Monday, February 27, 2023

A True Tale of the Raj


By Ray Jones

The Patient Assassin, a true tale of massacre, revenge and the Raj: By Anita Anand, Simon & Schuster, 2019, £20.00 hbk

This is a history of the Amritsar Massacre of 1919 when British troops in India shot down over 600 peaceful demonstrators, without warning or order to disperse, and the life of Udham Singh who 20 years later had his revenge.
    It’s a fascinating story which begins and ends in the book with the botched execution of Udham in London in 1940, in which a young Albert Pierrepoint, latter to become Britain’s most famous (or rather infamous) hangman played a part. It’s a saga in which the author herself has a family connection as her grandfather missed being involved in the massacre by minutes and the emotional link comes through in the work.
    A very readable book full of interesting information, with vivid descriptions of people, events and cultures. The British Raj and Government come out badly, up to their necks in blood and lies – as you might expect. But sadly anti-imperialist forces, such as the Soviet Union and the communists, when they are mentioned at all, are seen from the perspective of the capitalist class. The author does not draw Marxist conclusions from the clear evidence she presents and so the book feels unbalanced – but remains never-the-less compelling.
    Udham Singh was in the garden when Brigadier-General Dyer ordered the troops to open fire but survived, it’s said, to clutch a handful of blood sudden earth and swear his revenge. Dyer was already dead before Udham got his chance but the man he killed was Sir Michael O’Dwyer, lieutenant governor of Punjab at the time of the massacre and can be said to have had overall responsibility.
    Coming as it did in the middle of World War II the assassination does not seem to have had the impact we might expect. The authorities did their best to rush through the trial and inevitable execution and damp down any political repercussions in India.
    Today Udham Singh’s statue still stands in Punjab where he is considered by many a nationalist hero. But the case of Udham Singh can also be seen as an example of the ineffectiveness of individual terrorism, as understandable as it might be, when faced with a powerful and merciless imperialism.

The trail of a turncoat

None of us should be surprised at Keir Starmer these days. Crawling to the Americans. Pandering to Zelensky’s vanity in Kiev. Stating that Jeremy Corbyn will not be allowed to stand for re-election on the Labour ticket. The Labour leader is doing his best to prove to the ruling class that he will be a safe pair of hands when and if his party wins a majority in the House of Commons. And Labour members who don’t like it can simply push off.
    "The Labour Party has changed," Starmer says, "from a party of protest, to a party of public service...[Labour] will never again be a party captured by narrow interests... if you don't like that, the door is open, and you can leave". Over a hundred thousand already have. Many more will undoubtedly follow as Starmer and the ageing Blairite clique that backs him in Parliament prepare an election manifesto that is barely distinguishable from that of the Tories.
    In his quest for high office Starmer needed allies within the labour movement. He posed as a left-winger to jump on the gravy train and aligned himself with the Remainers when he was a member of Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet. But once he became leader – elected on false pledges of “continuity” – he speedily dumped them in favour of a neo-liberal agenda that doesn’t even pay lip-service to social justice.
    Of course we’ve seen all this before. Every Labour leader, apart from Jeremy Corbyn and Harold Wilson, has come from the Labour right. Ramsay MacDonald, who led Labour’s first government back in the 1920s, talked about socialism, albeit in the far distance future, while admitting that all his government could do was administer capitalism. These days Starmer never even mentions it.
    What we get is this sort of vacuous nonsense. “The Labour Party I lead is patriotic. It is a party of public service, not protest. It is a party of equality, justice and fairness; one that proudly puts the needs of working people above any fringe interest. It is a party that doesn’t just talk about change – it delivers it”.
    Ultimately social democracy can never solve the economic and social crisis facing working people because it basically upholds the system which has created those problems in the first place.
    But the “socialism” of Attlee, Wilson and Callaghan that was based on Keynesian economics – like Mussolini’s corporate state or Roosevelt’s “New Deal” delivered the welfare state, the NHS and the education system. Starmer offers nothing.

End Sanctions Now!

Chinese, Russian and Arab relief teams are working in Turkey and Syria. Humanitarian aid from the Third World is pouring in to earthquake stricken region. But aid from charities and agencies in the West is being hindered by the US sanctions regime against Syria.
    While the Americans and their NATO allies bleat on about the plight of the Ukrainians to justify the billions of dollars-worth of arms being sent to Kiev to fight the Russians they turn a blind eye to the suffering of people who need medical aid, foodstuff and children’s needs aid in quake-afflicted in Syria.
    Under pressure the Biden administration has temporarily lifted sanctions on aid to Syria for a total of 180 days largely for the benefit of the Kurdish autonomous zone in northern Syria which is under American occupation. And it’s unclear whether the new measures have lifted the sanctions blocking much needed financial assistance to Syria.
    The answer is, of course, to end the sanctions regime altogether to speed humanitarian aid to the hundreds of thousands left homeless and destitute in Syria and help in the massive reconstruction needed to restore life to the shattered region.

Another view from India

by Robin McGregor

Revolutionary Democracy: New Series Vol. I, no. 2, September 2022. £5.00 + £2.50 P&P from NCP Lit: PO Box 73, London SW11 2PQ

The latest issue of this twice-yearly Indian Marxist journal has once again arrived on these shores. This time half the journal is taken up with matters pertaining to Ukraine, with the remainder devoted to contemporary Indian politics and some historical material.
    Sadly this is an issue in which the journal’s affiliation to the views of the late Albanian leader Enver Hoxha strongly come to the fore, with a number of sectarian pieces arguing that events in Ukraine demonstrate the “imperialist” nature of contemporary Russia which they say is backed by what they call “social imperialist” China. This inevitably then leads to support for the Ukrainian “resistance” and the puppet Ukrainian regime. Calls to “Stop the War in Ukraine” are inevitably followed by demands for the “Russian occupiers” to “get out” which is, of course, the demand of US imperialism and its NATO lackeys.
    Statements by the Revolutionary Communist Party of Volta – PCRV / Burkina Faso and the Revolutionary Alliance of Labour of Serbia amongst others take this view. Of course Hoxha considered that this had been the nature of the Soviet Union after the death of Stalin and the coming to power of Nikita Khrushchev and his alleged restoration of capitalism in the USSR when Mikhail Gorbachev was merely the Stavropol Komsomol regional deputy director of agitation and propaganda.
    Two long articles originally published in Albania in 1974 and 1987 are reprinted here which back up this argument. They accuse both Khrushchev and later promoters of “Soviet Revisionism” of encouraging Great Russian chauvinism, particularly on the place of the Russian language in the non-Russian parts of the USSR.
    Allegations of “Great Russian chauvinism” have of course long been levelled throughout the existence of the USSR, by Trotskyists and by imperialists who sought to destabilise the USSR by fanning ethnic conflict.
    It is often overlooked that many of nationalists in the non-Russian republics were just anti-Russian (and anti-Soviet),extremely anti-Semitic and very hostile to minorities within their borders and in neighbouring countries.
    It might be worth noting that it was Stalin who reversed Lenin’s policy of using the Latin alphabet for newly literate peoples in Siberia and the Central Asian soviet republics and insisted on the Cyrillic alphabet that was the norm in the rest of the Soviet Union apart from the Caucasus – not least because Russian was the second language of the entire USSR.
    There are three substantial articles dealing with contemporary India. The first deals with the impact of the latest budget from the right-wing BJP government of India on the peoples of India. India is poorest half of the population own a mere six per cent of the nation’s wealth. Things are getting worse with inflation in commodity prices affecting the poorest particularly harshly.
    Another article describes how a 1942 Ordinance used by British colonial authorities to clamp down on the growing Independence movement is still in force in new guises and has been used to supress national movements in Jammu and Kashmir. An example of the Indian government’s brutality is given in an account of a massacre of villagers of Silger in one of India’s Tribal Areas by government forces allegedly in pursuit of Maoist terrorists.
    Of the historical material we have an offering from the Editor on Grover Furr, the American academic who has carefully expose as lies all of Khrushchev claims in his 1956 “Secret speech”. There is also a somewhat technical, but important piece concerning the authenticity of some of Lenin’s last writings when he was very ill.
    This issue concludes with another piece from the Soviet archives. This time we have Stalin’s observations made in March 1951 on the Communist Party of India’s tactics. By that time the party was frustrated by its lack of progress since the formal ending of colonialism in 1947. Stalin’s advice was that copying the Chinese path was unsuitable for India was inadvisable, partly because geography did not permit the Soviet Union offering the same military support that it had given to China and that India had a larger working class. Stalin was firmly opposed to individual terrorism such as bumping off particularly bad landlords.
    It is to be hoped that this and related previously published materials will be consolidated to a separate book as they have much to say about Stalin’s later years and Soviet relations with the Indian and Chinese parties (and other topics) which needs to be better known.

Saturday, February 11, 2023

Zelensky in Wonderland

The British government rolled out the red carpet for Volodymyr Zelensky on Wednesday who addressed Parliament, held talks with Sunak and had an audience with King Charles that was a Ukrainian PR dream. The British government promised to supply the Ukrainians with more heavy weapons and provide more training facilities for their fighter pilots in Britain so that Ukraine can achieve a "decisive military victory on the battlefield this year". Well, that’s what Sunak says. But what does it all mean?
    Very little it seems given the parlous state of the British armed forces these days. A few Challenger tanks are hardly likely to change the balance of forces on the Donbas front as the entire Ukrainian army fights to stave off the advance of what is still only a Russian expeditionary force.
    Sunak, like Boris Johnson before him, may like to pose as a world leader and the greatest friend of Ukraine in Western Europe. But at the end of the day the only power that counts in NATO is the United States and Zelensky’s fortunes, and indeed his fate, will be decided by the amount of military assistance Washington gives him.
    The Americans call all the shots in Kiev and they’ve backed Zelensky to the hilt so far. Whether they will in the future depends on Biden’s long-term war aims – and those can still only be guessed at.
    Russia’s war aims have always been public. The Russians are fighting to defend the Crimeans and the people of the Donbas whose republics have chosen to join the Russian Federation. Russia is fighting to defend the anti-fascist Ukrainians whose parties have all been banned in Ukraine and whose leaders are either languishing in some Ukrainian dungeon or living in exile in Moscow.
    The Ukraine conflict has, however, exposed the limitations of American power. Imperialist sanctions have not brought down the Putin government. The Russian army has not been defeated (all its withdrawals in Ukraine were voluntary and for tactical reasons). Sweden and Finland have not joined NATO – largely due to the Turkish veto.
    US imperialism has, of course, achieved some of its objectives. It has ensured the survival of their puppet Ukrainian regime. It has sunk, in more than one sense, the Russian Nord Stream 2 pipeline that the Americans feared would make Germany dependent on Russian natural gas and made Western Europe dependent on much dearer American supplies. It has restored American hegemony over all their European allies – with the help of their willing tools in France, Germany and the United Kingdom.
    Biden is, after-all, just a figurehead for the American deep state – what we would call the “Establishment” – that reflects the entire spectrum of bourgeois opinion. Their internal discussions – the rows between the “hawks” and the “doves” and the speculation of retired generals and diplomats – reflect the divisions within the American ruling class.
    So the Americans may have enough now to call it a day. Some believe that speculation in the mainstream US media about a “partition” of Ukraine that would meet most of Russia’s demands reflects genuine divisions within America’s ruling circles. Others think it’s merely disinformation designed to wrong-foot the Kremlin before their spring offensive. That certainly seems to be the view of most Russian commentators.
    None of this need trouble Sunak because he wasn’t in the loop in the first place. At the end of the day, like all British post-war leaders, he will just have to do as he’s told.

Thursday, February 09, 2023

Dublin protesters say No to War!

By Theo Russell

Irish campaigners stood by the people of the Donbas last Saturday in a demonstration outside the British embassy in Dublin to protest against Britain's role in Ukraine.
    They accused the UK government of sabotaging the peace negotiations last year, prolonging the war with massive arms deliveries, the active involvement of British military personnel in the fighting in Ukraine, and years of training and arming Banderite Nazi battalions and covering up their horrific crimes against civilians in the Donbas and other Russian speaking parts of Ukraine.
    The action was organised by the Truth and Neutrality Alliance with support from the Social Democracy movement and a number of Irish republicans, members of Ireland’s Russian community and other anti-war activists including two who had travelled from England in order to take part in the action.
    In a blatant act of political interference, six members of Ireland’s secretive Special Detective Unit demanded the names and addresses of some of those in attendance. Undeterred, the protesters remained outside the Embassy for an hour, highlighting the thousands killed in Kiev’s eight-year war on the Donbas and the western media censorship of the conflict.
    The Truth and Neutrality Alliance, said in a statement: "The war has been going on now for almost a year. The war is the direct and deliberate result of the failure to implement the Minsk agreement and the eastward expansion of NATO.
    "Britain and NATO played a key role in that and has continued to up the ante ever since encouraging greater involvement in the conflict, arming one side in it and sabotaging any efforts at peace negotiations, ratcheting up the tension and risking outright nuclear war which will see us all burn, not just Kiev or Moscow.
    "Ireland is complicit in this. We have called this protest at the British Embassy due to the ongoing escalation of the war in Ukraine and Britain’s role in this as evidenced by the recent decision to send more Challenger tanks to the extreme right-wing regime in Ukraine.
    "Since the start of the war the Irish government has moved us closer to being full members of NATO, imposing sanctions and engaging in the training of troops involved in the war. Irish neutrality was already violated with the use of Shannon Airport by US troops.
    "Now the Irish government wants us to participate in a foreign conflict. As part of its commitment to the war, the government has agreed to take in an unlimited number of Ukrainian refugees. We DO NOT OPPOSE refugees coming to Ireland, but the solution to their plight is peace, not more war. They are not to blame for the war, that lies with all the parties involved in it, which includes Britain, the USA and all the members of NATO.
    "Peace means respecting the people of Ukraine but also respecting the right of the people of Donbas and Crimea to decide their own future. Crimea was only incorporated into Ukraine in the latter half of the 20 th Century.
    "The people of Donbas initially wanted more autonomy and respect for their culture, under the Minsk Agreement. The failure to implement it, the sabotage by Britain and others of the accord alongside 8 years of attacks by Ukrainian forces pushed them towards calls for independence and that must be respected.
    "The push for us to join NATO has been accompanied by an unrelenting campaign in the Irish media, with journalists openly advocating war and even praising the Azov Battalion whilst overlooking all of their crimes. Coverage is one sided and dissenting voices are not given much if any space at all.
    "This occurs at a time when the Irish government is complicit in the blocking of media sources that are critical of their position. Whilst pro-war official media sources from European governments and the Ukrainian government have unfettered access to the airwaves, Russia Today is blocked in most European countries. Other non-governmental critical voices are censored on social media and through the use of algorithms to hide their articles from a wider public.
    "We call for the lifting of real and also de facto censorship in the media. We call upon the Irish government to cease its support for war and instead argue for peace talks now. We call for a clear withdrawal from our involvement in NATO and the war. There are no humanitarian training exercises. All military training is designed for war, even demining.
    "The Irish people are paying a costly price for involvement in the war and the people of Ukraine and Russia pay for that in blood. It is time for peace.
    "No to War, No to NATO!"

Sunday, February 05, 2023

Support the strikes!

We’ve seen the biggest wave of strikes for a decade this week. Hundreds of thousands of teachers, along with train drivers, civil servants, bus drivers and security guards walked out in a co-ordinated day of action on Wednesday. And their leaders warn of plenty more to come if their just demands for more pay are not met. While the mealy-mouthed Labour leader sits on the fence and tells his MPs not to join picket lines the TUC general secretary Paul Nowak rightly says “it really is now the responsibility of Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt to get round the table and make sure resources are available to fund decent pay in public services”.
    Workers are taking industrial action across the public and private sectors, in response to 12 years of falling pay and an environment that has repeatedly asked workers to pay the price while dividends and executive pay have soared.
    For months and months the Tory government has refused to open serious negotiations with the unions. While energy prices soar and inflation rises the Tories smear the unions with talk about “Reds” and “wreckers”. While the Tories bleat on about the “economy” they can still find plenty to give the Western puppet regime fight the Russians in Ukraine. And there’s still plenty of tax breaks to ensure that the ruling class can continued to live their lives of ease while millions of out-of-work or poorly paid workers turn to food banks to survive.
    The bourgeois media have done their best to sway public opinion against the unions. But no-one believes them any more. Support for the workers remains high in the opinion polls and more importantly, on the street. The public want an end to the austerity regime and this is why Labour, if the opinion polls are to be believed, still has an astronomical 25 point lead over the Tories.
    The Sunak government can be forced back to the negotiating table. The new anti-strike laws can be defeated. But only through mass pressure and mass protests. This week’s strike could be the spark that ignites a movement to end austerity once and for all.

rotten to the core

Why it took two weeks for Rishi Sunak to get rid of Nadhim Zahawi is a mystery in itself. The Tory press has been full of stories about to the now disgraced former Tory party Chairman’s breach of ministerial rules in an attempt to cover up the fact he was facing a probe into his tax affairs.
    Now the Sunak camp is saying that this all goes back to the Johnson era and it has nothing to do with the new premier – which is at best slightly misleading as Sunak was, afterall, the most senior minister in Johnson’s Cabinet.
    Though Zahawi seems surprised at the furore in the media that may have ended his political career for ever nothing should surprise us about his antics. Tory politicians, like most of them on both sides of the House, are just in it for themselves. One goes. Another takes his place.

Saturday, February 04, 2023

“Plane Wreck at Los Gatos” – 75 years later

Woody Guthrie
by Chris Mahin

A song of solidarity with immigrants still rings true years after the tragedy

The fire began over Los Gatos Canyon. It started in the left engine-driven fuel pump. The plane crashed 20 miles west of Coalinga, California, on 28th January 1948. It came down into hills which, as one commentator noted, at that time of year are “a beautiful green, splendid with wildflowers … a place of breathtaking beauty.”
    Newspaper articles at the time described an accident involving a Douglas DC-3 carrying immigrant workers from Oakland, California to the El Centro, California Deportation Center. Those accounts gave the name of the plane’s pilot (Frank Atkinson), and co-pilot (Marion Ewing). They mentioned the name of the flight attendant (Bobbi Atkinson) and the guard (Frank E. Chapin). However, the newspaper stories that reported the crash did not include the names of any of the 27 men or of the one woman who were passengers on that flight, victims who were buried in a mass grave at Holy Cross Cemetery in Fresno, California. Those reports simply dismissed them as “deportees.”
    One visitor to the crash site described the scene this way: “I was born and raised in Coalinga and can remember going to the crash site the day after the incident. My father, older sister, and I viewed the crash and even though I was about six years old at the time, I can remember it as if it happened yesterday. It was a cold and damp day and even though the reports were that the site had been cleaned up, this was not the case. The sadness of seeing the meager possessions of the passengers and the total lack of respect by those who had the task of removing the bodies will be something I will never forget or forgive.”
    Three thousand miles away, a man who had himself once been forced to leave his family to look for work took notice. Musician Woody Guthrie left his birthplace in Oklahoma during the Great Depression and then did plenty of “hard traveling” before ultimately ending up in New York. He was outraged by the callous indifference of the news stories which couldn’t be bothered to mention the names of the workers who died in the crash. Out of his anger came a song – Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee), a ballad in which he assigned symbolic names to the dead:

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won’t have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be “deportees” …

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract’s out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves …

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, “They are just deportees”

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except “deportees”?

The song, as Woody Guthrie wrote it, was without music; Guthrie chanted the words. “Plane Wreck at Los Gatos (Deportee)” was not performed publicly until 10 years after the plane crash, when a school teacher named Martin Hoffman added a haunting melody and Woody’s friend Pete Seeger began performing the song in concerts. The song’s eloquent plea for justice for immigrant workers has stirred the conscience of fair-minded people ever since.
    Often referred to simply as Deportee, the song’s continuing broad appeal can be seen in the fact that it has been recorded by wide variety of artists (and artists on both sides of the Atlantic.) Among the musicians who have covered the song have been Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, and Bruce Springsteen, as well as Christy Moore and Billy Bragg. The list also includes the Kingston Trio; Cisco Houston; Judy Collins; The Byrds; Joan Baez; Arlo Guthrie; Sweet Honey in the Rock; Hoyt Axton; Peter, Paul, and Mary; Roy Brown Ramirez, Tito Auger and Tao Rodriguez-Seeger and Paddy Reilly among others.
    The lyrics of Woody Guthrie’s song about the disaster sound as if they were written just days ago, not more than seven decades in the past. (This is especially true of the verse “They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.”)
    The great labour leader Mother Jones once said that we should mourn for the dead and fight like hell for the living. We should pay special heed to the appeal for the unity of all workers which rings out so beautifully from Woody Guthrie’s song. Today, we can honor the dead of 28 January 1948 best by speaking up in defense of the living immigrant workers of today – regardless of documentation status -- and by demanding that the exploiters cease their cowardly attempts to use the immigration issue as a wedge to divide workers.

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Free all Ukrainian political prisoners!

by Theo Russell

London comrades returned to Whitehall on Saturday to bring the crimes of the Ukrainian government to the attention of the British people. Some 30 protesters joined the picket opposite Downing Street organised by the International Ukraine Anti-Fascist Solidarity (IUAFS) campaign, to let the people “know that the regime in Ukraine, to which the British Government has given billions of pounds in financial and military support, has been committing horrific crimes against its own people, including Russian speakers, opposition activists and campaigners, journalists and Roma people, under the cover of accusing them of treason”.
    A IUAFS spokesman said: “Several mayors in eastern Ukraine have been summarily executed local along with elected civilian officials for "crimes" such as negotiating humanitarian corridors with the Russian military. They should have been entitled to a due process of law, instead of being tortured, shot, and then dumped in the street.
    “Hundreds of journalists, bloggers, politicians, elected representatives, activists, priests, sportspeople, and even Ukrainian negotiators and military officers have been arrested and beaten, and some tortured or murdered. Most were charged with treason simply for opposing Kiev's policies, and not brought to trial after many months.
NCP leader Andy Brooks
    “Alexander Matyuschenko, one of dozens of leftists arrested in Dnipro, central Ukraine, was an activist with the Livizta (Left) organisation, which campaigned against social spending cuts and right-wing propaganda. He was arrested by SBU (Ukrainian intelligence) and Azov members, tortured and forced to shout the nationalist salute, Slava Ukraini!, while his wife's hair was cut off with a knife.    "One of Ukraine’s most prominent human rights activists is Elena Berezhnaya, Director of the Institute of Legal Policy and Social Protection, who has spoken before the UN Security Council. She was arrested in March 2022 in Kiev. There has been no news of her since.
    "We know about these crimes because Ukrainian ultra-rightists and even regular soldiers have bragged about them in social media posts, including one of a Russian soldier who had one of his eyes gouged before he was killed, with the caption 'One-eyed captured Russian pig'.
    "We think it is essential to speak out about the actions of a government for whom the British government seems to have unlimited resources to support, at a time when millions here in Britain are facing a grim and uncertain future and our basic public services are chronically underfunded and understaffed”.
    During the protest a woman waiving the flag of the Donetsk people’s republic was attacked by a reactionary, believed to be from the Caucasian republic of Georgia. But he was dragged away by a policewoman supported by an Iranian who left a nearby protest to chivalrously intervene on the picketer’s behalf.
    Towards the end of the protest the demonstrators came under a torrent of abuse from a small group of Ukrainian and English supporters of the Nazi-infested regime in Kiev. They were, however, speedily warned off by the police.
    The protest was supported by the Consistent Democrats, CPGB (ML), New Communist Party, Socialist Labour Party, Socialist Fight and the Posadists in Britain. Solidarity messages were received from former Labour MP Chris Williamson who is now a leading member of the Socialist Labour Party, Phil Wilayto of the Odessa Solidarity Campaign in the United States, and Leonid Ilderkin from the Union of Political Refugees and Political Prisoners of Ukraine, who has recently moved back to Ukraine.