishness is understandable.

Muhsin wrote in the Morning Star (subscription needed) that

Mr Galloway's assertion that I offered voting advice to trade unions on the Iraq motions is also untrue... I confined my remarks to urging solidarity with Iraqi workers.

Not, of course, that Blairite bureaucrats like Jack Dromey interpreted his speech this way; Dromey claiming that all 200,000 were now wholeheartedly in support of the occupation and its stooge government. Worse yet, UNISON has helpfully reproduced Muhsin's "Open letter to trade union delegates", in which he concluded:

You have two options before you this week. One would give hope to all those in Iraq who want to see free trade unions and political organisation grow and thrive. In line with UN Security Council resolution 1546 it says that the multinational force is there to help our democracy.

The alternative asks for an early date for the unilateral withdrawal of troops which would be bad for my country, bad for the emerging progressive forces, a terrible blow for free trade unionism, and would play into the hands of extremists and terrorists.

"Obviously not voting advice, that," as Ned Ludd put it. (Hat tip to him for this.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Iraqi trade unions (again)

The General Secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, Subhi Al Mashadani, will be one of the speakers at an ESF plenary session entitled 'End the Occupation of Iraq' at the ESF on Saturday (Alexandra Palace, 7-9pm). This may surprise some, coming just weeks after Abdullah Muhsin, IFTU's London representative, appeared at the Labour Party conference to lobby in support of the continuing the occupation of Iraq. Other speakers on the platform include Lindsey German. German was recently denounced by those labour movement stalwarts at Harry's Place for "scabbing" on Iraqi trade unions, following the unexceptional statement issued by the Stop the War Coalition rightly condemning IFTU for lobbying against British trade unions' agreed policy on Iraq.

With Subi Al Mashadani's speaking on this platform, and to this subject, it seems the situation in IFTU is less clear-cut than the pro-war "left" wish to claim. This is in addition to IFTU's only partial representation of Iraqi trade unionists: many other federations exist, including the Federation of Workers' Councils anhd Unions in Iraq (FWCUI), which opposes the occupation. IFTU is the largest of these, but in no way can it claim to represent all Iraqi union members - and least of all on a critical issue like the occupation.

Of additional concern is IFTU's willingness to participate in breaking the International Labour Organisation's (ILO) minimum standards on trade union rights: IFTU was declared in Decree 16 of the Iraqi Governing Council to be the sole legitimate collective representative of Iraqi workers. This is in violation of ILO articles 87 and 98, which uphold the right of workers to decide their own forms of representation. Since the "handover" of power in Iraq, the interim government has confirmed Decree 16. The FWCUI and the Union of the Unemployed of Iraq have lodged a formal complaint with the ILO about this breach of workers' rights.