Middle East tinder box

For most of April Iran and Israel appeared to be teetering on the brink of an all-out war, which could have engulfed the whole of the Middle East in flames. The month opened with Israeli missiles flattening the Iranian consulate in Damascus, killing sixteen, including a top general and eight other officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard.

This was a major escalation from previous Israeli assaults on Iranian-backed forces in Syria, attacking supposedly inviolable diplomatic ‘territory’. From the point of view of the Iranian regime, to have not responded would have been a serious sign of weakness. Hence, almost two weeks later, for the first time ever Iran directly attacked Israel with a barrage of more than 300 missiles and drones. However, advance notice to the regimes in the region and, indirectly, to US imperialism and Israel, meant that virtually every missile was shot down and very limited damage done. Then, in what appears to be the final act of this particular dramatic episode, after a week of dithering, on 19 April an Israeli retaliatory strike took place, seemingly targeting an air base in central Iran.

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A war-torn world in crisis

The national congress of the Socialist Party, held from 2-4 March 2024, began with a discussion looking at global developments and perspectives for national conflict, economic crises, and the struggle for socialism. Here we reproduce the introduction to the discussion, made by the Socialist Party general secretary, HANNAH SELL.

Leon Trotsky in his brilliant book, The History of the Russian Revolution, describes the situation in Russia a couple of years before the overturn of 1917, in the early months of the first world war. Soldiers were dying at the front, and bread and fuel were running out in the capital. But the misery was not universal. At the same time, he wrote, “speculation of all kinds and gambling on the markets went to the point of paroxysm. Enormous fortunes rose out of the bloody foam… A continual shower of gold fell from above. ‘Society’ held out its hands and pockets, aristocratic ladies spread their skirts high, everybody splashed in the bloody mud. All came running to grab and gobble”.

It could be written about today. The stock markets are soaring, especially in the US, driven by the so-called ‘magnificent seven’, the tech giants whose market value increased by 80% last year. The world’s five richest men have more than doubled their wealth since 2020. But beyond providing unimaginable riches for the very few – what else has capitalism to offer?

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Just Stop Oil look to the electoral arena?

Over the last two years, the environmental activist group Just Stop Oil (JSO) has engaged in various forms of direct action to try and raise public awareness of the climate crisis. JSO actions have included disrupting sports events, blocking roads, and protest stunts in art galleries. Hundreds of arrests have been made with some protestors facing long prison sentences.

But capitalist politicians haven’t shifted. In Britain, Sunak’s Tory government has pushed ahead with granting new licences for North Sea oil and gas exploration. Starmer’s Labour has dropped much of its promised ‘green investment’ plans, saying that ‘fiscal responsibility’ has to come first. Meanwhile, in 2023 global temperatures have already exceeded the critical threshold of 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

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NATO and the world order

As the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation ‘celebrates’ its 75th anniversary this year, CHRISTINE THOMAS looks at the conditions that led to the formation of this capitalist military alliance and how NATO’s role has evolved as the global economic and political order itself has changed.

The signing of the North Atlantic Treaty, between the US, Canada and Western European powers in April 1949, can only be understood as one more brick being laid in the overall construction, in the post-war capitalist world, of a US-dominated economic and geopolitical architecture.

US imperialism had emerged as an economic colossus from the ravages of the second world war, with more than 50% of the world’s manufacturing production, holding two-thirds of gold internationally, and boasting a GDP three times that of the Soviet Union, and five times greater than Britain. As the war was drawing to an end, debates began to take place within the US ruling class about how best it could take advantage of its overwhelming economic supremacy amongst the capitalist powers to secure stability and maximum access for US corporations to markets and raw materials globally. Economic reconstruction of a devastated Europe was not initially a post-war aim, and aid was limited, mainly through loans with stringent conditions. But from 1947 US policy shifted towards a massive injection of economic assistance, beginning with the Marshall Plan, alongside of the utilisation of multilateral US-dominated institutions like the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the World Bank etc, to promote international free trade and the interests of US capitalism and the global capitalist order.

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Fifty years of the CWI

This year the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) – the socialist international which the Socialist Party is affiliated to – celebrates its fiftieth year. TONY SAUNOIS, CWI secretary, looks at the organisation’s development since its founding half a century ago.

Over the weekend of 20-21 April 1974, a small but crucial international meeting took place in a room at the Old Mother Redcap pub in Camden, London. This meeting decided to launch a new revolutionary Trotskyist international organisation – the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI). The new international was to be wedded to the ideas and methods of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky.

Present at the meeting were supporters of the Militant newspaper in Britain and very small groups which had been established in Ireland, Germany and Sweden, together with individuals from Sri Lanka, Jamaica and some other countries. Although tiny in number at that stage, the CWI was to take important strides forward in the second half of the 1970s, and have a significant impact internationally in the 1980s. For fifty years the CWI has been involved in a political struggle for a revolutionary socialist programme for the working class, participating, and in some situations playing a leading role, in the struggles of the working class and oppressed.

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Another theory of everything

End Times: Elites, Counter-Elites, and the Path of Political Disintegration

By Peter Turchin

Published by Allen Lane, 2023, £25

Reviewed by Dave Murray

You don’t have to be an Einstein to have worked out that the world is in a difficult place at the moment, and there are plenty of people writing about it. On the far right we have people like Douglas Murray (Magdelen College, Oxford, reading English) writing books like The Strange Death of Europe and on the liberal end we have people like Nouriel Roubini (Harvard, International Economics) with Megathreats, and if you ask it nicely there’s an AI that will write you a volume entitled Yes, You Are All Screwed. What, then, makes Peter Turchin (NYU, biology; Duke University, Zoology) and his book End Times worth a read?

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Fiction and reality in Putin’s Russia

The Wizard of the Kremlin

By Giuliano da Empoli

Published by Pushkin Press, 2024, £16.99

Reviewed by Clare Doyle

On April 5 Vladimir Putin was ‘elected’ as president of Russia for a fifth six-year term. One or two other candidates were on the list, but by the time the election was held, Putin’s nearest rival, Alexei Navalny, was dead and an anti-war candidate, Boris Nadezhdin, had been disqualified for allegedly being nominated by ‘dead souls’, like those in the famous Gogol novel of that name.

All other expressions of opposition to the war, let alone for genuine democracy and socialist change, are ruthlessly crushed. In an atmosphere where even the moderate left academic, Boris Kagarlitsky, has been locked up in prison for five years, the prospect of another two terms for Vladimir Putin looms large. If he survives, he will have lasted longer even than the dictator, Stalin. Such is Putin’s authoritarianism that he has come to be known in some circles as ‘The Tsar’.

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