Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Chaotic scenes in Parliament

The chaotic scenes in Parliament that followed the Speaker’s decision to take the Labour amendment to a Scottish National Party demand for an “immediate cease-fire” in Gaza certainly staved off the Labour revolt Keir Starmer was most desperate to avoid. Whether Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s handling of the motion on the Gaza crisis was a breach of the arcane rules and conventions of the House of Commons is a matter that only MPs can judge. Over fifty of them already have done so – signing a motion of no confidence in Sir Lindsay Hoyle, whose position is now seriously in question.
The Labour amendment calling for an “immediate humanitarian cease-fire” was clearly intended to move closer to the worthless platitudes of Joe Biden and his minions who drivel on about striving to end the bloodshed and talk about a “two-state solution” to meet some of the Palestinian demands while vetoing every cease-fire call at the United Nations and rushing weapons to Israel to help them continue the mass slaughter of civilians in the Gaza Strip.

Boycott the Zionist state

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.
Israel is occupying and colonising Palestinian land, discriminating against Palestinian citizens of Israel and denying Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes. Inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, the BDS call urges action to pressure Israel to comply with international law.
BDS is now a vibrant global movement made up of unions, academic associations, churches and grass-roots movements across the world. Since its launch in 2005, BDS is having a major impact and is effectively challenging international support for Israeli apartheid and settler-colonialism.
The tragedy of the Palestinian Arabs began when British imperialism first occupied their land in 1918 and encouraged Zionist immigration through the Balfour declaration. British imperialism sought to create a community of Zionist settlers who would prolong their occupation of Palestine indefinitely. The Zionists helped British colonialism crush the Palestine Revolt in 1936. But after the Second World War the Zionists seized the opportunity to push for a separate state of their own. In 1948 the British colonial mandate ended and the State of Israel was proclaimed. On that day the first Arab-Israeli war began. It has never ended.
The first war led to the expulsion of a million Palestinian Arabs from their homes by the Zionist regime. Those refugees and their descendants have never given up their right to return to their land. And this is the heart of the crisis in the Middle East that has led to five full-scale wars and continuing simmering conflicts.
Israel is an American protectorate. It is economically and politically entirely dependent on American imperialism and successive Israeli governments have existed to serve the needs of American imperialism in the region. Those needs are to weaken and divide the Arabs to ensure that the big oil corporations can continue their exploitation and plunder of Arab oil until it eventually runs out.
While licking the boots of the Americans is second nature to Labour leaders Starmer is mindful of the mass support for the Palestinians on the street that threatens to undermine the Labour vote, and not just amongst the Muslim community. That’s why the protests that have swamped the capital time and time again over the past few months must continue until the Israelis are forced to cease-fire and end the bloodshed. That’s why the campaigns across the country supporting the Palestinians and calling for a boycott of the Zionist state must continue until the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs are restored. 

An epic tale of the West Country


 by Ben Soton

The Armour of Light by Ken Follett: Macmillan 2023; 752 pp; £25:00 Hbk, £6:00 Pbk

The Armour of Light is the fifth novel set in the fictional West Country city of Kingsbridge.  The previous four include The Pillars of the Earth set in the 12th century; The World Without End, covering the Hundred Years War and the Black Death and the Column of Fire set during the Reformation.  Meanwhile in 2020 Follet wrote the prequel The Evening and the Morning set in the years before the Norman Conquest.     
Follett’s latest novel is set during the Industrial Revolution, covering the period from 1792 to 1824.  Kingsbridge is now a centre of cloth-making; with the inevitable class-struggle between employers and workers.  The novel includes strikes, machine-breaking and in general highlights many of the injustices of the period.
The Armour of Light also highlights religious differences between the Anglican Church, favoured by the Establishment and the Methodists, who were in turn favoured by more progressive employers and some workers.  We  see an element of scandal with members of the gentry having affairs with member of the lower orders and a focus on events abroad; namely the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars.  To summarise the book could be described as Silas Marmer meets Jane Austin, meets Sharpe.     
The novel is however a product of Follet’s politics; which he describes as centre-left.  Ken Follett, the husband of former Labour MP Barbera Follett, is a committed Blairite and almost certainly a supporter of the present Labour leadership.  The book’s heroes are the better or progressive manufacturers; namely Amos Barrowfield and David Shoveler (known as Spade).  Both men, although committed Methodists, are involved in affairs with female members of the gentry.  The novel’s leading villain is Alderman Hornbeam, a bad employer and harsh magistrate.  Another character portrayed in a positive light is Sal Clitheroe, essentially an early form of trade-union moderate who favours class collaboration.  But her husband Jarge Box, a more militant worker who sympathizes with the French Revolution, is portrayed as a drunken, hot-headed fool. 
Many of the main characters find themselves either on or near the battlefield at Waterloo.  This is an obvious attempt by Follett to promote “national unity” above that of class; a concept rejected by Marxists.  Ironically, at one point in the story Jarge Box argues that the Napoleonic Code may well be a fairer legal system than English Common Law; not so much the drunken fool there.   
Despite its faults The Armour of Light is still an enjoyable read; especially when Follett’s last novel the apocalyptic Never was such a disappointment.  It is well researched and contains interesting and useful historical information.  What is also interesting is whether Follett, who turns seventy-five this year, will write a sixth and final Kingsbridge novel; taking the city into the present day.    

Friday, February 23, 2024

The voice of the oppressed

The Israelis are rampaging through Gaza. Raiding hospitals. Killing women and children. Destroying schools and homes .Spreading terror with bombs and drones – that’s what their much vaunted army is good at – but it’s a different story when they come up against the Palestinian resistance. The Israelis are paying a high price for their aggression in Gaza and the West Bank. Their northern border is ablaze. Over half a million Israelis have fled abroad to escape the fighting and the Houthi Yemeni government’s blockade has closed Israel’s only port on the Red Sea.
China, Russia and the Global South are demanding an end to the fighting but these calls are ignored by the Israeli government that knows that it can do whatever it likes under the protection of US imperialism.
Though Americans maintain the pretence that Israel is an independent state everyone on the Arab streets knows that the Israelis can do nothing without the sanction of US imperialism and that ultimately it is the US government that denies Palestinian rights and seeks the destruction of the Palestinian resistance.
The most venal and aggressive sections of the Anglo-American ruling class that thought this was going to be the “New American Century” are dying on the streets of Gaza.
They can’t crush Arab resistance. They can’t stifle the global anti-war movement calling for an immediate end to Israeli aggression. The voice of the oppressed, the millions that support the legitimate rights of the Palestinian Arabs is being heard across the world. Let them hear it in Tel Aviv! Let them hear it in Washington!

Meanwhile in Rochdale...

A former Labour leader tells us the party’s leadership has sometimes lacked political “savvy” with its handling of recent crises, including its green spending pledge and the Rochdale by-election. But Neil Kinnock, a grandee who now sits in the House of Lords, was perhaps understating the crisis of confidence that has shaken the Starmer leadership over the past few weeks.
Labour still has a huge lead over the Tories but the mounting anger at Starmer’s refusal to call for an immediate end to the fighting in Gaza is undermining Labour’s support throughout the movement.
Dumping the Labour candidate in the Rochdale by-election shows how unfit Starmer is to lead the Labour Party. The Zionist lobby that launched the witch-hunt that drove Ken Livingstone and many other supporters of the Palestinians out of the Labour Party worked hand in glove with Blairites to undermine Jeremy Corbyn. Last week they joined the Tory media to force Starmer to get rid of Ali.
Azhar Ali, a member of the Muslim community, has been suspended after making some anti-Israeli remarks at a private meeting deemed to be “anti-semitic” by the Tory press. The leader of the Labour group on Lancashire County Council; an advisor to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown during the last Labour government had been, until last week, a staunch supporter of Starmer & Co and was seen a safe pair of hands to hold Rochdale. Disowned by Labour but too late to replace him Azhar Ali’s name will still appear on the ballot paper as the official Labour candidate at the end of the month.
Now the door’s wide open for yet another George Galloway come-back. Standing on his own “Workers Party of Britain” platform the veteran Palestinian solidarity campaigner hopes to be swept back into Parliament by a protest vote that goes far beyond Rochdale’s Muslim community.

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Where are we going?

Labour looks set to win the next general election. If the vote was held now the fifteen to twenty points lead in the opinion polls would give Starmer a landslide victory of Blairite proportions. But the polls can be misleading.
    Sunak is undoubtedly in trouble. He’s failed to win back the so-called “middle Englanders” who abandoned the Tories when the economy nearly collapsed under Liz Truss. Sunak’s failed to appease the Tory bigots over the refugee crisis who are now turning to the “PopCons” – the ‘Popular Conservative’ Trussite faction in parliament or the Faragist Reform Party.
    Only time will tell whether the appeal of the “Popcons” or the “Reformers” will split the Tory vote. Sunak’s team hopes not. Some think they can still rally the Tory faithful. This, of course, may just be wishful thinking. But it’s interesting to note the air of caution coming from one of the leading Blairites this week.
    Peter Mandelson, a Blairite grandee, says people “are not pricing in sufficiently” the possibility of Labour failing to win a majority. Labour’s poll lead is “artificial” and “is going to contract”. A landslide is not a foregone conclusion and if Labour fails to maintain its current momentum, it is on course for “a somewhat more ambivalent result than than the opinion polls are currently suggesting”.
    That’s certainly true. Starmer has hounded out most of the Corbynistas that the party relied on to do the canvassing needed to get the Labour vote out while promising little or nothing to the millions of working people whose votes will decide the next election. Starmer & Co may well believe that crawling to big business, media barons and the Americans is the key to victory – but it means nothing to the workers who will only rally round Labour if there’s real reform on the agenda.
    We reject the “parliamentary road” and electoral politics. But the left social-democrats who call themselves “revolutionaries” aren’t the answer. They claim to be the alternative voice of the labour movement. But their slates will end up, as always, amongst the also-rans at election time. The same goes for George Galloway and his new “Workers Party of Britain”. Though he bucked the system in the past, returning to parliament on two occasions on his Respect platform, he achieved nothing.
    These posers call for social‑democratic reforms while campaigning against the only mass force capable of implementing reform, the Labour Party itself. The paltry results of all these parties reflect the futility of trying to compete with Labour in bourgeois elections.
    They foster the illusion that there is a left electoral alternative to Labour when the reality is that the only alternative — in the current situation — to a Conservative government is a Labour government. So they end up portraying Labour rather than the ruling class as the main enemy of the working class. Objectively they end up in the camp of the class enemy.
    A Labour government, with its links with the unions and the co‑operative movement, offers the best option for the working class in the era of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. Our strategy is for working class unity and our campaigns are focused on defeating the right‑wing within the movement and strengthening the left and progressive forces within the Labour Party and the unions.
    We must demand that the Labour Party reflect the wishes of the millions of its affiliated union members, expressed through the unions’ democratic procedures. And the unions we must struggle to elect genuine working class leaderships, who are prepared to represent and fight for the membership.
    The Party must campaign for a democratic Labour Party controlled by its affiliates; a Labour Party whose policies reflect those of a democratic union movement would become a powerful instrument for progressive reforms that would strengthen organised labour and benefit the working class.
    Our Party’s strategy is the only way to fight for the communist alternative within the working class of England, Scotland and Wales. We want day‑to‑day reforms and they can only be achieved by the main reformist, social democratic party in Britain, the Labour Party. We want revolution and that can only be achieved through the leadership of the communist party.

Monday, February 05, 2024

The thin red line

The Sunak government has wisely dismissed General Sanders recent call for a “citizen army” for war with Russia, which in his mind has already begun in Ukraine. "This war is not merely about the black soil of the Donbas, nor the re-establishment of a Russian empire” the worthy general says. “It's about defeating our system and way of life politically, psychologically, and symbolically. How we respond as the pre-war generation will reverberate through history. Ukrainian bravery is buying time, for now”.
Downing Street says the “British military has a proud tradition of being a voluntary force. There are no plans to change that" adding that "hypothetical scenarios" about potential future conflicts were "not helpful".
The grandees are well aware of the outcome of such a war in which there would be no winners and very few, if any, survivors. They know how deeply unpopular a return to conscription would be with the teenagers who would be the first to be called up for what was called “national service” until it was abolished in 1960. The same goes for the senior officers who shudder at the thought of injecting the youth culture of today into the armed forces.
General Sanders, the Chief of the General Staff, is a scion of the ruling class who’s spent his entire life in the army. He knows all this. He knew he’d get no takers when he made his controversial comments at the International Armoured Vehicles Conference (IAVC) in London last week. His speech isn’t the beginning of a new campaign to take us back to the “good old days” but part of the efforts by the most venal and aggressive sections of the British ruling class to serve US imperialism ND maintain and increase British defence expenditure. 
The United States is the only country that’s used nuclear weapons against a civilian population and since World War II they have threatened to nuke other countries including those that don't possess nuclear weapons. Britain is a major arms supplier and its troops are deployed in a growing number of war zones and areas made unstable as a result of imperialist intervention and aggression. 
In 2008 the Americans removed their nuclear missiles from the UK after judging that the supposed threat from Moscow had diminished. Now they’re coming back.
Now US navy secretary Carlos Del Toro calls on the UK to "reassess" the size of its armed forces given "the threats that exist today” and the Americans are using the “Russian threat” to create new bases on our soil for their weapons of mass destruction. According to the Telegraph the US plans to place  B61-12 gravity bombs, three times as strong as the Hiroshima device, at the RAF Lakenheath air base in Suffolk.
In the corridors of power those who do the bidding of the United States argue that this is the only way to protect the British imperialist interest across the globe. They call it the “special relationship” though the only thing that is special about the Atlantic alliance is that the Americans speak our language. General Sanders, however, speaks theirs.