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Internationalism in Action Part I – On De-colonization and Military Bases – Expanded Text

11.04.2019

So little store is today put by “internationalism” as part of the struggle for socialism that many people no longer know what it means. Everyone in left-wing politics used to share an understanding of what it meant, and today more than ever we need once again to acquire this common understanding of a shared “internationalism”. Some people today might be forgiven for thinking it means gathering likes, or clicking on an on-line petition. Or for thinking that it means getting air travel paid for by who-knows-who to attend international NGO conferences. Or even for thinking that internationalism is simply an empty slogan – devoid of any political content. But real internationalism has existed, still exists and must exist if we are to be victorious in the struggle for socialism. Here is the proof that it exists as an idea and in our practice, in LALIT. This article will, in relation to Diego Garcia and Chagos, give a hint of the raw materials of internationalism that we already have, and can build on. Internationalism does not exist all by itself; it has to be nurtured consciously. It takes a generosity of heart to see and feel the rhythms of struggles in countries other than our own, and to join with them. It takes flexibility and imagination to receive ideas or share ours with others from totally different traditions. Not only do working class struggles have different itineraries in history, but they have produced different organizations and principles, and even words have different feelings to them, depending on the historical content people have lived and worked in.


LALIT has benefitted from, and still benefits from, a great deal of international support for one of our many campaigns. I am referring to our prolonged struggle on the 3-pronged issues around Chagos and Diego Garcia: de-colonization, military base closure and Chagossians right of return. This support from organizations and individuals in other countries has been such a big thing that it is sometimes not easy for people to understand where it came from, or how exactly we in LALIT do it. We ourselves have to think hard to work out what it is. It seems to be the momentum LALIT has gained from many years, even decades, of consistent struggle at an international level – as well, obviously, as activism in Mauritius -- on the issue. This article will outline just two examples of this kind of internationalism in action: one which is more on "decolonization" and the other more on "anti military bases". LALIT colleagues are preparing articles on two other aspects of the international nature of our campaign on Chagos and Diego Garcia: one on pressure on institutions in the UK (press and MPs) and the other on working class solidarity.


De-colonization


Let us start with the example of the struggles for the double struggles for demilitarization and decolonization of Puerto Rico and Mauritius.


 The fact that Puerto Rico is some kind of a U.S. colony has been exposed in the news since Hurricane Maria struck that country in September 2017. And as recently as last week, for example, President Donald Trump told lies about the amount of aid sent there, and one of his advisors Hogan Gidley, in trying to cover up, referred to Puerto Rivo as “that country”, thus exposing the truth that it is a different country from the USA. He then corrected himself, and called it a “territory”, the euphemism often resorted to in these give-away moments, for a colony. But, how are we in LALIT linked to the Puerto Rico struggle for de-colonization?


 LALIT’s first contact with Puerto Rico was in the No Bases movement. At the first face-to-face gathering in Mumbai in 2004, we met Myrna Pagan, doyen of the anti-base struggle in Vieques, Puerto Rico, and shared notes. Later, a LALIT friend in the USA, Grace Goldfarb brought the video interview she had made with Myrna and in LALIT we watched it in many different groups. Later still, LALIT, through an international contact with Steve Bloom, member of Solidarity (a socialist party in the USA) and whose epic poem on the Russian Revolution we produced in Kreol for a multi-country celebration for the Centenary of the Revolution, joined into an international movement to free the Puerto Rican freedom fighter, Oscar Lopez Rivera, in jail by then for 35 years.


 Amongst other things, LALIT held a candle-light vigil on the side of the Main Road to Port Louis for his release, and we distributed leaflets in front of the US Embassy in 2016 at the same time as people held events in 35 countries for his 35 years in prison, and we again held a celebration on the day he was released in 2017, as celebrations were being prepared in Puerto Rico. During both events, we linked the de-colonization of Puerto Rico with that of Chagos – including the military occupation by the USA of Diego Garcia. This is a modest example of living internationalism. Then two life-long activists like Steve Bloom, who Rajni Lallah and myself met in Belgium when we were observers like he was at the 4th International Conference on 2005, and Matt Meyer, who Alain Ah-Vee had met in the War Resisters’ International in India in 2010, and who have both been in a long-term movement that has, inter alia, taken the issue of de-colonization of Puerto Rico to the United Nations’ “Committee of 24” and who thus have a whole network of their own, mobilized support for LALIT on the Chagos and Diego Garcia issues. They thus contributed to getting the African union resolution to get to the UN General Assembly, and then to the ICJ where there was an important victory. 


 Anti-US Military Bases


LALIT was one of the prime organizers of what started as an internet network of grass-roots struggles against military bases, US, NATO and others. During the course of these struggles, we put Diego Garcia on the map, and in 2004 at the first meeting of No Bases – on the fringes of the Mumbai World Social Forum – the US base there was chosen as one of the three main bases to be highlighted for international struggle. We met Wilbert van der Zeiden there. Later I again met him at the big No Bases Conference in Quito and caravan down to Manta, where a US base was then closed down completely. LALIT then invited Wilbert to come and speak at our international action conference on Diego Garcia in 2010, and again in 2016. As he was one of the main activists for the UN Treaty Prohibiting all Nuclear Weapons, he had many contacts at the level of UN Country Representatives. So, just as Matt Meyer and others had introduced those in his network to the Chagos issue, so Wilbert introduced those in his network to the Diego Garcia base. Similarly, we were in contact with Noel Stott, who is one of the people known for his work towards the implementation of the Pelindaba Treaty, and he would do a Skype video conference call with us for our Second International Conference. As did the Quaker Representative and author of a book on US bases, Joseph Gerson. At our first Conference, Penny Duggan spoke for the Fourth International, while Léon Cremieux spoke for the LCR, and the late John Percy spoke for an Australian left wing party that has now become part of Socialist Alternative. At our second international conference, we had peace activist Clare Bayard, who Alain Ah-Vee had met Ahmedabad and Johannesburg at War Resisters’ International meetings, speaking to us and doing a training session, too. A woman from the US military, Maricela Guzman, who had afterwards become a peace activist, also came to give a speech and share ideas; she had been stationed at Diego Garcia. So, these are some of the people who then joined in to our movement to build up votes in favour of the African union Resolution to send the Chagos issue to the ICJ.    


 It is important to note that all those who came to speak at our LALIT Conferences paid for their own flights, and we covered their costs, staying here. The costs of our members to the WRI and FI Conferences were covered by us in LALIT.


 International links with organizations with similar aims, or overlapping aims, needs a great deal of flexibility and imagination – especially in difficult times for the struggle for socialism. But take a look at this one: When Ram Seegobin spoke on Diego Garcia when he was in Australia for LALIT at the Asia Pacific Solidarity Conference in April 2005, he linked the anti-bases movement to the anti-war movement. He proposed that the anti-base movement can give a permanent expression to anti-militarism. Present there, too, was Stan Goff of the Bring Them Home Now movement in the USA. He then went home and discussed this new idea, and the banner on their web-site was subsequently amended by adding a by-line “from the front and from the bases!”


 We have built links over the years with the Japanese anti-base movement and more recently we have been in contact with a Japanese political party, Japan Revolutionary Communist League (Revolutionary Marxist Faction) that two of our members met at the Lutte Ouvriere annual socialist festival held just outside Paris. The content of this internationalism is varied over time. Another of our members, Kisna Kistnasamy has spoken at rallies in Japan – in Tokyo and Okinawa – and attended street demonstrations against US military bases there. Other members co-ordinated with the movements in Japan, including on Okinawa, during the No Bases summits in Mumbai and then Quito, Ecuador. And now we have our articles translated from English into Japanese by the Japanese party we have links with, and we have published photographs in our magazine of their demonstrations while they have published photographs of LALIT demonstrations in their magazine and as part of an exhibition.


 In paralell, after four different members attended the Lutte Ouvriere annual festival on two occasions, and held a stand there each time, LALIT has been invited to be present and to give a speech on the issue of Chagos – decolonization, anti-war and the right of those who lived and worked in Chagos to return this year.


 For decades, too, we have been corresponding with the Marxist humanist groups in the USA around their publication News & Letters. They regularly support our struggles by publishing articles on them, and we send messages of support from our members to each other.


 But perhaps one of the relationships we have that can act as a model for others, in these difficult times, is our modest relationship with a political group in Namibia, the Marxist Group of Namibia. For a start, it is a neighbour. And then, it has a similar organic way of growing. As LALIT started around a publication, and is still built around our magazine until today, so they began as a Marxist Reading group in Windhoek. As we became drawn in to becoming the leaders of a nationwide general strike movement, so they were drawn into a role in a teachers’ strike. Like us they put a lot of store by the mother-tongue. They link decolonization to the working class struggle. So, they send us support letters, and circulate our petitions and demands in Southern Africa, and they also choose very specific articles to refer to us. We have sometimes been asked to advise them on reading matter. And one of our members went to visit them while in Windhoek and strengthened the relationship. Their members helped with the LPT book in which a poem in Mauritian Kreol ended up being translated into 55 languages.


 These are just two small parts of our international network – one against colonization and one against bases. It is modest work. But small action, when based on principled politics, and when maintained over time, develop a momentum that is very strong.


 It is no wonder that, before this, when the Olivier Bancoult’s Chagossians’ case went to the Privy Council on appeal, that the barrister representing the British State for a whole hour went on-and-on against LALIT, arguing that we were an ally of the Chagossians and that we represented a danger to the UK-USA military pact (what an exaggeration!) and also interesting that the Judges mention LALIT, even if to argue that a LALIT flotilla of small peace boats was not an imminent threat to the US military empire.


 In these times, when the struggle for socialism is so important, and when – as ever – internationalism is vital to the struggle for socialism, and when internationalism is no longer a concept shared universally by socialists, it is worth giving physical form, as we have tried to do here in this article, to one or two humble aspect of LALIT’s internationalism. The times oblige us to be more creative. The previous form of internationalism – with all its hub-and-spokes faults i.e. their being centred in Paris like the Fourth International, in London like the First International and the International Socialists, or in Russia like the Second International – was a vital driving force for most of the 20th Century, built around parties that affiliated together. Now this form has weakened to the point where we have to take initiatives to nurture new types of links, at the same time as keeping links with the old forms, hoping some of the experience gained will be helpful in more propitious times.


Lindsey Collen


Expanded on 11 April, 2019