Notes from the front – of the week 4/3/2015

Eurogroup, ECB and IMF seek Syriza’s unconditional surrender

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras told a weekend rally that Syriza’s international opponents ‘plan was and is to wear down, topple or bring our government to unconditional surrender before our work begins to bear fruit and before the Greek example affects other countries,’ he said, adding: ‘and mainly before the elections in Spain.’

This is a correct judgement and the key issue is what Syriza can do to prevent it. A series of technical measures have been adopted which aim to put the anti-austerity government in Athens in a vice. The European Central Bank (ECB) is refusing both to provide new short-term funds to Greek banks and is preventing the Central Bank of Greece from doing the same. It is also preventing the issuance of short-term debt (‘T-bills’) that could be accessed by the government for funding. The ECB is also withholding profits on previous ’bailouts’ that are due to Greece.

In addition, the Eurogroup of Finance Ministers is demanding the implementation of ‘reforms’ ahead of the April deadline for an agreement before it will consider the release of funds already promised. There are reports that another bailout package of between €30bn and €50bn, which always come with new austerity conditions attached.

Alexis Tsipras has turned his fire on the pro-austerity governments of the other crisis countries, especially Spain and Portugal. They, along with the reactionary coalition government in Ireland are desperate for Syriza to fail because it would obscure their own craven political capitulation to the Troika institutions.

But it should be clear that it is those international institutions which hold the purse-strings and the forces that they represent that are the main enemy. There should be no illusions that they are completely determined to maintain austerity policies until there is a transformation of the post-World War II social settlement in Europe. As a result, all forces fighting austerity need a sober assessment that this will be a very difficult and prolonged struggle if it is to be successful.

Nemtsov’s murder – who benefits?

Following last week’s murder of Boris Nemtsov, the pro-Western Russian politician shot dead in Moscow, much Western media has been pointing the finger directly at President Putin.

In the absence of any evidence of who pulled the trigger, a myth is being spun that Putin fears losing power so has been driven to order the murder of a pro-US opponent. No doubt the Pentagon dreams of orchestrating a ‘colour revolution’ in Moscow similar to the one it resourced last year in Ukraine, but even the US understands that is not remotely possible, because Nemtsov’s pro-Western politics are detested by the overwhelming majority of Russia’s population.

So the question cui bono (who benefits) needs to be asked.

Nemtsov had been a deputy prime minister to Boris Yeltsin in the late 1990s when Russia’s economy was being privatised and looted. Yeltsin’s government organised the handing over of vast national assets to various oligarchs. The accompanying damage inflicted on the economy caused a huge collapse in living standards. There is no support today for the pro-US politicians who orchestrated this. In fact last week Nemtsov talking to the FT about the pro-Western political forces he said: ‘Now there is no longer an opposition, only dissidents. Now is the absolute low point. ‘

Clearly Nemtsov presented zero threat to President Putin. Six months ago, he won a small regional election in Yaroslavl to the local council, but for 15 years he has not been able to win in a national election.

Putin’s current approval ratings are at an unparalleled high of over 80 per cent. There is similarly widespread backing for Russia to do whatever it can to defend the Russian population of the Peoples Republics in the east of Ukraine from Kiev’s military assaults. Nemtsov’s promotion of Western policy on the Ukraine and Crimea was overwhelmingly unpopular and meant he was largely irrelevant within Russian politics.

Nemtsov as a martyr is a bigger problem for Putin than he was as an unpopular right-winger. His death is being used to bolster the beleaguered pro-US opposition and to whip up Western public opinion against Russia. In fact the rally in Moscow on Sunday to commemorate Nemtsov’s murder drew the largest pro-Western crowds since the much publicised, but again small, protests of 2011 and 2012.

The US is hoping the low international oil price and sanctions will create economic problems that increase social tension in Russia and put political pressure on Putin. This may well happen, but it is presumptive in the West to conclude Russia would then make more concessions to imperialism. At the last Presidential election, in 2012, Putin secured 64 per cent of the vote, but his main opponent was the Communist Party’s Gennady Zyuganov on 17 per cent. Putin’s main domestic source of opposition lies to his left not to the right.


US aims to get Europe to pay for its war machine

A concerted US campaign is underway to get European countries to increase their military spending. The country where this has had the greatest impact so far is Britain.

A string of retired British Generals, leader writers in The Times and Financial Times and both Tory and Labour backbenchers have dutifully echoed the words of the current US army chief of staff, that he was ‘very concerned’ by British military cuts. All of this follows David Cameron’s recent trip to Washington, with widespread reports that he was told that the US wants Britain to maintain military spending at 2 per cent of GDP.

Britain already has military spending at this level, and is far higher than comparable countries, such as Germany where the military budget in 2013 was just 1.3 per cent of GDP and the Finance Minister has recently announced it fell to 1.1 per cent last year. This demand from the US administration was for Britain’s next Parliament.

This is a clear and coordinated US intervention into British politics, in the pursuit of US aims. US military expenditure has been cut dramatically from 4.7 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 3.8 per cent of GDP in 2013, a fall of nearly one-fifth. Official US data indicate it fell further in 2014, with a slight increase in the third quarter but ending the year at its lowest point since the US invaded Iraq in 2003 (pdf).

The sums involved are colossal. The cut in annual US military spending was over US$140 billion from its peak. In relative terms this is nearly equal to the entire official British military budget. The cut was part of a conscious effort to shift the US economy away from slow economic growth which was made explicit by Richard Haass. In ‘Foreign Policy Begins at Home’ he argued that the US needed to recover its former economic supremacy before it could renew its military domination of the globe. A shift of almost one per cent of GDP from military spending to state investment in infrastructure has followed, which is largely responsible from the shift in the US economy from stagnation to mediocre growth.

This is the backdrop to the US campaign for higher European military spending. US imperialism intends to maintain and later reinforce its military dominance, and that European governments will fund it by at least maintaining their own spending. These military assets and forces will remain under ultimate US military direction through NATO and ad-hoc coalitions such as in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The European economies are struggling under the impact of austerity policies. It is an outrage that the US intervenes to protect European military spending for its own purposes. It is a scandal that so many in Britain are so keen to play the US lapdog. All the anti-war forces and anti-austerity forces in Britain have an interest in preventing Britain and others paying for the maintenance of the US war machine.

Imperialism is creating Middle East terrorism – not schools and universities

There has been an outpouring of hypocrisy following the coordinated announcements from the US and Britain naming Mohammed Emwazi as the ISIS militant involved in the videoed executions of Western hostages in Syria.

From the start of the conflict inside Syria in 2011 the stated goal of the US, supported by Britain, has been the overthrow of President Assad. To that end both countries, working alongside Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Turkey, have helped build up the Islamist militant forces fighting the Damascus government.

The US and its allies have been central to the carnage inflicted on Syria these last four years and continue to be so. They have been involved with funding, training and arming, but also with the supply of fighters. Young Islamist militants, inspired by a sectarian anti-Shia politics, have been encouraged to travel from across the globe to join the combat. Western security services have been monitoring who is travelling and recruited informants. They have not blocked the journeys of thousands of young militants travelling to Syria to fight. In the case of Britain it is estimated hundreds, if not over one thousand, have gone to Syria, and they experienced no difficulty getting there.

The al-Qaeda inspired forces, including ISIS and the al-Nusra front, have made military advances in Syria because of imperialism’s resourcing as well as generous funds from a number of countries in the region. As long as the al-Qaeda-type forces concentrate on attacking government targets in Syria the West backs them,  because imperialism wants ISIS to keep fighting Assad. But the US opposes them where they conflict with its own interests, when they attack US allies or seize control of some cities in Iraq.

Imperialism uses the issue of ISIS hostage executions to whip up support for increasing its own military intervention in Iraq and Syria and also to attack the civil liberties of Muslims in Britain. The British government’s blaming of political Muslims, schools and universities is a diversion to silence opposition to its policies and whip up Islamophobia.

The current media focus on this issue in Britain also helps the Tories shift the agenda away from living standards issues to security, electoral terrain they are considered stronger on than Labour.

The current US and British military deployments are not aiming to eliminate al-Qaeda inspired fighting forces in Syria and Iraq. Their job is to contain the violence and focus it against Syria and Iran. So the US attacks ISIS in the areas where it wants more control not in areas where ISIS is battling the Assad government.

Britain has worked hand in glove with the US creating this problem in the Middle East. They have monitored the passage of fighters to the region and, working with their allies, they could stop the flow if they chose to.

But the West has no intention of stopping the flow of militants into Syria to fight the Assad government. US forces in Turkey and Jordon continue to train up fighters and send them into Syria. On the battlefield it is difficult for the US to maintain control over the forces it is training up. Many are defecting, with their weapons, to the various al-Qaeda inspired groups.

Whilst the West continues to encourage these fighters horror stories about British terrorists will continue.