Conflicts Between Rival Nationalisms in 1988

Nations in Conflict

By Gwydion M. Williams[A]


Making Nations

After World War One, Eastern Europe was carved up on the principle of national self-determination. At least that was supposed to be the principle. It was ignored in the case of various territories like Danzig and the Sudetenland, where the population was predominantly German. This was the root cause of World War Two.

After World War Two, Europe was carved up again, perhaps on a fairer basis. But just to be sure, the East European countries expelled the German minorities from those territories the Russians awarded them. This could have laid the basis for yet another war. Except that Germany had been divided, and in any case nuclear weapons made a war impractical.

Outside Europe, the former colonial empires began splitting up into nation-states — or else into imitations of nation states. In Africa, there were few definite national blocks that could have laid the basis for new nation-states. The various ethnic groups were small and uncertain; often they were intermingled. In default of anything better, the arbitrary boundaries fixed by the colonial powers were used.

To this day, these arbitrary boundaries have been kept as the basis for African states. To seek ‘more natural’ boundaries would have been to open the door to endless division, conquest and war, since each ethnic group would have its own idea of what the really natural boundaries are. Just as in Eastern Europe, where there are still some lingering border disputes despite the restraining hand of Russian hegemony.

In this article, I shall study some particular examples of national conflict First off, I’ll examine the concept of international law. Then a brief survey of the Israel/Palestine conflict, and the complexities of the two Chinas, and other problems of a world divided into nation-states.


International Law

When Mahatma Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilisation, he answered that he thought it would be a very good idea. Much the same could be said about International Law; it would be a fine thing if it existed, but it is not a thing that can be relied upon.

The fact is, “International Law” provides very little protection to states that are set on by their neighbours. Czechoslovakia got no help in either 1938 or 1968. In 1960, in the early days of African independence, Prime Minister Lumumba made the mistake of taking the UN at face value arid inviting it in to keep the peace in the Congo. The ill{ at that time dominated by the United States, deposed him. Later they handed him over to his enemies, who murdered him. Nor did these actions by the UN forces secure peace; they only added to the chaos. The Congo is now Zaire, and still ruled by Lumumba’s enemies (though not by the group of enemies who murdered him, who in the interim had won power and then lost it again).

Since the Congo disaster, the UN has been a thing that everyone pretends to believe in, and which no one actually believes in. It is like the ‘musical banks’ in Samuel Butler’s Erehwon, which were praised by everyone but whose money was never used for practical purposes. The UN passes fine-sounding resolutions. But even the smallest sovereign state can ignore it with impunity. Nor are there any other agencies that can actually enforce international law.

Britain, France arid America have all at various times styled themselves “global policemen”. But even the worst sort of policeman is under some sort of control by higher authority. Nations that act as “global policemen” do so as judge, jury and executioner as well. Their actions are often blatantly partisan – as when Britain and France invaded Egypt in 1956 during the Suez crisis.

This action made it easier for the Soviet Union to invade Hungary; an event which happened shortly afterwards. The cartoonist Vicki made an apt comment; he depicted Khrushchev surrounded by his tanks, declaring “So what? I’m a policeman tool”‘

Russia under Brezhnev claimed the right to do whatever it felt necessary to its ‘socialist allies’. And although Gorbachev has at times seemed to be dropping this notion, it is doubtful if he would allow Solidarity to come to power in Poland, say. And it is deeply unlikely that he would allow any of the ‘socialist allies’ to leave the Warsaw Pact!


The fate of minorities

If International Law provides little real protection to states, it provides even less to common people or oppressed minorities. When Hitler began oppressing the Jews, he was of course denounced, but no one did anything. When he threatened to start a world war, the other European states made huge concessions to him – concessions that they had refused to the peaceful and democratic German governments that had preceded him. When he started expelling the Jews in the territories he controlled, the rest of the world refused to take more than a small percentage of them.

Hitler wanted the Jews out of Europe. He didn’t specifically want them dead. Enforced emigration was his first idea, but the rest of the world would not accept more than a limited number. The Final Solution was not begun until it became clear that no one would accept the millions of Jews that Hitler wished to be rid of.

Hitler’s racist policies need not have led to the deaths of millions of Jews. There would have been room for them in Palestine, at that time under British control. But the British respected the wishes of the Palestinian Arabs, and kept them out.

The world did nothing while Hitler destroyed the majority of Europe’s Jews. Britain and France went to war to save Poland, and to try to preserve the European balance of power. Russia tried to keep peace with Hitler, and went to war after being invaded and very nearly overrun. The United States went to war after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and wiped out much of their fleet. Had Hitler been less bellicose, he would have been left free to kill every last Jew in the territories that he controlled.

The Nuremberg trials are sometimes cited as fill example of international law in action. Without doubt, most of those convicted at Nuremberg very much deserved what they got. But trials under International Law were exclusively for members of the defeated nations. Offenders among the victorious powers were punished by their own people, or else left alone. Nor were there any trials for war criminals who were of use to the victors – German rocket experts who had used slave labour; Japanese scientists and doctors who had performed germ warfare experiments; brutal policemen and torturers like Klaus Barbie.

[The Japanese experiments were known as Unit 731.  Since the victims were mostly Chinese and a few Russians, the USA in occupation of Japan gave them an amnesty in return for their data.[B]

[There is a serious suspicion that the data was used against North Korea in the later war.  Some people now treat this as a spoof that no one should have trusted, on the grounds that a former Secret Agent for the Soviet Union now says so.  Do they find it unthinkable that such a person might be so wicked as to make it all up?[C]]


Israel or Palestine?

The surviving Jews were wise to place no reliance on International Law. The need for a place of refuge for the world’s Jews had been perceived even during the nineteenth century. After Hitler, the need was proved beyond all doubt. Europe’s Jews had tried surviving as a quiet and undemanding minority, or they had tried blending in with the peoples among whom they lived. But both methods had failed.

The trouble was, there was no empty place on the globe where a Jewish homeland could be established. A Jewish homeland in Uganda was considered at one time. Given the subsequent history of Uganda, it would have been a singularly unwise choice. Moreover, the majority of Jews were determined that the homeland should re :m Palestine, the land of their- origins, the land repeatedly mentioned in their religious writings, the one territory which they could claim as their own.

[There was in fact land in North America, Australia and New Zealand, taken from the older inhabitants and never likely to be given back.  An autonomous Jewish homeland could have been made there.]

Clearly, this was unfortunate for the existing inhabitants of Palestine. But what else could be done? The Jews had to go somewhere. A sensible solution would have been partition, The UN drew up such a scheme, but the Arabs rejected it and tried to conquer or wipe out the Jewish settlers. They failed, and Israel emerged with rather more territory than the UN had given them. Two fragments of Palestine remained outside of Israel. Egypt took over the Gaza Strip, while the state of Transjordan took over the West Bank and re-named itself Jordan.

[Since then, I have seen evidence that it was much more a deliberate Israeli policy to get the extra land.  That Arab reaction was weak and incoherent.]

In 1956 Israel fought the Arabs again, seized Sinai from the Egyptians, but then gave it back. In 1967 they were again in danger. It was widely believed that the Arabs were about to wipe Israel off the face of the map – and no one would have done anything effective, had that happened. Instead, the Israelis struck first and achieved a dramatic victory. They took over the rest of Palestine, as well as the Golan Heights and Sinai.

Enter the PLO. Up until the Six Day War, the Palestinians had been fairly passive, relying on the Arab states to do most of the fighting. But the PLO asserted Palestinian identity, and the other Arabs have now accepted them as the sole legitimate Palestinian representatives. Thus Egypt had no wish to take back the Gaza Strip when it made its peace agreement with Israel. And Jordan cannot reach an agreement with Israel over the West Bank without the PLO’s approval.

[Jordan renounced its claims to the West Bank in October 1988.  This was probably a bad idea.  A restored Jordan would have been far more likely to co-exist with Israel.]

So why can’t Israel and the PLO negotiate some sort of peace? The problem is that Israel will have no dealings with the PLO until the PLO accepts Israel’s right to exist. And the PLO has repeatedly stopped short of doing this.

The PLO’s official position is that there should be a single secular Palestinian state in which Muslim, Christian and Jew could co-exist. This would be a splendid thing if it could be created • but the chances of it actually working are rather less than the Reverend Ian Paisley’s chances of becoming President of the Irish Republic.

In a Palestinian state run by the PLO, Muslim and Jew would be more likely to co-exit than co-exist!

The fact is, Palestinians under the PLO’s leadership haven’t even managed to co-exist peacefully with their fellow Muslim Arabs. The Palestinian fighters were thrown out of Jordan, while in Lebanon they helped to undermine the state and have since been at war with their former Muslim Arab allies. The different PLO factions have even fought civil wars with each other. The idea that they could co-exist with the Israelis in a single state is absurd.

Yassir Arafat has repeatedly hinted that he would under some circumstances be willing to recognise Israel. The basis for a settlement is there; Israel would withdraw from some or all of the territories that it has occupied since the Six Day War, which would then be ruled by a Palestinian state (or else a Jordanian/Palestinian federation) that would peacefully co-exist with Israel. There are problems; Israel would be unhappy with anything less than full control of Jerusalem. And many Israelis doubt if giving up the land would really secure peace in the long run. But something on these lines might be possible.

At the moment, there has been a lot of talk about holding an international conference to try to settle the . matter. International conferences seldom settle anything. Normally they provide a platform. for politicians to proclaim fine principles that they haven’t the least intention of living up to. Perhaps the most successful international conference of recent times was the Geneva Peace Conference on Indochina, which did enable the French to get out after their defeat at Dien Bien Phu, but which noticeably failed to establish a permanent peace. Possibly such a conference would provide sufficient cover for Arafat and his faction of the PLO to reach a sensible deal with Israel. It is rather more likely that nothing would come of it.

Arafat keeps coming close to a “land for peace” solution, but never actually goes so far as to propose it. Nor is there anyone else among the Palestinians who could make such a deal; his only important rivals are extremists who reject any notion of compromise.

Arafat has been leader of the Palestinians for the last two decades and more, and he has led them damn badly. Under his leadership their position has gone from bad to worse. In this he follows in the footsteps of his uncle, the former Mufti of Jerusalem, who was leader of the Palestinian Arabs up until 1948, who promoted conflict with the Jewish settlers, who sought aid from Hitler, and who did more than any other single man to produce the present mess.

Where will it lead? The answer is grim. The Israelis might still be willing to trade land for peace. But it takes two to trade. Arafat keeps shying away from such a deal; nor will he step aside and give someone else a chance. And yet the “occupied territories” cannot remain in limbo for ever. The present round of troubles may die down as the Palestinians grow weary. But in the end something decisive must happen. If there is not to be “land for peace”, then the only alternative is for Israel to annex the land and secure its own sort of peace by expelling more Palestinians.

At present, most Israelis reject such a solution. It is too reminiscent of what the Germans did to them – even though the Palestinians could readily find a place for themselves in the other Arab countries, where large numbers of Palestinians already live. But the longer things drift on, the more likely such a solution becomes.

[After the Soviet collapse, Arafat did finally made peace with the Oslo Agreement.  I think he sincerely tried to make it work, and that Israel preferred to allow Arab extremism and take more land in what they call Judea and Samaria.  See my 2016 article Zionism’s Suicidal Militancy[D].]


Eyeless in Gaza

You’re in the comfort of your own sitting-room, watching the television news. You see a picture of some soldiers beating up a demonstrator, and naturally you find it upsetting. A little while later, the newsreader tells you that twenty people have died in rioting in some other part of the world. It doesn’t register in the same way. Or you hear that hundreds of people somewhere else may have been massacred, but that those said to be responsible deny it ever happened. It just doesn’t stick in your memory, in the same way as the pictures of the man being beaten by soldiers.

Television news, as it exists in countries like Britain, can give a very misleading view of the world. It shows pictures of the most appalling violence and bloodshed, whenever the authorities in that part of the world give them freedom to do so. When this is not allowed, they still report the facts, but the facts just do· not have the same emotional impact.

It is now known that Syria suppressed an internal rebellion in 1982 by shelling one of its own cities, causing thousands of deaths. But Syria has strict censorship; news of the matter leaked out only slowly, and without the visual evidence that would have produced a suitable emotional impact. And of course the Syrian government denies it ever happened.

South Africa, which used to give foreign journalists a good deal of freedom, clamped down when it became clear that nightly pictures of rioting and police brutality were stirring the conscience of the world. And South Africa got away with it. The fact of continuing riots and deaths were still reported, but the emotional impact was gone.

The net effect is that television journalists reward those who suppress them, and punish those who leave them free to film what they want. This is not at all what television journalists would wish; some are cynics who only care about getting a good story, but many others have a sincere wish to be fair and accurate. But the fact is, while television continues to show real-life violence and death on a day to day basis, this is the net effect.

Would it not be more responsible to put everyone on an even level and report the facts without showing pictures of the violence, in all cases?


China V. China

China is a good deal richer than China; but even so, most of the world has shifted its recognition from China to China. People who live in China are not normally allowed to visit China, nor may those who live in China ever hope to visit China, even though things have been getting a little more relaxed in recent years.

If all this sounds confusing, it is. In the 1920s, there was a plethora of rival governments in China. The. Kuomintang, Chinese Nationalists, managed to crush the majority of their rivals in 1926 / 1927. Most of the country obeyed the Kuomintang government in Nanking, at least nominally. Their most notable opponents were the Chinese Communists, at one time allies of the Kuomintang, who held out in their own Liberated Areas. Mao’s forces lost their base in Southern China, but carried out the Long March to other Liberated Areas in North China. They survived until the Japanese invasion of China let them spread their influence through a new alliance with the Kuomintang.

[The South China bases were of course lost after the Central Committee removed Mao from military command and tried conventional warfare.  I was well aware of this, and I have no idea why I failed to mention it.]

After the Japanese defeat, the Civil war resumed. On paper the Kuomintang were far more powerful. But they were corrupt and divided, and suffered a spectacular collapse. A remnant fled to the island of Taiwan – recently recovered from the Japanese, having been an outlying part of the Chinese Empire before that.

The two Chinas had no intention of co-existing. The Kuomintang had schemes for re-capturing the mainland; the Communists had rather more practical notions of wiping out this last remnant of their enemies. But the Americans took a hand in the matter. Not only did they help the Kuomintang remnant to survive, they persuaded much of the world that the Kuomintang remnant should be recognised as the real China, even keeping its place as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, this system finally broke down. The USA accepted that the Chinese Communists were the real China, and they got their UN seat in 1971. But nothing definite could be done about the Kuomintang remnant – which in the interim had been highly successful economically, providing the land reform and general prosperity that they had utterly failed to deliver when they were rulers of the whole country. Their GDP per head is more than ten times that of the mainland Chinese.

[I should have added that Taiwan had been modernised by the Japanese, and then got gigantic amounts of aid from the USA.  They and the other East Asian ‘Tigers’ were also given free access to Western markets and allowed to protect their own developing industries.  In short their success was based on everything that the West declared to be wicked and unacceptable when the ruling elite thought from the 1980s that they could re-assert themselves.]

To outsiders, it might seem logical that the Kuomintang remnant should simply declare itself the government of an independent Taiwan. But that is not the Chinese way. The Chinese Empire was established before the Roman one, and unlike Rome it never really fell. A: times it was divided and/or subjected to foreigners. But cultural continuity – in particular the written language – was never lost.

An educated Chinese can still read the literature of more than two and a half millennia of Chinese civilisation, directly and without translation. It is natural for Chinese to assume that in due course the two Chinas will unite once again. But just how it happens is no small matter.

After the agreement between Britain and China over Hong Kong, China proposed a similar deal for the Kuomintang remnant – that they should accept the Peking government as the real government of China, while keeping autonomy and their own economic system. Something of the sort was floated after the death of Chiang Kai-Shek, who had been leader of the Kuomintang since the 1920s. It was floated again after the recent death of Chiang’s son, who had succeeded him.

[I should have said Beijing, not Peking, in line with the official switch for English-language publications that happened in 1979.  But until I resumed my interest in China while answering the silly slanders of Mao by Chang and Halliday, I was unaware how much of China’s socialist heritage had survived.  How much it remained worth defending.]

To date, the Kuomintang remnant have rejected any such solution. They are not like Hong Kong, which was heavily dependent on trade with China, and which had colonial rulers who were happy to be rid of it. They have no official diplomatic existence; they have been out of the UN since 1971. Yet they remain in existence, and by existing keep their cause alive.

If there is to be unity, it is likely to be on a more or less equal basis. Kuomintang and Communists have made alliances twice before. Could this happen a third time?

The Peking government is currently in full retreat from socialist economics, and seeking to build an economy and society that would be broadly like what already exists on Taiwan under the Kuomintang remnant. They could well reckon that time is on their side. And they could well be right.

[This was wildly wrong.  Taiwan remains dependant on the USA.  Beijing played a long game under Deng, avoiding annoying the West but keeping a solid basis for defying the West when necessary.]


Transcaucasia: a fight between small nations

Armenia lies just north of Iran, and a tittle east of Turkey. At least that is how the border runs today. Turkey used to have a large Armenian population, who were killed or driven out in the turmoil caused by World War One. Soviet Armenia consists of those Armenian areas that were ruled by the Tsars rather than the Ottoman Caliphs.

Many of the victims of the Turkish pogrom fled there; others scattered around the world. Turkey has never even admitted that the pogrom happened.

[The Turks had a better case than I realised at the time, and Armenians a much worse one.  They had been trying to create a Greater Armenia that would include areas where they were a minority.  I only learned of this from the work of Pat Walsh.[E]]

Armenia is one of the Soviet Union’s three Transcaucasian republics, the others being Georgia and Azerbaijan. During the Russian revolution, there was great hostility between them. Each had minorities in the other’s territories; each also contained other still smaller minorities.

Human populations seldom distribute themselves in a neat way that will enable nation-states to be formed without trouble w conflict. The Armenians themselves were guilty of massacres in areas where they were the majority.

Soviet power put these conflicts into cold storage. A pattern of republics and autonomous; areas was imposed, in an attempt to balance the conflicting claims of the rival nations and national minorities. This work was mostly done by Stalin, who had responsibility for the matter under Lenin. What lie did in the Transcaucasus caused some controversy. He was accused of treating the Georgians unfairly. His defence was that he was preventing the Georgians from exploiting the Armenians and Azerbaijanis; he claimed to have a good understanding of the matter, being Georgian himself

In any case, the settlements that he regarded as fair or necessary were imposed on the various nations and national minorities. Anyone who tried to upset these arrangements would be accused of “bourgeois nationalism”, and quite probably shot.

With the relaxation of Soviet rule under Gorbachev, the various national questions are being raised openly once again. In some cases, such as the Baltic republics, the protests are about Great-Russian domination. But the problem in Armenia is another matter. Armenia wants control of Nagorno-Karabakh, which is predominantly Armenian and Christian, but surrounded by Shia Muslim Azerbaijanis,

Gorbachev agreed to consider the matter. He had little choice; mass demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of Armenians had been demanding it, and mass suppression by the army would have been the only alternative. But this decision led to counter-riots by the Azerbaijanis; they are not keen to lose a chunk of their national homeland. (Stalin had mentioned in 1923 that some Azerbaijanis regarded the Armenians amongst them as intruders; it seems that they still do.)

Gorbachev had a nasty choice. If he refused to give the Armenians what they want, there would be more protests. But if he did give them a chunk of territory that is now in the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan, the Azerbaijanis in turn would object strongly. For the moment, he seems to have decided to maintain the status quo. Some Azerbaijanis are being tried and punished for things they did during the riots, but this is being done with minimal publicity.

Is the Soviet system up to the task of finding some mutually acceptable compromise? And even if it does, how many more such cases are there?

[Armenia and Azerbaijan fought each other from 1991, after the Soviet collapse.  Armenia won control of Nagorno-Karabakh, and keeps it despite Azerbaijani protests.  Just one of several conflicts that broke out when Soviet power was removed.]


A man, a plan, a canal

Panama is a nation invented by US President Theodore Roosevelt. The territory used to be part of Colombia, but the USA sponsored a secessionist movement in order to have a free hand in building the Panama Canal. Part of the deal was direct US control over the canal zone – although it is now being handed back to Panama.

In Central America, as in other Latin American countries, the US used to have hegemony. But that hegemony is now most uncertain.

It is worth remembering that the Spanish and Portuguese colonies in the New World were founded some time before the Anglo-Saxon ones. Latin America is unique in being both a European colony and a part of the Third World. Latin America was founded on brutal exploitation of the native Indians by a colonial ruling class – whereas Canada and the USA were founded on an equally brutal clearance of more primitive Indians by farmers and trappers.

The Anglo-Saxon pattern proved much more productive. Their ideal was to work hard and grow rich – whereas the Latin American ideal was to be rich and not work at all. The United States became far more powerful than any of the Latin American republics, and came to dominate them. This hegemony had no very clear purpose; generally US policy was dominated by the selfish interests of a few American investors, who found willing helpers among the corrupt local elites. The creation of Panama was nothing very special – though at least it led to the building of a canal that was of general benefit to mankind.

The source of the present problem is not really the canal. Rather it is the vast market for cocaine and similar drugs in the United States. A large part of this market is supplied from South America, with supplies passing through Central America or the Caribbean.

Reagan, ignoring his own remarks about the tendency of market ‘forces to overcome all obstacles, has tried to solve the problem by cutting the supply lines. But the real problem is the consumers, many of whom need drugs. to keep up with the pressures of an increasingly fluid and competitive society. The suppliers are an evil bunch, without doubt; worse even than the average sort of gangster. But they are not really the source of the problem, While there is a demand for dangerous and illegal drugs, someone will always be ready to meet it:

In Panama, the US decided to solve the problem by organising the overthrow the local “strong man”, General Noriega. It seems certain that Noriega had been allowing drug smugglers to use Panama as a staging post. So they persuaded Panama’s President, who had been Noriega’s puppet, to tum against him and try to dismiss him.

The move failed. Noriega was able to tap nationalist resentment against the USA, and most of the army supported him. The President himself fell from power and had to go into hiding. In an earlier era, the US would have then sent in the marines. But after Vietnam, they feared to do so.

Rather than admit defeat, the Reagan administration decided to rely instead on strong economic pressure. Panama has no currency of its own; it uses the US dollar. But this pressure seems to have failed. And perhaps it is just as well. Noriega may not be an admirable character, but nothing much is likely to go right in Latin America while its governments are vulnerable to whimsical US interventions, undertaken as an alternative to solving the USAs own home-grown drugs problem.

It has now emerged that some of the US troops guarding the Canal Zone were themselves engaged in drug smuggling. The whole situation looks increasingly absurd.

[It ended with the US invasion of Panama in December 1989]


Fiji – successful racism

Fiji is one of the many tiny independent states that owe their existence to geographical accident. It is only the great distances between the islands of the Pacific that led them to be administered separately, and thus in due course to be given independence as separate states.

This the opposite extreme from India, which has at least as much diversity as the various Pacific Island states, but which was treated as a unit by the British. In point of fact, no previous Indian Empire, whether native or alien, ruled the whole territory that is now India.

Having been told that they are nations, the various islands naturally behave as such. In Fiji, the original inhabitants have made use of their sovereign status to keep down the Indian immigrants who had lived in Fiji for several generations. A government that tried to give the two races equal powers was overthrown by an army dominated by the original inhabitants. A second coup prevented any attempt at a moderate compromise. It seems now that the original inhabitants will be allowed to push out some of the Indian immigrants. and keep political control over the rest.

In all of this, the opinions of the United Nations and similar bodies counted for little. Words were spoken, but everyone knew that nothing would be done. The only possibility was for Australia or New Zealand to invade, and the price of doing this seemed too heavy.

[I haven’t really followed the complex politics since then.  But it seems to have resolved itself with something much fairer.]


South Africa – unsuccessful racism

South Africa is a case of failed colonialism and failed racism. Unlike the white settlers in North America, South America, Australia and New Zealand, the South African colonists did not reduce the previous inhabitants to a tiny remnant. This was not because their attitudes were any better or worse. Rather, the blacks who lived there were too numerous and well-organised to simply fade away or be absorbed.

According to 19th century morality, this was not a problem. The white population was under no pressure to share power with the blacks. It was broadly assumed that democracy was for whites only.

Elsewhere in the world, this pattern has broken down. But the white populations elsewhere in the world could afford to let it break down. Even in the south of the USA, the blacks were not a majority by the time segregation was ended.

South Africa faced a unique problem. The white population was a minority, and did not at all like the idea of being ruled by the black majority – as must inevitably happen if all races got equal rights. They could have tried allowing it to happen step by step, but they were not that wise or far-sighted. (And it is doubtful if any other population, of any race or colour would have been that far-sighted, facing a similar situation.)

In the event, they tried to keep up white dominance on an indefinite basis. The world condemned them in public, traded with them on the quiet. Nothing at all was done about Namibia, which South Africa runs, but over which the UN has a theoretical jurisdiction. South African control could not be ended without fighting a major war. No one is willing to try a UN-run war — not after the Congo. On the other hand, when South Africa did take some small steps towards reform, sanctions were actually stepped up.

The moral choices would be either to put such pressure on South Africa that the white minority would be forced to accept black majority rule, or else to accept and reward the slow pace of reform that the majority of whites are willing to accept. But it is very nearly certain that neither of these things will be done. Things could drift on, getting steadily worse, for a very long time to come.

[The Soviet collapse may have been lucky for South Africa.  Certainly the West became ready to risk democratisation and the predictable victory of the Communist-influenced ANC.  And Mandela managed the tricky task of building a united nation.  He seems to have learned enough from the Communists to think realistically.
[His choices did of course mean allowing a lot of economic privileges to be kept by the White minority.]


Towards a World State

The United Nations has failed because it is run by sovereign states, each of which has a strong interest in seeing that it does not become anything like a world government. For the most part, socialists have passively accepted this failure. The UN is referred to as an ideal body which ought to solve international problems, but everyone knows that it usually solves nothing.

At the same time, the Communist notion of internationalism has lost all credibility. The various states that have ruling Communist parties act in their own national interests, in so far as they are able to. The Soviet Union is for all practical purposes a continuation of the colonial empire that the Tsar was ruling at the start of World War One.

The present world pattern is a sort of frozen chaos, with nations and national minorities arranged in a not-always-just pattern into a number of sovereign nation-states.

It is time to stop regarding “internationalism” as a matter of conventional piety. The vast success of events like Band Aid and Live Aid shows that there is a vague but definite internationalist spirit at work in the world. And the people who are most against it are the various national governments and civil servants.

In Britain, the Labour Party has only now accepted that we are in the Common Market for good, and that talk of pulling out is foolish. But they still try to show themselves more nationalist than Thatcher and the Tories. The trouble is, Labour can never be whole-heartedly nationalist. The Falklands War showed that.

The future for humanity must lie with some sort of World State. Probably a World Federation, with a great deal of autonomy for regions and nations, but with a single central authority. Peace can never be achieved while the world is full of sovereign nations. Indeed, the right to go to war, the possibility of going to war, is more or less the definition of sovereignty, as distinct from autonomy.

It is unlikely that the world could be united very soon; it could take decades to complete the process. But a start must be made somewhere. And socialists must start pointing out that the UN is a hollow sham, and that true internationalism would have to be something very much better.

[I no longer see this as likely.  The West made a hash of its 1990s dominance.  Russia, India and the Arab world are each now emphasising their separate religious and cultural traditions.  China no longer trust the West, and the West no longer trusts itself.

[Different policies might have led to a unified world.  But the West was far too greedy when the chance existed.  Dishonesty might have been forgiven had the results been positive, but of course they were not.]


This article appeared in July 1988, in Issue 7 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  One of many old articles now on the web.

[A] Writing under the pen-name Walter Cobb.