War nonsense

While I share Patrick Smith’s opposition to capitalist imperialism - as every Marxist, by definition, is supposed to do - I think he could have been a bit more careful in his description of the national oppression of Kosovar Albanians by the Serbia of Slobodan Milošević (‘Those who side with imperialism’, October 23).

Comrade Smith writes: “None of this is to say that nationalism, in particular Serbian nationalism, was not a problem during the break-up of Yugoslavia; nor is it to say that there was no ethnic cleansing - the worst example being the Serb massacre of Bosnian Muslims at Srebrenica. But it is to say that the invocation of the holocaust and claims of genocide were used as a pretext for war.”

Let’s provide some important details. As Bogdan Denitch pointed out in the summer 1999 edition of Dissent (and, yes, I know that Denitch critically, but still wrongly, supported Nato intervention), the Milošević regime was “primarily responsible for three previous wars of aggression in the region, as well as massive ethnic cleansing and mass murder of civilians and thousands of prisoners of war in Bosnia. It is also clear that this is a regime that would continue its repression in Kosovo while negotiating. It would only back down if faced with credible force and it would only keep its agreements if international troops were present to enforce them. Even before the Nato attack began, some 25,000 Albanians had been ethnically cleansed - that is, moved with great brutality out of their homes. The massacre of unarmed civilians in the village of Račak took place before the bombing.”

As to comrade Smith’s opposition to the use of the word “genocide” in this context, Denitch continues:

“The Convention on Genocide defines it as any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group, as such:

(a) Killing members of the group;

(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group;

(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.

“This clearly covers what the Milošević regime is doing. The Albanian exodus from Kosovo was organised with great brutality and was obviously planned long in advance.”

Again, this doesn’t mean that socialists should have given overt or tacit support to Nato’s bombing of Serbia. But there’s no reason to doubt Denitch’s first-hand grasp of the facts - which, yes, do line up with those offered by the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty. (Denitch himself, who was in the US Young Socialist League in the 1950s, was born in Serbia and helped to found an NGO in Belgrade, Zagreb, Split and Sarajevo called Transition to Democracy, which provides legal aid for refugees trying to return and for victims of state violence - by suing police and judges and local officials who obstruct refugees’ return or the return of minorities to jobs they’ve been removed from.)

Lots of nonsense regarding the wars in the 1990s in the former Yugoslavia has been thrown around all across the political spectrum. Let’s make sure that our opposition to Nato imperialism doesn’t lead us to play down the often very real crimes of those in control of the state that Nato is bombing.

Jason Schulman
<em>New Politics</em>, New York

Any day

I refer to the recent article by Patrick Smith regarding the AWL and imperialism. In particular, this quote, which comes at the conclusion: “This in turn leads the AWL to reject defeatism - the need to campaign for the defeat of imperialism.” So how does that translate when it comes to the situation in Kobanê?

Patrick Smith’s piece is one of a number the Weekly Worker has recently published condemning “social-imperialism” in the left. In the Peter Manson piece, ‘Going soft on the intervention’ (October 2), he attacks the policies of the Fourth International in Denmark. Namely, that they voted in parliament to send a Hercules aircraft to the Iraq government in order to arm “the Kurdish militias fighting Islamic State”. However, Mr Manson does admit, “You can hardly blame those Kurds and Yazidis on the receiving end who have been pleading for western air strikes. For them IS is the most immediate, the most dangerous threat. However, that ought not to be the case for communists and revolutionary socialists, for whom, compared to imperialism, IS is like a band of petty criminals.”

And, to reinforce this, if there is any doubt about what the Kurds in Kobanê think of the airstrikes, here’s a quote from Esmat al-Sheikh, head of the Kobanê defence council: “The air strikes are benefiting us, but Islamic State is bringing tanks and artillery from the east. We didn’t see them with tanks, but yesterday we saw T-57 tanks” (The Guardian October 11).

In her article on IS and Kobanê, Yassamine Mather writes: “This does not mean that in the Middle East, and especially in the west, the left should not support the fighters in Kobanê, who, as secular, leftwing forces, remain a source of hope, a progressive force fighting reactionary Islamists” (‘The IS conundrum’, October 9).

Unfortunately, for Ms Mather (and other supporters of the besieged Kurds), “the defeat of imperialism” (Patrick Smith) is more important than whether or not the Kurds manage to hold off IS. Namely, the victory of IS over the US is the ‘lesser evil’ in the eyes of Mr Smith (and the CPGB?). And, in fact, surely a “campaign” (as suggested) should be made to that effect.

Do Mr Smith and the CPGB believe the Kurds to be “social-imperialists”, who are, therefore, undeserving of support and should get the message that IS are mere “petty criminals” compared to US imperialism? What should they do then - ask the Americans to take the weapons back and wait for John Rees to drum up the support of Hamas, Venezuela and the African National Congress?

If that is the case, then give me social-imperialism any day.

John Rogan

To the point

I would like to start straight at the point. Patrick Smith’s very informative article brought to attention the issue of paleo-imperialism and involvement within it of some mid-developed countries like Indonesia.

I think it’s worth highlighting the occupation by Indonesia of the western side of the island of New Guinea, which is by far a bigger and not resolved problem (in comparison to the mentioned East Timor). In 1961, the colonial power of then Netherlands New Guinea intended to settle the status of one of its dependent territories. It gave the Papuans self-governing powers and intended to give them full independence by the end of the 1960s. However, Indonesia planned its own Drang nach Osten to find the ‘living space’ for its rapidly growing population.

The dispute resulted in a full invasion in 1962 by the Indonesian army and subsequent withdrawal of Dutch colonial forces. The United Nations attempted (half-heartedly, of course) to resolve the dispute by taking over West Papua and calling the referendum on the issue of ‘incorporation’ to Indonesia or full independence.

By the decision of the UN’s temporary executive authority, the administrative duties over West Papua were ceded to the Indonesian government on the false promise of the referendum in an unspecified time. That never happened and Indonesia annexed West Papua in 1969. Since then there is a Papuan-wide movement for independence based on socialist principles of the right to self-government and equality of all.

The Indonesian government called the Organisasi Papua Merdeka, who are leading the resistance, “terrorists” and has been using all means possible to crush the OPM rebellion for almost 50 years now.

One of the very best examples of paleo-imperialism can be seen in the conflict between Papua New Guinea and the North Solomons, officially called the Autonomous Region of Bougainville. The island of Bougainville is rich in copper and other precious metals, and therefore is a vital source of income for Papua New Guinea. However, long armed struggle by the Bougainville Revolutionary Army in the 1980s resulted in full-scale civil war, with support to the PNG government provided by Australia and mercenaries from the ‘security’ firm, Sandline International.

BRA has managed to negotiate a settlement with the central government for something just short of full independence and Bougainville now has broad autonomy. But the price paid by the local population can be counted in the thousands of dead.

The above examples hopefully have shown the multi-dimensional side to the issue of paleo-imperialism.

Daniel Kowalczuk


As a trade unionist activist and Socialist Party member, I was interested in your article on the abandoned local government strike action (‘Carry on regardless’, October 16).

There was the occasional insightful snippet, such as the reported role of the lamentable Heather Wakefield from Unison. I also recognised the “disconnect” you describe that exists between union members and the organisation.

But overall your piece was so pessimistic that you seemed to be siding with the bureaucracy. Of course, it’s true that members have been hammered for 25 years (I would put it at 35 years myself), but the reasons for that include the timidity and fearfulness displayed by the leaderships of Unison, GMB and Unite in particular.

You say that current conditions dictate that all we can do in the unions is “maintaining, organising and cohering forces so that we are able to mount a counter-offensive when we are ready”. That is ignoring the uncomfortable fact that it was the leaderships of these three unions that called the abortive October 14 strike action in local government. Your writer should have been whispering in the ears of Prentis, McCluskey and the GMB guy that they were making a big mistake. In the face of another pay cut they should have been “maintaining, organising and cohering” - whatever that means.

For a publication allegedly of the left to write an article about October 14 which says not a word about the cowardice of the leaders of the three unions and instead infers that their treachery was more in tune with members tells me that your main interest is in point-scoring.

The members of all three above-named unions backed strike action. The Labour Party-loving leaderships half-heartedly acted on that mandate with betrayal in their minds. Why did your article-writer not mention the role of the leader of the Labour Party group in the Local Government Association in the strike being called off?

Strike action and the heightened state of consciousness which comes with it is one of the weapons we have, as union members, against the class enemy. It should be enthusiastically prepared for and backed on the day. The supposed strength of the employer (overstated by your writer, in my opinion) is irrelevant. The LGA looks strong because it knows it can depend on Prentis and co to sell out their members - it happened in 2002, 2008 and 2011.

Working class people badly need political representation. That is why the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, as a stepping stone to a mass party of the working class, is so important. The Labour Party’s time as a conduit for working class aspirations is long past, as Scots realised in the referendum campaign.

As a union member and Tusc supporter I will continue to ‘maintain, organise and cohere’ - with none of the defeatism displayed by your article writer.

Rob Rooney


Zionist propaganda has managed to deter condemnation of Israeli oppression of the Palestinian people and colonisation of their land by claiming that Israel is the “nation-state of the Jewish people”, that Israel represents all Jews throughout the world and acts on their behalf, and that therefore criticism of Israel and opposition to Zionist colonisation is “anti-Semitic”.

Progressive Jews who support Palestinian human and national rights have got together in ad hoc groupings - such as International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network (IJAN) and Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods (J-BIG) - to give the lie to Israel’s pretension. They say loud and clear: ‘Not in our name!’ Thereby they help to disarm Zionism of one of its most effective propaganda weapons; and encourage decent people, who have been reticent about publicly condemning Israel’s crimes for fear of being branded as ‘anti-Semites’, to speak up.

Surely, true supporters of Palestinian rights ought to welcome the activity of these progressive Jewish groupings. But Ian Donovan’s prejudice about ‘the Jews’ does not allow him to do so. He must ascribe to these groupings discreditable, unworthy motives (Letters, October 23). He tars them and the Zionists with the same brush: to him they are all alike, driven by “the notion of ‘chosenness’ and Jewish moral superiority”.

Honi soit qui mal y pense!

Moshé Machover


Ian Donovan’s suggestion that Moshé Machover’s forwarding of Jews for Boycotting Israeli Goods emails is an example of “identity politics” is utter nonsense.

Identity politics - which manifested itself in an attempt by feminists and sections of the women’s movement to avoid opposing Zionism, by counterpoising their experience of ‘anti-Semitism’ to that of the Palestinians - is a reactionary petty bourgeois manifestation. It substitutes fighting to change one’s consciousness for a fight to change society.

I suggest that Ian Donovan, instead of listening to his guru, Gilad Atzmon, reads the article of Jewish feminist Jenny Bourne, ‘Jewish feminism and identity politics’, in the summer 1987 issue of Race and Class. Jenny writes: “If feminism were to compare racism and anti-Semitism not to each other in an abstract way, but in terms of their specific origins, histories and changing manifestations, it would become immediately obvious in what ways the two are not the same and the grounds on which they need to be combated therefore differ.”

The editor of Race and Class, A Sivanandan, writes: “Once a culture loses its social dynamic, identity becomes an indulgence. It becomes, that is, an end in itself rather than a guide to effective action ... There is no point in finding out who I am if I do not know what to do with that knowledge.”

Donovan, because he has never participated in Palestine solidarity work, speaks entirely from a superficial ideological perspective.

Tony Greenstein


I would like to draw the Weekly Worker and its readers’ attention to the threat of abrupt climate change.

While there is no serious debate about the existence of human-induced climate change, there is some debate about the length of time it will take to become a serious threat. A consensus has emerged that the major effects of this will begin to occur in around 50 to 100 years from now and that we have some time and scope to actually do something about it. Most articles I have come across on climate change, or just generally about the future, from left publications also seem to presuppose this is the case.

However, when taking into account a number of self-reinforcing feedback loops and the exponential effect these will have on global temperatures, it is becoming increasingly apparent from the latest data that climate change threatens the extinction of our species in the short term - in the next 15 to 25 years. Disturbingly, this data puts us as way past many tipping points and suggests there is absolutely nothing we can now do to avert catastrophe.

Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of natural resources, ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Arizona, has put together the main threads of this argument and research here citing accredited scientists and peer-reviewed scientific journals: http://guymcpherson.com/2013/01/climate-change-summary-and-update.

I have deep respect for the opinions of contributors to the Weekly Worker, so what do you and your readers make of this? To my knowledge, climate change is something that is just not getting the level of attention it warrants on the left and certainly the idea of abrupt climate change seems to be swept under the carpet.

David Bell

Taking on Ukip

The rise of the UK Independence Party and its corrosive effect of dragging politics to the right need to be tackled head on. We need to have confidence in our politics in defending the welfare state, migrant workers and our multicultural and diverse society.

Having learnt that significant forces on the left have declined to make an intervention in the Rochester and Strood by-election, and that no local anti-cuts candidate is standing, my party, People Before Profit, have decided to stand and take on Ukip.

I would welcome any help from readers and supporters of the Weekly Worker. I think it likely that I will be the only candidate standing who has shares in the Peoples Press Friendship Society, is an active member of Unite, joined strikers on pickets lines last week and marched on the TUC’s ‘Britain needs a pay rise’ march on October 18.

Nick Long
People Before Profit

Clerical error

My recent article on the Catholic extraordinary synod contained an error (‘Infighting in the Vatican’, October 23).

The ‘revolutionary’ passage about “welcoming” gays, that appeared in the interim draft report (relatio) and so horrified many conservatives, got spiked during the redrafting process - ie, was never voted upon, contrary to what I said in the article. Hence, whilst some conservative bishops rejected the final text, as they thought it was still too liberal, a significant number of liberal bishops voted it down precisely because it was far too conservative - thus depriving the paragraph of the super-majority needed to pass (118 votes for, 62 against).

Both Vincent Nichols, the archbishop of Westminster, and Joseph Kurtz, head of the conference of bishops in the US, have publicly said they could not support the final wording, as it did not include words like ‘welcome’, ‘respect’, ‘value’, etc.

Eddie Ford