Anarcho-syndicalst magazine with a theme of war and war makers.
Partial text contents only - if you have a copy of this magazine you scan (or lend to us for scanning) please leave a comment.
- Working for the Clampdown: The ABC of Patriotism is a shamelessly conspicuous example of attempted brainwashing. Subtler cultural and political forces are also at work in mainstream culture, all preparing us for the next war.
- Stench warfare: The government wants to be able to make a stink that will drive away enemies or hostile crowds.
- T.W.A.T: Not-so-hidden agendas: Longer term predictions for The War Against Terrorism. Just who are the evil-doers?
- Martyrs - Mythology, masochism and morality: Anarcho-syndicalist thoughts on the political concept of martyrdom.
- Rape in wartime: Rape is one of the ultimate tools of oppression, so wars invariably produce rapists.
- Who cares who dies? Arms sales and New Labour’s ethicless foreign policy.
- A Century of War: A look back over the lessons of the 20th century. Every day throughout its hundred years, there was some conflict in some part of the globe.
- Regular sections include; Actions & comment (e.g.Incineration); blairedvision (e.g. Getting away with murder); international news (e.g. on South Africa, Russia, France, Ukraine and Canada); globalfocus (e.g. Colombia: Warlords & Drug Barons); justicepage (e.g. Sacco and Vanzetti: 75 Years Remembered); reviews (e.g. A long way from Home - Young refugees in Manchester write about their lives); and lots more.
Warmakers is about two things; war itself, and what those who make wars are trying to hide and protect in the process.
There is always an element of creating a sideshow to divert attention away from the real problems, plus a more base element of simply protecting the privileges of the rich and powerful. So, to oppose capitalism effectively in wartime (which, as we shall see, is all the time), we need to focus on the main show. But first, let’s have a sideways glance at wargames.
One year on from 9/11, the disturbing grammar of The War Against Terrorism persists. As Terry Jones (he of Monty Python) put it, "how do you wage war on an abstract noun?" Wargames create fresh revulsion and renewed terrorism, as well as amnesia and denial; and US warmaking has a long and grim history. 130,000 Iraqi civilians were killed in 1991 by order of President Bush Sr, and Americans celebrated and cheered in the streets. Before that, 200,000 Iranians were killed by Iraqi soldiers using weapons and money provided to young Saddam Hussein by the American government. Before that, 150,000 were killed by troups supported and trained by the CIA in Afghanistan. Before that, the US burnt tens of thousands of Vietnamese peasants with napalm. Before that, they nuked 210,000 innocent people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki... and so on.
US-sponsored civil wars and coups d’etat (e.g. Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Guatemala and El Salvador, to name a few) are not tactical errors, but fundamental components of US foreign policy, and its Not-so-hidden Agendas. US-led global capitalism is not about free trade or competition, but about bullying, intimidation and war, all aimed at maintaining and strengthening US imperial power. Yes, let us have a moment of silence for the civilian lives lost on 9/11. How many hours silence do we then need to remember the innocent people killed by the US? The 20th century was certainly A Century of War, but this one doesn’t look any more peaceful yet, and since capitalism is in charge, we must ask why it always leads to so much bloodshed.
And so it goes on. Those two US-backed crooks now leading Pakistan and Afghanistan have agreed to build a gas pipeline from Central Asia to Pakistan, something US oil companies have been wanting for a while. At the time of writing, there is plenty of speculation over the date the US regime will pick (or has picked?) to invade Iraq. As former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright put it, "The world now thinks the US has lost its mind", but clearly this won’t stop Bush from Working for the Clampdown. US troop build-ups in Turkey have apparently started, as the now-virtually-continuous torrent of financial scandals involving Bush/Blair cronies leads to plunging popularity ratings, necessitating some sort of ‘regime change’ sideshow. The facts on Iraq are secondary. The US doesn’t bother with evidence to back its policies; quite simply, it will kill for oil.
What should be done to take on terrorism, then? This is the easy bit. Get rid of capitalism and political parties, and let’s have a system based on mutual respect and direct democracy instead, where we can deal with real issues, like addressing intense poverty and powerlessness, which germinate hatred and vicious terrorism. As Irene Khan, Amnesty International’s Secretary General put it, "The world does not need a war against ‘terrorism’, it needs a culture of peace based on human rights and justice for all". However, sustainable peace-making is not in government’s tradition, and therefore, governments are inherently incapable of creating world peace.
Back in 1992, Michael Jordan got $20 million for endorsing Nike shoes – more than they paid their entire 30,000 strong Indonesian workforce. Since then, the pattern of the rich getting bonuses and the poor getting sacked, abused, and killed has accelerated. Capitalist-led casualisation has ensured that killings and negligence at work in Britain has continued apace (Getting away with Murder), while trade barriers ensure the picture is far worse in the Third World.
Britain is now leading the way in the race to the bottom of the civil liberties barrel, with the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, while across Europe, heads of state are pushing ahead with an "anti-terrorism roadmap" to strengthen the Schengen Information System. In the US, more than 1,200 people have so far been held in connection with 9/11. If you’re the wrong colour, have the wrong views, or are merely in the wrong place at the wrong time, then you better watch out, because you could potentially be the next terrorist. Meanwhile, as DA goes to press, 275 people have been arrested in Johannesburg, in an attempt to stop protests at the World Conference on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The government has already denounced social movements who wish to "embarrass the government". There are stop-and-search road-blocks throughout the city, and all protest has been criminalised.
Back in Britain, and the pollsters have identified a new social group, the ‘Meldrews’, middle-aged, pissed off with the state of the country, over-work and over-hype, and the fact that all Thatcher’s and Blair’s promises have come to nothing. My message to this Prozac generation? Team up with the energy of youth, cast off your apathy, and go with your gut-instinct that we now need real change. Let’s get rid of capitalism and political parties and have a system based on mutual respect and direct democracy… OK, now I am repeating myself; it’s time to read on.
Working for the Clampdown
In 1995, Lynne V. Cheney, wife of US Vice-President Dick Cheney, founded the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). ACTA exists to oppose and undermine what it sees as the hopelessly liberal tendency of American higher education. Precisely two months after 9/11, Cheney went into attack mode. ACTA announced the formation of the Defence of Civilisation Fund, and declared: "It was not only America that was attacked on September 11, but civilisation. We were attacked not for our vices, but for our virtues." It issued a rabid tract entitled: "Defending Civilisation: How our Universities are Failing America and What Can Be Done About It".
This amounted to a witch-hunt. ACTA calls for American history and western civilisation to be taught at all campuses and has published the names, colleges and statements of more than 100 academics who had made what were perceived to be part of a "blame America first" tendency. Some of those listed have been rebuked by their colleges. The chancellor of the City University of New York publicly denounced staff who criticised US foreign policy at a teach-in.
As George W. Bush unashamedly prepares America for war, Cheney has turned from the students and academics of higher education to the very young. She has written the lavishly illustrated America: A Patriotic Primer, aimed at five-year-olds. It was published on May 21 and immediately shot up the kids’ best-seller list. The ACTA denunciations and the Patriotic Primer form a two-pronged attack aimed at quashing liberalism among students, and indoctrinating their younger siblings before the ‘rot’ sets in.
Cheney’s ABC is a ‘Dick and Jane’ for the militant. Much of it is devoted to the cult of presidential leadership. Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Madison all get their alphabetical full page. The book ends with Ronald Reagan’s valediction to the nation: "I know that for America there will always be a bright dawn ahead."
The first page, unsurprisingly, begins with "A is for America, the land that we love." Underneath the Statue Of Liberty, with fireworks exploding all around the night sky, is a piece of pure doggerel:
O beautiful patriotic dream that sees beyond
Thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by
Presumably, this discounts the tears of foreigners who, of course, don’t really count in this particular world vision. And so it goes on. The five-year-olds are told; "C is for the Constitution that binds us together". As Cheney herself has said, "the illustration around the letter C shows three children playing jump rope. Why three, careful readers might ask? And the answer, which they could figure out from the material at the back of the book, is that the Constitution established three branches of Government. The three branches work together just as the three children play together." ‘F’, the child learns, "is for Freedom, and the Flag we fly." When the American flag passes by in a parade, "all persons should salute".
There are over a hundred depictions of the stars and stripes in the book. "H is for Heroes and Ideals" which, for the American child, are the "US military" and our "elected leaders". A personal favourite is "Q is for Quest; America’s Quest for the new, the far, and the very best". Also shockingly prominent is "R is the Right to Bear Arms", featuring a child gazing reverently at the statue of a musket-toting revolutionary combatant. Nowadays, such fighters anywhere else in the world would earn a flying visit from the US military. The "V is for Valor" page highlights "Brave American Soldiers who fought in the Jungles of Vietnam". So John Wayne was right all along with his "Green Berets" movie!
And "P" of course is for "Patriotism". As an aside, Emma Goldman (strangely absent from the book) wrote her essay "Patriotism, a Menace to Liberty" in 1911, and she was to find out how true that was when she was imprisoned in 1917 for setting up ‘No Conscription’ leagues and organising rallies against the First World War. In fact, one of the few women to be mentioned is Molly Pitcher. Her claim to fame? She was one of the first American women to fight in a war.
Cheney is donating her "net proceeds" to the American Red Cross and to "projects that foster appreciation of American history" (the Defence of Civilisation Fund, no doubt). The publisher, Simon and Schuster, declares that it will donate a "portion" of its profits to "organisations that promote childhood literacy in America". This particular charity begins and ends at home; the wars for which the young of America are being prepared are to be fought abroad.
Of course, this book is just another in the long line of efforts by states throughout the world to prepare their populations for a coming war by demonising their supposed enemies. Before the First World War, young Britons were regaled with images of the "Beastly Hun" and ludicrous tales of daring by ‘plucky’ young heroes in literature distributed by youth movements. Boy Scouts were told to "Be prepared to die for one’s country" (the origins of the new world famous motto), whilst Girl Guides were informed that their bodies were the ‘vessel of racial purity’, and encouraged to have babies for the Empire.
Propaganda has the ability to be remarkably self-contradictory, however. Pre World War II, Europeans were warned about the evil Bolsheviks in Russia, while Hitler and his followers were preparing for power. Internal enemies were also targeted with "red scares" in the USA, which led to the crushing of militant unions like the International Workers of the World. With the start of the Second World War, and then the entry of the Soviet Union into the conflict, these images did an abrupt about-turn, as "Uncle" Joe Stalin and his brave soldiers were suddenly transformed into the courageous defenders of freedom. A further switch was already being mapped out by 1945, paving the way for the ‘cold war’. Once again, the freedom-loving west, and any other regime that was regarded as an ally, was pitted against the renewed evildoers of communism.
Now, George W. has raised the image of the "axis of evil"; states that stand against the "American Way". Anyone who dares challenge this idea is deemed unpatriotic and subversive. Under this ideology, Israel can attack Palestinian villages, and Pakistan has gone from being a dictatorship to a trusted ally. Under the aegis of the ‘war against terror’, legislation is rushed through the European Union to cast anti-capitalist protesters as terrorists. In Britain, David Blunkett sees it as a way of introducing the new identity cards, or ‘Entitlement Cards’, as they are euphemistically known.
Although the ABC of Patriotism is a shamelessly conspicuous example of attempted brainwashing, more subtle cultural and political forces are constantly at work in mainstream culture - all preparing us for the next war. The more obvious machinations of the US government are laughable and horrific in equal parts. Much of it would not be out of place amongst the most rabid literature of 19th century European Imperialism.
While our hilarity quite justifiably comes from the rather Neanderthal approach of the Patriotic Primer, horror emanates from the knowledge that the social and political context in which such publications are possible (and even popularly acceptable), makes for very dangerous times indeed. However, such efforts are very much ‘front door’ tactics on the part of States. We also need to look out for the ‘back door’ route, where laws are rushed through to crush internal dissent, internment without trial becomes widespread, and daily messages are dropped casually into popular culture, softening up as many of us as possible for war.
It smells like shit, but much, much stronger. It fills your head.
The search for the ultimate stink bomb is a major exercise within the Pentagon’s Non-lethal Weapons Programme. The government wants to be able to make a stink that will drive away enemies or hostile crowds.
Apparently, stenches can be strong enough to alter human behaviour, for example, causing fear and making people panic and run away. And we are not talking farts, stale vomit or blocked toilets. These non-lethal weapons smells might actually spark a feeling of terror amongst everyone present.
When odour molecules dissolve in the mucus membranes of the nose, signals are sent to the brain. One path leads to the thalamus and cortex, where the signals are converted into conscious awareness of the odour. Another path leads to the limbic region, which is unconscious and responsible for emotion generation. So, smells cause emotional responses – hence, the whole perfumes and deodorants industry.
Nasty smells activate a particular part of limbic system - the amygdalae, a pair of almond-shaped pieces of tissue. Some people have suggested that the left one is extremely sensitive to any sights, sounds or smells which the brain has down as potentially dangerous, and that it is important in arousing fear. The sense of smell is older than hearing or sight, and it probably originally had a role in detecting danger, e.g. in detecting unfit food, or the presence of predators.
Two smell scientists, Pardo and Zald, have found they could send the amygdalae into overdrive by wafting a cocktail of sulphide gases past the noses of volunteers, whose brains were being scanned at the time. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the volunteers reported revulsion, disgust and fear.
Human smell memory banks are very effective. The smell of jet fuel or burning flesh can produce terrible fear and flash-backs amongst survivors of warfare many years later. However, bad smells for the first time can also evoke panic, and this is what the US military is after – a smell which needs no prior experience and will trigger enough fear to set people running before the logical part of their brains realises what is going on.
Different cultures and situations may influence the effectiveness of any particular smell, but of course, the ‘ideal’ weapon would be one which transcends such parameters and causes universal panic. So, they have tested a range of stenches on five different ethnic groups, before coming up with two which seem to ‘work’ on everyone. One is called US Government Standard Bathroom Malodor, upon which one comment was; "it smells like shit, but much, much stronger. It fills your head". During the tests, some of the volunteers began screaming and swearing after a few seconds. The trick, apparently, is that it does not cause harm, but it gives the impression that harm to health is imminent or is actually occurring.
With a buoyant and rich arms industry intent on developing more sophisticated psychological and neurological weapons, it could be argued that stench warfare is relatively welcome – if the alternative is napalm or nuclear attack. However, this does not alter the fact that here is a new additional means of enforcing the status quo, whether in open warfare or in social control – on demos, in intifadas, riots and indeed, anytime we, the masses, get restless and show signs of being ready to kick back.
Currently, the main problem, as with many weapons, is getting the delivery method effective. This is no doubt a temporary glitch, given the current cash mountains being spent on insane bombs instead of sane alternatives. Before long, the main arms trade exhibitions (which in Europe coincide with the main exporters – Britain and France) will surely be sporting stench weapons and selling them off to be used by the world’s most repressive regimes. Makes you wonder what would happen if such places became the subject of stinky odours themselves – would they panic and run? Just a thought.
T.W.A.T.: Not-so-hidden agendas
Longer term predictions for The War Against Terrorism.
Just who are the evil-doers?
Having got the first year after 9/11 over with, has the world "changed for good", according to the Bush prophecy? Rather depressingly, it seems to be much the same as it was. It is a place where gross inequality and desperate poverty currently results in some 13 million children dying each year for want of basic needs. The trend to ever-greater inhumanity has continued since September 11th, 2001.
Things are still getting worse. Sadly, the one real lesson of 9/11 – the fact that greed-driven, capitalist-induced world oppression and poverty leads to hideous terrorist attacks like that on the twin towers – has not been heeded. On this basis, another Bush prophecy may well have more chance of success – the one about there being a lot more trouble to come.
If the world had truly changed for good, some attempts would have been made to eradicate the poverty that kills thousands every day and drives people to commit desperate acts. But, apparently, the world has not moved on and sadly, the responses of world leaders to 9/11 have been depressingly predictable. Instead of moves toward greater equality, exploitation of the poor has actually increased. Behind the fraudulent war on terrorism, the US has been using it’s political and military muscle to increase its dominance over world affairs, as a means of increasing its share of world markets. The real aim of the war against terrorism is to increase US market share by means of brute force.
For well over a decade now, with the Russian threat diminished, international events have been dictated by US military might. This is the norm under capitalism; a single dominant superpower using military might to force open markets for ever greater exploitation. This system is as old as capitalism itself, and is commonly known as imperialism.
The US was pursuing its imperialist strategy well before 9/11 - the Gulf war was widely perceived in the south as a needless show of force which evaded diplomatic options. As commentator Abdul Hag put it, the US is "trying to show its muscle, score a victory and scare everyone to death", or, as George Bush put it, show that "what we say goes". Writing at the time of the Gulf War, Cardinal Evaristo Arns of Sao Paulo summed up the fear across the undeveloped world when he said, "the rich sided with the US government while the millions of poor condemned this military aggression… throughout the world… there is hatred and fear: When will they decide to invade us and on what pretext?"
Likewise, in the bombing of Serbia, there was considerable evidence that peaceful options might have been pursued, avoiding much human misery. Throughout the bombardment, it was repeatedly proclaimed that one of the war aims was to establish US credibility. Later, the claim emerged that the war was to stop ethnic cleansing. However, the Commanding General stated at the time that he "knew of no such war aim." He clearly had not been updated on the latest spin. Now, there is rich documentary evidence (from the state department itself, amongst others sources) which shows that the war was aimed at the pursuit of western interest and raising US credibility, and had little to do with the prevention of ethnic cleansing. Even normally pro-American writers at the time condemned the bombing. Israeli military analyst Amos Gilboa put it bluntly; "the bombing was a reversion to traditional gunboat diplomacy cloaked in moralistic righteousness".
Following the years and trillions spent establishing US prowess, and given the magnitude of the affront that 9/11 presented, someone had to pay. Not to have lashed out would have challenged US authority and undermined its ability to dictate world affairs. Sadly, it was the people of Afghanistan who were to face the full force of US bombing.
the same, but more
Along with the bombing of Afghanistan, the war against terrorism was declared. The aim of this fraudulent war was to take advantage of the attacks on the twin towers as an excuse to spread "fear and respect" (as the Washington Post put it). The message is clear; what US capitalism demands, US capitalism gets. In other words, the war against terrorism is merely an extension of military action from the Gulf War onwards aimed at furthering the aims of US capitalism and entrenching the US position as the sole world superpower.
Since the 9/11 atrocity, the US government has been able to wrap itself in the flag and pursue its political and economic agenda with a ferocity unthinkable prior to the attack on the twin towers. Within the US, liberal opposition has melted away, and the dogs of war have been let off the leash. According to Vice President Dick Cheney, "40 to 50" countries are already potential targets for US military action. With Iraq topping the table, we seemed to be faced with a future of ongoing military attacks across the developing world, as the US pursues its imperialist aims.
The military and the economic are simply the two main weapons of exploitation in the US kit bag. Not surprisingly, they are used in tandem. When the opportunity arises to step up military oppression, so inevitably the screw is turned tighter on the international economy. Post-9/11, the US has been quick to exploit the situation to force the pace. To oppose the US economic agenda is now enough to risk the wrath of the US. Look no further than US trade representative Robert Zoelliek’s remarks before the WTO conference at Doha in the Gulf. Invoking the war against terrorism, he warned developing nations that no threat to the American trade agenda would be tolerated, stating boldly: "The United States is committed to global leadership of openness and understanding and the staying power of our new coalition (against terrorism) depends on economic growth." In other words, to stand in the way of US economic growth puts at risk the war against terrorism, and that threatens the US. This is tantamount to twisted logic of the "you are either with us or against us" variety.
The poor nations have bitterly complained at the dictatorial attitude and fear and intimidation of the US. A Jamaican delegate to Doha stated, "we feel that this (WTO) meeting has no connection with the war on terrorism, yet we are made to feel that we are holding up the rescue of the global economy, if we do not agree to a new round of (liberalisation measures)." Other delegates to the WTO conference in Doha complained of being threatened with removal of their few precious trade preferences. An African delegate stated, "if I speak out too strongly for the rights of my people, the US will phone my minister. They will say that I am embarrassing the United States. My government will not even ask what I did, they will just send me a ticket home, so I do not speak out for fear of offending the new master." The Ugandan ambassador who was mildly critical of "liberalisation measures" was withdrawn after one phone call to the Ugandan government from a US official. Both the Haiti and the Dominican Republic were told their special trade preferences with the US would be withdrawn if they did not withdraw their meagre objections to "procurement" - jargon for government public spending being taken over by the WTO. An Indian Minister put it simply; "The whole process is a mere formality, and we are being coerced against our will."
Christian Aid’s head of policy Mark Curtis described "an emerging pattern of threats and intimidation of poor countries… it was utterly outrageous. Wealthy countries exploited their power to spin the agenda of big business. The issue of multinational corporations as a cause of poverty was no longer even on the agenda. Attending WTO conferences is now like attending a conference on malaria control that does not even discuss the mosquito."
This is a far cry from pre-9/11, when the anti-globalisation movement was in full cry and the nations of the Southern hemisphere were able to use the massive demonstrations taking place to bring the power of transnationals and G8 collusion onto the international agenda. The spread of globalisation, which is itself a euphemism for the progressive seizure of resources and markets by the rich G8 countries, has accelerated since 9/11. It inevitably is leading to ever-greater inequality and growing poverty.
While we are on inevitabilities, as sure as night follows a sunny Afghan day, more and harsher US-led inequality and oppression will lead to resistance. Currently, the most likely form of this will be radical nationalism, underpinned with political religion. Eventually, a successful challenge to the US ability to manage the global economy will happen. The US government is fully aware of this and it is fear of it which drives the open-ended war against terrorism.
who are the evil-doers?
Hardly anyone outside the US failed to notice that when Bush declared war on "evil-doers" for "continuing to try to harm America and Americans", he did not mention who these evil-doers are or what their aims are. They certainly are not Pakistan and the US itself, who actually bankrolled and trained the "evil" Taliban and Al Qaeda network. As the National Catholic Reporter noted, "the Bush administration’s recent waiver of sanctions on Pakistan opens the way for military trade with a volatile regime, once considered off limits". Pakistan’s reward for supporting the US includes a selection of the latest model of the F-16 fighter aircraft, anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, and the latest artillery and unmanned aerial aircraft.
Nor are the "evil-doers" the repressive regime of Uzbekistan, which is one of several former Soviet Countries now run by thugs. However, these are important for US strategic interests, plus they just happen to be in a region rich in oil. Since Uzbekistan has its own ongoing internal conflicts, the thugs want basic counterinsurgency equipment such as helicopters, light weapons, armoured cars and communication equipment. "Evil-doers" does not include totalitarian regimes using US arms to murder their own people, as long as they allow US military and corporates to operate with impunity.
Many on the left have argued that by evil-doers, the US means the Muslim world. This misses the main point. The war against terrorism may appear paranoid and largely indiscriminate, but it is aimed at any force which may challenge US interest and dominance. At present, that includes political Islam. As Daniel Pipes noted in the US journal Commentary, "at the moment, when the European-derived extremes of the Communist Left and Fascist Right are tired and on the whole ineffectual, militant Islam has proved itself to be the only truly vital totalitarian movement in the world today. As one or another of its leaders made clear, it regards itself as the only rival, and the inevitable successor, to western civilisation".
For ‘western civilisation’ we should read ‘US dominance’, but Pipes is only telling half the story. As far back as 1995, NATO Secretary General Willy Claes declared that since the end of the cold war, "Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to western security." He went on to argue that not only does Islam pose the same kind of threat to the west as Communism before it, but the scale of the danger is greater because the movement encompasses "the exploitation of social and economic injustice". Herein lies the crux; Islam only poses a threat and so becomes a target for US military action when it dares to challenge US capitalist dominance. Where the Muslim world remains compliant and is willing to exploit its population in the interests of western capitalism, it will receive US support. After all, Pakistan is a large Muslim country with a sizeable militant population and a pro-militant faction in the armed forces. The US is quite prepared to arm Pakistan, risking an intensified arms race between Pakistan and India, who stand permanently posed on the edge of nuclear war, simply in order to maintain US capitalist interests within the Muslim world.
Western governments were also quite happy to support Saddam against political Islam in Iran, and then stand by and watch him brutally massacre thousands of Kurds. Only when he threatened US interests did he magically take on the mantle of evil-doer. It is not the nature, religion or colour of the regime that matters, it is the threat it poses to US capitalism. Where Claes differs from Pipes is that he perhaps inadvertently explains the true meaning of Bush’s "evil-doers". They are any people or movement capable of gathering support and organising against capitalist inequality and injustice. The US government fully realises that, as its exploitation increases, so will inequality and poverty, and so will reaction in the form of movements of resistance. These movements may be drawn from communism, political Islam, anarchism, radical Catholicism or whatever, but as soon as they seek to challenge US capitalism, they will be stigmatised as evil-doers and terrorists, and held up as a threat to western society, to be mercilessly eliminated. Far from the "world never being the same again" after 9/11, it remains rooted in inequality, poverty and injustice. The war against terrorism has little to do with seeking any specific "evil-doers"; it is simply a war declared by the rich on the poor in pursuit of US imperialism.
This is not to say that all of us who oppose capitalism are doomed, far from it. Indeed, increased violence by the world superpower is a sign that chinks of frailty are showing, or that they are more likely to be exposed. US capitalist dominance will end, and collectively, we have the power to influence when this happens and what replaces it.
Opposing the war on terrorism is the task of all those who seek an end to poverty in all its forms. However, hand in hand with this is the task of building a real alternative to capitalism. Political parties offering leadership always lead to totalitarian states. Whether market capitalist or state capitalist, the result is oppression. An alternative is direct community self-organisation, without bosses, states, or capitalist exploitation. This anarcho-syndicalist alternative is to start building a society now, where each and every individual has the right to live in peace, free from poverty, and where each and every individual has the means to develop to their full potential, enriching the society around them in the process. This is a far cry from Muslim fundamentalism. To state the obvious, creating such a movement across the world which is capable of withstanding the attacks of capitalism is not easy. It is certainly in the "evil-doers" category, and so it is and will increasingly be given a rough ride. But judging by historical events, overthrowing morally corrupt empires often proves easier than it looks from below and before.
The only change that has taken place since 9/11, is that US imperialism has changed up another gear. Sadly, it is the world’s poor who have already paid the price in numbers that dwarf the numbers murdered in September, and the bodies continue to mount. There will be no blanket media coverage and no sanctimonious Hollywood memorials for the millions who face death through poverty and starvation brought about by growing US-led inequality. Their deaths will go unreported and ignored by the media. Nothing fundamental has changed in the world, except that opposing the war against terrorism and the need to bring into reality a real alternative to capitalism has got even more urgent.
Martyrs - Mythology, masochism and morality
Some anarchosyndicalist thoughts on the political concept of ‘martyrdom’
Martyrdom is a concept common to Judaic, Christian and Islamic religions – (Want to find the quickest way to paradise, and boost your odds of canonisation at the same time? Get yourself slaughtered by the infidels!). However, there are quite strict regulations for being a martyr, these monotheistic religions not being keen on suicide. It is important that the hierarchy makes sure it was a selfless act of faith and not the throwing away of God’s precious gift of life. Recently, though, the concept of martyrdom has broadened, and a person doesn’t have to be seeking everlasting glory to get tagged a martyr.
Derived from the Latin word for ‘witness’, a dictionary definition of a martyr is; ‘one who voluntarily suffers death rather than deny his [sic] religion by words or deeds; such action is afforded special’. For the purpose of this article, then, let’s suppose that being a martyr necessarily requires a degree of choice on the part of the martyr and others involved, and involves the principle of standing by one’s convictions in the face of death, rather than actively courting destruction. According to this definition, a person killed simply because they hold a particular political or religious belief is not a martyr; they are a victim. A person strapping a load of explosive to themselves and then blowing up a lot of other people, however driven, by whatever level of despair, and whether for a cause or not, does not, therefore, qualify as a martyr, as they have deliberately killed themselves in the process of deliberately killing others. They are actually homicidal suicides.
The big problem of martyrdom and martyrs is that it glorifies suffering and death, and whilst this might be expected of the old European Christian churches, which did have a strong element of S&M running through much of its iconography, it’s hardly the sort of thing a would-be progressive ideology should be supporting. Martyrs are people who are killed/made to suffer at the hands of others through choices they make. As anarchosyndicalism seeks to reduce the amount of suffering in the world, and as one of the basic tenants is that the ends and means must be linked, it cannot be progressive to promote the idea of martyrdom. Anarchosyndicalists want people to have better lives; promoting the idea of some people laying down their lives, or suffering, to achieve better lives is at best bizarre. It is counter-productive, it fetishises suffering and implies that those persecuting the ‘martyrs’ are somehow integral to the struggle: promoting the myth of martyrdom places those oppressing a particular group at the centre of that group’s ideology. The emphasis on martyrdom in political struggle actually places the state, corporations and other persecutors, in a powerful ideological position, as their actions come to dictate who to admire and support.
As political role models go, martyrs are pretty lacking. The promotion of what is positive about the lives of those who attempt to alleviate suffering, including a person’s own, is much more appropriate to anarchosyndicalist aims and means. There can be a perception that a real activist needs to have suffered a bit, been picked on because of their politics. A bit of ‘martyrdom’ proves you really mean it, that the politics are for real. This is crap. There is more to being real than getting picked on by the powers that be. Being a rebel is not the same as being an anarchist; there is more to it than just kicking against the shit - it’s about trying to live in such a way as to remove the shit.
Anarchosyndicalism is about not glorifying suffering; it’s about condemning the behaviour of those who cause it, and holding them to account, whilst celebrating the lives of those who struggle to seek a better world, both in the here and now and in the future. By evoking the religious iconography of martyrdom for a secular activity, an important part of the concept is missing - the reward - and whilst this might mean the secular anarcho-martyr is more noble and more sacrificing, noble and sacrificing are not really the sort of things anarchosydicalism is about.
Tabloids, and politicians looking for soft headlines in them, frequently go on about too much emphasis of care, support and rehabilitation being put on the perpetrators of crime. What they want is more emphasis on the victims and how noble they are, and for the ‘criminals’ to be banged up and forgotten. When it comes to contemporary mainstream politics, the strategy is the other way round; the perpetrators of crimes, the big corporations, the states are lauded for their nobility, benevolence, love of freedom and justice - or at least their public faces are. In the meantime, the poor, oppressed and marginalised are swept under the carpet and ignored. When they fight back, they then become the ‘criminals’ shuffled off out of sight and out of mind again.
An anarchosyndicalist approach to this problem is to refuse to allow those who are running the world (into the ground) to remain faceless and protected from the consequences of their actions. When people suffer as a result of the appalling system we live under, it must be made clear that their suffering is a result of the actions of those in power, to level responsibility where it belongs, not bill the victims of dysfunctional systems as ‘martyrs’. It is important to acknowledge and support those who fight back, those who start to build the new world, and look to new and better ways of living. It is important to celebrate their lives, not that they were made to suffer.
Rape in wartime
Rape is not easy to write about, and this article may not be easy to read - not because it will offer a procession of gut-wrenching stories where horror is piled upon horror, but precisely because it will not .
Rape in combat has a long and varied history. The practice of seizing women as property in times of war goes back in written history to ancient times. The concept of women as property – indistinguishable from lands, goods, animals and other disposables - clearly facilitated the view that this was a ‘natural’ by-product of conflict. In this context, stealing women was seen as a part of war booty, a man’s, or group of men’s, reward for having triumphed over another man or group of men. Arguably, it was this rather uncomplicated view, that of ‘natural consequence’, that enabled the West to shrug its shoulders over stories of rape coming from Bosnia in the early nineties, until foreign correspondents confirmed that systematic mass rapes were taking place in camps. Perhaps because of the stark reminder of concentration camps in WW2, perhaps because of the overtly systematic programme of ‘ethnic cleansing’, or perhaps (more likely) because of the fact that arguments could be formulated around legal definitions of genocide and crimes against humanity, the international community began to take notice.
The timing of international moral outrage tends to support the view that, in the absence of the evidence of the camps and the blatant use of forced pregnancy as a tool of genocide, the West would have continued to shrug off the fact of rape in wartime. In addition, there is the fact of legal wrangles in the early months of the war, which appeared to emanate from deciding whether Article 27 of the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, stating that women shall be protected against rape, could be brought to bear in the case of Bosnia. Since Article 27 only applies to international conflicts, much was made of deciding whether the conflict was a civil war or an international war of aggression. In fact, the legal tools by which to prosecute already existed under Common Article 3, a provision which covers ‘humiliating and degrading treatment’, and this was eventually brought to bear in war tribunals relating to the former Yugoslavia, but this isn’t the point. The main point to consider in all of this is, that no-one outside of Bosnia was listening until the rapes were identified as ‘systematic’, and therefore, somehow, ‘unnatural’. And it is this, conversely, that supports the notion that rape continues to be seen as a ‘natural’ consequence of war.
But what is it that continues to support the view that rape is a ‘natural’ occurrence in wartime? The simple explanation that might have been applied to the Hellenic period in Greece, when women were legally the property of men, can hardly be applied to a context in which male-female relations are more frankly far more complex. Equality may not have been achieved, but enough progress has been made in some Western countries to significantly muddy the waters for die-hard patriarchs. As contemporary feminists have pointed out, the subordination hasn’t gone away (and neither has peacetime rape), it has simply changed tack. This change implies that patriarchy has had to shift strategically speaking, and such alterations indicate that, at the very least, patriarchal practices have become less straightforward, even if the impact retains some recognisable results in hard terms. In reality, the act of rape in wartime has a range of cultural and social functions, and these are made complex by some of the apparent contradictions found within the variety of reasons why it continues to be so prevalent.
One clue can be found, oddly enough, in the phrasing of a statute used to prosecute war crime charges related to rape before the post-war Tokyo Tribunal. This provision, found in Article 46 of the 1907 Hague Convention, refers to ‘family honour and rights’, and was used to prosecute some of those responsible for the mass rapes carried out in China in the late 1930s. Although the phrase enabled the prosecution of those who perpetrated the Nanking atrocities, it is the very concept of ‘family honour’ and of women as the bearers of that ‘honour’, that has made, and continues to make, women the target of rapists in wartime. The fact that, in some cultures, the ‘honour’ of male family members rests upon the conduct, virtue and significantly, the inviolability of their female relatives, makes rape not only the most effective form of insult, but a tool by which to destroy enemy ‘territory’. That women symbolise territory ideologically – note the extent to which land and territory is personified as female in many cultures - and physically, as the owned ‘space’, of husbands or male relatives, makes rape a tool of choice when it comes to invasion and conquest. That the rape transcends its symbolic function and causes actual harm to the women and their male relatives is not in dispute, but the ability to destroy the enemy’s culture, family and the values they hold dear through rape is facilitated through the idea of women as representative of family, and often, national honour.
Another function of rape in wartime is to forcibly impregnate with the intention of wiping out the bloodline of the hated ethnic group in question. But forced pregnancy does more than erase family and ethnic bloodlines; it is often designed to destroy the fabric of an ethnic culture through the very sexism on which the particular position of its women is predicated. The woman and child are frequently rejected – the child is often considered as the child of the rapist father, not the mother, and the raped woman is abandoned and effectively exiled from her own culture.
Another function of rape in wartime is to spread terror. During the Rwandan genocide in the nineties, Tutsi women were raped systemically to spread terror in their own tribe. One of the uses to which rape was put in the Bosnian conflict was to inflict such pain and humiliation that women would not be able to return to their homes and villages – thus ‘cleansing’ the territory of the hated ethnic group. Although there are other means by which to wage war and spread terror, rape is seen as a particularly useful tool in the destruction of a rival group, for a number of reasons. If the intention is to spread terror, then systematic rape provides ‘recreation’ for the troops, confirms the invader’s dominance, and leaves survivors who can send out the message to the second targets that resistance is futile.
In the case of the contemporary eastern Congo, rape is an everyday occurrence for thousands of women, according to the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for the area. Women are raped by all sides of the conflict – in some cases as punishment for being of the wrong ethnic group, or as a pre-emptive act to teach villagers not to fight back against invaders. Traditions where rapists had formerly become outcasts have broken down, and each side accuses the other and uses rape as a means of retribution. In the meantime, its high incidence in the eastern Congo means that it has become a way of life, and the dramatic rise in rape by civilians is attributed by locals to the way that it has become ‘naturalised’ as a feature of the war.
There are present fears for women in Afghanistan, who, after decades of terror at the hands of patriarchal extremists, are still as vulnerable as ever to the whim of whichever group gains power. The western media has already overemphasised the ‘liberation’ of Afghan women through the war, leading the Revolutionary Afghan Women’s Association to speak out about the west’s complacency over the conditions presently experienced by women in the country under the Northern Alliance. Shortly, the eighteen nation UN security forces are due to hand over command to Turkey. General Abdul Rashid Dostum, Turkish deputy defence minister, has been held responsible for a number of atrocities carried out against Kurds. Given the media’s insistence on the allies’ role in Afghanistan as ‘liberators’, it may be some time before familiar stories begin to emerge from Afghanistan, but suffice it to say that the same people being put in charge of Afghanistan are already fighting charges of systematic rape and sexual torture of Kurdish women, Turkish dissident women and, yes, Afghan women.
Rape, and the threat of rape, in wartime is a particularly effective form of terrorism. Its aim may be expulsion, dispersion, genocide or taming. Taming the enemy through particularly gendered means is a particularly old game, the Romans being past masters of it. One of their favoured means was to force conquered males to dress in female apparel until they were deemed ‘docile’ enough to be ruled. Clearly, conquest then, as now, carries a particularly gendered meaning. Rape in contemporary warfare appears to function in a similar way; if a man or group of men cannot protect a woman or women from their group from rape, they are, within the terms of patriarchal definitions, rendered unmanly. The group of men to which the rapist belongs, however, assert their rulership and manhood through the same rape that emasculates the enemy. In this way, rape in wartime ‘domesticates’ in that it aims to subdue not only the women who are its immediate victims, but also the men socially connected to them.
It is sometimes pointed out, in discussions of rape in wartime, that some soldiers carry out rapes under threat themselves. Used to build solidarity and destroy any sense of empathy with the enemy – in the case of Bosnia, sever friendships that had existed between former neighbours – rape is one of the most effective acts of war. Women’s involvement in inciting such rapes – as in the case of the mass rapes of German women by Soviet troops in WW2 - also serves to demonstrate how eminently established rape is as a martial act. Although women’s role in encouraging the rape of enemy women is perplexing to some, it can be explained by its well-established and naturalised function as ‘punishment’ of an enemy, as well as by the opportunity it gives to consolidate identity with men of their group – and lead the threat of rape away from themselves.
Rape in wartime cannot be entirely separated, however, from rape outside of that context. Although in war rape serves a number of specific, conflict-related purposes, some of these are shared with rape outside of the context of war, notably the exertion of power and warnings to ‘second targets’ to comply with patriarchal demands of submissiveness. In both cases, the act of rape is based upon, and perpetuates, deeply ingrained sexism. The notion of women as bearers of honour and virtue did not disappear with the seventeenth century, and it is not something that westerners can comfortably ascribe to ‘fundamentalists’ and their nasty cultural habits – it exists in the every day, in our language (just try and see how many gender-specific insult-words are linked to the sexual behaviour of women, and compare with the number specifically applicable to men), and in our ideological conceptions of the world around us. Some environmentalists have fallen into the habit of referring to ‘Mother’ Earth - picking up on the established lingua franca of planet, territory, land and nation being spoken of as ‘she’. This is the very symbolic territory that supports martial rape. As long as women are defined by their vulnerability, and thus by their need for male protection, as long as the female body, empty of any meaning save that imposed upon it by patriarchy, is seen as the repository of male ‘honour’, exalted as an abstract ideal as nationhood, territory, land or seen as the physical property of men, rape will continue to function as the most prevalent act of war.
Who cares who dies? New Labour, No Ethics
In 1996, when in opposition, the Labour Party attacked the Conservatives over their approach to arms sales. They promised legislation to overhaul Britain’s archaic system of arms export control. Six years on and nothing has happened. In fact, Labour’s record is getting worse.
The government approved a sharp increase in arms sales to Israel last year, despite its military activities in the occupied territories. There was also a large increase in arms sales to India and Pakistan throughout the Kashmir crisis, at a time when ministers were warning about the dispute spreading beyond the region and telling British citizens to leave the area immediately. Whitehall sanctioned export licences in military equipment covering bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, combat vessels, howitzers and military aircraft and their components to both countries.
Yet, Jack Straw, at the same time, was telling MPs: "On the issue of arms sales [to India and Pakistan], I may be wrong, but I do not recall approving a single arms control licence in the past two months." Also approved were large increases to countries with poor human rights records, including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Indonesia.
Exports cleared for Israel almost doubled, from £12.5m to £22.5m: components for combat aircraft, helicopters and bombs, components for anti-tank missiles and military aircraft engines, and large calibre ammunition. Some 88 Challenger 1 battle tanks were delivered last year to Jordan, a country in the front line in any ground invasion of Iraq by US and British forces. In addition, the government approved £55.5m worth of arms exports to Jordan, compared with £12m the previous year.
Figures also show that large numbers of weapons were sold to Hong Kong and the Bahamas, suspected of diverting arms to other destinations. Items cleared for the Channel Islands included parts for combat helicopters, armoured fighting vehicles, and submachine guns. Now, you do not have to be a genius to work out that Jersey, Alderney and Sark don’t need these arms for their tourist industry but nobody seems to be prepared to say where they end up.
Other controversial sales approved by the government include armoured vehicles to Angola, components of body armour to China, and body armour and military vehicles to Eritrea. All three were under arms embargoes at certain times throughout the year.
Sale of anti-riot shields to El Salvador and body armour to Guatemala also appeared to conflict with the government’s guidelines, which state that sales would not be approved if there was a "clear risk" they might be used for internal repression.
Sales approved for Tanzania, where the government sold a controversial and expensive military air traffic control system, rose from less than £250,000 to £19.5m.
These figures simply confirm that the government’s guidelines are not worth the paper they are written on. The driving force behind arms sales is profit, pure and simple. Behind all the rhetoric is the simple fact that the governments don’t really care where their arms are used and who they are used against, as long as it’s a long way away.
A Century of War
"War is the health of the state" (Randolph Bourne)
The 20th century can rightly be known as the century of war. Every day throughout its hundred years, there was some conflict in some part of the globe. Wars begin for many reasons and are fought by the ruling elites of nations for their own economic, political, religious or domestic interests, without regard for the welfare of the civilians on either side. All states are based on power and authority, and use this, to a greater or lesser extent, to suppress internal dissent and to wage war.
The 19th century had seen the development of nation states and the extension of European empires throughout the world. By the end of the 1800s, there had been thirty years of peace in Europe because the major powers played out their power games in Africa and Asia, exploiting the natural resources of those continents to support industrialisation. The USA, while formally expressing discomfort about European empire building, nevertheless built up its own sphere of influence, especially in Latin America and the Pacific Rim.
The 20th century began with Britain precipitating a war with the Boers to gain the economic power of the gold mines in the Boer republics, and to create a Cape-to-Cairo confederation of British colonies to dominate the African continent. The Boer’s resistance, as they waged an unconventional guerrilla war, came as a nasty shock to the British establishment. Their response was to build blockhouses, burn farms and confiscate foodstuffs. They packed off Boer women and children to concentration camps as ‘collaborators’, where 28,000 Boers and well over 20,000 blacks died.
Of course, Britain was not alone in experiencing colonial tensions and revolts. In the years up to the First World War, there was the Philippine Insurgency against the Americans that resulted in over 250,000 deaths, revolts against Japanese rule in Korea, Dutch rule in Bali and Indonesia, and civil war in China. In Africa, there was the Maji-Maji revolt against the Germans in East Africa that lasted from 1905 to 1907, as well as various colonial revolts against French, Portuguese and Italian rule. Added to this was the Russo-Japanese war (1904-05), a revolution in Mexico, beginning in 1910, that was to last ten years and eventually claim as many as two million lives, and various other, more minor, conflicts. By far the worst, and almost forgotten war, took place in the Congo between 1886 and 1908, in which an estimated 20 million Africans died.
Britain, once the pre-eminent economic power, had been losing ground to Germany, the United States and Japan since the 1870s. Economic and military alliances were closely linked. European capitalists were in an economical duel amid mutual complaints of unfair competition; military alliances and tensions had an economic basis. Many capitalists positively welcomed the idea of a war to open up markets and settle some old scores. The mounting support from the working class for socialist alternatives to capitalism was also in the minds of capitalists. Britain had seen the greatest wave of strikes ever, and these had been underpinned by revolutionary syndicalist ideas. There were growing anarcho-syndicalist movements and the formation of mass socialist parties. The prospect of war as a distraction from social and industrial unrest began to look positively attractive.
However, the warmongers failed to foresee the costs of what, from a capitalist point of view, had originally looked like a good idea. Initially, all seemed to go well. All the belligerent nations witnessed a sudden surge of patriotism and a sense of national unity. With a few notable exceptions, the left was caught up in this patriotic fever. Those who did oppose the war faced constant harassment from the state and organised mobs. Many were the first to be forcibly enlisted and disappeared or were killed in action.
Throughout Europe, rabid patriotism quickly turned to xenophobia as minorities and aliens faced persecution in every state. It was civilians who often uttered the most hateful patriotic nonsense, especially as the reality of war was brought home to those fighting at the front. For the first time, there was mass mobilisation in all countries involved. The economies of nations were geared to war production with the civilian populations virtually conscripted into munitions work. Rights that had been fought for over the years were wiped away, often with the support of the unions as dissenters were silenced.
This mood was to evaporate by 1916, as the stark reality of the war began to filter through. In terms of loss of life, the First World War heralded a new and vicious era of warfare. Technological advances coupled with a military establishment that still thought it was fighting the war before last, procured an unprecedented scale of casualties. The level and scope of tactical blunders initiated by the military hierarchy were farcical – and had tragic results. At the onset of the war, for example, French troops charged German machine guns dressed in bright red pants, making them easy targets, whilst the British General Staff persisted in the view that machine guns were no match for a cavalry attack, and the Russians thought sheer weight of numbers would see them through.
As war weariness set in, there were mutinies on the western front, which were brutally put down. Strikes occurred again as workers began to fight back. In Britain, many of the syndicalists went into the Shop Stewards movement, while in France, many members of the CGT were reconsidering the wisdom of accepting the war, and began to organise setting up an anti-war group called ‘Comitee de Defense Sydicaliste’.
Although the war officially ended in 1918 and spelt the end for some regimes (Imperial Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and, most notably, Tsarist Russia) for many, this was meaningless. Revolutions had broken out in Europe, and the fighting just became more localised. In Russia, western intervention aided the White Armies in the civil war that followed the revolutions of 1917. The Bolsheviks then established their dictatorship through the Red Army, who brutally suppressed any opposition, perceived or real. The rest of Europe saw the rise of fascism and the fighting between the left and right, especially in Germany and Italy, while colonial tensions continued in the push for independence. In some places, notably China, war simply never stopped. Continued fighting between rival factions saw untold millions perish. One war and enemy merged into another until, finally, the various conflicts fused into the Second World War.
The period between the World Wars saw the western capitalist states obsessed with the fear of Bolshevism and suppressing any internal threats of revolution. The Bolshevik regime itself concentrated on consolidating state power with no-one really knowing how many died. This period also saw the rise of fascism in Europe with its message of submission to the leader, of dominance and obedience and of racial supremacy. With many capitalists seeing fascism as a way of stifling revolutionary attitudes in the working class, fascist regimes were established in Germany and Italy as well as neo-fascist dictatorships in Eastern Europe.
At the same time as fascism was raising its ugly head, there was a rise in quasi-pacifism. In the wake of the horrors of WW1, the rapid disbandment of the large victorious armies and Germany’s enforced disarmament fostered an unrealistic hope in universal and complete disarmament, especially amongst the liberal middle classes. Much of this obsessive idealism rested on the assumption that it was the armaments themselves that had really caused WW1, and not the actual states. This over-simplistic approach meant that the growing fascist threat was not confronted. When an attempted fascist coup was resisted by workers in Spain in 1936, the capitalist states would not aid them, while the Marxist leadership in the Soviet Union was only concerned with its own position of power.
Aided by technological breakthroughs, the wars of this time saw the full development of terror tactics used by states to gain their ends. Civilians were now seen as legitimate targets, and, from this time on, civilian deaths exceeded military deaths in conflicts. Astoundingly, however, out of this, a principle of allocating ‘war guilt’ emerged. This initially came about after WW1, when a commission set up by the victorious allies decided that Germany had premeditated the war. This, of course, gave the allies the excuse to demand reparations, to force the defeated powers to pay for the cost of the war - a very capitalist approach. Of course this only served to fuel resentment in Germany, and added strength to the arguments put forward by Hitler and the Nazi Party.
The deaths of WW2 have been estimated at around 50 million. The vast majority of these deaths were civilians. All sides now used terror as a legitimate weapon on a mass scale. The ‘who started it first’ debate fades into irrelevance against the fact that all the states agreed on one thing; it was now justifiable to drop bombs on civilians. The German bombing of Britain killed around 60,000 civilians, while the Anglo-American bombing of Germany resulted in around half a million civilian casualties. Another quarter of a million Japanese civilians died in bombing raids, not including the same amount again as a result of the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The Japanese themselves were responsible for several millions of civilian deaths, mostly Chinese, through bombing, forced labour, deliberate famine and massacres. There was also the unprecedented scale of genocide perpetrated by Nazi Germany as it attempted to put into practice the ‘Final Solution’ for the Jewish population of Europe. This genocide also extended to other designated groups, including gypsies, gays and disabled people, that did not fit into the their vision of a future fascist state.
Once again, the economies of the belligerent nations were geared totally to the war effort. Workers’ rights disappeared, and the rhetoric reached new heights as, suddenly, everyone seemed to be anti-fascist. Gender ideologies were overturned (again) to meet the industrial and labour needs of the State, only to be reversed when the war ended. State oppression, lies and propaganda spiralled during WW2 and then further afterwards with the advent of the Cold War, which itself was really a misnomer. There might have been a sort of ‘peace’ in Europe between the superpowers, but elsewhere, it was business as usual, with conflicts continuing to rage around the globe.
The allies convened the Nuremberg Trials. In principle at least, they were determined to show that the atrocities carried out by the Nazis were not to be tolerated. In reality, of course, the Americans and the Russians were quite prepared to overlook the war crimes of many Nazi scientists if it meant their state would benefit. The two superpowers divided the world into spheres of influence and used whatever methods they could to spread their power. In Africa and Asia, independence movements once again took up armed struggle against their colonial masters. These were often supported by the Soviet Union purely for its own interests. The seeds of many of the conflicts and tensions that still occur today were sown then.
New ruling elites, that were compliant to one cause or the other, were established throughout the world. As the Soviet Union began to crumble, the Marxist regimes simply went with the prevailing tide and brought in free market capitalism. The added bonus for capitalism and the state rulers was that many independent working class organisations had already been suppressed.
No one really knows how many people lost their lives through wars and their aftermath, although it has been estimated that 40 million actual combatants were killed. As for civilians, through the terror bombing of cities, disease, starvation or political atrocities, you can add another 140 million. The trouble is these figures seem just too big to comprehend. The sad fact is while we live in a world where power is considered the ultimate prize, people will continue to die unnecessarily. It is one thing to argue for a change in government, or for a more ethical foreign policy, but the wars and atrocities of the 20th century have been committed by regimes that call themselves fascist and socialist, Christian and Muslim, democratic and totalitarian. The only conclusion that can be reached from looking at the wars of the 20th century is that it is states and their pursuit of power that cause wars. The ultimate form of power is state power and, while the state and capitalism continue to exist and feed off one another, people will continue to die in wars.
"Where there’s Muck there’s Brass … plus ... Dioxins, Cancer, Heart Disease, etc."
Onyx/Sarp/Vivendi, the global corporate monster has stretched its tentacles as far as Sheffield. The multi-national, which is the first (so-far) in Europe to be investigated for corporate irresponsibility along with other globalisers such as Enron and Xerox has bought rights to Sheffield’s waste.
Sheffield’s citizens have put up with the Bernard Road rubbish incinerator for over twenty years, despite its appalling pollution record and incredible cost. By 1998, Sheffield City Council had wasted £28 million on trying to upgrade the incinerator, but have now given up and announced its closure in 2005 (the bill now stands at £36 million). Unfortunately, the Council seems determined to make the same mistake again and is planning, along with the French multinational Onyx/Sarp/Vivendi, to build a new rubbish burner in Sheffield.
The company intends to more than double existing waste incineration in the city by building a 225,000 tonnes per year mega-regional burner. The company signed a contract to manage Sheffield’s waste in 2001, which locked the city into feeding their burner and coffers for the next thirty years. It intends to supplement those profits by importing waste from councils throughout the region.
The current incinerator produces 5,000 tonnes of dangerous and highly toxic ash per year, and the planned one will produce more. Incineration is a threat to human health and the environment as well as a waste of valuable resources. Air pollution has been linked to cancer, birth defects and breathing problems. The rubbish that the Council/Onyx chucks into the incinerator could be recycled or composted and provide jobs and income for Sheffield’s people.
The residue from the incineration process is graded on its toxicity (or how hazardous it is to human health) and taken to Parkwood Landfill Site. On its journey, it travels past local homes, schools, offices and leisure facilities.
Not surprisingly, the people who live near the incinerator and the landfill site are up in arms against the way the facilities are run and how their health is being affected. From this opposition, local groups have been set up, such as RABID (Residents against Bernard Road Incinerator Damage) and Sheffield against Incineration (SAI). They are vehemently opposed to the planned new incinerator and are actively fighting them, as well as pointing out the sane alternatives.
Getting away with murder
On 3rd August, coinciding with the Commonwealth Games, there was a demonstration in Manchester (see inset), protesting against sweatshops and casualisation, with a march through the streets (stopping for a while outside Gap), followed by a meeting with speakers from No Sweat and the Simon Jones Memorial Campaign (SJMC). They described the horrific working conditions, bordering on slavery, in the sweatshops where many of our designer clothes are made. Workers are subjected to degrading treatment, and some who have tried to organise trade unions have been threatened, tortured and murdered; one case involved a woman bound with barbed wire and impaled on a stake. Many of the most popular brands of sportswear, including Nike and Adidas, use sweatshop labour.
Most of the American flags sold in the last year, along with a vast range of American branded goods, were made in sweatshops in China – ironically part of Bush’s Axis Of Evil. The British and American economies rely on sweatshops in countries such as China and Indonesia, and would see profits drop if these sources of virtually free labour were outlawed. Some directors might have to scrape by on £9 million instead of £10 million, so to avoid this, it is tacitly deemed acceptable to use slavery by proxy, with all its associated brutality. Should we really be surprised that Blair’s government turns a blind eye to sweatshops, when it does nothing to protect workers in this country from being killed?
Simon was 24 years old, taking a year out from Sussex University, and getting hassle from the Job Centre, when a job agency, Personnel Selection, sent him to his death. Despite his complete lack of experience of working inside a ship, Euromin sent him, untrained, to work in the hold, unloading bags of stones. Euromin had modified an excavator for this job, with chains hanging from hooks welded to a grab. Euromin had the right tool, a plain hook, but they chose not to use it to save the time it took changing from one attachment to the other. Simon, along with Sean Currey, had to reach inside the open grab to fasten the bags onto the chains. The driver unintentionally nudged a lever that closed the two-tonne steel grab on Simon’s head and neck, killing him. Thus, a young man with much to live for was killed for the sake of saving time for Euromin. Quite simply, using inexperienced agency workers saves them money. On the day, they were also using a migrant who spoke no English to communicate between the workers in the hold and the excavator driver on the dockside, since they could not see each other.
The police recommended prosecuting Euromin’s manager, Richard James Martell, for manslaughter, and Euromin for corporate manslaughter, but the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) refused to act. One of their excuses was that few corporate manslaughter prosecutions have been successful. Few have been unsuccessful either; there have been less than ten attempted prosecutions for corporate manslaughter since the charge was introduced. The Legal Aid Board were equally stubborn in their opposition to justice. They refused legal aid, saying on the telephone that I had "no reasonable prospect of success" (disproved when we won the judicial review), but adding in a subsequent letter that I had insufficient grounds for being party to the prosecution, i.e. it was only my brother that was killed, so I had no reason to take legal action. Maybe the person who wrote this lacked the balls to let such an offensive lie pass his lips, or maybe he made it up as an afterthought. Louise Christian (our solicitor) and I convinced a panel of independent lawyers that the refusal was wrong, so they had to pay my legal aid, but kept failing to answer their telephones and denying receipt of recorded delivery letters for which they had signed.
At judicial review, the CPS’ barrister said "Anyone can appeal against a decision." What he meant was: "Anyone with £50,000 to spare can appeal against a decision." At the second judicial review hearing, two judges decided in our favour, saying the CPS’ reasoning "beggars belief" and was "irrational," and ordered the CPS to reconsider. After months of "reconsidering," they decided they had been right all along, and would still not prosecute. It took personal involvement from the DPP for the prosecution to go ahead. During the three and a half year delay between Simon’s death and the trial, the excavator driver, who would have been a useful witness, died of cancer.
The defence barrister’s summing up sent at least one juror to sleep, but the judge did the defence’s job in his summing up, emphasising defence arguments and giving scant mention of the prosecution’s case. Had I not heard it with my own ears, I could not have believed a judge could get away with such blatant bias. Until then, the trial seemed to be going our way. He stressed that Martell was a "good character," with no previous convictions. Neither had Harold Shipman when he was in the dock. Bin Laden has not been caught – does this make him a good character in Judge Stokes’ eyes? The judge’s desire to see Martell walk free was so obvious that it was virtually a formality that the jury would clear him of manslaughter, making a corporate manslaughter conviction against Euromin impossible (a company’s "controlling mind" has to be found guilty of manslaughter for corporate manslaughter to be possible). Euromin were fined £50,000 for two health and safety offences and ordered to pay £20,000 costs.
When the SJMC wrote to every MP in the UK, few showed any concern. George Galloway was an exception, raising the subject in Parliament and setting up an early day motion which a few dozen MPs signed. Only when campaigners blocked a bridge over the Thames outside the Health and Safety Executive’s Head Office did people in power start taking our case seriously. Last time the issue was debated in the Commons, only two MPs turned up, apart from those who had to be there, in contrast to the hundreds who turned out when the Queen Mother died.
Since the last cabinet reshuffle, there is no minister with clear responsibility for the HSE. New Labour, who pledged in 1998 to be "Tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime," openly tolerate killing, whilst concentrating police resources on easy targets that do not endanger life, in the sick joke that they call Zero Tolerance. Blair & Co promised a new offence of Corporate Killing way back in 1997, and recently slipped out a quiet announcement that now it will not happen until at least 2004. This may eventually make it easier to prosecute companies that kill their employees, but it could only work if company directors face prison sentences, which they probably won’t, as the government is now under CBI pressure to emasculate the proposed new law. Even Ruth Lea of the Institute of Directors criticised the climb-down.
In any case, reforming the law is irrelevant if nobody will enforce it. When Simon was killed, the HSE only had enough inspectors to investigate 5% of deaths and serious injuries at work. Imagine the outcry if the police only investigated one in twenty suspicious deaths outside the workplace. Still, today, one inspector is responsible for all building sites in Scotland. The final insult is that the average fine for killing an employee (in the few cases when anyone has been prosecuted) is £8,000; in short, a risk that many companies are willing to take.
Simon’s death was by no means an isolated incident. Even the most conservative official figures (with endless exceptions which are deemed not to count) reckon on hundreds of people killed at work in Britain each year, and some calculations put the figure at over 100 each week. When one 101-year-old woman passed away peacefully in her sleep, Tony Blair recalled Parliament to discuss the urgent political implications. When 80 Britons were killed in the World Trade Centre, Blair spent millions of pounds risking the lives of British service-people and Afghan civilians. When hundreds of his countrymen and women are killed at work, Blair does not raise a finger.
Now the state has decided to crackdown on ‘criminals’: five SJMC campaigners were arrested for "besetting" – defined as persistent harassment - at a peaceful protest at Euromin. Charges against two of Simon’s friends have been dropped, but the other three potentially face up to six months in prison. This is six months longer than any of the directors and managers who have killed their workers in recent years. At the time of writing, the trial is set and it remains to be seen whether the CPS will go through with it and thus prolong the farce by throwing extra egg on their own faces.
Literally around the corner from the wealthy Johannesburg suburb of Sandton, home to the latest World Summit on Sustainable Development, a human and environmental tragedy is being played out that has nothing to do with sustainability and everything to do with big business’ push for profits.
Alexandra is more shanty town than wealthy suburb, it has hardly changed since the apartheid era, and unemployment and AIDS are rife. Some homes have mains water, but since the city’s water services were sold off to French-based multinational Suez, the bills have tripled and many people can no longer afford to keep the water flowing. Instead, they are drinking untreated river water, making it hardly surprising that in February 2001, Alexandra fell victim to a cholera outbreak which claimed four lives. The government’s response? Start evicting the squatters. In an ironic shift, former anti-apartheid activists in Alexandra and Soweto have turned to resisting water privatisation as the new threat to life and dignity.
The public response to the Russian government’s decision to import 20,000 tons of high-level radioactive waste has been unequivocal; a series of protest actions, including an action camp, near Krasnoyarsk in Siberia. The camp, which began on June 30, took place near the prohibited zone around Krasnoyarsk-26, home to both Russia’s largest high-level radioactive waste storage facility and a plutonium-producing reactor. Krasnoyarsk is where the imported radioactive waste will be temporarily stored, and probably ‘permanently’ dumped. The import will make Russia an international nuclear waste dump, causing further environmental and social degradation in the country.
Earlier this year, local citizens and environmental groups collected nearly 100,000 residents’ signatures calling for a region-wide vote on whether or not to ban nuclear waste imports into the region. According to the Russian constitution, this is the only way the public can make a decision that cannot be overruled by any authority. Local authorities refused to accept these signatures, even though only 40,000 votes are needed according to referendum law. Environmental groups are taking the local authorities to court in hope of restoring justice. The organisers of this action are Ecodefense, Socio-Ecological Union and Greenpeace-Russia.
For more info and/or to make donations, contact the organisers;
Tel. 7 095 7766281 (Moscow); 7 3952 653345 (Krasnoyarsk) Email: [email protected] or [email protected]
In actions spanning ten days (19-28 July), people from all over Europe hooked up with migrants without papers (sans papiers) to reclaim the city of Strasbourg (on the French/German border) for a No Border action camp. The focus was resistance to Europe’s draconian policy of treating refugees as criminals.
The camp was based on self-organisation. People sorted out kitchens, showers and toilets as well as going on daily skipping runs to feed the camp. Everyone got together in their immediate areas to form barrios, which centred around a kitchen/meeting area. Someone from each barrio could then go to an inter-barrio meeting to make more general decisions about the camp, actions and broader political aims.
On the negative side, demonstrations were banned from the streets of the city, which was coloured blue by the uniforms of the police guarding every corner, ready to use their sticks and teargas. Several arrests took place.
The unduly severe state repression clearly exposed establishment fear of the issues raised by the Camp – such as freedom of movement and settlement in Europe, and the rejection of State social control and security laws. Nevertheless, around 2000 on the camp from all around the world, adults and children, gathered and successfully carried out several actions and demonstrations. Highlights included a protest in front of the European Court of Human Rights against anti-immigration laws in Germany (Residenzpflicht), an anti surveillance samba, street theatre, and actions against Accor and its complicity in the deportation of sans papiers.
In July, twenty miners died in an eastern Ukraine coal mine explosion. The latest tragedy at the Zasiadko mine in Donetsk was the third fatal mining accident in Ukraine in the month. On 7 July, 35 coal workers were killed in a fire (as a result, the Ukrainian authorities arrested three top managers - the investigation of the case determined that mine officials had committed gross violations of safety rules). On 21 July, a methane blast killed six miners and injured 18. Funding cuts since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991 have made the situation worse. An average 300 miners die each year in the industry, and about 150 have died so far this year.
World Youth Day at the end of July ended in the dramatic take-over of an abandoned building on King Street West in Toronto. Organised by the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, the squat action highlighted the fact that 60,000 families are waiting for up to ten years for subsidised housing. Meanwhile, many of the emergency shelters fail to meet even the minimum standards established by the United Nations for refugee camps, and upwards of 500 economic evictions happen every week.
Speaking over a megaphone from inside the building, squatters demanded the restoration of rent controls, an end to economic evictions, restoration of the 22% which was cut from social assistance in 1995, and the construction of at least 2,000 units of new social housing per year in Toronto. Leaflets were handed out to people with a schedule of planned events at the site, and small groups began fanning out to forage for discarded furniture in the surrounding neighbourhood.
The action highlighted the growing political squatters’ movement in Canada, following similar actions in Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec City, Vancouver and Toronto within the past year, as it becomes increasingly apparent that the only way people can obtain housing is by direct action.
Warlords & Drug Barons
The mere mention of Colombia conjures up images of the cocaine trade. It also brings to mind guerrilla armies, paramilitary death squads and a civil war which kills thousands of people every year. Add the slate of US interests in Latin American countries and the widespread social and economic inequality and you’ve got the framework for the Pentagon’s current policy on Colombia.
Since the World Trade Centre attack, the so-called Plan Colombia ‘War on Drugs’ has been increasingly portrayed as part and parcel of the ‘War on Terrorism’. This development has exposed the US’s lack of credibility over both drugs and terrorism – at least it would have but for the lack of interest shown by the western media machine. Plan Colombia is not supposed to wipe out Colombian drug barons, but conveniently allows the war lords in Washington to fund state and paramilitary terrorism against guerrilla and other perceived threats to US interests. As ever in war, it is the ordinary people who suffer the disastrous effects.
Despite almost forty years of war, the Colombian economy, without setting the world alight, has performed pretty well. Aside from being self sufficient in oil, Colombia supplies more oil to the US than Kuwait; it is the world’s second largest coffee exporter and it boasts Latin America’s largest coal reserves. Such an economy should really have no difficulty in providing its 40 million people with a reasonable standard of living. So why is Colombia still a society based on massive inbuilt inequality?
Two reasons spring immediately to mind. Firstly Colombia is dominated by an exclusively white and largely Spanish-descended political, economic, religious and military elite which has maintained a wealth distribution pattern that has changed little since colonial times. Secondly, as Colombia has become more integrated into the global economy, wealth has increasingly been repatriated abroad, aided and abetted by a whole raft of pan-American trade agreements chiefly for the benefit of US investors.
The political system in Colombia has long been carved up between two parties, the Liberals (PL) and the (Social) Conservatives (PC). Politics has often been conducted to the sound of gunfire as the rival factions among the elite unleashed armed gangs against their opponents. For instance, an undeclared civil war between various factions of the two parties killed around 200,000 people between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s. This period also saw Colombia’s only military government of the 20th century, which was then replaced by a ‘National Front’ coalition comprised of moderate factions of the two main parties. The ‘National Front’ period, lasting into the mid-1970s, ended inter-party violence since the two parties voluntarily passed political control to and fro every four years with no real electoral competition.
Above all, no matter which flavour of political control was in fashion among the elite, the economic and social realities facing most Colombians remained bleak. Growing disenchantment with a political system that delivered little in the way of reform was reflected by a growing radicalism among both peasantry and urban working class. Some of this has surfaced as agitation around cost of living improvements, but there are as yet few signs of the emergence of an organised labour movement prepared to confront the ruling class politically as well as economically.
Instead, the real threat for the political elite is the various guerrilla movements who have also fed off this radicalism. Like other Latin American countries, marxist inspired guerrilla movements of the 1960s found a fertile recruiting ground in Colombia. Unlike these other countries, not only are Colombian national liberation armies still with us, but they have actually strengthened their positions in recent years, now controlling significant chunks of the country. The two main guerrilla groupings are the FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional – National Liberation Army). Besides confronting the state armed forces, guerrilla activities have included attacks on important infrastructure targets such as oil pipelines and power installations as well as kidnap, death threats and assassination aimed especially at politicians, landowners and their supporters.
Though the two events have no direct link, the civil war period has coincided with the rise of the Colombian drug trade fuelled by soaring US demand first for marijuana in the 1960s, then for cocaine in the 1970s. By the end of the 1970s, Colombia supplied about 70% of all marijuana reaching the US. By this time, the Medellín Cartel had taken over the Latin American end of cocaine smuggling and they went on to violently seize control of wholesale distribution in the US. These activities brought US demands for extraditions of the major players in the Cartel. At first, the Colombian state co-operated but the Cartel responded with death threats and assassinations against various politicians and judicial figures. Eventually, the extradition treaty was annulled in the Colombian courts. This is one illustration of how far the influence of cocaine traffickers has now spread throughout Colombian society. While some drug barons have stood for and won political office, drugs money more usually bankrolls the campaigns of ‘traditional’ politicians. Meanwhile, the unofficial economy, dominated by drugs, is estimated to be worth as much as 50% of the ‘legitimate’ economy, much of which is, in any case, also controlled by the Cartel.
Drug barons set up the first paramilitary groups to hit back at guerrillas who, in 1981, had kidnapped members of the drug community in a bid to raise finance. One way or another the guerrillas pose a threat to the Cartel’s interests. The extent to which FARC and ELN are involved in the drug trade has been greatly overstated in US and Colombian government propaganda. Nevertheless, they regularly tax the activities of drugs traders in the areas under their control, but in some places are also involved with non-governmental organisations in programmes to encourage farmers to switch production away from coca. Paramilitary death squads are now widespread, financed not only by drug traffickers, but also by wealthy landowners and senior military figures. They operate largely without military interference and often with direct collusion, including supplies of money, weapons and intelligence. Their targets, besides guerrillas and their supporters, also include union, student and human rights activists – anyone, in fact, who opposes the status quo.
The paramilitaries provide the unofficial arm of Plan Colombia, a strategy under which Colombia’s guerrillas are dubbed ‘narco-terrorists’. The ‘War Against Terrorism’ that Bush and Blair declared after the events of September 11th 2001, has been extended to single out FARC as ‘the most lethal terrorist organisation in the western hemisphere’. This allows the $7.5 billion of military aid for the ‘War Against Drugs’ envisaged by Plan Colombia to be directed largely against FARC and ELN. This, in addition to previous aid, has meant the Colombian military has almost doubled over the last fifteen years, a trend to be continued under new president, Alvaro Uribe, who also plans a one million strong network of informers. Already significant funds have found their way to paramilitary groups, many directly controlled by the very drug barons the ‘War Against Drugs’ pretends to fight.
The only real operations against drugs are the deployment of crop dusting planes escorted by US-supplied helicopters and US-trained troops. The fumigations actually have little effect on the supply of cocaine. Coca can grow back on fumigated land within a few months but other crops are completely devastated, so farmers who previously grew a mixture of crops are forced to rely more on coca. Others simply move on, clear some more jungle and begin from scratch again. Another side effect is the polluting of water supplies causing severe illnesses among farming families.
Clearly Plan Colombia, far from eradicating the cocaine supply, is meant to protect US economic interests, interests which not only include the oil and investments in Colombia itself, but more importantly, those across the border in Venezuela, the US’s largest oil supplier. The warlords in Washington require regional ‘stability’ at any cost. That means no regime change in Colombia and no challenge to the power of the drug barons. For most Colombians, on the other hand, the cost will be counted in terms of thousands more deaths; further militarisation of their society; and continued poverty, injustice and exploitation for the benefit of the wealthy elite and of foreign investors.
Sacco and Vanzetti: 75 Years Remembered
August 23 2002 marked the 75th anniversary of the judicial murders of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, two Italian-born anarchists, by the State of Massachusetts.
Sacco and Vanzetti were framed for two murders in Massachusetts because the United States ruling class was in the grip of a hysterical witch-hunt against anarchists. Coming out of the First World War - a war fought to enrich the capitalist class - America was rounding up, imprisoning without trial, and deporting hundreds of foreign-born workers on suspicion of being "subversives."
No other crime story of the 20th century has spawned so many poems, plays, novels, and passionate works of history. Woody Guthrie wrote a song about them. No other convicted robbers and murderers have received favourable accounts in the Dictionary of American Biography. No other case has defined an era of American history, an era when anyone who merely expressed the opinion that the state was not the best way to organise a society was in danger of prison, torture, deportation and death.
Today, very little is different. The "war on terrorism" has given the US government the pretext for a massive assault on human and civil rights. Hundreds of foreign-born persons are being held indefinitely, without trial, for the "crime" of being Muslim. Hundreds more, mostly people of colour, sit on death rows waiting to be made martyrs to the state’s relentless quest to assert its authority over life and death. Meanwhile, the US continues to fight its "war on terrorism" as a cover for extending the power of the capitalist business elites who control the government. Other governments, most notably the British, are either enthusiastically supporting or silently going along with America’s attempts to impose a single capitalist order over the entire world.
The nature of the state and of capitalism has not changed. But neither has our opposition to them. In the 1920s, the framing of Sacco and Vanzetti ignited protests all over the world. Demonstrations took place in France, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and Scandinavia. It took 10,000 police and 18,000 soldiers to prevent a crowd from besieging the American embassy in Paris. Today, opposition to global capitalism’s attempts to dominate the developing countries and destroy workers’ rights in the industrialised nations continues to grow, despite police repression and government’s refusal to listen. The struggle, as Sacco and Vanzetti knew, is worldwide.
Review: A long way from Home: Young refugees in Manchester write about their lives - Ahmed Igbal Ullah
Race Relations Archive/Save the Children. ISBN 0954 287401 £2.50
Refugees are stigmatised as criminals and parasites. Much of this is due to vicious attacks by the right wing media, such as the Daily Express, which in particular conducted a prolonged, racist campaign against refugees and asylum seekers in the run up to the May elections earlier this year.
The right wing tactic is to ignore the inequality which causes immigration, and to downplay the fact that refugees and asylum seekers are inevitably fleeing war and deprivation, usually caused directly or indirectly as a result of British imperialism and/or arms sales. When the press does document appalling human tragedies, they litter their coverage with terms like ‘terrorists’ and present the events as though they are inevitable and necessary.
This makes it all the more significant that ‘A long way from Home’ exists. It is counter-mainstream, if only because it provides space for a collection of personal stories of the young people involved themselves. The act of giving voice is enough to warrant the pamphlet, but it also manages to raise awareness through the stories of issues facing refugees in Britain. Save the Children have excelled themselves with this unusual and creative project; the result is something which speaks youth-to-youth, as well as crisply counteracting the cheap prejudice that we have to put up with from the media.