Gaza protest in London. Photo: Paul Mattsson
Gaza protest in London. Photo: Paul Mattsson

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1272

Reasons to be fearful have increased as tensions in the Middle East have been ratcheted up. The regimes in Israel and Iran have traded blows. There has been an explosion in Iraq at the Kalsu military base. Settler attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank continue. An Israeli airstrike in Rafah killed at least nine people, six of them children. Famine stalks Gaza. There the death toll has risen to over 34,000.

Revealed again by this bleak situation is that ‘they’ – the ruling classes internationally, representing capitalist interests – have no plan of how to protect ‘our’ future. This makes the situation highly unpredictable. Even when no one wants it, in the absence of clear, organised intervention to prevent it, the clash of interests can have a logic of their own.

But even if a major escalation is not the most likely scenario at this stage, it is urgent that the working class organises its intervention – fighting for a socialist alternative. That means building mass workers’ struggle and organisation to fight back against the warmongers and exploiters and take power to begin democratically planning society free from war, exploitation and poverty.

Arab Spring legacy

There are many unknowns in the current situation, making it difficult to see how things can develop. This includes the question of when the anger among the masses, both in the region and in the West, will find an expression. But that is the central factor in the dilemmas facing all the governments involved. Memories of the 2011 Arab Spring mass uprisings that removed dictators haunt them.

The conditions that led to those mass movements – poverty, unemployment, inequality and repression – have been maintained and deepened since. War is intensifying the anger and distrust of the powers that be. The lesson from those historic mass movements is the need for the working classes to have their own parties, representing their own interests, with which to replace the governments they fell.

Iranian regime

The Iranian retaliatory assault was probably met among the masses in the region with a mix of some relief, that at last someone was striking back against the Israeli warmonger regime – but also with fear of steps towards a wider war. However, there is no basis for hope that the Iranian regime, itself capitalist and containing divisions, can offer any way forward for the masses.

Living standards in Iran are being driven down – with the prices of goods, especially food items, reportedly increasing by at least 200% since the election of the government last year. It is also reported that repressive so-called ‘modesty’ policies which triggered the ‘women, life, freedom’ movement are being reintroduced.

The brutal repression by the Iranian regime of the mass movements there has shown the Iranian working class that it can place no hope in it – in terms of the rights of the Palestinians or of improved living standards. The working class must get organised and lead the struggle.

The exchange between Iran and Israel is an expression of the new era of world relations in which the US, while still the biggest military power, faces challenges to its ability to call the shots internationally. In the Middle East, Iran, and the US and its allies, are vying for power and influence in a region which remains key for the world economy in terms of oil production and trade.

The Arab elites in the region recognise the threat of Iran seeking to expand its regional role. In Arab News, Abdulaziz Sager, the chairman of the Gulf Research Center, railed that the Iranian leadership’s actions represent a “hijacking of the Palestinian cause” to “support Iran’s expansionist and interventionist regional policy”. Jordan, for example, also relies heavily on US subsidies.

Israeli instability

In the immediate aftermath of the Iranian attack, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s poll ratings have risen – albeit from a very low level. But there is little basis for that to remain the case. The international support required to intercept the Iranian bombardment is shattering the myth of the Israeli military’s impregnability.

The inability of this divided government to satisfy the need for security and safety, alongside the failure to resolve the hostage crisis, poses the need for an alternative. The main capitalist opposition though, will also seek to make the working class pay for the economic problems being stored up by the impact of the war and wider global economic crisis.

Building workers’ organisations that can unite Jewish, Palestinian and workers of other backgrounds can be seen as particularly difficult at present, but the fight for security and to defend living standards will demand a response in the workplaces and trade unions, where strike action has brought solidarity and unity between workers in the past – and can again.

West’s dilemma

As Simon Tisdall put it in the Observer: “The West’s dilemma appears even starker than before. David Cameron, Britain’s foreign secretary, typifies its one-sided, two-faced approach… Cameron admitted last week that, if a UK consulate were similarly attacked, Britain would make a ‘strong response’. But he just could not bring himself to say Israel was in the wrong. This pro-Israel default position characterises the attitude of many Western governments.”

In the US, April polling found just 4% of voters under 45 strongly approve of Biden’s handling of foreign policy. This is causing concern among sections of the US capitalist class who fear a Trump victory if Biden is not seen as capable of acting decisively to bring stability to the situation. They consider Trump a greater threat to their system.

Starmer serves bosses

Sunak follows Biden’s lead. But no challenge comes from Starmer’s Labour. Instead, he commits a Labour government to increase defence spending. This includes maintaining Trident nuclear weapons, of which he says: “The only way to have a safer world is to have an effective deterrent.”

But nuclear weapons have not prevented a situation where it’s estimated that one in seven of the world’s population lived within five kilometres of violent conflict in 2023, and suffer the associated hunger and poverty.

The real reason for maintaining the nukes is the power and prestige of the ruling class and the political elite. Starmer is determined that British imperialism, now a second- or third-rate power, should remain part of the nuclear, great-power club. Everything he does is to prove a government led by him will be committed to serving the interests of capitalism.

However, a glimpse was given of how workers could have a voice in the next parliament. George Galloway, Jeremy Corbyn and Claudia Webb sat together during the debate on Iran, literally behind Starmer’s left shoulder. George Galloway pointed out the hypocrisy of the Tories and Starmer in their failure to criticise Israel. Especially if the trade unions got involved, there is no reason why a substantial group of MPs couldn’t be elected who would represent working-class interests.

They could represent the anti-war movement, the youth, the trade unions. For example, calling for no exports of arms to Israel and for Trident to be scrapped, with the workers now employed in nuclear and other weapons systems industries, together with scientists and engineers, to be redeployed, with no loss of earnings or terms and conditions, so their skills could be used on projects of real benefit to society. The billions of pounds planned for maintaining nuclear weapons should be spent on the needs of the majority, not the prestige of the ruling elite.

Getting such a group of workers’ MPs, forcing Starmer to look over his left shoulder on every issue, starts with discussion in the trade unions, and among trade unions, student organisers, anti-war campaigners and others in the local areas. The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, in which the Socialist Party participates, is fighting for such discussion and debate to take place as the next serious step to prepare for the battles to come.

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