A World on Fire
Oppression Challenge Victory
I recently watched the 'Antiques Roadshow' on television, a progamme I normally try to avoid. It dealt with memorabilia about the Battle of Britain, a subject I try to avoid. One interesting subject that caught my attention was that of the evacuation of the Channel Islands (I am not sure if if was Guernsey or Jersey). Apparently, at very short notice, they had to evacuate all the children before the Germans occupied the Island. The children were taken to Britain and fostered in Northern towns like Stockport. There they were looked after by foster carers.
At the end of the war these children were returned to their parents. However, it had been seven years since they had seen their parents, and they no longer knew them or recognised them. A woman researching their history spoke to many of them. She found that the children missed their foster parents, crying at night over their loss. This struck me as significant. We often look upon children as empty vessels, empty of understanding, who have to be taught how to relate to the world around them. Yet, we learn from this woman’s research that the reason why the children cried at night, in darkness, was to hide their tears from their mothers and fathers. They understood that their parents would be upset by their tears, because of the implication that they preferred a foster parent to their own parents. Such a sophisticated view of human nature indicates that children have a far greater grasp of that nature that they are given credit for.
As I listened to this account, my thoughts turned to the events on the Greek Island where the refugee camp was totally destroyed by fire. There were children in that camp. Many of the refugees who are struggling to find a home, or at least somewhere where they can exist, come from war zones. Modern warfare is a combination of guerilla fighting, street fighting and heavy bombardment from the air. In order to keep the number of Western troops to a minimum, the tactics of the West is to support local armed groups. it is they who do the street fighting whilst the West provides the bombs that destroy the towns to rubble.
The West claim that their bombing is strictly controlled so that only strategic targets are hit. However, the structure of the towns under attack is such that civilian casualties are inevitable. There has been no suggestion that children should be evacuated to safe places, to be cared for until it is safe for them to return to their homes and families. Their homes will no longer exist, and for many children neither will their families. The children from the Channel Islands suffered trauma, but the care they had received meant that they were able to deal with the consequences.
But what of the children who have been displaced by the wars that have blighted large areas of the globe? We talk about ‘unaccompanied minors’. But in fact we are talking about are children and young people who have lost their home, been transported hundreds of miles from where they grew up, and no longer have parents or relatives, nor indeed any one, to care for them. We even make it extremely difficult for those young people who have a right to enter Germany from being able to do so.
At present there is pressure to make ‘terrorist action by young persons’ punishable by life in prison with no chance of parole. This to some extent is prompted by the events at the Ariadne Grande concert when a young man blew himself up killing a number of people and the recent trial and conviction of his brother who was convicted of assisting in this action and sentenced to 55 years in prison. There are also suggestions that the Government is considering changes to the Human Rights Act.
This is the background, but we need to view these matters, not from the global perspective of world politics, but from the way in which they affect individuals. It is as individuals that people carry out actions such as the Manchester bombing. We need to ask, Why?
The latest Left Book Club is ‘The Wretched of the Earth’, in which Frantz Fanon deals with the question of violence. The context is the resistance of the native people against their colonial oppressors. It is an extremely powerful book in which Fanon clearly states that the root of violence lies with the colonial powers. The only means for the native people to oppose the oppression of the colonial powers was through violence. Fanon argues that to suggest moderation and mediation is actually to support the oppressors. Jean Paul Sartre, in an equally powerful preface, suggests that all citizens of the oppressing nations are culpable of the crimes of their rulers. This book has great relevance today and deserves to be read and digested.
It is a natural reaction for people to come to the assistance of their friends and comrades. If we see some one being attacked, we are inclined to go to their defence. We need to understand why people, seeing those from their native country, those who share their religion, or those with whom they have some affinity, suffering deprivation, attack or otherwise being forced to live in degrading circumstances, should react with anger.
There is a crucial degree of impotence. They wish to see conditions changed. Their desire is that their fellows, however defined, should be able to live in peace with a level of contentment, free from hunger, with shelter, clothing, education and good health. These are basic human rights that should be available to everyone. It is our responsibility to argue for these rights. If it is our Government that is denying people of other countries these basic rights - if it is our Government that is oppressing other nations, or supporting nations which are denying these rights and oppressing sections of their own population or other nations as a whole - then we have a duty to speak out. We should be demanding understanding and active support for all people in distress, not seeking to condemn.
The death of anyone before their time is to be regretted. We do not want to see innocent young people, who have been out enjoying a concert with their favourite singer, to end the day dead. We deplore such situations. But we must also deplore the situation that leaves thousands of refugees homeless on a Greek Island, the many people of all ages killed as ‘collateral damage’ in the wars in Syria and elsewhere, and the plight of the Palestinians in Gaza. There can be no balance sheet of deaths between ‘our side’ and ‘the other side’ because there are no sides.
Where then do we stand? The root cause of the divisions within global society is international competition. The structure of society that dominates all activity is that capitalism which requires a continual accumulation of profit in order to accumulate more profit. In this system the individual has no fundamental right, even the most powerful individual within the system is bound by the mechanism of the system. For the rest of us, we are subject to the consequences of capitalist competition that leads to wars and the destruction of the planet through climate change.
There is a way forward, but one that involves choices that we would may be rather not make. If we are to escape the evils which predominate in modern global society, we have to rid the world of the capitalist system. There is no way in which we can reform the structure to enable it to meet the needs of people. Capitalism has to be destroyed. As Fanon makes very clear, in order to defeat capitalism, violence will be necessary. This is not because we wish to be violent, but because the capitalist powers will oppose all efforts against it. We have seen the violence that has been used against countries that do not fall in line with the capitalist powers, we saw the violence used against the Russian revolution.
Although, as individuals, we seem to be controlled by impotence, we have a voice and we can unite with others of similar mind, to oppose all and every action of our own Government that acts contrary to the well-being of any group. We can call for understanding of individuals who react in support of their own people. We can demand that refugees are made welcome. We can stop deportations. We can call for support to those in poverty and those threatened by evictions. We can demand action to protect the health of the people. We can demand action on climate change;. We can insist that human rights, as set out in the United Nations Declaration, be enshrined in our laws and be observed in every situation.
In order to do this we need to be organised, to work together, relying on the united power of the working class to challenge and ultimately to defeat the powers that are destroying the world.