All posts by John Andrews

Come the (Green) Revolution, Please!

The Green Party of England and Wales is extraordinary. Whilst I’ve no idea whether it’s very different to other Green Parties around the world, it is totally different to any other large political organisation in Britain. Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Greens, so obviously I have some partisan interest. Nevertheless, I think I can prove beyond reasonable doubt that it is extraordinary.

Arguably the single most important extraordinary feature about it, compared with other large political parties in Britain, is that it has a written set of guiding principles, together with a multitude of written policies that it claims it would implement in the event of a Green government coming to power. This body of work, titled “Policies for a Sustainable Society” (PSS), is wholly controlled by the membership, and cannot be altered on the whim of its leaders. This alone sets the party aside from the Labour Party, for example, which has the biggest membership in the country, but no equivalent of the Greens’ PSS.

I couldn’t believe this when I was briefly a member of Labour – the fact that it has no written core principles. All it has is whatever the last election manifesto was. The shallowness of this situation is obvious: Labour “principles” are determined by a handful of people just prior to an election, and are wholly dependent on those few people. That’s why its leaders often refer to it as a “broad church”, suggesting that no matter what your political beliefs are, Labour will welcome you with open arms. It’s also why two people as ideologically far apart as Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn, for example, can somehow lead the same party – and preside over the preparation of two totally different election manifestos, and hence two totally different, and opposing sets of principles.

So the mere existence of the Greens’ PSS, making the party fairly impervious to the weaknesses and fallibility of leaders, is truly exceptional. It creates a party where written verifiable ideology trumps vague and vulnerable personality cults. But that’s just the start. The actual contents of the PSS are nothing short of breathtaking.

I recently completed a short summary of the PSS. It’s about twenty thousand words long, and I reckon it has only about 10% of the detail. I did it because the PSS is such a large piece of work that I’m sure most GP members probably haven’t read it, and therefore possibly don’t understand the full extent of the beauty of their own party. And “beauty” is the right word for it, because what it describes is a world that’s so completely different to the one we know, and so infinitely better, that it is indeed a beautiful creation. Far from being something of an ordeal to pore over a detailed political ideology, I found myself savouring what I was doing, frequently smiling, feeling uplifted, and thinking this is exactly the sort of world I want to live in.

The PSS opens with two short sections that in my summary I’ve called the “key facts”. The very first words state that:

The Green Party isn’t just another political party. Green politics is a new and radical kind of politics.

Ten Core Principles follow, summarising the Greens’ commitment to rescuing our dying planet, pacifism, economic justice for all, and constitutional reform based on direct democracy.

Next comes a slightly longer section about the Greens’ Philosophical Basis, which obviously supports their Core Principles, but with a little more detail, such as:

A system based on inequality and exploitation is threatening the future of the planet on which we depend, and encouraging reckless and environmentally damaging consumerism. A world based on cooperation and democracy would prioritise the many, not the few, and would not risk the planet’s future with environmental destruction and unsustainable consumption.

It’s interesting to note that the slogan the Labour Party used so successfully in last year’s elections, “For the many, not the few”, is remarkably similar to what the Greens have been saying for many years.

Those ten Core Principles, and the couple of dozen points in the Philosophical Basis, run like a golden thread linking every one of the hundreds of sections that comprise the full PSS.

Constitutional Reform

Arguably the most significant section of the Greens’ policies are those around constitutional reform, because what the Greens propose is not just a change of actors performing the same play on the same stage – which is the only purpose of most general elections – but a major reformation of the way politics works in Britain. Take, for example, two of the opening principles in the section on Public Administration and Government:

Britain still has many of the elements of its feudal past, including some remnants of the royal prerogative. We believe that the basic principle of Government should be the reverse of this, that is that power flows upwards from the people, and from their most local levels of Government to the higher levels…

All decision-making and action throughout all levels of government, including international government, shall be governed by the principle of subsidiarity: namely that nothing should be done centrally if it can be done equally well, or better, locally…

The highest form of democracy is direct participation.

To help achieve this the Greens further propose:

The basis for a decentralised society and the establishment of a Bill of Rights must be laid out in a clear and accessible written constitution.

This is no trivial point for a country that has never had a written constitution, and a country which, although no longer the global power it once was, is still a significant player on the world stage. But the Greens are not proposing just any old constitution that just perpetuates the ancient and very corrupt status quo:

A written constitution will describe a new system of government based on direct democracy and Green values…

Elections will be decided by proportional representation…

The City of London Corporation to be abolished, together with its institutions and all the special rights and privileges it has, to be replaced by administration similar to the rest of London…

Monarchy shall cease to be an office of government, and hereditary peers will not have hereditary rights to sit in Parliament…

The Church of England shall be disestablished and will have no role in the government of the UK…

Those few words propose unbelievably seismic changes for Britain. If they were carried out Britain would cease to be controlled by the corrupt and tyrannical elites that have not only oppressed British people for centuries, but also hundreds of millions of people around the world. For the first time in its history Britain would become a real democracy. But that’s just the start.

The Greens do not yet have, in my view, very strong policies regarding public information services, and this issue would have to be addressed in any written constitution. Good and trustworthy information is absolutely essential to the proper functioning of direct democracy; and it should be the responsibility of, firstly, the education system, and secondly, a state public information service to ensure good information is provided.

Green Britain

The Greens are, first and foremost, about protecting and improving the environment, and rescuing and restoring to full health our planet’s fragile and rapidly dying ecosystems. This principle underpins, explains and justifies every one of the hundreds of policies that comprise the PSS. In other words, there isn’t a separate section about “The Environment”; the whole thing is about the environment and the planet’s non-humans, and the way human beings could and should interact with them. Take, for example, the section on Animal Rights:

The prevailing assumption that animals can be used for any purpose that benefits humankind is not acceptable in a Green society…

To eliminate the wholesale exploitation of other species, foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat…

Other sections are designed with the environment at heart. Take the section on Transport, for example, which includes:

The Green Party believes that some of the greatest damage to local communities and the environment has been done by the transfer of freight carriage from water and rail to road and air, and the increasing size of road vehicles used. The Green Party’s aim will be to reverse this trend by:

(a)  Reducing the need for freight movement by the implementation of policies to alter the current culture of over consumption.

(b)  Promoting the provision of products from local sources;

(c)  Using financial incentives to bring large-scale freight carriage back onto water and rail.

(d)  Local or regional authorities planning freight movement within their areas on the principle of small-scale delivery vehicles servicing from rail and waterside depots.

(e)  Establish facilities for inter-modal freight movement, such as rail depots and waterside wharves.

Or Housing…

Building regulations to be changed to reflect the needs of a green society and green economy. Local authorities to have the means to properly police the regulations…

Or Education…

All schools to provide environmental education through academic and practical work. Schools to practice high standards of environmental welfare…

Or Industry…

The development of a sustainable zero carbon industrial infrastructure as a basis for a sustainable zero carbon society. This will free the UK economy from a reliance on endless growth in the production of commodities and financial transactions…

The Green Economy

One of the most important (and longest) sections in the PSS is The Economy. Unsurprisingly, the health of the environment assumes primary importance:

To conserve natural planetary resources and to maintain the integrity of natural life-sustaining cycles; to regenerate areas made waste and take steps to avoid further ecological disaster; to reduce demand for energy and raw materials; to favour low energy non-polluting processes based on renewable resources…

British Greens are sometimes referred to as watermelons – green on the outside, and red in the middle. A quick glance through The Economy section soon explains why:

To devolve economic power to the lowest appropriate level, thereby rendering participants in the economy at all levels less vulnerable to the damaging effects of economic decisions made elsewhere and over which they have no control…

To liberate and empower all sections of society to meet their needs as far as possible from their own resources through activities which are socially enhancing; to encourage all to contribute to society according to their abilities, recognising as they do so, responsibility for themselves, for others, for future generations and for the planet…

Appropriate national public expenditure will be necessary for the regeneration of the supply side of the economy to achieve the green objectives. Extensive investment is required to repair the damaged natural environment; to restore infrastructure; and to develop re-skilling and retraining in socially and environmentally-friendly production and services…

As for the big and very obvious question: where would all the money come from? The Greens have some fine answers. Obviously, given the scandalous tax evasion by the super-rich that’s been going on for centuries, there is need for considerable tax reform, and Green taxation policies do propose doing that. However, of far greater importance is a total overhaul of monetary policy, and that section in the PSS is several times larger than the section on taxation. For example:

The existing banking system has failed and is no longer fit for purpose. The Green Party believes that the power to create money must be removed from private banks. The supply of our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control so that it can be issued free of debt and directed to environmentally and socially beneficial areas such as renewable energy, social housing, or support for community businesses…

Of course, you have to allow for slight inaccuracies – like in the above wording, “our national currency must be fully restored to democratic and public control” – which obviously wrongly suggests that at some time in the past our currency once had democratic and public control. But such small slips aside, this is a proposal that’s every bit as seismic to the British economy as scrapping the monarchy, hereditary peers in the House of Lords, and political power of the Church of England is to the so-called English constitution.

There are a few other economic policies which at first glance might seem quite trivial, but which are, in fact, highly significant, such as:

The Green Party would replace conventional [economic] indicators with those that measure progress towards sustainability, equity and devolution…

This is, once again, revolutionary stuff. The global economic system is based entirely on a system of measurements designed by, and for, the super-rich. It’s interested only in profits for the super-rich. The costs of those profits in terms of human misery, animal suffering, and environmental catastrophe, are entirely irrelevant. Changing the way economies are measured to not only take those factors into account but to prioritise them above the profits of the super-rich is Earth-shaking stuff.

The Bigger Picture

There’s only so much a country can do by itself. Sooner or later it has to co-operate with others in order to achieve mutually desirable results. Even if the Green Party managed to turn Britain into the greenest, happiest, and most self-sufficient country in the world it would be pretty ineffective if the rest of the planet continued along its man-made road to disaster. So the Greens are also committed internationalists, striving to help other countries make the essential changes they’re also going to need in the very near future.

To this end the PSS spells out its policies in its International section, and in the section on Peace and Defence. Unsurprisingly, some of these policies are nothing less than revolutionary:

The Green vision also involves a fundamental restructuring of the global economy to reverse the unsustainable trend of globalisation (i.e. ever increasing trade between ever distant nations with the primary goal of maximising profit) and a democratisation of the systems of global governance…

The United Nations should be reformed and democratised. The current national basis for membership should be extended to include regional (sub-national) representation and all representatives should be democratically selected. The WTO, International Monetary Fund, World Bank and similar bodies should also be reformed, democratised, or replaced…

To support the establishment and maintenance of ecologically sustainable and democratic communities throughout the world, and progress towards a world in which all people are equal in both their economic potential and their political rights…

The nature of conflict in the twenty-first century is highly complex, involving state and non-state participants at every level. Much international conflict today arises directly or indirectly from the abuse of power by rich Northern nations…

The United Kingdom has not been under significant threat of armed invasion since 1941 and such an event is unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future…

“Defence” is the protection of homeland against attack and does not justify pre-emptive strikes against nations and organisations. Military intervention for peacekeeping or conflict prevention cannot be justified unilaterally. It is irrational and immoral [and often illegal] to continue activities that exacerbate threats to international and local security…

The defence budget needs to be adequate to ensure security, but no more so…

The Green Party is committed to pursuing immediate and unconditional nuclear disarmament…

Green defence policy will be consistent with international law and the UN Charter.

The (vegan) buttering of parsnips

There’s an old saying that goes “fine words butter no parsnips”. This makes the vital point that there’s a world of difference between words and deeds. The history of politics is nothing if not a very long and depressing saga of false hopes and broken promises. It’s one thing for the Green Party to have all these wonderful world-changing ideas, making them reality is something else entirely.

To me, the answer is very simple. Write a draft constitution based almost entirely on the Greens’ PSS, and from then on, in every single election campaign, promise to pass that constitution into law within the first six months of a Green government coming to power. (Failure to do so would constitute a breach of promise to the electorate and require the Greens to quit office.) Ensure that the constitution is the supreme law which supersedes all other laws and renders invalid any conflicting law. Build into the constitution the sovereignty of the people, so that only the people can change the constitution – not some new and reactionary future government. Concern that such an action would be undemocratic is groundless: if the Greens openly campaigned for constitutional change and won a general election on the basis of that campaign, it would obviously be the democratic choice of the people to implement it.

I do not see any realistic alternative to this method. If the Greens were to try to introduce their policies piecemeal and individually they would either be quickly defeated by their rich and powerful opponents; or the partial changes would not be able to function alongside existing systems, and hence render them apparent failures; or they would simply run out of time. We are living through the sixth mass extinction of species – unique amongst previous extinctions in that this one was entirely man-made and was largely preventable. We are long past the point of “doing something before it’s too late”. Too late came and went some years ago; we’re now in the business of crisis control and damage limitation. The time is not very far away when no matter what we do it will be in vain. Like Easter Island, our fragile planet is rapidly becoming uninhabitable, solely because of human beings.

As an anarchist I’m not much of a fan of political parties. But what should an anarchist do if a political party comes along which promotes anarchist values? I’ve waded through almost every one of the Green Party’s hundreds of policies. There are some that I’m pretty indifferent to – like Citizen’s Income, for example – but not a single one that I strongly disagree with. Individual anarchists are not going to change the world for the better, but the Green Party just might.

Better late than never

Although white poppies have been around for almost as long as the red ones as a symbol of remembrance a surprisingly large number of people know nothing about what they stand for. To put it in a nutshell, white poppies promote peace, red poppies help promote Permanent War.

Arguably the most cynical lie that was told to the horribly betrayed young men who were butchered in the killing fields of Europe just over a hundred years ago, in order to persuade them to become lambs for slaughter, was that they would be fighting the “war to end all war”. If it was true, it would indeed have been worth dying for, but it wasn’t. It was a lie. Britain and the US, the last global empire and the current one, never made any effort to stop wars. The so-called peace treaty that concluded WW1 guaranteed WW2 would happen. Further evidence is obvious: apart from being the two biggest arms-makers on the planet, Britain and the US never stopped sending their armed forces to distant countries to kill people who, certainly after WW2, have been mostly rag-tag freedom fighters, defeated conscripts and defenceless civilians.

The best way anyone can commemorate those terribly wasted young lives from WW1 is to remember what they believed they were fighting for, and to demand that our great trusted leaders respect them by doing what they said they would do – stop fighting wars. Many people think this is impossible. It isn’t. Switzerland, for example, stopped fighting wars almost two hundred years ago; Costa Rica totally scrapped its own army seventy years ago; and there are other neutral countries who refuse to indulge in war, such as Sweden, Ireland and Austria. A properly constituted United Nations, self-funded with a new global reserve currency rather than being dependent on the US dollar, could finally do what most of its creators wanted: enforce world peace.

Added to the sheer inexcusable immorality of war, which has always been the case, we now have the fact that it’s also illegal – a relatively new concept. Therefore almost every military action that Britain and the US have engaged in over the last three or four decades, at least, have not only been immoral, they’ve also been illegal.

At the risk of stating the obvious, if there were no armies, or weapons of war, war would be impossible. Therefore Britain should initiate a global movement to scrap all armies, and start by scrapping its own, like Costa Rica did in 1948, and stop trading in weapons of war. At the very least Britain should declare itself permanently neutral, and copy the Swiss model and have only a part-time militia trained only for the defence of Britain, and to serve the UN on peace-keeping or humanitarian operations that have been sanctioned by the full General Assembly – not the so-called Security Council, a deeply cynical institution which should be scrapped. Britain should also close down all US army bases and spy stations on all British territory – including its overseas outposts, such as Diego Garcia (which obviously should be returned to the Chagos Islanders).

Whilst some sort of moral justification for war is always manufactured, to sell it to the 99%, morality is never the main reason for war. The main reason wars are fought is for loot, and to feed the parasites of war – the bankers, arms dealers, generals and “intelligence” agencies. This is as true today as it’s always been. When the phoney compassion of corrupt politicians and lying news providers is stripped away, we always discover that the real reason some war was fought was to make the super-rich and powerful even richer and more powerful.

Interestingly, far from being pie-in-the-sky, much of all this is already existing Green Party policy.

The real cynicism of Remembrance Day is the brainwashing that accompanies it. We’re conditioned to see dead and wounded soldiers as heroes, instead of tragic victims treacherously betrayed by their own trusted leaders. WW1 was supposed to be the war to end all war. It’s about time we started demanding the realisation of that cause. Better late than never.

Lessons from Switzerland

Almost forty years ago I invented direct democracy – or so I thought at the time. I had been raised in Rhodesia, a racist and mostly fascist country, and had just moved to England. Although England considered itself a fine example of democracy (and still does), I was puzzled how such a fine democracy could have an unelected head of state, and a parliament where more than half its members are unelected. There must be a better way, I thought, so I invented direct democracy and set about writing a political novel based on the idea of a southern African country having a revolution and creating a government that worked in such a way.

The novel was terrible and never saw publication, but the concept of a new democracy stayed with me, and is still with me today. Of course, I now know that I did not invent direct democracy. Some years after my first awful novel I learnt that Switzerland had been using direct democracy for over a hundred years. Far from being disappointed that I was not the inventor of this wonderful concept, I was delighted. It totally validated my belief that such an idea was not only possible, it was already working, and working pretty well. After all, here was Switzerland, one of the most successful and stable countries in the world, that had been using it for ages. It was a country wholly controlled by its people, with high standards of social welfare and enlightened environmental awareness. And it had kept out of wars for almost two hundred years – even when completely surrounded by war, twice. So ever since finding out about Swiss democracy I’ve yearned to visit the place, and see it in action. But Switzerland is an expensive place to visit, and if you ain’t loaded, that ain’t easy.

Then a few months ago we learnt of a cut-price holiday to Chateau D’Oex (pronounced “day”), and I just had to go for it. Although I knew that Switzerland must have its problems, just like anywhere else, I wanted to try to get a feel for what Swiss people think about their country and its relatively exemplar democracy.

I wasn’t especially interested in the beautiful scenery, and it is very beautiful. Many other countries also have beautiful landscapes, and I’ve been fortunate enough to see some of them before. What I wanted was to speak to Swiss people. This is not the easiest thing to do. First of all, although most Swiss people have various levels of competence with the English language, English is not an official language. Swiss children are taught to speak the main language spoken in their region, which means German, French or Italian, and then one of the other two. Romansch, the sort of native Swiss language, is hardly taught at all, which is a bit sad. English is sometimes available to school children as an optional extra.

But the fact that some Swiss people are not very fluent in English was only part of my problem. Mainly I’m always deeply humiliated when visiting foreign countries because I’m so incompetent at speaking their language, or some other mutually understandable language other than English (which obviously instantly associates me with one of the most vile and repressive regimes of all time), so I always feel very uncomfortable about trying to have conversations with people in non-English-speaking countries: I always feel I have to apologise for being English, and say how ashamed I am of our history. However, I did manage to overcome my discomfort a few times whenever I came upon someone who was clearly quite happy to speak English. Fortunately my wonderful wife Lorraine was with me, and she is usually less inhibited than I am about talking to people, and because she is very good at this she initiated many of the conversations we had with local folk.

So my impressions of modern Swiss life were obtained mainly from discussions with three young Swiss people (one of whom said she would rather live in England!). I’ll call them Belinda, Martina, and Stan.

Referendums

The Swiss provide direct democracy through continual national referendums, which they hold more often than any other country in the world, and now have them about once a month. Contrast that with the fact that the UK has only ever had three national referendums, and the US has never had a single one. Swiss attitudes to their government are possibly similar to many other Europeans about their governments. Whereas Martina said she always voted in every referendum, Stan said he never did, and appeared to have a similar casual indifference to politics that is very common in many young people. I asked him if he trusted the information that came with every referendum question, about whether arguments for and against were equally weighted. He said he thought they were, so that obviously wasn’t the main reason for his indifference to the system – although he possibly wasn’t the best person to ask.

Good information is clearly a vitally important condition to the success of any vote, and I didn’t learn enough to form an opinion on the quality of public information in Switzerland. But according to a recent report by Reporters Without Borders, Switzerland has the fifth most independent press in the world; compared with Britain, at 40, and the US at 45. So presumably the Swiss do get pretty reasonable information about the issues they get to vote on.

However, there do seem to be some glitches in the system, admitted by this fine free press. Here we learn, for example, that there are at least seven weaknesses to how referendum results are implemented. It’s basically a list of tricks that the government has learnt whereby it can either minimize the effect of a people’s referendum, or ignore it altogether if it wants to. It can do this, according to another article on the subject, through the fact that Swiss courts are not specifically required to implement the constitution.

The genius Tom Paine clearly identified this problem over two hundred years ago:

A man, by his natural right, has a right to judge in his own cause… But what availeth it him to judge, if he has not power to redress?1

This crucial point about the difference between having civil rights and having the means to enforce them was highlighted in the landmark legal dispute William B Richardson v The United States of America, where Mr Richardson tried, but eventually failed, to force the US government to make public the money spent on the CIA – as required in the US constitution. But it was decided that as a mere citizen Mr Richardson “lacks standing” to actually enforce the constitution.2 So as far as Switzerland is concerned, it appears the people may indeed have this wonderful democracy where citizens are invited to be directly involved in government decision-making, but there may be a big difference in what the people say they want, and what the people actually get. It could be that Swiss referendums are sometimes little more effective than large opinion polls.

Trade Unions

We asked Martina and Stan about Swiss trade unions, and received blank looks on both occasions. I remember Martina saying she thought there were some, but she knew nothing about them. The tour guide we had, Dave, was pretty knowledgeable about Switzerland, and told us that we were his one hundred and twenty fifth tour there. He told us quite a bit about Swiss life but never mentioned trade unions. So when she had the chance Lorraine asked him that question. Dave is the sort of guy who doesn’t like to admit that he doesn’t know something – especially if it’s about Switzerland, but he had to admit that he knew nothing about Swiss trade unions.

This is quite interesting.

Coming from England, which still has a pretty good trade union movement (albeit it a shadow of its former self) it seemed almost incomprehensible to us that a modern western society would have no significant trade union movement – because given the fact that no one we asked seemed to know anything about it that must be the obvious conclusion to be drawn. And if there’s no significant trade union movement, who looks after workers’ rights? Although there are trade unions in Switzerland, as a percentage of population, membership is only about half of what it is in Britain or the US — both of which countries currently have considerably depleted numbers of trade union members from what they once had.

It could be that the Swiss constitution helps the Swiss out quite a bit in this regard. Because although it may not be exactly user-friendly, it does at least establish clear principles of right and wrong. Its opening words, for example, include this line: “The strength of a people is measured by the wellbeing of its weakest members” ((The Swiss Constitution – Preamble.)), and it begins with a fairly comprehensive section on “Fundamental Rights”. In other words, a pretty high ethical standard of society is clearly defined in the country’s single most important document, reducing the requirement for trade unions.

National Service

All young men leaving full time education are required to do national service – unless, one of our informants told us rather cryptically, they’re rich enough to buy their way out. National service can take the form of joining the armed forces, or doing some form of social service. Girls do not have to do it at all, but may do so if they want.

The initial commitment is spread over five years with different types of training taking place in three or four month blocks once a year. After that every Swiss man joins a unit of reservists and is issued with a rifle which he must keep secure at home.

I asked Martina about the boys she knew when she left school, and how many of them joined the army, or social service. She said she didn’t know of any boy doing social service in preference to the army. But she says there is some public resentment to the practice, and a general feeling that too much money is spent on military training, instead of more important public services. That’s probably true of almost every country in the world.

I had the impression from both Martina and Stan that although they both loved Switzerland, they also felt it was too conservative, and that new ideas and innovation were seldom welcome. It was Martina who said she would rather live in England, because it seemed a freer society, and Stan appeared to have a hankering to move to Amsterdam, where he’d once spent a few months working.

Thinking about this very conservative nature for which the Swiss are quite well known, I wondered how much of it might be down to the fact that so many of them do five years of national service. After all, there are few institutions more conservative than the military, who are also extremely good at brainwashing. Forcing a young mind through such a regime is bound to have long-lasting effects on most. So how much, I wonder, of Swiss conservativeness is a product of military brainwashing?

The Economy

Another main reason I had for visiting Switzerland was to get a feel for how their economy works. I have strong socialist leanings, but Switzerland is an unashamedly capitalist country. But unlike so many other capitalist countries, Switzerland does not appear to have slums and ghettoes. No one appears to go hungry or homeless. There is clearly something different about Swiss capitalism, and I wanted to find out what.

Obviously this is not a scientific report, it’s just a short record of superficial impressions, points I picked up which appear different to the capitalism I’m used to.

Minimum wage

Switzerland is an expensive country to live in, therefore wages have to be pretty high. So the minimum wage is about $23 an hour. This is more than two and a half times higher than minimum wage in Britain. Although prices are definitely higher in Switzerland, the prices of most basics are not two and a half times higher than British prices. Petrol, for example – a vital driver of costs – is only about 20% higher than British prices. Apparently the minimum wage is only a very recent innovation in Switzerland. As I have always been deeply suspicious of the principle of a minimum wage, I would not be surprised to see the purchasing power of those who receive it in Switzerland start to fall – just as it did in Britain.

Although taxes are relatively modest, every Swiss resident is obliged to have private health insurance. Martina, who was probably on minimum wage, told us that her health insurance cost her SF350 a month (about US$350). She did not seem happy with the arrangement, and told us that it was about the cheapest insurance she could find, and wouldn’t cover everything. Dental care is apparently very good, but so expensive that many Swiss people travel to other countries to have it done.

So it comes back to the same basic point as always. Although $23 an hour might seem pretty good, money is only as good as what you can buy with it – and in Switzerland you need quite a lot to buy not very much.

Self-sufficiency

Unlike many capitalist countries, Switzerland does not appear to buy into the concept of globalisation with quite as much enthusiasm as most western countries. Although its banking system has long been an important asset to its economy (arguably the most important), the Swiss have never been huge fans of international trade. Both Britain and the US, for example, who both market themselves as champions of capitalism, have both had negative trade balances for many years (i.e. imports exceeding exports), but the Swiss have nearly always shown the opposite trend, with exports usually exceeding imports. In pure business terms, this is like saying Switzerland is a viable business, whereas both Britain and the US are technically bankrupt.

It would seem the key to Switzerland’s success in this regard is the fact that they value self-sufficiency extremely highly. They resist importing almost anything they could produce for themselves. Given that it has precious little in the way of natural mineral resources this is a singularly fine achievement. A brief glance at almost any set of statistics comparing Swiss trade with the rest of the world shows a remarkably healthy economy.

Swiss Cheese

Directly linked to the Swiss economic principle of self-sufficiency is the fact that they take huge pride in home-produced foods and drinks. Consistent with the notion that imported products should be avoided where there are good local alternatives, Swiss farm products too are usually preferred to imported farm products. A fine example of this in practice is the cheese industry.

Dairy farming is huge in Switzerland. The many beautiful mountainsides are invariably adorned with dairy cattle, seemingly happy to graze the plentiful greenery in one of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. So dairy products are plentiful. However, consistent with the Swiss principle of subsidiarity, local is always preferred to products from somewhere else – even if the somewhere else is in Switzerland. So almost every rural town has its own small dairy producing milk, butter and cheese. As we were quite close to Gruyere, an internationally recognised Swiss brand, we had the opportunity to visit the cheese factory. But as this is not of much interest to vegans, we didn’t bother. We would far rather have visited the local bakery, because unsurprisingly bread-making is something else the Swiss do very well, and something else they do locally in many areas – once again preferring local to some cheap mass-produced rubbish.

Possibly because the Swiss are so protective of their farming industry, vegans can have a fairly bleak time of things. Although our hotel knew we were vegans, and said beforehand they could cater for us, it took them three days to obtain some soya milk, even though it was easily available at a local co-op almost across the road; and all they could produce for our evening meal was rice and vegetable stew, varied on two occasions with a few added mushrooms.

Switzerland is well-known for its cow-bells, which are something of a national symbol, and cows grazing the beautiful hillsides to the sound of clanging cow-bells is supposedly an image of the perfect rural idyll. But walking nearby to such a scene you can’t help but notice how bloody loud those bells are, and my heart went out to the poor animals that are forced to wear the damn things – mostly unnecessarily.

But pigs fare much worse. Dave commented several times on the beautiful rural idylls but observed that you never see pigs in Switzerland, which is very odd, he thought, given that the Swiss apparently eat a lot of pork. It’s not that odd. You don’t see pigs because they’re factory-farmed on a fairly large scale, and the poor creatures seldom see the light of day.

However, the principle of subsidiarity applies to almost everything else in Switzerland – from small local timber mills, to breweries and wine-makers. Wherever local products can be used in preference to goods from anywhere else – even other Swiss goods – the Swiss use them. And providing you’re not a vegan, or a pig, it works extremely well.

One of the most interesting points about all this is that the Swiss policies of subsidiarity and self-sufficiency, which clearly do it no harm whatsoever, could also be called protectionism which, according to the technically bankrupt nations of Britain and the US, is no way to run an economy. But the hard evidence provided by Swiss success shows that their economic policies, coupled to their direct democracy, is a much sounder way to manage a country than Britain or the US manage their countries.

Banking

Switzerland has been known as a haven for dodgy offshore banking and financial services for a very long time, and most infamously for laundering Nazi gold during WW2. But there is a very huge difference between Swiss offshore banking and the basically criminal enterprises operated by other capitalist giants such as Britain and the US. The Swiss National Bank is in full control of money supply, and is also under direct control of the state – which is itself largely controlled by the people through their system of routine referendums. Article 99 of the Swiss constitution states that “A minimum of two thirds of the net profits made by the Swiss National Bank shall be allocated to the cantons.” (My emphasis) In other words, unlike British and American banks, vast quantities of bankers’ profits are distributed throughout Swiss cantons for local development.

Model of capitalism

No self-respecting socialist would put up an argument for capitalism as the best way to manage a country’s economy. However, there’s no escaping the fact that Switzerland is both a capitalist country, and a very successful economy, and has high levels of social care, and has high standards of environmental protections. In other words, if anyone wanted to present a reasonable argument for the virtues of capitalism, they would be hard-pressed to improve on the Swiss example. And yet this is not the model most preferred by the self-appointed champions of capitalism, Britain and the US. Why might that be?

Unlike Britain and the US, Switzerland appears to try to run itself like an honest business enterprise, whereas Britain and the US both manage their economies in much the same way as if they were being run by Al Capone. Adam Smith, credited as the father of capitalism, would most likely approve of the Swiss model, but would certainly abhor the economic practices of Britain and the US. In fact, the two economic systems are so different they really should have different names.

How is it then that Swiss capitalism has managed to escape the traps that British and US capitalism have fallen into? Why have Britain and the US turned into the biggest criminal enterprise on the planet whilst the Swiss tick along as a comparatively decent, honest, solvent society? The answer, surely, lies in the fact that Switzerland is, relatively speaking, a real democracy.

Whilst there’s no doubt there are some glitches with Swiss democracy, it’s leaps and bounds better than the British and American models. Whereas British and American so-called democracies are thoroughly corrupt, basically criminal enterprises wholly controlled by the world’s wealthiest gangsters, the Swiss people have a fine national constitution which provides them with a mechanism whereby they could easily control their government if they had to. In Britain or the US the super-rich controllers of politicians know they can literally get away with murder because there’s no mechanism to stop them, but in Switzerland there is, therefore super-rich Swiss must be far more careful in what they try to get away with.

The British academic R.H. Tawney once observed:

That democracy and extreme economic inequality form, when combined, an unstable compound, is no novel doctrine.3

In other words real democracy and extreme economic injustice are not compatible. You can have one or the other, but not both. Britain and the US resolved this problem by ensuring that real democracy does not exist, which allows extreme economic inequality to thrive. The Swiss on the other hand, with their very different version of democracy, are not only relatively free from economic injustice, they also have a highly successful economy.

So it seems fairly obvious to me that extreme constitutional reform of western so-called democracies – to provide real direct democracies – is the essential first step for eliminating global economic injustice.

Here’s Tawney once more,

Democracy is unstable as a political system as long as it remains a political system and nothing more, instead of being, as it should be, not only a form of government but a type of society, and a manner of life which is in harmony with that type. To make it a type of society requires an advance along two lines. It involves, in the first place, the resolute elimination of all forms of special privilege which favour some groups and depress others, whether their sources be differences of environment, of education, or of pecuniary income. It involves, in the second place, the conversion of economic power, now often an irresponsible tyrant, into a servant of society, working within clearly defined limits and accountable for its actions to a public authority.4

Socialists are unlikely, with good reason, ever to trust any form of capitalism. But the inescapable fact is that when capitalism is managed in the way the Swiss do it it is a reasonable and perfectly workable model. It helps to see that Swiss democracy and the version of so-called democracy that’s practised by most western countries is as different as socialism and capitalism. For me the most perfect economic model is one where the state, directly controlled by the people, is wholly responsible for providing all essential public services, but where the private sector (properly regulated by the state) is free to provide non-essential services for whatever profit it can make.

But the Swiss model is a reasonable alternative.

  1. Rights of Man, Tom Paine, p. 120.
  2. Blank Check, Tim Weiner, p. 226.
  3. The Vote – how it was won, and how it was undermined, Paul Foot, p. 340.
  4. The Vote – how it was won, and how it was undermined, Paul Foot, p. 306.

Britain demands a second referendum

Last Saturday at least half a million people marched through London demanding a second referendum on Brexit. I don’t blame most of the people who voted for Brexit, and therefore created this mess. For the most part they did not know what they were doing. Most had been lied to or deceived by ignorant or treacherous MPs, and horrendously misled by the mainstream media.

Democracy is a wonderful thing, but it’s wholly dependent on people receiving good information. Although very little good information was available prior to the referendum itself this was not the main problem. The main problem was the decades of xenophobic anti-EU bile churned out by the gutter press beforehand. This was proved by the fact that one of the main claims of the Leave campaign was to “take back” control of Britain from the EU. If people’s minds had not already been horribly poisoned against the EU, why should “taking back” control from it have been a major issue? Not that it was ever a truthful cause, because we the people have never had much control of our government anyway.

Smearing the EU, which so many politicians and the gutter press have amused themselves doing for so long, is an effective distraction. It tries to blame Europe for the considerable failings and treachery of our own government, and the mainstream media. It wasn’t Europe’s fault that Britain involved itself in the illegal wars that caused the mass migrations from the Middle East and Africa which helped to fuel the Brexit xenophobia; and Europe had nothing to do with shutting down our A&E wards, stealing billions of pounds from pensioners, scrapping free university education, establishing sinister secret courts, or wasting trillions of pounds on bankrupt banks – for example. Our government, to whom Brexiteers want to “give back control”, did all these things and much, much more all by themselves.

The EU is not perfect. It could and should be much improved. But the simple fact is that it’s in Britain’s best interests to remain part of the EU. Our physical and economic security is much greater if we remain part of Europe.

Although I can’t prove it, I have long believed that the USA has been trying to break up Europe for some years now. By the turn of the new millennium the EU had become a major economic player, and the US perceived it as a significant challenge to its global economic hegemony. Iraq, for example, won UN approval in October 2000 to sell its oil in Euros, rather than US dollars – which is not something the US would take lightly – and we all know what happened to Iraq very soon afterwards. It was therefore highly likely that the US would try to remove the EU as an economic competitor. What better way than to cause it to break up and fragment? Perhaps it’s only coincidence, but Nigel Farage, the most significant face behind Brexit, appears to have much closer ties to the US than to Britain, and seems strangely close to Donald Trump.

We desperately need another referendum on leaving the EU – one that requires at least half of British voters to support any decision to leave, not just a simple majority of however many votes are cast.

 

Will the real anti-Semites please stand up

Amongst the highly prolific author HG Wells’ many publications is a less well-known book titled A Short History of the World. Given the potential immensity of such a subject, the fact that Wells produced a book of very modest length (my copy is a mere 350 pages or so) no doubt would encourage some to dismiss it as trite and superficial. Obviously it’s superficial, but it might be reasonable to say the same of something twenty or fifty times longer – depending on how well it’s written. But Wells’ book is truly remarkable for its economy of language, with hardly a single unnecessary word used; and it’s also remarkable for its scholarship.

Wells studied biology before he became a writer, and carved a meagre existence for himself as a teacher for almost ten years. Perhaps the early discipline of scientific method, together with the need to communicate new ideas to young minds, influenced much of his later writing style, because what he created with Short History is an amazingly compact and very readable collection of short essays covering a multitude of historical events from the creation of the Earth, through discussions on all the main religions, to the Russian Revolution – which took place a mere five years before he published his book.

Few of the sixty-seven chapters exceed four pages in length, yet each chapter is packed with such a wealth of information that it’s difficult not to be impressed with the depth of Wells’ scholarship, because to write as informatively and concisely as he does in each chapter implies a huge depth of knowledge. Like a few other great thinkers, Wells was an autodidact and acquired most of his knowledge by charting his own course, free of the constraints that hinder many of those restricted to lives of formal education.

Of particular interest in these times where the expression “anti-Semitism” is seldom out of the mainstream fake-news for any length of time, are a couple of chapters Wells devotes to the early history of the Middle East. It’s necessary to repeat the important point that Wells wrote this book in the early 1920s. Israel did not exist at that time, yet the word that Wells seems to use most often when referring to the natives of the massive area stretching roughly from where Iran is today to Tunisia in the West, Egypt in the South, and Turkey in the North, is “Semite”:

We have already noted the appearance of the Semitic people as wanderers and nomads in the region of Syria and Arabia, and how they conquered Sumeria and set up first the Akkadian and then the Babylonian Empire. In the west these same Semitic peoples were taking to the sea. They set up a string of harbour towns along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, of which Tyre and Sidon were the chief; and by the time of Hammurabi in Babylon, they had spread as traders, wanderers and colonizers over the whole Mediterranean basin. These sea Semites were called the Phoenicians.1

Now he clearly did not believe that these people were all Jewish, for he refers specifically to them as:

[A] little Semitic people, the Hebrews, in the hills behind the Phoenician and Philistine coasts.2

And then he devotes a whole chapter to “The Early History of the Jews”, whose importance to the history of mankind Wells clearly understands and appreciates, as the chapter opens:

And now we tell of the Hebrews, a Semitic people, not so important in their own time as in their influence upon the later history of the world.3

(He couldn’t begin to know how prophetic those words would become.)

Note that Wells points out that the Hebrews were “a” Semitic people, not “the” Semitic people, and remember once again that he was writing before Israel had been invented. The importance that Wells rightly assigns to the Hebrews:

is due to the fact that they produced a written literature, a world history… which became at last what Christians know as the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. This literature appears in history in the fourth or fifth century BC.3

Sometime around 600BC the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar ordered the destruction of Jerusalem, which had been the Hebrew capital for at least 400 years, and

The remnant of the people was carried off captive to Babylon [where] they remained until Cyrus took Babylon (538BC). He then collected them together and sent them back to resettle and rebuild the walls and temple of Jerusalem.3

Wells notes that the period of time that the Hebrews spent in Babylon was highly significant, because:

It civilized them and consolidated them. They returned aware of their own literature, an acutely self-conscious and political people.4

And very interestingly,

[Hebrew] accounts of the Creation of the World, of Adam and Eve and of the Flood, with which the Bible begins [and which vast numbers of westerners still believe to this day] run closely parallel with similar Babylonian legends; they seem to have been part of the common beliefs of all the Semitic peoples. So too the stories of Moses and of Samson have Sumerian and Babylonian parallels.4

So it appears that the original Semitic people were very different to what most of the world thinks today:

In the seventh century BC it would have seemed as though the whole civilised world was to be dominated by Semitic rulers. They ruled the great Assyrian empire and they had conquered Egypt; Assyria, Babylon, Syria were all Semitic, speaking languages that were mutually intelligible. The trade of the world was in Semitic hands. Tyre, Sidon, the great mother cities of the Phoenician coast, had thrown out colonies that grew at least to even greater proportion in Spain, Sicily and Africa. Carthage, founded before 800 BC, had risen to a population of more than 1 million.5

Now Wells did not invent the word “Semite”, nor did he invent this interpretation of their history. He simply related what would have been common understanding of history at the time. And this understanding survived for quite a long a time afterwards. Because in my edition of The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (an interesting use of the word “shorter”, as my two-volume copy is nearly 4,000 pages long), the word “Semite” is defined as:

A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21 – 31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians.6

And my edition of this dictionary was published in 1993, over seventy years after Wells wrote his book. So in relatively recent times, the definition of the word “Semite” has been almost totally transformed from what was in common usage for many, many years to a new definition, widely promoted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which is now being used to refer only to Jewish people generally, and Zionists in particular. All of the other hundreds of millions of other people living in Semitic lands, as they’ve done for thousands of years, are simply removed from the new definition.

Now that publication date of 1993 is quite interesting, because it is a date after the First Gulf War, which took place in 1991. This war, which doesn’t deserve to be dignified with the word “war”, as it was more like a mass slaughter of defenceless people, was not only a massive abomination, it was also a massively illegal abomination, for it not only ignored numerous international laws, it also ignored the constitution of the very country that was mostly responsible for the abominations – the United States of America.

Ramsey Clark who, as a former attorney general of the US, knows a little bit about the law. His superb book The Fire This Time: US Crimes in the Gulf relates much of the detail of the monstrous crimes perpetrated by the US and its allies – and provides a comprehensive account of some of the various laws which were contemptuously ignored.

Clark describes just how one-sided this so-called war was:

Before 1991 was over, more than 250,000 Iraqis and thousands of other nationals were dead as a result of the attack. Most were civilian men, women, children, and infants.

US war casualties, including those who died from U.S. “friendly fire,” totalled 148, we are told. Out of an acknowledged 109,876 air sorties, total U.S. aircraft losses were 38, less than the accident rate during war games without live ammunition…

Iraq had no capacity to either attack or defend… The U.S. did not lose a single B52 in combat, as these planes dropped 27,500 tons of bombs. No Iraqi projectile penetrated a single Abrams tank, while the U.S. claimed to destroy 4,300 Iraqi tanks and 1,856 armored vehicles…7

U.S. forces buried thousands of Iraqi soldiers alive, wounded, dying, and dead. Miles of trenches with Iraqi troops in them were bulldozed over with sand. The United States refused to count, locate, identify or honor the dead. General [Colin] Powell said of the death count that it was “not a number I am terribly interested in.”8

General William G. Pagonis, stating proudly that this was the first war in modern time where every screwdriver and every nail was accounted for, simultaneously defended General Schwarzkopf’s policy against counting enemy dead. The generals knew but never mentioned that the Geneva Convention of 1949 required them not merely to count enemy dead, but to identify and honor them as well.9

Now there’s nothing unusual in the United States ignoring international law whenever it feels so inclined. After all, it’s knowingly been committing war crimes since Korea, and even one of its own Secretaries of State, Henry Kissinger, freely admitted in the 1970s that:

The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.10

But the relevance to this particular discussion is around the question of anti-Semitism. Now I think I’ve established that for many, many years, and up until at least 1993, it was commonly understood that Semites were people with ethnic roots stretching from Iraq to North Africa.

However, in 2001 it was decided at the very highest levels of US government to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.

The catastrophic destruction that had already been wreaked on Iraq – one of the earliest Semitic lands – ten years earlier was not enough. Nowhere near enough Semitic people had suffered enough. Tens of millions of other Semitic people would have to be killed, injured and made homeless. And true enough we have indeed seen the destruction of what was left of Iraq, then Libya. Syria has been made to suffer terribly, and were it not for the intervention of Russia would likely have gone the same way as Iraq and Libya. All Semitic countries.

For much of Jeremy Corbyn’s time in office as leader of Britain’s Labour Party, he has been persistently accused of anti-Semitism. He has been accused of “not doing enough” to purge the party of anti-Semitism, and he has been accused of being an anti-Semite himself, most notably by the senior and highly respected Labour MP Margaret Hodge who allegedly called him a fucking anti-Semite. Yet hard evidence to justify the accusations are very difficult to find – which is quite extraordinary if it’s such a serious problem in the Labour Party generally, and with Jeremy Corbyn in particular. Much media comment was recently made about a remark Corbyn is said to have made – six years ago – about a wall mural depicting a group of bankers and which was, apparently anti-Semitic. This is about the best Jeremy Corbyn’s accusers can do in terms of providing hard evidence of his supposed anti-Semitism. The fact that Corbyn has spent much of his political career fighting for justice for cruelly oppressed Palestinians – a Semitic people – is not only ignored, it’s now considered further evidence of his anti-Semitism, thanks to IHRA’s new definition of the expression.

So the question is what is real anti-Semitism? Is it really a refusal to condemn a wall painting? Is that really the best Corbyn’s enemies can come up with? And even if it is, how does it compare when measured against the illegal murder of millions of Semitic people across the Middle East and North Africa, the destruction of countless thousands of Semitic homes, and forcing millions of semites to become refugees in alien and unwelcoming countries?

  1. A Short History of the World, HG Wells, p. 74.
  2. Ibid, p. 79.
  3. Ibid, p. 92.
  4. Ibid, p. 93.
  5. Ibid, p. 98.
  6. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, p. 2772.
  7. The Fire This Time, Ramsey Clark, p. 206/7.
  8. Ibid, p. 178.
  9. Ibid, p. 208.
  10. The Wikileaks Files, Verso, 2015 edition, p. 66.

Et tu Labour?

What is the point of memory if one fails to learn from the lessons it provides? Milan Kundera accurately observed that “the struggle of people against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”. ((Hidden Agendas, John Pilger.)) The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) is an organisation supposedly committed to not forgetting the infamous extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War Two. That is not unreasonable. However, what if remembering one horrendous holocaust from the past is paid for by forgetting, or ignoring, holocausts of the present? What if remembering one horrendous holocaust from the past is used as an excuse to attack and criminalise protests against holocausts of the present?

The IHRA recently drafted a brand new definition of the expression “anti-Semitism”. The status of the organisation appears to have given it an authority to do this which is somehow deemed beyond reproach or question, as the British Labour Party recently voted to adopt the whole definition as its official position on the issue of anti-Semitism. The IHRA definition was drafted by a Jewish lawyer, Kenneth Stern. It would seem that Mr Stern didn’t quite realise the significance of what he had done, and has since distanced himself from the way his work has been used. However, the Labour Party’s decision was nothing short of catastrophic.

It’s highly relevant to consider what has long been used as a definition of anti-Semitism. The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, for example, simply defines it as “hostility or opposition to Jews”.1 But even this definition is highly problematic, because the very same dictionary defines the word “Semite” as “A member of any of the peoples supposedly descended from Shem, son of Noah (Gen. 10:21-31) including esp. the Jews, Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians”.2 Clearly the expression anti-Semitism is derived from the word Semite, yet somewhere along the way hundreds of millions of Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians, and Phoenicians were simply wiped out of consideration, leaving behind only the Jews.

The new IHRA definition has now transformed the expression once again – and definitely not for the better. We have now moved from the questionable but quite straightforward “hostility or opposition to Jews”, to something that’s over five hundred words in length. Whilst much of the new definition is still basically describing hostility or opposition to Jews, there’s now some brand new and deeply sinister additions. We’re now told that the following are examples of anti-Semitism:

  • Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.
  • Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
  • Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.

It would seem the Labour Party has now voted to adopt the entire five hundred-plus words IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. It’s very clear that the new definition has done something that’s seldom been achieved before. It’s now made it extremely difficult to criticise the political activities of Israel, a country whose actions against Palestinians (a Semitic people) are demonstrably racist, oppressive, and flagrantly in breach of international laws.

When the Labour Party accepted the IHRA definition it added a caveat that “this will not in any way undermine freedom of expression on Israel or the rights of Palestinians”. No doubt this was added as some sort of appeasement to the sizeable number of Labour members who have long supported and campaigned for justice for Palestinians, but how is “freedom of expression on Israel” going to square in practice with the new ban on campaigning against Israel’s institutional racism against Palestinians, given this is now an explicitly prohibited expression of anti-Semitism?

One of the most ironic situations to arise out of this new definition is that Hassidic Jews, the ultra-orthodox practitioners of Judaism, could now be deemed anti-Semitic, as they have always denied the right of Israel to exist, and have even supported the Palestinian cause, as can be clearly seen, for example, in this video clip. So we have deeply religious Jews who are now officially anti-Semitic. It’s beyond farce. You couldn’t make it up.

The gutless Labour Party caving in to pressure from the powerful pro-Israeli Zionist lobby is utterly contemptible, but it’s far from being the first time that Labour has sacrificed vital political ideology in the cynical cause of political expediency. As far back as 1926 a gutless Labour Party failed to support Britain’s first ever successful General Strike. The ruling Tory party of the day was crushed by the united action of British trade unions. But what did Labour do? It capitulated. The strike was called off. Not even the Tories, who knew they were beaten, could believe it. It was a real and golden opportunity for Britain to create a socialist state, and the Labour Party, together with the treacherous leaders of the Trades Union Congress, simply threw in the towel, and betrayed millions of British workers.

Then it happened again in 1997 when Tony Blair’s “New Labour” swept to power after almost twenty years of relentless Tory capitalism. The nation was sick to death of Tory austerity. It was yet another golden opportunity to rescue our desperate economy, but what did Labour do? Capitulate. It betrayed the millions of people who had trusted it to rid the nation of Toryism and delivered yet more capitalist austerity for the next twelve years, causing Margaret Thatcher to smugly remark that Tony Blair was the Tories’ greatest achievement.3

The latest capitulation of the Labour Party is an interesting thing. It is supposed to be about alleged anti-Semitism in the country generally, and within the party in particular. Now what’s interesting about this is that I’ve lived in Britain for forty years and I have never, ever come across any anti-Semitism – using the word here to mean prejudice against Jews. And I know what prejudice against Jews is, because when I was growing up in Rhodesia, during its institutionally racist days, prejudice against Jews was also very common, and normal. But here in the UK I have never, not once, encountered anti-Jewish prejudice. Islamophobia is not unusual here, and prejudice against Eastern Europeans is totally normal. Prejudice against women, black people, gays, and almost anyone who is obviously different, all completely normal although thankfully not very common – inexcusable, obviously, but not unusual and I have observed examples of each of them at various times; but I have never once seen an example in this country of prejudice against Jews. A small minority of people, such as myself and Jeremy Corbyn, frequently criticise the grotesque abuses of Palestinians by the Zionist regime ruling Occupied Palestine, but that is something entirely different. It’s a wholly deserved critique of a repulsive regime which is in practice indistinguishable from South Africa’s horrendous apartheid years. Prejudice against Zionists is not the same thing as prejudice against Jews. So in my view, the claim that there’s some sort of major problem of anti-Jewish prejudice in Britain is a complete fabrication, deliberately engineered as a device to eliminate criticism of Israel. Given that this is exactly what has come about it would seem the strategy has been a successful one.

The real victims in this sorry story are all the other Semitic people whose terrible suffering has long been ignored: the Arabs, Assyrians, Babylonians and Phoenicians. These are the real victims of modern anti-Semitism, but their cause is almost completely ignored. In the past the British Labour Party has sometimes shown support for their endless agony, and criticised the shameful western-sponsored injustices they have to endure. But the latest capitulation of the Labour Party, sacrificing noble ideology to political expediency, is nothing short of disgusting, and hundreds of millions of non-Jewish Semitic people could now well ask, “Et tu Labour?”

  1. New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1993 Edition), p. 88.
  2. “- p. 2772
  3. The Establishment, Owen Jones, p. 51.

Where is our brave new world?

It was recently reported that in just three years’ time many of those who voted for Britain to quit the EU will no longer be alive. This relates to the fact that most people who voted for Brexit were much older than those who voted to remain, and won’t have to live with the consequences of their decision. So, not for the first time, young people will have to pay for the errors of the old.

Although some old people, like me, voted Remain, many more didn’t. I believe the disastrous Brexit referendum was the direct consequence of the treacherous mainstream media (MSM), which has been slowly rotting people’s brains for many years. Although the most widely-read right-wing tabloids strongly promoted Brexit this wasn’t their only contribution to influencing the outcome. The real damage took place over the decades prior to the referendum, with the tabloids’ relentless xenophobia, racism, jingoism, and anti-EU bile, steadily brainwashing tens of millions of people to think and act against their own best interests.

The expression “fake news” is now fairly common. It’s been used to suggest that information that hasn’t originated in the MSM is not believable (or the MSM would report it, is their argument). But, in fact, the exact opposite is the case: nothing that IS reported in the MSM can be trusted, as they have always specialised in providing fake news. The evidence is abundant and compelling, from Ponsonby’s Falsehood in War Time, written ninety years ago, through Knightley’s superb First Casualty and the excellent classic Manufacturing Consent by Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky, to the excellent press watchdog Media Lens, with their encyclopaedic and up-to-date collection of evidence detailing some of the current deceit of the MSM.

It’s time young people created a brand new political organisation and, equally important, a public information service that can be wholly trusted. Their generation is in big trouble as a direct consequence of centuries of basically corrupt government, strongly supported by the church (it’s not for nothing the Church of England has been called the Tory party at prayer) and, for the last century or so, the MSM. Once again, evidence of corruption is plentiful. Apart from dozens of great books providing irrefutable proof, Private Eye, for example, has been publishing evidence of institutionalised malfeasance in high places every two weeks for over half a century; and, of course, today there are a number of excellent websites providing accurate alternative information.

Most old people have never intentionally misled or deceived the young over anything important. But the fact is that today’s oldies didn’t have the internet, and therefore had very limited access to good alternative information. They didn’t know they were being tricked and deceived: they made the cardinal mistake of trusting rulers, and their MSM lackeys.

Every institution that has misruled our country for centuries, enriching the super-rich at the expense of the super-poor, needs to be scrapped and replaced with something much, much better (not a very difficult thing to imagine). My trilogy of books, School of Kindness, People’s Constitution, and EnMo Economics detail some of the problems and suggest some possible solutions. But it will require an ideological revolution to achieve the changes future generations will desperately need, and young people are going to need a brand new political organisation to provide it – because none of the existing main political parties can be trusted to do so.

Is Britain’s Green Party About to take a Significant Step Towards Revolution?

The Green Party of England and Wales (GPEW) is currently undertaking a huge holistic review as to how the Party works. As it already has a superb set of highly radical policies encompassing not only its well-known concerns for saving the environment but also proposals for revolutionary reforms of the economy, British foreign policy, and our so-called constitution, the holistic review has the potential to be either a step towards a major peaceful revolution, or a damp squib.

Since the Greens were first established in Britain decision-making has been undertaken at annual conferences, where any Party member attending the conference may be involved. This has worked reasonably well, but obviously excludes all those members who are unable to attend conferences. The holistic review may possibly modernise this system.

About a hundred years ago Emma Goldman was one of the first to observe that if voting could really change anything it would be made illegal. It’s not absolutely true, of course, but her point, that most of our so-called democracies are not fit for purpose, was right on the money.

Democracy is a relatively new feature of human society. Given the incredible technical advances that humans have achieved over the last couple of thousand years, it’s not exactly impressive that it’s only just a hundred years or so since women were deemed to be sufficiently human to be entrusted with the right to vote once in a while.

The main reason why we have not yet evolved a system of government where all human beings are able to exercise well-informed decisions is not only because the technology has not been up to providing such a marvel until very recent times, it’s also because the tiny minority of super-rich beings that have always ruled the world have always fought tooth and claw to resist any efforts at weakening the vice-like grip they have always held on political power.

The GPEW has fine policies intended to try to advance the cause of real democracy. Inevitably it’s very hard work to effect those changes. Not only is there the huge problem of the existing global power structure which, like its predecessors, still fights to resist change, there’s also the problem of mass ignorance – the fact that the vast majority of the population has been conditioned to meekly conform to the wishes of our rulers and their lackeys in the mainstream media, or are too apathetic to even care.

However, the Greens holistic review must eventually lead to a major leap forward for real democracy. The Party recently tried to host a couple of online workshops as part of the review. It was the first time it tried to do something like this on a Party-wide scale. Whilst I have some reservations about how this initial effort was made, the fact the effort was made at all has to be greatly applauded. Few things work perfectly at the first attempt, so it’s no surprise that this online exercise had some problems.

Although I signed up to take part in three of the workshops it turned out that I was unable to do so because I do not have the requisite camera and microphone attachments for my computer. If those technical requirements had been stipulated in the original message from the holistic review team I obviously would not have booked a place, thus preventing someone else from taking part – as there was limited availability for participation. So this is the first little glitch – the fact that it was assumed that all GP members are computer literate and have instant access to the required technology. I know of GP members who do not use computers at all, so their voices are obviously excluded from the start. Given that equality and diversity are supposedly important to Greens, the fact that this limitation was not even considered is not impressive. Whilst I accept that it’s reasonable to assume that most people are computer literate, and will continue to be even more so, it should at least have been stated that this problem was recognised, and suitable apologies voiced in the name of tolerance for floundering baby steps towards the brave new world of real democracy.

On the day of the first workshop I received an e-mail from the organisers: “Message to attendees at conference”. There was very little information about how the process would work, but one point was made clear: “If you’re a man, and there have been lots of men speaking, I’ll prioritise a woman even if she had her hand up after you.” Why was this about the only rule the organisers mentioned? It’s significant that the reverse situation was not stated – we were not told that if lots of women had been speaking a man would be prioritised even if he put his hand up after women. The rule suggests discrimination against men, not a good look, but also not the first time I’ve come across it in the Green Party.

The last part of the “Message to attendees” was something of an agenda – some bullet points of subjects to be discussed. Obviously you need agendas, but at no point was I invited to contribute towards it, and this is very important: whoever controls agenda content controls the debate. Everyone taking part in any group discussion should be able to contribute to deciding what subjects will be discussed, and in what order – no matter their gender, race, physical condition, and so on.

One of the workshops I wanted to attend was about “Equality and diversity in the Green Party”. The first part of the “Message to attendees” of this workshop was similar to the previous message, with its identical discriminatory condition about men – quite ironic given the subject matter. This message also had an agenda, towards which, like its predecessor, I had also not been invited to contribute.

However, the given agenda looked quite interesting. The most interesting issue, to me, was the fourth item: “How do we avoid the infighting which has affected the Labour party about discrimination, especially anti-Semitism and transphobia?”

This is a very important topic. I was in the Labour Party for just over a year, and an active supporter of Momentum. Whilst there is indeed considerable dissent in Labour, I saw little evidence that it is any more or less discriminatory than the Greens. Labour’s infighting has almost nothing to do with discrimination and everything to do with the fact that it has no core ideology, no equivalent of our Policies for a Sustainable Society.

All the same, the point is interesting. Labour’s alleged anti-Semitism is mostly created and routinely exploited by the mainstream media to smear Jeremy Corbyn for his decades of opposition to Zionism. It’s just another fake news scam. Labour is no more anti-Semitic than the Greens are, and the London-based Jewish Socialists’ Group, for example, is very supportive of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn. But the very expression “anti-Semitism” has been corrupted by the mainstream media, possibly influenced by the powerful Zionist lobby.

The literal definition of Semitism originally referred to anyone with an ethnic origin stretching from North Africa to Iraq. The etymology of the word derives from ‘descendants of Shem’, a son of Noah, from whom the Phoenicians are believed to have come – the people who colonised much of the Mediterranean. Hence Arabic is routinely identified as a Semitic language, and unsurprisingly has similarities to Hebrew. But the way Semitism is being interpreted today is almost as a synonym for Zionism, suggesting that anyone who criticises Israel’s Zionist government is being anti-Semitic. But Zionism is a repulsive political ideology not dissimilar in practice to apartheid, and has nothing to do with Semitism – and many of its supporters are not even Semites. It’s a clever tactic designed to confuse understanding of the horrendous situation in Occupied Palestine and eliminate criticism of the vicious junta that rules it – something Jeremy Corbyn has always rightly done, as have the Greens, to some extent, with their support for the BDS campaign against Israel. Given Corbyn’s longstanding support for the terrible plight of Palestinians – a Semitic people – how could anyone rightly accuse him of anti-Semitism? So this is indeed a good and legitimate subject to include in the subject of “avoiding infighting” – but perhaps not quite as the workshop organisers intended.

Avoiding infighting is a vitally important concept, but it’s also a deeply loaded expression which can lead to totalitarianism. Enemies of the Greens will always seek to exploit any potential divisions as a means of destroying the party – the old “divide and rule” tactic. The widely-used traditional method for dealing with dissenting voices in large organisations is simply to eliminate them, one way or another. This is not an option for an organisation that’s striving to reform democracy. The most effective way to do this, for Greens, is through proper open debate and Party-wide decision-making. When dissenting opinion occurs, as it always will, provide a proper debate where voices for and against that opinion can be widely heard and then allow the whole membership to decide the result. The dissatisfied losers of such debates are free to leave the Party if they choose, but should not be pushed. Real progress can only be made in an environment of truly free expression and open debate, never through repression. So “avoiding infighting” should be managed through a process of open debate and decision-making, never through some form of secret policing. The very important need for widespread debate over the horrors being perpetrated in Occupied Palestine, for example, is being silenced everywhere by the simple device of labelling it “anti-Semitic”.

As I was unable to attend the workshops I have no idea how successful they were. But the fact that they were done at all is a huge advance, a giant leap forward towards creating a system where essential Party-wide debates and decision-making can be created. The key to improving the model is through increasing membership involvement at all stages, not limiting it. Those individuals tasked with administering the process must have less ability to control it. Their role must be simply to properly administer, not decide. A way must be found where any Party member may be included in deciding what issues to discuss, and in what order. Another way must be found where Proper Information is provided for each and every issue being discussed, both for and against, in an environment of real free expression. The provision of Proper Information is an essential component of real democracy. The spirit of Voltaire (who is alleged to have said, “I may disagree with all you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it”) must be the guiding principle (whether he actually said it or not – because the principle is a fine one). And a way must be found where any Party member can vote to decide the outcome of any debate. An honest, transparent, inclusive, trustworthy, voting system is another essential component of real democracy. There is no plausible excuse for not doing any of this. We have the technology. It must be used.

Many of today’s political decision-makers will inevitably resist the creation of real democracy. That has been the story of democracy from its very earliest days: every new advance has been bitterly opposed by those who wield political power. From the days when British kings lost their “divine right” to rule, allowing rich land barons to share power, to the days when the voting franchise expanded to permit a whole 1% of the population to vote, the right to make political decisions has been ruthlessly restricted. Such was the situation for hundreds of years. It’s not even a hundred years since women were finally allowed to vote, as they were always deemed incapable of doing so – just as non-white people were forbidden to vote, and for the same reason, in most parts of the world, up to as recently as just twenty five years ago when apartheid ended in South Africa. Even today voting is still not a natural right for all citizens. Israel still practices apartheid, preventing many Arabs from voting in Israeli elections by the creation of Bantustans, where Arabs have no political rights outside their ghettoes, exactly as happened in South Africa.

Emma Goldman was mostly right when she made her observation about the uselessness of voting. Her words are still largely true even today, when so-called democracy is largely a cynical pantomime carefully stage-managed by the super-rich to create the illusion of democracy. But in recent years technology has provided the means to set us truly free. We now have the technical ability continually to provide good information to the entire population, and then to harvest the opinions and choices of the population. It’s only a question of time before that is routinely available to all citizens.

The GPEW is now leading the way in providing this inevitable innovation. A noble place in history awaits those who first deliver real democracy to the people. The Greens must surge ahead with this fine start they have made, and use its changes as a campaigning aid. We must create a model of real democracy within the Party to show citizens a working example of how a Green government could deliver real democracy to the whole country, and then the world. The Greens have long had a policy aim of Direct Democracy. We now have the opportunity to start providing it. The days of policy decision-making being restricted to the few people who are able to attend party conferences must end. Every Green Party member should be able to take part in all Party decision-making. If the holistic review does not include that, and propose steps to achieve it, it will be a largely pointless exercise.

Life-giving Light and Those Who Would Snuff it Out

The concluding sentence of Roy Medvedev’s superb account of Russia during the Stalin years reads:

When the cult of Stalin’s personality was exposed [in the XXth and XXIInd Congresses in 1956 and 1961 respectively] a great step was made to recovery.1

It’s a vital point, similar to that made by the incredible truth and reconciliation commission event that followed the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa, and that point is this: before any society can really advance it must recognise and admit to itself the mistakes and crimes perpetrated by its own trusted leaders. Or, as Rosa Luxemburg once put it:

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.2

Yet self-criticism of our own governments is almost impossible. Infinitely more effective than state censorship – which can restrict criticism – is self-censorship, and that’s pretty much what we have: a society which is incapable of seriously challenging those in power, let alone calling them to account for any wrongdoing – not through any state-imposed censorship, but through creating a culture that’s utterly brainwashed into believing the perfection of their constitution and therefore refusing to even imagine its very considerable imperfections. Whilst we do not have the domestic death squads and concentration camps of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia to enforce domestic obedience, we still have loyal populations that are almost as effectively programmed to believe the perfections of their state leaders and their institutions as many Germans and Russians were during the Hitler and Stalin years.

In Britain, for example, in 2015 when the leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was provocatively questioned about the Party’s well-known opposition to monarchy she remarked,

I can’t see that the Queen is ever going to be really poor, but I’m sure we can find a council house for her — we’re going to build lots more.

This obviously whimsical comment, although factually reasonable, provoked the following headline in The Independent: ‘We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,’ say Greens

Similar sensationalist headlines led in almost every newspaper and TV news broadcast. Green Party membership, which had been surging until that moment, immediately fell off a cliff. I was a membership secretary for our local Green Party branch at the time and had been signing up new members at the rate of about two a week. New memberships not only stopped completely, but some who had just joined us immediately cancelled their memberships. And this from people who would see themselves as progressives. No need to guess how Tory voters, who comprise most voters, reacted to Bennett’s quip. Such is the level of brainwashing in a supposedly democratic country about the perfection of the British monarchy, and its unchallengeable position as unelected head of state.

But it’s not just Britain that has to endure a majority of brainwashed citizens. I remember seeing a TV documentary about the time of the illegal Iraq War in 2003. The programme was about heroic US marines bravely defending western freedom, by helping to kill defenseless Iraqi civilians. Some of the heroes were interviewed about the hard time they were having, and the one that will forever stick in my mind implied that no amount of personal suffering was too great for him. “I would slit my own throat for my president”, he said. So Iraqi civilians didn’t have much chance.

The marine’s remark reminded me of a quote in Medvedev’s book, showing the similarity between modern US citizens and the brainwashed Russians of Stalin’s day:

Just as [religious] believers attribute everything good to god and everything bad to the devil, so everything good was attributed to Stalin and everything bad to evil forces that Stalin himself was [supposedly] fighting. “Long live Stalin!” some officials shouted as they were taken to be shot.3

When, very occasionally, some of the major crimes of our great trusted leaders are brought to our attention, there is never any clamouring for justice, no national outrage that the public’s trust could be so cheaply squandered. Whilst some newspapers might print a subdued story or two, located somewhere towards the bottom of page thirty nine, and whilst national TV stations may record a few words tucked away deeply buried somewhere on their websites, in the sacred name of “balance”, the real gravity of the misdeeds of our trusted leaders are otherwise routinely ignored, and the revelations are quickly lost in the usual myriad of trivial distractions.

For example, when, after many years and thirteen million pounds of treasure, the Chilcot Report was eventually published, effectively providing sufficient evidence for Tony Blair and other establishment leaders to be indicted for war crimes, no such calls from our trusted leaders were heard – just a deafening silence, followed almost immediately by business as usual.   But those who dare to provide the evidence of our rulers’ misdeeds are quickly and viciously victimized – as any whistleblower could easily confirm; with the better-known of whom, such as Daniel Ellsberg, Mordechai Vanunu, Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Ed Snowden standing as fine examples of the terrible consequences of speaking the truth about power. This is how Rosa Luxemburg’s ruthless self-criticism is rendered impossible in our “free” societies where official censorship doesn’t exist, but where official “news” isn’t worth censoring.

One of the holiest cows of the establishment, the institution which, almost above any other, will not tolerate any form of criticism, are our so-called “defence” forces. The word “hero” has been re-defined to mean absolutely anyone wearing a military uniform. TV commercials encouraging young people to join the armed forces appear almost every night. TV programmes depicting the military as brave heroes resisting overwhelming odds in the sacred name of freedom and democracy appear almost every night. Every year people adorn themselves in little plastic poppies and stand in silence for two minutes on the 11th November, not so much to recall those who were needlessly slaughtered for the supposed “war to end all war”, but to serve as a subliminal recruitment aid. Criticising the armed forces is always strictly off limits.

The Annihilation of Raqqa

Yet a recent report by Amnesty International (AI), who investigated the devastating attack by western coalition forces on the Syrian city of Raqqa, is so damning that anyone who does not criticise those responsible is guilty by association of war crimes.4 They are in a similar position to those who silently stood by as their neighbours were carted-off to Nazi concentration camps. Although AI has a somewhat dubious reputation, earned mainly by its very tepid response to the multitude of horrors perpetrated over many years by the Zionist regime in Occupied Palestine, its latest report on Raqqa has some merit.

Raqqa, Syria, February 2018 (AI Photo)

No one will ever know how many civilians perished in last year’s battle for Raqqa. However, estimates for the numbers of people living in the city prior to the war are given at around 220,000, whilst the number estimated to be living there earlier this year is around 61,000.  Some civilians managed to flee the city, but many did not, as they were prevented from doing so by IS. Amnesty summarised the terrible situation for civilians as follows:

The four-month military operation to oust the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) from Raqqa, the Syrian city which IS had declared its capital, killed hundreds of civilians, injured many more and destroyed much of the city. During the course of the operation, from June to October 2017, homes, private and public buildings and infrastructure were reduced to rubble or damaged beyond repair.

Residents were trapped, as fighting raged in Raqqa’s streets between IS militants and Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighters, and US-led Coalition’s air and artillery strikes rocked the city. With escape routes mined by IS and the group’s snipers shooting at those trying to flee, civilians fled from place to place within the city, desperately seeking refuge or escape. Some were killed in their homes; some in the very places where they had sought refuge, and others as they tried to flee.5

If Amnesty was referring to North Korea, say, or Iran, Russia, China, or the Syrian government, almost certainly its report would have been leading the western world’s news broadcasts. Outraged politicians and their tame propagandists in the mainstream media would have been demanding that “something should be done”. But those countries were not the subjects of the Amnesty report. It was referring instead to the biggest villains in the world — the US and British governments, joined on this occasion by France. Although other countries were implicated in this particular “coalition of the willing”, their roles were relatively minor. Consequently our politicians and their lackeys in the mainstream media seem hardly to have noticed AI’s report. Once again the truth is available, but has been conveniently self-censored by all the usual tricks of state.

Entire neighbourhoods in Raqqa are damaged beyond repair (AI Photo)

Two investigators from AI spent two weeks in February 2018 visiting the ruins of Raqqa. They went to 42 different locations and interviewed 112 civilian residents. About half of the report focuses mainly on the personal stories of four families whose lives were devastated by the “liberation” of Raqqa from IS occupation by the combined efforts of western firepower, and ground-troops supplied by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) – a mainly Kurdish militia.

Although the so-called global coalition:

boasts membership of 71 countries and four inter-governmental organisations; an eclectic alliance including nations as diverse as Panama and Poland, Australia and Afghanistan. Some Coalition members, Chad, for example, or Niger, are likely to have given support in name only. Others, particularly European states, were more deeply involved, although the exact extent of their actions is not always clear.6

Whilst most people are probably aware that US, British and French air forces bombed countless targets in Syria generally, and specifically here, in Raqqa, fewer people know about the involvement of western ground troops. But AI tells us:

[T]he US deployed some 2,000 of its own troops to north-eastern Syria, many of whom were engaged in direct combat operations, notably firing artillery into Raqqa from positions outside the city. In addition, a smaller number of special forces were operating close to front lines alongside SDF members. British and French special forces were also deployed to the area, but in much smaller numbers.

Among the US deployment were Army High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) with GPS-directed 227mm rockets, which could be fired from 300km away, as well as hundreds of Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) and the 24th MEU equipped with M777 howitzers, which they used to rain down 155mm artillery fire upon the city from a distance of up to 30km.6

Children riding a bicycle among destroyed buildings in Raqqa. (AI Photo)

AI concludes its summary of the involvement of “coalition” forces as follows:

The Coalition launched tens of thousands of strikes on Raqqa during the military campaign. Of these, more than 4,000 were air strikes, almost all of them carried out by US forces. British forces carried out some 215 air strikes, while the French military was responsible for some 50 air strikes with the overwhelming majority – more than 90% – carried out by US piloted aircraft and drones. No other members of the Coalition are known to have carried out air strikes in Raqqa. At the same time, US Marines launched tens of thousands artillery shells into and around Raqqa…

While Coalition forces operated mostly from positions several kilometres outside the city, a small number of special operation forces from Coalition member states – notably the US, UK and France – operated alongside the SDF close to front line position in/around the city, reportedly mostly in an advisory rather than combat role.

The SDF were partly responsible for locating targets for Coalition air and artillery strikes. It is not clear what percentage of the Coalition air and artillery strikes were carried out based on co-ordinates provided by the SDF – as opposed to strikes on targets identified by Coalition forces themselves through air surveillance or other means – and the extent to which Coalition forces verified targets identified by the SDF prior to launching strikes on those targets.7

Although Kurdish militia were reportedly too lightly-armed to be physically accountable for the destruction of Raqqa, their target identification function was clearly significant.

It has long been routine for the military’s propaganda machine to dismiss concerns about civilian casualties inside war zones, and the carnage wreaked on Raqqa was no exception. Furthermore, the military’s word is always accepted at face value.

[A]t the height of conflict in Raqqa, Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend wrote that ‘… there has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict’.8

But the alleged accuracy of the ordnance used by the military is not the point. The point is that no matter how smart the smart bombs are, they’re still killing civilians – and that’s a war crime. An estimated 4,000 bombs were dropped on the defenceless civilians of Raqqa by “coalition” warplanes. Given that many of those are only accurate, on a good day, to within ten metres of their target, it’s very clear to see that these alone must have accounted for considerable civilian casualties. But they may not have been the main problem.

Sergeant Major John Wayne Troxell (senior enlisted adviser to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), suggests that the Coalition operation was far from precise: ‘In five months they fired 35,000 artillery rounds on ISIS targets… They fired more rounds in five months in Raqqa, Syria, than any other Marine artillery battalion, or any Marine or Army battalion, since the Vietnam War.’8

But legitimate ISIS targets must have been almost negligible, as IS had immersed themselves amongst the civilian population. Given also that most artillery shells are considerably less accurate than guided missiles, and can only be expected to strike within a hundred metres of their targets, and given that tens of thousands of these things rained down on the trapped and defenceless civilians of Raqqa, the claims by the military’s propagandists that they tried everything possible to minimise civilian casualties are obviously ludicrous.

There has never been a more precise air campaign in the history of armed conflict [than in Raqqa]
— Lieutenant General Stephen Townsend

The ruins of the destroyed house where 28 members of the Badran family and five neighbours were killed in a Coalition strike on 20 August 2017 in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Isis withdraws, undefeated, from Raqqa

Sometime in October some sort of deal was suddenly worked out which allowed Isis to simply pack up and leave Raqqa, in a convoy of trucks, together with most of their weaponry. According to a BBC report, the deal:

enabled many hundreds of IS fighters to escape from the city. At the time, neither the US and British-led coalition, nor the SDF, which it backs, wanted to admit their part.  Has the pact, which stood as Raqqa’s dirty secret, unleashed a threat to the outside world – one that has enabled militants to spread far and wide across Syria and beyond?

Great pains were taken to hide it from the world. But the BBC has spoken to dozens of people who were either on the convoy, or observed it, and to the men who negotiated the deal…

[T]he convoy was six to seven kilometres long. It included almost 50 trucks, 13 buses and more than 100 of the Islamic State group’s own vehicles. IS fighters, their faces covered, sat defiantly on top of some of the vehicles…

Freed from Raqqa, where they were surrounded, some of the [IS] group’s most-wanted members have now spread far and wide across Syria and beyond.

War crimes

The US-led “coalition” undoubtedly committed a vast number of war crimes in the “liberation” of Raqqa, and the considerably-referenced AI report summarises the particular breaches of law applicable:

(a) The Principle of Distinction

This requires parties to conflict to at all times, ‘distinguish between civilians and combatants’ and to ensure that ‘attacks may only be directed against combatants’ and ‘must not be directed against civilians’. Parties to conflict must also distinguish between ‘civilian objects’ and ‘military objectives’. Anyone who is not a member of the armed forces of a party to the conflict is a civilian, and the civilian population comprises all persons who are not combatants. Civilians are protected against attack unless and for such time as they take a direct part in hostilities. In cases of doubt, individuals should be presumed to be civilians and immune from direct attack. Making the civilian population, or individual civilians not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack (direct attacks on civilians) is a war crime (My emphasis).9

It isn’t clear how hard the “coalition” tried to distinguish combatants from non-combatants, but in the four detailed case studies that Amnesty supplied – which were the tragic stories of just four families from a city of tens of thousands – it would appear they didn’t try very hard at all. One such piece of evidence was supplied by “Ammar”, who

told Amnesty International that on ‘the second or third day of Eid” [26-27 June 2017] an air strike killed 20-25 people, mainly civilians but some IS too, at a communal water point, around the corner from Abu Saif’s house.’10

So, clearly essential water supplies were either deliberately targeted by the “coalition”, or some “legitimate” target was so near that the likely presence of defenceless civilians was simply ignored.

(b)  Proportionality

The principle of proportionality, another fundamental tenet of IHL, also prohibits disproportionate attacks, which are those “which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”. Intentionally launching a disproportionate attack (that is, knowing that the attack will cause excessive incidental civilian loss, injury or damage) constitutes a war crime. The Commentary on the Additional Protocols makes clear that the fact that the proportionality calculus requires an anticipated “concrete and direct” military advantage indicates that such advantage must be “substantial and relatively close, and that advantages which are hardly perceptible and those which would only appear in the long term should be disregarded (my emphasis).11

Whilst it is undeniable that the head-chopping organ-eating occupiers of Raqqa were about as vile a group of psychopaths as it’s possible to get, and that their removal from Raqqa would no doubt be extremely difficult to accomplish, it’s deeply questionable that the total destruction of a civilian-occupied city could be considered proportional to the reign of terror it was supposed to terminate. The fact that IS were eventually cleared out of Raqqa, very much alive and well, shows that they were not committed kamikaze warriors and suggests that alternative methods for bringing to an end their repulsive occupation may have been possible.

(c) Precautions

In order for parties to an armed conflict to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality they must take precautions in attack. “Constant care must be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects”; “all feasible precautions” must be taken to avoid and minimise incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. The parties must choose means and methods of warfare with a view to avoiding or at least minimising to the maximum extent possible incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects. As well as verifying the military nature of targets and assessing the proportionality of attacks, the parties must also take all feasible steps to call off attacks which appear wrongly directed or disproportionate. Parties must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit. When a choice is possible between several military objectives for obtaining a similar military advantage, the parties must select the target the attack on which would be expected to pose the least danger to civilians and to civilian objects.

The limited information available on the precautions in attack taken by the Coalition suggests that they were not adequate or effective. The cases examined in detail indicate that there were serious shortcomings in verification that targets selected for attack were in fact military, with disastrous results for civilian life. Further, several attacks examined by Amnesty International suggest that the Coalition did not, at least in those instances, select weapons that would minimise harm to civilians. Also, the warnings that were given to civilians were not effective. They did not take into account the reality that civilians were blocked from leaving Raqqa, and did not include specific information (such as warning civilians to stay away from tall buildings).11

Amnesty claim that up to the point of publication of their report repeated approaches to “the coalition” for specific details regarding their attacks on Raqqa were either inadequately answered or had not been answered at all. Therefore questions relating to whether sufficient precautions were taken remain unanswered, and could imply breaches of international law.

(d) Joint and individual responsibility of coalition members

One of the attractions to “coalition” actions is the difficulty in attributing specific responsibility for possible crimes after the event, and Amnesty states:

It is concerned that this lack of clarity may enable individual Coalition members to evade responsibility for their actions. The UK Government, for example, maintained until May 2018 that it had not killed a single civilian in Syria or Iraq, despite carrying out thousands of air strikes across the two countries. On 2 May 2018 it admitted for the first time that one of its drone strikes had caused one civilian casualty in Syria in March 2018.11

However, there is very limited wriggle-room in attempting to evade responsibility by trying to divert attention to others. International Humanitarian Law (IHL):

Requires all states to ‘respect and ensure respect’ for its provisions under Common Article 1 of the Geneva Conventions. This includes both positive and negative obligations on states providing assistance to another state which is then used to commit a violation of international humanitarian law. The negative obligation is not to encourage, aid or assist in violations of IHL by parties to a conflict. The positive obligation includes the prevention of violations where there is a foreseeable risk they will be committed and prevention of further violations where they have already occurred.

The USA, UK, France, and other states involved in military operations as part of Operation Inherent Resolve therefore may be legally responsible for unlawful acts carried out by Coalition members.12

(e) Duty to investigate, prosecute and provide reparation

States have an obligation to investigate allegations of war crimes by their forces or nationals, or committed on their territory and, if there is sufficient admissible evidence, prosecute the suspects. They must also investigate other war crimes over which they have jurisdiction, including through universal jurisdiction, and, if appropriate, prosecute the suspects.12

A young man holding a child staring at the ruins of bombed buildings in Raqqa (AI Photo)

Life-giving light – and those who would snuff it out

The Amnesty International report provides compelling evidence that, at the very least, there are legitimate questions to be answered regarding the attacks on Raqqa by the USA, Britain and France. And it must never be forgotten that the whole IS phenomenon is mostly a creation of the west, that without the deeply cynical plotting of the US, British and possibly French deep states, IS would likely never have come into existence. The words of French foreign minister Roland Dumas should be recalled:

I’m going to tell you something,” Dumas said on French station LCP. “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business [in 2009]. I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was organizing an invasion of rebels into Syria. They even asked me, although I was no longer minister for foreign affairs, if I would like to participate. Naturally, I refused, I said I’m French, that doesn’t interest me.

So Dumas may have said – but the French were involved in the destruction of Raqqa.

Raqqa’s residents surveying the destruction in the city centre (AI Photo)

If similar probable war crimes had been carried out in some other country by Russia, say, or China, or Iran, or any other nation to which the west is routinely hostile, almost certainly outraged voices would be heard caterwauling in Westminster and Washington. Front pages of newspapers, together with TV and radio news programmes would be howling that “something must be done”. Yet in Westminster and Washington the silence is deafening. Not a single word of protest appears on the front pages of our newspapers, and our TV and radio stations appear to be looking the other way. Why? Because our “heroes” are personally involved, and personally responsible for the terror, and that is the terrible truth that cannot be admitted.

The cold hard fact is that far from being heroic, many people in the military are de facto war criminals. From at least as far back as the second world war, when defenceless civilians were bombed to death and incinerated in their homes in the pointless bombing of Hamburg, Dresden and Tokyo, for example, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, through the slaughter of countless defenceless civilians in later wars, in Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos to the more recent civilian killing fields of Iraq, Libya and now Syria, our so-called heroes have just as much innocents’ blood on their hands as any Nazi war criminal ever had.

With very few exceptions, the military seldom do anything heroic. The very last thing that senior officers want, the generals, admirals, air marshals and so on, is a peaceful world – for the very obvious reason that they would all be out of work, vastly overpaid work requiring very little real and useful effort, work that not only pays these people far more than they’re worth, but also, which is far worse, gives them far too much power in our societies. Consider, for example, the words of an unnamed general in a recent Observer interview that if Jeremy Corbyn – a lifelong pacifist – was to win a general election:

There would be a mutiny in the armed forces… unless he learnt to love NATO and the nuclear bomb.13

The cold hard fact is that these people, those who run our so-called “defence” forces are out of control. They are more interested in protecting their own careers than doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and which so many people mistakenly believe they are doing – protecting us. We are not made safer by the ruthless and illegal destruction of civilian cities such as Raqqa. The people that carry out these war crimes should be brought to account and charged like the common war criminals they really are, which is pretty much the same conclusion reached by Amnesty International:

Where there is admissible evidence that individual members of Coalition forces are responsible for war crimes, ensure they are prosecuted in a fair trial without recourse to the death penalty.14

We need complete, truthful information. And the truth should not depend on whom it is to serve.
— V.I. Ulyanov, (Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface.))

Self-criticism – ruthless, harsh self-criticism, which gets down to the root of things – that is the life-giving light and air of the proletarian movement.
— Rosa Luxemburg15

Sometimes I think we biologists may find ourselves coming into politics from our own angle. If things go on as they are going – We may have to treat the whole world as a mental hospital. The entire species is going mad; for what is madness but a complete want of mental adaptation to one’s circumstances? Sooner or later, young man, your generation will have to face up to that.…

I have an idea, Father, a half-formed idea,that before we can go on to a sane new order, there has to be a far more extensive clearing up of old institutions… The world needs some sort of scavenging, a burning up of the old infected clothes, before it can get on to a new phase. At present it is enormously encumbered… This is just a shadowy idea in my mind… Something like breaking down condemned, old houses. We can’t begin to get things in order until there has been this scavenging.

— HG Wells, The Holy Terror, Simon and Schuster, 1939.

  1. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, p. 566.
  2. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism, Roy Medvedev, Preface.
  3. Medvedev, p. 363.
  4. Amnesty International Report, p. 9.
  5. AI Report, p. 5.
  6. AI Report, p. 48.
  7. AI Report, p. 49.
  8. AI Report, p. 53.
  9. AI Report, p. 62.
  10. AI Report, p. 44.
  11. AI Report, p. 63.
  12. AI Report, p. 64.
  13. How the Establishment lost control, Chris Nineham, p. 93.
  14. AI Report, p. 67.
  15. Let History Judge, Roy Medvedev, Preface

Vassals and Victims

Nothing better illustrates the disaster of Britain leaving the EU than Donald Trump. Once we’re no longer able to enjoy the huge benefits of the European single market we will be compelled to try to arrange favourable independent trade deals with other countries, the largest of which will almost certainly be the USA. Having to rely on the US for our primary trading partner is the truly nightmare scenario of Brexit, and one example of why this is so was provided last week.

It was reported that the US will “use trade talks to force the NHS to pay more for drugs“. No matter that many medicines are already vastly overpriced, it’s still not enough for the giant drug companies who net billions of dollars profiteering from desperately sick people. They want to make even more because their greed knows no limit, and Mr Trump will “not be cheated by foreign countries” (1).

The US has a long and inglorious history of reneging on its promises and treaties. Ask Native Americans. More recently we’ve seen the US turn its back on its own Transpacific Partnership agreement, pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement, and effectively scrap the Iran Nuclear Deal, ignoring the fury of European counter-signatories. The US government has, of course, always totally ignored international law, as well as its own laws and federal constitution, whenever it felt like it. Henry Kissinger once infamously quipped, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”  It imposes vicious trade sanctions whenever it wants (more often than any other country), and last year this champion of free trade slapped a 200% trade tariff on Bombardier. This is the country we’ll be relying on after Brexit.

Of course, it’s easy, and true, to say that Donald Trump will not last forever, but Trump isn’t the main problem. The main problem is the whole US system of government, which appears to see the US as the only country in the world of any importance. The president is a distraction, designed to suggest that better days will come once the current one moves on. But the better days never come. Presidents come and go but the empire gets ever stronger, and more catastrophically dystopian.

Most of the people who voted for Brexit don’t understand this global reality. Most Brexit supporters have a worldview shaped almost entirely by deceitful tabloids and Hollywood propaganda movies. They think America is our friend. It isn’t. It has no friends, it only has vassals and victims, and neither of those is a very pleasant prospect for post-Brexit Britain.