Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Bangladesh factory disaster: the real price of cheap clothes

Bangladesh factory disaster: the real price of cheap clothes

Bangladesh factory disaster: the real price of cheap clothes

     

On 24 April, the collapse of garment factory near the Bangladeshi capital claimed the lives of more than 1,100 people, mainly young women, and injured over 2,500 in the country’s worst industrial accident ever. Reshma Begum, a 19-year old seamstress, was the last person to be pulled alive from the ruins, 17 days after the disaster, before the search for survivors was called off on 13 May and bulldozers sent in to clear the rubble. About 700 bodies have been returned to families; the government has buried the bodies of those who could not be identified and a makeshift morgue has been established in a nearby school to store another 100 or so bodies for DNA identification.
Numbers of those missing remain unclear since officials have been unable to verify how many people were actually in the Rana Plaza - a shoddily constructed building housing a bank, shopping centre and four textiles factories supplying Primark, Matalan, Mango and Benetton - at the time of collapse. When cracks started to appear on the morning of 24 April, building managers ordered a complete evacuation. However, while bank workers were told to stay out, factory staff were ordered to return to work or lose their jobs; some were threatened with beatings. Hours later, the building collapsed, in the world’s worst industrial accident since the Bhopal disaster in India in 1984.
Bangladeshi state officials are blaming the building’s owner, Sohel Rana, for developing the structure on swampy land and then illegally adding three floors to the building to install heavy machinery and generators. Rana was arrested on 28 April near the border of Bangladesh with India after going missing and is being held along with eight other people, including the owners of each factory inside the building. However, greedy, culpable and negligent as the owners maybe, they also provide easy scapegoats, allowing the root causes of the disaster and the systematic abuse and exploitation of Bangladesh’s garment workers to go unchallenged. The Bangladesh government is complicit with multinational clothing companies in a cavalier disregard for human rights, health and safety regulations and buildings standards, concerned only with feeding a market obsessed with cultivating more and more profit. On 9 May a fire ripped through the Tung Hai Sweater factory factory in Dhaka, killing eight people. Fortunately, the factory was closed, avoiding a repeat of the tragedy at the Tazreen factory in November last year* in which almost 120 people were killed. Such tragedies are a common occurrence in Bangladesh and highlight the glaring failures plaguing the country’s textile industry, the apathy in imperialist countries towards the exploitation of workers in more oppressed nations, and the lack of an organised movement able to push for improved standards. The demand by a European Union’s delegation to Bangladesh that the government 'act immediately' to improve working conditions in the country’s garment industry are empty words when profit is king.
However, such was the public outrage worldwide at the sheer scale of the Rana Plaza disaster, that for the first time both the government and international clothing companies have had to make some concessions. The Bangladeshi government has announced that it will ‘review’ a tiny raise on the minimum wage of 3,000 Taka (about £25 a month), while the biggest European purchasers of garments produced in Bangladesh, including Mothercare, Next, Primark, Tesco, Inditex (owners of Zara) and H&M, rushed to sign up to the newly-introduced and legally binding Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh, which aims to improve safety conditions within factories in the country.. Primark pledged ‘to put in place immediate and long-term help for victims of this disaster’: the Bangladeshi High Commissioner to London, Mohamed Mijarul Quayes, responded by saying: ‘Primark has led by example…there is not an obligation to do so, but it speaks of the high moral ground.’ (In the week of the collapse, shares in Primark’s parent company, Associated British Foods, rose by 6.5%.) However, US companies Gap, Sears and Walmart, owners of the ASDA chain of supermarkets in Britain, have refused to sign up, citing the accord’s lack of clarity on the consequences companies will face if found to have breached it as a deal-breaker, with Gap demanding changes to its provisions on dispute resolution. The Accord lasts for five years and sets out guidelines for the whole industry including training, governance of factories, transparency, supplier incentives, complaints processes and financial support and can lead to legal action for breaches.
The impact of the accord remains to be seen. Its opening lines establish that it has as its goal:
‘a safe and sustainable Bangladeshi Ready-Made Garment ("RMG") industry in which no worker needs to fear fires, building collapses, or other accidents that could be prevented with reasonable health and safety measures’. For this to become a reality, consumers must build pressure against the imperialists who line their pockets off the backs of the suffering of workers. No longer should the drive to make vast profits from ever-cheaper clothing be allowed to cheapen the lives of the impoverished.
Nazia Mukti

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Terrorism of the rich - A tale of two atrocities - from Solihull to Dhaka.

There should be two stories headlining the news in the UK today. This one I link below, yet another death as a result of far-right populist tabloid scapegoating masquerading as legitimate government policy. 

The other is the continuing nightmarish horror of the corporate mass murder of textile workers in Bangladesh. 

Now over one thousand confirmed killed, just so we can have cheap t-shirts. An act of capitalist terrorism against the working-class on a similar scale to 9/11. So why does it not receive the same coverage? Non-stop 24 hour rolling news for weeks? Hell, more than a decade on people still prattle on about 9/11 like it was the most terrible act of suffering ever experienced in the history of humanity.

But a thousand Bangladeshi workers die under the concrete of a collapsed corporate hell hole and its forgotten in days as an "and also in the news". Will the extended families of these people be made instant millionaires in compensation, as the 9/11 families were? Or will Primark, Benneton etc just throw a few pennies, wash the blood from their hands and carry on with business as usual?

From grannies committing suicide in the face of destitution in England, to young women and men crushed under concrete in Bangladesh, it is the same system, the same greed, the same class that pays the price. And it is the same class that is responsible, inflicting misery on the many for the luxury of their few. 

These are acts of terrorism. Acts of war on our people, whether in Birmingham or Dhaka, these are the chains that bind us in common suffering, but that also bond us in common cause. 

http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/bedroom-tax-victim-commits-suicide-1883600

Bedroom Tax victim commits suicide: Grandmother Stephanie Bottrill blames government in tragic note


Grandmother who had to pay extra £20 a week throws herself in front of motorway lorry
Stephanie Bottrill

Page One Photograph
y
Ten days ago Stephanie Bottrill sat in the redbrick terrace house which had been home for 18 years to write notes to her loved ones, the Sunday People reports.
She ripped the pages from a spiral-bound notebook and placed them neatly in little brown envelopes.
There was one for her son. Another for her daughter. Her mother. Friends. And a very special one for the year-old grandson she doted on.
Then in the early hours of last Saturday Stephanie, 53, left her home for the last time, leaving her cat Joey behind as the front-door clicked shut.
She crossed her road in Meriden Drive, Solihull, to drop one of her letters and her house keys through a neighbour’s letterbox. Then she walked 15 minutes through the sleeping estate to Junction 4 of the M6.
And at 6.15am she walked straight into the path of a northbound lorry and was killed instantly. Stephanie Bottrill had become the first known suicide victim of the hated Bedroom Tax.
In the letter to her son, Steven, 27, she had written: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.”
Stephanie was tormented over having to find £20 a week to pay for the two under-occupied bedrooms she had been assessed for.
Days before her death she told neighbours: “I can’t afford to live any more.”
Solihull council Labour group leader David Jamieson, who knows the family well, said: “I’m absolutely appalled this poor lady has taken her own life because she was worried how she would pay the Bedroom Tax.
“I hope the Government will take notice and reconsider this policy.”
The police came to Steven’s door at 9.30 last Saturday morning. They were there with his sister Laura, 23, and he knew something terrible had happened. They told him his mum had taken her own life.
He said: “It was a shock at first. You just ask why? The policeman told me she had left notes. I was on my own, looking after my little boy.
“I just wanted to keep looking after him, to keep it all in. I told the police to keep the note. I was still getting my head round it.”
So it was not until Sunday that Steven was ready to read the note.
He said: “I couldn’t believe it. She said not to blame ourselves, it was the Government and what they were doing that caused her to do it.
“She was fine before this Bedroom Tax. It was dreamt up in London, by people in offices and big houses.
“They have no idea the effect it has on people like my mum.”
On the Thursday before she died – when she wrote the farewell letters –  Stephanie had phoned her son to say she was struggling to cope.
He promised to get help and next day phoned her GP.
Stephanie came home from the GP’s surgery with sleeping tablets.
That Friday teatime, Steven came to see her after he finished work. He tried to reassure her, telling her everything would be OK. He says now he should have hugged her but he thought it might upset her.

Stephanie Bottrill suicide note
Part of Stephanie's note to her son

Page One Photography

On the way home he resolved to take her to A&E next day and stay there until she got the help she needed.
That evening a neighbour took Stephanie some dinner. Like Steven, she thought Stephanie would cope. But neither saw her again. 
In the early hours of Saturday, Stephanie headed downstairs, past boxes of her things packed up and ready to go.
Boxes marked “kitchen” and “bedroom”. Stephanie had nowhere to go. But she had packed anyway so when the council found her a smaller place she would be prepared.
Steven said: “She didn’t want to go but she knew she had to. She couldn’t afford to stay. It was too hard.
“She wasn’t eating properly. There wasn’t any proper food. There were about 30 tins of custard.”
Stephanie had lived in her £320-a-month home for 18 years, but couldn’t cope with the extra £80 she had to find every month.
She needed to downsize but nothing suitable was offered to her.
And she was upset she would have to leave the home in which she raised her two children as a single mother.
The well-kept back garden was Stephanie’s pride and joy. She had buried her favourite pet cats there and she liked to sit out there in the sun and remember them.
Steven remembers they didn’t have much as they grew up. His mum would struggle to afford clothes and food but they were happy and always well-turned out.
As a child Stephanie was diagnosed with the auto-immune system deficiency, Myasthenia gravis.

The M6 motorway in Birmingham where Stephanie commited suicide


The illness made her weak and she had to take constant medication.
Steven said she wanted to work, but there was no way she could.
Doctors had told her she was too ill to hold down a job, but she had never been registered as disabled, so she lived without disability benefit. After splitting with the children’s father, Stephanie raised Laura and Steven on her own.
Steven, an HGV driver, said: “Even though it was difficult for Mum bringing us up on her own, we were really happy here.”
Eventually, Steven left to set up in his own place with his own family.
It was close enough to visit his mum and he came round whenever he could.
Then two months ago Laura also moved out and into a flat with her long-term partner. It happened quickly and Stephanie struggled at first.
It also meant that instead of losing 14 per cent of her housing benefit for one spare bedroom she would now lose 25 per cent for two rooms.
But friends and family rallied round and she began to adjust on her own.
She took the decision to tell the council she was living in a three-bedroomed house on her own.
The £80 per month extra she would have to pay was too much for her. She would have to leave her home.
Steven said: “She was sad about Laura going but she had got over that and was coping. Being asked for the extra Bedroom Tax money was just too much for her.”
Stephanie told her next-door neighbour Tracey Hurley: “I cannot afford to live any more.”
She was visited by officials, who told her she would be charged for any repairs to her property.
That would whittle away the £2,000 she had been offered by the council to move home. It meant Stephanie had to strip wallpaper and lift carpets herself. She also had to mend her back fence.
And they failed to find a suitable property for her – the bungalow they offered was a 30-minute walk from a bus stop and miles from her family and friends.
So Stephanie was trapped in a house she couldn’t afford.
And neighbours did their best to help as she faced losing her home.
Neighbour Tracey, 49, said: “Her garden meant so much to her.
“She called it her special place and the one place she felt at peace.
“But they were going to take that from her. She just couldn’t stand it.” Tracey did her best to care for her friend and saw her on the Friday before she died. She said: “Stephanie hadn’t eaten for three days. She was desperate.
“We were having a barbecue and she popped her head over the fence to say hello. She didn’t want to socialise so I took her some dinner.
“When I went round I hugged her and told her to just come and knock on the door if she needed me.
“I told her not to do anything stupid. The council would have to help her. She asked me for another hug. Then in the morning the police came. I couldn’t believe it.”
Other neighbours on the estate are being hit with the Bedroom Tax.
Tracey said: “They are making me pay it and it’s going to be tough but people don’t have any choice.
“This is not just politics, this is people’s lives.”
Next Friday, Tracey will be among friends and family at the funeral.
The family were struggling to pay so the Sunday People has made a contribution.
Stephanie’s death didn’t make headlines locally. But her friends know exactly what happened to her.
And they believe the shock of her death will be felt far outside her community.
Tracey added: “There’s no way Stephanie is going to be the last to die because of this Bedroom Tax. She’s not going to be the only one.”

  • Haunting Dhaka disaster picture: A last embrace after clothes factory collapse that killed 950

    Photographer Taslima Akhter captured the image of the so-far ­unidentified pair in the rubble of the collapsed building.


    Taslima Akhter
    This picture of a couple cuddled together in their last moments, illustrates the full human tragedy of the Dhaka factory disaster.
    Photographer Taslima Akhter captured the image of the so-far ­unidentified pair in the rubble of the collapsed building.
    Taslima, who was working alongside rescue teams in Bangladesh, said: “When I saw them, I felt I knew them.
    "They felt very close to me. It’s as if they’re saying, ‘We are not a number – not only cheap labour and cheap lives. We are human beings like you’.
    “Every time I look back to this photo, I feel uncomfortable — it haunts me.”
    Student Taslima hopes her harrowing image will aid her campaign to improve working conditions in her native city.
    Yesterday 94 more bodies were found as the death toll hit 950 and another 2,500 were injured.

    Bangladeshi rescuers work at the site of a building that collapsed building
    Mass tragedy: Bangladeshi rescuers work at the site of a building that collapsed

    AP

    Today the two-week search for survivors and bodies ends.
    Bulldozers will move in at the site where workers earned £25 a month making clothes for Western firms including Primark which has said it will pay compensation.
    Several people, including the building owner, have been charged with negligence over the disaster on April 24.
    But Taslima will not rest until she has identified her unknown couple.
    She said: “I don’t know who they are or what their relationship is. We found them buried in rubble.
    "The blood from the eye of the man ran like tear.”

Saturday, 11 May 2013

DPRK urges U.S. to drop hostility - World News - SINA English

DPRK urges U.S. to drop hostility - World News - SINA English

DPRK urges U.S. to drop hostility

2013-05-11 01:18:05 GMT2013-05-11 09:18:05(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on Friday blamed the United States for tensions on the Korean Peninsula and urged it to stop hostility against Pyongyang.
The U.S. claim that all its military actions are defensive while all DPRK actions are provocative is nothing but sheer sophism with rhetoric, the official KCNA news agency quoted a foreign ministry spokesman as saying.
It was the U.S. dispatch of B-52, B-2A, F-22 and other warplanes that compelled Pyongyang to take tough countermeasures for self-defense, said the unnamed spokesman.
"Unless the U.S. stops its hostile acts against the DPRK and drops its hostility, the root cause of tension will not be removed and the tension and danger of conflicts are bound to repeat themselves," he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama would be well advised not to talk about "change" in the DPRK but reflect on his own wrong view and make a bold decision to correct it, he added.
On Tuesday, after talks with visiting South Korean President Park Geun-hye, Obama reiterated his country's defense commitment to South Korea with both conventional and nuclear forces.
"Our two nations are prepared to engage with North Korea diplomatically and over time build trust," Obama said, asking Pyongyang to "take meaningful steps to abide by its commitments and obligations, particularly the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula."
The DPRK had slammed Park's first visit to the United States and her meeting with Obama as a prelude to war.
Tensions have been running high on the Korean Peninsula since the DPRK conducted its third nuclear test on Feb. 12.
Pyongyang warned Tuesday that it would "mercilessly avenge" any breach of its territorial sovereignty during the ongoing South Korean-U.S. anti-submarine drills in the Yellow Sea.

The International Socialist Organization and the imperialist onslaught against Syria - World Socialist Web Site

The International Socialist Organization and the imperialist onslaught against Syria - World Socialist Web Site


The International Socialist Organization and the imperialist onslaught against Syria

By David North and Alex Lantier 
11 May 2013
On May 1, the International Socialist Organization (ISO) released a statement, “Solidarity with the Syrian revolution,” signed by a politically disparate and dubious group of “Syrian, Arab and international activists”, in support of the imperialist-orchestrated conspiracy to remove the regime of Bashar al-Assad.
The thoroughly reactionary and politically sinister character of this document is virtually self-evident. The ISO statement aims to provide a cynically-contrived pseudo-left cover, couched in the language of “human rights,” for a proxy war being waged by reactionary mercenary forces financed and armed by US and European imperialism. The ISO statement blatantly falsifies the character of both Syria’s Islamist opposition and US war aims in the Middle East, functioning as a propaganda instrument of power politics.
The timing of the statement’s publication is politically significant. It occurs in the midst of an escalating propaganda campaign in the American and European media to prepare public opinion for direct military intervention in Syria and the installation of a puppet regime in Damascus. The day after the statement appeared, Israeli air strikes hit the Syrian capital.

Held in Tunis, the World Social Forum offered middle class pseudo-left organizations the opportunity to rub shoulders, share drinks, and discuss mutual interests and strategies with scores of state intelligence operatives and established bourgeois politicians. The Tunis event was attended by the US Agency for International Development, which has a record of fronting for CIA operations in Asia and Latin America, and the think tanks of Germany’s two leading bourgeois parties, the Social Democratic Party’s Friedrich Ebert Stiftung and the Christian Democratic Union’s Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. An especially prominent figure at the gathering was Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a leading right-wing figure in the German SPD who served as foreign minister between 2005 and 2009 in the coalition government of Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The circumstances surrounding the production of this document, which emerged out of a gathering of the World Social Forum in March, stink to high hell. The World Social Forum is a “left” political front of hundreds of organizations operating in the orbit of major corporate-financed think tanks with connections to state intelligence agencies.
It requires no great political insight to recognize that the Tunis gathering was seen by the Obama administration and its European allies as an opportunity to orchestrate “popular” support for the escalation of its war plans in Syria. The ISO statement served this purpose.
Significantly, the ISO does not identify the authors of the statement, let alone provide details of the discussions that preceded and accompanied its drafting. Nor does it offer information on precisely how signatories were gathered.
However it was drafted, or by whom, the published statement is an exercise in political obfuscation, evasion and deceit. It begins: “The following statement, signed by intellectuals, academics, artists, and activists from more than 30 countries, reminds the world that what is happening today is a people’s revolution for freedom and dignity—and for that reason, it should be supported by all means.”
If the world needs to be “reminded,” it is because the bloody carnage carried out in Syria by the imperialist-backed mercenaries for the last two years bears no resemblance to a “people’s revolution,” let alone one for “freedom and dignity.”
Washington, its NATO allies, and the Saudi and Qatari monarchies are waging a bloody sectarian war, using far-right Sunni Islamist militias as proxies. US officials and media admit that the opposition’s military spearhead is the Al Nusra Front, which emerged from Al Qaeda in Iraq—a terrorist group formed during the US occupation of that country—and recently pledged its loyalty to Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
The US government itself has reported that, by last December, Al Nusra alone had carried out nearly 600 terror bombing attacks, killing thousands of Syrian civilians. Opposition forces have themselves told major media that they loot and destroy factories, such as pharmaceutical plants and granaries around Aleppo. They are responsible for sectarian massacres, such as that in Houla one year ago and, according to UN officials, for a poison gas attack that killed dozens of people in the village of Khan al-Asal.
The sectarian politics of the US-backed opposition find expression in the bloody ranting of leading Sunni cleric Sheikh Adnan al-Arur. Demanding “harsh and painful” punishment for the minority Alawite sect, from which the Assad regime’s leading personnel is drawn, Arur pledged that if Alawites resist the opposition, “by Allah, we shall mince them in meat grinders, and we shall feed their flesh to the dogs.” So much for the ISO’s clap-trap about “freedom and dignity.”
There is no great and unfathomable mystery about what is going on in the eastern Mediterranean and Levant. The Syrian war is the latest chapter in US imperialism’s efforts—with the support of its ultra-reactionary Gulf State clients—to violently carry out a restructuring of Middle Eastern and Central Asian politics. Most clearly symbolized by Washington’s installation of neo-colonial regimes after invasions of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, this offensive has cost untold hundreds of thousands of lives. As part of this offensive, Syria, which appeared on “Axis of Evil” lists compiled by Bush administration officials, has been in Washington’s gun sights for over a decade.
The ISO, lying through its teeth, presents this US intervention in the Middle East as progressive. It writes, “The fight in Syria is an extension of the fight for freedom regionally and worldwide. It cannot be divorced from the struggles of the Bahrainis, Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Yemenis and other peoples who have revolted against oppression and authoritarianism.”
These words are fraudulent demagogy. The ISO statement makes no attempt to explain, concretely, how the events in Syria are “an extension of the fight for freedom regionally and worldwide.” In fact, the United States is regularly launching drone strikes and murdering Yemeni insurgents. Bahraini protests are being ruthlessly suppressed by the same regimes of the Gulf Cooperation Council that are playing a key role in financing the onslaught against Syria.
The comparison of the events in Syria to the Egyptian revolution is nothing short of obscene. The mass popular movement that unfolded in Egypt bore all the characteristics of a genuine revolution. Initial mass protests grew into a general strike, demanding the fall of Mubarak and better living standards for working people. The revolutionary movement unified Muslims and Christians participating in protests and strikes. And, in what was the surest sign of the popular and progressive character of the movement, it was opposed by American imperialism. The Obama administration supported Mubarak’s attempts to crush the protests. Only after it became convinced that Mubarak could not be saved did the United States shift its counter-revolutionary tactics and promote the Muslim Brotherhood as an alternative to the old dictatorship.
Of the examples given by the ISO, there is only one that bears comparison to the ongoing struggle in Syria. The Libyan operation of 2011 was, as is now all too clear, a trial run for the intervention in Syria. Then, as now, the United States and its NATO allies backed and armed various Islamist terrorist groups to overthrow and murder Gaddafi. The outcome of that conspiracy has not been “freedom and dignity” for the Libyan masses, but the virtual destruction of society.
In the Syrian war, as in the 2011 Libyan war before it, whatever initial protests occurred were overwhelmed and utilized as a pretext for large-scale military intervention by Washington against a regime with which it had long-standing grievances. In both wars, Washington’s key proxies were Sunni sectarian forces tied to Al Qaeda—veterans of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group in Libya and the Al Nusra Front in Syria.
The ISO statement invents a narrative that grotesquely distorts reality. It writes, “This is a revolt that was sparked by the children of Deraa and the sit-ins and demonstrations of the youth in the cities, the peasants of the rural areas, and the dispossessed and marginalized of Syria. It is they who rallied nonviolently through protests and songs and chants, before the regime’s brutal crackdown. Since then, the regime has pushed for the militarization of the Syrian nonviolent movement. As a result, young men took up arms, first out of self-defense.”
In what must be one of the most bizarre uses of post-modernist jargon, the ISO attempts to rhetorically fumigate the murderous activities of Al Nusra by referring to its terror bombings as merely the “negation of the Other.”
The ISO’s presentation of the war is out-and-out State Department propaganda. The “militarization” of the opposition’s activity in Syria was not a secondary aspect of its response to the Assad regime’s actions, but the central element of a strategy of escalation and regime change agreed upon with its foreign backers.
The opposition’s early June 2011 attack on Jisr al-Shughour came two days after a US-backed opposition council was established in Antalya, Turkey. Its first major campaign in Aleppo in February 2012, kicked off by a terror bombing which US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper attributed to Al Qaeda, was followed by news that US drones were overflying Syria. After the opposition campaign on Damascus in the late spring of 2012, which began with the May 10 Damascus car bombing and the May 25 Houla massacre, the New York Times confirmed that US intelligence was arming the opposition.
Since then, the Syrian opposition’s violent character and the aid and materiel it receives from the CIA and its allies, measured in the thousands of tons, have been a matter of public record. Nonetheless, despite this assistance, the opposition has proven incapable of bringing down Assad—a fact that testifies to the lack of support for its far-right, jihadist politics.
There is no question but that Bashar al-Assad heads a repressive bourgeois regime that is guilty of countless crimes against the Syrian working class. As is the case in all the former colonial countries in the Middle East, the incapacity of the bourgeoisie to carry through a genuinely democratic restructuring of society led to the establishment of quasi-Bonapartist dictatorial regimes, in which democratic rights were ruthlessly suppressed. However, it is a basic axiom of socialist politics that the overthrow of these regimes is the task of the working class. The struggle for democracy and socialism cannot under any circumstances be outsourced to the imperialist powers and their proxies.
A socialist perspective in Syria proceeds historically from its character as an oppressed, ex-colonial country, whose sectarian divisions are rooted in the imperialist carve-up of the Middle East—in Syria, that of the Ottoman Empire after World War I by Britain and France. The task of overcoming these sectarian tensions and securing the economic resources to ensure prosperity for all can be solved only by the unified struggle of the Middle Eastern masses for socialism. In this struggle, as Leon Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution explains, the leading role falls to the working class, in a struggle against imperialism.
Such a struggle entails the revolutionary unification of workers in Syria, Iraq, Israel, Egypt and the Arabian peninsula across all ethnic and religious lines, the overthrow of the reactionary sheikhdoms in the Persian Gulf, which monopolize most of the region’s oil revenues, and a common struggle with the American and European working class against the threat of imperialist intervention.
By aligning itself with the Islamist opposition in Syria and its backers in Washington, the ISO demonstrates its hostility to all of these struggles. It is contributing to the defense of the privileges of the opposition’s paymasters—the Persian Gulf royals and their US and European overlords—and to stirring the region’s sectarian tensions, which are inflamed by the opposition’s massacres and right-wing propaganda. The interests it is serving are not progressive, but reactionary.
The agenda behind US imperialism’s drive to war was bluntly laid out in a May 6 Wall Street Journal editorial. It wrote, “The immediate goal would be to limit the proliferation of WMD [Weapons of Mass Destruction], but the most important strategic goal continues to be to defeat Iran, our main adversary in the region. The risks of a jihadist [i.e., Al Qaeda] victory in Damascus are real, at least in the short term, but they are containable by Turkey and Israel.”
That is to say, the Journal views an Islamist victory in Syria as a step towards Washington’s key strategic goal: the defeat of the Iranian regime and the establishment of full US hegemony over the oil-rich Middle East. This hegemony would be exercised first of all against Washington’s geopolitical rivals in Russia and China, who have supported Assad. These international conflicts underlying the Syrian war refute the ISO’s claim that it is backing a revolution.
The ISO attempts to make light of its open alliance with imperialism by commenting ironically: “The Syrian revolution has confronted a world upside down, one where states that were allegedly friends of the Arabs such as Russia, China, and Iran have stood in support of the slaughter of the people, while states that never supported democracy or independence, especially the US and its Gulf allies, have intervened in support of the revolutionaries.”
No, it is not the world, but the analysis of the ISO that is “upside down.” Is it really necessary to explain that Wall Street, the Pentagon, the major oil firms, and the crowned heads of the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms are not fighting for a revolution? Is it not far more likely that the ISO, in keeping with the evolution of so many other pseudo-left organizations of the middle class, is pursuing a political line that is determined by the US State Department?
There is the matter of the signatories of this letter. As we have already noted, the ISO does not explain how this disparate group was rounded up and induced to politically prostitute themselves in the interests of imperialism.
Some of the signatories, such as Tariq Ali, Gilbert Achcar, Sherry Wolf and Michael Löwy, have long associations with the reactionary political intrigues of the rightward-moving pseudo-left parties. Many, however, have doubtless been roped in under the fraudulent banner of human rights—and have signed the declaration, probably without even reading it and without any serious knowledge of what is taking place in Syria. Such individuals should reconsider their association with this reactionary pro-war propaganda exercise and have their names removed from the list of signatories.
As for the ISO, it has irrevocably and comprehensively exposed itself as an instrument of US imperialism, using lies and euphemisms to drum up support for aggression against Syria. It is a political accessory to the crimes being committed against the Syrian people, and a direct accomplice of imperialism.