Once again, Blair's Labour government has come out as the most vocal supporter of the USA's terrorist policy against the population of a poor country. After Iraq, Kosovo and Serbia, Afghanistan is the new target for Blair's "world statesman of the year" posturing.
Indeed there is no other way to describe Blair's abject behaviour - the vile posturing of a politician who is trying to spin himself into the role of a "world leader", but is in fact just being too big for his boots. Bush may well commend Blair for supporting his "war against terrorism"; he may even allow him to canvass Middle East dictators on his behalf - thereby leaving to Blair the humiliating rebuffs of Saudi Arabia and Syria, for instance. But this only makes Blair a second rate auxiliary of Bush's policy - a role proportionate to that of British imperialism on the world scene.
But never mind, Blair already has a long record of trying to sound like Gladstone or Churchill. For the sake of politicking at home, he keeps insisting that he is an equal partner of the USA, if not the real captain of the great powers' game. But having all too obviously no influence on US policy, Blair makes up for this by being even more gung-ho than Bush himself. So, for instance, when Bush was still brandishing the scare of "bio- terrorism", Blair raised the spectre of "nuclear terrorism" - never to be outdone by his partner in crime. And while the US leaders have come to the point of admitting that bin Laden may well not be caught, Blair sticks to his guns and insists that he will never give up the hunt.
Beyond Blair's posturing for the benefit of British public opinion, however, he and his government are first and foremost respectful trustees of the interests of British capital. And like those of all minor imperialisms, Britain's large companies have a vested interest in imperialism policing the poor countries to enforce its "world order" - i.e. to guarantee the possibility for Western multinationals to plunder these countries at will. On the ground, of course, the few British submarines and commandos which have been allowed (so far in any case) to get involved in the war, are nothing compared to US military deployment. And when the time for a political settlement comes (if it does), Blair, like the other minor imperialisms, will only be allowed to take the crumbs that the US leaders condescend to give him - exactly as happened at the end of the Gulf War, when the Kuwaiti reconstruction contracts were distributed. Nevertheless, for British capital, even these crumbs are worth the effort.
Such are the sordid interests behind Blair's support for the US intervention in Afghanistan.
Cynical, hypocritical lies
Blair's claims to the moral high ground are, therefore, just as despicable as his jingoism. Neither his nor Bush's policy was ever determined by the interests of a population - neither at home nor in the poor countries. They are proving this today, once again, by bombing into the ground a population which has no responsibility whatsoever in the attack against the World Trade Centre - the official justification for this war. Blair's "humanitarian" concerns for the Afghan population or the fate of Afghan women under the Taliban regime are just cynical lies.
Indeed, one should remember the treatment meted out to the Afghan asylum seekers who landed in a hijacked plane at Stansted airport, in February last year. There was no big question then of the medieval repression of the Taliban regime, nor even of the certain death awaiting those who would be extradited (and indeed several members of the crew were executed on their return to Kabul). The only concern of government ministers at the time, was the tabloids' campaign accusing them of turning Britain into a "soft target" for asylum seekers. So that the then Home minister, Jack Straw, even made a show of dealing personally with the problem and proving his "toughness".
Today, the same Jack Straw, now foreign secretary, justifies his government's involvement in the Afghan war by referring to the alleged "success" of the Western intervention in Kosovo. So writing in Tribune, Straw claims that "If the world had not followed the decisive lead taken by the prime minister and agreed upon military action - including 78 days of continuous bombing - Milosevic would still be in power and many tens of thousands of Kosovo Muslims would have died or be living in abject deprivation."
Leaving aside the fact that the only "decisive lead" given by Blair was to comply with Clinton's demands, what do the Western powers have to show for their bombing of Serbia? Milosevic's replacement and his trial in the Hague? But the police and military who were the backbone of Milosevic's regime are still in power. What has the Serbian population gained? A regime which, despite Washington's and London's endorsement, is a dictatorship thinly concealed behind a fragile veil of "democracy", and, above all, a ruined economy! Is that something for the West to boast about?
As to Kosovo, no-one knows, not even Straw, what would have happened without the panic caused by Western bombings and the flood of refugees it generated. But everyone can see today the result of the West's intervention. Kosovo itself is still living in a state of uneasy truce, under the permanent surveillance of Western occupation forces, while yesterday's Serbian and Muslim gang leaders have been elevated to the position of respectable politicians, sitting in the country's so-called "democratic institutions" in which they are in a much better position to develop their trafficking. Besides, judging from the continued flow of desperate Kosovar refugees coming to Western Europe, it is obvious that the West's intervention has not prevented the country's population from "living in abject deprivation." Moreover, what about the the subsequent destabilisation of Macedonia? Was that a "success" too?
The fact is that the West's intervention in the former Yugoslavia has been a major factor in creating a decade of bloody mess there - a mess that the population has paid for with tens of thousands of lives and massive destruction and that it will continue to pay for through abject deprivation for the foreseeable future.
Instead of the arrogant self-satisfaction displayed by Straw with regard to Kosovo, one should ask how many of these "Kosovo Muslims", whom Straw claims to have saved from certain death, have joined fundamentalist groups, out of desperation and anger in front of the blind bombing of their country by imperialism, and how many of them are now in Pakistan, waiting impatiently to cross the Afghan border in order to fight alongside the Taliban.
By lining up behind Bush and his terrorist policy, Blair and Straw are pushing more youth towards fundamentalism and justifying in their view the use of terrorism as a legitimate weapon against the overwhelming military might of imperialism - for lack of any other visible way out.
A reactionary drift
After September 11th, we were told that "nothing will ever be the same". Since then this has become a cliché repeated ad nauseam by the media and politicians.
But Blair's attempts at waiving the Union Jack do not seem to have been all that successful. Seven weeks after the event, even the tabloids have toned down their jingoistic tirades and many people, including those who felt that "something had to be done" against bin Laden and the Taliban, are becoming worried about the duration of the bombing and the increasing casualties it is causing among the Afghan population.
However this war, as it is often the case with wars, tends to pull everything in a reactionary direction. In the early days following the attack on the World Trade Centre, there was a wave of racist attacks in Britain, aimed at Asian people. Despite Blair's repeated statements that British Muslims should not be blamed for bin Laden's crimes, the daily brainwashing by the media, first against bin Laden and then Afghanistan, was bound to strengthen racist prejudices and to boost the confidence of racist gangs.
Since then the government has made its own contribution to this atmosphere by announcing emergency measures against "terrorism", in the form of a drastic attack on the rights of asylum seekers. As if terrorists aiming to operate in Britain would be stupid enough to request asylum in order to enter the country! In fact, the fight against terrorism is merely a crass pretext used by the new Home minister, David Blunkett, to stop Labour's long-standing political embarrassment caused by the flow of poor Third World immigrants entering Britain. But by pointing to immigrants as potential "terrorists", Blunkett is shoring up the very same racism that he claims to fight by introducing new anti-racist legislation.
Besides, one of the new schemes launched by Blunkett involves "snatch squads" of immigration officers, with wide- ranging powers to stop, question and arrest anyone at home or in the streets. These squads even have the power to organise the deportation of alleged "illegal immigrants" by means of a fast-track procedure. And they also have a target - 30,000 deportations a year!
It is not hard to figure out that all black people or anyone whose English does not sound quite right - and this includes millions of British citizens and perfectly legal immigrants - are bound to be targets for these squads. Under the pretext of "fighting terrorism", a whole section of the working class will be subjected to increased harassment and this can only weaken the working class as whole.
Likewise other pieces of legislation are on the agenda. Most of them involve restricting existing civil rights which had been abandoned over previous years due to opposition from Labour backbenchers. But under the cover of his "war against terrorism", Blair has brought them back onto the Commons' agenda, knowing that few Labour MPs will dare to challenge him. These include, among other things, new powers for the police to monitor phone and internet communication.
The home front
We are now being told that the economy is in recession. On 4 November, Digby Jones, the director-general of the bosses' organisation CBI, predicted that company profits would fall by 20% next year. And he called on the government to provide companies with a comprehensive package to help them to get over the difficulties "resulting from September 11th."
As if the destruction of the World Trade Centre had suddenly caused a breakdown in world trade! But Digby Jones is not the only one to voice such nonsense. Large companies such as British Airways and the tour operator William Cook are demanding wage cuts from their workforce, in addition to massive redundancies - all this "because of" September 11th.
The case of British Airways is particularly cynical. The company had already announced 6,000 job cuts in the early days of September due, they said, to a fall in the number of passengers. But immediately after the events in New York, BA changed tack, dumped its previous announcement and repackaged its redundancy plan into a new one, involving 5,000 job cuts, which were blamed on September 11th. But in the process, BA had the nerve to reduce its redundancy terms on account of the new situation!
The truth, of course, is that the economy has been on a downward slope for some months already. Over the six months to August, manufacturing output fell by 3.5%. As to employment, even the official figures published by the ONS in September leave no doubt about the situation. They show that during the three months between June and August, the number of redundancies increased by 14% and the number of people looking for a job (the ILO measure of unemployment) by 53,000, after increasing by 13,000 in the previous three months. Moreover overall employment dropped during this period, for the first time since the early 1990s.
So to talk about a crisis resulting from September 11th is a cynical joke. Even in the case of the airline industry, profitability had been going down for over a year due to a reduction of trans-Atlantic traffic on the one hand, and to the fact that companies had increased considerably the number of their flights over the previous period, expecting an increase in the number of passengers which never materialised.
But this has not prevented companies from jumping on the bandwagon of September 11th to announce massive redundancies. Rolls Royce, for instance, announced 5,000 job cuts despite the fact that its profits for this year are expected to reach £365m and that the new US fighter plane contract will provide it with a share of £22bn worth of contracts planned for Britain alone.
Likewise insurance companies reacted to September11th by increasing their premiums immediately. Some, like Prudential, have also announced large redundancies. And yet, after an initial fall, their share prices returned to their pre-September 11th level within days, proof that as far as speculators are concerned, their profits are not at risk. But there is no question of bringing the increased premiums to their previous levels, nor of cancelling the jobs cuts announced.
Even the government is now playing to the same tune. For some time already there had been rumours of a possible increase in National Insurance contributions for employees, to pay for Blair's PFI/PPP projects in public services. On November 4th, at the CBI conference, Brown confirmed this as a strong possibility, but this time he presented it as a "war against terrorism tax".
As if there was any reason for working people to pay for a war which has nothing to do with them and everything to do with the profits of companies and big shareholders! If someone has to pay for this war, let the rich pay for it!
Mobilisation, yes, but against the bosses
The general tune, therefore, whether from the bosses or from the government is that this is a state of war and working people should tighten their belts in the name of "national solidarity".
But in fact, it is not just the bosses and ministers - trade-union leaders are also singing to same tune. At the TUC conference, in September, for which they had announced a tough confrontation with the government over its on-going privatisation of public services, they allowed Blair to close down the conference before it really started and forgot all their fiery speeches. And a few weeks later, they found nothing to say when Blair spelt out his intentions by appointing a special task force to advise him on how to involve the private sector in public services. Yet, the fact that this task force was to be led by Adair Turner, former director-general of the CBI and currently vice-chairman of the bank Merrill Lynch, was in and of itself a challenge to trade-union leaders.
In the meantime, however, Blair had come up with a sop for union leaders - a TUC-CBI body whose brief is to seek ways of increasing productivity in British industry. There must have been celebrations among the trade-union leaders because, since Blair came to power, he had always evaded their demand for government to sponsor such joint TUC-CBI bodies, for fear of being accused of "old labourism". But war conditions are war conditions - and getting the trade-union bureaucracy to line up behind the bosses is well worth such a token gesture!
And indeed, over the past few weeks, union leaders have displayed total willingness to go along with the bosses' attacks. Not only did they endorse, without quibbling, the redundancy plans in British Airways and Rolls Royce, but they agreed to BA's pay cuts into the bargain. Even in the post office (now Consignia) where the 20,000 job cuts announced in the first week of October can hardly be attributed to September 11th or the "war against terrorism" (they did not dare to use the anthrax scare as an excuse) the union leaders' response was to agree to a 3-week "truce" without strikes in order to "discuss the plan" - as if there was anything to discuss with a company planning to throw 20,000 workers out of their jobs!
Economic experts are now predicting a drop in employment of 100,000 until the end of this year and 200,000 in 2002. No-one knows for sure, of course, if only because the capitalist economy is fundamentally unpredictable. Just as unpredictable as the future of the present war waged by imperialism and its evolution. But it is clear that the bosses and the government are seeking to use the climate created by Blair's "war against terrorism" to force more job and wage cuts down the throats of workers, in the name of "national solidarity".
But the working class of this country should have nothing to do with the state terrorism of their exploiters, whose only victims are the poor population of Afghanistan. Nor should they have anything to do with Blair's "national solidarity" - which is solidarity with the job-slashers and the wage-cutters.
Yes, there is a need for a general mobilisation today - but not behind Blair's war to defend the interests of British capital against the poor countries. There is a need for a general mobilisation of the working class to force the bosses and their government to pay for this new crisis which is, after all, the product of their own capitalist system.
5 November 2001