The world is becoming increasingly dangerous, with our rulers resorting to wars to protect themselves. They say they are fighting dictators, but all they are interested in is propping up the dictatorship of capital...
There’s a need to look around and see what is going on in the world and try to make sense of it. Not a Cook’s tour, but what is changing and developing just now. Not least because we are embroiled in an undeclared, illegal war again – beginning with Africa and the Middle East, with what looks like a domino effect.
Tunisia, a series of demonstrations, a popular uprising focused on unemploy-ment, food prices, government corruption etc. President Ben Ali and family hot-footed it to Saudi Arabia, taking as much loot as they could get their hands on.
Neighbouring Egypt similarly rocked and Mubarak was gone. And so it was presented to us like some political chicken pox, a contagious thing. Libya caught it, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and others. But in all the sound and fury, what is really going on?
It feels like looking at events through frosted glass – through a veil. We are aware of movement, of noise. But who is moving, who is shouting? Jack Straw drew some flak earlier in the year when he described a veil as an obstacle to direct communication. He might recant soon, like Galileo, or maybe some latter day Torquemada will get him. But he was right. We know events are unfolding, but we can’t discern.
Blair used lies to obscure what was going on in Iraq: weapons of mass destruction, 45 minute warning, links to Al-Qaeda. We saw through that. Now we have YouTube footage, shaky mobile phone pictures, the sound of artillery somewhere off camera, reports originating in some other town or even country. Hard evidence is thin on the ground. Yes, this building has been shot at, but who is shooting? Yes, this is a cluster bomb, but who fired it? And more importantly, who bought it and who sold it?
Especially so in Libya, which became the permanent focus of the movers and shakers of “Western Democracy”, Britain, France and the USA. Why these countries at this time, and why the fixation with Libya?
Cameron says it was about democracy, and Sarkozy says we won’t have dictators. And Obama says it is unacceptable when your own citizens are killed. (They execute more of their own citizens than the rest of the world put together. Who says Americans don’t do irony?)
Actually, it was about the decay and demise of capital. We have said that the nation state is the best shell for workers under capitalism. Best of all, a stable nation state. As capitalism collapses and implodes, it is to be expected that artificially created states will be least able to withstand the tremors.
So look at a map of Africa and the Middle East, where straight-line borders drawn with rulers, often British or French rulers, bisect centuries-old tribal and ethnic differences. An artificial hegemony imposed with colonial force and maintained with post-colonial authority and power.
Think of the puppet regimes, the special forces trained by the SAS, the officer graduates of Sandhurst, the supply of planes, tanks, bombs. It’s still good old imperialism, dressed differently, with “special advisers”, “special relationships” and all the rest.
All those dictators there with our blessing, to serve the interests of western capital. Whatever the need, be it oil, military bases, extraction or passage of raw materials, or just to keep the neighbours in check, those guys are there with our leave. They think they are invincible, they think nothing will change. But people change.
Modern communication tools make the world a small place, people cannot be kept in the dark. Modern education engenders aspiration. Young people all over the world want to be part of the future, not stuck in the past.
So there may well be an element of popular discontent in much of this. People, especially young people, are looking at their emperors and seeing the new clothes for what they are. Shelley and his poem Ozymandias comes to mind.
But we come back to this point. Why are we there? What’s it got to do with us? If Tunisians want to improve their country, fine, but they’ll have to do it there. They can’t do it from here. It’s all well and good to taunt your leader, but if you then have to beg NATO for help you’re not such a force are you? They should study history more carefully and learn from Hannibal. He was from that neck of the woods.
And why this frenzy to invade Libya, which is what NATO has in effect been doing. Because of all the tin pot dictators in the region, Gaddafi is one who ruled his own country, and he wouldn’t have NATO telling him what to do.
Now, whether his rule of Libya was good for Libyans was a matter for debate, but it’s only Libyans who should debate it. Cameron and Sarkozy and the rest want to impose something on Libya. They call it democracy but it’s actually submission. They bombed Gaddafi and his people to surrender. It wasn’t a no-fly zone, it was a blitz.
Cameron and Sarkozy (and Miliband as well) are presiding over the attempt to destroy our NHS, and they wave the bombers over to Libya, which had the best health service in Africa. And it has to be said, the rest of us stood by, observing.
This theatre of war has become a show. Why no roar of disapproval? A million marched against Blair’s Iraq adventure. That should have been multiplied over Libya. Every plane and ship that went there is a hospital ward closed or a needed school not built. We might wish to be detached but we are up to our necks in it. We can be for a war against Libya or we can be against it, but we can’t be neutral, not when it’s in our name.
And it reeked of desperation. Sarkozy’s popularity at home is at an all time low, so he led the charge. When the Libyan provisional government was in exile nobody knew who they were – they didn’t even recognise each other. But Sarkozy gave them recognition. Just as Germany did to Croatia in the Balkans conflict. Look what that led to.
It’s not new. Unpopular leaders interfering in someone else’s business to draw attention away from the fact that they cannot give people what they want and need at home. Foreign Secretary William Hague said it was about regime change, a clear violation of the UN resolution. Chancellor George Osborne compared himself to Churchill. They are all has-beens pretending to be somebody. Actually they’re not has-beens, they’re never-wases.
Of course Greece, Ireland and Portugal aren’t keen on any of this. They are but the first casualties of the euro experiment, now unravelling. It is to the credit of the intransigence of British workers that we never got entangled in that mess.
And now the EU stamps its foot and says it is imposing sanctions on Syrian oil and gas. Actually there is something sinister afoot here, because we have deployment of a European defence force by any other name. When the EU declares war, it does so in the name of member countries who do not agree. It plays its last card as an instrument of war. No wonder it dropped the word ‘Economic’ from its title. Its economic facade has failed so is dropped. It is revealed as the thing it was set up to be, another stick to beat workers with at home and abroad.
We have the spectacle of thousands of North African “patriots” wanting to escape the heat in their own back yard. And Italy says come through here to France because you speak French. And France says we’ve got just the place for you, next to Calais. Should we be concerned? Yes, because we’ve got our hands full at the moment. If North Africans, (or anybody else for that matter) want work and the benefit of a modern economy, they’ll have to build it there. What Africa needs is not a super highway to Europe – it needs industry.
Before all this kicked off we were fascinated by what was going on in Japan. Seismic events require a seismic response. The courage and selflessness of those power station workers was earth-shattering. Now comes a renewed call to turn away from nuclear power, which is allegedly not safe. Well, a car is not safe if you don’t regulate driving and manage the road system properly. So the company running the power station didn’t bother with routine maintenance and checks. That would eat into profits. And when it all goes pear-shaped, it’s the workers who will sort it out. And they’ll probably pay with their lives.
Capitalism is killing us all with its greed and stupidity, and it insults us with its abuse of literacy. The noted Middle East journalist Robert Fisk cites an entry in the diary of Victor Klemperer, the outspoken opponent of Nazism and Zionism who survived the Holocaust. Even as he and his wife were waiting for a knock on the door from the Gestapo, he was able to write, “There is no remedy against the truth of language.”
So respect workers internationally who do what they have to do to make their part of the world a better place. But no to this crazy attempt to relive history. Leave Libya to the Libyans, countries to their own peoples. We’ve got our own battles to fight. ■
This article is an updated and edited version of a speech given at the CPBML’s May Day rally in London this year.