Socialist Alternative

Northern lockdown: Stop the BAME blame game!

On Thursday 30 August at 9.15pm new restrictions were imposed on over 4 million people living in Greater Manchester, East Lancashire and parts of West Yorkshire. The restrictions applied from midnight, ie within three hours. 

Disgracefully the changes were announced on Twitter which most people don’t even access daily, let alone hourly. Worse still they impacted severely on Muslim families due to celebrate Eid Al-Adha imminently, many of whom had already bought in food for family celebrations. One Bradford resident commented on Friday afternoon: “Can you imagine them pulling this on Christmas Eve? No way would that have happened.” Even Baroness Warsi, a former Tory minister, complained about the decision and the cavalier way it was made.

The lack of notice contrasts with the start of lockdown which was warned about in advance but delayed until Mothers’ Day had passed. There is more than a whiff of racism about the last-minute decision which wrecked Eid for thousands of Muslim families with the obvious implication that they are to blame for the rise in infection rates through a failure to socially distance.

Blackburn with Darwen, with a significant British Asian population, has been struggling for weeks with elevated rates of infection. Oldham tops Greater Manchester’s league table and counts many British Pakistani and Bangladeshis among its inhabitants. Multi-generational households may be a factor in these areas, as they were in the devastating epidemic in Northern Italy. But overwhelmingly it is poverty and cramped living conditions which feed the virus. In a recent ‘spike’ in Liverpool (outside the restricted area) it was found that half the increase in infections was focussed on one ward, Princes Park, where 90% of the housing was category A ie the worst type, where most residents don’t even have a garden. And many black and minority ethnic (BAME) people are working in the health and social care sectors, putting themselves at risk of picking up the virus and often suffering serious complications or death.

This government is stumbling its way through the pandemic, issuing contradictory and confusing messages, and spreading a little racism as it goes. You can’t meet a friend in their garden or celebrate Eid but you can spend money in a café, pub or restaurant. Where are you more likely to catch the virus? These panic responses are caused by the government’s failure to create a functioning ‘track and trace’ system which could suppress the virus and deal with local outbreaks. Now Blackburn with Darwen, badly let down by the government’s track and trace system, has had to start up a system of their own!

We need to stop the BAME blame game. It’s the Tories we need to blame.

Starmer victory a big setback for the left – step up the fight for socialist policies

The victory of Keir Starmer in the election to choose the Labour Party leader, with Angela Rayner as deputy, is undoubtedly a major setback for the left and has been greeted by much fanfare by the main mouthpieces of the capitalist class like the Financial Times.

Socialist Alternative argued for a vote for Rebecca Long-Bailey for leader and Richard Burgon for deputy leader. We did so on the basis that these two candidates were the most likely to defend the left policies of the 2017 and 2019 elections and to develop democratic accountability of the party’s public representatives. Starmer’s victory, by a very wide margin, indicates that it is now likely that there will be a generalised retreat from the policy gains the left has made under Corbyn’s leadership.

While Starmer may have pledged to maintain support, usually in a limited or caveated way, for some of the popular pro-working-class policies in the 2017 and 2019 manifestos (primarily as a cynical way of grabbing the votes of former Corbyn supporters) his acceptance speech should leave people in no doubt as to the real agenda his leadership represents.

This is a time of calamitous public health and economic crisis – in which the Tory government has left our NHS disastrously under-equipped and under-staffed, has callously and incompetently failed to act to stop the spread of the virus until it was well underway, and is undoubtedly already considering how it can best foist the bill for the economic collapse that this has triggered onto working-class people. But rather than going on the offensive, Starmer instead used his victory speech to essentially call for increasing unity with the government.

He is quoted as saying: “In the national interest, the Labour Party will play its full part. Under my leadership, we will engage constructively with the government. Not opposition for opposition’s sake… but with the courage to support when that’s the right thing to do”.

No to the ‘national unity’ trap

But there is no unity of interests between the working-class people suffering deeply as a result of this crisis and the capitalist and billionaire class whom the Tories exist to represent. Millions of key workers are currently keeping our society going despite years of pay restraint and cuts. They are being forced to do so with inadequate protective equipment, in underfunded services that are on their knees. For Starmer to use his victory speech to pledge to work ‘constructively’ with those responsible for this dire situation, rather than to be rigorously holding them to account for these failings and mobilising a fightback, speaks to the real essence of his political approach.

Starmer is not Corbyn in a smarter suit as some have attempted to claim. More sharply than perhaps any other issue could have, his response to the Covid crisis reveals the true character of his politics. His agenda in this election was to once again make Labour ‘safe’ for capitalism. Right now, that aim demands an approach that helps guard against the potential for mass revolt that exists as a result of the Coronavirus crisis – a crisis severely exacerbated by 30 years of neoliberal capitalism. It requires him to essentially stand with and act as a shield for the Tories. And that is a role which he appears all too willing to play.

We should expect that, in attempting to make the party ‘safe’ again, Starmer will move towards purging the party internally of all the remnants of Corbynism. There will not only be, for example, a firm block placed on any moves towards open selection of MPs. It is likely that he will also move to rapidly escalate a witch-hunt against Corbyn supporters who remain within Labour.

Sir Keir is a solid figure of the establishment and a millionaire, making him an obvious candidate of the capitalist class. In the final days of the leadership campaign he was even endorsed by George Osborne, the former Tory Chancellor. The bosses’ press claim that, unlike Corbyn, he is ‘electable’. They of course placed Labour’s defeat in the recent general election firmly at the door of Corbyn and the party’s left manifesto.

In reality Labour’s policies on pay, public services and nationalisation were overwhelmingly popular and with a more dynamic and focused campaign, the advances Labour made in 2017 could have laid the basis for victory in 2019. A key factor in Labour’s failure lay in the high profile and even front bench figures, including Starmer, who undermined Corbyn and attempted to shift Labour’s position towards support for a second Brexit referendum. This played a central part in the collapse of the Labour vote in areas which had voted Leave in 2016 and the loss of key seats in the North West, North East and East Midlands. Many Corbyn supporters will rightly feel, with some bitterness, that Starmer was in fact a chief architect of Labour’s election defeat, who now as a result inherits the crown.

Although Long Bailey was clearly the closest to a ‘continuity’ Corbyn candidate, her campaign was not helped by her denial that she in fact was. In the course of the campaign enthusiasm for her candidature waned, despite some promising signs where she has correctly talked about supporting workers in struggle and open selection But overall, her approach was deeply defensive, based on an acceptance of large parts of the anti-Corbyn narrative being pushed by the Blairites and their allies in the capitalist press.

There were no mass rallies (the majority of the campaign was conducted prior to the Covid-19 lockdown) and little enthusiasm amongst many of the people who had previously supported Corbyn. This was compounded by a whole number of concessions that were made to the right.

Many on the left of the party feared she would drift to the right under pressure, and this impression was confirmed by her decision to accept the ‘ten pledges’ demanded by the right-wing British Board of Jewish Deputies in relation to antisemitism. This included accepting a definition of antisemitism which could be used against those who criticise the Israeli state, and promising to hand control of disciplinary procedures to an outside body, rather than an elected committee within the Labour Party. Long-Bailey, from the start, should have twinned commitments to fighting antisemitism with a rejection of any idea that the Board are the sole representatives of Jewish people in Britain and exposing the right-wing’s exploitation of it for political gain.

An alliance with Richard Burgon, rather than Angela Rayner, who despite the impression of being a left candidate, is actually a stalwart of the right would have given voters a clearer ‘left vs right’ choice of the team they wanted to lead the party.

Starmer’s victory will undoubtedly shift the balance of forces on the NEC and in the party apparatus.There will be a battle for the left to retain its slender hold on the NEC and it is possible that key figures such as Leader’s Office Director Karie Murphy and Party General Secretary Jennie Formby will be replaced, along with others. The Blairite wing of the party will be looking to grab control, reverse the gains the left has made, and extract vengeance.

Their thinking was revealed in published advice to Starmer from John McTernan, Tony Blair’s Director of Operations from 2005-07:

Continuity Corbynistas like Rebecca Long Bailey and Richard Burgon must be exiled to the back benches for the rest of their parliamentary careers, which should be as brief as possible. Victory has to be absolute.”

McTernan clearly has Unite general secretary Len McCluskey in his sights too: “Until Unite has a sensible leader you will not be as secure as you should be.” Tony Blair once said about party discipline: “You only have to break one of their legs, not both of them.” Actually, the trick is to make people believe you are willing to break their legs’.

The viciousness of these remarks is a reminder to the left of the hatred the pro-capitalist Blairites harbour towards us – something which we have pointed out continuously, calling on Corbyn to take democratic measures against the Blairites, such as mandatory reselection, understanding that no amount of ‘reason’ would placate them.

The right’s approach is to protect big business at all costs, under the guise of appearing ‘statesman-like’. There have already been calls for the new leader to join in a ‘government of national unity’. It would be disastrous for any Labour leader to join a government which has systematically run down the health service and attacked the conditions of working-class people consistently over the past decade – and which is now being exposed.

It’s possible Starmer may not move immediately in that direction. He could even hesitate to fully unleash a witch-hunt against the left, given the size of the mass membership and the respect and loyalty many feel for the departing Corbyn and his heritage, though the scale of this victory could make a cautious approach by Starmer more unlikely. The Blairites will be cock-a-hoop and confident that they can turn the clock back.

To actually resist this, it would be necessary for the left to fully abandon the utterly failed approach of the leadership of Momentum and other parts of the leadership of the Labour. Since 2015, these figures counselled retreat in the face of attack. They argued for conciliation with the right – which.did not once relent in its hostility towards Corbyn nor in its, ultimately successful, attempts at sabotage. Only if the left inside and outside Labour, including in the trade unions, were reorganised on a clear fighting basis, with a socialist programme, would it be possible to push back against the march to the right. Anything short of this will fail.

Indeed, it is not a principle that political representation for working-class people in Britain must come through the Labour Party. In fact, the elevation of this idea to a fundamental was one of the weaknesses of Corbyn’s approach.

Lessons for the Labour left and the wider workers’ movement

We must be emphatic that socialist policies must not be either abandoned or soft-pedalled. It is only by clearly arguing for socialist policies that we can begin to address the enormities of the climate crisis, the Covid-19 outbreak and the looming recession.

In fact, Corbyn’s programme did not go nearly far enough. The coronavirus crisis is starkly revealing the inability of the market, despite all humanity’s technological achievements, to produce and distribute what is necessary to meet human need – hampered as it is by the demands of profit. Only a full socialist programme – demanding public ownership of the major banks and monopolies that dominate our economy, and democratic working-class control to allow the planning that’s needed to properly provide for everyone – is an adequate response to this crisis.

Nor is it the case that the left must build bridges to the right, as John McDonnell mistakenly thought when jokingly offering to go for a friendly cup of tea with Peter Mandelson. Quite the opposite.

The right within Labour is organised through half a dozen different organisations – Progress, Labour First etc. Working-class people need an organisation which can drive forward the struggle for a party that gives voice to, opens its ranks to, and provides a lead to, the trade unionists, social movements, community activists and young people who will enter the road of struggle against the Johnson government. We should be prepared that, in order to win consistent and democratic political representation for working-class people, it will be necessary to decisively break with the Labour right. This is something which could ultimately necessitate the founding of a new party for workers should the right’s grip on the apparatus and structures of Labour become consolidated, as seems increasingly likely.

Momentum played a role in mobilising for mass canvasses last year and in 2017, but overall the left has been ill-served by its leader, Jon Lansman’s disastrous strategy of engaging in organisational manoeuvring, conciliation with the right and retreat on key questions, rather than open political struggle against the Blairites.

The leadership of Momentum, as well as rightwards-moving ‘lefts’ such as Paul Mason have shown themselves completely incapable of charting a way forward -and their role should not be forgotten. It has been an unfortunate trait of the large sections of the left in the Labour Party, and sadly we have to include Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Rebecca Long-Bailey in this, that they have failed to mobilise the mass membership to defeat the right wing, falsely seeking ‘unity’ with the right wing. This policy has helped paved the way for the victory of Starmer.

Within the Parliamentary Labour Party there will be a small, but potentially hardened and more forceful left. Richard Burgon’s campaign sharply raised the issues of public ownership of some of the privatised utilities, party democracy and denounced the 2016 ‘chicken coup’ plotters to great applause. However he did not commit to public ownership of the banks and other financial institutions, whilst also not being clear on the issue of Labour councils and the need to fully resist the cuts. Left MPs such as Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana will need to discuss urgently how a rightward march in Labour can be resisted and organised against.

In the wake of the election defeat, and the crowning of a new ‘centrist’ – in reality, right-wing – Labour leader there will be much soul-searching in the Labour Party and some will leave the party in despair. While a battle will undoubtedly continue within the Party, with many good lefts doing what they can to stand against a Blairite counter-revolution, it is clear that for many workers and young people seeking to fight Tory austerity, and capitalism’s deep health, climate and economic crises, Labour under Starmer will appear far less appealing as a vehicle for struggle and change.

What is most important is that activists draw the correct socialist conclusions from the experience: that Corbyn’s leadership lost out, not due to any excess of socialist policies, but because it stopped half way in the struggle to transform Labour into a mass fighting socialist party.

The short-lived era of “Corbynism”, represented both at the head of the Labour Party and in the historic Leftward shift among the hundreds of thousands of young people and workers who it inspired, will leave a lasting impact. While many will be disappointed, even demoralised, countless ‘Corbynistas’ of 2015-2020 will surface in the months and years to come as class and community fighters, amid the storms of the current capitalist crisis.

Crucial in the next period, will be the building up of a revolutionary socialist core, which understands the need to break with the drastically failing capitalist system, and the need to fight for the transformation of society. We believe that Socialist Alternative offers an analysis, a programme and perspective that addresses the multiple crises our world faces and we urge you to join us.

Covid-19 what we say: don’t let workers pay for a crisis of capitalism’s making

In 2008-09 the financial system of global capitalism collapsed. Banks, building societies and other financial institutions were bailed out, at the cost of trillions. Over the next ten years working people the world over were made to pay the cost of these bailouts, through swingeing austerity programmes which wrecked public services and imposed job losses and benefit cuts.

This must not happen again over Coronavirus. Working-class people must not be made to pay again for the crisis in the system. Once bitten, twice shy!

No-one knows yet how Coronavirus originated but it didn’t need to develop into a pandemic. Capitalist governments have failed to protect us. In China and Iran they hid the initial outbreak so as not to disrupt prestigious events. In the US they were in denial – Trump called it a ‘hoax’, then tried to blame ‘this foreign virus’ on the Chinese! Millions of Americans without health insurance will be more concerned about whether they can afford a visit to the doctor. And in the UK the Tory government has systematically run down the health service, has failed to invest in intensive care beds and ventilators, failed to recruit to the tens of thousands of vacant posts, failed to provide protective equipment for healthcare staff. Their criminal decisions to put economic activity ahead of public health, by resisting widespread pressure for school closures, will cost lives. Never again must the Tories be entrusted with government.

No employee should face a choice between feeding their family and staying off work ill or in self-isolation. Workers – who mustn’t need to unnecessarily burden their overstretched GP – must be able to self-certificate on full pay from day one. Coronavirus absence must not be part of any sickness monitoring schemes and disciplinary processes linked to absence should be suspended. Where workers are too sick to work, or have been laid off, rent and mortgage arrears must be written off. The three-month ban on evictions is welcome but it must be extended indefinitely.

Students who are now missing their second semester should not be charged fees for lectures which didn’t take place. Many will return to family homes and their accommodation costs should be written off also. We should go further and use this opportunity to abolish university fees altogether, we need free higher education to develop the talents of our young people and find solutions to this and other crises.

It’s not the fault of workers that businesses are closing down. For some like hotels and restaurants the loss of customers is obvious; in others the virus may not be the problem but is being used as the excuse. Six months ago Honda announced job losses and blamed Brexit but in reality they were relocating other plants to Japan as part of a business strategy; what’s to say the capitalists aren’t just cost-cutting under cover of the virus? Whether they are or not we need to see their accounts. Even with an airline which has grounded its fleet due to travel bans: how much profit did they make last year? What resources do they have in the bank? Share out the available work with no loss of pay.

The big companies declaring redundancies should be subject to trade union scrutiny and they should be taken into public ownership under democratic workers control and management, while smaller companies should receive grants to stay in business. On a global scale private so-called enterprise has failed us. The vehicle manufacturers have lied about the particulates their cars spew out; people who live in highly polluted areas suffer lung damage which makes the virus more likely to be serious or fatal. Big pharma failed to continue the vital research into coronavirus which they began at the time of the SARs outbreak; now we are expected to wait a year or more for a vaccine. We need to fight for an end to capitalism and build a new society based on public ownership and the democratic control of workers who can make the right decisions for the health and wellbeing or the peoples of the world.

Middle East and North Africa – Revolution and Counter Revolution

The Middle East and North Africa are aflame once more. Egypt is racked by demonstrations and over 2000 protestors have been arrested; Cairo was brought to a standstill for a day at the end of September, and now an electrical appliance factory employing 3000 is on strike. The Iraqi regime faces daily street protests despite the shooting of nearly 100 demonstrators. Significantly the demonstrations are not of a sectarian character and have united Shia and Sunni alike in opposition to the corrupt and ineffectual government, with demands for jobs, public services like electricity, and an end to cronyism.

The overthrow in April 2019 of the dictatorships of Bouteflika in Algeria and Omar al-Bashir in Sudan, within a week of each other, is further living proof of the willingness to struggle of the workers, the urban poor and especially the youth.

Protesters fill Iraq’s Tahrir Square FPP [CC BY-SA 4.0 (]


In 2010-11 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) imposed drastic terms on the Arab regimes in the aftermath of the financial crash of 2008-09. Privatisations, reduced subsidies for bread and other staples, stiffer loan repayments, along with the violent repression of the most basic rights of expression by hefty State apparatuses, all combined to drive the masses onto the streets, especially the youth. This was the trigger for the so-called Arab Spring, a generalised uprising of workers, women and youth against dictatorships in the Middle East and across North Africa.

The movement began in Tunisia, sparked by the self-immolation of an impoverished street vendor, but was driven by the powerful trade union movement – despite the latter’s corrupt leadership – and it removed the dictator Ben Ali. In Yemen and Egypt too dictators fell; in Bahrein a three-month state of emergency ensued. Notwithstanding ethnic and religious differences across the region every country felt the force of the movement. Everywhere there were strikes, demonstrations and occupations. The movement gave hope to millions, and not just in the Middle East itself.

However, in the absence of clear Marxist leadership, the revolutionary upsurge gave way to counter-revolution. Mubarak in Egypt was replaced by Morsi, to be followed by Sisi and his generals, each regime more repressive than its predecessor. In Syria a powerful uprising degenerated into a vicious sectarian civil war, exacerbated by the intervention of a wide range of competing foreign powers, causing deaths and displacement on a monumental scale. In Libya too a civil war over eight years has left the country prey to warlords and militias. For a period the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) threatened to overrun the region in its attempts to establish a caliphate, eradicate all opposition and expunge democratic rights. Only in Tunisia has it been possible to retain some of the democratic gains in the 2011 movement. Until April 2019, that is, when Algeria and Sudan exploded.


The movements in Algeria and Sudan have reasserted the tremendous potential power of the working class. Although numerically small, the Sudanese working class has a rich tradition of struggle, and has experienced three revolutions since 1964. It is no coincidence that the cradle of the movement in Sudan was in Atbara, an industrial city in north-eastern Sudan that had been the birthplace of the country’s trade union movement and a past stronghold of the Communist Party. The Algerian working class occupies a strategic position, as one of the strongest in the region, alongside the Tunisian workers, and on the African continent as a whole. It was the two general strikes in March which created the splits in the ruling class and prompted the withdrawal of their support from Bouteflika.

Since the fall of Bouteflika and al-Bashir workers in both countries have sought to wrest their unions from the hands of previous supporters of the regime. In Algeria opposition within the trade unions forced their leader Sidi Saïd, friendly to the old regime, to declare that he would not stand for re-election. In Sudan attempts to resurrect unions that had been ruthlessly repressed by al-Bashir’s regime are under way, for example, with the railway workers in Atbara, the dockers in Port Sudan, and the workers of the Central Bank of Sudan.

A key feature of the Sudanese movement has been the formation of revolutionary committees (‘resistance committees’). They first appeared in 2013 during an upsurge in protests against the regime and spread throughout Sudan in the spring, sometimes absorbing workers’ strike committees. The bloody repression on 3rd June gave a further impetus to their creation, as a means of defence against the infamous Janjaweed militias, as did the suspension of the Internet, which forced activists to rely on physical face-to-face contact, distribute leaflets by hand etc. These committees are of enormous significance and will certainly be watchful of the compromises which the middle class leadership of the Sudanese Professional Association has made with the military council, and in mobilising against any future attempts at repression.

The reaction of the Algerian ruling class has been more circumspect. The armed forces, who fought an unspeakably vicious war against Islamists in the 1990s, are known for their brutality but have been reluctant to intervene for fear of provoking an even more powerful mass movement. Lahouari Addi, a sociologist of Algeria at University of Lyon, also highlighted another important reason behind the military command’s restraint: “because they are not sure their troops will be loyal to them”. However there can be no question of placing any faith in the armed forces, in Algeria, Sudan or anywhere else. This was one of the main mistakes in the revolution in Egypt, the idea that the ‘army is the friend of the people’. In the last analysis the army is a tool of the ruling class, trained to obedience and repression. What is required is to win over the ranks of the army, and even the low-ranking officers, from support for the regime by a clear programme of democratic rights and social change, assemblies in the armed forces, and a determined lead on the streets and squares.

Algeria and Sudan have shown that the revolutionary processes in society cannot simply be repressed out of existence but will re-surface, often on a higher level before because of popular consciousness of previous false steps.


The region as a whole is marked by dire poverty and unemployment, especially among the youth. These are youthful societies; the median age (half the population below, half above) in Sudan is 18.9 yrs, in Egypt 24.3 yrs. Unemployment rates of 20-25% are not uncommon, rising to 40% among young people. The IMF itself has predicted annual growth of only 1.3% for the Middle East and North Africa in 2019, which would not even be enough to absorb the 2.8 million additional youth entering the job market every year.

Immigration no longer offers a way out. 70% of young Moroccans want to leave their homeland but the EU’s ‘Fortress Europe’ policy makes a legal route impossible and the alternative routes are only available for those with thousands of dollars and at appalling risk. The tourism industry along the Mediterranean has been badly affected by Islamic fundamentalists’ attacks; this has hit Egypt and Tunisia particularly hard, and the latter has received a further blow in the failure of Thomas Cook, which had a near monopoly on Tunisian hotel resorts. The spectre of economic recession in Europe will squeeze workers in this sector further. The prevalence of the ‘black economy’, especially smuggling, offers only insecurity and the possibility of arrest. The formerly middle class professions, for which many of the unemployed graduates are supposedly being prepared – journalism, medicine, teaching – are increasingly proletarianised, indeed it is teachers who have often led the way in strikes against the regime, as in Algeria, and recently in Jordan, where over 100,000 schoolteachers have struck for four weeks and won pay rises of between 25 and 75%. There is no prospect of stability; even Tunisia, the supposed ‘success story’ of the capitalist commentators, has seen eight governments in ten years, the recent elections have paved the way for an even more fragmented parliament, and incidents of self-immolation have increased threefold in recent years, a sure sign of a new level of desperation, greater even than 2010.


None of the rival imperialisms which bestride the region, nor their various clients, are capable of ensuring the peaceful development of the resources in the Middle East and North Africa for the benefit of the masses. Moreover there is not a ruling class anywhere prepared to stand up to imperialism. There are only rulers – sheikhs, generals, bankers, corrupt bureaucrats – whose recurring nightmare is that the workers, urban poor, small farmers and youth will cast aside ethnic and religious differences and rise up against them. And they are right, because this is what happened in Algeria and Sudan earlier this year.

The working class is key. Wars, climate change and rural poverty are driving the population into the cities, where the greater social weight of the proletariat is keenly felt. Intermediate layers – small farmers, market traders, government employees – are increasingly being driven down into the ranks of the working class. In every country imperialism has created industrial zones where workers are herded into factories, often much larger than those in the UK, to produce at a fraction of European labour costs. Across the region dockers, railway workers, bus drivers, oil refinery workers have the power to paralyse the economy. A combative working class, with a clear programme and demands, can cut across religious and ethnic divisions, and can draw other oppressed classes to it, welding them into a force for socialist change.

The International Socialist Alternative has sections in Israel-Palestine, Tunisia and Turkey. We aim to build sections across the Middle East and North Africa to provide vital leadership to the workers and oppressed masses. This is what we stand for:


  • opposition to imperialism, NATO and the UN. There are no solutions under capitalism
  • no UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia, Israel or any pro-capitalist regimes in the region
  • the right of self-determination of the Kurds
  • for an independent socialist Palestine, in the context of a two-state solution on a socialist basis solidarity with non-sectarian movements of workers and dispossessed
  • for democratic trade unions, free of government control, and for mass workers’ parties
  • a voluntary socialist federation of the Middle East and North Africa


The legacy of imperialism

Imperialism, initially UK and French imperialism, bears a heavy responsibility for the nightmare in the Middle East.

Up to a hundred years ago, under the Ottoman Empire centred on Turkey, different religious and ethnic communities largely co-existed peacefully, with little conflict between Shia, Sunni, Jews, Greeks, Kurds, Christians, Druze and many others. But the post WW1 settlement carved up the region into newly formed states and spheres of influence, with Britain dominant in Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, France in Syria and Lebanon.

Both imperialist countries ruled by fostering sectarian division and playing one community off against another. Under French influence the state apparatus and armed forces in Syria, a predominantly Sunni country, almost exclusively originated from the Shi-ite Alawite population. Britain, in the famous Balfour declaration, promised a homeland for the Jewish people which, when the state of Israel was established in 1948, led to the forced displacement of millions of Arabs who, decades later, fester in refugee camps in Jordan, Lebanon and elsewhere, a permanent source of resentment and conflict.

Arab nationalism and the Soviet Union

After WW2 the rise of Arab nationalism appeared to offer a way forward for the impoverished masses in a region rich in oil. Monarchies toppled throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Army and air force officers seized power in coup and counter-coup. Left nationalists began to assert themselves against imperialism. Similar processes were underway in non-Arab Iran, with the coming to power of Mossadeq in 1951 who nationalised the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, until he was deposed in a British-engineered coup two years later. In Egypt Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal in 1956 and there Was even an attempt to overcome the barriers of the nation state through a United Arab Republic embracing Egypt and Syria. This attempt failed but the nationalist regimes, in their conflicts with imperialism, were forced to seek assistance from the Soviet Union which had emerged strengthened from the war.

A weakened Britain and France progressively withdrew from the region, with the French finally defeated after a bloody war in Algeria. US imperialism stepped into their place, terrified of the growing influence of the USSR, which was offering aid for development projects, training armed forces and establishing military bases. More importantly, the Soviet Union offered an economic and social model which appeared attractive to the colonels and lieutenants: nationalisation to modernise the economy, a powerful military and security apparatus, and a one-party state. In some countries, notably Syria and Ethiopia, it looked for a period as if capitalism had virtually been snuffed out, but the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 reversed that trajectory.