On 30 November, London’s Royal National Hotel is set to be the venue for the founding conference of yet another self-proclaimed party, purporting to represent the interests of working people in Britain.
Since making an initial appeal in March, Left Unity claims, in a letter published in the Guardian on 12 August, that “more than 9,000 people have signed up and more than 100 local groups have been established across the country”. (‘Left Unity ready to offer an alternative’)
Sounds impressive – and at least in part this apparent surge in support does reflect the mass and growing sentiment for what Left Unity’s self-appointed leaders describe as “a genuine alternative to the austerity policies which the three main parties support”.
However, this apparent support is as genuinely shallow as it is apparently wide. First, it is based on the most flimsy of bases – namely, an appeal to “all those who are sick of austerity and war, who want to defend the NHS and our public services, and want to see a fairer Britain, to join us”.
Secondly, much of the claimed support is of the Facebook type – but clicking ‘Like’ is a long way away from building a viable party.
As a result, much of this claimed support will not survive the first puff of a gentle late autumn breeze, let alone the harsh gales of the class struggle.
Similar vacuity is to be found in the prescription offered by the authors of the above-quoted Guardian letter, with their call: “We urgently need a new party of the left. Labour will not provide the opposition to coalition policies that the situation demands. We need to provide a genuine alternative to the austerity policies which the three main parties support. A party that is socialist, environmentalist, feminist and opposed to all forms of discrimination.”
Their letter begins: “This summer will be remembered for Labour’s final betrayal of the working-class people it was founded to represent. Not content with signing up to Conservative austerity measures that are dragging Britain’s most vulnerable people deeper into poverty, Ed Miliband has turned his back on the union members who supported his leadership bid.”
In other words, a petty spat between Ed Miliband and his chief bankroller, Unite’s Len McCluskey, takes precedence over a century of Labour’s betrayal of the working class and oppressed people at home and abroad and over the blood of millions of people slaughtered in Labour’s imperialist wars, from Malaya to Korea, from Aden to Ireland, and from Yugoslavia to Afghanistan to Iraq.
In analysing Left Unity therefore, it is necessary to focus less on its claimed 9,000 ‘Facebook friends’ and more on the small group of people driving this initiative.
Who is behind Left Unity?
The original impetus came from new husband and wife team Kate Hudson and Andrew Burgin. Both are prominent members of the Stop the War Coalition (and its semi-secretive ‘officers group’), while Kate is best known for being the current (paid) general secretary of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and previously its (unpaid) chair.
Like her predecessors in CND, Kate used this position to propagate bourgeois pacifism to the working class (‘disarm yourselves while the ruling class gets tooled up’) and to denounce progressive countries like the DPRK for pursuing modern technology (satellites) and choosing to arm themselves in the face of the ever-present threat of imperialist attack.
A former London District Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), in its final dying days, she has since served stints in the Communist Party of Britain (CPB), Socialist Action and Respect.
Her stint in George Galloway’s Respect was something of a whirlwind romance. Joining together with Andrew just after their marriage, she was almost immediately installed as the party’s parliamentary candidate in a Manchester by-election, only to withdraw her candidature, whilst insisting she would stay a party member, following the furore caused by some unfortunate remarks made by George on the subject of rape in the context of his commenting on the politically-inspired charges being levelled at WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
But the pledge to stay and fight in Respect did not last long once she and Andrew discovered that they had been removed from the National Committee. Kate has long been known to be fascinated by the idea of regrouping diverse sections of the left in Europe into broad-front parties, following the collapse of the European socialist countries, and has published two books on this subject. She and Andrew are apparently particularly impressed by the recent strong electoral showing of Greece’s Syriza – and the belief that this can somehow be replicated here has impelled the launch of Left Unity.
Whilst our party is crystal clear on the fact that it is only a vanguard party firmly schooled in and equipped with the science of revolution, Marxism Leninism, that can lead the proletariat and its allies to victory in its struggle against exploitation and oppression, we are by no means opposed to united fronts on particular questions or to unity in struggle in pursuit of agreed objectives and against common enemies.
But, as indeed flows inexorably from this, there has to be at least some minimum benchmark against which such matters can be evaluated. In the case of the first initiators of Left Unity, the hopelessness, and indeed often the venality, of Stop the War and CND notwithstanding, a clear rejection of all imperialist wars would not seem to be too much to ask for.
Alas, right from the start, Left Unity has failed that most basic test. Surrounding themselves with a familiar cast of ‘luvvies’, Kate and Andrew promptly secured the support of veteran film director Ken Loach (notorious for his Land and Freedom, a disgraceful anti-communist film, maligning the Spanish Republic and the heroic International Brigades), and, a little later, China Miéville, a popular science-fiction writer and one of a considerable number of people to have recently decamped from the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP) following the rape allegations directed at one of its leading members. (Ironically, the SWP had used Galloway’s remarks on the same subject in an attempt to excoriate him. Its own actions in dealing with the allegations were clearly much worse.)
However, this is by no means the worst. Also climbing on the bandwagon has been the Trotskyite sectlet Socialist Resistance, whose own passion for ‘left regroupment’ is driven by the classic Trot modus operandi of a parasite needing a host – or ‘entryism’, as it is often grandly called.
Thanks to the disastrous tie-up with Socialist Resistance, the third signatory, along with Kate Hudson and Ken Loach, to Left Unity’s initial appeal (as well as subsequently, for example, in the above-quoted Guardian letter) was one Gilbert Achcar, a professor of middle-eastern studies at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), and, more importantly, a rabid proponent of imperialist war against Libya and Syria, and a man who bears and shares political responsibility for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people in those dirty wars of aggression.
War criminal Achcar
These are, of course, strong charges – so, distasteful as it will undoubtedly be for our readers, we intend to fully condemn Achcar in his own words.
Faced with some limited exposure of his political crimes by others on the left, Achcar has resorted to obfuscation, denial and lies, pompously declaring: “I will not waste my time and that of the readers in reminding them here of what I really stood for.”
But the pompous professor cannot dismiss the working-class movement as airily as an undergraduate attempting to submit a late essay. It is a matter of fact that Achcar has not only supported (or as he has sometimes disingenuously put it “refused to oppose”) wars of aggression; he has also provided advice and huddled together in conclave with the intelligence assets of US and French imperialism to discuss the prosecution of those wars.
In March 2011, two days after the passage of UN Resolution 1973, which led to the unleashing of a war of massive proportions against Libya, Achcar published an interview praising that war as a humanitarian operation, aimed at preventing a massacre of civilians in Benghazi.
While noting that “there are not enough safeguards in the wording of the resolution to bar its use for imperialist purposes”, Achcar said: “But given the urgency of preventing the massacre that would inevitably have resulted from an assault on Benghazi by Gaddafi’s forces, and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose it … You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians.”
In another article, he wrote: “If Gaddafi were permitted to continue his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre”; and “from an anti-imperialist perspective one cannot and should not oppose the no-fly zone, given that there is no plausible alternative for protecting the endangered population”.
Of course, the only massacre that did occur was the one unleashed by imperialism, cheered on and encouraged by Achcar, who, as we shall see below, essentially confined his criticism of the imperialists to their apparently not being bestial enough.
He went on to describe the rats, who very shortly became notorious for their racist massacres of black Libyans, and who, directed and abetted by imperialism, destroyed all the civilisational achievements of the Libyan people, built up over more than four decades, as “a mixture of human-rights activists, democracy advocates, intellectuals, tribal elements, and islamist forces – a very broad coalition … The bottom line is that there is no reason for any different attitude toward them than to any other of the mass uprisings in the region.”
Achcar repeatedly demanded that Nato funnel even more weapons to Libyan terrorist militias. Thus, in a largely sympathetic comment on Obama’s April 2011 speech on the war, he said the best way to “enable the uprising to win, in conformity with the Libyan people’s right to self-determination, is for the hypocritical western governments – who have sold a lot of weapons to Gaddafi since the arms embargo was lifted in October 2004, and Gaddafi turned into a model – to deliver arms to the insurgency”.
Finally, as Libyan government forces began to collapse under relentless Nato air strikes in August 2011, Achcar actually criticised Nato for not striking Libya harder!
He issued a statement citing right-wing Wall Street Journal columnist Max Boot’s observation that Nato warplanes had flown 11,107 sorties against Libya, but 38,004 sorties in the 1999 war against Yugoslavia.
He wrote: “The crucial question then is: why is Nato conducting an aerial campaign in Libya that is low-key not only in comparison with the air component of the war to grab similarly oil-rich Iraq, but even compared to the air war for economically unimportant Kosovo? And why is the alliance at the same time refraining from providing the insurgents with the weaponry they have consistently and insistently requested?”
In a more recent piece, Achcar sought to distort the facts surrounding his October 2011 meeting in Sweden with Burhan Ghalioun, the first chairman of the opposition Syrian Transitional National Council (SNC). During this meeting, he advised Ghalioun not to call for a Nato invasion of Syria – which would risk provoking mass popular opposition – but rather for “indirect” intervention to arm opposition forces.
In the event, this is exactly the policy that Nato and its regional stooges ultimately pursued, arming the SNC and other islamist opposition forces, including some tied to al-Qaeda, leading to a terrible war in which the Syrian people have suffered bitterly.
Subsequently, Achcar has denounced as a “canard” claims that “I took part in a meeting of the Syrian National Council (whereas it was actually a meeting of the left-wing National Coordination Council) in order to urge them to call for an imperialist intervention in Syria (whereas my contribution to the meeting was dedicated to exactly the opposite)”.
His denial is simply rubbish and lies. He himself publicly announced that he had met with Ghalioun and described his advice to the SNC in an article published in November 2011 in the Lebanese daily Al Akhbar. The French Trotskyite New Anti-Capitalist Party (NPA) reposted the article, as did the English-language website International Viewpoint, the journal of the wing of the Trotskyite Fourth International which Achcar, the NPA and Socialist Resistance all adhere to.
In this article, he wrote: “I was able to attend the meeting of the Syrian opposition that was held on 8-9 October in Sweden, near the capital, Stockholm. A number of male and female activists operating in Syria and abroad joined with prominent figures from the Syrian Coordination Committee (SNC – who had come from Syria for the event) in the presence of the most prominent member of the Syrian National Council – its president, Burhan Ghalioun.”
Achcar can lie all he wants, but the evidence of his crimes is splattered all over the internet, in his own words.
In April this year, he gave an interview to Amandla (a leftist South African publication opposed to the ANC and the South African Communist Party) calling for the arming of the Syrian terrorists:
“As in Libya, it [Washington] refuses to deliver weapons to the insurgency despite insistent requests … The truth is that the war has dragged on much longer than it might have, had the insurgency received weapons.”
He continued: “Every general rule admits of exceptions. This includes the general rule that UN-authorised military interventions by imperialist powers are purely reactionary ones, and can never achieve a humanitarian or positive purpose.”
Writing in the Lebanese Al Akhbar, he advised the Syrian counter-revolutionaries as to how they might best secure foreign intervention:
“The Syrian opposition must define a clear stance on the issue of foreign military intervention, since it is clear that its position has a major influence on whether or not intervention might take place. The reluctance regarding direct intervention that we see today on the part of western and regional states might change tomorrow if intervention requests made on behalf of the Syrian opposition were to increase.
“It was the Libyan National Council’s request for international military intervention at the beginning of March that paved the way for the similar request issued by the Arab League, and the subsequent resolution of the UN Security Council. Had the Libyan opposition opposed direct military intervention in all its forms (instead of just opposing intervention on the ground and requesting air support, as it did), the Arab League would not have sought intervention nor would such action have been sanctioned by the UN.”
By 1 September, following the vote in the British parliament against taking overt military action in Syria (see separate article in this issue), Achcar was at it again. Writing on the Open Democracy website, he was at pains to appear to welcome the vote – but only because the type of military action he believed was being contemplated did not go far enough for his liking.
Writing as a “staunch opponent of the Syrian Baathist regime”, he stressed that he welcomed the vote “even though, on the face of it, the decision in this instance spared one of the most ruthless and murderous dictatorships”, but continued, referring to those parliamentarians who had voted against war:
“They did so not out of ‘pacifism’ for sure, let alone ‘anti-imperialism’, but for the same reason that made western opinion makers in their vast majority display a patent lack of sympathy for the cause of the Syrian popular uprising. This reason is above all the lack of confidence in the Syrian uprising, as US Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey openly confessed most recently.”
Let Professor Achcar continue:
“The third reason to welcome the parliamentary vote is the one most directly predicated on my resolute support to the Syrian popular uprising. The military action that is being contemplated by Washington is about dealing the murderous Syrian regime a few military blows in order to ‘punish’ it for the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
“I have hardly any doubt that the Syrian regime did resort to such weapons in its barbaric onslaught on the Syrian people … But this begs the question: is killing up to fifteen hundred people with chemical weapons more serious a crime than killing over a hundred thousand with ‘conventional’ weapons? Why then does Washington want to strike now suddenly after placidly watching the Syrian people being slaughtered, its country devastated, and survivors in the millions turned into refugees and displaced persons?
“The truth is that the forthcoming strikes are only intended as a means to restore the ‘credibility’ of the US and its allies in the face of an alliance of the Syrian, Iranian, and Russian governments that has taken full liberty in escalating the war on the Syrian people despite all US calls for compromise …
“These strikes will not help the Syrian people: they will increase the destruction and death toll without enabling the Syrians to get rid of their tyrant. They are not intended for this latter goal. In fact, Washington does not want the Syrian people to topple the dictatorship: it wants to force on the Syrian opposition a deal with the bulk of the regime, minus Assad …
“However, by denying the mainstream of the Syrian opposition the defensive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons that they have been requesting for almost two years, while Russia and Iran were abundantly purveying the Syrian regime with weapons (and recently with combatants from Iran and its regional allies), the US administration only managed to achieve two results: on the one hand, it has allowed the Syrian regime to keep the upper hand militarily and thus to believe that it can win; hence, the regime has had no incentive whatsoever to make any concessions …
“Had western powers really cared for the Syrian people – or even had Washington been more clever in creating the conditions for the compromise it has been seeking – it would have been easy for them to equip the Syrian opposition with defensive weapons, thus enabling the uprising to turn the tide of the war in such a way as to precipitate a break-up of the regime … It is this reality that refutes the argument of many well-meaning people that arms should be denied to the Syrian opposition because the death toll will be increased.”
He concluded his article with these words: “In the face of the horrible crimes being perpetrated by the Assad regime with the support of Russia, Iran and Iran’s allies, it is the duty of all those who claim to support the right of peoples to self-determination to help the Syrian people get the means of defending themselves.”
He further provided his own brief summary by means of a letter carried in the Evening Standard of 2 September, where he wrote:
“All Washington is contemplating, however, is dealing the Syrian regime a few hits to punish it for having used chemical weapons repeatedly. The message is thus: ‘You can carry on slaughtering your people but we forbid you to use weapons whose impact could cross your borders, harming our allies in Israel, Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon.’ Such strikes will merely increase the death toll without speeding up resolution of the conflict.
“The only way to achieve this latter goal is to equip the [mythical] mainstream secular opposition with the defensive anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons it has been requesting for almost two years.”
After this, doubtless tiresome and tortuous, digression through the depraved mind of Professor Achcar, one is surely entitled to ask: Of what possible benefit can a political outfit with such a criminal in one of its driving seats be to the working class?
In fact, Achcar’s ravings remind us of nothing so much as these never-to-be-forgotten words of JV Stalin:
“But it follows from this that present-day Trotskyism can no longer be called a political trend in the working class. Present-day Trotskyism is not a political trend in the working class but a gang without principle, without ideas, of wreckers, diversionists, intelligence service agents, spies, murderers, a gang of sworn enemies of the working class, working in the pay of the intelligence services of foreign states.” (‘Mastering Bolshevism’, report to the CC of the CPSU(B), 3 March 1937)
:: The People s Assembly must beware the Grand Old Duke of York, CPGB-ML leaflet (June 2013)