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Legacy of Violence: A History of the British Empire by Caroline Elkins review – the brutal truth about Britain’s past

by Tim Adams

 

In shocking, meticulous detail, an acclaimed American historian uses ‘lost’ records from 37 former colonies to reveal the barbarity of the British empire and the hubris that fuelled it

Caroline Elkins made front-page headlines a decade ago when her research into Britain’s brutal suppression of the Mau Mau movement in Kenya in the 1950s resulted in a high court case and, uniquely, reparations to 5,228 surviving Kenyans who, the British government accepted, had been subject to years of systematic torture and abuse. That case relied on evidence uncovered in Elkins’s 2005 book, Britain’s Gulag, which had argued that up to 320,000 Kenyan Kikuyu people had been held in British detention camps as part of a campaign of terror that “left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, dead” and untold numbers of lives ruined by forced labour, starvation, torture and rape.

When Elkins’s book came out, her findings – partly based on the testimony of Kikuyu survivors – were widely dismissed as, at best, exaggerations by a generation of historians wedded to stubborn ideas of Britain’s “enlightened” and “benign empire”. Her history was dramatically vindicated, however, when an unknown cache of 240,000 top secret colonial files, removed from Nairobi at the time of Kenyan independence in 1963, were disclosed on the eve of the 2011 trial. The files had been stored in a high security foreign office depository at Hanslope Park, near Northampton. At the time of that high court victory, Elkins noted that she had for years put on hold a wider inquiry into the methods of British colonial governance in the years after the second world war, in order to substantiate the survivors’ case, research that would now be illuminated by the fact that the secret document store also held “lost” records from 37 other former colonies. She was both vindicated and outraged by the discovery: “After all these years of being roasted over the coals, they’ve been sitting on the evidence? Are you frickin’ kidding me? This almost destroyed my career.”

This book, a decade on, is that wider history that Elkins had postponed. Partly resting on the Hanslope Park files, it argues that the sadistic methods that marked the last acts of empire in Kenya were not an anomalous aberration but learned behaviours of imperial power. Her detailing of this reality involves a deconstruction not only of the self-delusion, seductive mythology and doublespeak of the largest empire in human history, but also the deliberate official destruction of large parts of its historical record.

She coins the term ‘legalised lawlessness’ to describe how Britain spread the rule of law

As a result of her work on Kenya, Elkins, 53, a native of New Jersey, is now not only professor of history and African and African American studies at Harvard, and founding director of its Center for African Studies, she is also the subject of a proposed Erin Brockovich-style film. There is nothing about her work that suggests any of the easier of Hollywood narratives, however. Legacy of Violence is a formidable piece of research that sets itself the ambition of identifying the character of British power over the course of two centuries and four continents. Elkins, perhaps minded of her previous brush with controversy, sometimes approaches her task with the meticulous doggedness of a trial lawyer rather than a storyteller in search of an audience. Examining the Boer war, the Irish war of independence, the uprisings in India, Iraq and Palestine, as well as British rule in Cyprus, Malaya and Kenya, she insists that such appalling acts as the Amritsar massacre, far from being – as Churchill argued in parliament – “an event that stands in singular and sinister isolation” were much closer to being a default position.

This often gruesome history is bookended by two trials. The Mau Mau court case and the trial of Warren Hastings, the first governor of Bengal, more than 200 years earlier. Hastings was impeached by the Whig MP Edmund Burke on charges of extortion, embezzlement and unlawful killing, from all of which he was ultimately exonerated. Elkins identifies that seven-year legal proceeding as the moment when the British government and its elite intellectual culture convinced itself of the principle that guided future conquests: that the means of sustaining power always justified the end.

Elkins coins the term “legalised lawlessness” to describe the self-serving methods by which Britain spread the rule of law and then viciously bent it to serve imperial ends. The first half of her book examines how this hypocrisy was rooted in the supremacist underpinnings of classical liberalism, the pervasive idea that “backward” societies would be transformed by the violent application of free trade and religious education. As David Livingstone’s rallying cry had it, as he hacked through far-off jungles with that trusty machete labelled “paternal despotism”: “Christianity, commerce and civilisation!”

Elkins has scant interest in the familiar ‘contextual’ narratives of the ‘white man’s burden’

The blood-red thread through all of that history, in Elkins’s persuasive reading, is a strain of moralising superiority that convinced successive generations of politicians, from Benjamin Disraeli to Clement Attlee, that restive subject populations must be periodically taught a lesson in the realities of “civilised” power. “The moral effect of immediate mass destruction,” as Elkins describes it. She painstakingly traces how the personnel and methodologies of suppression and torture were passed between territories, at the same time that sentimental propaganda campaigns told a different story of those conquests: from the Nobel laureateship of Kipling to the Boy’s Own potboilers of George Alfred Henty (25m copies of whose books remained in circulation in the 1950s).

Her history shows how the barbarity behind imperial pomp and civilising mission statements was perfected in the long tail of empire after the first world war, an account that begins with Arthur “Bomber” Harris serving his apprenticeship wiping out villages in Mesopotamia (Iraq) in 1923. In making this case, Elkins stops short of suggesting that the outcomes of imperial ambition were uniformly hellish – “the British empire and totalitarian regimes were not the same thing, even if some eyewitnesses reported striking similarities” – but she has scant interest in the familiar “contextual” narratives of the “white man’s burden”. She writes with a distrust of the kinds of dramatic or emotional set pieces that threaten to sentimentalise this sweep of history. (It is telling that in the 50 close-typed pages of her bibliography she refers to only one volume of Jan Morris’s Pax Britannica trilogy, the books that most persuasively look for a balance between imperial ambition and brutal devastation.)

In many ways, of course, this long history could not be more timely. Elkins offers an open and shut case for those who believe that Rhodes must fall. Her book should, you hope, also find its way into the hands of at least some of that 60% of the nation who, when polled in 2014, thought the British empire was, in general, “something to be proud of”.

 

From the ESSF site

http://www.europe-solidaire.org/spip.php?article62992

Railworkers' Strike in Britain: The Class Struggle Heats Up On Our Side

THE RMT’S DEMANDS ARE THE LEAST OF WHAT WORKERS DESERVE.

By AARON BASTANI

The biggest wave of strikes on Britain’s rail network since 1989. That’s what the UK faces this week as the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) stages three days of national action, plus a one-day shut down of the London Underground. [1]

As each strike encompasses a 24-hour period, overnight work won’t take place either, meaning a later start and fewer services even on days when daytime staff are present. In short, Britain’s railway network will either shut down, or be severely disrupted, for a week.

Britain’s billionaire-owned papers and Partridge-esque TV hosts are depicting the strikes as selfish. [2] Yet what the RMT is demanding is the bare minimum for any union worth its salt. Alongside no compulsory redundancies – which is absolutely necessary if the government is serious about increasing passenger numbers – it’s asking for an 11% pay increase. In other words, the RMT wants wages to keep up with inflation so workers don’t become poorer in real terms.

This is all the more justified given that RMT members swallowed a pay freeze last year. According to the union’s calculations, a worker earning £35k has already lost spending power equivalent to £3,150. If there’s another freeze for 2022, that will rise to £7,788.

The current cost of living crisis means we can expect these kinds of setbacks for workers across much of the wider economy. The difference is that in the rail industry, workers are sufficiently organised to push back. While this makes them a target for Britain’s reactionary media, for the rest of us, they offer the template for a high wage economy.

With 2022 expected to see the biggest hit to living standards since 1956, it should come as no surprise that the RMT’s response prefigures events elsewhere. From 20 June to 11 July, the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA) will ballot more than 6,000 of its members at Network Rail. This comes after the union already announced strike ballots among members at Avanti West Coast, CrossCountry, East Midlands and West Midlands Trains. Meanwhile, members of the Associated Society of Locomotive Engineers and Firemen (ASLEF) are striking later this month at Hull Trains, Greater Anglia and Croydon Tramlink. [3]

The strength of feeling among ASLEF members, who have historically been more hesitant to strike, is no different to that of the RMT. Indeed, 99% of the union’s members on the Croydon Tramlink voted to strike next week, on a turnout of 86%. While politicians might lambast the ‘militancy’ of trade unions and their failure to reflect members’ interests, not a single MP enjoys this level of democratic legitimacy.

While rail workers are expected to see the value of their wages fall by at least 10% this year, industry fat cats are rolling in it. The chief executive for Network Rail, Andrew Haines – who recently said the strikes would make a pay increase harder – earns more than £585k a year (before bonuses). Jeremy Westlake, the organisation’s chief financial officer, earns £415k. Network Rail’s seven managing and group directors each earn around £330k – roughly twice the prime minister’s salary. Anit Chandarana, until last month Haines’ chief of staff, made £160k – twice what Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, earns. Among all the anti-union slander, you will struggle to find this mentioned by The Sun, Times or Telegraph.

Private operators are no better. Patrick Verwer, boss of perennially crisis-stricken Southern Rail, took home £482k in 2019. Matthew Gregory, the CEO of First Group PLC which operates several lines across the UK, received a basic salary of £635k in 2018, and can earn as much as £1m in additional bonuses. A private business can pay what it likes, you might say – but that fails to wash when firms are administering public services with taxpayer subsidies.

While demanding pay restraint and threatening job cuts, it’s unclear what the government actually wants. Central to Tory plans for ‘levelling up’ at the last election were proposals to expand the rail network. Indeed, they even went as far as to claim they would “restore many of the Beeching lines”. It’s hard to reconcile opening services closed for 60 years with laying off staff.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, appeared to admit as much when he recently claimed that “unlike the past 25 years, when rising passenger demand year after year was taken for granted […] today the railway is in a fight.” With passenger numbers temporarily down, the government spies an opportunity to bully unions with diminished leverage. Yet when Shapps announced the creation of Great British Rail last year, he declared how “growing the network and getting more people travelling” was a “core aim”.

And while passenger numbers are below their pre-Covid highs, they are recovering: the industry generated £5.9bn in ticket sales in the year to March – nearly three times that of the previous year. What’s more, statistics from the Department for Transport show passenger numbers were 90% of pre-Covid levels by Thursday 19 May, rising to 92% over the following three days. If the Tories are actually serious about growing rail use, then even the work from home revolution shouldn’t mean job cuts.

Real wages in the UK have been stagnant for more than a decade. Now, in the shadow of Covid and a spike in inflation following the war in Ukraine, this will only get worse. Anyone who wants Britain to become a high wage economy, values public services and wants to address the climate crisis should support these strikes. Industrial action is the step ladder to a more prosperous and equal society.

21 June 2022

 

From International Viewpoint, 24 June 2022

 

A Recall to Basic Principles: Radical Socialist Statement on United Opposition Presidential Candidate

The old Nehruvian hegemony is gone. It has been replaced by a Sanghi Hindutva and Neoliberal hegemony. And by selecting Yashwant Sinha the Vajpayee acolyte and minister as united opposition candidate, the bourgeois opposition has revealed its inability to even present a secular  bourgeois democratic face, and its subordination to that very Sanghi hegemony. And three General Secretaries of three alleged Communist Parties took part in this charade. Thereby they showed a total opposition to any class direction. 
Any independent working class politics, and of course any revolutionary socialist politics, has to have an election outlook that strengthens class independence. Even Nehruvian hegemony with its talk of democracy and development with state support was actually aimed at ideological disarming of the working class. The present Hindutva hegemony denies trade union rights, wants to push women into housework and domesticity, wants to impose caste hierarchy and of course exclude religious minorities from active citizenship. Yashwant Sinha participated in the Vajpayee Government and is only a Modi dissident. Support to him is a total betrayal of the exploited and oppressed masses. Resist this. Cadres of the left parties should ask for explanations from their leaders and demand a reversal of policy, because every rotten compromise with Saffron politics, every deal to fight aggressive Hindutva with soft Hindutva, will just strengthen and legitimize Sangh politics within left and working class forces. 
It is better to be defeated fighting for principles, for a revival will come, than to betray principles in the name of a practical politics that leads us into bourgeois right-wing sewers.

Faiz Ahmed Faiz: The Restless Traveler

 

Ali Shehzad Zaidi

 

THE REVOLUTIONARY URDU poetry of Faiz
Ahmed Faiz (1911-1984) retains its transformational power. Recently, Faiz’s
 
“We Will See” became a rallying cry during student protests in India against the
 
2019 Citizenship Amendment Act which grants a path to citizenship only to non-
 
Muslim refugees from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.The act also
 
denies citizenship to those Indian Muslims who, lacking the means to acquire
 
identity papers and birth certificates, are subjected to disenfranchisement,
 
deportation, and imprisonment even if they were born in India.Faiz wrote “We
 
Will See” in defiance of Zia-ul-Haq’s military dictatorship (1977-88). Its title,
 
which evokes Judgment Day, is taken from a refrain in the Qur’an (Singh):
We will see.
Certainly we, too, will see
That promised day —
That day ordained
When these colossal mountains
Of tyranny and oppression
Will explode into wisps of hay —
The day when the earth under our feet
Will quake and throb
And over the heads of despots
Swords of lightning will flash —
The day when all the idols
Will be removed from this sacred world
And we, the destitute and the despised,
Will, at last, be granted respect —
The day when crowns
Will be tossed into the air
And all the thrones utterly destroyed.
Only the name of God will remain
Who is both absent and present —
Both the seen and the seer.
The cry “I am Truth” will rend the skies
Which means you, I, and all of us.
And sovereignty will belong to the people
Which means you, I, and all of us.
(Faiz in English 24-25)
The poem deposes the idols of money, power, and prestige while seeking
 
meaning in collective existence. The words “I am Truth” are those uttered by the
 
Persian Sufi mystic Mansour Hallaj who was executed in the early 10th century.
 
They affirm the unity of all creation, heightening the paradox of God existing,
 
seemingly at once, everywhere and nowhere. Even before the partition of India,
 
Faiz had become a literary sensation with the publication of his first collection of
 
poetry Naqsh-i-Faryadi (The Lamenting Image) in 1941. After Pakistan’s
 
independence in 1947, Faiz became the chief editor of The Pakistan Times.In
 
1951, Faiz came further into national prominence during the Rawalpindi
 
Conspiracy Case, in which he and many of his associates were imprisoned,
 
blacklisted, or forced underground. Among them was Sajjad Zaheer, the General
 
Secretary of the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) who, like Faiz, spent four
 
years in jail.In 1954, while Zaheer was still imprisoned, the CPP, repressed since
 
its inception, was banned outright. After his release from jail in 1955, Zaheer
 
went into exile in India. In his memoir The Light, written in prison, Zaheer
 
affirms:“History is witness to the fact that conservative rulers and unlawful
 
governments have always tried to put down the voice of truth with force and
 
violence. If they have not been able to buy off or intimidate an independent
 
mind, a truthful tongue, or a bold pen, they have used the iron chair, the poison
 
cup, or the executioner’s sword to achieve their end. But history also proves that
 
the free spirit of man can never be confined. No true scholar, poet, or artist,
 
whose work reflects the evolving reality of his times, can be suppressed. Even if
 
he is forcibly silenced, the very reality that is denied free expression bursts forth
 
like clear springs from the hearts of millions of the common people.” (The
 
Light 72)Faiz was released from prison the same year as Zaheer and went into
 
exile in London. As had been imprisonment, exile proved to be a seminal and
 
defining experience for Faiz, as in “Resolution”:
My heart, my restless traveler:
again it has been decreed
that you and I be banished
from this our beloved land.
We will construct our poems
in foreign towns
and bear our contempt for oppressors
from door to door.
(Faiz in English 28)
Travel would remain a constant for Faiz. Late in life, Faiz wrote two memoirs
 
of his visits to socialist countries: Cuban Travelogue (1973) and Months and
 
Years of Friendship: Recollections (1981), which concerns his impressions of 
 
 the Soviet Union.

Exile, Return and War

After co-founding the Afro-Asian Writers Movement at the 1958 conference in
 
Tashkent, Faiz returned to Pakistan but was arrested upon arrival. He spent two
 
years in prison and, after his sentence was commuted, again went into exile in
 
London.Faiz returned to Pakistan in 1964 to become the principal of Abdullah
 
Haroon College in the working-class neighborhood of Lyari in Karachi. During
 
his exile, the regime of General Ayub Khan had consolidated power through its
 
Inter-Services Intelligence agency.Ayub won the 1965 presidential election
 
despite losing the popular vote to Fatima Jinnah, sister of Pakistan’s founder,
 
Mohammad Ali Jinnah. In a tainted indirect election, Ayub claimed victory with
 
the support of more than 62% of the electors. Two years later, Fatima Jinnah,
 
who had become a symbol of resistance to the military regime, died in her home
 
under suspicious circumstances.In 1968, the student protests that were sweeping
 
Paris, New York, Mexico City, and other major cities, spread to Pakistan.
 
Popular support for the demonstrations and strikes against the military
 
dictatorship forced Ayub to resign in March 1969. Ayub was succeeded as
 
president by the Army Chief of Staff, General Yahya Khan.Although he allowed
 
direct elections to be held in 1970, Yahya refused to yield power to the winner of
 
those elections, namely, the Awami League, which had pledged autonomy for
 
East Pakistan. In March 1971, Yahya suspended the constitution and dissolved
 
the National Assembly, causing the leader of the Awami League, Sheikh
 
Mujibur  Rahman, to call for the independence of Bangladesh. The Pakistani
 
Army massacred Bengali nationalists and intellectuals, including students and
 
professors at Dhaka University. Meanwhile, Bengali mobs and the separatist
 
guerillas known as the Mukti Bahini were massacring Biharis and other Urdu-
 
speaking Pakistanis.War between India and Pakistan began in December 1971,
 
ending that month in the surrender of the Pakistani Army in East Pakistan and
 
the creation of Bangladesh. In this excerpt from “Return from Dhaka,” Faiz
 
mourns the communal madness that had transpired:
Twisted brass bangles
and laughter
slit from ear to ear.
On every tree
a crucified nightingale.
The river reflects the sky
and the sky is the growl
of a tiger.
Will the monsoons restore
colour to the earth?
How long
will the fuel of pain
burn?
(The unicorn and the dancing girl 96)
The image of the tiger recalls the tigers that roam the Sundarbans, the mangrove
 
forests of Bangladesh, as well as the ferocity of the cataclysmic events taking
 
place there. The sky’s reflection in the river awakens the memory of the
 
monsoons during the seventies that resulted in floods as well mass famine in
 
Bangladesh in 1974.In a speech about the classical Urdu poet Mirza Ghalib, Faiz
 
said that the mark of a poet’s greatness is the ability to encompass the world’s
 
pain in one’s art (Hashmi 100-101). This ability, a measure of Faiz’s own
 
greatness, is on full display in “Return from Dhaka.”

Theme for a Poet

Through his alchemic imagination, Faiz turned pain into something beautiful and
 
lasting, as in “Theme for a Poet.”
Imagine roses blooming
in a limestone quarry
and wine squeezed out of
desert thorns.
Mountain stream
cleaved in two
by a dark boulder.
Fear and hope.*
(Faiz in English 31)
Roses connote love, passion, and divine contemplation. The image of limestone,
 
which has healing properties, conveys the poet’s quest to transmute suffering in
 
the parched spiritual wilderness evoked by the desert thorns. Wine symbolizes
 
initiation into mystical knowledge and joyous communion which can be realized
 
even amidst desolation.The mountain stream is an image that combines water,
 
the source of life, with the mountain, representing spiritual ascension and stature.
 
Although a dark boulder blocks the mountain stream’s path, water, to take the
 
long view, will eventually find its way. The temporarily thwarted progress
 
towards justice awakens both fear and hope.According to the Urdu poet N. M.
 
Rashed, Faiz was influenced by the Romantic poets, especially Keats and
 
Shelley (8). Faiz found in the 19th-century composer Chopin a kindred romantic
 
soul. In “Chopin’s music,” Faiz summons a bitter-sweet world of destruction and
 
creation:
Rain-spears and the night a sieve.
Weeping walls, houses sunk in silence
And freshly-bathed plants.
Winds in the lanes and alleys.
Chopin’s music is being played.
The moon’s pallor
On the face of a wistful girl.
Blood on the snow
And every drop a leaping flame.
Chopin’s music is being played.
Lovers of freedom ambushed by
the enemy.
A few escaped.
Others were slaughtered.
They will always be remembered.
Chopin’s music is being played.
A crane covers her eyes with her wings
And weeps alone
In the sky’s blue wilderness.
A hawk pounces on her.
Chopin’s music is being played.
Grief has petrified a father’s face.
The mother sobs as she kisses
The forehead of her dead son.
Chopin’s music is being played.
The season of flowers has returned
And lovers rejoice.
Everywhere there is the dance of water.
Neither clouds nor rain.
Chopin’s music is being played.
(Faiz in English 59)
The image of rain-spears evokes tears and piercing pain. In China, the crane
 
symbolizes longevity and its migratory flight heralds the arrival of spring
 
besides evoking the soul’s immortality. In India, the crane is associated with
 
treachery (Chevalier and Gheerbrant 240-241), which can be seen in the crane’s
 
fate in “Chopin’s Music.”The moon’s pallor recalls Percy Shelley’s “To the
 
Moon” in which the moon is a disconsolate pilgrim of history:
Art though pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, —
and ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?
(Shelley 1081-1082)
These poignant images in “Chopin’s Music” beckon us to, if not to intervene in
 
the world, at the very least to bear witness. To invest an unjust world with
 
feeling is to become its heart and conscience.

Works Cited

Chevalier, Jean and Alain Gheerbrant. Dictionary of Symbols. Tr. John Buchanan-Brown. London: Penguin Books, 1996.
 
Dubrow, Jennifer. “Singing the Revolution” India’s Anti-CAA Protests and Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge.” Eikon.
 
Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. Faiz in English. Tr. Daud Kamal. Karachi: Pakistan Publishing House, 1984.
 
Faiz, Faiz Ahmed. The unicorn and the dancing girl. Ed. Khalid Hasan. New Delhi: Allied Publishers, 1988.
 
Hasan, Khalid. “Introduction.” Flower on a Grave. By Ahmed Nadeem Qasimi. Tr. Daud Kamal. Karachi: Oxford University Press, 2008: ix-x.
 
Hashmi, Ali Madeeh. Love and Revolution: Faiz Ahmed Faiz: The Authorized Biography. New Delhi: Rupa 2016.
 
Rashed. N. M. “Interview with N. M. Rashed.” Mahfil 7.1-2 (Spring – Summer 1971): 1-20.
 
Shelley, Percy. “To the Moon.” The Book of Georgian Verse. Ed. William Stanley Braithwaite. New York: Brentano’s, 1909: 1081-1082.
 
Singh, Sushant. “The story of Faiz’s Hum Dekhenge – from Pakistan to India,
 
 
Zaheer, Sajjad. The Light. Tr. Amina Azfar. Karachi: Oxford UP, 2006.*The above text of “Theme for a Poet” is Kamal’s revision of the original version in Faiz in English. The second half of the poem formerly read:
fear and hope.
Mountain stream cleaved in two
By a dark boulder
Hunger is the wild dog.
(Faiz in English 31)

May-June 2022, ATC 218

 

From  Against the Current

Radical Socialist Statement on Agnipath Scheme and its Fallout

 

As large parts of India see violent eruptions for several days running, it is necessary for revolutionary socialists to take a clear stand on the Agnipath scheme, its political meaning, and develop a response to the mass anger that avoids both petty bourgeois populism and purist sectarianism.

India like all hegemonistic powers spends unnecessarily and unjustifiably huge amounts of money on its armed forces because it wants to “power project” and not merely to territorially protect itself. “Power Projection” and having a “Sphere of Influence” or being “Naturally Pre-eminent in the Region” are all euphemisms for wanting to dominate, and when desired, bully weaker countries in the neighbourhood and beyond. India has the second largest armed forces in the world; its annual defence budget is the world’s third largest; and it ranks fourth largest as an importer of arms. It is also desperate to build up a huge public-private military-industrial complex. In addition, the Indian army has been used massively for suppression of internal dissent.

India also has the largest number of under-nourished and mal-nourished people as compared to any other country in the world. Official statistics that are publicised seriously underestimate the proportion of people below the poverty line as well as the size of the those “vulnerable” and at constant risk of falling below or near that poverty line which in any case does not cover minimum levels of “basic needs” such as health, education, housing, social security, etc. In short, its public welfare systems are a longstanding and enduring disgrace! This BJP central government, like previous ones, is not in the least interested in shifting financial resources from the defence sector to address these areas. Rather, under the BJP dispensation, privatization of healthcare, of education, contractisation of jobs, the growth of joblessness have skyrocketted. And this has happened  hand in hand with the growth in  wealth of the top (approximately) 325000 households to above Rs 10 crores. Thus, it is the current regime that has done most to augment disparities beyond its predecessors.

It is within this overall political-strategical framework of pursuing regional hegemonistic ambitions, strengthening nuclear and non-nuclear military capacities, and communalising the whole coercive apparatus of the armed forces, the paramilitaries and the police, along with a steeply right-wing economic policy, that we must understand its latest measures, namely widening the pool from which the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) is to be selected as well as Agnipath.

Widening the pool for CDS selection means destroying the principle of prioritising seniority and making sure that the CDS chosen is solidly pro-Hindutva as well as becoming even more subordinate to Modi’s PMO. The Agnipath policy has two key purposes. First, by creating greater competition for a more restricted number of full-time recruits, make it clear that those willing to support Hindutva ideology and practice will be favoured. Those with the four-year ‘tour duty’ experience (through which they would have learned to use sophisticated arms) can then become part of other paramilitary forces or form private militias for control by Hindutva forces operating through and outside state and central governments. Secondly, yes, there is an economic purpose---to shift expense burdens from paying pensions but NOT to promote public welfare or to create more decent and secure jobs. It is to release more resources for technologically strengthening and streamlining the military war-fighting capabilities. Around 60% of India’s defence budget currently is spent on salaries and pensions whereas in China it is only one-third.

Why has there been a public outcry and protest actions in various places by youth including those who in some way lean towards Hindutva? The reason is obvious---in a country where unemployment is rising to unprecedented levels and where insecure forms of employment at miserable wages are rampant and routine, one sure avenue of decent existence, albeit very small, indeed tiny in the overall scheme of things---some 60,000 recruits annually---is now being cut by three-fourths and more. A look at the recruitment patterns of JCOs and other ranks in the army show a preponderance of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan – some of the core areas of Hindutva militant cadre recruitment, as well as scenes of recent violence.  Caste and community data is not openly given as the army professes to be above caste and community, but sufficient data exists to show preferences. For example, the President’s Guard, considered an elite regiment, is dominated by Rajputs, Hindu Jats and Sikh Jats. A CNN-IBN report of 2014 suggested that out of India’s huge army, only about 29,000 were Muslims, though at the officer level India has had eight Muslim Major Generals till the same period. Clearly, the trends do suggest that the same population that has been voting heavily for the ideological stance of the RSS, ignoring other socio-economic issues like rising prices, destruction of health care, or complete dismantling of the public sector, is also the biggest force going into the army.

The Agnipath scheme is a cynical move. When huge masses see joining the army as a principal road to economic security, the propaganda about soldiers being in the army for patriotic reasons is blown up.

Instead of welcoming the move, as the rulers had thought, large masses of their supporters have temporarily deserted them and have taken to the streets. Trained in violence over the previous years, aware that the state will be far softer on violence committed by Hindu upper and intermediate caste young men, they have been blocking roads, attacking government buildings, occasionally attacking MLAs and ministers, and setting fire to all manner of things, including trains.

The response of considerable sections of the left, while not totally unanticipated, has still been deeply disappointing. It is astonishing that the Indian Left of CPI/CPM/CPI-ML Liberation while attacking this policy are doing so for all the wrong reasons that do not challenge but feed into the overall project of this Hindutva government; that ignore the need to oppose anti-poor neoliberal priorities as well as opposing the hegemonist ambitions of the ruling class and its ideological drumbeaters

Our stand on these are based on the following principled positions:

1.    We stand for reduction of military spending for power display

2.    We oppose the glamourization of the armed forces in the name of national security and justifying military spending under that banner.

3.    We condemn and oppose the extensive use of the armed forces for suppression of domestic dissent by the reactionary Indian state.

4.    We believe that the best way to achieve security with neighbouring countries is through diplomacy, and settlement of all disputes through peaceful negotiations and mutual give and take.

5.    We oppose India’s massive military hardware imports, and also the build up of nuclear weapons for military power play.

 

Accordingly, in the current situation

NO TO AGNIPATH

NO TO COMMUNALISATION OF ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY

NO TO HEGEMONIST AMBITIONS AND BEHAVIOUR

YES TO MASSIVE DIVERSION OF FUNDS TOWARDS PUBLIC WELFARE AND JOB CREATION

NO TO ANY SUPPORT FOR EXPANSION OF FULL TIME PROFESSIONAL ARMY IN THE NAME OF MORE JOBS FOR THE NEEDY

 

Radical Socialist 18 June 2022

Ukraine: NATO, imperialism and the war

Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine seems to have caused some disorientation on the Left. For example, a left-wing website supported by some key leaders of the Stop the War Coalition complains about socialists who concentrate all their fire on Russia. But it is not really difficult to see why anti-war activists might do so at the present time. Russia brazenly breaches the so-called ‘Fourth Convention [1]’ of the Geneva Convention, which forbids the targeting or collective punishment of civilians. And the outrageous and utterly sad consequences of Russia importing into Ukraine the tactics it used in Syria against civilians (little reported in Britain) are becoming clear. Small wonder, then, that most of the Left concentrate on condemning Russia? It’s no use complaining about what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan, or indeed what it is doing today in Yemen. None of that in the least justifies Russian brutality in Ukraine.

At the other extreme, some left-wingers seem to regard the Ukraine crisis merely as a national liberation war, in which Ukraine is fighting a just war against Russia, and the role of NATO is simply to provide large amounts of weaponry to the Ukrainian people. As we discuss below, this is naïve. NATO is clearly trying to use the war to advance its own objectives, particularly those of American imperialism.

One socialist website opposes any end to the war in which Ukraine makes concessions. [2] This is the wrong way to pose it. The crucial thing now from the viewpoint of the Ukrainian people is to have a ceasefire and to stop the war. It is up to the Ukrainian people themselves to decide on any concessions—temporary or long-term— to Russia, however much they may rankle. There is a long history of schematic sectarians opposing necessary concessions to end wars—starting with the opposition in the Bolshevik party, led by Bukharin and Radek, to the signing of the 1918 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in which multiple concessions were made by Russia to Germany in order to end the war between them. The charge of ‘capitulation’ was also made against North Vietnam when it engaged in negotiations that led to the withdrawal of American troops in 1973. The Ukrainian government has indicated that it supports a ceasefire and negotiations, and we should back that.

So what is the real role of NATO? There are two aspects to this. The first is the danger of a clash between NATO and Russian forces which could lead to a central European war, something that would be disastrous. A no-fly zone, even one policed by planes provided by NATO member Poland, could lead to a direct conflict between Russia and NATO. A wider war against Russia in Europe would collapse the world economy and could lead to the use of nuclear weapons. Anti-war activists should be absolutely opposed to any involvement of NATO forces in the fighting.

Washington’s negative response to Poland’s offer of 28 reconditioned MiG29 planes to operate a no-fly zone indicates that, for the moment, the United States doesn’t want to risk a wider war with Russia. But Biden’s government is weak and the pressure from the political right — in Britain and well as the US — is very strong. At a future stage, popular outrage at Russian atrocities could lead to calls for NATO intervention that would be difficult to resist.

But the second aspect to the role of NATO, and a key one, is as a political-military alliance dominated by the United States and its loyal British followers, using the war to reshape the relationship between the most powerful imperialist states in the world today—Russia, China and the United States itself. This is the inter-imperialist conflict which is increasingly interwoven with the war in Ukraine itself.

Such a complex configuration should come as no surprise, especially to Marxists, who have long pointed out how particular wars can become entwined with more over-arching conflicts. Ernest Mandel in his brilliant book, The Meaning of the Second World War, explains how, in countries such as Greece, Italy, Vietnam, Yugoslavia, China, France and many others, Allied governments like those of Britain and the United States intervened directly or through local reactionary forces to defeat Germany and Japan, but at the same time to defeat progressive or revolutionary local movements. Inter-imperialist conflicts became entwined with wars of national liberation and revolutionary advance.

Today, the US economic war against Russia, designed to collapse the Russian economy and hobble Russia’s economic and political clout in the long-term, is becoming interwoven with the war in Ukraine. By his brutal and utterly ruthless unleashing of Russian military power against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has handed a series of massive victories to the United States in its battle against Russia, a battle waged in preparation for the more decisive battle to come, the United States against China.

Putin’s war will have savage costs for both middle-class and working-class Russians but much less so for the oligarchs, who always find ways to hide their wealth. Car factories are already closing in Russia, as Western companies pull out and Russian firms can’t find essential components. The blockade on computer chips will mean dozens of hi-tech firms won’t find the necessary components to continue unless China can step in and provide them, something unlikely given the already existing world shortage of silicon chips.

Dozens of retail brands are pulling out and that means thousands of lost jobs. Apple, Samsung and Microsoft are pulling out together with scores of other hi-tech companies. H&M, Levis and Zara are leaving, as is Nike, Puma and Adidas. This is not just a matter of fashion-conscious young urbanites being unable to get their favourite brands, it is a matter of many thousands of lost jobs. Even Russian Vodka, fish products and diamonds are to be sanctioned. It is estimated that Russian GDP will decline by 20% in the next year, a level which goes beyond recession and slump to onrushing economic collapse. The result will be mass unemployment and mass poverty in Russia as a consequence, not of the actions of the Russian workers, but as a result of the actions of Putin and his fellow oligarchs and criminals in power. This is another example of punishing the civilian population. No socialist or democrat should support this kind of imperialist economic warfare.

Russia will also suffer from sanctions on exports, not just energy exports but also exports of wheat. Russia and Ukraine together produce 30% of the world’s wheat, and its elimination will skyrocket the price of bread in the region, and worldwide. Preventing the export of Russian energy will also hit the working class worldwide as the price of just about everything which at some stage needs oil and gas increases in price, giving another twist to the worldwide inflationary cycle. The stage is being set for a massive world slump in which the effects of the Covid pandemic combine with the effects of the war and sanctions.

A key US target is the relationship between Russia and Europe. The United States has long campaigned against Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and even before the Ukraine crisis blew up, was urging Germany to stop importing huge amounts of Russian gas and oil. The United States pointed out that the shortfall of such a transition could be made up by imports from…the United States itself! America has long campaigned against any improvement of political and diplomatic relations with Russia. It has tried at every stage to characterise Russia as a terrorist state, an effort greatly aided by the behaviour of Putin’s state apparatus, especially the assassination of exiled Russian opponents living in the UK.

The United States is opposed to the European Union establishing its own international political and military presence just about anywhere. That, thinks Washington, would encroach on NATO’s role. So for example the AUKUS military alliance in the Pacific —composed of the US and its loyal allies Britain and Australia— was announced on the very day that the EU had planned to unveil its Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific. [3] The EU document represented an attempt to get Europe to speak with one voice on the region, and chart an independent course, especially in relation to China, away from the hostile US position. AUKUS was a precisely aimed torpedo that badly holed the EU strategy.

NATO from its beginning has been designed to tie European states to American diplomatic, military and political leadership. It has had the effect in Britain itself of building up a strong ‘Atlanticism’ political trend, represented especially by the mainstream of the Conservative Party. But economic links between Europe and Russia inevitably reconfigured political relations.

Disrupting economic and diplomatic relations between Russia and Germany has been an enormous victory for the United States. American commentators have been complaining for years that Germany’s economic and political model is based on getting its energy from Russia, its security from the United States and its cheap consumer goods from China. It might be added that China is the place where a big proportion of Germany’s manufacturers, raw materials and chemical products go. Now the United States wants Germany and other European states to stop their energy imports from Russia and look elsewhere, particularly to the United States itself.

Western sanctions against Russia are enormous and at a level you might expect if NATO was at war with Russia. The seizure of most of Russia’s foreign exchange reserves –—more than $600 billion worth—is designed to hobble the Russian economy. There is no guarantee that this will be a short term measure designed to stop the war in Ukraine.

Now the rightwing Western media and foreign policy establishment is turning the attack against China. This combines a number of levels. First, Western rightwing politicians say that China, by failing to condemn the Russian invasion, is acting in a way that gives economic and political cover to Russia. Second, China itself could organise its own ‘Ukraine’ by invading Taiwan, and this eventuality is being prepared for by the export of ever-larger amounts of military aid to Taiwan, despite Xi Jinping’s repeated statements that China seeks reunification only by peaceful means, and that Beijing’s economic relations with Taipei are extremely profitable for both sides. For Western analysts, China’s seizure of reefs and small islands in the South China Sea is proof of its militarist expansionism.

However, there is no doubt that the militarisation of the South China Sea is primarily the work of the United States and its allies, whose military doctrine is preparing for a possible war aimed at Chinese coastal cities and military bases.

Obviously, the United States is using its massive military power to influence the outcome of the fighting in Ukraine, and the resistance in that country is massively armed with powerful US anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles. According to the New York Times, the United States sent 17,000 anti-tank missiles to Ukraine in one week. But those who support the Ukrainian right to resist invasion cannot complain about where the weapons of the Ukrainian military and civilian resistance come from. However, if a no-fly zone were to be implemented, even if it involved Polish planes flown by Ukrainian pilots, it is highly likely that they would be co-ordinated by American or British AWACS planes, (literally early warning and control radar platforms) with the ability to ‘see’ what the Polish planes themselves cannot. This could be done by AWACS planes flying from outside Ukraine, but the temptation for advanced Russian fighter planes to shoot them down would be enormous. A no-fly zone cannot be engineered without the danger of a direct clash between NATO and Russia.

Both in relation to Russia and China, the United States has adopted the position of the 1997 Project for the Next American Century, which projected American military dominance as the road to political and economic dominance. It also argued for rearmament to a level where the United States could simultaneously fight two major wars, obviously against Russia and China. The profligate use of military power has led to catastrophes in Iraq and Afghanistan and could lead to a much worse catastrophe in a nuclear exchange with Russia.

Raising the slogans of ‘No to NATO Expansion’ and ‘No to Nuclear War’ is clearly correct for the anti-war movement, but cannot be the central demands, which remain Russian troops out and stop the war. Nonetheless, NATO’s role in Eastern Europe since the final collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been pernicious. American President George Bush Snr, absolutely refused to respond to the demise of its military enemies in Russia and Eastern Europe by disbanding NATO or responding to Mikhail Gorbachev’s project of a ‘Common European Homeland’ of states outside military pacts. Disbanding NATO would have disrupted the key instrument of American military, and hence political, control. Moreover, the United States has insisted on expanding the boundaries of NATO right up to the borders of Russia in every case. This of course is something that the United States— the inclusion of Mexico or Canada in a hostile military alliance on US borders —would bever accept.

The iron grip of NATO is designed to ensure American dominance, and hence loyalty in inter-imperialist conflicts of European states to the United States. It is no wonder then that the question of NATO has become a key line of a divide as far as the Keir Starmer leadership in the Labour Party is concerned. Starmer and his parliamentary whips threatened to exclude 12 Labour MPs from the Parliamentary Labour Party if they spoke at a rally with an anti-NATO message. Starmer has repeatedly stated Labour’s complete loyalty to NATO, a message to the British capitalist class that under him Labour can be trusted. Technically any member of CND could be excluded from the Labour Party because of the campaign’s anti-NATO position, although for the moment this is unlikely to be implemented. In the context of Starmer’s prostration before NATO and British capitalism, it is strange to find a left-wing website attacking Jeremy Corbyn for making ‘an anti-NATO speech. [4]

In the context of the present war, it is utterly cynical for Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov to excuse atrocities committed by Russian forces by reference to what the West did in Iraq and Afghanistan. ‘If you can commit anti-civilian atrocities, then so can we’ is unlikely to be a convincing argument as far as world public opinion is concerned. Even worse, Russian commentators on Channel 4 News merely say ‘war is hell, this is war’. The death, pain, suffering and misery imposed on the Ukrainian people cannot be justified by any reference to the crimes of the West, whether the leading Western states were wearing their NATO hats or not. The central slogans of the Left and all progressive forces have to be against the Russian war, for a ceasefire and a withdrawal of all Russian troops.

In Britain, there is an enormous mobilisation of ordinary people and even whole communities to give material aid to refugees from Ukraine. Polish centres up and down the country, as well as Ukrainian community centres, are awash with donations of money, clothes, sleeping bags and other necessities that refugees might need for their onward journeys. Of course, this outburst of social solidarity is promoted by the awful scenes of carnage and destruction in Ukraine. It’s true that the incredible brutality of the Western-backed and organised bombing campaign by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen has not produced such an outpouring of solidarity, because it has been barely covered in the mass media, and because Ukrainians are ‘people like us.’

Nonetheless, people who collect support for Ukrainian refugees, and millions more, are rightly horrified by the Russian attacks and their dreadful consequences. The anti-war movement cannot turn its face away from these people but should participate, to the best of our ability, in such actions. We must get people giving material aid and demand refugees be admitted to Britain.

Because of the ongoing inter-imperialist conflict, there are competing narratives about what is happening on a world scale. The overwhelming narrative in the Western media is about the defence of democracy against Russian and Chinese dictatorship and aggression. But in reality, there is a huge and developing inter-imperialist conflict, in which the United States is a major source of militarisation and aggression.

Regrettably, there are a lot of people on the Left internationally who do not clearly condemn the Russian invasion and champion the right of the Ukrainian people to self-defence. [5] It is easier, as they see it, just to take sides with one imperialist camp or another. This we should refuse to do. Our understanding of the role of NATO and the United States cannot lead us to downplay or in any way excuse the Russian attack. On the morning of February 24, within minutes of hearing the news of the invasion, I posted on Facebook condemning the attack as an act of criminal brutality and irresponsibility; I said thousands would die in the initial fighting. It is this attack that must remain the target of left-wing mobilisation and protest, despite our understanding of the developing global inter-imperialist conflict.

P.S.

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NATO and imperial domination

 

BY GEOFF RYAN

Anti*Capitalist Resistance is totally opposed to any invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces. But does this mean, as some on the left have suggested, that we, therefore, support NATO? Far from it. We support neither Putin nor Biden, Moscow nor Washington. We are opposed to any attempts to find a solution to the conflict that excludes the people of Ukraine. So we oppose discussions between Russian and Western leaders about the future of Ukraine from which Ukrainians are excluded. Above all, we are for the dismantling of NATO which has never been a force for anything other than imperialist domination of the world.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation was formed in April 1949 – seven years before the formation of the Warsaw Pact. Clearly, therefore, it was not formed as a defensive organisation to respond to any actual Soviet military threat. It was, however, a response to a perceived political threat to the capitalist order. Its origins can be found in the theory of ‘containment’ expressed in the ‘Long Telegram’ sent in 1946 by George Kennan, an official in the United States’ Moscow embassy. It also owes much to Winston Churchill’s speech, also in 1946, at Fulton Missouri, in which he spoke of an ‘iron curtain’ descending across Europe.

In fact, the nature of NATO can be seen by the countries involved in its formation. As I shall show below six (i.e. half) of the founder members of NATO were, or had been until very recently, involved in suppressing anti-colonial movements in ‘their’ colonies. The following summaries are by no means complete, they come no way near capturing the full horrors and barbarity of the colonial powers. Some of the states, particularly Britain and France, had many other colonies that I have not touched on but all of which were subject to colonial brutality. What the brief summaries do show is that the founder members of NATO had no claims to be defending democracy and freedom.

Belgium

Belgium had a brutal history in its African colonies, the Belgian Congo and Ruanda-Burundi (now Rwanda and Burundi). While the best-known horrors of Belgian rule in the Congo lay in the treatment of the country as the personal property of King Leopold 11 at the end of the 19th century the Congo remained under an iron fist after control of the colony passed to the Belgian state in 1908. The Belgian Congo was essentially an apartheid state in which the whites had all the power, all the wealth and the Congolese had next to nothing. All decisions major decisions concerning the Congo were made in Brussels.

Ruanda-Urundi had been part of German East Africa until it was awarded to Belgium following the first world war. The Belgians significantly changed the system of government and social relations. They systematically promoted the Tutsi population at the expense of the Hutus and in 1933 issued identity cards in which they forced people to identify permanently as Hutu, Tutsi or ‘pygmies’. Previously people had been able to move between Tutsi and Hutu which were closer to caste identities than nationalities. The fixed categories were entirely the product of Belgian rule.

Not only was the Belgian state carrying out the systematic oppression of the peoples of the Congo, Rwanda and Burundi when it became a founder of NATO in 1949 it continued to do so even after independence. In the case of the Congo ethnic and personal rivalries were encouraged by Belgium (as well as other European states and the USA) culminating in the murder in 1960 of left-wing Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba by sections of the Congolese army with the full support of the Central Intelligence Agency. The military dictatorship of Joseph Mobutu (Mobutu Sese Seko) was the result of the political and military interference in the Congo by NATO member states.

In Rwanda, the colonial administration had changed its pro-Tutsi policy during the 1950s and in 1959 the then-dominant Hutus carried out a massacre of Tutsis, with further massacres in 1963 (one year after independence) and the much better-known genocide of 1994.

In Summary

Extremely brutal colonial rule encouraged ethnic divisions and conflicts which remain to this day, murdered a popular independence leader to maintain its influence in the Congo

France

The French government agreed to the independence of Syria and Lebanon at the end of the second world war though France continued to intervene in the affairs of these nominally independent states, in particular using the confessionalist structure of the Lebanese government to all French imperialism to maintain its position in the Arab world.

In the case of Algeria and French Indochina however, France was not prepared to countenance independence. In Vietnam, British troops took control of the country from the defeated Japanese army. One of their first acts was to expel the Viet Minh, the major liberation movement that had fought the Japanese occupation. A second act was to rearm the captured Japanese soldiers to keep control of a population upset by the expulsion of the Viet Minh. Eventually, after a series of military engagements with the Viet Minh, the British handed over control to returning French forces who proceeded to rule the country in the previous brutal colonial manner leading eventually to the defeat of the French troops at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. (As we shall see, this will not be the only time British troops played a role in preventing liberation movements from taking control and restoring the old colonial rulers).

In May 1945 a march demanding Algerian independence took place in Setif. This quickly turned into a massacre: the protesters killed more than 100 European settlers, the French army killed between 1,000 and 45,000 protesters. (This is not the only time when the deaths of Muslims at the hands of the French state cannot be calculated accurately. There is a similar discrepancy in estimates for the number of supporters of Algerian independence killed in Paris on the night of October 17 1962),

The French were clearly not listening. In September 1947 a new constitution for Algeria is established. In theory, it makes all inhabitants of Algeria equal citizens of France but this is not what most Algerians want. They want independence. And in practice, the new National Assembly for Algeria is heavily skewed in favour of the white settlers giving them 60 seats (for 1.5 million settlers) and 60 seats for 9 million Algerian Muslims.

The first military response by Algerian Muslims was in 1949 with an attack on the central post office in Oran.

After France joined NATO it continued its war in Vietnam until the capitulation at Dien Bien Phu and massively stepped up its war in Algeria, particularly after defeat in Vietnam.

In Summary

Was engaged in a major war in Indochina when it joined NATO and was about to engage in an even more brutal war in Algeria.

Netherlands

We normally think of the Netherlands as a fairly laid back sort of place with cannabis cafes in Amsterdam. But from 1945 to 1949 Dutch troops fought a bloody war to prevent the independence of Indonesia. Two days after the Japanese emperor’s surrender, on 17 August 1945, the proclamation of Indonesian independence was announced in the Indonesian capital Jakarta. Although it took some time for the proclamation to reach the scattered islands that makeup Indonesia once it did then it was enthusiastically endorsed by large sections of the population. The provisional government, fearing the return of the Dutch, set up or strengthened existing armed resistance groups.

The Dutch accused the republican government of being collaborators with Japanese fascism. An interesting allegation as we shall see when we look at one of the states the Netherlands government collaborated with while establishing NATO. However, they lacked the military strength to intervene until 1946. Once again British troops stepped in to disarm the Japanese occupiers (and sometimes rearm them to deal with revolutionaries) before engaging in military conflicts with the Indonesian republicans. In Surabaya, the second-largest city in Indonesia, British and British Indian troops were involved in the heaviest battle of the war, which left thousands of Indonesians dead.

British troops were also instrumental in allowing the Netherlands Indies Civil Administration to land in Jakarta and other key cities. A further 8,000 deaths resulted in Jakarta alone. The largest cities of Sumatra, Palembang and Medan were bombed, in preparation for the return of Dutch troops before Special Forces unleashed terror on the populations. At least 3,000 members of the republican militia and their supporters were killed in a few weeks.

Raymond Westerling the British commando trained commander of the Dutch forces was particularly brutal in his methods, methods reminiscent of those later to be used by the United States military in Vietnam. Although Westerling was accused of war crimes in South Sulawesi an agreement between Indonesia and the Netherlands in 1949 (the year NATO was formed) prevented him from ever being put on trial for his actions. However, the Dutch government did eventually (2013) apologise for the brutality and Dutch courts subsequently ruled that the Dutch state was responsible for the executions of 11 men during Westerling’s South Sulawesi campaign.

In Summary

Every bit as brutal as other imperialist powers.

Portugal

In 1933 Antonio de Oliveira Salazar established the Estado Novo in Portugal. It evolved from the Ditadura Nacional (National Dictatorship) which was set up following the military coup in 1926. The Estado Novo remained until its overthrow in the Carnation Revolution of 1974. The Estado Novo was to all intents and purposes a fascist state. According to Salazar ‘we are opposed to all forms of Internationalism, Communism, Socialism, Syndicalism and everything that may divide or minimize, or break up the family. We are against class warfare, irreligion and disloyalty to one’s country; against serfdom, a materialist conception of life, and might over right’. The last part of this statement can be rejected as mere window dressing since the Portugal of Salazar and his successor was based very much on might over right. In any case, while Salazar personally may have had some disagreements with fascism, as practised by Hitler, Mussolini or Franco (who he actively supported in the Spanish Civil War), there is little doubt that the Portuguese state in 1949 was fascist. And the Dutch government had no problems engaging with this fascism.

The vast majority of people in Portugal lived in extreme poverty, though there was an exceedingly wealthy capitalist class. Strikes were illegal. The secret police carried out arrests of anyone suspected of opposing the regime. And then there were the colonies.

At the time it joined NATO Portugal had colonies in Angola, Guinea Bissau and Cabo Verde and Mozambique in Africa, Goa in India and East Timor and Macau in Asia. All of them were run on brutal racist and colonial lines characterised by deep-seated racism, mass forced labour and an almost complete failure to modernise. In Angola, which was nominally part of Portugal, there was not a single university in 1960. All demands for independence were ignored and, at least in the African colonies, Salazar unleashed wars that would eventually lead to the overthrow of the regime.

In Summary

A fascist state with a brutal racist rule over its colonies and a total lack of democracy in Portugal itself.

United Kingdom

The main thing to remember about the government that took the UK into NATO is not simply that it was a Labour government but that it was the much-lauded Labour government of 1945. The Labour government of the NHS. The Labour government of nationalisation. The most reforming Labour government in history. Unless you ignore foreign policy. In which case it was like every other Labour government – virtually identical in policies to the Tories when it comes to the defence of the interests of British imperialism on a world scale.

As I have already noted above British troops ensured that after the collapse of the Japanese government ‘order’ would be maintained in Vietnam and Indonesia so that the colonies could be handed back to their French and Dutch ‘rulers’. Many of the troops were not happy about this but nevertheless collaborated with returning these parts of Asia to European powers.

Much is known about the role of Britain and its military in the partition of India, the creation at the expense of the Palestinians of the state of Israel so I want to concentrate on a much less well-known instance of British troops being used to crush liberation movements: Greece.

British troops entered Greece in 1944 after the withdrawal of German armies. There was a fairly strong resistance movement, particularly EAM (National Liberation Front) which was dominated by the KKE (Communist Party of Greece).

On the morning of 3rd December 1944, a mere six weeks since liberation from Nazi occupation, EAM held a demonstration in central Athens. Twenty-eight civilians, mainly young men and women, were shot by British troops or by Greeks who had collaborated with the Nazis and were given weapons by the British army. A few days later RAF planes began strafing left-wing areas of Athens. This was the beginning of the Battle of Athens fought between British troops alongside Nazi supporters against the Greek partisans.

At this time Churchill was Prime Minister. He was opposed to EAM and the KKE, wanting to restore the monarchy – a monarchy that had been very slow to oppose the Nazi invasion. He was dubious that Stalin wouldn’t keep his side of the bargain drawn up with Churchill in which Greece was to be part of the British ‘sphere of influence’. In fact, Stalin kept to the agreement and gave no assistance to EAM. The only support the left received was from Tito in Yugoslavia but that was soon cut off once Stalin turned on Tito and the Yugoslavs had to look to save their revolution.

However, anyone expecting a change in policy once Labour had won the 1945 election was to be sorely disappointed. British troops continued to fight the left-wing partisans as Greece descended into civil war. The Attlee government supported the royalists and former Nazi supporters against the left. Greeks suspected of having helped ELAS (the military arm of EAM), including during the Nazi occupation, were rounded up, sent to detention camps, tortured and even murdered while the Labour government supported the torturers and murderers.

The man sent by the Labour government to take command of the ‘British Police Mission’ Sir Charles Whickham certainly had plenty of experience: from 1922-25 he was the first Inspector General of the Royal Ulster Constabulary. He was known for incorporating Protestant paramilitaries into the RUC. Not surprising, therefore, that he incorporated former Nazi activists into the Greek Police force. And not surprising that under his command prisoners were subjected to the most horrendous beatings and torture.

By 1947 the KKE was illegal, and thousands of leftists were held in prisons or torture camps with significant numbers exiled, either internally or in British detention camps across the Middle East. But by then the Greek economy was on the point of collapse and Attlee decided he could no longer afford to prop up the right-wing forces. He informed President Truman that Britain would be pulling out of Greece so Truman sent American troops to support the anti-Communist side.

In Summary

Under the radical Attlee government, Britain continued imperialist policies throughout the empire. It maintained an undemocratic statelet in the North of Ireland. It helped restore colonial rule in Vietnam and Indonesia, often using Japanese prisoners of war to do so. It began to fight a war in Malaya in the 12 months before joining NATO. Above all, it supported the pro-monarchy, pro-fascist forces in Greece and ensured the defeat of left-wing forces and decades of right-wing oppression.

United States

The United States was, and remains, the overwhelmingly dominant force in NATO. While US governments frequently proclaim the US to be the ‘land of the free’ the reality, especially in foreign policy, is completely at odds with this delusional belief.

Since the end of the 19th century, the United States military had intervened in virtually every country of Latin America, frequently overthrowing governments considered too radical and imposing right-wing, often military, regimes. Outside of the Americas, the US had installed itself as the de facto government of the Philippines. Nowadays it has extended its reach into Africa, much of Asia and most recently Australia.

By the end of the second world war, the US government was becoming increasingly concerned about the growing spread of the left, particularly the Communist parties, especially in Europe. That is what led them to the policy of containment and that, in turn, led to NATO.

There is little doubt that Stalin imposed undemocratic regimes in his own image on the countries of eastern Europe. But all this was in line with the utterly cynical division of Europe carried out by Stalin and Churchill. As noted above, Stalin kept his word in Greece and refused support to the Greek Communists. He respected the agreement in relation to Austria, where the Soviet Union had considerable troops. And he completely broke with Tito and the Yugoslav Communists because, under the agreement with Churchill, Yugoslavia was supposed to be under British influence.

It is extremely difficult to believe that US President Harry Truman was unaware of any of this: I suspect he knew full well that Stalin had no interest in promoting revolutions anywhere. Indeed, once American troops replaced British troops in Greece, then there was plenty of first-hand evidence that Stalin would let the KKE be defeated.

However, revolutions can break out spontaneously or despite the intentions of political leaders. So NATO was not about the threat from the Stalinist regime but the threat of revolutions in countries like Greece, France and Italy and in the colonial world. The military might of NATO, dominated as it was by the United States, went alongside the use of American economic muscle: the Marshall Plan. Countries of western Europe would receive aid, crucial to recovery from the damage and deprivations of six years of war – but only if they did what Washington wanted. This is most clearly illustrated in the case of another founder member of NATO, Italy.

In Summary

The United States had a long history of involvement in invasions of other countries and overthrowing of governments. It had a long history of installing corrupt, brutal, repressive regimes. Almost immediately before the formation of NATO, it was supporting a corrupt regime of Nazi sympathisers in Greece. Soon it would be overthrowing democratically elected governments in Iran and Guatemala as well as wars in Korea and Vietnam. While it is unlikely anyone in Washington seriously believed the Soviet Union under Stalin was going to launch a military campaign against western Europe they couldn’t rule out the possibility that the working class of western Europe would launch a revolutionary insurrection that would overthrow capitalist rule.

Italy

Italy was the only former Axis state to be allowed to join NATO as a founder member. That was not, however, a foregone conclusion. It depended on defeating a strong left-wing alliance between the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) and the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in which the most radical party was undoubtedly the PSI. Such a victory was unthinkable to a wide range of groupings.

Most of the officials who had served Mussolini’s fascist state were still in their posts. The purge of fascists was relatively weak- not least, because as PCI leader Palmiro Togliatti explained, there were so many of them that it would take forever to bring them all to trial.

In addition, the mafia and mafia-like organisations, which had been repressed under Mussolini, started to resurface. They were able to get protection from the main capitalist party that emerged, the Christian Democrats – protection that continued well into the 1980s, probably beyond.

There was also the Vatican which had only come to accept an Italian state in its 1929 Concordat with Mussolini.

The PCI was also not helped by agreeing to become Stalin’s attack dog against Tito. The resulting expulsion from Istria in Croatia of some, though by no means all, of the Italian population as a result of constant PCI attacks on Tito and the Yugoslav communists from Italy and Italian sources in Croatia hardly endeared the PCI to non-members.

Elections were held in 1948 which were expected to be won by the PSI/PCI slate. To prevent this the Vatican instructed the priest in every parish of Italy to read a sermon proclaiming that anyone who voted for the PSI/PCI would be excommunicated. In a country with a strong Catholic tradition, such a threat could carry some weight. The mafia carried out attacks on some left-wing politicians.

But the most important intervention came from the United States. Many Americans were descended from Italian immigrants and they were encouraged to contact family members in Italy to get them to vote against the PSI/PCI slate. Italian American singers, such as Frank Sinatra, and movie stars broadcast to Italy urging people to vote for the Christian Democrats.

However, the US was taking no chances. Italians were informed that they would not receive Marshall Aid if the left won the elections. And just in case anyone was unable to grasp the point the US 5th fleet was on constant patrol along the coast of Italy.

Vatican, mafia, fascist, Christian Democrat and US bullying won. Christian Democracy triumphed and went on to form thoroughly corrupt governments for nearly 50 years until it finally dissolved in a web of corruption. But Italy was made safe for capitalism and was rewarded with founding membership og NATO.

In Summary

Italy was essentially a pawn in the plans of US governments and military to ensure western Europe remained safe for capitalism. As well as the PCI being a pawn in Stalin’s break with Tito and the Yugoslavs.

The remaining Founder Member States

Largely there to make up the numbers with no influence.

Canada

Racism towards the First Nation people and Inuit. Xenophobia towards the French-speaking minority. Very little influence, possibly with Britain.

Denmark

Racism towards Greenlanders. No influence.

Iceland

Mainly an airfield for the United States, continuing a role it played in the second world war. No influence.

Luxembourg

No influence whatsoever

Norway

At the time possibly the poorest state in Europe (until the discovery of North Sea Oil). Again no influence whatsoever

Conclusion

Whatever politicians may say NATO is not an organisation committed to upholding international law and human rights. From the outset, it was a weapon for imperialist domination of the world. Its 12 founding members included 6 states that were actively oppressing colonial peoples. It included a fascist state (Portugal) and one in which fascists still carried some influence (Italy). Even before the Warsaw pact had been formed NATO had expanded to include another 2 right-wing governments, Greece and Turkey. The United States even proposed admitting Franco’s Spain in 1953 though that was too much for most of the existing member states. The Spanish Civil War and Franco’s support for Hitler and Mussolini were still too recent a memory. Spain had to wait until 1992 for membership.

In recent years NATO has intervened in a number of conflicts, including Bosnia and Kosova, in the name of ‘humanitarian intervention’. As someone who was closely involved in supporting the struggle of Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosova for independence from the Greater Serbian chauvinism projected by Slobodan Milosevic, I was never once convinced that NATO gave a damn for Bosnians or Kosovars. The partition of Bosnia at Dayton, largely under US pressure is convincing proof of that. NATO no more cares for Ukrainians than it did for Bosnians. We should demand it follows the Warsaw Pact and dissolves completely and forever.

Source Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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