By the Marxist Workers School of South Africa, 15 December 2013
Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first democratic-elected president of the Republic of South Africa, revolutionary and freedom fighter, commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe, political prisoner, statesman and beloved father of the nation, died on the 5 December 2013.
South Africa is in mourning. Africa mourns, and, indeed, hundreds of millions of people around the world are mourning.
How did a political prisoner of 27 years, classified as a terrorist not only by the apartheid state but by all western powers, become so loved that a young woman in Brooklyn, New Jersey, when interviewed on TV remarked: “Mandela is the only state president who will be missed”?
The question is, what does Nelson Mandela personify, and what does he stand for which makes him tower above others?
To understand who Mandela was, we need to go back deep into the dark days of Apartheid, when the National Party came to power.
Within the ANC, a conservative leadership had taken control, which had no strategy to counter the offensive of white capital and its National Party state structure. Within the ANC Youth League, a new and more radical leadership formed itself around Walter Sisulu, Nelson Mandela and Robert Sobukwe.
These young revolutionaries were inspired by the anti-colonial struggle gripping Africa at the time; they were inspired by the ant-imperialist struggles throughout the oppressed world; they reached out to the progressive white community; and they recognised the Indian and Coloured communities in South Africa as part of the oppressed and formed an alliance with representative organisations from those communities in a common struggle for freedom and democracy.
Most importantly, instead of debating the plight of our oppressed people in small circles, they went to the masses, organising them around such concrete issues as education, living conditions and political repression.
Through effective mobilisation, they not only frustrated some of the repressive measures of the apartheid system but eventually took over the leadership of the ANC itself.
The movement grew to become such a formidable force that the Apartheid government was unable to control and subdue it. In desperation, the state resorted to mass killings like the Sharpeville massacre.
The response of the people was to redouble their efforts of resistance and to stage even more mass protests. The regime then responded by banning the ANC, PAC and other political parties. All political activities, public gatherings and demonstrations were banned.
Nelson Mandela, together with Walter Sisulu, Ahmed Kathrada, Govern Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni, Billy Nair, Dennis Goldberg, Rusty Bernstein and others took the historical decision to go underground so as to continue the political struggle of the ANC.
They also formed a military wing of the movement called Umkhonto weSizwe – the Spear of the Nation – in order to confront reactionary and fascist state violence with revolutionary people’s violence. The armed struggle was born.
It is this historic and principled decision, in a situation in which all doors had been closed to peaceful protest, to call for mass mobilisation and armed struggle in order to defeat the enemy that made Mandela a true leader.
He became the first commander-in-chief of Umkhonto weSizwe. After his arrest, which the CIA was instrumental in bringing about, Mandela and nine other ANC leaders were put on trial.
Like Comrade Georgi Dimitrov, who used his trial by the German fascist state to expose Nazi fascism to the whole world, Mandela used his own trial to expose the racist nature of the apartheid system and to defend democratic and anti-racist principles. He closed his defence with the now famous statement:
During my lifetime, I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But, if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.
This statement reflected the aspirations of millions of oppressed black working men and women throughout South Africa. His refusal to bow under pressure, torture and repression was a reflection of the steadfastness of our people. Mandela was one with our people.
He was sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labour. He went on to break stones together with other political prisoners under the hot African sun from dawn to dusk for many, many years.
The apartheid state, in accordance with its cruel nature, took those stones from Robben Island and used them to build monuments, court houses and many other symbols of its tyrannical rule and for the glory of the apartheid system.
Mandela did not once complain about his fate. Instead, he was at the forefront of organising the struggle for better conditions within the prison, demanding proper medical care for prisoners, the right to read newspapers and books, and the right of political prisoners to study.
Above all, and from his first day behind bars, he spearheaded the struggle of political prisoners to be treated with dignity.
As a result of these struggles, a number of political prisoners in the 1970s and 80s left Robben Island highly educated. By 1994, many were ready to take up positions in the newly-formed democratic South Africa.
In 1984/85 the struggle intensified. The underground structures of the ANC, the labour movement and the United Democratic Front developed into a mass movement, and South Africa became ungovernable.
The apartheid state approached Mandela and offered him and all other imprisoned leaders the chance to walk out of prison on the condition that they renounce the armed struggle.
This strategy, most certainly under the recommendation of US and British advisors, was aimed at dividing the ANC into exiled and internal wings, and then at setting one faction against the other.
Mandela refused to comply, however. Instead, he issued a statement confirming his unconditional support for the armed struggle and reaffirmed the unity of the ANC under the leadership of Oliver Tambo. He further stated that he would walk out of prison with no conditions attached or he would not walk out at all.
The apartheid strategy to divide the ANC collapsed. It was this principled stand that earned Mandela the respect of the entire movement. Four years later, when Oliver Tambo had just suffered a stroke, all political prisoners were released and Nelson Mandela emerged from prison as the unquestioned leader of the ANC and of the entire democratic mass movement against apartheid.
During the Kempton Park negotiations, he emerged, even before being inaugurated as the first democratically-elected president of South Africa, as a statesmen overshadowing the last apartheid president to such an extent that at the end of negotiations de Klerk was reduced to an ordinary member at the negotiating table.
Mandela exposed de Klerk as a man without integrity in full view of the entire nation when he caught him back-stabbing and double-dealing.
Just before the 1994 elections, ANC security found out that de Klerk and a number of army officers in the South African defence force were planning a military coup d’état.
Mandela understood that the South African Defence Force was still loyal to the arch-racist PW Botha, who had been the apartheid president before de Klerk. He travelled directly to Botha’s residence and, during an extremely heated encounter, insisted that Botha call off the coup, warning that if it went ahead he would call for an all-out war of armed resistance.
Botha backed down and called off the coup, and Mandela helped South Africa avoid what could have been one of the most brutal and barbaric civil wars of the 20th century. This moment was the end of de Klerk’s political life, and Mandela will be remembered for generations to come as the leader who rose up to the occasion, avoiding bloodshed and genocide and ushering in the first democratic government in the history of our country.
Mandela was able to talk with authority, to threaten PW Botha and stand his ground because the entire resistance movement stood as one man behind him, determined and disciplined.
No sooner had Nelson Mandela been inaugurated as the state president than the imperialist countries, especially the United States, escalated their pressure on him to distance himself from socialist Cuba and its leader Comrade Fidel Castro, to distance himself from Libya and its leader Muammar Gaddafi, and to distance himself from supporting the national-liberation struggle of the Palestinian people and the chairman of the PLO, Yasser Arafat.
Nelson Mandela stood firm and held his ground, however. He declared that Cuba and Libya, Fidel and Gaddafi, had supported the anti-Apartheid struggle throughout our darkest years. There was a bond of friendship between our people born out of a common struggle, he said; we will not betray our friends.
On the issue of Palestine, Mandela declared that the struggle of the Palestinian people for national liberation against zionism was a just struggle. We will stand shoulder to shoulder with the Palestinian people and their just struggle, he confirmed.
Ultimately, imperialism had to give up its pressure. Every confrontation with Mandela exposed the reactionary role and intentions of imperialism. Intellectually, the occupants of the White House and Downing Street were no match for Mandela and his integrity!
In the build-up to the Nato invasion of Iraq, Mandela openly confronted the United States, exposing its bloodthirsty and inhuman plans and condemning the invasion as a crime against humanity!
Obama, in his typically hypocritical speech at Johannesburg’s FNB stadium, where the world met to mourn the passing of Comrade Nelson, declared that Mandela had taught him to be a “better man”.
Perhaps this would have been more convincing if, as the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States of America, Obama had done something to stop the endless slaughter of men, women and children in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia.
Perhaps he could start by ending the torture and sodomising of political prisoners, dismantle the US’s secret torture prisons and close the Guantánamo Bay concentration camp.
Perhaps he could start by removing the US’s armed forces from close to 100 countries around the world and instead behave like the representative of a civilised country amongst civilised countries.
Perhaps he could start by ending the barbaric 60-year economic boycott against socialist Cuba and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – two countries that pose absolutely no threat to the United States.
Perhaps he could start by destroying the biggest arsenal of nuclear, biological and chemical weapons in the world – namely, the weapons of mass destruction of the United States.
US imperialism has inflicted mass murder and genocide, committed war crimes and launched barbaric military invasions against the peoples of Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria. In the last 50 years alone, it has installed brutal military juntas all over Latin America, Africa and Asia.
George Bush, Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama have nothing in common with Mandela the revolutionary, with Mandela the statesman, or with Mandela the man, who more than once put his own life on the line to avoid bloodshed and civil war.
The heads of all western imperialist countries were present at Mandela’s funeral. Not because they share any of his noble values, but because all of them are in desperate need to be seen to be ‘close’ to Mandela – the only president in the world who is admired and respected by the masses in the imperialist countries.
This is especially true following the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, justified by imperialist leaders on the basis of ‘evidence’ of Iraq’s weapon of mass destruction that turned out to be complete fabricated.
It is especially true following the introduction of the ‘no-fly zone’ in Libya, which was justified by the imperialists as being necessary in order to ‘save peaceful demonstrators’. Twenty-four hours later, the world’s people watched in horror as Nato forces launched terror-bombing raids that paved the way for a counter-revolution to destroy all the social, political and economic achievements of the Libyan revolution since the overthrow of feudalism 40 years ago – inflicting terror and genocide against black Libyans in the process.
Moreover, the imperialists organised and coordinated the barbaric slaughter of the popular leader of the Libyan revolution, Muammar Gaddafi, and of thousands of other Libyan revolutionaries.
And since then, in the last two years, the world has witnessed how US, British and French imperialism has organised and financed the counter-revolution in Syria. The routine slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of people, and the destruction of entire states has once again become the order of the day.
Millions of ordinary people around the world, including in the imperialist countries, are aware of these crimes committed in the name of freedom and democracy. The leaders of the so-called ‘Free World’ have been exposed as war criminals, as brutal oppressors and shameless warmongers.
In order to save at least a bit of their damaged image, and driven by sheer desperation as their war crimes are catching up with them, they huddled around Mandela’s body, mumbling phrases about ‘forgiveness’ and becoming a ‘better person’. But Mandela will not exonerate them of their crimes and their victims will neither forget nor forgive them.
Progressive and revolutionary forces around the world should expose these imperialist leaders as opportunists, liars and charlatans. They have nothing in common with Mandela, and we should make sure that they do not succeed in driving a wedge between the real Mandela and the anti-colonial, anti-apartheid and anti-imperialist struggles of our people in South Africa, Africa and the world.
The desperate efforts of our exploiters and oppressors to define who Mandela was, what he stood for and what values he represented, using cinema, TV, radio and print, is nothing but cultural imperialism at its worst.
The aim of this propaganda is to colonise our minds, weaken our resolve, split the anti-imperialist struggles of Africa and open the gates for a full-scale economic and military recolonisation of our continent.
Needless to say, all their reactionary plans will ultimately fail. Africa will not be recolonised either by US or EU imperialism.
Long live the revolutionary spirit of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela!
Let Mandela’s revolutionary life, his discipline, commitment and his loyalty to the oppressed be an inspiration to future generations of liberation fighters!
Our long walk to freedom will continue until oppression and exploitation, war and hunger, ignorance and poverty are a thing of the past. To this end, let us celebrate the life of Nelson Mandela, defend his revolutionary legacy in the face of distortions and lies and intensify the struggle against imperialism! There is no better way we can honour this outstanding son of the African soil!
This motion was passed unanimously at the recent CPGB-ML party congress
This congress recognises that the imperialist beasts of the USA, Britain and France planned, financed and played the major role, assisted by their various middle-eastern puppets, in the overthrow of the popular Libyan government of Muammar Gaddafi.
This congress notes that they, through the trickery of a UN resolution to impose a ‘no-fly zone’, supposedly to ‘protect’ the Libyan people, used the combined air power of Nato member states to carpet-bomb and destroy Libyan airports, military bases, media stations, hospitals, schools, electricity and water supplies, general infrastructure and residential areas alike.
Congress further notes that, even with the great military advantage that this onslaught from outside gave the rats of the Transitional National Council (TNC), they were so numerically weak and lacking in any support within Libya that they could not make decisive use of this advantage. So it was that Libya was flooded with military ‘advisors’ from the imperialist regimes and elite troops from all the neighbouring states that were under the sway of imperialism.
This congress applauds the heroic struggle that the Libyan people and their army waged against Nato’s proxy forces on the ground, despite the horrendous effects of the imperialists’ all-out air war, noting that they held out for more than six months until the capture, torture and public murder of the leader of Libya’s green revolution, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
Congress also sends a red salute to the brave green fighters in Libya, who are continuing to put up resistance to imperialism and its puppets today.
Closer to home, this congress condemns the disgusting role played during the war on Libya by the ‘left’ supporters of imperialism – the social democrats, revisionists and Trotskyists. In Britain, the worst of these enemies of the international proletariat once more proved themselves to be the Labour party, the SWP, Counterfire, the CPB, and the ‘anti-war’ umbrella group in which many of those parties’ spokespeople play a leading role: the Stop the War Coalition (StW). StW held a single nationally-organised demonstration over the issue of the overthrow of the sovereign state of Libya by imperialism – but they held it outside the Libyan embassy supporting the imperialist-backed TNC and opposing the anti-imperialist leadership of Colonel Gaddafi!
This congress affirms that imperialism is the main enemy of the international working class, and that US imperialism, as the biggest and most powerful imperialist state, is the biggest enemy to world peace.
Congress further affirms that in an imperialist war the duty of the working class in an imperialist country is to work for the defeat of its own government. And an essential part of that process must be exposing and leading workers away from the misleadership of social democracy and its revisionist and Trotskyist hand-maidens, who will try with all their guile to keep workers tied to the imperialist war machine through revolutionary-sounding phrases and lies.
This congress resolves to continue working to show our class that we do have the power to stop the imperialist war machine by starving it of all the necessary supplies for its wars of brigandage, whether those supplies be weapons, transport or soldiers!
Congress further resolves to use all means at the party’s disposal to disseminate information about the ongoing battle in Libya, in order that British workers should understand that there is a popular resistance movement fighting to rid the country of imperialist forces. Our party will continue to expose the vile and rapacious doings of the TNC rats who now hope to rule Libya (with imperialist troops stood at their shoulders). These villains have murdered, kidnapped, raped, looted and evicted from their homes those supporting or suspected of supporting the green resistance. From the earliest days, even before coming to power, it was well known that the TNC rats were lynching black Libyans, as well as other black Africans working in the country, and our party will continue to remind the world of this fact.
Finally, this congress resolves to continue pointing out that this bloody war was brought upon the Libyan people in order to grab the country’s oil, to remove its anti-imperialist leadership, and to kick open the door to the re-conquest of Africa. The freedom and protection of the Libyan people was never a real reason for waging the war – except, perhaps, in the minds of a few simple souls who simply cannot, or will not, see the jackboot an inch from their face, even when it is pointed out to them.
This congress remains confident that the Libyan masses will rise again to rid their land of the imperialist puppets and bring the imperialists’ dreams of world domination to nought.
Long live the memory of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, hero of the Libyan and African peoples!
Victory to the anti-imperialist peoples!
Death to imperialism!
By attempting to unconstitutionally rescind CPGB-ML’s affiliation to the Stop the War coalition, StW ‘leaders’ are behaving in a criminally sectarian and cowardly manner.
Cowardly, because the Labour party, Counterfire and CPB leaders who dominate our coalition’s executive seek, by unconstitutionally expelling the CPGB-ML, to silence criticism and avoid having their failed policies on Libya in particular, and lack of consistent anti-imperialism more generally, scrutinised and overturned.
They seek to avoid answering to the coalition’s membership and having the truth behind these failures exposed: that their cosy relations with ‘left Labour’ (German-Benn, Murray-Corbyn, etc) and their personal political stock-in-trade are more dear to them than the stated aims of the StW coalition they purport to uphold.
That is why, at the crucial moment, rather than leading British workers to oppose Nato’s genocide in Libya, their personally cherished ideas and relations led StW to parrot the predatory propaganda of British imperialism, which was hell-bent on waging war upon Libya and the devastating this beautiful, historic, cultured and formerly most prosperous sovereign African nation – all in pursuit of Nato’s strategy of capital aggrandisement, regional and world domination.
All of which begs the question: can an anti-war movement be effectively led by members and supporters of a party that condones and conducts those wars?
Libya – a betrayal
Throughout the Libyan crisis, the conduct of the Stop the War Coalition was shameful, bringing us nothing but ignominy in the eyes of the world’s oppressed and struggling masses.
Prior to Nato’s bombardment, when US/British/French intervention was a little less blatant (very much in the vein of its current plot against Syria), conducted via MI6, CIA and other covert operatives, and through the funding of motley feudal and criminal elements, StW organised a demonstration. But this ‘anti-war’ demonstration was not against imperialism and its mercenaries in Benghazi, but against the Gaddafi government!
Owen Jones wrote on the StW website: “Let’s be clear. Other than a few nutters, we all want Gaddafi overthrown, dead or alive. In both his anti-western and pro-western incarnations, his record is that of a brutal and unquestionably slightly unhinged dictator. I will not caricature supporters of the bombing campaign as frothing-at-the-mouth neocons.”
Andrew Murray, wrote in the Morning Star, while Nato’s blitzkrieg was underway, that “it is wrong to assert that the rebellion based in Benghazi was some sort of pro-imperialist plot from the outset”.
Is that so?
CPGB-ML, a member of the Stop the War Coalition since its inception, did not fall for this pro-imperialist whitewash, and on 11 March 2011 we issued a leaflet calling for the defence of Libya and its government. This was a principled and coherent anti-imperialist stance, which has stood the test of time. We are proud to have promoted it, among British workers and activists – including those of the StW coalition – as part of our activity to oppose illegal and genocidal Nato wars, in Libya and elsewhere.
Further, in August 2011, we issued a leaflet calling on workers to “support the resistance” and “denounce StW treachery”.
It contained the following – remarkably restrained – criticism of StW’s position:
“Some people and organisations, such as Stop the War, have been bamboozled by the non-stop and ubiquitous Goebbelsian propaganda that has spewed forth from the imperialist media ever since Gaddafi’s regime was put in place into believing that he is some kind of a monster who must be overthrown at all costs. In view of his record in defending the interests of the Libyan people, such an approach is absurd.
“Stop the War, dominated as it is by organisations that devote themselves to spreading illusions in social democracy (ie, futile hopes that solutions for the working class and oppressed people are to be found within capitalism), still finds itself cheerleading for Gaddafi’s opponents: their only reason for opposing imperialist military intervention is that it may be harmful to the cause of imperialism’s local agents in Libya!
“Down with social-democratic treachery; down with imperialism!”
John Rees and the ‘Don’t Mention the War’ campaign
With the lack of political will to defend Libya from imperialist attack, there was a corresponding dearth of activity on the ground. What happened to ‘our’ alleged ability to mobilise 2-million-strong marches, like the one held in February 2003 before the invasion of Iraq, which is so often cited and trumpeted? This kind of capitulation before the Nato juggernaut has made us an increasing irrelevance to British workers.
As tomahawk cruise missiles, bunker busters, white phosphorous and depleted uranium rained down on Libya, pulverising Tripoli and Sirte, targeting all progressive Libyans, and in particular Col Muammar Gaddafi – whose infant grandchildren were among the early victims of Nato’s dark forces – John Rees apparently felt no shame, declaring (in a similar vein to Liam Fox and William Hague) on a YouTube interview that “nobody is going to shed a tear for the fall of this brutal dictator [Gaddafi]”.
He further advised the quisling ‘Transitional National Council’ (in reality a front for Trans-National Corporations) to gain credibility by “telling the major powers where to get off” – ie, to adopt his own tactic of dressing up an imperialist campaign in ‘anti-imperialist’ colours. No doubt this would have been convenient for Rees, but the heartless clerics had another agenda.
During the bombing campaign, StW leadership belatedly declared its half-hearted opposition to the imperialist bombing campaign – not because they disagreed with Nato’s aims, but because it believed their methods were not effective enough. Bombing, they said, “would merely serve to bolster Gaddafi’s position, and thus undermine the cause of the overthrow of the Gaddafi regime” – which principle aim of imperialism in Libya, ‘Stop the War’ leaders continued to cherish and support.
We published a statement on 8 September, pointing out that with ‘anti-war friends’ like these, the Libyan people might well ask, ‘Who needs enemies?’
StW leaders – as the 2012 national conference agenda attests – barely make reference to their betrayal of Libya, as despite some mild queasiness and reservations they remain broadly in support of Gaddafi’s lynching.
Nor is the struggle in Libya – like the struggle in Iraq – over. Resistance is regrouping, even after the wholesale slaughter of the flower of Libya’s anti-imperialist leadership. The Green flag has been raised in Bani Walid, Tripoli, Sirte and elsewhere – long after Hilary Clinton stopped cackling with glee over the gruesome imagery of Gaddafi’s murder.
For while the feudal thugs of Nato’s TNC run amok in Libya, committing mass violations of its citizens’ rights, including (among other things) kidnapping, raping and murdering Libyan women, and lynching anyone with black skin, while helping Nato bandits to help themselves to Libya’s oil and financial wealth, there can be no peace.
Let us all reflect – if there was previously any room for doubt – that these are not the actions of a popular-democratic revolution, but the pogroms of a decaying, imperialist-backed feudal movement attempting to divide and destroy the unity and progressive sentiment built over 40 years among the formerly free Libyan people. Their gains can only be temporary; their ultimate defeat is certain.
Genocide and ethnic cleansing have been perpetrated, a nation stolen, its resources subsumed into the coffers of imperialist finance capital. The issue for us to address is that all the criticism from our ‘anti-war’ group was directed, not against Obama, Cameron, Clegg, Miliband, Balls, or the hosts of retainers without whom the war could not have been waged, but against its victims.
A ‘broad’ movement – the cry was ‘Unity’!
StW leaders frequently call for unity. It is interesting to compare their words with their deeds. Their response to CPGB-ML criticism of their anti-Libya propaganda was not reason or even attempted justification, but sectarian bureaucracy.
On 23 September, the CPGB-ML received an email from the Stop the War Coalition informing us of a decision by the “officers group” to “reject the affiliation” of our party. We were told that this was on the basis that the CPGB-ML had been “publicly attacking Stop the War Coalition” in its publications.
Lindsey German sent a follow-up email clarifying that “the officers” felt that our “reported recent characterisation of some of them, including our chair Jeremy Corbyn, as ‘pro imperialists’ or ‘traitors’ was unacceptable from an affiliated organisation. We understand that sometimes debate on issues becomes heated, but feel that we could only consider affiliating you if there were assurances that you would not make such remarks in the future.”
But when did StW declare its ‘officers group’ to be above criticism – on pain of expulsion? In what statute or officers group meeting minute is this ruling secreted away? We are certainly not aware of it. And how is the policy of a broad coalition to be corrected, if it errs, without criticism?
“I personally support the call for victory to the resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan – but I also know that the strength of our campaign comes from its breadth … And if this slogan puts off our affiliates – like the Quakers – then I am against it, and oppose the resolution.” (From memory)
Here is a fine thing. Counterfire leader John Rees opposing his own fervently held beliefs to hold a broad coalition together – for how can we have an anti-war movement without Quakers? (Incidentally, no Quaker we have ever spoken to – and we have spoken to a surprising number, although admittedly not at StW meetings – disagrees with the idea that an oppressed nation or people has the right to defend itself.)
Consistent anti-imperialism is just too far ahead of the curve, you see. Obviously, Rees is well up for the fight against British imperialism, but you know, these Quakers just aren’t gonna go for it, so – regrettably – the deal’s off. His speech, delivered to a carefully managed but highly spirited conference, was just enough to (narrowly) defeat the motion.
The choice: oppose Nato or compromise with imperialism
The real choice, of course, is not ‘Quakers or communists’, but whether the aim of StW can be reconciled with the class interests of the capitalists who wage these wars. If we are serious about actually stopping war, the CPGB-ML believes that we must oppose the capitalist imperialist system that on a daily and weekly basis engenders war – and campaign to raise British workers’ awareness of the actions of their own ruling class at home and abroad. This inevitably involves confronting groups and cliques that directly or indirectly support social democracy with the contradictions in their own political position.
Logically, that includes challenging the social-democratic ‘leaders’ of left Labour who talk of their opposition to war while in practice make their careers out of sitting in the parties of war and asking workers to support those parties at every juncture. We cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds.
Learning lessons for the future – defend Syria!
All this is not simply an academic exercise in point scoring. There are very real practical consequences for our work next week, next month and next year, which make it of vital importance that the coalition should learn lessons and correct its stance.
Since the fall of Libya, all Stop the War’s national efforts have been directed at pointing out the threat of war against Iran. And while that threat is very real, and must certainly be mobilised against, such activity cannot be allowed to act as a cover for ignoring the much more imminent threat against that other sovereign anti-imperialist nation in the Middle East: Syria.
As well as carving out an independent economic path free from the diktat of the IMF and World Bank, Syria is home to the headquarters of many Palestinian resistance movements, and a firm supporter of Lebanon’s anti-imperialist resistance movement, Hizbollah. Millions of Palestinian and Iraqi refugees have made their homes there, and the country is Iran’s strongest regional ally, as well as being an implacable foe of Israel. Although described by western media as a ‘dictator’, President Bashar al-Assad is actually the leader of a broad-based coalition government of national unity, which comprises many political parties, including communists. All of which makes the country a prime target for imperialism’s guns.
The aggressive war being prepared by Nato and its regional stooges against Syria is using all the same tricks that were applied in the case of Libya. Nato is funding, training and arming disparate opposition and terrorist groups and parachuting in covert special forces to give them vital support, while Nato’s leaders push through UN resolutions about ‘democracy’ and the ‘safety of the people’ and, of course, orchestrate a hysterical media campaign of lies and disinformation.
And while some people do seem to have learned a lesson from the carnage in Libya, the Stop the War leadership does not yet seem to be among their number. Yet again, the coalition’s leaders are failing to take a consistently anti-imperialist and anti-war position; yet again, they are failing to stand up against the media lies and declare themselves to be on the side of the Syrian masses against Nato imperialism.
Instead of standing firmly against war on Syria, Stop the War leaders prefer not to talk about it. The recent picket for Iran and Syria didn’t feature a single speaker for Syria on the platform, and its recent emails refer to Syria only in passing.
Instead of standing up to imperialist propaganda, the Stop the War website carries articles referring to “Bashar al-Assad’s killing machine” while John Rees uses his television show to consistently denounce the legitimate government and legitimise Nato’s stooges, including the MI6-backed ‘Syrian Observatory for Human Rights’. Once more, Stop the War’s ‘opposition’ to Nato seems to be based more on tactical grounds than on any real ideological difference.
Let no-one be under any illusion: not only is a beautiful, cultured, independent country and its people under threat, but the illegal war already being waged by covert forces in Syria is a stepping-stone to even bloodier war against Iran, and from there to war against China and Russia. In a very real sense, Syria today stands in the same place as did the Spanish republic in 1936. British workers and progressive people need to stand side by side with the Syrian masses, demanding: Hands off Syria! Victory to Assad!
And above all, we must start to use our collective power to prevent the British ruling class from taking part in this criminal and barbaric conflagration.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 February
Russia and China continue to frustrate attempts by US imperialism to establish a no-fly zone over Syria that would be aimed at obliterating its independence in the same way as was done with Libya.
A spokesman for the Russian government said that in the case of Libya it had made serious mistakes. These lay not in backing Gaddafi but in not backing him nearly strongly enough. Dimitry Medvedev, the Russian president who made the decision to abstain on the UN vote imposing the no-fly zone on Libya, has been heavily criticised within Russia for that decision.
The Russians have made it quite clear that no amount of pleas from the Arab League, manipulated as it is by western imperialism, is going to stop it from wielding its UN Security Council veto in Syria’s interests.
In the meantime, violence is intensifying in Syria as Turks and others get themselves involved in the assaults on Syria’s sovereignty.
It has become clear even to the blind that, for the most part, the opponents of the government in Syria are not innocent people peacefully expressing their disagreement with government policy but disparate armed thugs who are unable to win any substantial internal support for their various policies and are therefore bent on destabilising Syria by whatever means, happy to court the support of imperialist countries determined to put an end to Syria’s independence
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 4 February
Bani Walid has been retaken by Gaddafi loyalists, and there have been huge pro-Gaddafi demonstrations in Benghazi, supposedly the most pro-rebel town in Libya. At the same time, it is reported that the different tribes involved in the so-called Transitional National Government are at each other’s throats.
In the meantime, it has come out that torture is rife in the prisons run by the Transitional National Government, with Médecins Sans Frontieres withdrawing its services in protest at the fact that it was being sent prisoners for treatment after torture, purely for the purpose of making sure they didn’t die so that torture could continue as soon as they had been treated.
An article in Ireland’s Sunday World has drawn attention to relations between Mahdi al-Harati, former leader of the Tripoli Brigade of the National Transition Council, which played a central role in the Nato assault on Libya, and an unnamed US intelligence agency.
According to an unattributed article on 6 November, €200,000 in cash was stolen from al-Harati’s Dublin house a month previously.
The Sunday World reported that a criminal gang working the area found two envelopes stuffed with €500 notes during a raid on the al-Harati’s family home on 6 October. Jewellery was also stolen.
The article, apparently relying on police sources, stated that al-Harati, who has been a Dublin resident employed as an Arabic teacher for 20 years, claimed, when contacted by police, that the stolen cash was “given to him by an American intelligence agency”.
The article continued, “Astonished officers made contact with Mahdi al-Harati, who told them that he had travelled to France, the United States and Qatar the previous month and that representatives of an American intelligence agency had given him a significant amount of money to help in the efforts to defeat Gaddafi. He said he left two envelopes with his wife in case he was killed and took the rest of the cash with him when he went back to Libya.”
Al-Harati’s Tripoli Brigade was one of a number of military units put together in conjunction with the NTC to participate in the pro-imperialist overthrow of the regime of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. The brigade was formed in April 2011, following a trip by Al-Harati to Benghazi in the wake of the eruption of mass protests against Gaddafi in February 2011. From the first, the brigade appears to have been developed, and paid for, as a well-trained assault force, designed to operate alongside Nato for an attack on Tripoli.
Coordinated by al-Harati and his Irish-born brother-in-law, Husan al-Najar, a building contractor from Dublin, the Tripoli Brigade rapidly recruited a core of English-speaking Libyan exiles from Ireland, Canada, the UK and the US. These made their way to Nalut University in Libya, from where they recruited local opponents of the Gaddafi government.
By August 2011, the brigade had over 1,000 fighters trained by Qatari special forces, equipped with light modern weaponry, uniforms, body armour, communication equipment. The brigade boasted an eight-man sniper unit.
Throughout the assault on Libya, Qatar has functioned as a US proxy, channelling vast sums of cash and military resources into removing Gaddafi and fashioning a regime more suited to imperialist interests.
The brigade was involved in the August assault on Zawiya outside Tripoli and was one of the first units to enter and hold areas of Tripoli, which it attacked from three directions. It was reported as leading the shock assault on Gaddafi’s Bal al-Azizia fortress. After the fall of Tripoli, the brigade was given particular responsibility for guarding strategic locations and infrastructure in the city while hunting down remaining Gaddafi supporters.
Al-Harati became the deputy leader of the NTC’s military council, under former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group leader Abdelhakim Belhaj. He gave press interviews in September on the NTC’s perception of the military situation around one of Gaddafi’s last outposts, Bani Walid.
He also informed Al Jazeera of his view that the various militias and brigades were being “integrated into the Libyan army” and members of the former regime’s police force were being “summoned” to rejoin the new government’s police.
Al-Harati seems to have lost out during feuds between Belhaj’s Qatar-backed supporters and rival regional and religious militias that led to the resignation of Mahmoud Jibril as NTC leader and Libyan prime minister in October. Feuding, reflecting both squabbles for influence and oil money and generalised distrust of the new regime, saw heavily armed militias from Zintan, Tripoli and Nalut exchange gunfire in Tripoli and the Nafusa mountains.
On 5 October, CNN reported a tense press conference where al-Harati threatened, “Whoever doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the (military) council doesn’t recognise the legitimacy of the national council.”
Immediately after the press conference, an NTC spokesman told CNN that members of the Zintan-based Kekaa militia tried to arrest Belhaj and al-Harati.
Al-Harati resigned his position shortly after, around the time when cash was seized from his Dublin house — the timing of which may or may not be a coincidence. The Sunday World claimed Irish travellers carried out the robbery.
Jibril has subsequently been replaced by Abdurrahim al-Keib, a Tripoli-born former engineer and oil industry professor, someone deemed more acceptable to both the imperialist powers and, due to his lack of a political power base, to the contending militia factions.
A significant feature of al-Harati’s activities are his relations with so-called ‘anti-war’ groups in Ireland — an indication of the extent to which the ex-lefts internationally are dripping with Libyan blood.
Prior to his Libyan adventure, al-Harati was quite well known in such circles in Dublin. He was on board the Challenger 1 vessel in its 2010 voyage to Gaza as part of the Free Gaza Flotilla, which was brutally assaulted by Israeli forces. Al-Harati reportedly suffered a diabetic attack during the Israeli raids, in which nine people were killed, and was hospitalised. He returned to Dublin a hero.
The Irish Anti-War Movement (IAWM) unequivocally called for the NTC to be armed and internationally recognised.
On 28 March the IAWM, whose steering committee includes Richard Boyd Barrett of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), stated that the “best use that Egypt could make of the $1.3bn of military aid that it gets from the US would be to arm the Libyan rebels”.
The same statement called on the newly installed Fine Gael/Labour government to recognise the NTC, something they did in August.
Throughout the summer, when al-Harati and his brigade were undergoing combat training in Nalut and being lauded in the mainstream Irish press, the IAWM maintained complete silence on the Tripoli Brigade’s activities. Nor have they made any comment on the Sunday World report.
Instead, IAWM statements and articles have maintained that despite unfortunate episodes, the NTC has in fact “liberated” Libya. A 26 October posting on their website from the SWP’s Eamonn McCann sought to excuse the public lynching of Gaddafi on the basis that “the maiming and killing wasn’t done in cold blood”.
Nor do the IAWM’s pro-imperialist activities stop at Libya. The IAWM’s website currently hosts a petition calling for the German and Turkish governments to use their leverage with the government of Russia to force it to drop support for the Assad regime in Syria.
This position, notwithstanding the repressive character of Assad’s government, serves only to assist in US, UK, French and Turkish efforts to emulate their Libyan military model in Syria, at the expense of triggering a new and even more disastrous regional bloodbath.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 5 November
Russia and China have exercised their veto in the Security Council to a proposed resolution condemning Syria for ‘oppressing anti-government forces’.
Russia enjoys military and commercial deals with Syria worth billions of dollars annually, and would certainly not wish to lose these to US and European predators. Nor would it want to lose its naval base at Tartus, and is sensibly therefore not supporting western imperialism’s attempts to bring about regime change in Syria – a regime change that would not be deemed successful unless the successor was a western puppet.
The New York Times of 5 October quite rightly says: “There is a sense in both capitals that the West in general, and the United States in particular, is feeding the protest movements in the Arab world to further its own interests, experts said. Both the Chinese and the Russians are determined to reassert their long opposition to anything that smacks of domestic meddling by outside powers.
“In that effort they have been joined by emerging powers like Brazil, India and South Africa, which have formed their own alliance and as current members of the Security Council all abstained from the Syria vote … Lebanon, where Syria holds sway, also abstained.
“The resolution itself was toothless, demanding that the violence in Syria stop. The draft underwent repeated dilutions, which dropped all but the most vague reference to sanctions as a future possibility. But even that drew objections, in part because the cloud of Libya cast a long shadow over the Syria deliberations. The Russians and the Chinese said they felt bamboozled after a resolution they thought was meant to protect Libyan civilians became what they condemned as a license to wage war on the government of Col Muammar el-Qaddafi. They are determined to avoid that in the Middle East and anywhere else.”
In actual fact, the resolution would not have been toothless even in its most attenuated form as it was being passed under Chapter 7, which authorises resort to “all necessary measures” (ie, war) to suppress whatever is classed by any belligerent as “a threat to international peace and security”. This was the basis for Nato’s attack on Libya, even though under no stretch of the imagination did the Benghazi rebellion or the Libyan government’s response pose any threat to international peace and security.
From the International Report delivered to the CPGB-ML’s central committee on 1 October
Over the past month it has become clear that the supposed overthrow of the Gaddafi regime in Libya has not happened. Instead, a full-blown, nominally civil, war has been unleashed, in which a fractious, squabbling and divided minority of mainly fundamentalist extremists in alliance with Nato are fighting the vast majority of the Libyan people, who are still led by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
In that war, allegedly unleashed by Nato ‘to protect civilians’, at least 50,000 have now been killed and even more injured.
Even the bourgeois media admit to the fact that the loyalist forces are holding on to the oases of Hun and Sabha as well as the major cities Sirte and Bani Walid, in spite of the fact that both the latter have been subjected to barbarous Nato bombardment and a cruel state of siege, deprived of food, medicine, fuel and water. But still the defenders hold out, and are putting Grad multiple rocket launchers, mortars and RPG-7s to effective use against the marauders.
The New York Times encapsulated the atmosphere in describing the life of the bourgeois journalists reporting from the region:
“Like dogs tearing off to retrieve imaginary sticks thrown by their masters, television crews and photographers have repeatedly rushed to the front lines to cover the fall of the holdouts, only to discover that the attackers were merely on the outskirts, and not even planning to stay there beyond dark. In some cases, as happened at least three times in the past week, they actually pushed well into the downtown areas, only to be repulsed.
“The photographs produced are very picturesque — flames licking the skies from the twin barrels of the former rebels’ 30mm antiaircraft guns — but what is not as clear is that many such pictures are posed, or taken while the former rebels are doing what they seem to do best, or at least most often — firing light and heavy weapons into the sky in celebration of every victory, including imaginary ones.” (‘Anti Gaddafi forces capture, then lose, last redoubts’ by Rod Nordland, 17 September 2011)
Despite Nato’s supposed victory in Libya, it was forced on 21 September to announce a three-month extension of its bombing campaign.
Moreover, even the bourgeois media are having to admit that the so-called rebels are committing atrocities, although they are ashamed to admit either the extent or the barbarity of these, and try to excuse them as ‘revenge’ for what loyalist forces did to them.
The New York Times has admitted to the wanton destruction of homes in Tawerga, and the disappearance of men rounded up and not heard of since. The fact that rebels, for all that they are supposed to be devout muslims, are going from house to house rounding up young girls in their hundreds for rape, torture, disfigurement and agonising murder is naturally hushed up.
Meanwhile, an independent news website, mathaba.net, has reported that on 28 September a mass demonstration in support of Gaddafi took place in Tripoli, brutally suppressed by the rebels and Nato firing on the unarmed demonstrators. The website reports that the “response by the masses was ongoing throughout the day and night, with shooting in various parts of Tripoli, sending rats running, abandoning some of their check points, with Nato air force terrorists no longer knowing where to hit”.
On the same day, loyalists were able to destroy an enemy aircraft.
The following day, 29 September, there was fighting throughout Tripoli, and the 32nd Reinforced Brigade of the Armed People (known as the Khamis Brigade) is said to have destroyed the remaining Nato-rebel checkpoints. It also claims to have taken control of a building that for the past three weeks has housed the Tripoli headquarters of Nato and the CIA and been used as a command and control centre to guide the Nato ground operation in Libya. The all-green flag of the Jamahiriya (self-governing society of the people) has been hoisted above the building.
Loyalists have taken over many other parts of Tripoli, though not yet the central market area, and the green flag can be seen once again flying proudly in many districts.
September 1st is the anniversary of an event little known in the West. Today, 20 years on, the people who deserve to be celebrating it are instead enduring a war. Yet the achievement changed their lives greatly and merits recognition.
A tap was turned on in Libya. From an enormous ancient aquifer, deep below the Sahara Desert, fresh water began to flow north through 1,200km of pipeline to the coastal areas where 90 percent of Libyan people live, delivering around 1m cubic metres of pure water per day to the cities of Benghazi and Sirte.
Crowds gathered in the desert for the inaugural ceremony. Phase I of the largest civil engineering venture in the world, the Great Man-made River Project, had been completed.
It was during the 1953 search for new oilfields in southern Libya that the ancient water aquifers were first discovered: four huge basins with estimated capacities each ranging between 4,800 and 20,000 cubic kms. Yes, that’s cubic kilometres. There is so much water that Libya had recently also offered it to Egypt for their needs.
After the bloodless revolution of 1969, also on 1 September, the new government nationalised the oil companies and spent much of the oil revenues on harnessing the supply of fresh water from the desert aquifers by putting in hundreds of bore wells.
Muammar Gaddafi’s dream was to provide fresh water for everyone, and to turn the desert green, making Libya self-sufficient in food production. He established large farms and encouraged the people to move to the desert. But many preferred life on the coast and wouldn’t go.
So Gaddafi next conceived a plan to bring the water to the people. Feasibility studies were carried out by the Libyan government in the 1970s, and in 1983 the Great Manmade River Authority was set up. The project began the following year, fully funded by the Libyan government.
The almost $30bn cost to date has been without the need of any international loans. Nor has there been any charge on the people, who do not pay for their reticulated water, which is regarded in Libya to be a human right and therefore free.
GMMRP figures are staggering. The ‘rivers’ are a 4,000km network of 4m diameter lined concrete pipes, buried below the desert sands to prevent evaporation. There are 1,300 wells, 500,000 sections of pipe, 3,700km of haul roads, and 250m cubic metres of excavation. All material for the project was locally manufactured.
Large reservoirs provide storage, and pumping stations control the flow into the cities. The pipeline first reached Tripoli in 1996, and when Phase V is completed, the water will allow about 155,000 hectares of land to be cultivated.
To achieve all this, construction work was tendered and many overseas companies, including from the US, Korea, Turkey, Britain, Japan and Germany, took up contracts for each phase, and some have worked for decades in Libya.
The project has not been without problems, including faulty materials and financial difficulties within some of the contracting firms. Since the Nato air attacks on Libya began in March, most foreign nationals have returned home, including those employed on the hydro scheme. The final phase of the Great Man-made River Project is stalled.
Libyan people put their hearts into work on the GMMR from the beginning, and years ago took on most of the managerial and technical positions as their expert knowledge increased, with government policy encouraging their education, training and employment. They proudly call the GMMRP the “eighth wonder of the world”.
(UN Human Development Index figures for Libya since the beginning of Gaddafi’s leadership can be found here http://bit.ly/b4ItsI)
The project was so well recognised internationally that UNESCO in 1999 accepted Libya’s offer to fund an award named after it, the Great Man-Made River International Water Prize, the purpose of which is to “reward remarkable scientific research work on water usage in arid areas“. http://bit.ly/rnxiCf
Gaddafi was often ridiculed in the West for persevering with such an ambitious project. Pejorative terms such ‘pipe dream’, ‘pet project’ and ‘mad dog’ appeared in UK and US media. Despite a certain amount of awe for the enormity of the construction, the Great Man-made River was often dismissed as a ‘vanity project’ and then rarely mentioned in western media.
But the truth is that it’s a world-class water delivery system, and often visited by overseas engineers and planners wanting to learn from Libyan expertise in water transfer hydro-engineering.
On 22 July this year, four months into the air strikes to “protect civilians”, Nato forces hit the GMMR water supply pipeline. For good measure the following day, Nato destroyed the factory near Brega that produces the pipes to repair it, killing six guards there.
Nato air strikes on the electricity supply, as well as depriving civilians of electricity, mean that water pumping stations are no longer operating in areas even where the pipelines remain intact. Water supply for the 70 percent of the population who depend on the piped supply has been compromised with this damage to Libya’s vital infrastructure.
Oh, and by the way, attacking essential civilian infrastructure is a war crime.
Today in Sirte, which along with Benghazi was one of the first two cities to receive the water, there should be a celebration to mark the 20 years since fresh reticulated water first came to their city, and Gaddafi’s vision should be honoured.
But today Sirte is encircled by the rebels, and right now is being carpet bombed by Nato. The civilians are terrorised, and many families have tried to flee, but the rebels block all the exits. They kill the men, and send the women and children back into the city to be bombed. In the media the rebels are reported to have given Sirte until Saturday to surrender before they commence a full attack. But that’s not what’s happening really.
1 September 2011 will be remembered in history for Nato’s complicity in the massacre of the people of Sirte.
Back in 1991, at the gala opening of GMMRP Phase I, and maybe recalling the 1986 bombing of his home (which was carried out by US military on Reagan’s orders), Muammar Gaddafi spoke these words to the invited international dignitaries and assembled crowd:
“After this achievement, American threats against Libya will double … The United States will make excuses, (but) the real reason is to stop this achievement, to keep the people of Libya oppressed.”