Monthly Archives: September 2014

Speech at Nottingham meeting to establish Solidarity with Kurdish people

Or rather the speech, I planned to say but zig-zagged around

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995091_901096439917926_4540285457393924213_nWhat do we say about the crisis in Iraq, particularly the people and the areas now facing the brutality of ISIS.

Too many people in the UK look at the situation with just the eyes of “opponents of the UK or US governments”. That is what they know, that is what they say too much to themselves – ‘the only thing I care about is that I am seen to be the enemy of this government’.

I am an opponent of both of the UK and US governments as much as I can be. But we have to learn and understand – we need to look at the horror of the people now being besieged by ISIS – the Kurds, the Yazidis. We need to look at that horror through the eyes of the Kurds, along with the Iraqis and the Syrians who also face it.

Any answers, any proposals, any action that is considered – should be considered first and foremost – by  what will this do for the immediate and long-term interest of these people?

This shouldn’t be primarily viewed as an opportunity to embarrass or give a ‘bloody nose’ to the US government, the UK government, the Russian government, even Assad of Syria or either Iraq’s present ruler or the previous government of Maliki.

We obviously need to understand where we are – and what the Kurdish people face. Where did ISIS come from? How did it come about?

But in doing so, our anger at the brutality, the irresponsibility of these powers should not blind us to honest attempt to get support for those fighting against ISIS.

Our anger – our desire to see an accounting for historical crimes is secondary – what is primary is the immediate and legitimate needs of the Kurds, the Yazidis, the people of Iraq and Syria.

But how did we get here?

The US and UK bear considerable responsibility for the propping up of Saddam Hussein before they fell out with him. They bear responsibility for the war that brought Saddam down. They bear responsibility for the subsequent occupation in which Iraq was plunged into chaos.

Rather than promote secularism and democratic forces, the US and UK at one moment beat down, at another time bargain, with the Shi-ite sectarian forces of Mohammad al-Sadr. Maliki continued the endorsement of Shi-ite sectarianism.

Why did the US and UK not bring democracy to Iraq? Why did they not support the democratic forces in Iraq, Syria, in Kurdistan?

Why? Because they doubt that democrats in the area will bend sufficiently to their interests. Indeed, and we need to be aware of this, the US, UK, Russia, fear democracy – they fear what the people of Iraq, of Syria, the south-east of Turkey, which is Kurdistan, will demand.

But there are also Arab and reactionary Islamist forces who fear democracy even more. Saudi Arabia and Qatar bear direct responsibility for promoting the forces that later coalesced in ISIS.

The loathsome and murderous ideology of ISIS did not come from the sky. It came from powerful fantastically oil-rich capitalists in those countries. Their Islamism was never countered by the Western powers. For decades it proved useful to them.

The Saudi regime funded thousands of mosques – but it never funded any democracy organisations where other debates, impossible in a mosque could be conducted.

And what democrats needed throughout the Muslim world, where people are generally very poor indeed, was material support in building:

  • trade unions that would fight against poverty pay,
  • political parties that could fight for schools, universities, hospitals, clinics that could provide equal education and health treatment.

…democratic working class political parties that could end the economic exploitation of their people and their country by imperialist companies.

Saudi financed limited education and health for the poor throughout the Muslim world in Egypt, Pakistan. But it was an education tainted by instruction in Wahabbi reactionary ideas – dispensing with democracy, preaching the oppression of women and promoting religious sectarianism.

We have to face up to the fact that there is no powerful country, no state, no government on earth that can be trusted absolutely.

The US, UK, Russia, the Arab states, Turkey – the governments of all these states cannot be trusted. But they can’t be ignored – they have to be dealt with. Some of them have to be talked to and deals made with by the Kurdish movement. But we have to avoid the mistakes that the Kurdish political parties have made in my view frequently, and perpetuated divisions amongst the Kurdish people.

If you have to make a deal with a foreign power, you don’t lose sight of the objective of fighting for a wide democracy for any movement for liberation –

  1. always telling the truth to your own people –
  2. having no secret deals –
  3. rejecting personal bribes which every government promotes through their foreign policy –
  4. not using financial or military support for either religious or politically sectarian advantage.

All the time we must support those trying to get to create popular democratic civil and workplace organisations.

No imperialist government – and all the leading governments we face in this capitalist world are imperialist and exploitative – no imperialist government wants democracy in the countries in which they intervene. They want a ‘strong man’ and it is usually a man – or ‘strong men’ who can be bought off, manipulated, corrupted – bent to their interest.

They may be compelled by the expectations of their people – on behalf of whom they are supposed to govern – they may be compelled to aid the Kurdish people. If that happens – AND if we are satisfied that this is what the Kurdish people need – then that is good. But we should always urge the Kurdish people to take care.

So if we can’t trust any government does this mean that the besieged Kurdish, Iraqi and Syrian people have no friends? Not at all.

We have to look to the people of the world, not the governments – working class people organised in trade unions, in community organisations and within political parties.

So what should we say to them? What should we call for?

First of all – it should be talk to us! Talk to the Kurdish people! To the exiles about their experiences, the persecution of Kurdish people,

The Kurdish people are hugely written out of history. At least the history that society as well as many politicians acknowledge. For the history of how the Kurdish people is terrible – too terrible for many to acknowledge.
The treatment of Kurdish refugees to this country in particular has been appalling.
The borders that have kept Kurdish people over here apart from British working class people need to be broken down so that we can live up to our duty of giving solidarity

Secondly, we need to campaign and demand military aid for those defending themselves from the genocidal Islamist force of ISIS.

Whilst I have my reservations about the PKK, they are not those of the US govt. They were designated a terrorist organization by the US mainly because of the interests of their partner, the Turkish government. But it was the Turkish government that has been brutally oppressive to the Kurds and keeps their leader in jail – it is they that have caused terror.

Undoubtedly, the PKK have a prominent military role, particularly their women fighters, in beating back the murderously sexist ISIS. But there are undoubtedly other democratic forces that deserve military assistance – we need to find out who they are and how we can support them.

Thirdly, we need to encourage a plan to ensure that the issue of Kurdish national liberation is answered. My personal view is that there should be free, independent and democratic Kurdistan. There are understandable concerns that if the Kurds put a ring of steel around themselves – a border that protects them – that that might allow a sectarian breakdown of the remainder of Iraq between sectarian Sunni and Shi’ite forces.

There are concerns that hostility between the various national Kurdish parties may stop a genuine democracy forming in Kurdistan.

But these are conditions that, in my view, should NOT override the right of the Kurdish people to national independence and democracy.

That is not to say that I am not concerned about either of these 2 factors. But I believe we need to answer concerns about what happens in the rest of Iraq by calling for international working class action independent of the governments (of West and East) which simply cannot be trusted with that task.

The battle for democratic rights for all Kurdish people in Kurdistan is one essentially of the Kurdish people.

That does not mean that we should sit on the sidelines in such a struggle. If any party oppresses another we should, like all internationalist-minded people around the world, speak out – against any infringement of democracy anywhere in the world. Speaking out against any attacks on democracy and the rights of free speech and freedom to organise.

On the matter of a possible sectarian disintegration of Iraq.

We need to support the democratic forces within Iraq – we should oppose supporting military forces that resist ISIS because they are anti-Sunni. We should support those that fight ISIS because they are anti-democratic and reactionary clerical fascists.

There is an ongoing risk of a bloody civil war across the Middle East between Shi’ite forces promoted by Iran and Sunni forces promoted by Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

That could be of frightening ferocity and brutality. You only have to look at the Iraq-Iran war of the late 80s, a war fought to a significant degree on Kurdish territory to see what would be possible in such a war.

But all of these details about:

  1. what we should argue that the US/ UK governments should or should not do in the light of ISIS’s offensive
  2. what solution we should argue for regarding the rights of the Kurdish people to national self-determination

All of these have to be answered in close, deep and fraternal with our Kurdish comrades as well as our Iraqi, Syrian and Turkish ones.

If this meeting can do something to develop that relationship between the democratic and working class movement in Kurdistan, Iraq and Syria on one hand and on the other hand the UK – that can only be good.

ISIS has shamefully prospered from those criminally mis-educated by fanatical Islamism in this country. Some of the originally naïve British kids were shaped into brutal murderers by Islamists both over here as well as Iraq.

In honesty we should have done more to counter the argument that the war on Afghanistan or Iraq was a war against Muslims. Those wars were as much the wars of reactionary Islamists as they were the wars of the imperialist US/UK governments.

But I understand that there have also been many British Kurds going to fight with their people in Kurdistan against ISIS, their positive contribution should be acknowledged. We need to make sure they in no way suffer in this country or have rights taken away.

We need to campaign not only in their defence but in the defence of all those fighting for democracy in Kurdistan and Iraq.

We need to talk, debate and organise, again and again until ISIS is defeated and democracy becomes possible in the region.

Pessimism of the Optimism

Why does the rich capitalist class in Scotland never seem to enter into the calculations of those on the left who are pro-Yes?
The Scottish capitalists exist – they won’t disappear – after independence they will probably swan into the SNP using their money and influence to make sure that it is their Party, not in any way that of the workers.
Many of them, not directly politically active, will be able to play off being ‘Scottish’ or being ‘English’ for economic leverage.
Do the ‘Pro-Yes left’ think the SNP won’t get corrupted – do they think that just because there has been a lot of left-wing rhetoric during this campaign, that the class basis of the SNP has so changed that is now the ‘Workers Party’?
There will be lots of petty arguments for years about – what belongs to Scotland? – what to ‘Little Britain’?
That argument will be played on the Scottish side as ‘anti-imperialism’. It is likely to preoccupy some radicals and some ‘socialists’ lining up behind the interests of (capitalist) Scotland.
On the English side, the right wing will blame the Scots for the economic problems of the rest of the UK.
On both sides, there will be a number of political charlatans wanting to exploit this new division, yet another excuse for nationalist hatred, ammunition for the gangs in the cities and political mobs like the EDL and SDL.
Of course, and hopefully, there will be class struggle going on independently of all this and the nationalism will be no more than a pathetically small number of Youtube-recorded thug-videos. But maybe not?
Because if these long-term nationalist distractions for the working class movement are to be avoided what has to be done?
Is there a radical socialist opposition prepared to seize the moment, fight in the short term to take power over whose interests and how Scotland is run? Some years ago there was the SSP but now?
Is anyone seriously saying the Scottish working class are on the verge of taking power?
I hope so, I hope there are some marvellous facts that can be shared with me that I don’t know. But all I see is a mood, a wonderful (but unfounded) optimism.
There are undoubtedly warm networks of left-wing minded activists being formed – much as there used to be during Labour Party election campaigns (and I think you will see that quite a lot next year).
But will those Scottish Socialists ‘Yes-ers’ coalesce any more than those Labour campaigns did, into a long-term campaign for the socialist reconstruction of society?
Probably not!
But tell me if there are – because they are the only good reason to vote ‘Yes’ as far as I can see. Otherwise, I see yet more arguments about nationalism that can only distract us  – from our need for an ever-widening internationalist working class identity.