By Nadine Rosa Rosso, International Union of Parliamentarians for Palestine (IUPFP) Conference, Brussels May 15th 2008
The question of international alliances is a very important one in today's confused world. In order to build these alliances one has to identify: who is the enemy?
The answer to this question depends on where in the world one lives. Political struggle in a country like Belgium where I reside, one of the richest countries of the world, and political struggle in one of the poorest like in Palestine is very different.
The answer for oppressed people in the Third World is a simple one; the common enemy is the US Imperialism, followed by the governments of the European Union and often with the complicity of many Third World governments.
One has to accept that to get to point A the path will be different depending on where one is situated in the world. Understanding this is fundamental if we are to build an international alliance.
I speak from the point of view of a leftist militant in Belgium, capital of the Nato and the European Union, one of the most developed and industrialized country of the world, with a high level of welfare. I am a communist since 1970. But I want to analyse the situation of the Left self critically.
The interests of the workers and the majority of people in our countries are not advanced by supporting the aggressive policies of the US against Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria and Palestine. We also have no interest in the economic policies of multinationals which are exploiting the peoples and their natural wealth across the globe.
There are two great challenges for us:
1. If the people in the US and Europe want to protect themselves from terrorism the primary task is to stop the war against the Third World. This war manifests itself economically, politically, ideologically, culturally and of course militarily.
However following every terrorist attack the Western Left first condemns it and demands more security through the strengthening of the 'anti-terror' laws but seldom demands an end to the war and an end to occupation and oppression as the root cause of the problem.
2. If people in Europe want to raise their standard of life and defend their social and political rights they must reject the 'American way of life', which only entails privatisation, overflowing the prisons with the poor and immigrants and a general worsening of social and political rights. This is part of the same offensive against the Third World, but whereby there they use direct exploitation through military might, in the West this exploitation is conducted with sugar-coated bullets.
Therefore it is necessary for the peoples in the US and Europe to ally with those who are facing or are being threatened with military aggression.
It was this internationalism on the basis of the aforesaid political positions which I proposed to a Belgian political party of which I was a leader from 1995 to 2003. I proposed a revolutionary front against the war and for socialism across Europe, and also to make alliances with our brothers and sisters who are struggling across the world.
Indeed such a front was established for the elections in Belgium in May 2003. It was an alliance between my former party, the Arab European League - a movement of Muslim and Arab youth, refugees and immigrants from Latin America and Africa and Belgian trade unionists and progressives who were all united against the second war against Iraq.
Due to the fact that our elections results were not as good as we might have hoped for, the leadership of my party decided to scrap this front not only in elections but completely from the life of the party. I refused to accept this and resigned, for which I was expelled from the party. But I am still convinced of the necessity of this alliance. I'm a Grandmother and am interested in developing the coming generations for this challenge.
In all honesty there are few in the European Left who are ready to take up these tasks. Why is the Left as a whole so weak?
Ashamed of our past
After World War II the Right was defeated. However the Right patiently prepared their comeback and this was achieved by the election of Reagan in 1980 and Thatcher in 1979. Thatcher's position of 'there is no alternative than capitalism', and that only capitalism can save the world, became a well known one.
Our Left acts and thinks in a way in which it seems Thatcher taught us. Social-democrats and even many communists became ashamed of their history apologising for the so-called crimes of the past of the Left. Grave mistakes and even crimes have occurred in the past in the Socialist Camp, nevertheless it was the only world force supporting national liberation, social justice and other progressive causes.
Instead of saying 'please forgive us because we fought for the working class and the oppressed' we should rather say 'let's take our tradition and adapt it to the challenges we face'.
Most of the Left is afraid of Islam. The problem is the Left does not itself present a holistic project for society whereas the Islamic movement do. It is better to struggle with a complete vision for society and the world than to struggle without it. If the poor are attracted by the Islamic Resistance then we in the Left have to make self-criticisms, not attack the Islamists. If the Left can propose a complete vision of society and the world in the interests of the working masses, believers or not, than we can unite with others who are struggling in the same struggle no matter what our differences in identity. We will influence each other and develop constructively in our common struggle.
Today I am defending the right of Muslim young women to wear the veil in schools. Often I am arguing against Leftists who are in favour of this ban. One can find allies in this struggle against the banning of the Islamic headscarf, but I can tell you that one has to have some courage to do so.
Fear of "communalism"
A third problem amongst the Left is their failure to recognise the right of self-organisation of oppressed peoples in the West. The Left fears this 'communalism' because it comes from the immigrant communities.
Most of the worst paid jobs, with the worst working conditions are undertaken by workers who come from Asia, Africa and recently East Europe. This has always been the case but in the past the immigrant workers mixed and developed common struggles against the government and bosses together with workers of all backgrounds because hitherto they were employed in big factories and institutions. Now these structures have largely changed. There is a kind of apartheid amongst the working class and a complete split in the working class is a real danger.
It is only through the struggle against capitalism and imperialism, and also against racism and discrimination that the working class in the US and Europe can come together in unity. Without taking up these challenges, the working class will remain disunited. The recognition of the rights of communities to self-organisation is an important step in the process of re-unifying the people.
Fear of being considered a "terrorist"
Much of the Left is intimidated from supporting liberation movements in Palestine and Lebanon for example due to Hamas and Hezbollah being proscribed on the list of terrorist organisations by the US and EU. But challenging this criminalisation is fundamental part of our struggle. It is possible to achieve some victories on this level, as has been proved in our defence of Bahar Kimyongur who was tried unsuccessfully for leading a terrorist organisation.
Fears of being labelled "anti-Semitic"
Although we are united in support of the Palestinian resistance, the Left fears being labelled 'anti-Semitic' if they refuse to recognise the legitimacy of Israel.
As communist I am part of a tradition which fought against fascism and Nazism. Communists protected Jews from the concentration camps, and many communists paid the ultimate sacrifice for this, many more than US soldiers in the war. Therefore nobody has the right to call us anti-Semitic. It is because our forefathers died defending Jews in the war that we now today stand with the Palestinian people and their resistance against Israel.
These weaknesses of the Left are real, but they can be overcome by courage in defending our political positions and actions.
The Left is weak today but the potential in defeating US hegemony is growing all the time. The following are favourable conditions for an international alliance in support of oppressed peoples:
1. The rise of Third World countries such as China, India, Brazil and Russia
These countries create space for developing countries to advance in a unipolar world dominated by the US. This gives opportunities for us in the West to develop alliances with the rest of the world based on the principles of equality, mutual respect and against occupation and armed aggression.
2. The resistance in the Third World
Due to the failure of the US to defeat the Iraqi resistance they are unable to intervene in Latin America, where the people are electing patriotic and leftist leaders like they did before in the 1970s and '80s. Across Latin America people are awakening around the leadership of Hugo Chavez. Chavez's support in Venezuela is not only based on defending the poor, but also on the internationalist position against US Imperialism, as illustrated by his alliance with Iran. Chavez puts forward the good old slogan 'Yankee go home!', reflecting the will of the majority of the world.
3. The poor become poorer and the rich become richer
There is an increasingly yawning gap between the rich and working class in Europe and the US. Even the middle class are being attacked in the dismantling of state social provisions following the US model. The link between the war against the Third World and the offensive in Europe and the US is becoming clearer to people. We just have to explain this to people. People are not stupid, we are stupid if we cannot explain this.
4. The increasing political role of immigrant communities in the West
I cannot go into all the reasons why, but the growth of immigrant communities in the West defies the 'fortress Europe' logic, and shows that the struggles in the West are intimately connected to the struggle of billions of people in the rest of the world.
Perhaps we are few in the Left who are defending and putting forward these strategies and analysis of the world, but if we don't have the courage to resist that we will surrender to the billionaires of the US who are advocating the 'clash of civilisations', a clash in which we will lose.
We in the Western Left struggle here, but we will be stronger if we unite with leftists and militants of countries around world who are struggling against imperialism and for peace, social justice and democracy. It doesn't matter if others are struggling with their religious ideology, it is more important to unite the working masses and the oppressed.
The main contradictions in today's world is between the few imperialist governments and the billions of oppressed and exploited people residing in the West and those oppressed, occupied and aggressed by the US in the rest of the world.
May I suggest that we are not diverted from these challenges and stay focused. It may take some time, but the strengthening of this unity will grant us many victories.