Notes from the front – of the week 13/10/2015

Building Momentum

One of the important opportunities coming out of the campaign to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour Party was the possibility to renew political discussion and campaigning in the Labour Party and beyond by maintaining the organisation of the many new, renewed and existing activists that came around the campaign. The first step to achieving this has been taken by the launch of Momentum, a grassroots network based on those who signed up to Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign, which will continue to build support within the labour movement and campaigning organisations for progressive policies.

The ‘Corbyn surge’ that was evident in the summer and drove the victory in the leadership election has not abated. This is reflected in the response to the launch of Momentum, which reported attracting 13,000 Facebook ‘likes’ and 8,000 Twitter followers in the first 24 hours following its launch.

The new network is open to all, although it is likely that a majority will want to be members of the Labour Party to be most effective in defending the politics of the new leadership and campaigning for Labour to win elections to implement them. Momentum’s priorities are to organise supporters in every region and town, to argue for and bolster the profile of the leadership’s policies and fight for them to be implemented in government. It will provide a network drawing in individuals and campaign groups to campaign and organise around the key issues.

Labour’s hard right has vociferously objected to this new centre-left initiative – while, of course, stepping up its own organisation in the party to oppose Corbyn. It objects to Momentum as it will be an obstacle to its attempts to undermine the Corbyn leadership and prepare the ground to oust it at the earliest opportunity. It does not want to face organised opposition as it wages its offensive to undermine Labour’s new agenda.

Corbyn’s political agenda has remained under intense assault, not just from the media and the Tories, but also from the Labour right. They seize on any opportunity to attack.

Momentum is a broad and necessary initiative, which can begin to counter this offensive. It should be backed by socialists and all supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and his key allies.

Meanwhile the Corbyn leadership and its supporters will be heartened by the most recent monthly ICM poll for the Guardian, published on 12 October, with top line figures of Tories 38% to Labour 34%. The four point Tory lead is the smallest since the election and it indicates that with Corbyn as leader Labour’s voting intention figures are starting to rise.

Labour right links up with Tories on bombing Syria

David Cameron is planning to schedule a new parliamentary vote authorising Britain going to war in Syria at the earliest opportunity. However, having lost a similar proposal in 2013 – which effectively forced the US to abandon its war preparations as it was so internationally isolated – Cameron is determined to overcome this failure of Britain to come to the aid of its senior partner. He cannot afford any repeat of the previous defeat and therefore a vote will only be timetabled if and when the numbers of war-supporting MPs guarantees his proposal will be passed.

This is not straightforward. As reported here, there are a significant number of Tories opposed to British military action in Syria who would break their party’s whip on the issue. He can only be guaranteed a majority if there are sufficient Labour MPs that are prepared to vote for war that it will make up for his own rebels. Therefore Cameron is relying on pro-war Labour MPs in an effort to assemble a majority.

In the Observer Andrew Mitchell MP and Jo Cox MP, justifying this Tory/Labour-right alliance, set out all too familiar arguments for war, based on the pretence of ‘protecting civilians’. This justifies a continuation of the George Bush doctrine in US foreign policy that began with the invasion of Iraq. This foreign policy doctrine – developed by the Pentagon in the 1990s – proposed to unleash unilateral military action by the US, outside the decision of the UN, breaking with the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states, introduced ‘regime change’ as a justifiable war aim. This was spelled out in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States, which warned that thenceforth: … the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively in exercising our inherent right of self-defence.’ Blair gave this new unilateralist and interventionist policy cover by extending the terminology of so-called ‘humanitarian intervention’ – first used to describe the NATO assault on Serbia in the 1990s – to describe the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

Led by the US, under this new doctrine, the West has pursued a series of catastrophic engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya In each case it has overthrown a government that unacceptably pursued policies independent of the US, but only succeeded in replacing them with weak and failing governments or no stable government at all, the destruction of living standards including previous social gains and has spawned widespread terrorism, chaos and instability across the entire region.

Cameron and his Labour-right backers want Britain to join the US in another phase of this failed strategy, in this case intervening in the complex war in Syria – again outside any UN decision, without the agreement of the incumbent government and with the open aim of regime change whatever the rhetoric about ‘safe havens’ for the ‘moderate opposition’ (which is not active on the field in reality) and the pretence of targeting ISIS.

The US, having failed to establish a so-called ‘moderate’ force to fight Assad, has been supplying arms to Al Qaeda linked militants via Saudi Arabia and Qatar, with help from Turkey and Jordan. Its bombing raids have not been aimed at destroying ISIS but preventing any advance by Assad’s forces.

Syria’s appeals to Russia, Iran and Hezbollah to help it defeat the armed insurgents have led to far more effective action against ISIS than anything achieved by the US. But the US opposes this action, as it has the effect of strengthening Assad.

The US strategy is in chaos as effectively it is trying to be on both sides in the same war – against ISIS but also against the Assad government that ISIS is fighting. Any British military action in this situation would only add to the chaos driving millions from homes, forced to seek refuge abroad and prolong the war.

To sell the idea of joining this war to Labour members Jo Cox promotes the absurd idea that just a little bombing, with British military action limited to ‘use of naval assets already in the region’ will reap results. She also explicitly argues that British intervention should be against the Syrian government, as well as ISIS, and seek to impose foreign military control over its sovereign territory. This is quite unrealistic, as West is not currently in any position to impose such terms, but it will also embroil Britain in another illegal war at the behest of the US. The West has clearly lost the initiative and a ‘limited’ British bombing campaign will not restore it. The one guaranteed result of British military intervention is increased human misery for Syrians.

The Labour Party at its recent annual conference overwhelmingly adopted clear policy on the Syrian conflict. It agreed to only support military action if all the following conditions are met: UN authorisation, EU-wide plans to assist the extra refugees, bombing only ISIS and subordination of military action to diplomatic efforts aimed at ending the civil war. The full text of Labour’s policy is set out below.

Labour members will expect their party’s MPs to respect the decision and vote in parliament accordingly.

Syria Emergency Motion Agreed Labour Party Conference 30/9/2015

Conference notes the evidence of an increased Russian military build-up in Syria; the announcement of talks between US and Russian military leaders aimed at avoiding the risk of clashes in Syria on Friday, 18th September; the meeting between the Israeli PM and Russian President in Moscow on Monday, 21st September, focused on preventing accidental conflict between their forces in Syria; and the growing international diplomatic effort to achieve a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Syria.

Conference also notes the likelihood that David Cameron will seek House of Commons support to extend UK participation in the bombing of Iraq to Syria in the near future.

Conference believes the Parliamentary Labour Party should oppose any such extension unless the following conditions are met:

1. Clear and unambiguous authorisation for such a bombing campaign from the United Nations;

2. A comprehensive European Union-wide plan is in place to provide humanitarian assistance to the increased number of refugees that even more widespread bombing can be expected to lead to;

3. Such bombing is exclusively directed at military targets directly associated with ‘Islamic State’, noting that if the bombing campaign advocated by the British government in 2013 had not been blocked by the PLP under Ed Miliband’s leadership, ‘Islamic State’ forces might now be in control of far more Syrian territory, including Damascus.

4. Any military action is subordinated to international diplomatic efforts; including the main regional powers, to bring the Syrian civil war to an end, since only a broadly-based and sovereign Syrian government can ultimately retake territory currently controlled by ‘Islamic State’.

Conference believes that only military action which meets all these objectives, and thus avoids the risk of repeating the disastrous consequences of the 2003 war in Iraq and the 2011 air campaign intervention in Libya, can secure the assent of the British people.

Peace rally bombed as Turkey heads towards election

The bombing of the Ankara rally on Saturday 10 October is the third such outrage in Turkey in recent months. At the time of writing, the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) puts the death toll at 128. Previously, at a rally on July 20 in Suruc, to support the Kurds in Kobane, 31 people were killed, and at a HDP election rally in Diyarbakir on June 5, 2 people were killed.

In the run up to the Turkish election on 1 November, the HDP has announced that it is now unable to safely hold any election rallies.

The governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) has utilised anti-Kurdish prejudices as part of its election campaign. Its immediate response to the bombing was to blame the Kurds. The EU Affairs Minister, Beril Dedeoglu , suggested that it was a result of an agreement between ISIS, the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK) and unnamed foreign countries. Subsequently, Prime Minister, Ahmet Davitoglu, suggested it was most likely ISIS. But he then excluded the HDP from the dialogue he extended to other opposition parties following the bombing.

Since 7 September more than 300 HDP party offices have been set on fire or vandalised. Hundreds of Kurdish activists, including elected representatives of HDP, have been arrested. Many Kurdish supporters believe the Turkish state is connected in some way to the bombings.

Snap polls indicate that the AKP is not going to improve its position in the election. Equally, the polls suggest that the HDP is holding its votes. It seems likely that none of the four major parties will secure a majority.

After the Ankara bombing, the PKK announced a unilateral ceasefire in its war with the Turkish government. In response, the government dismissed this as an electoral ploy and demanded that the PKK disarms before talks can resume. Over the weekend it continued to bomb Kurdish areas in Southern Turkey and Northern Iraq. In a broadcast to PKK militants, spokesperson Murat Karayilan said ‘We are obliged to maintain this halt to hostilities without succumbing to doubt, as a legacy to those killed in Ankara’.

President Erdogan’s previous boast that the AKP had brought stability to Turkey has now been shown to be entirely hollow. As Turkey prepares for its fourth major election in 20 months, it too is suffering the chaos of imperialist policy in the region.