Sunday, April 30, 2017

Worker or Capitalist control of borders? Reply to RCIT

Image result for Marx on immigration
Workers, not people, of all lands unite!

The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) is an international tendency which proclaims itself as “Bolshevik-Communist”. It published a critical reaction to our recent article on migration. Their response titled “The Slogan of "Workers" Immigration Control: A Concession to Social-Chauvinism” is available on their website here. The RCIT argue for the ‘open borders’ slogan claiming this is the Marxist slogan. As we will show below is was not a slogan supported by Marx, Lenin or Trotsky. The article the RCIT reacted to titled “For workers control of migration” was published by CWGANZ here, and in the paper Class Struggle. In our reply, we will show how our differences in method must give rise to differences in political program, including that on migration and borders.

Our Differences in Method

Our differences in Method (how to analyse and understand capitalism and the class struggle) explain why RCIT and CWG differ on the slogan ‘open the borders’ in relation to migration. The RCIT claims that workers must defend bourgeois (capitalist) democracy in general, while we say that workers only defend bourgeois democracy when its advances the workers’ struggle. This difference has a history.

In 1991, the RCIT (then part of the League for a Revolutionary Communist International - (LRCI)) defended bourgeois democracy in the Soviet Union and sided with the fast-track capitalist revivalist President Yeltsin, against the resistance of the Stalinist bureaucracy. While the LRCI viewed the Soviet Union as a ‘degenerate workers’ state’, they failed to unconditionally defend the main gain of the 1917 revolution, workers’ property, from the restoration of capitalism.

The LRCI rejected Trotsky’s demand for workers’ unconditional defence of the Soviet Union against capitalist restoration across the whole Soviet Union which meant reviving armed workers’ soviets against imperialism and its agent Yeltsin, siding with the bureaucracy if it defended workers’ property, yet overthrowing it as a reactionary caste that would inevitably side with imperialism against the workers’ political revolution. Instead the LRCI backed the Yeltsin faction’s bourgeois demands for breaking up the SU, against the armed resistance of a section of the bureaucracy, reintroducing capitalism, banning the Communist Party and restoring workers’ parties on a program of social democracy.

The comrades of the CWG(US), then the LTT, which was in a fraternal relationship with the LRCI, confronted the leadership with a Marxist critique of this betrayal. The leadership, just days before the next Congress, broke off relations and prevented any appeal to Congress to attend and debate this vital question. The CWG(ANZ) (then Workers Power A/NZ) split from the LRCI in 1995 in opposition to this betrayal. We explained the roots of the betrayal as ‘social imperialism’, the view that bourgeois democracy was the only road to defending workers’ property in a Degenerated Workers State. We considered that this was a deviation from Marxism and Trotskyism resulting from the pressure of public opinion in the imperialist countries (the LRCI centre was in Britain) similar to the WW2 capitulation of petty bourgeois opposition in the Fourth International to Stalinophobia (anti-Stalinism). We called this a failure of Marxist method symptomatic of groups that vacillate between Marxism and bourgeois ideology, i.e. centrism.

In other words, the LRCI rejected Trotsky's warning that that bourgeois democracy was a cover for the restoration of capitalism. Instead, they supported the restoration of capitalism through “democratic”, meaning ‘bourgeois democratic’, means. They failed to defend workers’ property! So, we have a principled difference going back to 1991 which results from the LRCI breaking with Trotsky's 'unconditional defence of the Soviet Union’. Trotsky said that if revolutionaries could not defend the Soviet Union unconditionally (meaning defend it despite the Stalinist regime) then they could not defend anything! How true this proved to be! 

Consequences of Betrayal of Workers' Property 

When the RCIT comrades who were expelled from the LRCI (by then the League for a Fifth International (L5I)) around 2011, they approached us for discussions. We entered into an exchange of documents but failed to find agreement because the RCIT leadership refused to recognise the LRCI’s historic betrayal of workers’ property.

We could never fuse which a tendency that could not defend the historic gains of workers’ property and which actively participated in a popular front with Yeltsin (bourgeois democratic restorationists) that destroyed those gains.

In our discussions, we found that this non-Trotskyist adaptation to social imperialism continued to blight the RCIT method wherever conditions brought about a revolutionary crisis. The RCIT always put up the defence of bourgeois democracy against Stalinists or military juntas as a necessary means of advancing the working-class struggle for socialism.

In Yugoslavia in 1995, in the imperialist military intervention against Stalinist Serbia the LRCI did not defend Serbia against NATO but instead called for the defeat of both! Why? - the pressure of bourgeois public opinion. British public opinion was hostile toward Serbia and sympathetic to the bourgeois democratic right of Bosnia to independence. The LRCI in effect opted for the defeat of Serbia at the hands of imperialism. This was a replay of the Yeltsin betrayal. The breakup of Bosnia-Herzegovina, supported by US and NATO powers was lauded as a victory for ‘bourgeois democracy’ against the reactionary Titoist/Stalinist leadership of Milosevic in Serbia, and any prospect for political revolution to form a united socialist Yugoslavia was aborted. In 1999, the second NATO war against Serbia was to defend the bourgeois national right of Kosovo to secede from Serbia to create a US protectorate. As a result, Serbian, Bosnian, Kosovan (and Croatian) workers and peasants went to war against one another in the name of rival national chauvinisms that led to vicious ethnic cleansing to create new borders/frontiers.

Again, the LRCI (and RCIT) failed to defend workers’ property in the former Yugoslavia and in the process contributed to the formation of a reactionary breakup of a workers’ state and the creation of a number of new national borders/frontiers! But even if Serbia was no longer a Degenerate Workers’ State of any kind, the war between Serbia and Bosnia had been created by imperialist intervention to break-up Yugoslavia to smash the remains of workers’ property. NATO bombs on Serbia could not advance the self-determination of Bosnia. The result was the restoration of capitalism throughout the former Yugoslavia: a defeat for all workers. The breakup of Yugoslavia followed the same pattern as the breakup of the Soviet Union. For the LRCI the defeat of ‘workers’ property’ was not an historic defeat for workers but a mere reactionary phase in an otherwise revolutionary period in the march of bourgeois democracy.

In Egypt and Thailand in 2011/12, the right-wing bourgeois regimes were defended by the RCIT against military coups. Why? Because the RCIT thought it was necessary for workers to defend bourgeois democracy against military coups to create the preconditions for socialism. In both cases, we argued for an independent workers’ fight based on workers' councils and militias on the grounds that bourgeois ‘democratic’ governments were popular fronts tying the hands of workers and so making coups possible.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood regime was elected on a reactionary constitution written by the army to halt the revolution. In Thailand, the government thrown out of power by the military was a patronising, corrupt regime duping the masses. In neither case could workers advance their struggle by defending 'bourgeois democracy' when in practice such governments were suppressing the class independence of workers.

In Brazil in 2015, the RCIT stretched the concepts of 'coup', and 'fascism', to describe the right-wing use of a reactionary constitution to impeach Dilma and sideline Lula in the 2018 elections. Although the RCIT recognised that the Workers Party-led government was a popular front (and that its bourgeois partners including Temer were complicit in the ‘coup’) it called for defence of the popular front Government against the ‘coup’.

As stated already, our position was, and is, that we do not defend bourgeois democracy unless workers can advance this as workers’ democracy. The RCIT position is to make bourgeois democracy a fetish, or a necessary step towards, if not substitute for, workers’ democracy. In every revolutionary crisis where bourgeois governments are deposed by a military coup, or threat of a coup, the RCIT resorts to defence of bourgeois democracy. Yet the whole epoch of imperialism from Berlin 1919 to Brazil 2015 proves that bourgeois democracy is bankrupt and counter-revolutionary and that any advance on the road to revolution requires the proletariat to be organised independently of bourgeois democracy to fight for workers’ democracy, workers’ power, and workers’ governments.

How is this related to Open Borders?

The slogan ‘open the borders’ is a bourgeois democratic demand. ‘Open borders’ needs a specific historical concretisation as an international working class united front, to open borders to worker migrants and shut them to the bosses. Opening borders to workers and oppressed, stopping deportations, and at the same time preventing bourgeois and counter-revolutionaries immigrating, that is what we mean by worker control of borders.

The ‘Open the borders’ slogan by itself is an appeal to bourgeois ‘human rights’ and does not challenge the popular front of chauvinist workers with bourgeois liberals and pacifists to regulate the borders - that is, bourgeois democracy. The bosses already have ‘open borders’ for capital, but regulate borders for the movement of variable capital (workers), and have special channels (lanes) through the borders for capitalists (e.g. ‘business migrants’ in Aotearoa/NZ; APEC business lane etc.). The existing capitalist 'democratic' control of the borders is the policy of the ruling class. It is ‘democratic’ because capitalist parties and bourgeois workers’ parties pass legislation to regulate the borders. Liberals and pacifists are concerned about the plight of refugees. They want to rescue refugees and 'open the borders' to invite refugees into join them in (the mythologically) 'safe' democratic capitalist countries. Bourgeois pacifists freely give an invitation to cross the capitalists’ borders and to be wage slaves with citizenship - democratic capitalist rights. They also give refuge to the class enemy, petty bourgeois or bourgeois who want to establish businesses to exploit the working class.

Aotearoa/NZ has long had a racist “white NZ” policy which gives preference to migrants from the old British Empire, in particular Britain, while keeping out “brown” workers from the semi-colonial world. In A/NZ the most blatant example is the influx of white South African “kith and kin” after 1994. They number in the thousands and congregate in the more affluent suburbs of cities, compared with the relatively few black or brown faces from Africa. Only recently has the back-door been opened to Asian, Philippino, South Asian and Middle Eastern migrants, most of whom end up as low-paid wage workers or ‘self-employed’.

Revolutionaries want a class based immigration policy that opens the borders to the oppressed but keeps the oppressors out. We are not social chauvinists. Our policy does not start at home. Workers’ control of borders is a consequence of the degeneration of the Fourth International and the failure of revolutions to remove the causes that force workers to flee from oppression at home to live and find work. As internationalists, we act to protect the lives of workers and oppressed in whatever country they are living in from imperialist and national oppression (i.e. the national liberation wars in MENA), those who flee imperialist invasions in semi-colonies and counter-revolutions everywhere, and from wars to restore capitalism in degenerated workers’ states including the DPRK today.

Revolutionaries would empower workers and other oppressed people to defend themselves from imperialism and its client states, by providing material aid and heavy weapons (e.g. surface to air missiles-(SAMs). They would form international brigades to fight alongside oppressed workers in military fronts, maintaining their political independence and not making concessions to any national, cultural and religious beliefs. Revolutionaries would smash the bourgeois aid agencies that pen working class refugees, into "camps" and throw them into the arms of criminal gangs who prey on them. Provide worker's aid, including the means of self-defence from fascist attacks! Smash the refugee camps and provide liveable accommodation! Down with bourgeois democracy and Up with workers’ democracy! Down with imperialism that creates the crisis most refugees are trying to escape! Revolutionaries don't just call for Imperialism out of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, (MENA): but also arm the revolutionaries! 

Marx, Lenin and Trotsky

Marxist analysis of the international class war that creates refugees recognise imperialist wars, imperialist exploitation of crops, and raw materials as the motor causes of famine and hardship that drive migration. As Marx argued over Ireland (see below), imperialism creates the influx of migration from less-developed semi-colonies to imperialist centres. Refugees are not the problem. Imperialism is the problem that needs a revolutionary working class ready to overthrow it.

The “open the borders” demand in the abstract is a reactionary utopia because it fails to provide transitional demands that are capable of mobilising workers to fight for a Workers’ Government. It cannot meet the needs of workers under capitalism, and in a workers’ state it will not be possible under the dictatorship of the proletariat. There is no way that “open borders” would survive in a Workers’ State because bosses, fascists, mercenaries, all enemies of the socialist revolution, would not be free to cross borders. Borders exist as a mechanism of control - the only question is which class benefits from that control; today it’s capitalist control, for capitalist benefit.

Marx’s answer to Irish workers driving down the wages of English workers was not to appeal to the bourgeois state to open or close the borders, but to confront English chauvinism directly by campaigning for English workers to fight to improve the conditions for Irish migrant workers and to unite with them in the fight for Irish Independence from English (British) imperialism:

But the English bourgeoisie has also much more important interests in the present economy of Ireland. Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the U.S.A. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

But the evil does not stop here. It continues across the ocean. The antagonism between Englishmen and Irishmen is the hidden basis of the conflict between the United States and England. It makes any honest and serious co-operation between the working classes of the two countries impossible. It enables the governments of both countries, whenever they think fit, to break the edge off the social conflict by their mutual bullying, and, in case of need, by war between the two countries.

England, the metropolis of capital, the power which has up to now ruled the world market, is at present the most important country for the workers’ revolution, and moreover the only country in which the material conditions for this revolution have reached a certain degree of maturity. It is consequently the most important object of the International Working Men’s Association to hasten the social revolution in England. The sole means of hastening it is to make Ireland independent. Hence it is the task of the International everywhere to put the conflict between England and Ireland in the foreground, and everywhere to side openly with Ireland. It is the special task of the Central Council in London to make the English workers realise that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment but the first condition of their own social emancipation.”
Letter of Karl Marx to Sigfrid Meyer and August Vogt, 9 April 1870

For Marx, then, the unity of workers across national borders had nothing to do with ‘opening the borders’ but the unity of the oppressed against the oppressor in destroying the oppressor state. The demand of ‘worker control’ of borders could not be implemented until after the socialist revolution. This position was also adopted by Lenin and Trotsky.

Lenin opposed the slogan “open frontiers” which is the same thing as “open borders” until it was possible under world socialism. He claimed that the “open the frontier” demand was an adaptation to “imperialist economism” the cult of bourgeois reforms in the imperialist heartlands paid for by colonial super-profits – akin to its twin, ‘social imperialism’, meaning ‘democratic’ imperialism abroad, socialism at home.

“The method of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is all muddled up. We have not succeeded in publishing the article in which I called this view “Imperialist Economism”.[3] What does the “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” mean? We maintain that the state is necessary, and a state presupposes frontiers. The state, of course, may hold a bourgeois government, but we need the Soviets. But even Soviets are confronted with the question of frontiers. What does “Down with frontiers” mean? It is the beginning of anarchy…The “method” of socialist revolution under the slogan “Down with frontiers” is simply a mess. When the time is ripe for socialist revolution, when it finally occurs, it will spread to other countries. We shall help it along, but in what manner, we do not know… Only when the socialist revolution has become a reality, and not a method, will the slogan “Down with frontiers” be a correct slogan. Then we shall say: Comrades, come to us...”

Trotsky was opposed to the free movement of migrants into the Soviet Union while it was still a healthy Workers State. Of course, he led the Red Army against imperialism and their proxies invading the workers’ state. But he also supported the regulated, planned settlement of Japanese and Korean peasants in Siberia as part of the overall development of the Soviet Union.

“When resolving the question of Japanese immigration to the Soviet Far East we must take into account the intense interest the Japanese public is showing in this matter. However, in view of the danger of Japanese colonization in the Far East, every step we take will have to be cautious and gradual. It is premature at this time to fix the number of Japanese immigrants who are to be allowed into the USSR, but, in any case, Japanese immigration should not be large. It should be strictly regulated and should result in the breaking up of Japanese-controlled resources by means of a special agency set up for that purpose. The Japanese colonists should be settled in a checkerboard fashion, being alternated with a reinforcement of colonization from central Russia. The land that is parceled out should be acceptable to the Japanese peasants and should be suited to the peculiarities of Japanese agriculture. There are areas of land suitable for the Japanese colonists in the vicinity of Khabarovsk and further south, but not in the Siberian interior. We must not allow Korean immigration into these regions under the pretense that it is Japanese. The question of Korean immigration must be examined separately. The Koreans can be granted land that is considerably farther into the depths of Siberia.”

The Soviet Union as a Workers’ State facing imperialist encirclement had to defend its borders from hostile imperialist invasion, their mercenary armies and agent provocateurs. This was the Bolshevik application of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat of the Workers’ State to control the frontiers to admit pro-soviet workers and peasants and deny entry to, or expel, bourgeois counter-revolutionaries. Of course, this policy has nothing in common with Stalin’s Menshevik/bureaucratic policy of deportations of revolutionaries and forced population transfers, which could only be stopped by the overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy by means of political revolution.

We are back to the basic disagreement between Trotsky's transitional method that empowers workers to develop as a class conscious revolutionary force, and the RCIT’s Menshevik method that blocks the self-development of workers by imposing the defence of reactionary bourgeois slogans and popular fronts as a necessary step to ‘prepare’ workers for socialism.

The RCIT's democratic capitalist demand to “open borders” without specific class actions does not develop the consciousness of the working class or help build a new revolutionary communist international. While the response of most workers in Europe to the influx of Syria refugees was welcoming and inclusive, to throw up the “muddled” slogan “open the borders” as an abstract demand would indeed lead to “anarchy”. It would substitute bourgeois “human rights” for proletarian democracy and fail to advance the consciousness of workers in action. We need to consider how workers would control the borders, not as an abstract bourgeois right which suppresses the class line, but to advance the international proletarian revolution.

Menshevik and Bolshevik Method

The RCIT criticism of the slogan ‘worker control’ is a vote of “no confidence” in the working class – they believe workers’ in the “oppressor countries” would be unable to control the borders for the benefit of the international working class. RCIT assumed social chauvinist workers would close the borders to migrant workers because they are ‘not ready’ to fight for worker control. When it comes to the crunch they have no confidence in Marxism, Communism and International revolutionary politics. This is typical of centrists who opportunistically adapt to social imperialism.

This is the historic methodology of Menshevism which substitutes petty bourgeois intellectuals for the proletarian party and defaults from Bolshevism to the defence of bourgeois democracy in the imperialist countries and the semi-colonies. That is why the RCIT calls for “open the borders” in the imperialist countries but in the semi-colonies the oppressed masses can take control of the borders as part of their independence struggle. In its Theses on… Black Africa it raises the ‘revolutionary’ demand that “white and Chinese settlers” who do not “support African liberation struggle” be deported, and the borders closed to "influx of such settlers”.

"16. Revolutionaries in Africa strongly oppose the rising chauvinism fostered by reactionary forces among the ruling class and the middle layers against migrants. Such counter-revolutionary hatred has even led, for example, to pogroms against Nigerian and Zimbabwe migrants in South Africa. Revolutionaries call for international unity among the workers and oppressed irrespective of their national and ethnic origin. However, a different issue is the problem of the white and Chinese settlers who have come as local representatives of imperialist powers. In such cases, revolutionaries call these settlers either to break with "their" colonial power and to support the African liberation struggle, or to leave the country. Likewise they defend the right of African states to block the influx of such settlers." (Our emphasis)

'Theses on Capitalism and Class Struggle in Black Africa' (Part 4)

So, for the RCIT the ‘open borders’ slogan really amounts to opening imperialist borders to semi-colonial workers and closing the semi-colonial borders to imperialist ‘settlers’ both as reforms within the existing global capitalist economy facing a terminal crisis! This is an opportunist adaptation to petty bourgeois humanism in the imperialist countries, and to petty bourgeois popular fronts in the semi-colonies. And a 21st century expression of 20th century ‘imperialist economism’, bourgeois democracy in the oppressor countries paid for by the workers and poor farmers in the oppressed countries. As if proving our point, the Brazilian section of the RCIT forwarded to us an article on the new immigration law in Brazil which accords equal citizenship status to migrants as to Brazilian nationals. Does this prove that ‘open borders’ is not a utopian demand but rather evidence that bourgeois democracy is capable of allowing the free movement of workers to match the free movement of capital across borders? And this in a semi-colonial country that the RCIT claims has been subjected to a ruling class ‘coup’!

Of course, we defend bourgeois rights where they advance the interests of workers internationally, but we don’t pretend that such rights can be won or defended by any means other than independent working class struggle. By making a fetish of bourgeois democracy, the RCIT has betrayed its claim to its very name. The task of Bolsheviks is to develop workers’ consciousness – not trap it in the non-historical abstraction of “open borders” that is premised on the ideology of the bourgeois citizen. When workers have broken from bourgeois ideology and formed a consciousness of a “class for itself”, they will be capable of taking power and taking control of borders. We must say now, and openly, that this is part of the dictatorship of the proletariat: that is, after the revolution we will exercise the class power of the workers’ states for the maximum benefit of the international proletariat.

That is why our article included the demand: “Open the borders to political refugees”.

We should have been more specific and said “refugees from imperialist and national oppression” to exclude the right of bosses and ‘settler colonists’ like racist British fleeing Asian and African migration; white settler ‘kith and kin’ fleeing Mugabe’s regime in Zimbabwe or the end of Apartheid in South Africa; Chinese petty bourgeois fleeing CCP rule; US corporate bosses fleeing Trump; etc. That is, to make the ‘open borders’ a concrete demand specifying the necessity for workers to organise independently of the bourgeoisie and the bureaucracy to fight for asylum for all oppressed workers and farmers who reach our shores.

But it should be obvious to ‘Bolshevik-Communists’ that such concrete demands are transitional demands to advance workers’ struggle for ‘worker control’ under capitalism but which cannot be realised short of socialist revolution.

So, the article concluded:

“In a socialist world planned migration would send skilled migrants to develop the poor nations, to educate and to build health services and infrastructure to improve living standards. For this to happen we need a new communist international and a Transitional Program for socialism to unite the worlds’ workers into one revolutionary force”.

It is clear that the workers’ control we advocate is one based on working class independence and not that of the labour bureaucracy’s subservience to national chauvinism. It means workers’ power and international socialism, and the smashing of chauvinist currents in the working class. Not as in the current situation whereby capitalists control migration to extract and exploit skilled labour from poorer countries within the rich countries and incite the unemployed to blame ‘foreign’ migrant workers for their wage-slavery. It is a clear choice between workers’ or capitalists’ control of migration and borders: we urge all revolutionaries to stand in solidarity with workers: advance to worker control’!

The RCIT places democratic demands on capitalism, and calls conferences centred in the midst of imperialist privilege paid for by centuries of super-exploitation and super-profits. And as the global crisis intensifies the flow of political refugees and economic migrants into the EU, it should be obvious that the ‘borders can only be opened’ in the interest of workers and oppressed by means of ‘worker control’. As the far right and openly fascist parties grow to mobilise workers to oppose migration, we have to draw a strong class line for “workers control of the borders and against capitalist control of borders.”

For revolutionary communist internationalists building sections in the semi-colonies to counter the tendency towards social imperialism in the imperialist countries. It was social imperialism that led to the fatal degeneration of the Fourth International after 1940! Build a new World Party of Socialism that empowers cadre from the semi-colonies to overcome the crisis of revolutionary leadership of the world proletariat! Provide workers’ aid and practical support to the most advanced (class conscious) workers in independent workers’ organisations from the least economically developed states! Meet and hold congresses in the semi-colonies! Exchange cadres so that leaders in the imperialist countries have direct experience of the semi-colonies!

Down with Mensheviks who substitute the petty bourgeois intelligentsia for the proletariat!

For an independent workers’ movement based on workers’ councils and workers’ militias to overthrow the capitalist state and create a revolutionary Workers’ Government!

For Worker Control of the Borders to open them to the oppressed and close them to the oppressors!

For a New World Party of Socialism that represents the most oppressed workers to solve the Crisis of Revolutionary Leadership!

For the Working Class to live, capitalism and imperialism must die!


Historical Differences with the RCIT




RCIT critique of Worker Control of migration

CWG article on Worker Control of Migration

Marx on Irish workers in England

Lenin on ‘Down with Frontiers’

Trotsky on Japanese and Korean Migrants

Brazil’s new immigration law

CWG(ANZ) 30 April, 2017

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

War Crimes for Idiots: The New Zealand SAS and the War on Terror

Image result for NZ SAS in Afghanistan
Part of the NZ SAS squad walking away from a firefight in Kabul, June 2011

17 years after 9/11 and the official launch of the War on Terror (WOT) NZ finds itself facing for the first time the undeniable proof that it was recruited by the US (“for us or against us”) as mercenaries in the US campaign to avenge itself against ‘Islamic Terrorism’. The occasion is not any actual current events in the WOT in Afghanistan, but the publication of the book Hit and Run by Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson documenting Operation Burnham, the revenge raid against the killers of SAS Lieutenant O’Donnell led by the NZ SAS on two villages in the Tirgiran valley during the dead of night on March 22, 2010. The title of the book might have been 'Hunt and Kill' as that more accurately describes the nature of the SAS mission between 2002 and 2013. Operation Burnham failed as the Taliban militants who killed O’Donnell were not in the village, but hiding further up the mountains until the situation had ‘blown over’. But never mind, reprisals in wartime have never worried too much about hitting the targets. So, 21 civilians ended up dead or wounded. The SAS reported 9 ‘insurgents’ dead and no civilians killed. Do we blame the fog of war? No. We blame capitalism and imperialism and the WOT.

The War on Terror is the real war crime

Both Labour and National governments covered up killing of non-combatants by the SAS from February 2002 to April 2013 when the SAS returned to NZ for the last time. They could cover it up because they were mercenaries of the US in its latest imperialist war. Whenever new evidence surfaced in the years that followed it was met with denials and lies. Who was going to blow the whistle? Well, the new book, Hit and Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour, presents conclusive proof for the first time which is impossible to run from - even if the one person most responsible for Operation Burnham, John Key, has done a runner. Still, the NACT regime in power continues the cover up parroting the official NZDF line of ‘no civilian dead’. The authors’ aim is to force an independent inquiry to expose any ‘war crimes’ and demand that NZ troops follow the international ‘rules of war’ in any future engagements. While as Marxists we support an ‘independent’ inquiry because it will expose more dirty secrets of NZ’s role as a deputy dog of US imperialism, we know that this will not stop the WOT. By its nature, as part of the class war, the WOT is conducted as a ‘dirty’ war outside any legal constraints precisely because it is an imperialist war of conquest and exploitation.

The war crime is killing Afghans not civilians

What’s the difference between an Afghan citizen and a Taliban insurgent? One might say an AK47. But that is not true. In fact, it is whether or not a person is running towards or from the SAS. Judging by the bourgeois media reception of Hit and Run (e.g. the New Zealand Herald calls for an inquiry) this abortive mission which caused civilian deaths is worthy of an official inquiry as a potential ‘war crime’. This concept of ‘war crime’ has a history, being defined by the Clark Labour Government as killing non-combatants, or torturing combatants. That’s why earlier atrocities dating back to 2002 did not hit headlines as no innocent civilians were recorded as killed. When evidence that combatants handed over to the US forces by the SAS were tortured of killed, the Labour Government stopped the SAS taking prisoners. The ‘fiasco’, (according to Defence Minister Mapp who was at the time in Kabul, along with Chief of the NZDF, Lieutenant-General Mateparae a veteran of Labour’s 2002 ‘fiasco’) that took place in 2010 only hit the radar because it did involve civilian deaths and executions, and the NACT regime suppressed the truth about it until John Stephenson investigated the events and published evidence of these deaths in 2011.


NACTS in official denial

True to form the NACT regime is in denial and parroting the Defence Ministry lies that no civilians were killed. But having its nose rubbed in the reality of the dirty WOT is seems that liberal NZ has woken up from nearly two decades of moral vacancy to rescue NZ’s peace-loving reputation. Because any idiot could have worked out that NZ should never have been in Afghanistan in the first place. The dirty WOT was and remains a blatant case of a US imperialist invasion to occupy and colonise a country that sits strategically in the heartland of Eurasia and on Russia’s back doorstep. The Saudis who perpetrated 9/11 were not hiding in Afghanistan, nor was Bin Laden. If the Taliban were ‘terrorists’ threatening the security of the US and the ‘free West’ it was only because it was funded by the US to fight the Soviet occupation in 1979. Now in the fit of revenge following 9/11 George Bush the younger, re-labelled the Taliban as ‘terrorist’ and the protector of Al Qaeda. What’s more Bush made it clear that ‘terrorists’ where not ‘lawful combatants’ and that they were not protected by international law of war and human rights. The NACTs as servile, US clients, do not intend to abandon their historic role as loyal servants of US imperialism without a fight.

What happened to women, democracy, human rights? 

All of the blatant excuses put up by the US to justify the invasion of Afghanistan in the name of democracy, women, and human rights were patently false to anyone other than idiots. Women did not benefit from the invasion. They suffered massively as families and communities were destroyed. Democracy failed from day one as the US simple installed its client regime under its military ally, Pashtun tribal leader Hamid Kharzai, in 2004. Bin Laden was never found and only hunted down and killed years later in Pakistan. The reality was that the WOT was a unilateral war of vengeance for 9/11 directed at all ‘militant’ Islamic movements under the generic label of Al Qaeda. It was to become a never-ending war against Islam as the existential threat to the “West” – that is, a threat to the hegemonic rule of US imperialism and its allies and client states such as NZ, against the spread of armed resistance of national liberation wars against US imperialist rule.

Avenging 9/11 to rebuild US global hegemony

What did New Zealanders think the SAS was doing in Afghanistan? It was obvious that from the start that NZ reacted to 9/11 by siding with Bush (“you are either for us or against us”) by joining the WOT in 2001. There was strong opposition to Clark’s Labour Government legislating draconian measures to combat the WOT at home, and sending combatant troops into Afghanistan. Recognising this opposition the Government refused to send troops into combat but agreed to allow non-combatants on a civil reconstruction mission, and defended by the SAS. This was condemned on the left as a pacifist cover for participating in the dirty WOT. We didn’t have to wait long for proof. The SAS quickly fell into their real role as mercenaries in the US WOT and to ‘dishonour’ themselves by reneging on their obligations under the rules of war. In February, 2002 the NZ SAS led a military attack on the village of Band e Timor. According to Jon Stephenson who did the outstanding investigative reporting to blow the cover on this raid, it’s purpose was to arrest the prominent Taliban leader Mullah Akhtar Osmani.

Band e Timor raid led by SAS  

But what was the SAS, alongside the Civil Reconstruction Team in Bameyan province on a mission to win ‘hearts and minds’, doing leading a military action on a village where a 70-year-old man was shot dead and 6-year-old girl killed when she panicked and fell down a well? Were they not also complicit in the death of the village head, Berget Khan, whom they handed over to the US only to have his skull smashed in within hours. There was no sign of the wanted Taliban leader. The deaths of civilians, the arrests, mistreatment and torture, led to a massive uproar in the tribal people, especially among women, undermining the ostensible mission of the SAS in acting as a ‘peacekeeping’ cover for the dirty WOT. Why then, was this raid not condemned as a ‘war crime’ and the SAS reprimanded by the Labour Government? The Clark government didn’t have the guts to stand up to the US so soon after 9/11 and accepted the legitimacy of the WOT even if it pretended not to be engaged in actual firefights. Meanwhile, back in NZ, RAKON, a NZ-based high tech firm was manufacturing and selling guidance systems for missiles to the US. So maybe building guidance systems is not a ‘war crime’ because it could prevent civilians being mistaken for targets by missiles and drones? Idiotic!

The legitimacy of the ‘war on terror’

It’s clear that once you accept the legitimacy of the ‘War on Terror’ it is a matter of a few short steps from ‘peacekeeping’ or ‘civil reconstruction’ with the right to armed defence, to leading a firefight. Who knew or cared? The Labour Government tried to limit the role of the SAS to avoid future deaths of civilians and torture of suspect Talibs. But the nature of the WOT meant that this was impossible. Sooner or later the logic which drove the SAS to combat roles would see it drawn into more firefights. It is not possible to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of an occupied people subjected to the WOT when you are on the wrong side. Who knew? A history lesson for idiots shows that all foreign invaders of Afghanistan have been defeated and expelled. Why should the US coalition be any different? Communists who know their history condemned NZ’s role in Afghanistan from the start demanding that all foreign troops get out or face defeat.

While we have no wish to see NZ soldiers killed, this is what happens to troops that invade and occupy a poor country to suppress a national resistance movement. In Afghanistan, it happened to the British in the 1840s and again in the 1870s and to the Russians in the 1980s. So, it was inevitable that both the SAS and the civil reconstruction team in Bameyon province would sooner or later face deaths in action and under the rules of the WOT a hunt to kill the perpetrators, abut that sooner or later the armed invaders would face ultimate defeat. When Lieutenant Tim O’Donnell was killed by a IED on 3 August 2010 it took less than three weeks to mount a series of reprisal ‘hunt and kill’ raids that began on the night of 22 August 2010 and continued until April 2013 when the SAS left Afghanistan in defeat. The culture of vengeance that drove the ‘hunt and kill’ raids was signed off by Defence Minister Mapp, Chief of NZDF Mateparae, and PM Key. It remains to be seen whether or not the National Party will be driven out of power in defeat.

SAS troops questioned breaking rules of war

From the start of the WOT not all SAS members approved of their role. In his 2011 Metro article, Eyes Wide Shut, Stephenson reports that after the 2002 raid, some SAS members were unhappy with the treatment of prisoners by the US forces. They expected them to be treated according to the rules of engagement, but in fact found out quickly enough that the US treated prisoners like they were in Guantanamo. The SAS commander Lieutenant Colonel Jim Blackwell raised their objections to the treatment of prisoners with the commanders of the Canadian, Danish, German and Norwegian special forces. No action was taken. Was this information passed back to the Labour Government, to Prime Minister Clark, Minister of Foreign Affairs Goff, Minister of Foreign Affairs or Minister of Defence Burton? Of course. But failing any satisfactory response from the NZ Government, our position was, and remains, that troops have the right to refuse orders from their officers and to mutiny if ordered to kill or torture outside the rules of engagement. Of course, this is far from a mutiny rejecting the legitimacy of the WOT in Afghanistan, but it is a ‘natural justice’ response on the part of ordinary soldiers to the hypocrisy of idiots similar to that which motivated the whistleblower Chelsea Manning to expose the dirty WOT in Iraq.

What did the Labour Government do?

Stephenson’s 2011 Metro article Eyes Wide Shut documents Labour’s policy stance from 2001. Hypocrisy sums it up. Clark as PM was really in charge of NZ’s role in the WOT. The Band e Timur raid was Labour’s ‘fiasco’. It was also Clark’s ‘fiasco’ as she signed off the SAS ‘Rules of Engagement’. Goff in 2007 recollected that in 2002 (when he was Minister of Foreign Affairs) concern over the treatment of prisoners in this raid caused the Government to seek assurances that prisoners were treated humanely. An attempt was made to involve the Red Cross to monitor this process, but Stephenson found that the Red Cross were unaware of this. After the revelations about Abu Ghraib in April 2004 and the Human Rights Watch Report Enduring Freedom of March 2004 which detailed abuses in the treatment of detainees, the SAS was instructed to hand over detainees to the Afghan, and not the US, authorities. Who were they fooling? For example, a token attempt to track 3 detainees from Band e Timur who had been sent to Guantanamo was futile because NZ did not supply their names!

Despite mounting evidence of more raids, torture and killings in which the NZ SAS were complicit, it kept the SAS in Afghanistan until 2005. It did not send them back when re-elected for a third term because it viewed the Afghan Kharzai government as corrupt and US policy in fighting the WOT as indefensible after Abu Ghraib revelations. The public abhorrence of these graphic images of inhumane torture made it impossible to maintain the pretence that NZ could keep its hands clean and not be judged as complicit in the US and Afghan conduct of the dirty WOT. It is clear that the Labour Government commitment to the WOT ‘trumped’ it’s professed concern for the human rights of combatants and non-combatants until the systematic abuse of prisoners in the WOT and “almost total impunity” of the US from any charge of ‘war crimes’ created widespread popular repugnance. Labour’s ‘fiasco’ in 2002 and its failure to seriously correct the abuse of prisoners for which it had responsibility, removed any doubt that it was, like the National Government, a ‘deputy dog’ of US imperialism, and that its SAS troops were actually mercenaries dressed up as humanitarians until this disguise was stripped off. We cannot put any trust in a future Labour Government, any more than a National Government, to refuse to participate in the ongoing US dirty WOT!

NACTs roll over for Obomber 

The NACTS in government deployed the SAS back to Afghanistan on 10 August, 2009, but this time the disguise was the SAS role as ‘mentors’ of the Afghan Crisis Response Unit (CRU) formed to replace departing US troops. PM Key said that if the SAS detained suspects they would “most likely” be handed over to the Afghan rather than US authorities. He had received assurance from the Afghans that they observed the Geneva Convention. In January, 2010, the SAS was involved in a training exercise with the CRU in Kabul to detain suspects that led to a firefight that was reported in the NZ media with photos of SAS personnel moving in full battle dress along a street. And we now know that on March 22, 2010, NZSAS were involved in Operation Burnham fiasco in the Tirgiran Valley, Baghlan province when 21 non-combatants were killed or wounded. 

This Operation was kept secret by the NACT regime until Hager’s book Other People’s Wars was published in 2011 and Stephenson’s Maori TV documentary Collateral Damage was broadcast in 2014, raising questions that were met with the standard denials and evasions. But the cover up is now threadbare because of the new facts documented in Hager and Stephenson’s new book Hit and Run. The fallout from the publication of their book has created a national debate, and the call for an ‘independent’ inquiry to force a full disclosure, and the possibility of ‘war crime’ charges under international law being laid against the NZDF or the NZ Government.

Will an ‘inquiry’ stop the War on Terror?

While the facts that have been covered up are now disclosed by Hit and Run an ‘independent’ inquiry would severely weaken the ruling class practice of secrecy that is endemic in the WOT. It may help us ‘open the books’ on the secret defence and security pacts NZ has made with the US. It would be more difficult for any future government to take us into war without a public debate or referendum. At the same time no inquiry can be truly ‘independent’ of the ruling class - the craven comprador Deputy Dogs of the USA playing a supine mercenary role in the dirty WOT. Whether or not such an inquiry is held, we need a ‘Workers’ Inquiry’ made up of NZ and Afghan delegates elected by and accountable to NZ and Afghan workers’ and poor farmers organisations.

There is no doubt that the NZSAS, the NZDF and both Labour and National Governments have gone along with George Bush and turned a blind eye to the inhumane treatment of both combatants and non-combatants in Afghanistan. There is plenty of evidence given by SAS members, by Afghans submitting testimony to their NZ lawyers and from a wealth of other sources to hold both NZDF and Labour and National governments to account for the breaking of the basic laws of war including the Geneva Convention. The SAS even broke most of its own Laws of War and Rules of Engagement in adopting the US WOT standard ‘Hunt and Kill’ missions in Afghanistan. They shot civilians, left them for dead as ‘insurgents’, even ‘suspects’. They cynically handed over suspects to US and Afghan authorities they knew would torture if not kill them. However, only idiots ignorant of history and of capitalist imperialism could draw the conclusion that it is possible to stop such ‘war crimes’ without stopping imperialist war itself. It is the US-led WOT itself which defines ‘insurgents’ as “unlawful combatants” with no rights under any law that has to be stopped.

Imperialist war is the crime against humanity

We oppose imperialist war because it is war by oppressor nations against oppressed nations, subjecting them to plunder to rescue falling profits at home. While imperialist wars are wars between nations, they are in essence class wars. We are for the defeat of the ruling class in the imperialist nations and the victory of workers and oppressed in the oppressed nations that fight imperialism. The 20th century saw two imperialist world wars for control of Eurasia, and hence world domination, and many wars against colonies and semi-colonies to defeat the resistance of the popular masses to imperialism. The US emerged as the dominant power after WW2, but not until the defeat of the Soviet Union and China as degenerated workers’ states around 1990, did the US become truly hegemonic. Yet this victory proved illusory and ultimately led to further defeats.

The first Gulf War in 1991 created the conditions for the rise of an Islamic blowback in the form of Al Qaeda and the Taliban. Nor did the return of the former bureaucratic workers’ states, in particular Russia and China, to the world capitalist economy stop the decline in global profits. By the turn of the 21st century, Russia and China were emerging as new imperialist rivals for the control of Eurasia, and therefore, the world economy. 9/11 marked an historic defeat for the US. US hegemony was challenged by a Radical Islamic blowback and the escalation of new inter-imperialist trade and military wars. The WOT was the US response to these twin threats to its global hegemony. The invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was the first test of the WOT and it led to an historic defeat for the US coalition. The intervention of the NZ SAS cannot escape being an integral part of that defeat.

Stop war crimes by stopping imperialist wars!

We draw the conclusion from Hit and Run that the NZDF was behaving in 2010 just as it did in 2002 - as mercenaries of the US coalition. It ignored the international and national laws and operated as part of the US ‘secret war’. George Bush in 2001 rubbished the Geneva Convention defining all ‘insurgents’ or ‘terrorists’ as ‘unlawful combatants’. If there are no laws limiting the WOT, then there can be no war crimes as such. It is the war of oppressor states against oppressed states that is the crime against humanity. The crime is the act of an imperialist oppressor and its mercenaries to invade and occupy an oppressed state on the pretext of fighting against “terror” when imperialism is itself the main cause of terror. Of course, in such wars, all sorts of other crimes are committed. They only fuel the resistance of oppressed states, or Islamic radical organisations such as the Taliban, Al Qaeda, etc., to fight the imperialist invaders as subject nations have done for centuries. The invaders always divide the people in an attempt to conquer. Today the US invader sides with the Pashtun tribe against the Taliban by designating the latter as ‘terrorist’. But the WOT has strengthened the Taliban and brings its victory closer.

So, whose side are we on again? Against the WOT we must defend all national liberation struggles without giving any political support to semi-feudal Islamic movements like the Taliban. But only by throwing out the imperialists can the Afghan people settle their tribal differences and unite workers and poor farmers to overthrow corrupt bourgeois regimes that side with the invaders. Then it would be possible to work together and create the conditions for a democratic and socialist Afghanistan within a wider socialist federation of Eurasia.

SAS Troops out of Afghanistan!

Disband the SAS!

Break with all imperialist alliances!

All imperialist troops out of Afghanistan!

Down with the War on Terror!

Defeat imperialism!

For a Socialist Afghanistan in a Federation of Eurasian Socialist Republics!


Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson, Hit & Run: The New Zealand SAS in Afghanistan and the meaning of honour. Potton & Burton, Nelson NZ. 2017