On Thursday 22 February the London Region of the SLP held a public meeting in Conway Hall. The purpose of the meeting was to denounce, and to demand an end to, the imperialist sanctions against countries such as Iraq, Cuba, Libya and the DPRK. Since this rally came so soon after the latest bombing raids on Baghdad by the US and British imperialists, naturally every speaker was obliged to devote a considerable proportion of his or her time to exposing the falsity of the reasons put forward by the British and American governments as a justification for this latest act of barbarity. The meeting room was packed to capacity. We reproduce below a summarised version of the contributions made. The speakers included: Arthur Scargill, President of the NUM and General Secretary of the SLP; John McLeod from the SLP and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign; Victoria Brittain, journalist and writer, also a member of the SLP; and Joanne Baker from Voices from the Wilderness. Joanne Baker, who at very short notice stood in for Felicity Arbuthnot (unable to attend because she had to go the Middle East at very short notice), gave a very moving and detailed report on the effects of sanctions on the Iraqi people. In view of the wealth of detail contained in it, and the vivid portrayal of the devastating effects of sanctions that it paints, Joanne’s contribution is produced as a separate article elsewhere in this issue.
The Chair’s opening statement
Harpal Brar, President of the SLP’s London Region, started the proceedings with the following brief comments. The British government, he said, had given two ‘reasons’ for the latest bombing of Iraq by American and British warplanes, namely, that the bombing was, first, to protect the lives of our air crews, and, secondly, to protect the shias of southern Iraq and the Kurds in the northern part of Iraq. Both these assertions, he said, are blatant lies. As to the protection of the American and British pilots, the best way to do that is not to send them into the Iraqi air space. They have no reason to be there in international law. The UN, under whose mandate the Anglo-American imperialist forces pretend to be acting, has never authorised these flights. Consequently, the exclusion zones over northern and southern Iraq, the daily flights by British and American planes over these Iraqi territories, are daily acts of terrorism, lawlessness and banditry practised by these two leading imperialist countries aginst the innocent and defenceless Iraqi people in gross violation of the rules governing conduct among civilised nations.
Further, said Harpal Brar, although since the ending of the Gulf War ten years ago, the US and Britain have made 200,000 sorties against Iraq, yet not a single US or British plane has been brought down by the Iraqi defences. This single fact alone proves the utter falsity of the claim that the Iraqi defences pose a threat to the marauding Anglo-American imperialist flying machines which daily rain death and destruction on Iraq.
As to the protection of the Iraqis, this claim is even more absurd than the first. Turkish air force planes regularly fly from Turkey deep into Iraqi Kurdistan to attack, the Turkish government claims, the PKK guerrillas who are supposedly using northern Iraq as their base. Through these attacks, the Turkish air force has caused serious damage to property and killed a great number of civilians in northern Iraq. As the Turkish planes return, the British and US planes take off from exactly the same Turkish air fields and head for northern Iraq to shower their benevolent protection on the very same Kurds as the latter, smarting from the Turkish attacks, as they busy themselves burying their dead. The situation would be very funny indeed if it were not so cruel. This revoltingly sick comedy is enacted with sickening regularity.
If US and British imperialism are truly interested in safeguarding the rights of the population against cruel and violent regimes, they need look no further than Turkey and Israel, two of the most reactionary, oppressive and murderous states in the region. Turkey, more than any other country with a Kurdish population, violates the rights of its Kurdish citizens. It bombs, displaces, tortures, imprisons and massacres its Kurdish minority on a grand scale. It metes out exactly the same treatment to working-class opponents of the regime. As for Israel, it treats the Arab population of Israel as third class citizens. It has imposed a regime of apartheid-style bantustans on the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It has openly adopted the policy of assassination of the leaders of the Palestinian resistance. It denies the right of return to their homes and land to over 4 million Palestinians expelled at gunpoint by Zionist terror gangs in 1948. In short, its treatment of the Palestinian population is reminiscent of the treatment of the Jewish population by Nazi Germany. As if this were not enough, it attacks neighbouring Arab countries at regular intervals and continues to be in illegal occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights and the Lebanese Sheba’a Farms (after being forced into a humiliating retreat from the strip of territory, constituting one-fifth of Lebanon, which it had illegally occupied for 18 years). All this it has done not only in total violation of UN resolutions, but also with the complete support – financial, military, diplomatic and political – of the ‘humanitarian’ governments of US and British imperialism. Within three days of the US-British attack on Iraq, Israel and the US started on 19 February five days of joint military exercises. While the Iraqi regime is bombed for its alleged maltreatment of its citizens, Israel is rewarded for its fascistic use of violence against the victims of its occupation. Imperialist disregard for international law and its feigned concern for human rights could find no better illustration than its glaringly contrasting attitude towards the Iraqi regime, on the one hand, and the Israeli and Turkish regimes, on the other. The truth is that human rights are no part of the calculation of imperialism, which is solely concerned with continuing to loot the Arab people’s oil and they to crush even the semblance of resistance on the part of any regime to this state of affairs.
Harpal Brar concluded by saying that Tony Blair’s government had in practice proved far worse than what we had dared to predict before the general election in 1997. It has enthusiastically participated in NATO’s genocidal war against the people of Yugoslavia; it has intervened in Sierra Leone. It continues to bomb Iraq and impose cruel sanctions against that country. At home it has attacked the most disadvantaged, the most deprived and the most destitute sections of the population – the unemployed, the lone parents, the disabled, the pensioners, black and other ethnic minorities, and the asylum seekers. It is, he said, an imperialist government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. The only party worth supporting, he went on, was the Socialist Labour Party, with its clear-cut socialist programme.
John Mcleod, of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign and the SLP, said
The situation in Iraq and US behaviour over the Cuban question makes it necessary for people like me who are not used to public speaking to stand up and be counted, and I speak from the heart.
“Many people will not link the crippling sanctions imposed on Iraq with Cuba. But the US designates ‘rogue’ states in its own interests, supported by stooges – successive UK governments, especially Tony Blair. Madelene Albright, formerly US Secretary of State, was asked recently about the human costs. She considered it a price worth paying – a callous, offensive and inhuman reply!”
He went on to say
: “US foreign policy is consistent and has not changed since the Vietnam war. It is more dangerous than ever before, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. The term ’empire’ is frequently used by Fidel Castro to describe America’s role upholding the present world economic order.”
He said that it is the US goal to not tolerate any powers capable of resisting it, and that it resorts to state terrorism in defiance of international law.
“Cuba has vast experience of this kind of behaviour. The US, while publicly championing the prohibition of force, likes to define what constitutes aggression and itself resorts to military solutions in its dealings with third world countries.”
He described how, at the time of Cuba’s second war of independence with Spain, a battleship in Havana harbour mysteriously blew up.
“All the officers, mainly white, were on shore; all the ratings, mainly black, were on board the boat when it blew up! It was on the basis of this ‘atrocity’ that America intervened, and the Cubans never got rid of them, or achieved national independence until the revolution of 1959. Since then the malignant empire has never ceased to punish the Cuban people.”
He went on to say:
“Contrary to popular belief, the blockade has not been eased in any way. It has been intensified under a smoke-screen of pretence that the blockade has been ameliorated and that Cuba is now free to buy through United States sources the medicines that she requires. She won’t get any credit in any shape or form. Cuba is a poor country, it can’t finance the purchase of medicines through the avenues the Americans say they have opened up – it’s not true, they know it’s not true.
“Use of terrorism has been the stock in trade of the United States in its foreign policy towards Cuba. Direct military threat is a constant danger for the Cuban people, and Iraq is in exactly the same position. Sanctions, blockade – they amount to the same thing in a deliberate attempt to undermine the health service of both countries regardless of human costs. But the Cuban people are an armed people, and the Americans know that if they invade Cuba the price will be very very high.”
He finished by saying
“The SLP condemns these genocidal acts and is in solidarity with the Iraqi and Cuban peoples. The perpetrators are also the enemies of the British working class. We will strive to let the British people know of our own government’s complicity in these crimes – against Iraq directly and Cuba indirectly. This is all the more reason to come to the Socialist Labour Party.”
Comrade Scargill’s speech
In his speech, Comrade Scargill said that the British defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, was engaged in putting forward the same sort of pretexts for bombing Iraq as his predecessor, George Robertson, did for bombing Yugoslavia, namely, protection of the people of the very country being subjected to intensive bombing. At the time of the war against Yugoslavia, he said:
“We in the SLP were insisting on the right of the Yugoslav people to determine their own future”,
adding that NATO leaders
“now admit that the bombing of the Chinese embassy n Belgrade was a deliberate act and not an accident.”
He went on to contrast the attitude of the US and Britain to the Baghdad regime with their attitude towards the erstwhile Chilean regime of General Pinochet, the Turkish regime, the Israeli government, and the late and unlamented apartheid government in South Africa. Although Pinochet came to power over a heap of corpses in a military coup, which overthrew the elected Allende regime, although it practised systematic torture, imprisonment and assassinations on its opponents, no sanctions were ever applied against it.
The Israeli government is guilty, he said, of denying the Palestinian people the most basic of civil rights and subjecting the occupied Palestinian people to terror and violence in complete defiance of UN resolutions. Yet no sanctions are applied against Israel. Apartheid South Africa, which denied the black people, who constituted more than three-quarters of its population, all rights and forced them to live in squatter camps, which were hell holes bereft of even the minimum of facilities and hygiene, far from being isolated, was, on the contrary, very much protected by the imperialist powers, who went to the length of characterising as terrorist the South African liberation movement. Referring to the British government’s characterisation of the IRA as terrorists, Comrade Scargill declared, amidst thunderous applause, that the IRA “are soldiers in war until a united and independent Ireland comes into being”.
Going further back into history, Comrade Scargill denounced the imperialist regimes of the US and Britain for their support for Franco’s fascists – a point which he illustrated by a poignant reference to Picasso’s immortal painting portraying the fascist bombing of Guernica. Equally, he said, sanctions have been imposed on Cuba for the past four decades, for no other reason than that the Cuban regime wished to improve the lot of its people. Imperialism has absolutely no concern for human rights, he said. Everywhere it commits genocide against regimes which want to better the conditions of existence of their population, adding that in the Middle East, imperialism’s sole concern is oil and oil alone – not human rights. In the pursuit of maximum profits, it is prepared to sell arms to the most repressive regimes, from Indonesia to Chile, Turkey and Israel, and support every repressive and fascistic regime.
There is a struggle going on all over the world between reactionary and revolutionary forces”,
“and we have got to make up our mind where we stand and on whose side we are.”
With the coming election in view, Comrade Scargill explained the SLP’s policies. The SLP, he said, would spend an extra £15 billion a year on the National Health Service and ban all private medicine; it would spend an additional £5 billion a year on education, eliminate homelessness by spending an extra £3 billion a year. In the field of pensions, the SLP would restore the link between earnings and pensions. To those who would assert that there were no resources for these additional allocations, he said that the formerly publicly-owned industries, privatised at bargain basement prices, turned in profits of £35 billion a year, while the oil industry made £32 billion a year and the big banks £20 billion. Out of these vast profits, presently lining the pockets of a tiny section of the population, we could pay for all those things mentioned earlier and still be left with £40 billion to spare. In addition, he maintained, the SLP would slash the defence budget.
Before the 1997 election, the SLP had warned that the market could not deliver:
“The market has devastated our basic industries – steel, coal, ship building and automobiles. Manufacturing now accounts for only 19 per cent of our economy. Only by taking into public ownership in the name of society and arranging production to suit the needs of the population is it possible to safeguard our industry, the jobs of our workers and ensure a prosperous future.”
Referring to the world at large, and the division of the world between a handful of rich imperialist nations, on the one hand, and the oppressed nations, comprising the vast majority of the world’s population, on the other, he said:
We must recognise the contradiction in this world in which the richest 20% own 86% of the world’s income and the poorest 20% a mere 1%. There is plenty of wherewithal for feeding, clothing and housing the whole of humanity. Only the present system of exploitation stands in the way. Because I believe this to be the case is the reason I am in the SLP and challenging capitalism.”
People will tell you, he said, that politicians are all the same. To enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation, Cde Scargill concluded: “
We in the SLP ARE different and we want to paint the ‘vision splendid’ and build a socialist society.”
Victoria Brittain made a brief but thorough speech:
“One of the additions that I would make is there has been another bombing attack on Iraq tonight, and there was also an announcement from Washington that in the bombing of last Friday, at least half the bombs missed their target by a very, very wide berth.
“I am just going to make four very, very brief points. The first was that the original purpose of this meeting was to highlight the appalling effects of US sanctions ten years on on Iraq’s people and particularly on children. And it is a point as a statistic that cannot be emphasised too often, and I know you have heard it tonight, but I just had to say it again. And this situation is one that has brought the majority of the Security Council, excepting only the United States and Britain, and the majority of the Arab world, excepting only Saudi Arabia (and Kuwait obviously), to oppose sanctions. They have to go, and no amount of talk about smart sanctions, which is the fashionable thing in London this week I believe, should blind anyone to that fact.
“My second point is that what happened last Friday was infinitely more grave than that ten years of horror has been. For ten years the Americans and the Britons have over-flown Iraq, imposing no-fly zones, and they are illegal in international law. However many times Mr Hoon tells you something different, he is not correct. France, as you know, withdrew from all this charade about three years ago. Tens of thousands of bombs have been dropped. Not one British or American plane has ever had a threat upon it. So, as Arthur said last week when they invented the absolutely absurd pretext that somehow British and Americans needed protecting by the bombing of Baghdad and other targets this has to be treated with the absolute contempt it deserves. It was, as Arthur said, a terrorist act, and it will be judged by history as such.
“Third, for a Labour government to lend itself as the sole support of the new Republican administration, which we are just beginning to get a flavour of, and to support and take part in such an indefensible act is deeply shaming for any of us who have ever been members of the Labour Party.
“This government now has the worst record on intervention since de-colonisation. Iraq, Sierra Leone, Kosovo: all of these were completely unjustifiable acts by our government. And there will be a price to pay in all the regions in which these interventions have taken place in terms of the destabilisation of those regions.
“And my last point is that the British government’s attitude to Iraq stands in the most outrageous hypocritical contrast to its attitude to Israel and what is going on in Palestine at the moment. And the linkage between these two troubles in Iraq and Palestine is a critical one which we have to really take on board and work to expose and to allow people to understand.”
The meeting enthused those who attended it, with several people expressing an interest in joining the SLP.