Thursday, May 29, 2008

Taking a Gamble with Slanders

TWO important British unions have taken stands against oppression and war in the Middle East this month. The University and Colleges Union (UCU), embattled and threatened with legal action as it has been, has re-affirmed its solidarity with the students and academics of Palestine under siege and occupation, and resolved to send a fact-finding mission to Gaza as soon as it is safe.

Avoiding the all-out boycott call against Israeli institutions which has divided it in the past, the academics' union has nevertheless called on members to examine the implications of co-operation, and raise issues with Israeli colleagues.

No doubt we'll still be hearing soon from supporters of Israeli policies who claim that any moves to oppose them are motivated by "antisemitism" (no matter that the UCU resolutions, though responding to calls from Palestinians, were in large part moved by Israeli and Jewish academics); and that calling on colleagues to examine their consciences is an infringement of their academic freedom. We've had an opportunity to see how committed the pro-Israel 'Engage' crowd is to freedom, since Israel's security services deported Professor Norman Finkelstein. Like their right-wing Israeli colleagues they didn't oppose the ban, they applauded it.

Another union has taken its stand on the threat of war against Iran. On May 21-23 delegates at the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) conference voted overwhelmingly to affiliate to Hands Off the People of Iran (HOPI). It is the first national union to do so.

HOPI is pledged to oppose imperialist war on Iran, and demands the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of US/UK troops from Iraq and all the Gulf region. It is also against sanctions, which it says hit ordinary Iranians.

In response to the row over Iran's alleged nuclear programmes, HOPI echoes the call by Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu for a nuclear weapon-free Middle East, as a step to ridding the whole world of the nuclear threat. (While Iran has been reported to have abandoned nuclear weapon plans, Israel is said to have 150 nuclear warheads).

But as might be expected from a campaign which is supported and partly-led by left-wing Iranians, HOPI is no apologist for the Islamicist regime. HOPI members joined the demonstration in Whitehall in support of gay Iranian student Mehdi Kazmi, who has since been granted asylum. The Iranian comrades support workers, women, students and minorities struggling against the regime. They don't want their people bombed to hell or their country "liberated" for American oil companies.

Yassamine Mather, a member of the Hopi Steering Committee and Iranian exile, said
the PCS union's stand was an important step forward for HOPI. "It could not be more timely, coming as it does when leaked news over the weekend suggests that Bush has been secretly briefing key US senators on plans to launch airstrikes against Iran with the next two months. When a major union of the size and reputation of PCS takes such an explicit stand against imperialist sabre-rattling, a powerful message is sent out to the warmongers”.

The motion supporting HOPI was opposed by just 50 or so of the 1,200 delegates, but among those most bitterly opposing it was one Jon Gamble, who I'm told is a member of the Socialist Workers Party(SWP). This group, which pretty well dominates the Stop the War Coalition, originated in a deviation from Trotskyism, and used to have the slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism", but now, as someone quipped, they won't say "neither Washington nor mosque".

Apparently this Gamble is not only a bad Trotskyist (assuming he claims to be one) but a bad loser too. Writing in the Morning Star (May 27), he denounced the “con trick” played on his union conference and charged that by “raising the issue of the nature of the islamic regime in Iran” Hopi thus “seeks to split this movement on sectarian lines” and “provides a left cover for
liberal apologists for war”.

This reminds me of the way the Stalinists in the bad old days smeared anyone who didn't toe their line, or accept the verdicts of the Moscow Trials, as "imperialist agents", "accomplices of Hitler", and so forth. We thought those days had gone, if not with the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's 20th congress, at least with the realisation today, apart from a few Old Believers, that the Soviet Union was not defended this way. And at least the old Communist Party members who went along with such lines believed that they were defending the continuation of the October Revolution, a progressive force in world history, which is hardly how one could characterise the regime in Tehran.

But we have seen how a group of Iranian refugees who marched from Birmingham to London to take part in an anti-war rally a few years ago were told they could not speak a few words from the platform because they were against the Iranian regime. Some SWP members will assure us they are not supporters of this regime. But it would seem their members in leading positions believe we the poor bloody infantry who turn up at rallies and dutifully listen to George Galloway and others, are a bit thick, and we will only get confused if we hear an Iranian comrade say that no, he does not want his country "obliterated" (as Hillary Clinton has promised), and no, he does not admire President Ahmadinejad either.

Or maybe their worry is that some of the Brothers might take exception, or alarm, at seeing a leftie secularist from a Muslim country being given the platform ?

So first HOPI was barred from affiliating to the Stop the War Coalition, on the spurious grounds that it was a "front" for the Communist Party of Great Britain(CPGB), even though the CPGB itself has been in the Coalition from the start. Then the word is that HOPI is out to split from the Stop the War Coalition.

According to Jon Gamble, the great majority of delegates to the PCS conference - all of them intelligent enough to do responsible jobs in places like job centres and government departments, and well aware that their jobs pay and pensions are being attacked by this government to pay for its war plans, are not as bright as he is . So they were "conned" into supporting HOPI,
not being aware that though it says it is against war, it isn't really.
"The Stop the War Coalition has successfully united millions of people to oppose the
invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. By raising the issue of the nature
of the islamic regime in Iran, Hopi seeks to split this movement on sectarian lines.
This would only delight Bush and Brown and the whole warmongering lobby. Hopi
provides a left cover for liberal apologists for war, the likes of Nick Cohen and
Christopher Hitchens, in the liberal defence of murder".

This is the kind of lying we have not seen since Vyshinsky was prosecuting. Thank heavens people like Mr.Gamble will never hold state power.

It was incidentally Nick Cohen who claimed in The Observer that those of us who marched against the war on Iraq must want to maintain Saddam Hussein's regime. We
said he was a liar. But evidently Jon Gamble and his co-thinkers really believe that Cohen's logic was right.

Needless to say neither Nick Cohen nor Hitchens nor anyone like them is in HOPI, and nor have they given it support. But among those who have supported it are John McDonnell MP, Peter Tatchell, Naomi Klein, Michael Mansfield QC, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, John Pilger, Peggy Seeger and Noam Chomsky. Perhaps these naive souls, being so new to politics were "duped", as Mr.Gamble says the PCS Left Unity people were?

Or perhaps the problem is that, as HOPI says in a reply to Gamble's letter, they have a better sense of their internationalist duty than he does? It is also that Iranian workers and socialists who are in touch with the struggle back home object to their rightful place on the anti-war platforms being usurped by tame supporters of the Islamicist regime; and that an increasing number of trades unionists like those in the PCS refuse to be duped by the likes of Jon Gamble any more.

It is time to clear out such liars and their lies.
Anyone who claims you can liberate the Iranian people by supporting imperialist war is a fraud. But anyone who calls themselves a trade unionist and socialist but denies support to our Iranian comrades because of the threat of war is a political scab.

report by Dave Vincent on PCS conference:

HOPI website with articles and reports:

HOPI weekend school

Saturday June 14 -Sunday June 15
at University of London Union, Malet St., WC1

Speakers include John McDonnell MP,
Professor Bill Bowring
(School of Law, Birkbeck, and Haldane Society),
Professor Moshe Machover (Israeli socialist), Professor Christine Cooper,
Dr Nadje Al-Al
i, Rahim (Iranian Baluch activist)
and many more

  1. War, human rights and ‘humanitarian interventions’;
  2. Iran, Israel and the Middle East and the nuclear question
  3. Sanctions and Iran
  4. Can imperialism liberate women in the Middle East?
  5. National and religious minorities
  6. The working class movements and their response to the economic crisis in Iran
  7. The 1979 revolution and its aftermath

£20 waged; £10 unwaged.

If possible, please book your place in advance by paying
via Paypal or by sending cheques/postal orders to

Hopi, PO Box 54631, London N16 8YE.

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