This Week in History: July 18-24
25 years ago: International campaign releases imprisoned Sri Lankan Trotskyist
On July 20, 1997, Selliah Rajkumar, a member of the Socialist Equality Party in Sri Lanka, was released from a concentration camp at Bindunuwewa in Bandarawela district, after an international campaign for his freedom forced authorities Sri Lankan women to release him.
Rajkumar was arrested by police in Anuradhapura and detained at Aralaganwila police station in a remote eastern province since the previous July. The police and other authorities gave no valid reason for his arrest. Police detained him for more than a year despite legal challenges from the SEP in a habeas corpus case in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka. After several months in a cell, Rajkumar was transferred to a concentration camp set up for those detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
Well aware of the political campaign waged by the International Committee of the Fourth International and its Sri Lankan branch, the People’s Alliance regime did not allow SEP members to visit the camp or meet Rajkumar. Such repressive measures did not, however, break Rajkumar’s morale. Defying the ban, the SEP had taken steps to ensure that Rajkumar was aware of the ICFI campaign.
Two SEP members met Rajkumar at the concentration camp upon his release. During a reception at the SEP branch, Rajkumar thanked the SEP and the ICFI for their struggle to secure his freedom. The following evening, he went to the central office in Colombo and was met the following day in his native village by a gathering of more than 200 people who learned of his release from SEP members.
“The struggle for the emancipation of humanity is not over,” he said in his speech. “Although I am at home, I am still not free to travel in the country where I was born. Racist war and emergency laws continue to crush the masses under capitalist rule. This is the situation you too are facing. This is the problem you have to overcome in building revolutionary leadership.
50 years ago: Egyptian President orders withdrawal of Soviet troops
On July 18, 1972, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat ordered the immediate withdrawal of all Soviet military forces from the country and the transfer of control of all Soviet military bases to Egyptian administration. Thousands of military advisers from the Soviet Union had traveled to Egypt to train its soldiers and provide support against Israel, the central proxy for US imperialism in the Middle East.
The announcement was a major shift in Egypt’s policy, which had relied on Soviet-supplied weapons and aircraft since the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel that completely destroyed the army of the Egyptian air. In May 1971, Sadat had initiated a “corrective revolution” aimed at reversing the policy of his predecessor Gamal Abdel Nasser, who died in office in September 1970, by purging the former president’s supporters from their posts.
In his speech to the Central Committee of the Arab Socialist Union, Egypt’s ruling party, Sadat said the order to overthrow the Soviets marked the start of a “new stage” in relations between the two nations. He added that he grew frustrated with conditions Moscow imposed on the use of its weaponry, saying Soviet officials refused to provide the arms and support needed to launch an attack on Israel to retake the peninsula. Sinai and the Suez Canal. Sadat’s government refused, he said, “to impose restrictions on the use of weapons of any kind, based on Egyptian principles that any political decision should be made in Egypt – by its political leaders without having to ask permission from anyone.
Following US President Richard Nixon’s visit to Moscow earlier this year, the Stalinist bureaucracy in the Soviet Union hoped to avoid any conflict that could drag the USSR into yet another proxy war. Given the opportunity to strike deals with US imperialism, Moscow was more than willing to limit its support for anti-colonial struggles in the Middle East.
Sadat’s predicament revealed the fatal weakness of Arab bourgeois nationalism. Mortally scared by the development of a revolutionary movement in the working class, Sadat and other Arab leaders were totally dependent on the support of the Soviet Union to sustain their governments against the threat of Israel. When that support dried up, Sadat found himself without a leg to stand on. Seeking to compensate, in the following years he would launch a number of disastrous initiatives, including the Yom Kippur war against Israel in 1973 and the Infitah economic reforms in 1974 which opened Egypt to foreign capital investment. and began to dismantle the nationalized state. Industries.
75 years ago: Dutch imperialism launches a massive attack on the Republic of Indonesia
On July 21, 1947, the Netherlands launched a major military offensive aimed at overthrowing the independent Republic of Indonesia, which had been proclaimed in August 1945. Dubbed “Operation Product”, the attack involved indiscriminate attacks on villagers and Indonesian civilians.
For months, the Netherlands had been plotting a military attack. The Dutch bourgeoisie had never come to terms with the loss of its former colonial possession in Southeast Asia, a vast archipelago rich in resources and strategically located.
In the weeks leading up to the offensive, the Dutch government claimed that the Indonesian republic had violated the terms of the Linggadjati agreement. Signed between the independence leaders and the Netherlands in March 1947, it provided for a federal United States of Indonesia with ties to Holland. The new entity was to be made up of a republic, based in Java, Sumatra and Madura, as well as separate entities known as the Great Eastern State and the State of Borneo, which functioned as Dutch puppets. The resulting United States of Indonesia would not be allowed to have a foreign policy independent of the Netherlands. It would have a joint police force, its leadership stacked with Dutch loyalists.
Over the following months, compromises by bourgeois independence leaders in Linggadjati, including Sukarno, provoked a significant reaction from more radical forces, distorting the revolutionary sentiments of broad layers of workers and youth. This, combined with the terms of the agreement, which maintained Indonesia’s semi-colonial status, prompted the republic to begin to develop its own foreign policy, including through relations with the Arab League, and to attempt to undermine the joint police force.
The very limited actions of the independence leaders were amplified by the Dutch government to justify a long-planned intervention. The Netherlands had previously waged ruthless bombing campaigns in an attempt to scuttle independence and preserve the old colonial order.
After the start of the July 21 intervention, Dutch troops quickly secured large parts of Java and Sumatra. Independence supporters’ guerrilla operations were met with indiscriminate airstrikes, combined with blockades aimed at starving combatants and civilians. A ceasefire would not be declared until early 1948. The operation, the first of two by the Dutch, resulted in countless deaths and injuries, with Indonesian casualties estimated at at least 150,000.
100 years ago: League of Nations approves Mandate for Palestine
On July 22, 1922, the Council of the League of Nations, dominated by the main imperialist powers of the world – with the exception of the United States, which had refused to join – approved a mandate which gave the British Empire authority over Palestine, part of the former Ottoman Empire seized by the British during World War I.
Although most of the inhabitants of Palestine are Arabs, including Christians, Muslims and Druze, the mandate stated that British imperialism “should be responsible for the implementation of the declaration originally made on November 2, 1917 by His Britannic Majesty’s Government, and adopted by the said Powers, in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…” The declaration to which the warrant referred was the infamous Balfour Declaration of the British Government , a “statement of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations.”
The mandate stated, using language taken directly from the Balfour Declaration, “nothing should be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine”. Few words in the history of imperialist diplomacy have contained more lies than these. The conduct of the Zionist movement, both during the following 30 years of Mandatory Palestine and after the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, was the exact opposite for the Palestinian people, and remains so today – including ethnic cleansing, violence against women and children, murder and the abrogation of civil and religious rights.
From the start, the imperialist endorsement of the colonization of Palestine was profoundly undemocratic. None of the victors of the brutal imperialist war of 1914-18 asked the Palestinian masses what they thought of this project which, Zionist nationalism notwithstanding, was in reality nothing more than a new mechanism of imperialist division. of the peoples of the Middle East. .
Although Britain’s House of Lords voted against accepting the mandate in June, the House of Commons approved it on July 4 by a vote of 292 to 35 after a speech of support from the Colonial Secretary, Winston Churchill. US President Warren Harding sent his greetings to the convention of the Zionist Organization of America in Philadelphia on June 25, which called on the British to allow the Zionists to “continue…the work of building the Jewish National Home” in Mandatory Palestine.