History repeats itself at The Hague

As much anticipated, the global summit at The Hague, called to debate the issue of pollution that causes global warming collapsed on 25th November. We were not alone in foreseeing the debacle – environmentalists had in fact warned months previous that the Hague round of talks would be doomed to failure for the same reasons we cited.

At its simplest, the meeting ended in disaster because European countries, headed by France, shunned an eleventh hour compromise brokered by John Prescott – the self appointed mediator between the US and the EU. If accepted, it would have necessitated the US ditching its plans to offset forests planted abroad against its domestic targets for the reduction of carbon emissions.

Throughout the talks the US insisted on a market for carbon trading – a plan which, if agreed upon, would have given the US the ‘right’ to pollute the planet at will. The details of this issue became increasingly confusing for many delegates, with European negotiators, opposed to a market approach, querying how such a set up could be regulated and without corruption. Neither were delegates from Sweden, France, Denmark and Germany calmed by the fact that Prescott had persuaded the US delegates that they could not buy ‘carbon credits’ by planting forests abroad.

Even if the compromise had have been agreed upon it would have had a negligible effect upon the main problem – the unwillingness of the US – presently producing 25% of global Carbon emissions – to check its insatiable appetite for gas.

Moreover, European delegates were upset that a second key stumbling block – the US insistence that forestry and agricultural changes at home be allowed to be counted as carbon credits – remained unresolved.

Throughout the conference and indeed during the three years it was in preparation the US sought to widen loopholes to undermine the Kyoto protocol. Many now think that with Bush in the White House – himself a fierce opponent of the Kyoto agreement – future compromises will be nigh on impossible.

Many delegates made the same criticism of the US, namely that the world’s most powerful country is reluctant to risk the campaign contributions it gets from oil firms nor to put in jeopardy its cosy relationship with the US corporate elite it represents.

The latter is indeed an indictment on a system that continually prioritises profit to the detriment of matters far more pressing. As Klaus Tapfer, executive director of the United Nations Environmental Programme informed the conference : “Climatic change is not a programme for the future, it is beginning now” (Independent, 26/11/00).

And the facts were well presented to the Hague meeting. For instance, that polar glaciers are retreating faster than in any period during the last 5,000 years; that the Arctic cap is half as thick as 25 years ago and that flooding and droughts have tripled in the past 10 years.

Robert Watson, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change presented a report to the conference which showed that global warming was happening twice as fast as previously thought, and further predicted that in coming years successive harvests would fail dramatically in India, Africa and Latin America, that diseases such as malaria would spread and that sea level rises would displace millions of people.

If capitalism is presently incapable of solving the more pressing problems faced by humanity, we can well ponder what a difficult time ahead we face in a world in which we are increasingly at the mercy of the elements.

For many, environmental issues are new. As socialists, forever scrutinising the effects of the capitalist mode of production, we have been aware of them for generations. In fact one of our spokespersons had this to say 125 years ago, a statement that well anticipated the discussions at The Hague:

“At every step we are reminded that we by no means rule over nature like a conqueror over a foreign people, like someone standing over nature – but that we, with flesh and blood and brain, belong to nature and exist in its midst, and that all our mastery of it consists in the fact that we have the advantage over all other creatures of being able to learn its laws and apply them correctly. We are gradually learning to get a clear view of the indirect, more remote social effects of our productive activity, and so are afforded the opportunity to control and regulate these effects well. This regulation, however, requires a complete revolution in our existing mode of production…in our whole contemporary social order” (Frederic Engel’s in Dialectics of Nature, 1875).



As I write, it is with the talks on climatic change in the Hague still in process and looking to last a further week, so I also write somewhat prophetically, albeit basing my judgement on previous knowledge of similar rounds of talks in recent years.

On June 28th 1997, The Guardian announced: “Earth Summit ends in failure.” Six months later, on 12th December 1997, it ran a related story: “Kyoto deal leaves US free to pollute.” On 16th November this year came the headline we well could have anticipated: “Climatic talks stalemate as EU rejects US forest plan.”

The current round of talks in The Hague are about the very agreement which, back in December of 1997, was hailed as a major advance when targets were set for industrialised countries for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. The problem now is over the issue of loopholes – well anticipated at Kyoto - which allows countries to avoid cutting back on carbon emissions.

Whilst the EU insists that countries should in the first instance cut back on fossil fuels, there is an umbrella group of countries – the US, Japan, Canada, New Zealand and Australia – which believe in alternative methods of ‘reducing ‘carbon dioxide emissions. The latter are taking the ‘flexibility mechanism’, allowed under the Kyoto Protocol, to new extremes. Instead of cutting their fossil fuel (carbon) emissions they buy carbon credits from countries that are not likely to exceed their carbon emission quota as laid down at Kyoto and thus continue to pollute as before.

As the quotas are based on 1990 levels of emissions, countries, for instance of the former USSR which since 1990 have seen a drastic reduction in heavy industry, are selling their unused entitlements to the US. In this respect even moralistic Britain is just as guilty of carbon trading as those countries it criticises, with the UK hoping to sell carbon dioxide it would have produced were the coal mines not closed.

George Monbiot, writing in The Guardian (16th November 2000), poignantly observers that in July, the UK “laid down £30 million to help private companies start bidding for each others’ reduced emissions. A research institute in the US calculates that the weather market will be worth $13 trillion by 2050.”

Whilst the EU insists the US must make at least half of its reduction from genuine energy cutbacks at home, the US is adamant that the loopholes it exploits must remain in place before it is prepared to sign up to any agreement to curb emissions. As well as the carbon trading loophole, there are indeed other loopholes and dodges the US and others are taking advantage of, such as ‘sinks’. As forests absorb carbon from the atmosphere, the US and other countries, now plant and indeed buy forests, at home and in other countries, and count the carbon this is estimated to save against their own emissions. This is already proving a lucrative business. One Malaysian logging firm is presently replacing the forests it depletes with new plantations and selling pollution permits to the US. Another loophole is to be found with countries paying for a project in a lesser developed country, with the aim of reducing carbon and counting it against their own emissions.

You name the dodge and the profit-greedy have thought of it. This includes feeding cattle, pigs and sheep new diets that help reduce the amount of methane they emit when they pass wind and pumping carbon dioxide into the ocean to be absorbed by the seas and sprinkling iron filings across the surface of the ocean to stimulate plankton growth (then calculate how much plankton dies and sinks to the bottom of the seam, taking the carbon with them, and claim credit for it).

The perennial problem is that countries are reluctant to promote the investment in more environmentally friendly methods of production and transport because their respective governments, being the executive arm of the capitalist class, prefer to bow with suppliant knee to powerful oil, coal, iron and steel lobbies, rather than openly acknowledge that we are ecologically fast approaching the point of no return.

When we consider that at Kyoto, it was announced that a global 60 per cent reduction in carbon emissions was necessary to maintain a stable climate, with the US asked to reduce their emissions by 7 per cent of 1990 levels (which would mean a 34 per cent reduction now), and that the US, with 4 per cent of the world’s population is currently responsible for 24 per cent of global carbon emissions, we get some idea of the pathos of the whole issue.

In spite of all the evidence that suggests that deforestation, present production and transport methods are primary responsible for climatic warning – the disappearing polar ice caps, global flooding, rising sea levels, vegetation dieback, the loss of thousands of species of life, and that the speed and scale of global warming has no precedent – the world’s governments still insist these wasteful, though profit-generating methods must remain. And this in spite of recent evidence from the hundreds of scientists that inform the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change that suggests the atmosphere will warm at twice the rate predicted 10 years ago – by 6C.

At the Rio Summit in 1992, at the Earth Summit in New York in June 1997 and at the Earth II Summit in Kyoto, Japan, six months later – all at which carbon emissions were the core issue – the delegates fought and bickered over deals that would best suit their respective paymasters, their countries reneging on the agreements they signed up to. If the Guardian quote for November 16th – published after only three days of talks – is anything to go by, then we can well expect this current round of talks to be another waste of time whilst providing us with further evidence that capitalism has long outlived its usefulness and that it is time to hand over control of the world to those who could best decide its future – a global socialist majority. That companies can get exited about the profits to be made from trading in pollution credits – whilst the planet we inhabit faces environmental catastrophe from pollution – says much about the insanity of the system we live in and very much begs the question: are you with us or against us?



Ariel Sharon’s untimely visit to Temple Mount on September 28th, with his entourage of 1,000 soldiers, was perhaps the final slap in the face for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who had suffered decades of poverty, degradation and discrimination since Israel annexed their land in the wake of a failed Arab invasion in 1967.

For the crimes of their forbears, the youth of Palestine have perhaps suffered the most at the hands of the Israeli state. Indeed, it is the Palestinian youth that have largely carried the new intifada and been its first victims.

The statistical injustices which are very much part of the present unrest speak for themselves. Since the start of the Oslo peace process seven years ago, Palestinian GNP has fallen by 35%, unemployment in some areas stands at 40% and the average income per head of the population living in Gaza and the West Bank is $1,500 (compared to $17,000 per head in Israel proper). The Israel/Palestine disparity is also echoed in access to land and water. Whilst Israel’s population of 6 million share 2.1 million hectares of land, with access to 2 billion cubic feet of water, the 3 million Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza share only 0.6 hectares of land and have access to a miserly 232 cubic metres of water. When it comes to other serious issues such as health housing and education, it is evident that Palestinians are very much second class citizens.

Moreover, since the Oslo round of talks, Israel has continued with a closure policy which has restricted movement from one part of Palestine to another – a freedom of movement guaranteed under the Oslo and Wye Valley agreements – and isolated towns and cities and further exacerbated Palestinian social and economic problems. Like the black South African resistance movement, engaged in an age long struggle against white minority rule, the stone-throwing youth of Palestine can perhaps be forgiven for perceiving their struggle to be one against a Middle Eastern form of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.

There is nothing exceptionally unique about the present crisis in the Middle East. For the Palestinians, it is a familiar tale about conflict over land and resources between an occupier and a subject people. But there is one significant difference here. This is an ‘occupation’ deemed illegal by the United Nations under resolutions 242 and 338 which call upon Israel to withdraw from the occupied territories.

And it is further an occupation sanctioned by the world’s only super power – regardless of the hypocritical cant mouthed by US peace brokers at the negotiation table. As Tim Llewellyn commented in The Observer of 15th October:

“The US of Bill Clinton and any foreseeable US of George W. Bush is the friend, mentor, armourer and financier of Israel, advocate, judge, progenitor and saviour of unilateral Israel’s rights and executioner of Palestinian aspirations.”

This is the US which allegedly plays an objective role at the negotiating table, whilst propping up the Israel state to the tune of $4 billion per year – money which is dressed up as aid, which is never accounted for and in breach of US legislation which outlaws the financing of a state with a covert nuclear weapons programme. Hence Senator Pat Buchanan’s remark that “Congress is Israeli occupied territory.”

For its part the US has invariably steered peace negotiations away from the UN whilst refraining from every opportunity to invite Israel’s European neighbours or the wider international community to the peace talks. Meanwhile, at the United Nations, the US has consistently sided with Israel, the two countries almost alone in opposing resolutions censorious of Israeli policy; the two countries siding, in fact, as sole opponents of a myriad pro-human rights resolutions. Little wonder, with so much US support Israel feels vindicated in invading Lebanon, bombing who and wherever it chooses, restricting the movement of Palestinians, annexing East Jerusalem and building settlements in areas that could only ever frustrate the peace process. With regards the latter, in the seven years since Oslo, Israel’s ‘illegal’ settler population in Gaza and the West Bank has increased from 110,000 to 195,000 – 60% of this increase in the West Bank. And for all Bill Clinton’s apparent eagerness to get the peace process back on track, it is clear that this is one outgoing president pursuing his own agenda, looking for a foreign policy success to lay before the US electorate in time for November’s presidential elections. Throughout his term in office, like his predecessors, Clinton and team have overtly and covertly worked the Middle East peace process to advance US-Israeli interests only.

Neither would it seem can Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO and heading the Palestine Authority, deliver the much hankered after peace. Arafat was the leader that so many Palestinians invested their hopes in, but like all ‘good’ leaders, he is at the mercy of those with even more power. In recent years there has been a growing image of Arafat as a puppet of Mossad and the CIA, whose reputation for corruption is not concealed by his life-long struggle against Israeli perpetrated injustice. Only three years ago, his own accountants were forced to admit that $400 million had gone astray. Out of his current budget, some 60% is dispersed by Arafat to his bureaucracy and security forces. Of the remainder only 2% goes to infrastructure. While he surrounds himself with a police force of 40,000, (a 33,000 increase since Oslo) prepared to arrest and detain anyone perceived as a threat – union leaders, human rights activists, those militants Israel deem a serious threat to their interests, his regime censoring a press critical of his ideas, and with the Fatah faction and the tanzim militia bent on a pro-Hamas line that Arafat seems reluctant to follow, Palestine is looking increasingly like a dictatorial regime inside a more repressive state in which those with the most to lose are those with the least.

In recent weeks we have witnessed the painful fractioning of society across the Palestine territories. Both sides of the religious/nationalist divide have organised into militias. In the increasing ‘lebanonisation’ of the region. Fatah commanders pursue a 1970’s agenda of all out war against Israel, whilst right-wing Jewish extremists refuse to acknowledge the rights of Palestinians in defiance of previous Israeli commitments. As we go to press in the wake of another US brokered deal in Egypt, the shallow trust it had taken seven years to build seems about to evaporate. Although ostensibly the basis for a ceasefire, as the ink was drying on the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement, the violence of the preceding weeks continues with Palestinian extremists still firing on Israeli soldiers and Israeli tanks still positioned at roadblocks and outside key Palestinian cities. Seven years after the Oslo round of negotiations and two years after the agreement at Wye Valley that saw the PLO detach itself from its promise to destroy the state of Israel, the prospects of peace in the wake of the latest agreement seem as distant as ever. As the editorial of The Guardian commented (18th October): “[the Sharm el-Sheikh agreement] is as fragile as a gossamer thread on a windy autumn’s day, and possibly just as transient.”

So where do socialists stand in all of this? When it comes to the nationalistic zeal and religious fervour of recent weeks, there is nothing at all with which we can identify, for both are abstractions that have imbued the workers of the region with a false consciousness that prevents them identifying their real interests. The label Jew or Moslem, Palestinian or Israeli do not camouflage the bigger and more permanent label of ‘working class’, a label most caught up in the present crisis could, if challenged, identify with. Though we have focused here on the Palestinian grievances against injustice, it is fair to add that the majority of Israel’s Jews are also exploited and degraded and live lives of relative poverty too, and within a system that depends on the exploitation of a global majority and their division for it continued survival. And as the warring camps in the Middle East continue to vent their hatreds we can only maintain that there is more that unites them as members of that exploited majority, with the same basic needs and desires than can ever divide them along religious or national lines. For the real conflict is yet to be waged – that between ourselves, the exploited, and the master class – though with ideas, not rifles and catapults.



It is a profound and tragic irony that diamonds, marketed in London, New York and Antwerp as the eternal symbol of love and beauty, are potent symbols of hate and disfigurement, misery and suffering to the millions of people in whose countries they are mined.

In Sierra Leone, Liberia, The Democratic republic of the Congo and Angola, the diamond trade has brought with it years of conflict and instability and the deaths and maiming of hundreds of thousands of Africans perceived as standing in the way of The lucrative profits the increasingly illicit trade brings.

The statistics speak for themselves. In Angola, between 1992 and 1997, Unita earned $3.7 billion from illegal diamond sales, helping them fuel a war in which 500,000 were killed. In under ten years of fighting, Jonas Savimbi built his rag-tag army up into one of the best armed irregular forces around, all thanks to diamonds he traded for state-of-the-art weaponry. In Sierra Leone, between 1991 and 1999, over 50,000 died and many more were maimed (their limbs hacked off with machetes) whilst government forces fought the rebel RUF over an illegal diamond industry worth over $200 million a year. And in nearby Liberia, between 1989 and 1997, 150,000 died as a result of a conflict fought over control of the diamond trade. Liberia, which incidentally has no significant diamond deposits of its own, nevertheless runs a $300 million plus diamond trade with the help of troops loyal to Sierra Leone’s RUF leader Foday Sankah. Such is the illicit global trade in diamonds that the US State Department believes it to be worth anything up to $7 billion a year.

The diamond trail usually starts in the dusty towns of Angola, in the Sierra Leonie wilderness or the jungle terrain surrounding Kisangani in the Congo, where half naked workers labour with pick, spade and drill, guarded by miniature and well-equipped armies. Small mine owners pass on their stones they unearth to local dealers, though not before the guards’ commanders have had their share, and likewise the local dealers have to make payment to the local militia leaders, who similarly have to pass a share to their seniors.

Immense armies can be spread over hundreds of thousands of miles of diamond rich land, providing safe passage to all prepared to pay the price, whilst governments and warlords sell concessions to mine, with concession purchasers selling them on to anyone keen on making a killing (no pun intended).

There are of course other key figures, albeit playing as low a profile as possible. They include Burkino Faso’s leader Blaise Compaore and Liberia’s Charles Taylor, who help speed smooth passage by circumventing the controls imposed by the UN and other regulatory bodies. Meanwhile, the governments of Uganda, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Zimbabwe provide military help to warlords in exchange for these little shiny stones and the right to mine them. In the case of the latter, critics of Robert Mugabe accuse him of donating 11,000 troops to the conflict in the Congo in return for diamond field concessions.

And of course there is the middle men who make the deals, find further safe passage for the diamonds to the western markets and supply the weapons that fuel the conflicts and ensure the diamonds keep coming.

Investigators working with the UN recognise a well organised international network of smuggling involving numerous west and southern African countries, with further links to freight companies supplying arms from the UAE to Bulgaria and the Ukraine. Whilst the RUF in Sierra Leone have been provided with former Soviet surface-to-air missiles, at the height of the Angolan war over twenty Ilyushin aircraft could be found landing on one airstrip each evening, each loaded with military hardware.

Whilst pressure groups, such as Global Witness, the UN and other diamond industry regulatory bodies try to introduce an ethical dimension into the trade, the dealers themselves fear their efforts will undermine consumer demand because of the diamond’s link with limbless children in West Africa. Provenance certificates, supposedly implying that this and that diamond has no blood on it have been suggested, but such a move would require the cooperation of bankers, brokers and buyers in Tel Aviv, Antwerp and Bombay – the three main diamond centres - and indeed the governments of several countries, including Liberia, who are only too happy to overlook the fact that a few hundred carats true cost is a child hobbling along on crutches and provide forged documents.

As Herbert Rowe, a political scientist specialising in African affairs at Georgetown University in Washington noted: “Even in the Cold War, superpowers did not allow the wholesale ripping up of the economy, the use of children as soldiers and attacks upon relief groups” (Guardian, 14th May, 2000). He is of course referring to countries like Sierra Leone, now the poorest country on earth and whose population has enjoyed no health or education system for 10 years, as a direct result of the mayhem that has been set loose because of the greed for the profits that diamonds bring.

Further anti-diamond trade measures have included a boycott of diamonds. But the truth is that – although the trade brings so much misery in its wake – the average piece of diamond-ladened jewellery on display in the local high street has only a 4 per cent chance of having an illicit source and that the diamond most likely originated in Namibia, Botswana, South Africa or the Russian Federation. Further, any such embargo would hit innocent diamond producing and cutting countries such as Botswana and India, the latter with a diamond industry employing 800,000.

The fact that only 4 per cent of the diamonds that adorn our loved ones are bloodstained and that this 4 per cent has caused so much chaos and upset throughout Africa suggests, more than anything, the intrinsic danger of the incentive to make a profit at any cost. All the controls it is possible to impose upon the diamond trade would not distract one iota from the fact that, at whatever human cost, if there are profits to be made from the trade then profits will be made. This is the essential nature of capitalism, even in its more overt and legal forms. If profits can be made, no matter how small, they will be made and to hell with anyone who stands in the way.

The task is not to try to regulate the diamond trade more efficiently, but to end the system that makes the diamond the commodity it is; to banish forever the system that conditions us into thinking that wearing a shiny stone brings status and respect. Since this journals inception 95 years ago, we have consistently reported the wars and conflicts, the misery and sufferings our class has endured in the name of the profits derived from mineral wealth and its possession by an elite. We expect, for the foreseeable future, to carry on in this tradition until our class truly wakes up.



Rarely are constitutions changed so quickly. On June 10th, the corpse of President Hafez al-Assad had hardly cooled when the powers that be in Syria changed the age at which ministers are allowed to hold office from 40 to 34, thus enabling his son Bashar to be named as perhaps the sole presidential candidate in a referendum to be held within 90 days.

As is the norm when a president dies, the condolences and tributes flow in. Whilst Israel newspaper Yedioth Abronoth could announce they were “not too sorry over Assad’s death…we are happy”, the Western line was that he had been ‘a great statesman’, and whilst Hafez al-Assad was remembered as ‘the Lion of Damascus’, the obstinate stance he maintained in the Middle East peace process and the missed opportunities he notched up over thirty years of autocratic rule were enough to earn himself the title ‘the Donkey of Damascus’.

All things considered, Hassad was no first-rate statesman. Never democratically elected, he came to power during a bloodless coup d’etat in 1970, was the leader of a quasi-military dictatorship, with a corrupt Ba’athist political faction – religiously an Alawite minority elite who dominated all aspects of Syrian society - whilst overseeing a parlous command economy and a country noted for internal repression and scant civil rights.

In the perennial game of Middle Eastern politics, Hassad upset as many Arab states as he won friends, whilst siding with both superpowers as needs dictated. As well as Israel, neighbouring Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Egypt and Turkey came to view Hassad’s Syria as a thorn in the side of Middle Eastern peace. His implacable position on the US brokered round of talks resulted in constant hold-ups with the present round of discussions having been on the back burner since January, with Syria demanding land at the foot of Golan and access to Lake Galilee. Whilst Israel might have contemplated such a move, it was widely viewed in Israel to be part of a wider Syrian game plan to get Israel to withdraw beyond the 1967 borders, and in this respect Israel could no more sell the idea of a Golan withdrawal to its people than Hassad could coerce the Alawite elite into accepting they had no hopes of retrieving this strategic gem.

What path Bashar heads down remains to be seen. Up until now he has held no official party post, though he has been delegated policy briefs such as Lebanon and the rooting out of high-ranking corruption. Whilst he can generally depend upon the support of the military, it is probable his anti-corruption drive against those in power – the chief culprits being those loyal to his father – will make him enemies. Studying ophthalmology in Britain before he was called back to Syria to begin his grooming for leadership, he is said to be ‘modest, considerate and intelligent’, keen on new technology and with ideas on reform and political change, such as more representative forms of government, that will undoubtedly sicken Syria’s old guard - an elite made up of the security services, the army and the Ba’athist party hierarchy.

And it remains to be seen just how much of his father’s baggage Bashar will inherit.Hafez was after all a staunch anti-zionist, still maintaining 35,000 troops in Lebanon - in which he held sway over the guerrilla movement Hizbullah - after the Israeli withdrawal, reluctant to concede Israel an inch, cautious about investing in new civil and military technology or to reform the country’s clannish hierarchy.

Bashar, though, comes with the full backing of British Foreign Minister Peter Haines – which perhaps amounts to little, bearing in mind Britain’s track record on giving its support to bloodstained dictators for 30 years - and with hopes in Washington that he can make some headway in the Middle East peace process and in time for the US Presidential elections in which the Clinton clique will be aiming to present some foreign policy success to US voters.

Waiting in the wings - though at a distance - is uncle Rifaat, younger brother to Hafez and the former vice-president; the same disgraced vice-president who once ordered the bombardment of the town of Hama (a Sunni Muslim Brotherhood haven) killing 40,000 inhabitants and who attempted a coup d’etat when Hafez was ill in 1983. Presently in exile in France with an entourage of 30 bodyguards and threatened with arrest the moment he enters Syria with presidential ambitions, Rifaat has a fortune of $2 - $4 billion, looks after 100 companies, controls two newspapers and is therefore more than capable of buying many strategically placed allies. Rifaat maintains that Bashar’s ascension to the throne of Syrian power will be ‘illegal’ and many anticipate he will mount some challenge.

The chances are, however, that Bashar will be the sole presidential candidate, if for no other reason than his father’s Alawite cronies will close ranks to ease his political ascendancy and safeguard their own interests. And whilst some equate his reformist ambitions with an Israeli/Syrian peace, it does seem unlikely that in the foreseeable future he will advocate the concessions that Middle Eastern peace is claimed to necessitate. If politics is difficult to predict in the West, then it is nigh on impossible to make any forecast as to how events will unfold in this part of the world, where the number of competing factions is only matched by the number of religions, where there are numerous strategic and mineral interests to be fought over and in which the West continue to manoeuvre their pawns as if playing on a gigantic chess board

Of course, as socialists, we side with no leaders or any Middle Eastern faction, taking no sides in their wars over territory; for we have the insight to see where disagreements over resources, such as oil and water, and artificial borders lead and in whose interests such conflicts are waged. Our thoughts lie with the exploited majority of the Middle East – the common folk – who continue to pay the price of power politics, and eagerly await the day when they have the chance, along with their counterparts the world over, to at last vote for themselves and, more, in their own interests, a world devoid of Assads, Saddams and Ayaltollahs and the misery their games bring.



Independence anniversaries in post-colonial countries used to be a time of celebration for those workers who believed they were commemorating their freedom. Zimbabwe’s 20th anniversary of independence fell on April 18th. For the great majority in this southern African country, caution, not cheer was the order of the day.

As well as widespread political unrest, the newspapers that day reported the reality of everyday life for Zimbabwe’s exploited majority, hardly mentioning the 15 year liberation war: a war in the Congo that President Mugabe has committed Zimbabwean troops to at a cost of $1 million per day, fuel shortages, an Aids epidemic, rampant inflation, rising interest rates and soaring unemployment.

Neither was Robert Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF government in a celebratory mood, having a month earlier suffered defeat in a constitutional referendum intended to enhance the powers of the state, and a defeat that hinted he would lose his power to the newly-formed Movement for Democratic Change in the coming elections.

Ever the opportunist and desperate to win the rural vote – some 65 per cent of the population – Mugabe set about orchestrating mass occupations of white-owned farms.
For 20 years, Mugabe had all but reneged on his promise of land and jobs for the veterans who fought the liberation struggle – only 70,000 families ever having been resettled. Now his government was paying the ‘veterans’ to occupy white-owned farms, evict the farmers and to attack demonstrations by the nascent MDC.

Not only was he urging the veterans to occupy the land of the white farmers of the profit-hungry Commercial Farmers Union – a capitalist outfit he had always sucked up to - but also keeping from these same landless veterans the story of a land scam
involving his government and many of its hangers on.

In the last few years, under Zimbabwe’s land resettlement programme, the majority of state owned commercial farms have been given to individuals connected to the Mugabe regime. Most of these absentee landlords have no agricultural experience and have been given 98 year leases at knock-down prices. These leaseholders include cabinet ministers, provincial governors, civil servants and members of Mugabe’s office.

Whilst one provincial governor pays £1000 per year for 2,800 acres of land, a defence secretary can be found renting 780 acres for £1.00. All in all, the 500,000 acres of these commercial farms have been divided up into 253 separate units for those loyal to Mugabe, and all land that was initially set aside as part of the governments plan to resettle 150,000 families by 2003.

Similar stories of corruption and cronyism have been the hallmark of Mugabe’s reign in Zimbabwe since 1980 and provide plenty of ammunition for Morgan Tsvangirai’s
Movement for Democratic Change that is widely expected to take over from Mugabe in elections planned for late June.

Ostensibly an organisation with a pro-working class agenda, emerging from the
popularity afforded the Zimbabwean Confederation of trade Unions during their struggles of the late 90s, the MDC is in fact just another party that will be charged with running the country in the interests of its capitalist elite.

Claiming to be able to restore ‘investor confidence’, Tsvangirai clearly nails his colours to the capitalist mast. Although the MDC manifesto (which can be viewed at
www.mdc.co.zw) is perhaps well intentioned and far surpasses anything Mugabe and Co could dream up, a lengthy section stating its economic agenda nevertheless is fused with the jargon the master class drool over and use to great effect at election times: ‘stronger currency’, ‘poverty alleviation programmes’, ‘progressive taxation systems’, ‘the MDC will interact with international financial institutions’. If this is not the MDC clearly advocating reformist policies then why does Tsvangirai take on board Eddie Cross, a lead player with the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industry, as an economic adviser?

Without a doubt the elections that will be fought out in Zimbabwe on June 24th and 25th will, as in elections the world over, be little more than a contest between various parties each believing they can run the capitalist system more profitably than the others. Nothing in the MDC manifesto suggests they, rather than ZANU-PF, can alleviate poverty or address the myriad social ills that capitalism gives rise to.

Perhaps Tsvangirai said it all when he described the MDF as ‘social democrats…although driven by working class interests…[who can] never be ideologically pure.’

There is hope, though, for the Zimbabwean working class. Whilst we foresee no significant and immediate change in their circumstances, socialism will one day be on the agenda in Zimbabwe. The WSM already has the makings of a strong socialist movement there, having found many members and supporters there in recent years.
Hopefully in the near future, the voters of Zimbabwe will have a real choice at election time – the chance to vote for a system this journal has been arguing for for 95 years.



Sixteen years after television cameras first brought the plight of Ethiopia’s starving millions into our living rooms, sparking the Live Aid rescue mission of 1985, history appears to be repeating itself on the Horn of Africa.

Just as it needed live images of children starving to death to shake Western governments out of their complacency all those years ago, having had prior warning that a famine was on the cards, so too now has the full threat of a famine had to become a reality before the world could sit up and take notice.

This time round, the Ethiopian famine was well predicted. In April of last year, the UN’s early warning system (GIEWS) reported that two years of drought were threatening 2 million people in Ethiopia with starvation. Nobody listened. Five months later, with further rain failures, the World Food Programme warned that 5.3 million Ethiopians faced starvation. Still, the cries fell on deaf ears. In January of this year, a UN mission in Ethiopia reported that 8 million faced starvation and that 800,000 tonnes of food were urgently needed to avert catastrophe.

At the beginning of April this year, the Ethiopian story finally hit the news headlines, but now with 16 million facing starvation in Ethiopia, as well as Eritrea, Djibouti, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, and with a further 2 million expected be added to this figure if the May rains fail to save the June harvest.

Perhaps many Ethiopians will recall the comments made by one key Ethiopian minister back in 1998 and recounted recently in the editorial of one Ethiopian daily.
In Kissingerian* fashion, the minister in question announced that ‘hunger in Ethiopia is already a thing of the past…it has already been eliminated’ and that Ethiopia would be food self-sufficient within five years and producing a food surplus ( Tamret Bekele in the Addis Tribune, 6th April).

Of course, we cannot criticise this individual for failing to forsee the present tragedy. He after all has no more control over the weather than the Ethiopian economy. But his remarks do point to the misplaced confidence people have in the present system and the inability of capitalist society to avert catastrophe because of its insistence in prioritising profit before need and in failing to implement long-term provisions.

Most of the aid given to Ethiopia in the 80s was spent on emergency provisions, with little set aside for forward planning and for heading off the problems that made rescue missions so difficult back in ‘85. Roads and bridges came low on the list of priorities, as did systems for storing what water did fall on the drought-prone regions. Vulnerable areas, like the Ogaden region were known to offer precarious living conditions but no plans were made for population relocation.

Again, much is hampering the current relief effort. Firstly, as in 1985, there is another war with Eritrea, sparked by an Eritrean invasion over a border dispute and which provides western governments with an excuse to cut aid – the logic being that aid is sidetracked into the military machine. Though not exonerating the likes of Clare Short, Britain’s overseas development minister whose idea it was to penalise Ethiopia for its border dispute nor the Ethiopian government who claim they did not start the conflict in the first place, as socialists we are upset that in an area desperate for concerted human cooperation and a willingness to work together in face of an overwhelming crisis, half a million men are dug into trenches preparing to kill one another over a piece of land none of them will profit from.

As in 1985, food distribution is also proving a logistical nightmare, with poor roads and the threat of inter-clan warfare and banditry halting the relief effort. Moreover, since the conflict with Eritrea, land-locked Ethiopia has since lost the use of two key Eritrean ports And, at present, mid-April, only 50 per cent of the food needed has actually been pledged, with only a small percentage of this actually getting through.

Again, the current crisis and the famine of ’84-5 were caused by rain failure. But there are major differences now. The Ethiopian population is now 60 million, twice its size in 1985, which means an increasing rural population has had to work, and overwork, smaller parcels of land, which could only ever produce weaker and weaker yields. Added to this has been the shrinking availability of fertilisers. Ethiopia’s use of fertiliser, at 7 kg of nutrients per hectare is half the sub-Saharan average and about seven per cent the world average (statistics from Addis Tribune, 6th April).

After the 1985 famine the Ethiopian government sought to hold 350,000 tons of food in reserve to help avert further crises, but with 50,000 tons remaining at the beginning of April, it is evident a massive overseas contribution is needed to help provide the basic 7.2 million tonnes needed to feed the Ethiopian population in the year ahead.

What percentage of pledged food actually gets through remains to be seen, but it’s a fair guess it will fall far short of the 1.2 million tonnes the Ethiopian government estimates is needed urgently. Again, it is too early to predict whether or not the May rains will come and provide a desperately needed source of water to a country in which only 27 per cent of the population have access to clean water even in the wet seasons, as well as saving the June harvest.

Only a month ago this journal reported on the natural disaster Mozambique encountered when the skies dumped a year’s rain on the country in a few short weeks, flooding tens of thousands of square miles. It seems something of a sick irony that we now comment on a country a few thousand miles up the same east coast of Africa that has awaited rain for three years.

In the years ahead we can well predict to comment on further natural disasters as the effects of global warming kick in and, more, to continually point to the failure of capitalism to effectively mobilise its vast technological resources to the benefit of those in direst need. As in Ethiopia 15 years ago, so too now will history continue to repeat itself, as tragedy, then as farce.

*At a world food summit in 1973, Henry Kissinger announced that global hunger would be eradicated within 10 years. There were then 400 million chronically malnourished people on the planet (a 75 million increase over the previous ten years). That figure now stands at 800 million.



During four days at the end of January, the skies dumped a year's rainfall onMozambique. The consequent floods killed many and displaced over 1 million people. Within one week of the first rains, Mozambique's economy and inrastructure had been set back 25 years, the floods causing more damage than than the 16 years of civil war that devastated the country. More was to come as Cyclone Eline moved in from Madagascar.

In front of our TV sets in the relative safety of our living rooms, most of us watched with empathy the plight of the thousands left clinging to tree tops and bridges and with a shared feeling of human pride in the frantic and selfless efforts of the South African helicopter crews who flew countless missions to rescue those most in danger.

TVs are useful in this regard - allowing viewers to witness, almost live, the colossal tragedies endured by our fellow humans around the world, evoking in us all manner of emotions, whether it be the urge to send a cheque off to some charity, the despair at not being able to help out more, or a certain numbness borne of an over familiarity with such events, a kind of donor fatigue.

What TV sets don't seem to get across is the behind-the-scenes stories, the kind of stories that hint at our powerlessness to help out at once, the futility of the controllers of capitalist society in putting the vast technological resources that are available in case of such emergencies into operation.

Weeks into the Mozambique disaster, arguments sprang up as to who was to pay for the continuing South African search and rescue missions. The US argued with the South African government over landing rights and, here in Britain, a battle raged between the Ministry of Defence and the Department for International Development over who was going to pay the £2.2 million cost of sending five Puma helicopters. Never did it occur to the latter reprobates that in 24 hours the British public had chipped in £4m to help out or that the Blair government was throwing more money into the wasteage of the £750 Millennium Dome.

So incompetent were the British government in getting their act together, in fact, that the Puma helicopters arrived after the search and rescue phase had been called off. Even then, they proved of little use because the limited range they could cover meant they could not offer assistance in the norrth of the country where they were needed. Moreover, the officer in charge of the British party, one Colonel Jonathon Downes, had no experience at all in disaster relief.

Many commentators criticised the ineffectiveness of the Western relief operation, many observing how soldiers from 16 African and Western countries, who had been sent to help, sat about on the tarmac at Maputo airport or on beaches. Neither, bearing in mind that many of Mozambique's bridges ands roads had been swept away, did any government consider sending engineering units to help repair them and thus speed up the rescue mission and food distribution operation.

We can well ask why there was no information on hand that could have suggested that Mozambique was about to face such devastating floods and a
cyclone. While there are established international protocols for the sharing of meteorological information, there is no international obligaton to do so. With advanced scientific equipment, and with Sattelite technology now widely used, the know-how exists to provide the world with data regarding soil absorption water run-off in rivers and anticipated rainfall. However, as one Guardian writer observed:

"It costs money to amass, monitor and analyse data and pass it on to the people who need it most." (6th March 2000)

And this is the crux of the problem. Who will pay for this level of technology or, more importantly, how much immediate profit can be gleaned from investment in the same?

After each natural disaster and the rescue missions that slowly swing into action, the 'experts' tell us we can learn lessons from it. As much was said after the December 1999 Venezuelan flood that left 20,000 dead, and after the Orissa, India, cyclone that left 2 million homeless and Central America's Hurricane Mitch which created 1 million refugees.

Each time there are calls for an International rapid deployment force of rescue and first aid teams. Each time there were questions as to how such devastation could not have been forseen and for more cooperation and sharing of information.

Few make an attempt to set the problem in a wider social and economic context - for instance making that crucial link to the perrenial priority of profit before human need. Few point to the mountain of red tape that has to be cut through before rescue teams can be mobilised - red tape that the functioning of capitalism makes necessary (ie. the observance of national boundaries and air-space, getting the okay from this and that government, working out who will foot the bill before operations are underway etc.)

While global warming is undoubtedly the cause of recent floodings, hurricances and cyclones (ie. the greenhouse effect means more warmth, which means more evaporation, which means more wind and rain) there is no current planning for future disasters - and they will come! Foresight as ever proves an expensive luxury to those who at currently have the greatest say in our lives.

Right now, we not only have the technology to begin reversing the effects of global warming, and to predict the patterns and consequences of changing global weather conditions, but we have more than the capability to meet any natural disaster head on, thus preventing the loss of further life and the waste of valuable resources. At present, however, control over such technological resources are in the hands of a small elite, the capitalist class, and their executive, the world's governments.

As we await further natural disasters we can only guess at how long it will take the 'experts' to contemplate a system of society in which the earth's scientific and technological resources are the common property of all and in which the death tolls from such disasters are greatly reduced.


Putin Raises Nuclear Stakes

In December's Standard, we commented on the decision by the US Senate not to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and the promise by the more hawkish Republicans to scupper the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty which outlawed 'Star Wars' defence programmes, and suggested that such steps, at the dawn of a new millennium dampened any hopes the more optimistic workers held for the 21st Century.

We did not have to wait long for further confirmation of the troubled century that awaits us. Two weeks into the new millennium, The Guardian reported on Moscow's newly published security strategy doctrine which aims to raise the nuclear stakes by lowering the threshold at which Russia can resort to the use of nuclear weapons:

'Mr Yeltsin's strategy, decreed in December 1997, declared that nuclear weapons could only be used "in the case of a threat to the very existence of the Russian Federation as a sovereign state". The new document states that the use of nuclear weapons is necessary "to repel armed aggression if all other means of resolving a crisis situation have been exhausted or turn out to be ineffective"' (14th Jan.2000)

With the nuclear button already in his possession, acting Russian president Vladimir Putin has overnight not only given himself greater opportunity to press it, but has signalled to his country that the West is a force for reaction which must be opposed. What crisis situations necessitate the downward thrust of Putin's index finger can only be guessed at, but it's fair comment that the latest decision is rooted not only in Russia's inability to bring the Chechen rebels to their knees by conventional methods - humiliating for Moscovites in the wake of NATO's utter annihalation of Serbian resistance in the Kosovo conflict - but also directly linked to the US decision not to ratify the CBTT.

Indeed, back in October, Putin, on hearing of the Senate's decision over in Washington, and coming to terms with what he perceived as a growing internal and external threat to Moscow's interests, announced plans to increase military spending this year by 54 percent to $4 billion. Responding to Republican threats that the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would be wrecked, the RussianDefence Minister, Nikolai Mikalov further announced that the only way Russia could realistically counter the technology the US was capable of setting up to counter nuclear attacks, was to deploy more weapons with increased warheads, thus overwhelming US defence systems.

At the peak of the Cold War, the former Soviet Union had a force of 5 million under arms and was an acknowledged superpower. Since 1989, it has seen its armed forces shrink to almost a fifth of that number and has suffered humiliation after humiliation - the withdraw from Afganistan in 1989 and the first botched war in Chechenia, for instance. As well as morale in the armed forces being low, their combat readiness, according to Putin himself, is in a critical condition, with training and maintenance reported as being grossly inadequate. While a contingent of 300 Russian soldiers serving in Kosovo as part of the peace keeping force have been returned home because of alleged drunkenness, drug-taking and a general inadequateness, the higher ranks are becoming notorious for their infighting, with the defence minister constantly arguing with his generals.

With the above in mind, one can well see the method in Putin's madness. He has after all the job of protecting the interests of Russia's capitalist elite with faulty tools. Moreover, he is faced with the stark realisation that he exists in a unipolar world increasingly dominated by the US. Putin's attempt to make the world once again bi-polar can also be seen a response to NATOs New Strategic Concept which, like Putin's proposals in his 21 page document, suggests the early recourse to the use of nuclear weapons.

That the world's leaders are still prepared to carry their nuclear logic into another century, that they are continually prepared to wipe out millions of their fellow humans to further the interests of a minority at the end of a century that witnessed the deaths of 220 million in conflict, should shatter any illusions we have that this century will proceed on a different course to the one we have stepped out of. While we contemplate the wars, the conflicts and the horrors our masters have in store for us this coming century, it is also important to remember that we as a class hold the power to prevent the same from coming about.

We are not ruled by force or coercion, but by consent. The Putins and Clintons of this world can only do the things they do because we vote them in, thus legitimising their actions, however detrimental they may be to our interests. War and conflict and all the terrors we dare to imagine only come to pass because we refuse to join together as a class to express our class interests.

Once we recognise that as a class we have shared basic needs and desires, suffering the same privations because of our less privileged position in the relations of production, and unite in defiance of that minority intent on maintaining the status quo and its nuclear insanity, we need never fear the horror of war again.

While you muse on the aforementioned, remember the argument is not that complicated. This is your world as much as anybody's and requires your active involvement to protect it. Are you for socialism or against it? Don't take too long to make up your mind - we may not have that much time.