Monday, June 30, 2008

Bookforum Vol 15,2 (Jufe-Aug 2008)

Bookforum is the most interesting of the American literary-political journals. Not as frequent as the New York Review of Books, but usually better. The latest issue (Vol 15,2) has a section on Fiction and Politics led off by an interesting and illminating survey by Morris Dickstein on 'Fiction and Political Fact' and there's also David Ulin on recent retrospectives of the '60s counterculture in `Go Start Anew'. Thee's also a series of shorter reflections.

It's all available on the web, but so well illustrated that I do recommend finding the print copy.

Other things of political interest in this issue include Kevin Mattson on the 'conservative takeover of American politics' that started in the '60s and Rick Perlstein on liberalism in the 1960s. There's Lawrence Hill on Civil War Slave Narratives. There's a good account of the relationship between Monica Ali's Brick Lane and the film by Sarah Gavron. Richard Wolin writes about a biography of Theodor Adorno. Hannah Bloch on a book about the Bin Ladens, which makes the case for no evidence formally linking Osama to the CIA during the Afghan War. Gus Russo is plainly disappointed by the conspiratorialism found in David Kaiser's book on the assassination of John F.Kennedy. Bryan Walsh writes about a biography of Joseph Needham by Simon Winchester. There's much more.

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Invitation to participate in the creation of a new Revolutionary Socialist Organisation

This has appeared on a couple of blogs - Liam MacUaid's and the Junius Blog. Looks like the result of the ISG's long-term regroupment programme (remembering that Socialist Resiistance is still wider than the ISG) and the fall-out of the expulsions and fractures from the SWP in the spin-off from the Respect debacle. Wonder who is on that Steering Committee?

An invitation to participate in the creation of a new Revolutionary Socialist Organisation
This text was voted on and passed at a meeting in London on Sunday 29th June. A Steering Committee was also elected.

The purpose of this document is to launch a regroupment process, which will culminate in a conference after a period of discussion. It registers the most important areas of agreement we have achieved at the beginning of this discussion. There are other areas, not included, which will have to be the subject of further discussion.

1. This is a proposal made by members of the International Socialist Group (ISG), Socialist Resistance (SR), a group of former members of the SWP and some independent Marxists not presently in any organisation. It is an invitation to everyone who would be interested in establishing a new revolutionary organisation based on an understanding of the need for Marxists to build a revolutionary organisation and to work for the widest unity of the working class on economic, social and political issues.

2. We propose a regroupment, based on our common traditions as active revolutionary socialists. This proposal emerges from practical collaboration over the recent period in building Respect. We also appeal to independent revolutionaries and new militants to join us.

3. We hope that a process of discussion throughout this year will culminate in a founding conference to be held towards the end of this year.

4. We have a shared analysis of the nature of class society and how it can be changed. Capitalism is an outmoded system which cannot satisfy even the most basic needs of billions of the world’s population. The further advance of humanity and the protection of the environment from catastrophe can only be achieved by the creation of a socialist society.

5. The capitalist state cannot be reformed but has to be overthrown and replaced by a workers’ state. This revolutionary act can only be carried out by the working class, the only agency that can transform society.

6. The emancipation of the working class is the task of the working class itself, acting as a class in its own interests. Socialism cannot be achieved from above by reformist politicians or trade union leaders. The struggle for socialism is international; the struggle of workers and the oppressed everywhere is one struggle.

7. We recognize that capitalism uses the oppression of certain social groups to divide the working class. The organisations of the working class must constantly strive to overcome any divisions by advancing the causes of these oppressed groups. We oppose all forms of oppression and defend the right of the oppressed to self-organization. We support, and will participate in, the struggles against national oppression, women’s oppression, racism and Islamophobia and against homophobia.

8. What existed in the “communist bloc” was not socialism. It was a Stalinist perversion of socialism; a dictatorship that brutally oppressed all political opposition, suppressed workers’ rights and trampled on workers’ democracy. Socialism cannot exist except with the extension of democracy so that the working class collectively takes the decisions about the future of its new society.

9. The dominant ideas of the present society are those of the capitalist class. For the revolution to succeed the most militant workers and their allies have to be organised into a revolutionary organisation which challenges and confronts that ideology with one in the interests of the new socialist society.

10. The revolutionary organisation must be part of the working class and take part in the life and struggles of the working class and the oppressed. It seeks to absorb the lessons of working-class struggles from the past and from today. It must give guidance and perspective to its members in their activity in the workplace, communities and campaigns. Theoretical study and discussion serve as a guide to the practical work of the organisation. In this way we can test our ideas in practice and learn from our experience.

11. Any revolutionary organization must be democratic, including the right to organize around minority viewpoints, but must aim to act in a unified manner. Socialist democracy is the only way to develop a genuine political leadership of the working class and its allies.

12. We believe that the decline of the Labour Party and the disintegration of its mass base present the best opportunity for many decades to build a viable alternative to the left of Labour. The signatories of this appeal have been working together as revolutionaries and with others to build such a party. We believe that the building of a united party of the working class is one of the overarching strategic tasks for revolutionary socialists in this period. The role of revolutionary Marxists in helping to build Respect over the next period will be an important one.

13. We state clearly our commitment to building a revolutionary socialist organisation, which will locate itself in working-class struggle – in the workplace, in the community, amongst the oppressed and in the broad party.

14. We are internationalists, against imperialism and war; we stand for mass action from below in the interests of the working class; we do not set ourselves apart from the working class and its organisations but seek the broadest agreement with others, using the methods of the united-front. Our aim is both to advance the interests of the class and the ideas of revolutionary socialism. To these ends we will explore the possibility of links with other revolutionaries internationally.

15. This document is intended only as a preliminary text. We invite all those who are interested in the ideas outlined above to join us in a process of discussion.
For more information or to become involved visit the Revolutionary Regroupment website or

Friday, June 27, 2008

Socialist Worker #2107 June 28th

This copy of Socialist Worker (June 28th) is getting ready for the local government workers strike with a 'We Can Strike Back' cover. Of central interest is a kind of summing up of where we are after one year of Gordon Brown and what our perspectives ought to be article by Chris Bambery: 'Crisis and Revolt'. The job of socialists: 'act as detonators for mass resistance'. There is a 'fundamental change in the political situation' (what? and since when?) and a danger of passivity.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Variant 32 (Summer 2008)

Variant used to turn up from somewhere in Scotland in nearby pigeon holes in large numbers and stay piled up for ages before the final straggly copies would be chucked away by some public spirited colleague. The hard copy version was always hard to read, such small print. Now it comes by email, althuogh you can still get the print version. Printing it off gave me 80 pages (but at least in a decent sized font), but I could have got PDF or text versions of individual articles. The content deserves attention.

There's an interview with Pierre Boudieu by R.P.Droi and T.Ferenczi, reprinted from Le Monde in 1992. Variant frames 'The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State' as a metaphor that illuminates the impact of neoliberalism on social democratic politics in both Fance and Britain and the question of 'how the public interest and the common good can be manifested under the conditions of corporate and financial globalisation, even as proponents of competitive nationalism launch manifestos for cultural rejuvenation in the global marketplace'.

In 'Craven New World' Tom Jennings critically and very interestingly reviews a number of recent dystopian films, starting with the documentary Taking Liberties, which I thought was quite useful, but is here presented as hysterical and 'wallowing in middle-class moral superiority and outrage' and a 'reciope for apathy'. Oh dear, I'll have to see it again to see why I was so so wrong. But really Jennings is using Taking Liberties to get onto science fictional takes on our sleepwalk into what I undanely refer to a surveillance society and he calls Unpleasantville. This includes Manu Luksch's Faceless, made out of CCTV footage, with people's faces obscured. Less obscure is Alfonso Cuaron's Children of Men, which gets praised for its cinematography and damned for its story and politics - the P.D.James source Chrsitian-Tory novel must have something to do with that. But I would still praise the film for showing that the dystopia has its roots in the here and now, and was impressed by a revolutionaries comment that it showed the left divided. Then there's the BBC series, The Last Enemy, here described as hokum. Jennings has a theme, which is the occlusion of the 'indigenous excluded' in favour of middle-class agency. And this is the ground on which he praises the Channel 4 Moses/Promised Land film Exodus by Penny Woolcock before damning it as a 'botched conception'. All in all an excellent thought-provoking theoreticized review that'll make me check out other writings by the guy.

John Barker's 'Structural Greed: The ‘Credit Crunch’' is a competent, detailed and useful assessment of the origins and consequences of this financial 'crisis' - so small (relative to the size of the finacial economy), but so persistent. The conclusion is that capitalism isn't going to collapse, but can be challenged and needs to be challenged ideologically.

Liam O'Ruarc (a name I'm sure I'm familiar with from Weekly Worker) writes 'Reading is an argument: Althusser’s commandment, conjecture and contradiction', which seems like a sophisticated defence of his theoretical legacy.

'Hindutva, Modi, and The Tehelka Tapes: The Communal Threat to Indian Secularism' by Neil Gray provides a detailed critique of Hindutva and its organisational vectors - the BJP, VHP, RSS, etc. as "... a communalist Hindu Nationalist ideology seeking to equate the very idea of ‘Indian-ness’ with ‘Hindu-ness’..." in the context of "... neo-liberal advocates and boosters, fronted by the bought media worldwide ... busy extolling the ‘competitive’ and ‘dynamic’ virtues of India’s de-regulated economy...". This follows the publication in Tehelka magazine of damaging revelations after a journalist infiltrated a right-wing Hindu organisation and recorded all manners of extreme nastiness, including revelations about participation in the anti-Muslim pogrom in Gujarat in 2002.

Alex Law reviews Nick Davies' Flat Earth News and David Miller & William Dinan's Century of Spin in 'Propaganda Compliant Society'. It's a good piece of debunking liberal illusions about the media - and the nature of Scottish society - except for a gratuitous and ungrounded attack on those 'left wing and liberal nationalists' like Billy Bragg, Jeremy Paxman snd Paul Kingsnorth, which makes the immediate error of confusing England and Scotland.

In 'Fortress Britain' Muhammad Idrees Ahmad provides a detailed critique of the role of the media in assisting the escalating militarisation of the British state in the name of fighting terrorism. A fe times i wanted more specific referencing and the presentation of the supposed plot to explode many aircraft on August 10th 2006 veers a bit too near conspiracy theory with a reference to the scare succeeding in deflecting attention from Blair's role in preventing a ceasefire in Lebanon.

Neil Davidson writes about 'Nationalism and Neoliberalism'. He starts with the position of von Mises in which nationalism is seen as natural, but a potential threat to the operations of the free market. He moves on to neoliberalism, quoting David Harvey to the effect that "the neoliberal state needs nationalism of a certain sort to survive'. Davidson provides a good summary of neoliberalism and its contexts and accepts the reality of globalization. He's right about neoliberalism being a political choice, and a choice that is harder to avoid, but when he says 'Unlike factories, money can be moved..' he shows that he doesn't quite get either material production or financalization in the globalized context of contemporary capitalism. I'd also say the perspective that neoliberalism has failed because it hasn't re-created the conditions of the Long Boom is a long mistaken SWP trope: it's about managing conditions after the Boom, not the comparison with the boom years. Davidson goes on to consider the necessity of nationalism as an ideological corollary of capitalism as the 'constituent parts' of the capitalist class needs to retain its territorial base. But Davidson is mixing up, or at least not separating carefully enough, state policies and popular ideologies. He's got a case, but i'm not convinced by what turns into a mixture of quote-mongering and reductionism. I'm being critical here, but actually this a piece that is well-worth reading and thinking about.

And finally there is a very positive review of Arun Kundnani's The End of Tolerance by Daniel Jewesbury, both the praise and criticism seems very apt and reasons for reading the book.

All in all much of value and importance in this Variant.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

And FT on rising inequality

Falling earnings add to ministers’ woes by Chris Giles
June 11 2008

If ministers require hard economic evidence to explain Labour’s slide in the polls, they need look no further than Tuesday’s official income distribution numbers.

The story they tell is likely to strike fear into the hearts of Labour MPs already worried about their electoral prospects. Between 2004-05 and 2006-07 incomes fell for the poorest third of households, including skilled manual workers, unskilled workers and the out-of-work poor – all once seen as the party’s natural supporters.

Even in the middle of the income distribution spectrum, income growth has been agonisingly weak since 2001. Having grown by 15 per cent more than inflation between 1996-97 and 2001-02, the income of the median household grew by only 4 per cent in the five years between 2001-02 and 2006-07, the most recent year of data.

Median disposable incomes – the income level at which half of all households have a higher disposable income and half have a lower income – were £569 ($1,111.26) a week for a couple with two children, £372 for a couple with no children and £249 for a single person with no children in 2006-07, after adjusting for family size to aid comparability.

The Institute for Fiscal Studies said the incomes of poorer households fell in 2006-07 because real pay increases were low and benefit levels – set in September 2005 – were eroded by higher-than-expected inflation, squeezing the poor hard.

With child poverty growing for the second year in a row and pensioner poverty rising sharply as the temporary pre-election support for council tax bills in 2005 was withdrawn in 2006, the IFS said: “Increases in poverty seen during 2006-07 reflect weak income growth towards the bottom of the income distribution rather than rapid income growth in the middle”.

The figures stand in stark contrast to the national accounts, which show the income of Britain Plc growing healthily at more than 2 per cent a year since 2001. By delineating the reality of stagnant or only slightly growing real incomes facing many households, Tuesday’s data underline the scale of the challenge facing Gordon Brown as he seeks to win a fourth term for Labour.
The discrepancy between the measures reflects genuine differences. Gross domestic product represents the incomes of households and companies, with a greater share going to the latter. The population has also risen, so the proportion going to households is shared between more families. Household size, meanwhile, has been declining slowly and smaller households need more money to enjoy the same living standards as bigger ones. Finally, richer households have been taking more of the cake, leaving very little for poor, relatively poor and middle-income households.

The UK is not alone. Inequality is rising in many rich countries as competition for less-skilled employment intensifies. Beverley Hughes, children’s minister, insisted she was not trying to put a good gloss on bad figures. But she said: “We are trying to run up an escalator that’s going down.’’

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More from the FT

Old ideological fault lines have resurfaced by George Parker
June 11 2008 05:09

Before Labour’s crushing defeats in last month’s town hall, London mayoral and Crewe by-elections, cabinet ministers routinely took comfort in the thought that, for all the party’s woes, at least the government was not ideologically split.
This political unity, argued ministers, set Gordon Brown’s faltering administration apart from John Major’s disintegrating government of 1992-97, which was riven by divisions on Europe.

That distinction is no longer so clear. Since the May meltdown, Labour’s old ideological fault lines have re-emerged. Blairite modernisers and the left are promoting their own very different policy solutions to stem the party’s decline – and the FT’s research into recent voting patterns neatly illustrates the backdrop against which this internal battle is being waged.

The left is convinced the route to salvation lies in mobilising the party’s demoralised working class base, through policies including wealth distribution, a focus on poverty, more social housing and windfall taxes on energy companies.

Neal Lawson, of Compass, the leftist pressure group, insisted at a recent meeting to debate the party’s future: “We are not a Conservative country!”

The Blairites want to maintain a broad coalition embracing the aspirations of the middle classes, pushing on with radical reform of public services and pursuing tough policies on crime and immigration and – possibly – tax cuts.

As Hazel Blears, the communities secretary put it, Labour needed to be “the party of the affluent” as well as the poor. John Hutton, business secretary, has told the party to celebrate people who have become extremely wealthy.

The debate is raging in the think-tanks and in the opinion columns of left-leaning publications, but these are still minor tremors. Some Labour figures fear they may herald a political earthquake.

One cabinet minister said the tensions within the party could be contained so long as Mr Brown was leader. “It’s under control because Gordon internalises the ideological tensions.”
Put another way, Mr Brown may instinctively be wedded to the left agenda of tackling poverty, but his policy direction is unclear and is often pure New Labour, including the wider use of the private sector in delivering public services.

While Labour struggles to meet its targets for tackling child poverty, Mr Brown has cut inheritance tax for middle England and abolished the 10p starter rate of tax, helping the middle classes to the detriment of the poor.

“The real ideological battle will happen when Gordon goes,” says the cabinet minister, adding with a smile: “In 10 to 15 years’ time.”

The timing of Mr Brown’s departure could be pivotal in determining what happens next to Labour. Leading MPs on the left concede that at present the modernisers are winning the argument. An early leadership contest would probably see Blairite modernisers such as David Miliband and James Purnell make the running, while there is no obvious flag-carrier for the left apart from Jon Cruddas, a backbencher who fared well in last year’s deputy leadership contest.
But if Mr Brown holds on until the next election, and loses badly, some modernisers fear the tide could start running strongly to the left, leaving Labour washed up and risking falling behind the Liberal Democrats as a third party.

“Under a meltdown scenario the party might start talking about reconnecting with its working class roots, and there would be the rhetoric of betrayal of our supporters,” says one moderniser. “The party would be virtually bankrupt and the trade unions would start to demand more say for their money to keep the party going.”

That is where Labour ended up after the 1979 election defeat to Margaret Thatcher. “If we just concentrate on the core vote, then we are absolutely doomed,” said Shona McIsaac, a Labour backbencher. “We abandon the aspirational working and middle class people at our peril.”

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Financial Times sees meltdown in working class support for Labour

Brown sees core vote defect in droves by Jean Eaglesham
Financial Times June 11 2008

The Blairite coalition of popular support that has kept Labour in power for more than a decade has collapsed under Gordon Brown, analysis by the Financial Times reveals. Labour's core vote has defected in droves, according to a class-based breakdown of data from all the main polls conducted over the past year.

The Tories have this year overtaken Labour among the electorally-crucial C2 skilled working classes for the first time since the Thatcherite victories of the 1980s. Even among the DE social groups, the unskilled working class and unemployed, traditionally heavily dominated by Labour voters, the governing party is barely level pegging with the Conservatives.

"For Labour, though it's worrying that they've slipped badly among ABC1s, it's the slippage among C2DEs that takes it into the territory of total collapse," said Andrew Cooper, strategic director at Populus, the polling firm.

The resurgence of the Conservatives under David Cameron has taken the Tories to a seven-point lead among C2s in polls conducted between March and May this year, the analysis shows. Even in the Tories' 1992 general election victory, the party was not ahead of Labour among the C2s. In Labour's 1997 landslide, they voted for Mr Blair in preference to the Conservatives by a ratio of almost two to one.

The solid numerical evidence to support Labour MPs' worst fears of a meltdown at the next general election will fuel divisions within the party. MPs are split tactically and ideologically over how Mr Brown should respond to Labour's worst poll ratings since records began.

Leftwing MPs and unions are urging the prime minister to revert to old-style Labour policies, such as higher taxes on the rich, to woo back the core vote. But the Blairites argue it would be electoral suicide to abandon Middle England.

The damage that could be inflicted on Labour at the next general election by the desertion of the working class was evident last month, when the prime minister suffered a triple drubbing in the local elections, London mayoral contest and Crewe by-election. Ward-by-ward analysis of the results of the London mayoral elections revealed "the white working class appears to have decisively shifted against Labour", Tony Travers, local government expert at the London School of Economics, said.

Mr Cameron is seeking to capitalise on this working class disillusionment with Labour. The Tory leader has focused much of his recent rhetoric on the financial pain inflicted on lowerincome families by higher food and fuel prices and Mr Brown's scrapping of the 10p income tax rate.

"We have to win those votes," Caroline Spelman, the Conservative party chairman, told the FT.
She said that the Tory experience of campaigning in Crewe suggested the prime minister was paying the price for taking his core vote for granted.
"Labour was bewildered because they couldn't understand why the people they thought they had in the bag had left the bag and come to us."

White van man still holds sway on the road to No 10
By Jean Eaglesham June 11 2008

Mondeo man, Worcester woman and the pebbledash people. The alliterative archetypes identified by political parties as their target floating voters have varied over the past 20 years. But their existence reflects an underlying psephological reality - class still matters in British politics.

The old certainties of the 1940s to 1960s - when the working classes voted en masse for Labour, and the middle classes for the Conservatives - have vanished. But swings within socio-economic groups can still prove key to a party gaining power - or, as Gordon Brown may discover, losing it.
"Class is still there," said Tony Travers, of the London School of Economics. "We all talk about the decline of traditional party loyalties, but class hasn't gone away."

Margaret Thatcher's successful wooing of the working class, with policies offering the right to buy council houses and shares in privatised utilities, delivered power to the Tories in the 1980s. In the 1987 general election, 42 per cent of the "C2" socio-economic group - skilled working class, or "white van man" - voted Conservative, while only 35 per cent backed Labour.

Tony Blair reclaimed this core Labour vote, securing the support of more than half the C2 and DE vote in the 1997 landslide, while widening the New Labour coalition to win over the C1 lower middle classes - "pebbledash people", or the white-collar "Mondeo man" - whom the former premier identified as key to defeating the Tories.

But this support for Labour, which had eroded during Mr Blair's decade in power, appears to have collapsed under his successor.
"There were Blair Conservatives, rather like the Reagan Democrats, who included pro-Tory, white, working-class people. The passing of Blair seems to have allowed them to shift back [to the Conservatives], along with some suburban middle-class voters," said Prof Travers.

The sample sizes in individual polls are too small to draw any firm conclusions about socio-economic trends. But FT analysis of aggregated polling data reveals the extent to which Mr Brown has lost his party's bedrock of electoral support. Among the Ds and Es, Labour's lead over the Tories, which fell from 37 percentage points at the 1997 general election to 12 points at the 2005 poll, is now a statistically insignificant one point, the analysis shows.

Among the C2s, the data suggest the Tories overtook Labour around the turn of the year. "It's a huge swing - Labour has collapsed among that group," said Andrew Cooper, strategic director at Populus, the polling firm.

The figures are not all good news for David Cameron. The Tories have yet to reach the levels of middle- class support that have previously helped to propel them to power. Conservative support among the C1s has risen by five points over the year, but still averaged only 39 per cent in polls taken between March and May, according to the analysis.
"The real Tory shortfall is the ABC1s, who historically have been the party's bedrock, with a vote share of more than 50 per cent when the party wins elections. David Cameron is nowhere near that," said Mr Cooper.

The geographical basis of Tory support remains highly asymmetrical, despite signs of a tentative recovery in northern England. The party is flatlining in Scotland, where its support fell two points during the year, bucking the national trend of an overall five point rise. Mr Cameron's inability to gain the support of six out of seven voters north of the border could exacerbate tensions within the union under a Conservative government.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Race and Class 49, 4 April 2008

Most interesting article in this edition of Race and Class I thought is a short piece by Jenny Bourne on 'The beatification of Enoch Powell', written in late 2007 and starting with well-known Tories Simon Heffer and Michael portillo as evidence of his rehabilitation. Heffer is clearly a true fan, Portillo providing more of 'it's an important argument, needs to be discussed' piece - which is rather different. For Bourne, Powell was the creator of bloodshed - directed against migrants, and his much-discussed motives count for nothing against the racism he shaped. Good short sharp piece.

Another Race and Class regular Liz Fekete reviews Plausible Prejudice by Marianne Gulstead and Murder in Amsterdam by Ian Buruma. Gullested is praised as an exponent of a new anthropology (although I'd call it ethnography) looking at Western (especially in Norway) racism and how it becomes 'plausible'. On the other hand Fekete doesn't like the tone and air of Buruma with its 'unpleasant air of superiority' and 'distasteful generalisations', despite the approval given the book by unnamed centre-left commentators. I quite liked it - oh dear. Fekete finishes by reference to the emergence of dynamic grassroots movements campaigning against the exclusion of immigrants, 'no more so than in the Netherlands', but details are left sadly vague.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Interview with Gilbert Achcar

Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Anti-War Movement
June 02, 2008 By Gilbert Achcar

Interview with Gilbert Achcar

[This interview was conducted on May 20, 2008 by Foti Benlisoy and Aykut Kiliç June 2008 issue of the review.]

2008 is the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of Israel and of the Nakba, the Palestinian catastrophe. What do you see as the Israeli goal and has it changed over the years? What is the current Israeli strategy regarding both Gaza and the West Bank?

These are many questions. Well, first of all the continuity between 1948 and today is of course that of the initial and basic Zionist project of seizing the whole of Palestine, British mandate Palestine. This was only partially achieved in 1948, as the Israeli state was founded roughly on 80% of this territory. It was considered then as a first step only, as we know now from all the biographies, documents, and archives of the Zionist leaders and especially of Ben Gurion -- the first stage in a drive to control the whole land. Those conditions were fulfilled in 1967 when Israel invaded and occupied the rest of Palestine, to the west of the Jordan River. So since 1967, which is the second major turning point in the history of the conflict, the problem of Israel has been to implement the initial project that started in 1948 in the 1967 occupied territories through the building of colonial settlements, settler-colonialism.

However, there was a major difference between 1948 and 1967 and that is the main problem for Israel today. The difference is that in 1948 80% of the population in the territories controlled by Israel fled the war. They were terrorized, directly or indirectly, and fled like any civilian population would do during a war. As everyone knows, they were prevented from coming back and became refugees, constituting a majority of the Palestinian people. In the territories that Israel occupied in 1967, however, the same process did not happen because the population had learned the lessons of 1948 and understood that if they fled their homes they would not be allowed to come back. Therefore most of them stayed this time. They had also learned from 1948 that they would not be massacred if they stayed: this is what they had feared back in 1948. Israel kept a Palestinian Arab minority within its territory after 1948 and since those who stayed then remained alive, the majority followed their example in 1967. Ever since Israel has been trying to solve this problem, which is the biggest problem it is facing: the population of the West Bank and Gaza. This population is itself composed of a large proportion of refugees from the 1948 territories in addition to the autochthonous people of the West Bank and Gaza. They are opposing and rejecting Israeli control over their territories. What Israel is striving to secure, since it cannot simply expel the Palestinian population, is control over the territory of the West Bank by means of a network of settlements, strategic and military posts, roads and walls, etc. in order to keep the Palestinians in separated enclaves under Israeli control in the same way that Gaza as a whole is a kind of enclave under full Israeli military control from outside, something like a huge concentration camp.

This is what many call the demographic dead end of Israel. Now Israel cannot be
both Jewish and democratic at the same time.

This is indeed Israel's problem. The whole issue relates to this oxymoron, that a state
pretends to be both democratic and ethnically defined as Jewish. This is a contradiction in terms because if you define a state by its ethnic or religious character, you are already contradicting modern democratic values. Of course, in order to make credible this fallacy, this so-called democratic Jewish state, you need to ensure an overwhelming Jewish majority among citizens of the state. This is what Zionists had in 1948. They accepted a minority of Arab Palestinians among them -- 15-20% in 1948 -- as an alibi allowing them to say: Ours is a democratic state; it is Jewish by virtue of the fact that over 80% of our population is Jewish. However, after they took over the West Bank and Gaza with the bulk of the Palestinian Arab population remaining there, it was not possible for them to annex these territories as they did with those conquered in 1948. Israel annexed only Jerusalem in 1967, and later the Golan in 1981. But it did not annex the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. Why not? From the standpoint of Zionist ideology, the West Bank is much more important to Israel than the Golan. The point is, however, that the Golan has only a small Arab population and today Israeli settlers in the Golan are actually almost as numerous as autochthonous Arabs -- who, incidentally, belong overwhelmingly to the Druze sect that Israel always considered as integrable (Druze serve in the Israeli Army, contrarily to other "Arab Israelis"). As for Jerusalem, it was annexed straightaway in 1967 because of its very great symbolic value.

But they could not annex the rest of the occupied land, because if they did, they would either have a vast population within Israeli territory deprived of rights or, were they to grant them citizen rights, the Jewish character of the state would have been jeopardized. In other words, had they annexed the West Bank and Gaza, the Israeli state would have either ceased being Jewish or ceased being democratic in the sense of equal rights, one person one vote, etc. This is indeed the great dilemma of Zionism, which they tried to solve with the Allon Plan, designed in 1967, immediately after the war. The plan consisted of building settlements and military bases, in order to secure strategic control over the territories, without annexing the areas where the Palestinian population is concentrated -- villages, towns, etc. -- but with a view to returning them back to the control of some collaborationist Arab authority. At the beginning the plan was to give those areas back to the Jordanian monarchy. In the 1990s, Israel decided to make a deal with the PLO, because the PLO's dominant faction became willing to make a deal with them under their conditions and this yielded the Oslo agreement. For Israel, the Oslo agreement was but a step in the same direction of the Allon Plan.

Arafat thought that the PLO could get some kind of independent state. But he quickly understood that he had become a victim of his own illusions. And this whole process, the so-called peace process, collapsed as we see now. It is in shambles, and whatever Washington tries to do leads to a dead end. I am not talking here about relations with Hamas, but of the so-called Palestinian authority of Mahmoud Abbas. There seems to be no possibility of reaching an agreement even though Abbas is the most servile towards Washington of all the leaders that the Palestinians ever had. Nevertheless the Israelis are not granting him any meaningful concessions. It is a complete dead end and a major failure for the United States, for the Bush administration, one of its many failures in the Middle East. The Bush team will leave the scene at the end of this year with the worst foreign policy balance sheet in history of any US administration, especially in relation to the Middle East.

Edward Said once said about the PLO elite that "No other liberation group in
history has sold itself to its enemies like this." Do you think that this judgment is valid?

This is a judgment which needs to be confronted with a detailed survey of all liberation movements. I am not sure that there were no comparable cases of capitulation in the long history of anti-colonial struggles. But to be sure, although not necessarily the most, it is one of the most submissive leaderships in the history of national struggles. They accepted so many concessions, so many retreats over their own basic demands and yet they have not gotten anything substantial in return.

Are there any specific characteristics of the PLO leadership that led to these

Well, the characteristics were there from the beginning. They constitute the major difference between the PLO and most anti-colonial and national liberation movements in history. A major specificity of the PLO is that, from the start, it has been closely linked to reactionary states, many of them closely linked to imperialism. So you had this very peculiar situation of a national movement fighting a Zionist state heavily backed by US imperialism, with this same national movement depending for its funding on states like the Saudi kingdom very closely linked to the same US imperialism. When the Palestinian guerillas took control of the PLO after the 1967 war, they were flooded with petrodollars, huge amounts. What is certain indeed is that the PLO became the richest national liberation movement in the history of anti-colonial struggles. Its budget could be compared to that of some third world countries. It developed a huge bureaucracy, a very corrupt one. With time, the best elements, the most dedicated militants were killed, especially in Jordan in 1970, during Black September. So there was some kind of selection whereby those who remained in control were the most corrupt leaders of the Palestinians. There is a direct line between this evolution and Oslo and the Palestinian Authority of today with Mahmoud Abbas, Mohammed Dahlan, and all these corrupt leaders who bet everything on Washington. They hope that the US will deliver something to them. And their problem is that, despite the fact that they are totally subservient to Washington, they are not getting anything.

What about the Palestinian left? What explains its weakness?

Well, the Palestinian left has never really managed to build itself as an actual alternative to the rightwing PLO leadership. It has never really challenged the institutions of the PLO, the structure of these institutions. It accepted the rules of the game set by the Fatah leadership, the rightwing PLO leadership. Although time and again they had disputes with the Fatah leadership and there were instances when the PLO was almost split, they would invariably reconcile in the name of national unity. This is how they lost credibility as an alternative leadership to the PLO and that is how Hamas came into the picture. In the first months after December 1987, when the first Intifada started, the Palestinian left was clearly dominant within the leadership of the Intifada along with radical members of Fatah in the occupied territories -- where there could be no equivalent of the corrupt bureaucracy in exile. Nevertheless, from the summer of 1988, they managed to capitulate to the rightwing leadership abroad, which controlled the Palestinian National Council meeting of October 1988 that proclaimed the so-called independent state, and prepared for direct negotiations with Washington. Those were the years, 1987-1988, when Hamas was founded and entered the fray. Very quickly, Hamas with its radical Islamic fundamentalist outlook became in the eyes of the Palestinian people the sole real alternative to the Fatah leadership, to the PLO. Hamas built itself as such, while the left failed miserably to project itself as an alternative. Thus Hamas became much stronger than the left, although at the start that was not the case; the fundamentalists were not stronger than the left -- even in Gaza.

There is a debate on the left as to whether we should be urging a "two-state" or a "one-state" solution for Israel-Palestine. What is your view of these alternatives?

To be frank, I consider this debate to be largely a waste of time. I mean this is a debate on utopias in both cases and yet, some are conducting it as if the stakes were at hand. Each side accuses the other of being utopian, and they are both right, because both "solutions" are utopian. Of course, an "independent Palestinian state" that would be limited to the West Bank and Gaza is totally utopian. But I would also say that a single state with ten million Palestinians and six million Jews is much more of a utopia, since it requires the destruction of the Zionist state if one wants to look at the issue seriously. Otherwise it cannot work. That is why I think that these are utopias and too much energy is focused on this debate, such that it becomes a waste of time. In my view there are two levels to be considered when facing the Palestinian issue. On the one hand are the immediate and urgent interests or needs of the Palestinian people. What are the Palestinian people in Gaza and the West Bank fighting for? They are fighting to get rid of the occupation, of course -- not for the right of voting in Israel. They want sovereignty over their territories. Their fight should obviously be supported. Even if you are a one-state solution proponent, can you say: I oppose the Palestinian fight against the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza because it doesn't correspond to my maximalist view of the correct solution? That would be completely absurd from a political standpoint. Hence, if we put it in concrete terms, one has to support the actual struggle of the Palestinians for their immediate relief from the
occupation. Now, on the other hand, if you are considering a long term solution to the question, I mean if one wants to elaborate a long term program with a utopian dimension, then why limit it to Palestine, whether with one or two states? Why leave Jordan out of the equation, for instance? There are more Palestinians in Jordan than in the West Bank and they are actually a majority in Jordan itself, east of the Jordan River. So why should Jordan be left out? Between 1949 and 1967 the West Bank and Jordan were one state in which the overwhelming majority was Palestinian. It was controlled by the monarchy and, of course, it was a despotic state. The Palestinian leadership, when the Palestinian guerillas were a state within the state in Jordan, never fought for the overthrow of the Jordanian monarchy. Only the left, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, was calling for the overthrow of the monarchy. Fatah countered the left in this regard and that was one of the factors that allowed the monarchy to crush the Palestinian movement in Jordan in 1970. The Palestinian armed forces were then completely wiped out in Jordan in 1971. Of course, the Palestinian people, mostly 1948 refugees, remained in the country, but the movement was crushed and had to go underground. This was always the rightwing perspective: We don't touch Arab regimes, we just fight against Israel. This is the "principal contradiction" and we should cool down "secondary contradictions." Well, this is tragically absurd: the so-called "secondary contradiction" -- the Jordanian monarchy, that is -- killed more Palestinians than Israel up to 1971. It proved to be another side of the same coin with Israel. The population of the West Bank cannot constitute alone any kind of independent state -- at best a "Bantustan." But if we think of the Jordanian territories as the natural complement to the West Bank then the picture changes. But for that, you need to get in Jordan a democratic government. Beyond that I would say that no long term, final, lasting and just solution can be conceived other than at a regional level and under socialist conditions -- through a socialist federation of the Middle East and beyond. Of course, this is a utopia, but this is an inspiring utopia. As I say all the time, if you want to be utopian, go for an inspiring utopia, not a mean one. Go for the big one. The big one is transcending borders, transcending nationalisms, socialism. This is an interesting utopia, whereas a one-state, "one person one vote" solution limited to Palestinians and Israelis strikes me as an uninspiring utopia. I'm not convinced at all that the Palestinians would like to be citizens of the same state with the Israelis, even if they were the political majority under hugely unequal social conditions like what you have now in South Africa where whites still constitute by far the main section of the dominant class and are getting richer, many of them living in gated communities. And I am positively sure that the Israelis will never accept being a political minority. So this is a dead end.

Last week there were major clashes between the forces loyal to Hezbollah and the pro-western government in Lebanon. After Hezbollah repulsed the Israeli aggression against Lebanon in 2006 Hezbollah were the heroes of the day. And now things seem to have shifted once again towards greater divisions. What accounts for it?

You are right to emphasize the fact that there has been a shift. Indeed. It's true that in 2006 Hezbollah achieved a major victory and was seen in the whole Arab region and Islamic world and beyond as a kind of heroic force resisting one of the closest allies of US imperialism, repelling Zionist aggression. So yes they achieved the status of heroes. And it is true that this image has been affected by the recent clashes. Why so? Because, first of all, the enemies of Hezbollah who, of course, are at the same time the enemies of Iran at the regional level -- i.e. the Saudi Kingdom, Jordan, and Egypt -- had only one argument with which to counter Hezbollah and try to stop Iranian influence. This was and remains the sectarian card: denouncing Iran as a Persian Shiite power, and Hezbollah as an Arab Shiite agent of Iran, implementing a Shiite plot against Arab Sunnis. This is how they strive to present things. In 2006 this failed miserably, because populations in the region -- Turkey included, I am sure -- are very much against Israel and US imperialism and sympathized therefore with Hezbollah. Thus, the overwhelming majority did not buy into the Shiite-Sunni argument.

Now what happened since then is that Hezbollah got entangled in Lebanese politics on a sectarian basis, with allies fully adhering to the sectarian framework. Like for example the Shiite Amal movement, which is a purely sectarian organization -- nothing of an anti-imperialist organization, just a sectarian force. Amal in the 1980s was actually more anti-Palestinian than anything else. So Hezbollah got entangled in Lebanese sectarian politics, to the point of leading recently a military assault with its sectarian allies on Sunni-populated areas of Beirut and beyond. This affected very much its image in Lebanon -- more in Lebanon than elsewhere because the Lebanese population is naturally more focused on the internal political situation in Lebanon than the people of, say, Egypt or Turkey. I believe that Hezbollah overreacted in the recent fighting. They were right to reject the decisions of the Siniora government, for sure, but they could have defeated them easily -- as they did with previous decisions they didn't like -- without launching such a military offensive in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon, with allies like Amal. In so doing, they created a situation of very high sectarian resentment. Hence, although militarily they won very easily in the last round, I think they lost politically. This is because there is now a very intense sectarian polarization in Lebanon: Sunnis versus Shiites. This is very dangerous. Now, as we can see from the discussions that are taking place in Qatar between Lebanese parties, the issue of Hezbollah's armament has been put on the table. Before the last events the parliamentary majority headed by Hariri hardly dared to raise this issue, especially after Hezbollah made a powerful case in 2006 that its armament was needed to repel and deter Israeli aggression. Now suddenly after they used their weapons in internal fighting for the first time in many years, their armed force is denounced by their opponents as a sectarian militia force. In my view Hezbollah made a big mistake whose consequences are very serious, with Lebanon entering into what looks like a new cycle of violence. It might very well appear a few years from now that what happened recently was just the first round of a new Lebanon civil war, unless regional and international conditions prevent this pessimistic scenario. Of course, this is terribly bad for the anti-imperialist struggle in the region, coming after the horrible bloodbath between Sunnis and Shiites that is continuing in Iraq. If this were to extend to Lebanon and maybe tomorrow to Syria, it would be a disaster for the whole region. The only ones who would benefit from that are Israel and the United States, both of which would try to exploit this situation.

Are the Communist Party of Lebanon or other secular Left forces putting forward demands to completely change the system so that it is no longer based on sectarian identification and parties?

Well, the Communist Party is presently the only significant force on the left in Lebanon. The rest are very small groups. Among Lebanese parties of some significance the CP is one of the very few that is really secular, dedicated to a secular program. It is a truly multi-sectarian party, with Muslims, both Shiites and Sunnis, Christians, Druze, etc. The general secretary of the party is from a Sunni background, while the majority of party members are Shiites -- a real multi-sectarian party indeed. It stands for the secularization of Lebanese politics. And as a left party it raises social and economic demands. The LCP has not joined directly any of the two main camps in Lebanon. During the recent clashes it decided not to take part in the fight. Of course the communists stand against the government and the imperialist project in Lebanon, as well as against Israel's aggressions: they joined the fight against Israeli forces in 2006. But they cannot share the goals of the opposition in domestic politics, which they denounce as bourgeois sectarian goals. They criticize both sides, putting more emphasis on the pro-Western forces led by Hariri. They stood consistently on an independent position in the last three years. This is a major improvement in their political line, because the Communist Party in the 1970s and the 1980s and the whole previous period was very much involved in alliances under bourgeois hegemony: with Arafat for some time, with the Druze's feudal leader, Jumblatt, most of the time, as well as with the Syrian regime. They went into deep crisis and fragmentation beginning in the 1990s, as a result of which the present party, much weakened it is true, radically improved its politics. Since 2005 they have really followed an independent line, starting from the March 2005 mobilizations in favor and against Syria in Lebanon after the assassination of former Prime Minister Hariri. On the 8th of March 2005 Hezbollah and its allies organized a huge demonstration in tribute to Syria and its president Bashar al-Assad. The pro-Western forces called for a counter-demonstration on the 14th of March 2005 against Syria, which is why the present majority in Lebanon is called “14th March" and the opposition is called by some "8th March." The Communist Party refused to join any of these two demonstrations and called for a third one. It was, of course, much smaller than the two gigantic demonstrations on 8th and 14th March, which gathered hundreds of thousand people at each of them. The demonstration organized by the LCP drew only a few thousand people. But, with their red flags, they represented visually a third way in Lebanon, rejecting the two other sectarian camps. For that reason basically I think their political attitude has very much improved, although I still have many reservations -- especially on their supportive attitude toward the Lebanese army and its chief poised to be elected president with the support of all forces.

It seems that the only way to go beyond sectarian divides can be through left political and trade union organizations that pose a non-sectarian alternative and resist the neoliberal policies that have been implemented in the country. Does Hezbollah have an inclination to organize resistance against those neoliberal policies?

This is a total illusion. They have nothing fundamentally against neoliberalism and, even less so, capitalism. You know that their supreme model is the Iranian regime -- certainly not a bulwark against neoliberalism. Of course, like any Islamic fundamentalists, they consider that the state and/or the religious institutions should help the poor. This is charity. Most religions advocate and organize charity. It presupposes social inequalities with the rich giving the poor their breadcrumbs. The left on the other hand is egalitarian, not "charitable." In any event, Hezbollah is not really interested in the social and economic policies of the state. During all the years when Rafik Hariri dominated the government and Syrian troops dominated Lebanon, the cruelest neoliberal policies were implemented, yet Hezbollah never seriously opposed them. This is not part of their program or their priorities.The last round of events started on the day of a general strike called by some unions. But these are rotten unions that were actually controlled by the Syrians before they left Lebanon. The previous time they called for a strike, it was a total failure because the opposition, i.e. basically Hezbollah, did not seriously support it despite paying lip service to the strike as an opposition gesture. This time, Hezbollah used the opportunity of the strike to mobilize against the political decisions by the government directed against them -- not to oppose its social and economic policies. That's why, although the clashes started on the day of the general strike, the social and economic demands of the strike fell into oblivion. Hezbollah is not fighting against neoliberalism, although it can cater to the needs of its plebeian constituency at times. The only significant force that opposes neoliberalism in Lebanon is the left, mainly the LCP.

Turning to Iraq now, what is the meaning of the recent conflict between the forces loyal to the Maliki government and the Mahdi Army of Muqtada al-Sadr?

Well, they result from a convergence of two interests. The most immediate reason behind the last clashes is that the clout of the Mahdi army and the Sadrist movement in Iraq has been rising very much among Shiites in the last period, especially since 2006. They became the most popular force among Iraqi Shiites. Since we are getting close to the next elections which are provincial elections scheduled for this autumn, the other two major Shiite groups -- the Maliki group (i.e. the Dawa Party) and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council (SIIC) -- which are collaborating with the US occupation, feared very much the outcome of the forthcoming elections. As you know, the Sadrists had initially formed with these groups the United Iraqi Alliance and joined together with them in the previous electoral rounds. They then broke with
the alliance, accusing the others of being collaborators with the occupation. Dawa and SIIC understood that if nothing changed they were going to be beaten by the Sadrists.

This was their first and main incentive in launching the attack on Basra followed by the attack on Sadr City in Baghdad. They tried to marginalize or weaken the Sadrists. On the other hand, of course, the US occupation basically considers the Sadrists as enemies and would be hugely glad if they were weakened. US occupation forces clashed with the Sadrists more than once. In the recent clashes, US commanders tried to play a hypocritical game, claiming at the beginning that they were not involved and that the Sadrists have been no problem for US forces ever since they froze their military activities. However, it is very clear that the US was very much involved in the fighting against the Sadrists. As I said, two agendas converged: that of the US occupation and that of the Dawa-SIIC alliance anxious to weaken their main competitor among Iraqi Shiites, i.e. the Sadrists.

What are the results of the US "surge"? Certainly there has been a relative
decline in the sectarian violence in Iraq. Does this mean that the US occupation is going better?

The "surge" achieved some results, to be sure. From Washington's point of view, it is
successful. They claim so because as a whole the level of sectarian violence clearly subsided -- a good thing indeed. But it is worth asking why did that happen?

Well, because, on the one hand, more US troops were deployed in Baghdad and the Sadrists retreated and decided not to fight when the "surge" began. But the key element in the so-called surge is a change in the strategy of the occupation. The US started doing what all colonial powers did in these parts of the world, what the British did in Iraq after the First World War when they took control of the country: They played the tribal card. So the US sought to buy -- literally to buy or bribe -- Sunni tribes in the Sunni areas. They bribed tribes and gave them weapons assisting them in forming the so-called Awakening Councils, which are tribal forces subsidized by Washington. They pay members of these tribal militias salaries starting at US $300 per month. This is a high amount compared to average wages in Iraq, but not much compared to the cost of the occupation. You can make the calculation. If you give, say, up to 250,000 people an average of $400 a month, you get $100 million: This is peanuts compared to the $12 billion a month that the US spends for the occupation of Iraq! And I haven't checked yet, but it might very well be the case that the tribes are being bribed with Iraqi governmental funds. Whatever the case, Washington can afford this comfortably. Is this a long term solution for the US, however? In the long term this will be another major factor in preventing Iraq from reaching any kind of stability, since it is just reinforcing the division of the country into tribes and sects. Paradoxically, Shiite forces in the government are attacking the Shiite forces of Muqtada al-Sadr under the pretext of dismantling all militias. And the Sadrists reply: "You want us to disarm, while now the Sunnis have their own militias." So this is a completely messy situation. The United States, in trying to extricate itself from the quagmire and the disaster that it created in Iraq, is just setting the scene for a much greater disaster. Iraq is a tragic story and one can hardly conceive of any stable
outcome in the foreseeable future for this country as long as the US is presiding over its destiny.

Do you think that a possible victory of Obama or Clinton will change US policies
regarding the Middle East and especially Iraq? Is a withdrawal from Iraq possible?

I think that the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq is something that will not happen unless it is forced upon Washington. The US will not withdraw from Iraq willingly, simply because this is not Vietnam. In Vietnam they decided to withdraw in 1973 when in the balance they saw that the cost of the war -- politically, economically, from all points of view -- had become much higher than the benefits for the US in controlling South Vietnam. But in Iraq, the benefits of keeping the country under control are huge. This is the big difference between Iraq and Vietnam. Iraq is an extremely important oil country in the middle of what is by far the most important oil region of the world. Therefore what is at stake is very much more important than Vietnam. That is why US imperialism cannot contemplate a withdrawal similar to that from Vietnam. What they will try to do is to find solutions whereby they can keep control of the country while trying to stabilize it. Because, after all, if you control a country very rich in oil but cannot exploit its oil, then what's the use? They need therefore to stabilize the country. I think that the next administration, whoever they are, will on the one hand continue the present strategies of the Bush administration of "Iraqization" through the Sunni tribes and all that -- like you had "Vietnamization" in Vietnam. Secondly, they will try to cut a deal with Iran as well as Syria. They certainly will try to make a deal with Syria and will try to separate it from Iran. But they need also to cut a deal with Iran in order to stabilize the area for want of better, i.e. "regime change." This was one of the key recommendations of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group co-chaired by Baker and Hamilton that was formed before the "surge" to assess the situation in Iraq: Negotiate with Tehran and Damascus.

Another important issue, which is also related to Turkish policy, is the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq. What is the US strategy regarding the Kurds?

This is a major dilemma for the US. Everybody should remember Washington's betrayal of the Kurds after the first war against Iraq in 1991, when they rebelled against Saddam Hussein and the US just let him crush their rebellion. In the same way the US allowed addam Hussein to crush the rebellion in the South of Iraq. In both cases tens of thousands of people were killed. After that, in the Kurdish North the US established a kind of protectorate, a US-British protectorate in Iraqi Kurdistan. That was, on the one hand, because Turkey got alarmed about the flow of Kurdish refugees from Iraq into Turkish territory and wanted to push them back into Iraqi Kurdistan. The Europeans also got afraid that ultimately Iraqi Kurds would arrive as asylum seekers in Europe. Western powers also wanted to show that they were great humanitarians by protecting this population that had even suffered chemical attacks from Saddam Hussein. Thus, Iraqi Kurdistan's leaders became Washington's closest allies in Iraq. When the occupation of the whole of Iraq started in 2003 this alliance proved to be very useful for Washington. The Talabani-Barzani Kurdish Alliance in Iraq is the most important and most reliable ally of the US.

Basically there are no reliable allies of the US in Iraq but the Kurds. Someone like Iyad Allawi may be a trusted ally but he does not command a significant force as the Kurds do. The Shiite major forces are not reliable allies for Washington because everybody knows that they are also closely linked to Tehran, especially SIIC. They are at best ambiguous forces collaborating with the occupation but not utterly reliable. So the only reliable ally of the US is indeed the Kurdish leadership. The problem for Washington, however, is that the Kurds also have their own ambitions. They want to establish a de facto independent state, not an officially independent state because they know that this will require a war with Turkey and they cannot afford that. They want all the attributes of an independent state without the name. They want also to enlarge the region they control to include places like Kirkuk. They want a greater Iraqi Kurdistan. This of course clashes with the aspirations of other Iraqis. And so the US is facing a real dilemma: Washington needs these Kurdish allies but at the same time it cannot lose Iraq's Arabs for the sake of its Kurds. The problem has been postponed year after year. The issue of Kirkuk should have been solved long ago according to initial plans. A referendum was supposed to be organized and it has been postponed over and over again. This is a real time bomb for Iraq.

Do you think a separation of Iraq into Kurdish, Sunni, and Shiite regions or
states is possible?

This so-called solution actually means war. Any attempt to divide the country will lead to war under present conditions. This will create a situation in the region even worse for the US. This is why Washington is not at all interested in fostering partition although there are some people in the US and in the US Congress in favor of a partition, for something like a loose federation. But even a federation is very difficult to implement. It might become possible only if you had something like equally rich oil reserves or gas reserves in all three key regions of Iraq. The Kurds are trying to secure their own. In the Sunni Arab region, there is a major gas field which is now being intensively explored as a political priority because there is a need to satisfy the Sunnis. If each region could be endowed with important hydrocarbon resources, there might be some kind of a federation in Iraq at the end of the day, with the US remaining there as the arbiter between the three regions, Kurdish, Arab Sunni, and Arab Shiite. This might be an optimal solution for Washington, but it would be very difficult to work out -- I mean to reach a real agreement, a consensus among all major factions. It is not by arming everyone like the US is doing now; it is not by enhancing tribal and sectarian divisions that this could be reached. The US is sowing the seeds of a long term tragedy in Iraq. It is already a huge tragedy. Iraq has been living a permanent tragedy since Saddam Hussein and his cronies came to power in 1968, up to the US-imposed genocidal embargo. The tragedy that Iraqis are experiencing since the beginning of the occupation in 2003 is seen by some as worse still. And I can hardly see a way out of it in the foreseeable future.

Do you believe that the anti-war movement is declining as a social force? If so,
what are the causes of that decline?

Well, the movement declined very much relatively to the mobilizations held just before the invasion of Iraq. There are basic and episodic reasons of that. One episodic reason which concerns mostly the US but affects also the rest of the world is US elections and the belief of many that these could lead to a radical change in US policy towards Iraq. As usual the effect of elections is to demobilize the anti-war movement. Another episodic reason is what we were talking about, i.e. the relative success of the surge. This also has a demobilizing effect on the anti-war movement because it reduces the sense of urgency for the fight against the occupation. To these one must add a more basic reason, which is that the nature of the forces that are facing US imperialism inspires much less sympathy than in the past. I mean in Vietnam the US was facing the Vietnamese communists who acted in very clever ways addressing the US population and the whole world. They managed to win the sympathy of world public opinion. Nowadays the forces that are facing the US are mainly Islamic fundamentalists, best epitomized by Al-Qaeda. They certainly cannot arouse any sympathy in public opinion, especially in the West where the bulk of the anti-war movement is and should be, because the anti-war movement is meaningful above all in warrior countries. So the nature of the forces that US imperialism is facing nowadays does not help the building of a strong, powerful anti-war movement. I think that this is the chief problem confronting the anti-war movement. The main task of the anti-war, anti-imperialist movement should be to explain to public opinion that the more wars like these you have, the more fanaticism and fundamentalism you will get. And to explain that these wars will only reinforce the dialectics of barbarism that I call "the clash of barbarisms," in which the major barbarism is that of Washington and the minor one is that of fanatical bands of Islamic fundamentalists. This is a disaster for all the populations of the world. Therefore it is absolutely urgent to stop the wars and the ongoing imperialist aggression. This is the kind of message that the anti-war movement should convey and not one that says: "We support anyone who fights US
imperialism notwithstanding what they are and what else they do." This is not the way to win popular support for the anti-war cause.

There is a certain dilemma for the anti-war, anti-imperialist left, because in many countries of the region resistance to imperialist aggression is headed by political Islam. How can the left show solidarity with such resistance without abandoning its struggle for secularization, women's liberation and workers' rights?

I don't think that you can have a general rule here. It depends on which situation you are talking about. For instance in Iraq you have groups that are fighting the US occupation but the same groups are simultaneously involved in sectarian violence. And these groups have killed many more civilians on sectarian grounds than coalition troops. In such circumstances, to say "We support the Iraqi resistance" is completely wrong and misleading. You cannot say that you support such forces. One should say "We support the fight against occupation" or better, for didactic purposes: "The fight against the occupation is legitimate, by all means (truly) necessary." That's fine. You support the acts selectively, not the actors when you cannot take responsibility for all their acts. In Iraq, you cannot support any specific force because all forces that are fighting the occupation are at the same time sectarian forces. So two wars are being waged at the same time: a just war and a very reactionary one.

Now take the case of Lebanon or Palestine, that is the case of Hezbollah and Hamas. There you have Islamic fundamentalist forces opposing Israeli aggression. One can say: "We support the people's struggle against imperialist aggression regardless of the nature of the leadership; we support the struggle despite our reservations about its leadership." Moreover, I am very much against any uncritical support of any leadership whatsoever, even the most progressive leaderships -- all the more so when they are not progressive, but adhere to reactionary ideologies. When the struggle is unambiguously legitimate, but led by non-progressive forces, one should state very clearly: "We support the struggle but we do not share the perspective of its leadership."

Gilbert Achcar is Professor of Development Studies and International Relations
at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. His books include Perilous Power with Noam Chomsky (2007), The 33-Day War (2007), The Clash of Barbarisms (2nd edn, 2006), The Israeli Dilemma (2006), and Eastern Cauldron (2004).


Monday, June 02, 2008

Respect: What do we do next?

Receiving a surprising lack of attention (even among the regular carriers of news from Respect like Socialist Unity and Liam Mac Uaid's blog) is thism discussion document from Nick Wrack, which seems focussed on ways to make Respect more like a party.

Respect: What do we do next?
Now that the elections are out of the way we need to consider how we can strengthen the organisation.

Below are some brief outlines of proposals we put forward for discussion.

Respect is still in its infancy. We are still not even five years from our birth. Yet we have achieved successes beyond those of any other organisation to the left of Labour, with the election of George Galloway and our 13 councillors. Respect remains the only organisation on the left with the remotest chance at this stage of winning seats in the Westminster parliament and making serious advances in local elections. We congratulate Nahim Ullah Khan on his victory in Sparkbrook and welcome him as our newest councillor.

A key task for the next period is to ensure the re-election of George Galloway, albeit in the different seat of Poplar and Limehouse, and to send him reinforcements in the House of Commons. We have already selected Salma Yaqoob to stand in Birmingham Sparkbrook (where she polled 10,498 votes (27.5%) in 2005, coming second to Labour on 13,787) and Abjol Miah to stand in Bethnal Green and Bow. We need to win new councillors and have real possibilities of success in Tower Hamlets, Birmingham and Newham in 2010.

The recent election results show that we have the capacity to win extra parliamentary and council representation. But victories in elections are not automatic or easy, especially for a small, newish party like Respect. We also need to build where there is not, as yet, the prospect of early electoral success. In most areas of the country we are starting from nothing and it will take time and energy to win the support of large numbers of working-class people.

Our growth will not be even, or in a straight line. There may also be electoral set-backs. This only demonstrates the importance of having a long-term perspective for developing Respect as a party that has a completely different vision for society from that of the other parties – a society run by and in the interests of working-class people.

We must have two things in mind. First is our vision, second is a ‘plan’ for turning our vision into reality.

As yet we do not have a ‘national’ organisation in terms of branches across the country. But we do have a national profile through our MP George Galloway and his association to the name Respect. We need to map a way forward that takes us over time towards a party with a reputation and presence across the country.

We need to build our own party, Respect. At the same time we must present ourselves as willing to work with all others who want to build a left-wing alternative to New Labour. In this way, over time, we will win a reputation for being serious about building an open and pluralistic broad left party for working-class people.

So, our task is twofold. One is to strengthen Respect. Two is to build links with others. Maintaining a balance between the two will need constant review and reappraisal of how we are performing.

Everything that follows is premised on a need to tackle the key political issues facing working-class communities, from the economic to the social.

1. Building the branches
We should organise regular monthly local branch meetings on the same day of the month (e.g. third Thursday) to give a routine around which activity can be organised. The monthly members meeting should be advertised on the national and local websites and in the paper. We should have regular newsletters to communicate to all members and supporters. Public meetings and social activities should be organised to draw people in and to raise funds. Each branch should map out a strategy for building: where does it want to be in 6 months/12 months time; what geographical areas are going to be targeted, which communities? Progress towards the targets should be reviewed and the strategy revised as necessary.

2. Communication between National Office and members
We propose that the paper is sent to every member every month. In addition, there will be a national members’ bulletin. This will be sent in PDF format to everyone with e-mail and in hard copy form to everyone without.

3. Membership
We need to have a drive to recruit, both in areas where we are already established but also in other areas, trying to get members in areas where we currently have none. Membership will be one of the most important ways of gauging our successes as well as weaknesses.There should be a membership pack, sent to every new member. This will have a welcome letter, membership card, pamphlet on Respect with our policies, any current material and details of local and national events. Every new member should receive a telephone call from the office or local Respect contact within one week of joining and be allocated to a branch. We currently have branches in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester, Stockport, Bradford, Dorset, Milton Keynes, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Southwark, Haringey, Islington, Oxford and Cambridge. There are other areas where we have members but no branch. Our aim should be to consolidate the existing branches, to organise new branches around existing members where we have no branch and to create completely new branches in areas where we currently have no members. In London we aim to use the information about our votes in different wards to organise public meetings with GG, concentrating initially on where we did best. We need to do the same in each inner London borough, pulling new people around us and then giving support to those who attend to set up a branch.Our aim should be to establish new branches in Waltham Forest, Redbridge, Lewisham & Greenwich (where we already have a good nucleus), Wandsworth, Lambeth, Hackney, Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea. This has to be done patiently and systematically without running the risk of overstretching the organisation. Progress must be reviewed regularly.

NC members and branch membership secretaries should receive a regular update on membership figures – both nationally and locally. Branches should set reasonable targets for recruitment. We should have one national membership system – though local branches may wish to have a parallel membership number for their own records. Students should be recruited to the national organisation – regardless of whether they need a local college membership of a society. We should investigate a method a renewing annual memberships via Direct Debit.

4. Public profile
We can do a lot to develop our profile by participating in broad campaigns and initiating them ourselves. Initiatives such as the ‘Charter for East London’ and a campaign around the Olympics are important in this respect. Getting our point of view across in the media by developing spokespersons on issues will be one way to achieve this.

The website: This needs to be become the main public face of the party. This means making it much more attractive, lively and interesting. We need a website editor with a team to help her/him. This is a political issue rather than a technical one. At present we have limited human resources but we must attend to this urgently. Today, without a well-designed, lively website we will not reach our potential audience, especially among young people. We must pay attention to having material translated to cater for immigrant communities.

We also need to develop the use of video to present our ideas, with short clips of Respect’s leaders and members presenting our ideas in a simple and accessible manner.

The Paper: We need to maintain and develop the paper. To achieve a national paper was a success of the split. It demonstrates our serious approach to developing a national profile. However, it needs time to evolve and to become the property of the members so that it becomes a really useful tool in building Respect. It needs to become more accessible and relevant both in its content and language. Regularity of production, which is now agreed, should help branches use the paper more effectively. The paper can be one of our tools in recruiting and building our membership, reputation and influence by spreading our ideas to a wider audience. We must also make the content available online between issues.

Pamphlets: We should produce a series of cheap, short, simple pamphlets on key aspects of our policies, e.g. Housing, Health, Education, Transport, etc. We could produce 10 -12 pamphlets over a short period of time to cover most of what we stand for.

Press and media: we do remarkably well given our lack of personnel dedicated solely to this aspect of work but we should find ways of gaining more access to the TV, radio and newspapers. Local papers are an important medium for us to use more.We need to project ourselves across the county in a way that matches our larger name recognition, intervening in events in an upbeat way. Once we have a new logo we should have that prominently displayed wherever we do our work – banners, flags, etc. On demonstrations and protests we need to be more visible, including using placards. Our publicity on public events should be innovative and accessible. We need to plan our interventions in national events as soon as we know they are happening so we don’t miss out. Our stand alone publicity should complement the paper but also seek out the non-paper-buying audience.

5. Translations
We should give more thought to creating a bank of translated material – in pdf form – on the website. We are proud to be a party that supports, and is supported by, migrants – translations show we are serious about engaging the whole community in our politics. We should aim to have leaflets setting our basic ideas and policies in as many languages as possible. These should be on the website and advertised in our publications.

6. Elections 2009:
There are European elections across the country in June next year. Consideration is already being given to standing in London. This needs to be decided quickly. It would give a focus to our work in London, allowing us to consolidate our position in East London while building outwards across the rest of London.

2010: General Election and local elections
2012: GLA elections
Elections give us the opportunity to present ourselves to vast numbers of people. But we have to utilise the time in between to carry out regular activity to demonstrate who we are and what we are about. We cannot just turn up at an election and expect to get a good vote.We reiterate our commitment to stand in Birmingham and Tower Hamlets x 2 in the General Election. We now need to consider Newham and other areas.

7. Finance
All of the above costs money, and lots of it. We currently have an office and one part-time member of staff and some volunteers. We must build fund-raising into our activities. Fund-raising gigs/events such as the Manchester united nations meal, the London Burns night, the Mark Steel gigs on the French Revolution in Bristol and Southwark are examples of how political events can be fun and raise money and attract new people. Party, party, party! We need to build up the regular income on standing orders.

8. National Conference
We now need to plan for a conference in the autumn to launch our party. The name should be discussed. We suggest ‘the Respect Party’. We should aim to use the conference to involve as many of our existing members as possible and to bring new people to it.It would also be an opportunity to reach out to many others on the left by inviting them to attend as observers, if they do not want to join us at this stage. This Conference would agree a Political Programme and Constitution and elect a leadership for the next year. The conference and the launch of ‘the Respect party’ would give us the opportunity to revamp the website, redesign the logo and our ‘corporate’ image and generally re-launch ourselves.

9. Reaching out
Whilst we must emphasise building our own forces we must not lose sight of the need to make links with others on the left. Having a sign board which states our openness to work with others for common goals is vital for the longer term building of a bigger left-wing party, involving others who may be reluctant to join Respect but who in the future would be prepared to build something new together with us.We should, therefore, maintain links already established and seek to establish new ones with those opposed to New Labour. We need to have an orientation towards the trade unions, establishing links wherever possible.

10. Young people
This must be a central aspect to all our work. Without new young members Respect will not grow. We must develop young leaders of Respect, giving assistance when needed. We have already a layer of young activists who should be nurtured and promoted within Respect. Work amongst young people in the communities, in schools, FE colleges and universities will bring in a new layer of energetic and imaginative members, impatient for things to happen. We must develop strategies to attract students and young workers.

11. Leadership
The leadership of Respect should reflect its members and supporters. We have tremendous capital in the young Asian women and men who are leading our work in Birmingham, Tower Hamlets and Newham. There has to be a conscious emphasis on promoting new leaders from within Respect’s ranks.

12. Local Government
We should work to create and publish a detailed alternative plan for Tower Hamlets, explaining how we would run the council. We should aim to do this in consultation with trade unions and community groups. This plan should differentiate between what we can achieve with existing powers and levels of funding, and those that require extra powers and funding that we would campaign to force the government to provide.The leadership, knowledge and expertise of the activists and councillors in Tower Hamlets will be crucial in the success of such a plan, but they should not be saddled with the whole responsibility, and should be given practical support and advice from the party at a national level.

13. Respect in the political landscape
Spreading out from our existing strongholds in terms of electoral success could be a very long process. However, we should seek to gain leverage from our advantage of having an MP and several prominent councillors to place ourselves more quickly within the mainstream political landscape in terms of policy development and debate. We should explore opportunities to develop joint position papers with left Labour MPs, for example in Compass or the LRC, or with Plaid Cymru or the Green party, or with single-issue think-tanks and charities, on social issues where we have very similar policies. To facilitate this, Respect should encourage members to participate in party policy sub-committees on issues such as crime, women’s rights, climate change, etc.We have achieved a lot in just four years. Our achievements are even more impressive when we consider the recent split. In that respect, our recent election results are very encouraging. But we are only at the beginning. Over the next 12 months we must put our organisation on a firmer footing: better organised, more widely located and more deeply rooted.

Agreed by Respect National Council 17 May 2008
Paper presented by Linda Smith and Nick Wrack incorporating amendments from Clive Searle and Andy Newman


Wallerstein on future of Iraq

Commentary No. 234, June 1, 2008
"How the War Will End in Iraq"

All eyes are on the U.S. presidential campaign, in which the candidates have taken quite different positions concerning the war in Iraq. This is the wrong place to look. I believe it is fairly certain that Barack Obama will be the next president of the United States. And his views of the war in Iraq are almost the polar opposite of those of his rival, John McCain. Obama was opposed to the U.S. invasion from the outset. He believes continuing the war is harmful to everyone - to the United States, to Iraq, to the rest of the world. And he says he will seek to withdraw all U.S. troops in sixteen months.

Once in office, Obama will no doubt find that the definition of withdrawing troops will be a matter of great controversy in the United States, and that it will be less easy than he claims to achieve his objective, were it a matter only of the internal politics of the United States. However, ending the war in Iraq will not be up to Obama, or up to the United States. The key to ending the war in Iraq is what happens in Iraqi politics, not in U.S. politics.

I shall make the rash prediction that sometime in 2009 (or 2010 at the very latest), the Prime Minister of Iraq will be Muqtada al-Sadr, and that al-Sadr will bring the war to an end. Here is what is most likely to happen. The world media remind us each day of what are now seen as definitive cleavages in the Iraqi body politic. There are three main ethnic groups - the Shi'a, the Sunni Arabs, and the Kurds. Each of them is primarily located in a specific geographic zone. The main exception is the capital city of Baghdad, which has mixed Sunni-Shi'a population, although even here they are geographically concentrated in specific parts of the city.

In addition, as we all seem to know by now, each of these zones has internal divisions. There are multiple Shi'a parties, who each seem to have a militia at its disposal, and have long-standing antagonisms. The two principal ones are the group led by al-Sadr and the one known as SCIRI, led by Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim. The Sunni areas have a less clearcut picture. There are the sheikhs and the ex-Baathists, connected with various politicians in the Iraqi legislature. And there is also a small but important group of jihadists, largely non-Iraqi, linked somehow to al-Qaeda. And in the Kurdish zone, there are two competing parties, plus Christian and Turkmen minorities.

Actually, this kind of complicated array is no more diverse than one finds in many countries all around the world. Think of how one would describe the array of groups involved in U.S. politics. So, if we are to understand what is likely to happen in Iraq, we have to cut through this diversity to get at the most salient issue or issues.

It seems to me that the most salient issue in Iraq today for Iraqis is whether or not Iraq will survive as a unified state and as one that will be able to recover its strong position, economically and geopolitically, in the region. Who is against this? Actually, there are only two groups who are seriously hostile to a renewed and revivified Iraqi nationalism - the Kurds and the Shi'a forces led by al-Hakim. The latter dream of an autonomous, indeed independent, southern Iraq, which they would dominate and within which there are rich oil resources. They want to cut all ties to the Sunni regions. And they want to weaken seriously the al-Sadr camp which, although it is strong in that region, is virtually uncontested in Baghdad. Were Baghdad cut off from that region, the al-Hakim camp believe they could eventually destroy the al-Sadr camp.

The Kurds of course dream of an independent Kurdish state. But they are eminently pragmatic people. They know that a landlocked Kurdish state would find it hard to survive. Turkey would probably invade, and so might Iran. The United States would probably do very little, and would be quite embarrassed by it all. And Israel would be irrelevant. So the Kurds are clearly ready to settle for continuing de facto autonomy within a unified Iraq. To be sure, they are still quarreling with the others over who would control Kirkuk. I doubt that they will get Kirkuk, and I suspect that the most that they will do about it is to grumble loudly.

Now let us look at the others. The Sunni Arab forces are also, by and large, quite realistic. They realize that it is impossible to return to an Iraq that they govern unilaterally. What they really want now is their fair share of the state political machinery and of its resources (since their zone has virtually no oil, at least up to now). While they cannot hope to have a Sunni-dominated Iraq, they can hope to have an Iraq restored to its former prominent role in the Arab world, and they would clearly benefit, individually and collectively, from such a restoration.

So, in the end, the key group is the Shi'a. Muqtada al-Sadr has been quite clear from the beginning that he wants a unified Iraq. For one thing, this is the only way his people in Baghdad can survive and flourish. For another, he believes in Iraq. To be sure, he and his followers suffered mightily under the Baathists. But he is open to dealing with reformed and much weakened Baathists. And he has demonstrated this clearly over the last two years. He gave moral support to the people of Falluja when they were under assault by the U.S. forces two years ago. And they reciprocated in the recent fighting in Baghdad, when his forces were under assault by the same U.S. forces.

That leaves one major player, the Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, the most important spiritual leader of the Shi'a in Iraq. Al-Sistani has played a careful political game ever since the U.S. invasion. His priority has been to hold the Shi'a together. Most of the time he says nothing. But at crucial moments he is ready to intervene. When the U.S. proconsul of yesteryear, L. Paul Bremer, wanted to create an Iraqi government more or less by his fiat, al-Sistani insisted on elections, and the United States had to back down. As a result, he got a government dominated by the Shi'a. When too much fighting occurred between the al-Hakim camp and the al-Sadr camp, he brokered a calm.

What does al-Sistani want? Theologically, he wants Najaf, his site, to become once again the theological center of the Shi'a religious world, as opposed to Qom in Iran, which has come to assume this role, especially since the Iranian revolution of 1979. Geopolitically, this requires a strong Iraq, capable of relating to Iran as an equal. And to get a strong Iraq, he needs a united Iraq, and essentially one that gets the U.S. invaders out.

Currently, the United States is trying to get Iraq to sign a long-term military accord that would guarantee U.S. bases indefinitely. The current prime minister of Iraq, Nouri al-Maliki, is trying to maneuver this without a vote even by parliament. Muqtada al-Sadr is calling for a referendum. And so, it seems, is al-Sistani. A referendum, of course, guarantees a defeat for the accord.

So, in 2009, it would seem logical that al-Sadr, al-Sistani, the Sunni, and even the Kurds will come together on a plank of national unity and U.S. total withdrawal without long-term bases. Muqtada al-Sadr will implement this as Prime Minister. Al-Hakim will be unhappy, but kept in line by al-Sistani. The Iranians will be ambivalent. The U.S. public and pundits will be amazed at the relative calm in Iraq. And President Obama and the Pentagon won't have too much choice. They will graciously assent. They may even proclaim "victory."

by Immanuel Wallerstein