Thursday, May 25, 2006

Red Pepper 142 June 2006

Red Pepper 142 has a clever football/St George's cover.

Articles of interest include:
Phyllis Bennis on the threat of a US military strike on Iran.

A Eurotopia wiki-survey on the ESF, looking at the creation of a radical European 'we'. The fall of Aznar in 2004 is put down to national repercussions of international mobilization, as is the defeat of Berlusconi! No matter how strange ssome of the judgements might be Eurotopia looks quite interesting.

Hilary Wainwright is also being very positive about the Athens ESF, mentioning the size of the demo as a sign of 'subterranean radicalisation' and praising the forum for the absence of plenaries and extent of discussion.

Mark Perryman and Mike Marqusee debate whether its possible to support England in the World Cup in 'Anyone but Ingerland?'

Stuart Weir looks at the BNP in 'Touching the Void'. Weir (from Democratic Audit) has been consistently emphasising the scale of the BNP threat and is one of the authors of the Rowntree Trust report on The BNP: The Roots of is Appeal. Here he talks about a revolutionary change in UK politics over the last 20 years, with a shift to multiparty politics. The BNP has been benefitting, helped by respomses which have ignored it. The BNP might not be a mainstream party nationally, but it is a 'national phenomenon that becomes mainstream where it makes gains.' It is nasty, but not enough to just say it's nasty. It should be regarded as a 'community movement founded on protest', speaking for white communities that feel neglected and agrieved and silenced. Weir also says that the BNP is a 'populist libertarian party', "more Labour than Labour" according to Richard Barnbrook and Weir also quotes Nick Griffin about: " people wanting to kick the Labour Party really hard and we're the politically incorrect way to do it." The BNP is being very successful at concealing its violent connections and in pursuit of respectability, and is making the public expression of racism acceptable. And the BNP is exploiting a political void in which the major parties fail to engage with the communities in which the BNP prospers.

David Beetham and Pat Devine on the Euston Manifesto: they're not impressed.

David Renton provides a good summaryof his new history of the ANL When We Touched the Sky in 'The other summer of punk'.

Socialist Worker 2002 May 27th 2006

Socialist Worker (#2002 May 27th 2006) leads with a story about a Pakistani-born British citizen being deported as part of the current foreign criminals hysteria/moral panic - written by the guy's sister Sam Almas. This is backed up by a Mark Brown story, 'Racist myths behind the scaremongering', good stuff on the racism of anti-immigrant propaganda; but failing to take up the crime angle which dominates the news.

Elaine Graham-Leigh from Respect has a go at 'Da Vinci Code drivel' for pushing a rightwing position with a new age gloss, 'fringe monarchist fantasies' and who could gainsay the author of The Southern French Nobility and the Albigensian Crusade.

There's also a page by another academic, Martin Evans writing about 'Mutiny in Algeria', a very interesting and rare story about reservist and conscript resistance to being sent to Algeria in 1956, a mutiny that was hidden from contemporary France and pretty much hidden from history. This is an excellent article about a hidden but important piece of history, with huge relevance for today. Evans' book The Memory of Resistance: French Opposition to the Algerian War 1954-62 (1997) looks important. Well done Socialist Worker.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Jonathan Steele: time to leave

We have no reason to stay in Basra and ought to pull out
Blair missed his best chance to withdraw from Iraq last year.
The rising death toll shows how the British are really seen
Jonathan Steele May 19, 2006 The Guardian

Tony Blair's folly in taking Britain to war in Iraq is blood under the bridge, a blunder that cannot be reversed. But Blair made a second mistake that is less often discussed. He should have withdrawn British troops from southern Iraq as soon as it was clear that they were not serving a useful purpose. Instead, out of the same "strategic" motive of wanting to show George Bush that Britain was Washington's most faithful ally, Blair has kept British forces long after he needed to. He was wrong to send British forces in. He is wrong not to take them out.

Every day the cost of this disastrous refusal becomes more serious, though it does not percolate through to the public at home with the urgency it deserves. Because of the greater volume of news, the British media send reporters to the Iraqi capital rather than Basra.

Lulled by the official - "off the record, old boy" - claim that British troops behave better than Americans, or that Basra is inhabited by Shias who welcomed Saddam Hussein's overthrow (a view that British reporters embedded with UK troops often repeat), many people in the UK feel that life under British occupation is far better than in Baghdad.

But the rising death toll of British troops belies the notion of a peaceful region where they are loved. Seven were killed last week, the highest number in any week since the invasion three years ago. Five died in the downing of a helicopter, hit by ground fire according to police, although the army says an investigation is still going on. (Here there is a difference with the Americans. They usually take less time to confirm how an aircraft came down.)
With 111 dead, the rate of British fatalities is about the same as the American rate, given that the US has 20 times as many troops in Iraq. US forces mount large offensives more frequently than the British, so the drip-drip of British soldiers' deaths by attrition is actually worse than in the US-occupied areas.

Iraqis resent British forces with a passion that surprises the troops themselves. "You think you know these people but you don't," exclaimed a British sergeant when he found young Iraqis excitedly gloating over the downed helicopter last week. His confusion is as old as colonialism, the shock of truth when occupiers realise the populace is not as grateful or contented as they thought.

Criminal kidnappings and sectarian murders take place in southern Iraq daily. There may not be as many killings of Sunnis by Shias and vice versa as in Baghdad, but that is because the Sunni population of Basra is smaller. Many Sunnis are fleeing. The casualties mainly stem from two Shia militias clashing for control of various districts of the city.

The Basra police are heavily infiltrated by militias, and there is a running argument between Basra's governor, Muhammad Misbah al-Waeli, and the chiefs of the police and army, whom he accuses of being linked to the killers - the police chief survived a bomb attack yesterday. Majid al-Sari, a defence ministry adviser, says assassinations have surged to more than a dozen a day.
While British officials dispute his figures and reject the governor's charges, they concede that there are frequent clashes whose motives they find hard to follow. For 10 weeks earlier this year the Basra authorities refused to cooperate with the British. The boycott ended a fortnight ago, but suspicions remain.

This is a far cry from January last year, when people in Basra voted for the provincial council for the first time as well as for a transitional government for Iraq as a whole. Violence was at a low level, and election day passed off with barely a shot or mortar fired. After the vote Blair had the perfect opportunity to withdraw Britain's troops with the argument that Basra and the other southern provinces had freely chosen their own government and there was no insurgency for foreign troops to control.

On a learn-on-the-job trip to Basra this week Des Browne, the new defence secretary, made exactly that point, perhaps inadvertently. British troops had gone there, he said, "to allow the Iraqi people the right of self-determination against a background of a democratic process". That has been achieved, yet Blair has decided he cannot leave Iraq before the Americans in case he seems to be deserting Bush.

Engineers, teachers and other secular professionals in Basra were not happy with the British record even then. They argued that the British authorities had bought calm in Basra by putting stability ahead of modernisation and allowing Islamist parties a free rein. But Britain's laissez-faire policies helped to produce relative tranquillity. Since then the situation has worsened. Sectarian parties won the two elections, and are engaged in increasingly violent power struggles, which the British cannot - and should not try to - resolve. British forces, meanwhile, are coming under more frequent attack. Some British officials, and some Iraqis, claim Iran is behind the surge, but the spontaneous glee with which British military setbacks are greeted shows that, regardless of any Iranian role, many welcome resistance to the British. Contacted by phone this week, a range of people said the British were doing nothing about the disorder, so they should leave now.

The fact is that Britain has outstayed any welcome it had in some quarters for toppling Saddam. Like the Americans in Baghdad, the British in Basra are blamed for reconstruction failures, the power cuts in the crippling heat, massive unemployment and the horrors of lawless daily life.
In Mosul and Baghdad, Iraq's other main cities, conditions for Iraqis also continue to worsen.

People fear the growing toll of sectarian murders, criminal kidnappings, pervasive police corruption and political and economic hopelessness. Five months after the December elections an Iraqi government is only just being formed - and Iraqis have little faith in it. Sudden death is no longer confined to attacks on police stations or random car bombs, which people can try to avoid by keeping away from risky areas. Death squads now enter residential neighbourhoods. The risk of all-out civil war is ever present.

Recognising the futility of staying in Baghdad, Mosul and the north and west of Iraq is Bush's responsibility. The American public's growing disillusionment with the war may push him to reduce US troop numbers substantially after November's mid-term elections, though he will avoid a complete withdrawal for fear that it will seem a defeat. Blair's role is limited to southern Iraq. He will never be able to redeem his mistake in taking Britain into Bush's war. He can lessen it by leaving Basra now.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Socialist Worker (US-ISO) #589 May 19th 2006

The ISO's Socialist Worker (#589, May 19th) leads on Bush's militarization of the Mexican border in 'Bush declares war at the border'.

Amongst much of interest there is Eric Ruder on the Mearscheimer-Walt Israel Lobby controversy - basically defending them, but making the standard Marxist/imperialist theory criticisms, similar to Chris Harman's take in Socialist Review, but better balanced.

London Socialist Historians Newsletter Summer 2006

The London Socialist Historians Group Newsletter (#27) for Summer 2006 is available on the web. Two short but notable features: Keith Flett on 'The General Strike 80 Years On', organised around Anne Perkins's A Very British Strike, pointing out strengths as well as weaknesses; and Terry Ward taking a distinctly non-SWP line on Kevin Murphy's Deutscher Prize Winning Revolution and Counterrevolution.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

New Ststesman May 8th 2006

New Statesman (May 8th 2006) asks 'Is this the end?',but don't give us the answer.

Articles of interest. John Pilger's column on the Salvador Option combines the power of the media, pumping out a party line preparing us for war; with the death squads directed by the Ministry of the Interior and thus controlled by the CIA. Trouble is, all done by assertion, where what is needed is careful journalism.

Paul Kingsnorth makes a rare reference to the global justice movement in 'Protest Still Matters', finding it still alive and the events at the more-or less completely ignored Athens ESF 'so important'. This is accompanied by a strangely cynical column really focused on the hijacking of the movement by the SWP, but as the evidence is drawn from France this does sound unlikely.

Weekly Worker 623 May 4th 2006

Weekly Worker (#623 May 4th 2006) has a nice big picture of an armoured car on its front and the headline 'Eighty years since the 1926 general stike' leading to the first ('From world war to council of action') long part of a six-part series (oh, goodie). I remember the 50th anniversary and what seemed like an outpouring of books on the strike; this time round there's a Guardian version from Anne Perkins which looks like an attempt to write the whole thing off and a book from Peter Taafe.

Elsewhere, complicated events in the WASG get three pages. God, we wanted to know more about goings on in Germany and they certainly give us the detail, but maybe a bit too focussed on affiliates of the British left.

Workers Left Unity Iran has a piece publicizing their Alliance Against War in Support of Iranian Workers campaign.

A report from the TUC May Day march says there was some kind of showing of support from trade unionists for this, but estimates around 3-4,000 people (with the Morning Star claiming more than 5,000)