Turkey – NATO attack dog or ISIS ally?

13th October 2019

SANLIURFA, TURKEY - OCTOBER 09: A photo taken from Turkey's SanlNortheast Syria burns after Turkish missile attacks

The withdrawal of the limited US contingent of troops based in Northern Syria this week undoubtedly opened the door for the increased Turkish military presence and its assault on the Kurdish population.  The Turkish incursion is undoubtedly an invasion but it is effectively a stepping up of the ongoing invasion of Syria which has been happening for the past eight years, routinely characterised in the Western media as the Syrian Civil War.

Having effectively stepped aside to allow Turkish troops free rein to attack the Kurds who were, up until this point, allied to the United States in the fight against ISIS, US President Trump then tweeted,

“As I have stated strongly before, and just to reiterate, if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!). They must, with Europe and others, watch over…”

Whatever Trump meant precisely, the response of the Turkish government, from Vice President Fuat Oktay, left little room for equivocation.  Oktay said Turkey was intent on combating Syrian Kurdish fighters across its border in Syria and on creating a zone that would allow Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees there.

“Where Turkey’s security is concerned, we determine our own path but we set our own limits,” Oktay said.

As a member of the NATO military alliance it would be usual to expect some consultation with partners before embarking on unilateral military action against a neighbouring state.  Some weak kneed disapproval of Turkish action has been voiced in London, Berlin and Paris but no suggestion that this should be universally condemned and certainly no suggestion that the rights of the Kurdish people to self determination should be on anyone’s agenda.

The Syrian government has reacted through Deputy Foreign Minister, Faisal Mekdad, who called on the country’s Kurds to rejoin the government side after being abandoned by their US allies.

As an oppressed minority within Turkey the Kurdish people, under the leadership of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), have been engaged in armed conflict inside Turkey since 1984, in their struggle to improve the rights of Kurds in the country.  While the original desire of the PKK for an independent Kurdish state, which would incorporate parts of existing Turkey, Syria, Iran and Iraq, has been dropped, the demands for equal rights and fair treatment remains.

Turkey considers Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists and has already launched two major incursions into northern Syria in recent years. The first was in 2016, when Turkey and Syrian opposition fighters it backs, attacked areas held by ISIS west of the Euphrates River. Last year Turkey launched an attack on the Syrian Kurdish enclave of Afrin, leading to the displacement of some 300,000 people.

There is little doubt that energy spent by Kurdish forces consolidating areas regained from ISIS control will now have to be diverted to defend against the Turkish threat.  The opportunity for ISIS to exploit this division and reassert itself in areas of northeastern Syria is obvious.

Western media reports that Turkey gained clearance for its attack from Russia, as part of the agreement between Russia, Turkey and Iran in relation to the Syrian conflict, appear to be at odds with the condemnation of the Turkish incursion by Iran.  It is equally likely that, whatever its notional alliance with Russia, or for that matter NATO, Turkey saw the opportunity to weaken or wipe out the PKK opposition and has seized it.

A more sinister interpretation is offered by the New York Post (21/9/19) which notes that,

“Since 2012, the Turkish intelligence service MIT, under (Turkish President) Erdogan’s direction, has been providing resources and material assistance to ISIS, while Turkish customs officials turn a blind eye to ISIS recruits flowing across Turkey’s borders into Syria and Iraq.”

ISIS re-established in Syria would add to the de-stabilisation of the Assad government, potentially undermining it, which has been the intention of the West since fighting began.  A de facto alliance with ISIS to undermine the PKK would suit Turkey’s domestic objectives as well as retaining a NATO foothold in Syria.

It may just be that, for Turkey, being an attack dog for NATO and at the same time an ally of ISIS, are simply two sides of the same coin.



Corbyn rallies the troops in Newcastle

6th October 2019

CorbynCOLLAGECorbyn lays out Labour plans in Newcastle

In a pre election General Election rally in Newcastle upon Tyne last night, Jeremy Corbyn set out the vision for a Labour government which would transform the economy of the UK and change the lives of many working class people.

Nick Brown MP (Newcastle East) set the tone at the start of the rally by declaring that the key issue facing the country and the world is the climate change emergency.  Ian Lavery MP (Ashington) agreed that compared to the climate emergency Brexit was merely a sideshow.  Chi Onwurah MP (Newcastle Central) gave an informed and intelligent assessment, based upon her own experience as an engineer, of the practical steps which could be taken to deliver a green industrial revolution and meet the Labour commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2030.

Rising local star Laura Pidcock MP (North West Durham) gave a barnstorming performance with a blistering attack upon the employment legislation of successive Tory governments, the inequities of universal credit and the need to address poverty by creating well paid, unionised jobs for working people.  A deserved standing ovation followed.

Corbyn synthesised and built upon the commitment which had been outlined by speakers before him.  He stressed that Labour would take back into public ownership the railway system, the Royal Mail and the water industry for starters.

Corbyn outlined a social, economic and environmental programme which would address life issues for working people from the cradle to the grave including:-

  • a National Education Service with the abolition of private schools and investment in local neighbourhood school provision;
  • abolition of university tuition fees;
  • continued support for and investment in the NHS;
  • a programme of investment in Council house building and penalties for investors buying empty property for profit, while thousands go homeless;
  • co-operation with and investment in local government;
  • local transport and highway infrastructure investment outside the South East of England;
  • the abolition of universal credit;
  • a green deal which would prioritise investment in manufacturing and new technology to both create jobs and reduce climate emissions;
  • a four day working week with no loss of pay;
  • an end to fracking.

Brexit was, inevitably a feature for all speakers.  Corbyn stressed the dangers of a no deal exit from the EU, suggesting that such a scenario would inevitably lead to a reliance on trade with the US, with the opening up of the NHS to market forces and the international pharmaceutical companies.

Such a scenario is already a danger.  Whether a no deal exit from the EU would exacerbate that would depend on the political character of the government elected after the next election.  While Ian Lavery’s declaration that,

“Labour is not a Remain party, it is not a Leave party it is a socialist party”

was greeted with stormy applause, little was added to clarify the position Labour would take in any referendum situation post election.  Continuing to ride both horses may prove increasingly difficult, especially as the Tory position sharpens around Leave and the austerity loving Liberals pin all of their hopes on a Remain campaign.

It would be a tragedy if Brexit became Labour’s Achilles Heel when such a radical programme of change is on offer and there is a real chance that the orthodoxy which has prevailed since the 1980’s can be challenged.  As things stand Labour will go into the General Election with a compromised position, offering a new deal with the EU which will be put to a referendum, with Remain also on the ballot paper.

It is a high risk strategy and not a simple one to sell.  It is also an irony that departure from the EU would actually give Labour far greater freedom to implement the programme of measures which are shaping up as the next manifesto.

Any further reference to the international situation, regarding the migration crisis and participation in adventurist overseas wars was for Corbyn to clarify.  The message was inclusive, supportive and directly opposed to the hostile environment created by the Tories.  It was light touch but positive nonetheless.

There were gaps.  No mention of the cost of the Trident nuclear submarine programme and the need to cancel it.  No reference to withdrawal from NATO.  No discussion about the overblown military budget.  No mention of the Palestinian question. These are always controversial issues for Labour, easily avoided in front of a home crowd but ones to which Labour will need to have responses under the scrutiny of a General Election.

There is no doubt however that Corbyn was in his natural environment.  As an intelligent and articulate speaker he sees the complex links across a range of issues and is able to transmit his enthusiasm and ideas to a crowd desperate for change.  The mood at the Newcastle rally was buoyant, it will need to continue to be so in the North East and beyond, for the coming election and its wake, if Labour is to make good on its promises and begin to make the changes the people of the UK desperately need.

Corbyn concluded by emphasising the hope that was of offer to working class people in the UK from a Labour government, stressing the values of cooperation, community and commitment that would drive, and be reinforced by. such a programme.

The Labour Manifesto may not be a completely perfect package but there is much to play for and the alternative is infinitely worse.  The sooner that Labour’s prospectus for change is put to the people of the UK, the better.

History Will Judge

28th September 2019

Supreme Court

Boris Johnson – guilty as charged

The past week has been dominated by the judgement of the Supreme Court that the proroguing of Parliament by Boris Johnson was not legal.  In effect the proroguing was pronounced null and void and Parliament resumed sitting on Wednesday.  The furore was fuelled further by the debate in the House of Commons on Wednesday night when, following a statement by Johnson in which he expressed disagreement with the Supreme Court outcome, he went on to make a series of provocative statements in support of his stated position to leave the EU by 31st October.

In a remarkable outburst Johnson told MPs the Supreme Court was “wrong to pronounce on a political question at a time of great national controversy”.

Many regard the current period in UK politics as one which will be the subject of intense study by future generations, a period upon which history will pass unfavourable judgement upon the actions of the politicians of the UK.  Textbooks will be written, theses will be drafted and philosophers will pontificate.

It is unlikely that the judgement of history will conclude anything other than that David Cameron, Theresa May and Boris Johnson were weak and ineffectual Prime Ministers.  Many hope that the Supreme Court ruling this week will be seen as evidence of the independence of the judiciary, reinforcing that no-one, not even the UK Prime Minister, is above the law.

Within the current parameters of the debate this is true.  While the decision of the Supreme Court has split legal opinion, it is widely accepted that it represents a final judgement on the proroguing of Parliament and its effect of stifling the ability of MPs to scrutinise the actions of the government.  The judiciary can bring the executive to heel and only the Queen is above the fray.  The system works….except…..

What is actually being played out is a struggle exposing the splits within the UK establishment over the country’s future direction.  Within these boundaries the Supreme Court judgement is one which gives slightly more emphasis to one side than the other but is only independent within the terms set by the establishment itself. Having been wrapped in a life of ermines and fur the Supreme Court judges, many Eton educated like the Tory Party politicians, could only pontificate within the class boundaries set by the system.

If the judgement of history is to be any measure of progress it must be far harsher than anything pronounced by the Supreme Court this week.  History must question why any system would allow for a small minority to become rich beyond imagining, while sections of the population live with unemployment and poverty.

It must judge with amazement the desire of political leaders to persuade the population to be tied into a European wide structure which reinforces the inequalities and prejudices inherent in the system.  It must question the motivation of those on the other side exhorting the population to leave the EU in order to pursue their own personal aggrandisement and ambition, rather than the real interests of the people.

History must surely frown upon all of this being played out against a backdrop of austerity, insecurity and uncertainty for much of the population, while a small minority continue to get rich playing the gambling halls of the City of London.

History may be able to judge that a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government was able to stem the tide, that the period of mendacity and misjudgement turned a corner in 2020 and the first steps towards a socialist Britain were taken.

A vote of no confidence in the government this week would be a first step in the right direction, followed by a swift General Election in which the forces of progress, inside and outside Parliament, mobilise for a Labour government to be elected on a progressive platform.  Anything less and the judgements of history will, in all likelihood, be being made from a dark place.

Populism is not a dirty word

15th September 2019


Populism – winning for Salvador Allende in Chile 1970

The crisis of British imperialism has been playing out in one form or another for over a century.  The re-division of the nineteenth century colonial empires was the driving force behind the recently, widely commemorated, First World War.  The widespread massacre which that conflict represented saw Britain emerge, still as a world power, but a weakened one.

The outcome of the Second World War was to reinforce the hegemony of the United States, ahead of Britain in terms of its imperialist influence, and accelerate Britain’s relative decline upon the world stage in economic, political and military terms.

Not that the influence of Britain was diminished entirely.  As a nuclear power, permanent member of the UN Security Council and founder member of military alliance NATO, Britain still had a role to play in imperialist power plays around the globe.  The days of Britannia “ruling the waves” were however, long gone, and the UK has largely played second fiddle to the world policeman role of the US ever since.

The military hegemony of the United States has flourished in proportion to its economic dominance, while the reverse can also be said of the UK.  The push to join the European Community in the 1970’s was part of a bid by the UK establishment to shore up its global position, as its independent economic power waned.  The former colonies of the Empire were kept within some degree of political and economic orbit, through the Commonwealth, but increasingly looked to non-capitalist models of development to assert their identity.

Joining a European trading bloc that could both mitigate some elements of the UK’s decline and potentially offer routes into guaranteed European markets seemed like the smart move for British ruling circles.

The European question has been a fault line in both major UK political parties ever since.  The Left in the Labour Party led the campaign against EC membership in 1975, rightly arguing that the constraints imposed by the Community at that time would not allow a Left Labour government to deliver radical measures, such as increased public spending or nationalisation, to change economic direction.  The transformation of the EC into the European Union, with its mission of ever greater economic and political union, has only tightened those constraints.

The Conservatives, as the key representative of ruling class interests in the UK, have taken a pragmatic approach to the EU.  The Thatcher negotiated ‘opt out’ essentially ensured reduced contributions while accepting the Thatcherite economic policies of the EU itself, focussing upon inflation control over public spending or employment rights.

This pragmatism has however always been tempered with a strand of right wing Conservatism which sees the EU as a constraint upon the independence of the UK, a barrier to the UK being able to make trade deals, and a block upon the ability of UK business to exploit cheap labour.  Such arguments have been wrapped in the flag of sovereignty, control over borders and limiting immigration but are essentially part of the Little Englander mentality which has fuelled the rise of Nigel Farage and placed Boris Johnson in 10, Downing Street.

For the Left in the UK the position has been complicated by the leadership of the Labour Party and TUC welcoming aspects of EU membership, such as the working time directive and free movement of labour, then elevating these notions into great examples of international co-operation and friendship between peoples. The fact that EU membership has done nothing to prevent the mass privatisations of the Thatcher years, the sale of Council housing, the tearing apart of the education system, the destruction of local government, zero hours contracts, or the contraction of the NHS does not appear to register.

Add to that the liberalisation of the rules governing the movement of capital and the obscene profits made from stock market gambling in the City of London, it should be clear that the interests of the EU are hardly those of defending, protecting or expanding the rights of ordinary people.

The Leave driven elements of the British ruling class, fronted by Boris Johnson, are clearly pushing for a new deal for the UK which will see it as a European offshore tax haven, outside the EU but closely aligned, and still a major player due to its nuclear capability and high levels of military spending.  This tendency also sees the transatlantic relationship with the United States as key to the UK’s future.

The more pragmatic tendency in the UK establishment continues to be to Remain.  This position is supported by elements of the Conservative Party, the austerity loving Liberal Democrats and sections of the Labour Party, not least Deputy Leader Tom Watson, who are now openly flouting Party policy and suggesting that Labour should adopt an openly pro-Remain position.  With the TUC and CBI on board for Remain positions there will clearly be a significant push on this front before the next General Election.

The problem is that remaining in the EU solves nothing.  The German economy is slowing, the French and Italian systems are in crisis, mass unemployment plagues Spain and Greece, the Eastern Europeans economies are feeling little befit from EU membership.  The migration crisis continues to be a live issue across the EU.  Talk of reuniting the country divided by the outcome of the 2016 referendum is tosh.  The referendum outcome reflected the divisions in the UK, it did not cause them.

There is a crisis of capitalism across Europe.  Constraining public investment and limiting the rights of workers, to maximise corporate profits and enrich the City of London, has had its day.  Spending on weapons of mass destruction when schools, hospitals and transport infrastructure go begging for investment, has had its day.  Zero hours contracts, the free movement of cheap labour, constraints on the operation of trade unions, have had their day.  Racism, xenophobia and prejudice against migrants and asylum seekers, has had its day.  Failing to acknowledge the climate emergency and invest in new forms of energy when the planet is dying, has had its day.

The European Union is not Europe.  It is a particular club formed with particular objectives, which do not meet the real needs of the peoples of its constituent nations.  The argument to remain and reform is spurious, just as the idea of a peoples capitalism is spurious.

However the current Parliamentary shenanigans play out in the coming weeks, the first step towards a socialist path of development of the UK must be to leave the EU.  Membership over the past 40 years has illustrated time and again the failings of the EU for the peoples of Europe.  It is time for the people to fight back.

Populism has become a dirty word, hijacked by the right wing to describe the politics of Trump, Johnson and Farage.  Yet populism brought Castro to power in Cuba, Allende in Chile, Mandela in South Africa.  It fuelled the Bolshevik revolution in Russia.  A populism of the Left is needed now more than ever in order to mobilise against demagogues on the Right and crush the arguments of the weak kneed liberal centre.  There is no fence left to sit on, it is time to take sides.



General Election now – the real demand!

31st August 2019

stop the coup

Protests set to continue this weekend against the shutdown of Parliament in the UK

The furore this week over the decision by UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to prorogue Parliament has inevitably generated more heat than light.  It is interesting for example that both Speaker John Bercow and former Tory Lord Heseltine described the move as a “constitutional outrage”, though neither have been sufficiently outraged to suggest that the move is unconstitutional.

In part this may be due to the opaque nature of the British constitution, which is often incorrectly described as unwritten but is correctly characterised as uncodified, essentially meaning that while much is written down, it is not all in one place or been agreed at one time.

This reliance on past practice and precedent gives any UK government a high degree of latitude in its interpretation of what is legally permissible in constitutional terms.  Proroguing Parliament prior to a Queen’s Speech is not, as the oleaginous Jacob Rees-Mogg, newly installed Leader of the House, has been at pains to point out this week, unconstitutional in itself.  The question presently being tested in the courts, is whether this proroguing for this length of time, at this point in time, could be deemed unconstitutional and therefore stopped.

It will be a surprise of if the petitioners, led by Gina Miller, former Prime Minister, John Major, and latterly Labour Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, are successful in this endeavour.  Even if they are, the anti-no deal camp does not appear to have a coherent purpose other then preventing no deal.  Quite what they are for is split between Remain at all costs, a second referendum and a General Election.

Parliament will sit for little more than a week next week, before proroguing till the 14th October, just two weeks ahead of the 31st October deadline for leaving the European Union.   Any Parliamentary moves have a small window of opportunity within which to block no deal.  It is also entirely possible that whatever Bill is drafted for discussion, pro-Leave MPs will filibuster out before it can pass into law.

There are many ironies in the present situation.  In spite of her vehement opposition to no deal Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson ruled out supporting a vote of no confidence, which would have seen Jeremy Corbyn become caretaker Prime Minister with a view to suspending Article 50 and calling a General Election.  Swinson and her ilk have earned themselves the soubriquet ‘Meatloafers’ – I would do anything to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but I won’t do that.  Truly ironic from a party which propped up the Cameron government; voted through each of George Osborne’s austerity budgets; agreed to cut welfare benefits; raised tuition fees; and did not pip a squeak when then Home Secretary, Theresa May, introduced her ‘hostile environment’ policy for asylum seekers and refugees.

Tory Remainers, whimpering now that they find Johnson and Rees-Mogg leading the charge to a Hallowe’en no deal, forget that options to prevent this have been in front of them several times but when it has come to the crunch they have always voted for their seats, their careers and their government.

There is of course the final irony that the streets may well be thronged this week with people supporting democracy, opposing Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament, yet calling for the UK to remain part of an anti-democratic institution with a nominally elected Parliament but where the real power lies with the unelected commissioners – the European Union.

The streets do need to be filled.  People do need to express their sense of outrage and injustice.  They need to be outraged at child poverty in the world’s fifth richest economy.  They need to be outraged about the potential outsourcing and privatisation of the NHS.  They need to be scandalised by the super rich, who bankroll Johnson and the Tory Party, plundering the resources of the country and syphoning their profits off into tax havens.  They need to oppose the commissioning of new Trident nuclear weapons systems.

There is much to be angry about, of which Johnson proroguing Parliament is one thing, but the real demand on the streets should be for the one thing everyone from the present government to the Lib Dems, DUP, Scottish Nationalists and anyone not supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party are afraid of: a General Election.

Cuba reaches three million visitors in 2019

25th August 2019

Cuba car

HAVANA, Cuba, Aug 16 (ACN) Cuba reached the three million international visitors on August 15, sixth days later than in 2018, informed the Ministry of Tourism

This result is achieved in spite of the campaigns organised and directed by the Government of the United States to prevent the flow of tourists to our country.

It also demonstrates the confidence and recognition achieved by Cuban tourism as a destination that offers safety and quality to its visitors.

Canada remains the main market for tourism to the Island, followed by European markets; Russia stands out as the one with the highest growth rate, with development perspectives for the coming seasons.

Once again Cuba is ratified as a great Caribbean destination for its nature, heritage, culture, safety and hospitality of its people, the Ministry of Tourism stated.

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Outrage at US Congresswomen ban

16th August 2019


Ilhan Omar – more support than Trump thinks….

No doubt every dope who sees any criticism of the Israeli government as a trope for anti-Semitism will have a go, but banning US Congresswomen from visiting Israel, really?  That is what Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has stooped to this week however.  Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota were banned from entering Israel shortly after US President, Donald Trump said Israel would be showing “great weakness” by allowing them to enter the country.

Kowtowing to the US in the usual fashion, Netanyahu complied saying in a statement following the decision,

“The plan of the two Congresswomen is only to damage Israel and to foment against Israel.”

In her own statement following the decision Ilhan Omar expressed outrage that the action could be taken by Israel, under pressure from Trump, and that it was an impediment to her carrying out her legitimate democratic role, stating,

“As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, it is my job to conduct oversight of foreign aid from the United States of America and to legislate on human rights practices around the world. The irony of the ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East making such a decision is that it is both an insult to democratic values and a chilling response to a visit by government officials from an allied nation.”

The Israeli position was further endorsed by US Ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who said the US “supports and respects” Israel’s decision to deny entry to Tlaib and Omar.

“This trip, pure and simple, is nothing more than an effort to fuel the (boycott movement) engine that Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar so vigorously support,” Friedman said in a statement released this week.

The fact that Tlaib and Omar are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress has not gone unnoticed.  Trump’s position picks up where he left off last month in criticising the two women, along with Congresswomen, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, telling them to “go back” to the countries they came from.

The Congresswomen have made no secret of their opposition to the actions of the Israeli government, in defiance of United Nations resolutions by occupying the West Bank and Gaza, or of their support for the boycott movement.  The Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions movement, aims to end international support for Israel because of its policies toward Palestinians, as well as its continued construction of West Bank settlements, a clear violation of international law.

Netanyahu indicated his fear of Israeli human rights abuses being exposed, stating: “They have defined the destination of their visit as ‘Palestine’ and not ‘Israel.’ And unlike all the Democrat and Republican congressmen who have visited until today, they avoided asking for any meeting with any Israeli official, whether in the government or in the opposition.”

In his usual fashion President Trump vented his spleen further over the issue by taking to Twitter and posting,

“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

The two Congresswomen planned to meet with Israeli and Palestinian peace activists and representatives of human rights organisations. They were to visit Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron.  Tlaib planned to stay two extra days to visit her grandmother, who lives in the West Bank village of Beit Ur al-Tahta.

Writing in the US People’s World in July, Chauncy K Robinson concludes her article in defence of Ilhan Omar with the following observation on Trump,

“His aggressive re-election campaign, which uses the tool of white supremacy to divide the nation, would have his base think differently, though.  In Trump and the right’s narrative, Omar and anyone similar to her are the “enemy.” But the enemy of what, or whom?  That’s the real question. Trump’s “team” is made up of the wealthy who want to preserve the exploitative capitalist system that chokes American and world progress and puts our very planet in peril.  For the sake of humanity, we all need to be on the team that opposes him and his rhetoric.”

The full article can be read here