Friday, March 16, 2018


THE RUSSIAN government last week responded to Theresa May’s hysterical “ultimatum” on Monday to produce an explanation of the poisoning of the former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter by saying they were ready to talk about it “but only after an official request from the UK”. In other words, she had not even bothered to go through diplomatic channels – her ranting was more for the benefit of the western media and she was not really expecting an answer.
 The Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday that Russia has yet to receive official requests from Britain regarding Skripal, who was allegedly poisoned in the city of Salisbury.
 But Lavrov did suggest that both countries should hold talks on the incident. No doubt he would want to raise the issue that London is now regarded as a very safe haven for criminals of the ‘Russian Mafia’. Bill Browder, the British-based financier dubbed “Putin’s number one enemy”, claims that Russian crime gangs now treat Britain as their jurisdiction of choice for laundering both their money and their reputations.
 There are several possibilities behind the poisoning of the retied spy, who had been released by the Russian government in a spy swap with Britain. It is unlikely they would release him if they wanted to kill him.
 But the British government and tame media have a long record of manufacturing horror stories about leaders and governments that stand up to NATO imperialism, from Saddam’s imaginary weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier, to the vilification of Colonel Gaddafi and accusations against President Assad of Syria that he used nerve gas against his own people. And of course, ridiculous allegations that in the 1980s Jeremy Corbyn fed information to the Russians on what Margaret Thatcher ate for breakfast, when Corbyn was a lowly Labour backbencher who rarely encountered Thatcher.
 Recently it has been Putin who has been getting the treatment – along with Russia as a nation past and present. There are constant allegations that Russia is meddling in other countries’ elections – which is rich after the huge and blatant western intervention in Russian elections in the 1990s, resulting in the rise to power of the alcoholic western puppet Yeltsin, allowing western imperialism a free-hand to smash the former Soviet economy and ransack the country’s treasures. They have never forgiven Putin for putting a stop to that by renationalising key state industries.
 Putin is no saint. He is no communist and his domestic political opponents do not enjoy a level playing field in elections. A lot of his policies on gay rights and women’s rights would have shocked the original Bolsheviks. But he feels he needs the support of the reactionary Orthodox Church and so he upholds these policies for opportunistic reasons.
 But he is not stupid and he is very popular in Russia – mainly for not being Yeltsin and for standing up to the western imperialist plunderers.
 It is very possible that Skripal’s poisoning was something to do with the internecine wars between the various Russian Mafia gangs. Maybe he owed money to an oligarch. Maybe he was killed by western agents in order allow further demonisation of Putin. It is easy to speculate – presenting evidence is another matter. And May has presented no evidence at all.
 She has threatened another round of sanctions against Russia – but there has been little enthusiasm from her allies in Europe or those in the USA. Every time sanctions are imposed on Russia it is the West that suffers most economically.
 Four years ago, sanctions imposed because of Russian humanitarian support to Ukraine’s breakaway republics of Donetsk and Lugansk led to the bankruptcy of hundreds of European farmers who sold their fruit and vegetables to Russia. In the USA new sanctions have been announced over the alleged interference in elections but have yet to be implemented.
 And just two weeks ago Britain was asking Russia to increase gas supplies as we nearly ran out in the severe cold snap.
 But behind all this pantomime is a serious campaign by western leaders to persuade us to hate Russia and accept the dangerous build-up to a possible all-out war with Russia – as with Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya.
 But launching such a war against Russia would almost certainly become a nuclear holocaust, which is why we must counter imperialism’s lies and fight for nuclear disarmament as a priority.

Iroquois nations’ legacy of women’s rights

 By New Worker correspondent
THE FIRST European colonists to settle in North America landed along the continent’s eastern coast where they encountered native Americans who belonged to a Confederacy of the six nations of the Iroquois.
The Iroquois Confederacy stretched all along the eastern coast and several hundred miles inland. They were a farming people living in settled villages where the status of women was fully equal to that of men.
Women were the guardians of the culture were responsible for defining the political, social, spiritual, and economic norms of the tribe. Iroquois society was matrilineal, meaning descent was traced through the mother rather than through the father, as it was in colonial society. While Iroquois sachems (chiefs) were men, women nominated them and made sure they fulfilled their responsibilities.
They were far more respected and free than the women of the colonial settlements, who has been brought up in a culture in which women were regarded as inferior and subservient to the men and that this was natural and the will of God. Seeing the higher status of the Iroquois women had an impact on some of the settler women and helped to sow the seeds of the women’s liberation movement in the 19th century.
The Iroquois lived in small villages built on high ground surrounded by tall wooden fences. Outside the fences there were fields where crops were grown. Women owned the land and tended the crops. The men prepared the ground for planting, and the women grew the “Three Sisters” – corn (maize), beans and squash. Sometimes all three of these staple crops were grown together in one field. The bean plants would fix nitrogen in the soil, improving it for the corn and the squashes, which included melons and pumpkins.
Inside the fences wall were rows of buildings. These buildings were Iroquois homes, known as wigwams and longhouses. Wigwams were round structures made out of bent tree branches that were covered with layers of bark and dried grass. There was a fire pit in the middle with a hole in ceiling above it to allow smoke to escape.
Longhouses were longer than they were wide and ranged from twenty-five to one hundred and fifty feet long and were only about twenty feet wide. Along the centre aisle of the longhouse were three or four fire pits lined with stones called fieldstones.
Each longhouse had multiple families living in it, and held anywhere from thirty to sixty people. On each side of the centre aisle were quarters for each family. There were low platforms to sleep on and high ones to store goods, baskets, and pelts. Either bark or skins separated each family place.
The women ran the longhouses, and owned all the normal things of everyday life such as blankets (skins), cooking utensils, and farming tools. A longhouse was usually occupied by one clan, with the eldest and/or most respected woman of that clan ruling it as Clan Mother.
The tribe owned all lands in common, but allotted tracts to the different clans for further distribution among households. The land would be redistributed among the households every few years, and a clan could request a redistribution of tracts when the Clan Mothers’ Council gathered. Clans that abused their land or didn’t take care of it would be warned and eventually punished by the Clan Mothers’ Council by having the land redistributed to another clan.
The Iroquois greatly depended on their natural environment. Surrounded by the forest, women and their children helped provide food by gathering wild fruits, vegetables, and nuts. They picked blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and wild plums. In areas around the Great Lakes, Iroquois women gathered wild rice during the rainy season. During the winter, many tapped trees to get maple sugar. In the springtime, they stirred the syrup over an open fire, and over time it turned to sugar.
All Iroquois clothing was handmade by the women of the tribe. They dried and tanned the skin to produce leather. Once tanned, they cut the buckskins into patterns for clothing, then sewed the pelts together with a deer bone needle and thread from deer sinew.
Women had many responsibilities – probably the most important one was having children to ensure the future of their tribe. Any children born into the family belonged to the mother’s clan, and they were educated by their mother’s relatives.
Besides performing the normal household functions of producing, preserving and preparing food and clothing for the family and taking care of the children, Iroquois women participated in many activities commonly reserved for men. They gambled, belonged to medicine societies (spiritual associations), and participated in political ceremonies.
The tribal council was dominated by male speakers but the women decided which men should be speakers. If the chosen man expressed opinions that clashed with those of the women’s council, they could replace him with someone who more closely represented their views. If the Tribal Council took a course of action that the women disagreed with, such as a raid, the women might simply refuse to give them any food for the journey.
Iroquois women had the right to divorce their husbands.
Contact with Europeans in the early 1600s had a profound impact on the economy of the Iroquois. At first, they became important trading partners, but the expansion of European settlement upset the balance of the Iroquois economy. By 1800, the Iroquois had been confined to reservations, and they had to adapt their traditional economic system.
But their culture and way of life inspired led some settler women to question their own lack of freedom and independence and they began to seek a better life for themselves. Early feminists were inspired to imagine the possibility of a more equal society.
That inspiration came from contemporary women who lived very different lives from theirs, the women of the six Iroquois nations – Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Mohawk, and Tuscarora – the Haudenosaunee, as they called themselves.
Common law based itself upon church law, and the “two shall become one and the one is the man” of Christianity became the non-existence of married women under the law. Women could not vote, own property, control their own wages, or have any say over their bodies or the children they birthed. Unmarried women were unnatural since they were not under the control of a husband, and fared no better under their fathers’ authority.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton wrote: “The assertion that women have always been physically inferior to men, and consequently have always been held in a subject condition, has been universally believed. This view has furnished the opponents to woman’s emancipation their chief arguments for holding her in bondage.”
Lucretia Mott saw this world in practice when she and her husband visited the Seneca in the summer of 1848. She watched women who had equal responsibilities with men in all aspects of their lives – familial, spiritual, governmental, and economical. At that time, Seneca women were deeply involved in the decision of whether or not to drop their traditional clan system of government and adopt the constitutional form insisted upon by the Quakers.
While the Cattaraugus Seneca finally did accept the United States model, they refused to accept the element of male dominance. They placed in their constitution that no treaty would be valid without the approval of three-fourths of the “mothers of the nation.”
After this Mott travelled to visit friends in western New York where they planned the first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls.
Beyond equal suffrage, Elizabeth Cady Stanton marvelled that “the women were the great power among the clan,” and “the original nomination of the chiefs also always rested with the women”.
Matilda Joslyn Gage, Stanton’s equally brilliant contemporary, described the governmental structure in more detail. “Division of power between the sexes in this Indian republic was nearly equal. Although the principal chief of the confederacy was a man, descent ran through the female line, the sister of the chief possessing the power of nominating his successor.”
Gage wrote that the US form of government was borrowed from that of the Six Nations, and thus “the modern world is indebted for its first conception of inherent rights, natural equality of condition, and the establishment of a civilised government upon this basis” to the Iroquois.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

An unwelcome visitor

Tory politicians are the first to proclaim their support for ‘human rights’ in their campaigns to demonise those who stand in the way of imperialism. The bourgeois ‘human rights’ gang brand freedom-fighters as “terrorists” whilst passing off the brutish gunmen who serve imperialism in Syria as the “moderate opposition.” And all of them will be crawling on their knees to lick the boots of the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia during his state visit to London this week.
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is regarded as the power behind the throne in the oil-rich desert kingdom that was founded by his grand-father, Abdel Aziz ibn Saud, after the First World War. During his long life Ibn Saud had innumerable wives and concubines, whose offspring now make up the upper echelon of the ruling class of the feudal Saudi kingdom that has lived off their juicy cut of the oil revenues that have kept the country afloat since the 1930s.
Mohammed bin Salman is often described as a “reformer” in the bourgeois media. He is said to be a champion of women’s rights. What this actually consists of is allowing women to drive, perform in public and attend public sporting events. But no-one has the vote. There are no elections and no parliament. Political and religious dissent is crushed, and the king rules as a tyrant propped up by the civil and religious police, the armed forces, tribal leaders and ‘military advisors’ from the USA and Pakistan.
Saudi Arabia is propped up by two pillars – the first being the support of the Wahhabi movement, a puritanical Unitarian Sunni Muslim sect that’s been allied to the House of Saud since 1744. The second is the might of US imperialism. American big oil corporations developed and plundered the immense oil-fields that lie under the desert sands of Arabia, whilst providing the Saudi royal family with immense riches that have enabled them to buy influence through corrupt politicians and religious bigots throughout the Arab and Islamic world.
In the past Britain played second fiddle to the Americans in Saudi Arabia. In the 1920s British imperialism even thwarted Ibn Saud’s ambitions to rule the whole of the Arabian peninsula. But there’s been closer contact in recent years, fired largely by British sales of military equipment.
Bin Salman has come to London to talk about arms and political support. Saudi Arabia has the fourth highest military expenditure in the world and the kingdom is the world’s second largest arms importer. British merchants of death sold over £1.1 billion-worth of weapons to the Saudis last year. They hope to do even better in 2018.
The Prime Minister says that she will raise “deep concerns” over the humanitarian crisis in Yemen – but in reality Mrs May won’t want to talk about ‘human rights’ or anything else that could offend the feudal Saudi prince during his visit. There are plenty of others on the street who will do it for them however.
Labour and peace movement activists are holding meetings, seminars and demonstrations to oppose the Saudi war in Yemen and to highlight the real human rights abuses in the Saudi kingdom. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeated his earlier pledges to stop arms supplies to Saudi Arabia as long as it remains engaged in the criminal war on Yemen.
Communists stand shoulder to shoulder with all the Saudi people fighting for democratic rights and an end to the war in Yemen. We fully support the protests against the visit of the Saudi Crown Prince and urge all our readers to join the ongoing campaign to end British support for the feudal House of Saud.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Gangrene: a Marxist political thriller revealing the rotten heart of Britain

by Theo Russell

Gangrene; Aly Renwick (2017). Merlin Press, London. 256pp. £9.99.
ISBN: 9781854251183; ISBN-10: 185425118X

If you’ve ever asked yourself the question “Is British society really as bad as I think it is? Or are we actually much better off than most countries?”, then this is a book you should read.
It is a virtual dissection of the thoroughly rotten, stinking heart of capitalist Britain, and along the way it reveals many of the most shameful chapters in recent British history.
Gangrene can be described as a Marxist political thriller that somehow manages to encompass MI5’s role in the war in Northern Ireland, the Kincora Boy’s Home scandal, the miners’ strike, the 1973 coup in Chile, the Falklands War and the rise of Margaret Thatcher.
It somehow manages to weave all these strands into an effective whole through the eyes of low-ranking British soldiers engaged in intelligence-gathering who, although thoroughly reactionary themselves, begin to question the methods and sheer debauchery that MI5 is prepared to sink to.
The central character, ‘Ginge’, recovering in hospital after an attempt to silence him with a car bomb, recounts what he and his mates have uncovered, much of it from the pep talks they receive from senior army and intelligence officers: the MI5/Military conspiracies to overthrow Harold Wilson and subvert Tory ‘wets’ such as Edward Heath.
The plots recall the true life ‘Clockwork Orange’ and the ‘Shield Committee’ plots, which envisaged collaborating with Loyalist paramilitaries to target trade unionists and ‘agitators’ in Mainland Britain.
A single thread links all these issues, coming from the very top (and Britain’s US masters) – the imposition of ‘Chicago School’ economic policies that led inexorably to the Britain we know today: a low-pay economy; austerity; poor schools and housing; a return to Victorian-era class divisions; working people being robbed left, right and centre; increasing social degradation; and the systematic destruction of communities to be replaced with rampant individualism.
In this way Gangrene provides a highly believable account of how we arrived where we’re at in  Britain today. To a greater or lesser extent in every capitalist state, we can see ‘Chicago Economics’ in practice – the naked rule of banks and corporations, which now stand above and control mere national governments.
After reading Gangrene the unavoidable conclusion is that we now live under the iron rule of this reactionary doctrine. The Keynesian/welfare state version of capitalism has been ‘deleted’ as an option, with the Chicago doctrine now the only choice available for ‘democratically elected’ governments regardless of their political shade.
The book also describes the ingrained reactionary and racist culture of the British army, in which each individual unit is taught to distrust any other part of the army.
In one pep talk, ‘the Major’ refers to “decades spent clearing up abroad, against blacks, yellows and slant eyes. Now we’re going into action in the UK, after the enemy at home.”
The nationalists in the north of Ireland are “Micks”, civilians are “civvie cunts”, and trade unionists and socialists are “communists”. It is not a pleasant read but unfortunately this is the unpleasant reality: an oppressive, imperialist army designed to serve its ruthless capitalist masters.
The soldiers reveal MI5’s collaboration with Loyalist paramilitaries to turn the Northern Ireland conflict that began in the late 1960s into a full-scale war, with the Major declaring after the 1970 Falls Curfew: “it’s all brewing up nicely.”
Later a new “reaction force” arrives in Belfast to “take the war to the enemy”, represented by an officer they call “Stone Eyes”, who later recounts how he killed communists in Chile whilst seconded from the British Army.
Ginge’s mate Geordie – himself brought up in a care home – hears from his loyalist contacts of rumours in East Belfast that residents of the Kincora Boy’s Home were being sexually abused.
But when he raises this with the RUC [Royal Ulster Constabulary] he is told: “we’ve been warned off all that, it’s your lot who are running Kincora.” “Your lot” turns out to be MI5.
Geordie turns to the Major, who in turns brings in ‘Mr Smith’ from MI5. He describes the Kincora victims as “flotsam and jetsam off the streets” who can’t get in the way of MI5’s objectives. Geordie is ordered to drop his interest in the case.
Geordie later suffers from nightmares about his army experiences, takes to drinking and dies in a car crash.
Ginge is also sent on ‘leave’ during the 1984–5 miners’ strike to gather intelligence on union activists in his own local community. The book goes on to show the rapid economic changes after the strike affecting working people’s lives.
Originally from a village in Scotland, Aly Renwick joined the British Army aged 16 and served in Northern Ireland. He bought himself out after eight years in 1968, and joined the anti-Vietnam War movement.
In 1973 he and other activists founded the Troops Out Movement, and he later became an active member of Veterans for Peace UK. He has also written a well-received novel, Last Night Another Soldier, about the Northern Ireland war, and Oliver’s Army, an account of the British army’s role in Ireland.
Renwick cites Marx’s writings on Ireland and the famous quote “A nation that oppresses another forges its own chains,” as a major influence. He himself sums up Gangrene's plot:
“In the decades after the Second World War, Keynesianism had brought the Welfare State and the NHS, but was then overthrow by ‘free market’ neoliberalism. A furtive political coup d’├ętat brought the coming of the ‘Iron Lady’ (Thatcher) and the new, more virulent, form of capitalism, which affected – and with its accompanying austerity still affects – everywhere and everyone.
“With the Peace Process, the conflict had ended in the north of Ireland, but the propaganda war continued apace.”
It can be hard to follow the book’s structure and frequent changes in periods covered, but it is worth the effort. Mostly based on facts, with some invented but highly plausible episodes thrown in.
It is not a book for those with weak stomachs, but it does weave together a multitude of negative changes affecting British society over the past 50 years that have had extremely destructive impacts on the lives of millions of people.
Whether fighting national liberation movements in Ireland or trade unionists in Britain, or systematically eroding the security of working people’s lives, it shows the absolute ruthlessness of the British ruling class in achieving its aims no matter what the human cost.

Gangrene was published by the London-based Merlin Press in 2017, priced £9.99, and is available in most left wing bookshops and elsewhere.