Monday, 30 November 2015

Terrorism and Democracy

Over the last few days there has been a lot of discussion about terrorism and democracy from a number of angles.

First of all there is the discussion about whether the terrorist attacks by ISIS and other jihadists in Paris and elsewhere, is just about the fact that they see people in western Europe as infidels, decadent and so open to attack whether or not they have given an excuse for those attacks, by first launching strikes or invading Muslim countries.  So, I thought I would do a simple piece of research, based on an impression I have had for some time, which is that one European country, that is noted if anything more for its democracy, and western values than any other, Switzerland, seems to have suffered very little over the years from terrorist attacks.  I was surprised by the findings.

This information from the Swiss Federal Intelligence Service indicates not only no activity by jihadists in attacking Switzerland, but even very little activity of people travelling from Switzerland to Syria to take part in terrorist activities.  Indeed, the main concern of the Swiss Intelligence Agencies seems to have been in relation to surveillance activities by foreign governments, whilst home grown terrorist activities by left and right-wing extremists was considered almost as much a threat as that by jihadists.

I tried to find details of actual terrorist attacks in Switzerland, from Wiki, and again found a dearth of evidence of such attacks.  Only three were listed, and none were actually to do with jihadists.  An internet video by some ISIS supporters has been released, which speaks of further attacks across European countries, including Switzerland, however.

So, although its clear that ISIS, ideologically hate modernism, and the principles of democracy, culture, equality and so on, which underlie civilisation, and so might attack people in European countries on that basis, whether or not they come from a country that has carried out attacks in Syria, Libya or elsewhere, the fact is that currently, Switzerland has not faced those attacks in the way that the UK, France and other countries have done, who have been actively involved in such intervention.

There is, of course, another reason why Switzerland has faced no such attacks, and less in the way of terrorism in general, and that is that Switzerland has a form of direct democracy, and also its own defence is organised more via the existence of its Citizen's Militia than a standing army.  Consequently, a more or less permanently armed citizenry, via that militia, is focussed upon national defence rather than external aggression against other countries, and so can be more actively involved on a daily basis in ensuring that defence, in a way that a permanent, small standing army, whose resources are concentrated on very expensive large-scale, equipment, that is only justifiable on the basis of fighting large scale wars across the globe, can never be.

A Citizen's Militia, can be provided with lots of equipment, can have its activities financed to cover permission from employers to train and so on, just for the equivalent of a single Cruise Missile, let alone an aircraft carrier, or a Trident submarine!

The other advantage of such a Citizen's Militia, is again this aspect of democracy, because the Citizen's Militia, is directly a democratic institution, under the control of the citizens themselves, whereas a small professional army, is under the control of an even smaller elite of unelected generals, often tied to a small elite of arms companies, and financiers.

The other aspect of democracy that has been discussed has been in relation to the decision of the PLP, and Shadow Cabinet, in relation to whether to bomb Syria.  The position of the Labour Party itself is quite clear.  It is to oppose such bombing, and understandably so on the basis of the disaster that resulted in Iraq, and Libya, and the failure of such policies in Afghanistan and elsewhere, not to mention the failure of bombing over the last year or so by the US and others in Iraq and Syria, against ISIS.

What is odd is the interpretation of democracy that some in the PLP have.  On the one hand, some of them think that it is perfectly democratic for some of them, in cahoots with sections of the Tory media, to ignore the wishes of 60% of the Labour Party, in supporting Jeremy Corbyn, as leader, and to try to organise a coup against him!  They think that it is fine for them to ignore the wishes of 70% of the Labour Party, according to recent polls, in opposing the bombing of Syria, and to go ahead with it anyway.

Yet, when Labour Party members who constitute that majority, quite reasonably suggest that they might like those MP's to discuss with them such decisions, those MP's describe this as undemocratic bullying.  Some of them, and their supporters in the Tory media appear on TV, and claim that these MP's, cannot be expected to vote in accordance with the Labour Party policies, on which they were elected, or which the members of the Labour Party, who got them elected, in the first place, decide, because they should represent the whole electorate.

Who says that is what they should do?  That idea fits conveniently with the Tories and other defenders of the status quo, but there is no reason why socialists should accept that restriction.  The workers, in creating their own party, decide for themselves what the rules should be, and how its representatives should act, precisely because we want to change the general rules of politics in which all decisions are made, against an environment where self-selecting elites retain the right to do whatever they choose.  No one would suggest that a shop steward elected by union members, should represent the views and interests of non-union members, for example, let alone the views of employers.  No one would expect, the Chairman of the FA to promote the virtues of rugby!

The idea put forward by these apologists that it is somehow undemocratic for Labour Party members to deselect MP's who repeatedly fail to reflect the views of the Labour Party members who selected them, and who have the job of knocking on doors and getting them elected, is not not just elitist, but it is not even consistent with the arguments put forward in its defence.  Who, for example, would suggest that voters who were unhappy with a Tory government, should not vote it out, or deselect it, and instead select a Labour government, that they were happy with?  Would electors be accused of "bullying" the government by making clear that its days were numbered?

In the same way, if Labour Party members feel that the MP, does not represent their views, they have a perfect right to select a new candidate who does.  The old MP, is perfectly free to stand under their own banner, and see how much of their success is down to them, and how much is down to the party that selected them!  The history on that is devastatingly clear, which is why so few MP's wish to try their luck on their own.

Its time for decisive leadership, and in line with those principles of democracy, Corbyn, in line with party policy, and the views of the overwhelming majority of party members should impose a three line whip against cameron's warmongering policies.  War is the continuation of politics by other means, and so a political party that cannot take a clear political stance on questions of war cannot be expected to take a decisive and principled stand on anything else.  War is not a moral, but a deeply political issue, and should be treated as such.  If Labour Shadow Ministers are not able to support party policy they should go and make way for others who will.  Labour MP's will have the same right to defy the party whip as were Corbyn and others in the past, and will then have to justify their actions to their party members in the same way that Corbyn and others have had to do for the last 30 years, without the kind of hullaballoo over "bullying" that the Tory media have only just discovered.


David Timoney said...

You can find stats on terrorist attacks here:

Corbyn's decision to give the PLP a free vote on Syrian airstrikes is intelligent politics in that it shifts the debate back from the "divisions" within Labour to the fragility of the government case for intervention. Everyone will now be doing the maths and realising that a majority is not a nailed-on certainty, for three reasons.

The media have probably over-estimated the PLP support for airstrikes (many Labour MPs have reservations, and many more will consider it prudent not to jeopardise their relations with their CLP); Tory backbench doubts were subdued post-Paris, but are likely to become more vocal (particularly after the risible claim of a 70k-strong army of Syrian democrats); and the government has a thin enough majority that it cannot rely on the payroll vote.

In the circumstances, Cameron's initial calculation that he could win the backing of the house and simultaneously exacerbate Labour's problems may prove hubristic. I'd put my (small amount of) money on caution now prevailing and the vote being deferred. This means we may be presented over the next few days with the sight of the Blairites being the most bellicose element within Parliament. Plus ca change.

The last couple of weeks have been marked by an increasing desperation on the part of the Labour right for the party to implode and thus justify their warnings and their solution: a PLP coup. They have become "wreckers", thereby revealing their deep contempt for the very idea of a mass party and democratic accountability. They have become the most militant faction of the party of order.

Boffy said...

Wishful thinking I suspect. Cameron will go for an early vote, which he will win comfortably. Tory MP's, including those who don't think Cameron has made his case, or that its a good idea will vote with the government, for purely political reasons to undermine Corbyn, and the Blair-right, and soft left members of the PLP will do the same. Corbyn has already been attacked by the usual suspects like Hodges on today's Daily Politics for showing lack of leadership.

he and McDonnell are making retreat into a political strategy rather than a tactic, and if they continue they will cut their own throats, without the Blair-rights having to do it for them.

David Timoney said...

You're probably right about the wishful thinking, given that Cameron is now accelerating the vote, but I can't help suspecting there may be a sting in the tail.

Boffy said...


The sting in the tail, as I suggested yesterday, is that now at least Cameron and Benn own this war, and its consequences. But, that would still have been true had Jeremy imposed a whip. In fact, it would have been even clearer that that was the case. As it it, and as I suggested, Jeremy is being accused of lack of leadership; the conspirators are still standing with their knives in the shadows, waiting for the Ides of March, and the SNP, Greens and other opportunists have been able to present themselves as the principled opposition to war.

At least last night on Noisenight, the warmongers were shown to have no clothes. In fact, the arguments put forward by Creagh, and Aarnovitch were so threadbare that you had to feel embarrassed for them. They even looked embarrassed themselves to be putting forward such arrant nonsense, but I suppose that for the last couple of decades they have got used to being able to put forward spin to defend the indefensible, that for them now it is just a way of life.

At least, the audience seemed to pick that up too, with nearly all at the end having been turne against the idea of bombing, a fact that seems to be born out in the latest opinion polls, which show only a majority of the population support boming, as opposed to a few days ago even, when 60% were in support.

That I'll grant is probably because the discussion has turned to the actual facts and issues rather than Labour divisions. But, the fact is that Cameron and Benn will get their war today. It will be several weeks or months until the real facts of the civilian casualties from that begin to emerge. It will be another couple of years before all of the lies and hypocrisy are exposed, and the hand wringing begins once more.

By that time the Tories and the Blair-rights/Bennites believe that they will have removed Corbyn, and will have started cleansing the party of its members once more.