- Created: Thursday, 07 May 2009 14:19
FRFI 176 December 2003 / January 2004
BOUGHT AND SOLD
The ancestors would turn in graves,
Those poor black folk that once were slaves would wonder
How our souls were sold
And check our strategies.
The empire strikes back and waves,
Tamed warriors bow on parades,
When they have done what they’ve been told
They get their OBEs
Benjamin Zephaniah 2001
‘Me? I thought, OBE me? Up yours, I thought. I get angry when
I hear that word “empire”; it reminds me of slavery, it reminds of thousands of years of brutality, it reminds me of how my foremothers were raped and my forefathers brutalised.’
Benjamin Zephaniah writing in The Guardian, 27 November 2003
Typically arrogant and insensitive, in November 2003, Prime Minister Blair proposed black activist and poet Benjamin Zephaniah for the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in the Queen’s New Year’s honours list. Either he has not read Zephaniah’s latest poetry book (Too black, too strong, 2001) or this was an insulting test of the man’s integrity.
The people of the Chagos Islands understand the ‘order’ of the British empire. These islands, the largest of them Diego Garcia, remain British colonies. In April 1969, Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson approved the expulsion of the entire population from the islands to Mauritius to make way for a US strategic military base. Chagossian people have been campaigning for the right to return for 35 years. FRFI spoke to a representative of Chagossians who spent 36 days sleeping outside the Houses of Parliament in October awaiting the High Court decision on a claim for compensation. They lost their case (page 12).
‘Independence’ for British colonies, the removal of British troops and colonial control of the state, did not end the exploitation and racist oppression of ‘Empire’. Imperialism took on new forms; setting up puppet regimes, financial penetration, exploitation of peoples and natural resources by multinational corporations. Now, with the occupation of Iraq, the distinction between old empire and new imperialism seems to have narrowed. Rivalries between the imperialist nations means that a more hands-on approach is needed to secure healthy profits for the west. What has developed in Iraq in response to the occupation is an anti-imperialist movement which refuses to have the country privatised into a neo-colony of US and British capital (pages 1 and 3).
Revolutionary US academic James Petras argues the need for an international movement to oppose imperialism as a system of power, not just specific imperial policies (the war on Iraq) and institutions (the World Bank). The current anti-war movement in the US and UK is lead by social democrats, opportunists who are prepared to dilute the anti-imperialist content of the movement in exchange for an alliance with ‘imperial reformers’, who generally support imperial power but oppose the particular way or the location in which it manifests itself (pages 8/9). This ‘coalition’ buys them officially-endorsed platforms for respectable public ‘dissent’. The massive popular opposition to the war and occupation of Iraq has created a new political force, but it is led by an old political alliance of social democracy and imperial reformers, none of whom call for the destruction of the Labour Party or the capitalist system it represents.
At the heart of this alliance is George Galloway, a Glasgow MP recently suspended from the Labour Party, an outspoken critic of many Labour policies (page 4). An irreconcilable contradiction lies at the heart of Galloway’s politics. His support for the Iraqi resistance, for the Palestinian uprising and socialist Cuba and his understanding of the roots of British imperialism contradict his calls for ‘reclaiming the Labour Party’ for a return to the ‘socialist values’ of old Labour. Tell that to the people of Diego Garcia, evicted by a Labour Prime Minister in the heyday of ‘socialist’ Labour! Tell that to the Republican prisoners tortured in Ireland when the same Labour government sent in troops (page 6). Tell that to the miners betrayed by the Labour Party, the asylum seekers victimised with Labour’s support for immigration policies since the 1960s (page 16). We saw Labour values back in the 1920s, when a British Labour government was the first in the world to use poison gas against civilians; the Iraqi Kurds.
A real anti-imperialist and anti-racist movement must support armed resistance and revolution, from Palestine (page 7) to Bolivia (page 11) to Nepal (page 6) and Cuba (page 10). It must call for the destruction of the capitalist system and its replacement with a society where the means of production are organised by the people, not under the logic of capitalist profit. The Labour Party, old or new, could never do that.
‘That’s the bad news Ricky, there are more mothers crying’, Zephaniah wrote in a poem to Ricky Reel, a young Asian man murdered by racists. Just two years later in October 2003, Zephaniah joined marchers to Downing Street to demand an inquiry into deaths in custody. His cousin Mickey Powell had been beaten and killed by Birmingham police one month earlier. FRFI has attended the United Friends and Family Campaign march every year, and every year brings new families, new grief, new campaigns for justice. The ‘unlawful killing’ verdict on the murder of Roger Sylvester, however, shows that a community campaigning can achieve results (page 5).
There is a crisis here,
I’m in trouble Ricky,
I think of you every time I’m out in the dark,
When I see pictures of Marx, Lenin
I wonder what can we do for you,
Every time I look at Malcolm X
Clinging to my bedroom wall
I wonder what means are necessary.
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