Newsnotes 038 – November 1993

Notes on the News

by Gwydion M. Williams

Global vigilantes

Britain’s defence needs could be quite adequately met by one man and a dog. No one is planning to invade us, nor likely to. All of that ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, which had never quite lost its original purpose of forcefully imposing Leninism on the rest of the world. The logic of our armed forces is to allow the Foreign Office to mess about in foreign conflicts that are not necessarily any of our business.

At the time of the Gulf War, lots of people called it “global law enforcement”. We in the Bevin Society insisted that it was not. Bush was making up the rules as be went along, ignoring such laws and customs as already existed. Iraq could probably have been negotiated out of Kuwait, but for some reason Bush wanted a comfortable little war that the US military could easily win. Talk about stopping their oppression of minorities turned out to be just talk. Nothing significant has been done for the Marsh Arabs, whose way of life goes back to the dawn of civilisation, and is now being ended by the drainage schemes of the Iraqi government.

There were no plans to do anything for the Kurds either, until they embarrassed everyone by suffering very publicly in front of the television cameras. The Kurds are being protected for now – but for how long? The regime remains essentially the same, and Saddam Hussein is still there. The only logic to the whole exercise must have been to demonstrate that Third World armies are nothing like as strong as their strength on paper would suggest.

Bush established a pattern of global vigilantism – mob action by the powerful against anyone who offends them, with or without the cover of the law. Bush had no international law on his side when he invaded Panama, and he needed none. East Timor has an impeccable legal right to be freed from Indonesian rule, but it isn’t going to happen. Yugoslavia should not have been broken up, according to normal rules that apply everywhere else. But it was felt by the European Community that Slovenia and Croatia could be profitably incorporated, while the other poorer parts of the Federation were not wanted. So dubious declarations of independence were supported, without regard for Serb minorities in Croatia.

But then it was shown that those Serb minorities could fight, so the UN was put in to create a de facto partition. Only this gave Bosnia a key strategic significance – if it remained Yugoslav, Croatia’s overall position would be hopelessly weak. So Bosnian Croats allied themselves with Bosnian Muslims to unilaterally separate, with promises of Western support. Naturally, the whole place fragmented. The Muslim-dominated government was treated as a valid legal entity for the purpose of starting the war and was recognised as sovereign and separate from Yugoslavia. But it has ever since been treated as just one more faction, not allowed to buy arms to put down insurgent militias. Bosnian Muslims are ‘surplus to requirements’, and in fact not wanted at all.

Then there was Lockerbie. Up until the Gulf Crisis, it was general! believed to have been an Syrian operation, carried out on behalf of Iran as retaliation for the airliner accidentally shot down during the previous Gulf Crisis. At that time, remember, Iraq and Kuwait were allies and the US was trying to make sure that Iraq did not get defeated in its war with Iran. But then everything changed, Syria became an essential ally in Bush’s anti-Iraq coalition, so a new truth was invented, making Libyans responsible.

There were proper existing legal procedures for securing the extradition of the two individuals who were now held guilty – but proper legal procedures could not be relied upon to produce the particular truths that the US and Britain now wished to see produced. So state blackmail was used instead. Maybe Libya should simplify matters by inviting in the Ku Kluk Klan to organise a lynching!

Lastly, consider Somalia. The government had collapsed, so one _faction leader was as good as another. The US and UN decided to pick on one faction leader and call him a bandit-criminal. Only he then proved to cunning and too popular to be caught, so he has once reclassified again and is now a statesman, quite possibly the future leader of his nation!

International law? It’s enough to make a cat laugh!

Labour and the frigates

Labour used to have a romantic anti-military line. Perhaps armies were not really needed at all. People used to actually cite the Yugoslav model of training the whole population in guerrilla warfare. For some reason, that particular option is no longer much mentioned.

When there was a valid use for British armed forced, when it was necessary to protect Western Europe against the corrupt regimes of Eastern Europe, all of us in the Bevin Society supported this. This was, after all, a simple continuation of the original policy of Bevin and Attlee – keep up the wartime alliance with the US, once it became clear that the USSR was continuing the Leninist habit of treating other socialists as enemies to be crushed. It was worth keeping up the NATO link, despite all of the malignant and destructive things that the US were doing elsewhere in the world.

But what now do we need them for? · Europe has a democratic framework within which clashing national interests can be resolved, without the crazy destructiveness of warfare. This is a much better protection than any army or navy could ever be. It would be even better if some structure of impartial and effective law could be extended to the rest of the world. Britain could set a good example by unilaterally giving up its UN veto.

The veto is no more than a right to ignore such international law as already exists. It is obviously unjust that five countries have the right to unilaterally spoil any resolution of the UN security council, without regard to rights and wrongs. To give it up would be a worthwhile gesture, while not actually costing Britain anything, since even very small nations can ignore UN resolutions as and when they please.

Unfortunately the Foreign Office retains its old traditions of cheating, conniving and messing about where it has no business to mess. As ever, they represent folly backed by great cleverness and sophistication. They and their political masters still want Britain to be ‘a player on the world stage’, even though no real British interest is served, and even though we lack the wealth to be much good at it. We cannot afford a decent health service or education system or investment in industry or a coal industry. But a world-class military establishment is treated as a necessity, a military establishment large enough to fight all of the wars that the Foreign Office can imagine. And Labour is going along with it Frigates seem now to count for more than jobs.

The best possible use of Britain’s armed forces would be to storm the British Foreign Office and bum it to a pile of rubble. The individuals who currently make up the Foreign Office could then be dispersed to other occupations – some of them are very talented and might do a lot of good in some other sphere of life. But collectively they have been a liability and a danger, all through the 20th century. Under their guidance, Britain has experienced a gradual, costly and immensely painful decline from being first in the world to being third or fourth in Europe.

They got us into the Great War, when it would have done us no harm to let Germany break up the Tsarist Russian Empire. They kept us out of a war with Hitler until it was very nearly unwinnable. They organised the Suez Invasion, without realising that the US was likely to spoil all of their deep-laid plans. They have floated a whole series of schemes for Northern Ireland, which have had the result of reassuring the IRA that it is worth carrying on the fight, because influential characters at the heart of the Establishment are quite willing to let them win. They failed to communicate to Argentina that it would not be acceptable to grab the Falkland Islands. They failed to communicate to Iraq that it would not be acceptable to grab Kuwait And what good have they done, to set against all of the damage? You tell me!

Slush Grey and the Seven Dwarves

Lady Thatcher’s “immaculate collection” is now on sale. She heaps scorn on all of those politicians who came to the fore during her period of rule, and who am I Lo disagree with her. They are indeed an unimpressive lot.

Maybe Spitting Image will now do them up as Slush Grey and the Seven Dwarves; Fatty, Creepy, Dreary, Bossy, Shady, Bastard and Crazy.

Lady Thatcher seems never to have learned that loyalty is a two-way street. It might seem very nice to ask other people to make sacrifices for you, while never bothering to make sacrifices for them. Like most Thatcherite ideas, it is working out rather badly in the long run.

(The war of words kept alive by Mrs. Thatcher bears an uncanny resemblance to that following the Lloyd George and Asquith rift in the early years of this century. The Tories would do well to remember the consequences that had for the Liberal Party!)

Chess wars

Chess championships used to be about chess. But now, in line with everything else, they are about money. We are seeing the completion of two separate World Chess Championships. Kasparov has just defeated Short for the title of leading player in a league which only has one other member. Most players have stuck with the existing framework, which seems likely to restore Karpov as champion.

And then what? The best they could be hoped for is a Unification Championship. Or the whole thing could remain split, like boxing. All in all, a total mess. And it’s a great pity, because the chess itself was actually very good.

ANL retentives

There was obviously a lot of media hype about the black policeman who was singled out for attack by white demonstrators. But knowing those characters, it is all too likely that things did happen as the media reported it.

The Anti-Nazi League is a front for the Socialist Workers Party, whose main purpose in life is holding rowdy demonstrations and talking about revolution. Like all other branches of Trotskyism, they have none of the ruthlessness or self-discipline that would be needed for serious revolution. After more than sixty years of independent political activity, Trotskyism has produced no revolutions and no serious insurgences. It is just not in their nature.

But violent street demos are their natural way of life. And it would be just like them to bitterly resent the fact that Britain’s immigrant minorities are slowly and painfully adjusting themselves to existing society. For the “Socialist Workers”, minorities are supposed to hang around as a discontented mass waiting for the Trotskyists vanguard to lead them to revolution.

Brutish Nationalists

What about the people the ANL crowd were demonstrating against? The “British” National Party is a regrouping of the same elements that made up the National Front. As ever, the core are eccentric Nazi-worshippers. Britain has enough crazy nastiness in its own traditions, but these characters have to copy the failed German version of radical nationalism, limiting their long-term potential.

Grouped around this hard-core are discontented ordinary people who suspect that no one much cares what happens to them. The Isle of Dogs had never been much of an area for immigrants, unlike other parts of the East End. Its local industry, the docks, were destroyed as part of the Tory union-busting policies. Docklands was intended as a development that would really finish them off – a prosperous financial centre that would have created a periphery of up-market areas, pushing out both recent immigrants and long-established communities.

The Thatcherites managed to plan Docklands without proper transport either by road or by rail, so the whole thing exists in a sort of frozen chaos. The amazing thing is that things are not far worse.


These Newsnotes appeared in November 1993, in Issue 38 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at and