Friday, July 20, 2018

Professor Stone’s Turkish delight

by New Worker literature correspondent

Turkey: A Short History by Norman Stone (first published 2010). Thames and Hudson: London, pp192. ISBN 10: 0500251754 ISBN 13: 9780500251751

The Ottoman Empire effectively lasted from the capture of Constantinople in 1453 until the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923. The same period in English history would have begun during the Wars of the Roses and ended almost with the first Labour Government; in other words, from Henry VI to Arthur Henderson. The book gives a number of reasons why the empire lasted this long.
But the history of the Turks long pre-dates the final days of the Byzantine empire. They were part of a number of tribal, nomadic groups that originated in Central Asia and at times held sway over the vast area between western Europe and China. This area, across which lay the trade routes that linked the Eurasian land mass, was highly lucrative. Many of these nomadic groups, which included the Mongols, Tartars and of course the Turks, captured these areas, adapted themselves to the customs of the region as well as establishing their own empires. These included the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, the empire of Tamerlane the Great, the Indian Moghul Empire, as well as the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks, and may even go back as far as the Achaemenid Persian Empire.
According to Professor Stone, a conservative Oxbridge don who now heads the Department of International Relations at a private university in Turkey, the Ottoman system of rule was less repressive than European feudalism. This may on the one hand provide a clue as to why the Ottoman Empire lasted so long whilst on the other it may provide a reason for its ultimate weakness.
It did not see social upheavals on a par with Western Europe, such as the English Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, the Peasants War in Germany, the English Revolution in the 1640s and the French Revolution of 1789. Events like these are engines of social change and take societies forward.
The Ottoman Empire was to a large extent a military empire. It had a standing army based on elite units called janissaries whilst other European states were using conscripts and mercenaries.
It was able to make full use of artillery, long before many contemporary societies. For instance, military historians often talk about the role of the long-bow in the English victory at Agincourt in 1415; around the same time the Ottoman army besieged Constantinople using cannon.
As a result, it was able to control at its height an area from the Atlantic Ocean to India and at various times threatening the borders of Hungary and Austria. The Ottoman advance in the 16th and 17th centuries could also be attributed to both the schism in the Christian world at the time as well as rivalries between European nations. Elizabeth I was keen to strengthen ties between England and the Turks as a counter balance to her rival Spain.
Many European Protestants actually saw Islam as no worse than Catholicism and, in some circumstances, even preferable to the rule of Rome. Whether Shakespeare’s {Othello} really was intended to celebrate the friendship between Elizabethan England and the Ottoman empire is a matter for debate. But in mentioning these points, Stone further demolishes the ‘Clash of Civilisations’ thesis put forward by Samuel Huntington at the end the Cold War.
In his book, Stone shows an understanding of linguistics when he explains the origins of certain Turkish words that have passed into English such as tulip, which is a derivation of the word turban.
Obviously Stone concentrates on Turkish, which he says has more in common with Chinese or even Japanese. Meanwhile he also points out that because of the complexities of the German language, Kant is taught in English to students in Berlin.
Stone plots the gradual decline of the Ottoman Empire through the 17th and 18th Centuries. Arguably it only lasted for so long as a means of preserving the power balance in the region. Russia wanted to eat away its territories from the north whilst Austria–Hungary coveted the Balkans.
Britain and France were concerned about the encroaching power of Russia, and wanted to protect the trade routes and keep Russia out of the Mediterranean. As a result, they were willing to prop up the Ottoman empire that by the 19th century was openly being called the Sick Man of Europe.
The last three chapters of the book cover the collapse of the Ottoman Empire following its defeat in the First World War and the establishment of the Turkish Republic; which was proclaimed by Kemal Ataturk on 28th October 1923. Unfortunately, this is where Stone’s view of Turkish history becomes problematic. He can arguably be described as a Turcophile, if there is such a thing. For instance, controversially he claims that the Armenian Genocide of 1915 did not go unpunished and there were a number of massacres of Muslins around the same time.
Although there may be some truth in this I do take issue with his defence of the present Turkish regime, though this is perhaps not surprising given Stone’s past admiration of Margaret Thatcher.
Today’s government of Recep Tayyip Erdo─čan is a combination of reactionary Islam, neo-liberalism and fascism. From reading the book I was able to deduce that the present regime had its origins in the government policies of the 1980s; the military coup of 1980 saw the army increasingly look to the Muslim clergy for support, whilst at the same time the government of Turkut Ozal carried out policies of neo-liberalism supported by the USA.
 In a recent tour of UK cities, the Morning Star journalist Steve Sweeney described instances of Kurdish civilians in eastern Turkey being burned alive in underground car parks whilst attempting to call foreign news agencies. Meanwhile the vile ultra-Blairite MP John Woodcock has been denounced as an apologist for Turkish war-crimes after he defended the actions of the reactionary regime as part of a supposed “fight against extremism”.

Sunday, July 08, 2018

Let Assange go!

Rumours abound, within the corridors of power, about a deal that could allow Julian Assange safe passage from his refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. The fugitive founder of WikiLeaks fled to the embassy in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden on rape charges that he vigorously denies.
Assange publicly declared he would go to Sweden if that government could guarantee he would not then be sent on to face charges in the USA. The Swedes would not guarantee that. His supporters believe that the Swedes were doing the bidding of American imperialism, enraged at the Australian whistle-blower’s publication of thousands of embarrassing secret communications between the US government and its embassies and military bases around the world.
There is little doubt that heavy pressure on both Britain and Sweden was wielded behind the scenes by the US government, with the ultimate objective of getting him sent to the USA where he could face the death penalty. He has never lived in the USA and that country has no jurisdiction over him. But that sort of thing has never bothered the country that built the concentration camp at Guantanamo or that has secret torture bases – not so secret after WikiLeaks – around the world.
WikiLeaks has done a lot of damage to imperialism by exposing its ugly, deceitful, cruel and greedy underbelly. Genuine left-wing communist and workers parties around the world have long supported demands for Assange’s release to a country of his choice. Let’s hope that the rumours are true…

Corbyn on Palestine

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has said that the next Labour government will recognise Palestine as a state. Corbyn, on a tour of Palestinian refugee camps in Jordan, said that a future Labour government will recognise Palestine as a state as one step towards a genuine two-state solution to the Israel–Palestine conflict. He also criticised the Trump administration for recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and called the moving of the US Embassy there a “catastrophic mistake”.
At Labour’s annual conference last year Corbyn received his longest and loudest standing ovation when he called for an end “to the oppression of the Palestinian people” and Israel’s “50-year occupation and illegal settlement expansion”.
No-one, apart from the most rabid Zionists, would disagree with Corbyn’s sentiments.
Unfortunately there are plenty of them about within the Labour party apparatus.
Zionism, which Lenin said was “absolutely false and essentially reactionary”, has never supported the working class movement.
 Zionism poses as the “national liberation movement of the Jewish people” but it has never served the interests of Jewish workers. Zionists would have us believe that all members of the Jewish faith are in some way the literal descendants of the Jews of Biblical days. In fact it is nothing more than a reactionary bourgeois-nationalist ideology of the big Jewish capitalists in the imperialist world. It tells Jewish workers that their interests are served by Jewish exploiters and it seeks to colonise Palestine in the same way as the imperialist powers it allies itself with have done in the past.
Those who stand in their way are often branded as anti-Semites for daring to uphold the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs. But the Zionist lobby and its Blairite allies in parliament can bleat on about “anti-Semitism” for as long as they like. They represent no-one but themselves.
What the mass movement has to ensure is that Corbyn’s very modest steps to meeting the aspirations of the Palestinian people are immediately taken on board when Labour returns to power in the not-so-distant future.

The “Molly Maguires” labour war in coal country

By Chris Mahin

As they mounted the scaffold together, the two miners joined hands. The older man said to the younger one: “Let’s die like men.” Then the trapdoor was pulled from under their feet, and two bodies dangled in the air.
            “The degree of nerve of both men … was extraordinary,” a newspaper reported. The gallows were cleared. Four more leaders of the miners’ struggle were executed in rapid succession. On the same day, on another Pennsylvania scaffold, four other miners were hanged.
            Ten union leaders were executed in eastern Pennsylvania on 21st June 1877. These men were accused of committing various murders, and of belonging to a secret, violent, conspiratorial organization -- the ‘Molly Maguires’. During their time, these men were denounced by the powerful as “terrorists.” Today, most historians agree that they were the first martyrs in the fight to build industrial unions in the United States, and that, in fact, no such organisation as the Molly Maguires ever existed.
            The story of how these men came to be framed and executed has much to teach us about the nature of the justice system in the United States, the lengths to which capital will go to thwart workers’ fight for a better life, and the role that immigrant workers play in the labour movement.
            During the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s, some 20,000 Irish workers made their way to Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. Like millions of workers before and since, they came to the United States fleeing hunger and political persecution in their native land. And like millions of others before and since, they found that they would have to fight here against injustice just as they fought in their birthplace.
            Hard coal was first discovered in Pennsylvania by Abijah Smith in the first decade of the 19th  century. At the beginning of the mining industry, there were no provisions for safety or proper ventilation within the pits. Mine inspectors were unheard of. (Until 1870, mine owners were not even required to build second exits in mines.) Often, miners ended up owing so much to the company stores that they did not receive any wages at all.
            Miners crawled underground in mud and water, breathing coal dust and smoke. If they were not blasted to death or maimed on the job, they emerged from beneath the ground and returned to homes unfit for human beings to live in. Meanwhile, the mine owners and the investors in coal companies were making huge profits.
            After the American Civil War, industry expanded rapidly, the demand for coal grew, and the conditions of miners worsened. Naturally, the workers fought back.
In 1864, the Workingmen’s Benevolent Society of Carbon County, Pennsylvania was formed, and in 1868, the local societies of the southern district were united in the Workingmen’s Benevolent Association (WBA) of Schuylkill County.
            Many of the leaders of the miners during this time were English, Welsh, and Irish immigrants who had taken part in the labour movement in the British Empire and the fight against the injustices of the British crown.
            In addition to the WBA, which included miners of all nationalities, the Irish miners had their own semi-secret organization, the Ancient Order of Hibernians (AOH). The AOH had been founded in Ireland, where it was part of the fight of Irish peasants against English landlords. In Ireland, the AOH had no choice but to be a strictly secret society.
            All these economic and social factors gave the miners’ struggle a particularly bitter quality. In 1868, nearly 20,000 anthracite miners went out on strike for the eight-hour day. They stayed on strike for four months.  In 1871, there was another strike. Then, in 1875, came what has gone down in history as ‘The Long Strike’.
 Even before the Long Strike was defeated, the coal operators had made up their minds to crush the miners’ union. In the first phase of this campaign, they used what has since become a time-honoured tactic. They moved to isolate the workers’ leaders – by accusing them of being thugs, criminals, communists, and terrorists. In particular, the coal operators charged the leaders of the miners’union -- many of whom were Irish immigrants or of Irish descent – with being part of a secret criminal gang –the Molly Maguires.
            The Pittsburgh Gazette of 9th May 1876 summed up the propaganda stance of the owners: “The Molly Maguires represented the spirit of French Communism and enforced their views by secret murders. The principle involved was simply that of permitting them to dictate the operations of labour.Their men were to be employed, their prices admitted and their directions obeyed. …
            “The absolute extinction of the spirit of lawlessness and murder is essential … and the full disclosure and punishment of the band under consideration is an absolute necessity.”
             The effects of this propaganda campaign were described well by a reporter for the Irish World in its 1st June 1876 edition. Writing from the coal country, the correspondent pointed out that the mine owners had created such a hue and cry about “terrorism” that they obviously wanted “to make Molly Maguirism such a frightful bugaboo that no workingman will henceforth dare to protest against any act of the boss, however arbitrary and unusual, lest the awful charge should be hurled at him: ‘You are a Molly!’ ”
            At the same time that the coal operators attacked the miners with propaganda, they also attacked them with a new method of subversion: the labour spy. Two years before the Long Strike, a leading representative of the coal operators contacted Alan Pinkerton of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and asked for his help in destroying the miners’ union. For a starting fee of $100,000, Pinkerton obliged by arranging for one of his agents – a 29-year-old native of Ireland named James McParlan –  to infiltrate the AOH.
            When McParlan was unable to get incriminating information on the leaders of the miners’ union, he resorted to making things up. At a series of trials, he testified that various leaders of the miners’ union had freely confessed to him that they had committed various murders. His testimony was corroborated by various prisoners at several of the county’s jails – men even less trustworthy than McParlan.
            One of the men who confirmed McParlan’s testimony was a figure named ‘Kelly the Bum’, an individual who cheerfully admitted that he would “squeal on Jesus Christ” to get out of prison. Another was a shady character named Jimmy Kerrigan. Kerrigan’s own wife testified in court that Kerrigan had killed a policeman, the very policeman that Kerrigan accused mine union leaders of murdering!
The trials of the miners were marked by serious violations of legal procedure. In one case, a man was tried a second time for a murder for which he had been previously tried and acquitted. Despite all this, ten labour leaders went to their deaths in 1877.
            The list of the executed includes Tom Munley, who had fled Ireland in 1864 at the age of 19 after fighting for his homeland’s freedom; Hugh McGeehan, a young Irish miner who had been blacklisted for his activities during the Long Strike of 1875; Mike Doyle; James Carroll, who was born in the United States of Irish miner parents; Thomas Duffy; James Boyle, an American who for five years before his arrest had been employed at the No. 5 colliery in the Panther Creek Valley; Andrew Campbell;  Edward Kelly; “Yellow Jack” Donahue; and James Roarity, who had come to the United States from Ireland in 1869.
            These men died with their heads held up. Huge crowds of silent miners surrounded the two jail yards where they were executed.
            The struggle waged by the Pennsylvania coal miners of the 1870s should not be forgotten. It was in that struggle that labour’s enemies developed some of their worst methods, particularly fear-mongering, wholesale slander, and the industrial spy system. Just as capital continues to use the methods it introduced in the ‘Molly Maguire’ era, so labour should learn the lessons of what happened then.
            The era of the ‘Molly Maguires’ labour war vividly demonstrates that the immigrant workers have always been part of the labour movement, and often produce the first leaders of the labour movement. That era shows that the wealthy of this country are willing to use provocateurs to destroy the movement for a better life. Today, defending the working class means defending the immigrant worker and opposing all attacks on civil liberties. It means moving decisively to prevent the isolation of our leaders when they are under attack. If we take those lessons to heart, we will pay homage to those who died so bravely on the gallows in eastern Pennsylvania in June 1877.