By Ronnie Kasrils*
I salute Jeremy Corbyn’s Peace & Justice initiative which could not be more timely, and I am proud to be part of it.
We live in troubled times: the raging pandemic, rise of neo-fascist forces; the rapacious neoliberal global system.
For so many, survival against war, police brutality, starvation, disease, collapsing economies, refugee camps, is the stark reality.
All of this is compounded by the climate crisis; environmental pollution; collapse of food and water security.
The pandemic has exposed to the light of day too often hidden or denied chasms of inequality both within and between nations and peoples around the world — both in the disproportionate impact on the poorest, most vulnerable, people of color, in getting the virus, and especially in the inequities of access to the vaccine.
The rich grow obscenely richer, the poor grow poorer. Less than one percent owning more than half the world’s population.
Yet “the times are a changing”; Bob Dylan sang at the time of the civil rights and anti-colonial liberation struggles; and the melody continues to rhyme with history – reflected to this day by the pressure of billions across the planet demanding a better life.
Two centuries ago the poet Shelley wrote in the wake of the Peterloo massacre “you are the many they are the few”.
Not long after, Marx and Engels pointed to the consequences of the increasing concentration of the means of production and wealth in fewer and fewer hands. Then, as now, the challenge was to understand the world in order to change it.
To do that we must not ignore the repercussions of colonial conquest as a prelude to the rise of the capitalist era.
The hangover of that colonial past exists: in power relations between peoples and nations; between global north and south; in the neo-colonial masquerade of the Bolsonaro’s, Modi’s and El Sisi’s trying to subvert progress.
Progress such as the Black Lives Matter movement, which is energized not only by revolt against police crimes but to overturn the weight and consequence of centuries of slavery, white supremacy and inequality.
Struggle for change, as ever, requires an understanding of the material conditions of political and economic life, to avoid reductionism into identity politics and racial or gender essentialism, at the expense of class-conscious clarity.
Likewise, loser Trump’s rage and the mob that attacked the Capitol building are a consequence of America’s past, and symptomatic of the frustration of white supremacists whose psychosis, as in the 1930s, is stoked by demagogues.
Enormous irony is seen in the double standards of the “Free World”. On the one hand: unbelievable shock that the USA’s seat of democracy has been assaulted. On the other: the sanguine promotion of military intervention, neo-colonial coups, punitive sanctions abroad in the name of that democracy.
To control the Middle East, Israel – a colonizing project – receives massive US military and financial aid. Disregard for Palestinian rights is reflected in Trump’s Deal of the Century and the so-called “normalization” between Israel and corrupt Arab fiefdoms.
If Biden is to commit to democracy, he must quit the double standards of previous administrations and apply the visions of a Franklin D Roosevelt and Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Biden needs to apply and significantly extend a “New Deal” project which in FDR’s day cut black Americans short; he must commit to world peace in recognition of the national and human rights of all peoples; uphold international law under the writ of the United Nations – an institution whose authority the US has systematically undermined.
And as King’s birthday is commemorated this weekend, Biden needs to note King’s most important speech – “Beyond Vietnam” which described the US government as the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world”, and crucially identified the three interlocking evils that must be challenged – systemic racism, poverty, and militarism.
For the Corbyn Project to succeed it must become an international champion, furthering both FDR and King’s visions – and connect with movements for peace and justice throughout the world.
From the multitude that filled the streets opposing the invasion of Iraq, to the Arab Spring and BLM rebellion; waves of protest are signaling a new dawn. In India alone, over 250 million participated in strikes and protests last year. We must spare no effort in making this rising tsunami unstoppable.
And if we wish to talk about courage under fire, note the men, women and children of Palestine, facing the bombs and bullets of the Israeli Defense Force in their peaceful protests, refusing to submit.
Like others around the world, we South Africans have developed a vibrant civil society, with grassroots movements, encouraging our and all governments to act decisively in tackling the fault lines of the 21st Century, as we did in the struggle against Apartheid in the previous century:
For people’s involvement in the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine and global vaccine equality;
For the protection of the eco-system and food security through a Climate Justice Charter and Global Food Sovereignty Agenda;
For a global anti-racist, anti-war, pro-peace platform. Together we must defeat a second coming of fascism – for in Berthold Brecht’s words (referring a system, not the gender) – “The beast is on heat again.”
No Pasaran! They shall not pass. This is a time when, in Seamus Heaney’s words, “hope and history rhyme.” Through people’s power, in unity, action, and international solidarity, we will win. For people and the planet. For the many, not the few!
*Ronnie Kasrils, veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, and South Africa’s former Minister for Intelligence Services, activist and author. He contributed this article to The Palestine Chronicle.