At the end of September Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Adviser, mused that “the Middle East region is quieter today than it has been in two decades”. Just a week later came the start of the fifth Israel-Gaza war, completely shattering that false perspective.
The October 7 deadly assault on Israel led by Gaza’s ruling party Hamas killed the highest number of Jewish people in a single day since the Holocaust and a number of foreign migrant workers, Israeli Arabs and Bedouin. In response the Israeli government declared a State of War that unleashed massive terror and destruction on Gaza, quickly escalating the death toll of Palestinians to beyond that of Israelis.
Israel’s most right-wing coalition government ever, under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had been focusing on further steps towards annexation of the West Bank and had not prepared the Israeli military for the scale of the attack from Gaza. It had regarded the entrapment of over two million Palestinians behind the Gaza fence as a problem it could leave aside, and Gaza’s Hamas government as subdued and lacking in military capability.
In this article, written in September on the thirtieth anniversary of the first Oslo accord – and before the eruption of the recent war – JUDY BEISHON discusses what conditions would be necessary for achieving an independent Palestinian state.
The human geography of Israel-Palestine has been far from static. ‘Facts on the ground’ pushed ahead by successive Israeli governments have been changing the landscape of the West Bank and east Jerusalem since Israel’s victory in the 1967 war. Jewish settlements have been expanded in size and number, to now encompass around 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and 230,000 in east Jerusalem.
Palestinians meanwhile are more and more atomised into poverty-stricken enclaves, including the Gaza strip which remains largely blockaded by both Israel and Egypt. They suffer land expropriation, home demolitions, restrictions on movement and brutal repression. Since the year 2000, over 10,700 Palestinians have been killed in the conflict, many of them during the four Israeli military onslaughts on Gaza since 2008.
This year, Palestinians in the West Bank have so far suffered the highest death toll – the most there since the UN began recording it in 2005. Not only have they suffered regular raids and killings by the Israeli military – including a bloody assault on Jenin in July – but also increasingly ferocious, communal violence from right-wing ultra-nationalist Jewish settlers.
This year’s annual British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey found that “attitudes towards people who are transgender have become markedly less liberal over the past three years”. The BSA found that “64% describe themselves as not prejudiced at all against people who are transgender, a decline of 18 percentage points since 2019 (82%)”. And that “just 30% think someone should be able to have the sex on their birth certificate altered if they want, down from 53% in 2019”.
Overall, the BSA findings do not represent a right-ward shift in the views of British society. On the contrary, looking back over survey responses of the last 40 years the report found a significant transformation of social attitudes in relation to sexual relationships and gender roles: “67% think a sexual relationship between two people of the same sex is never wrong, compared with 17% in 1983”, for example. While “support for an abortion being allowed in circumstances when the woman decides on her own that she does not want to have a child has risen from 37% in 1983 to 76% now”.
The apparently anomalous findings on trans rights are a product of specific processes over the last few years. The survey states that their direction and timing “have been largely triggered by the intense political debate and media discussion”.
September 2023 marked a decade since Chinese Communist Party (CCP) president Xi Jinping unveiled plans for what became China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). This, along with other ‘soft power’ initiatives, has been a key feature of the growing geo-political rivalry between China and the US, writes PHILIP STOTT.
Few understood the significance of the announcement in 2013 in a speech by Xi in Kazakhstan in which he declared the ‘Silk Road economic belt’ would be the ‘project of the century’. As the Economist magazine commented in its feature to mark the tenth anniversary: “No one predicted that the project would become a defining feature of his foreign policy and dramatic symbol of China’s rise as a global power”. They went on: “The West was in for a shock”.
Fast forward ten years and the BRI has had a major international impact in vast parts of the world. Up to June 2023, “China had signed more than 200 belt and road cooperation agreements with 152 nations and 32 international institutions across five continents”, according to the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC), China’s major economic planning agency.
CHRISTINE THOMAS reviews a fascinating book which traces the evolution of domestic labour in class society and offers a glimpse of what socialism could mean.
After Work: A History of the Home and the Fight for Free Time
By Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek
Published by Verso, 2023, £16-99
Helen Hester and Nick Srnicek want a world in which we all work less and have more free time. Not many working people would take issue with that. After Work, however, is concerned not with paid work – the ‘exchange’ of a workers’ labour power for wages – but unwaged ‘social reproductive’ work: housework, childcare, household management etc, work in the family that is still predominantly performed by women, even in the more advanced capitalist countries in the ‘west’ – which this book concentrates on. Could society be organised differently in order to reduce this work as much as possible? Could the remaining work be redistributed more equitably? These are questions posed in the introduction to this interesting and thought-provoking book.
As the stalemate in Ukraine grinds on, DAVE REID reviews a book that shines a spotlight on the origins of Putin’s attack and the significance of the national question, historically and today.
The Russo-Ukrainian War
By Serhii Plokhy
Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £25
The modern crisis of global capitalism is nowhere starker than the human catastrophe in the Ukraine, where the bloody war with Russia has, by some estimates, claimed 300,000 casualties on both sides, 15,000 of them civilians. According to Serhii Plokhy’s book, The Russo-Ukrainian War, by March 2022, eight million Ukrainians were displaced, seven million had migrated.
This book intends to offer a historical background and description of the outbreak of the Ukraine war, and provides a comprehensive but brief account of modern Ukrainian history that a reader new to the politics of the country before the war would find useful. But like all histories it depends very much on the outlook of the historian. The reader is alerted to the outlook of Plokhy on the front cover of the book, where the Financial Times describes him as “the foremost historian of the Ukraine”.
Not So Black and White: A History of Race from White Supremacy to Identity Politics
By Kenan Malik
Published by C Hurst & Co, 2023, £20
Reviewed by Deji Olayinka
Kenan Malik’s book, Not So Black and White, discusses the ideas and battles in the history of race and racism since the 1600s. While the common sense view is that it is difference that leads to racial inequality, he makes clear that “race didn’t give birth to racism. Racism gave birth to race”.
Modern white-supremacist racism developed as a consequence of the transatlantic slave trade; it was not the other way round. In the initial decades, American plantations were mainly worked by European indentured servants.
To begin with the plantation owners preferred indentured servants over chattel slaves because renting a person was cheaper than buying one, and because if they failed to work well or ran away a court could extend their servitude term, whereas slaves couldn’t be threatened that way. There were also European slaves from the Balkans, and Circassian slaves, but their supply was being reduced by the Ottoman Empire. This, alongside other mostly business reasons, meant that African slaves were used more frequently.
The Black Lives Matter movement has reignited an ongoing discussion about whether or how reparations should be made for the horrors of slavery. To coincide with Black History Month we are publishing the following article by PAULA MITCHELL as a contribution towards that debate.
Karl Marx famously said that capitalism came into being “dripping from head to toe, from every pore, with blood and dirt”.
By this he meant “the discovery of gold and silver in America, the extirpation, enslavement and entombment in mines of the indigenous population of that continent, the beginnings of the conquest and plunder of India, and the conversion of Africa into a preserve for the commercial hunting of black skins, are all things which characterise the dawn of the era of capitalist production. These idyllic proceedings are the chief moments of primitive accumulation…”.
From the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries, estimates vary but between ten and fifteen million Africans were kidnapped and crammed into merchant ships, to be enslaved in the Caribbean and southern states of America. The trade was begun by the Portuguese but by the seventeenth century Britain was at the heart of it. An estimated two million perished on the Middle Passage, dying in horrific conditions or thrown overboard. On arrival they were sold and sold again as commodities; families divided, and put to work on plantations; branded, raped, lynched and mutilated. The trade in slaves and in the commodities produced on the plantations was one of the key elements in the genesis of capitalism, and in particular enabled the growth of Britain as the world’s foremost capitalist economic power.
The multiple problems facing China’s state capitalist economy have grown significantly during 2023. The western capitalist press is full of often self-serving analysis predicting the end of the ‘Chinese miracle’. In addition, ratcheting tensions between China and the US have led to severe trade embargoes – first under Donald Trump’s presidency, and more recently Biden’s so-called ‘Chip Wars’.
US imperialism is determined to stop its primary world rival from acquiring the advanced technologies in semiconductors to enable moves to an advanced economy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), in contrast, is trying to transition China from an ‘assembly plant’ into a higher value-added manufacturing economy. Especially in green energy, healthcare, artificial intelligence, supercomputing, life sciences and military technology.
In August, the Universities and Colleges Union (UCU) brought its long-running dispute over pay and conditions into the new academic year 2023/24, announcing five days of action – though later adding an opt-out clause for branches outside of Scotland.
This latest round of strikes also coincided with a nationwide re-ballot of UCU members, which started on 20 September and will decide whether this dispute – involving the so-called ‘Four Fights’ over pay, pay equality, workloads and casualisation – is extended into the spring of 2024.
While at the time of publication it is impossible to know exactly the outcome of the re-ballot, what is for certain is that the accumulated anger of university staff, which has found expression in the historic industrial action taken by UCU and joint unions over the past twelve months, has not gone away.