By MITCH LINCK
Below is the speech given by Mitch Linck as a panelist in a Jan. 23 webinar called “The World Says No to War in Yemen,” sponsored by Socialist Resurgence. Other speakers included Imam Ibrahim Alsuragmi and Stan Heller.
When I was 17 I joined the United States Marine Corps. I believed I would be part of something greater than myself and that I was going to go to Iraq to bring democracy and freedom to its people. The promise that I would make a difference—that I would make the world a better place—was a lie. This promise of democracy too was a lie.
And its falsehood was crystal clear only a few years later when masses took to the streets to fight for democratic rights all across the Arab world. In that fight, the U.S. government acted to crush the uprisings by any means necessary: whether it meant backing a despot, arming American allies to commit war crimes, or bombing the country into fragments.
But still, working people in America managed to learn from the revolt across the ocean. Wisconsin workers learned from the Egyptian occupation in Tahrir Square and set up their own occupation at their state Capitol. They made signs comparing their governor to the Egyptian dictator and urged supporters to “fight like an Egyptian.” Others inspired by the Arab Spring occupied a park on Wall Street and started a discussion about social class that continues to this day. The U.S. did not export democracy to the Arab world. If anything, it was the other way around.
The U.S. government will stifle any country, government, or institution that is in the way of profits. We see this in the invasion of Iraq and in the current embargoes of Venezuela, Iran, and Cuba. We see it again in the constant coups orchestrated by the U.S. in Latin America. Yemen is one more country whose fate the U.S. aspires to control in order to maintain a Middle East as a site for the extraction of profit by its own petro-corporations and financial institutions.
Yemen exists at the intersection of the Arab Peninsula and Northern Africa. The small coastal town Dhubab is less than 25 miles from Eritrea, and it embodies the contradictions and revolutionary past, present, and future of both areas.
Today in the United States, Yemen is often thought of as a tragedy, part of the homogenous mass of so-called tribal conflict assumed to be the perpetual cause of destitution, underdevelopment, and war since time immemorial. Wiping aside the racist blinders of the corporate media, the real cause of the situation in Yemen becomes immediately clear—global capitalism and the failure so far of a worldwide social revolution.
The Yemeni people themselves cannot be blamed for this failure. Fred Halliday, the late author of many books on Middle East politics, describes the winning of independence in South Yemen, won through armed struggle, general strikes, and breaking with Nasserite reformism, as follows: “All British troops were out on 29 November, and at midnight on the night of 29-30 November 1967 the People’s Republic of South Yemen was born. One hundred and twenty-eight years of British rule had come to an end. The South Yemeni victory was the only one in British colonial history which inflicted a defeat of this kind on the British Army and the British state.”
The revolutionary movement from below smashed landlordism, with peasants forcefully occupying and breaking up big estates; provided one of the most progressive legal bases for women’s self-determination in not only MENA but the entire world; combated tribalism through peaceful and relatively democratic means; and, probably most importantly, provided basic living standards in a country made poor from almost a century and a half of first colonial and then imperialist neo-colonial occupation and exploitation. Still, the pressure from North Yemen, the other Gulf States—who hated and still hate not just socialism but also republicanism—and world imperialism were a major force to bear.
Ultimately, as Halliday pointed out in 1974 and which remains true today: “The fate of the [People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen] PDRY itself depended to a considerable extent on the development of the revolution elsewhere—in North Yemen and in the Gulf. On its own the state would face a very hard and delimited future: for economic, psychological and military reasons it needed a breakthrough elsewhere. While the PDRY was the first liberated state in Arabia, its fate was directly tied to the fate of the revolution in the rest of the peninsula.”
Shortly after the reunification of North and South Yemen in 1990, the new state headed by former North Yemen/Yemen Arab Republic leader and autocrat Ali Abdullah Saleh alienated the local allies of imperialism by not supporting the U.S. in the Gulf War. After that, Saudi Arabia expelled almost one million Yemeni immigrant workers, whose remittances kept the masses of people in Yemen afloat. The opposition also increased Saudi posturing against Yemen. Saudi Arabia in the past had supported terrorist campaigns since independence from Britain and the formation of the PDRY.
After this episode, which bankrupted not the state so much as workers and farmers, the Yemeni ruling class learned its lesson and began looking towards the institutions of imperialism for loans and development assistance. These structural adjustment programs, which began to open up Yemen to complete external economic control, came at the same time that there were assassination attempts, many successful, on Yemen’s Socialist Party leaders. The ruling class wanted to clean house.
The international financial institutions were focused, as always, on creating “stability” and a positive balance of payments through dismantling the public sector and destroying the welfare state. This met with extreme opposition from Yemenis, many of whom had experience in a state where citizenship was a guarantee of receiving basic necessities. All the same, author Helen Lackner points out forcefully that by 2010, “The data strongly suggest failure of the neo-liberal agenda.”
Today’s civil war is a product of the economic situation created by and large by the implementation of the program of the imperialist powers onto Yemen. At the same time, the lack of an internal political opposition capable of uniting the working, farming, and unemployed population in the fight against the forces of the international financial institutes allows for extreme fragmentation of the struggle.
The political crisis reached a breaking point in 2011, when Yemenis rose with their brothers, sisters, and siblings in the Arab Spring. That movement ousted Saleh, but became directed into bringing a new, marginally more democratic, comprador government into power. Along with this, the old regime’s enemies, the Islamic populist movement called the Houthis, allied with the outgoing leader to reinstate the old president.
It is widely understood that the U.S. aggression in Yemen is part of an extension of geopolitics—specifically, allying with Saudi Arabia (and its regional Sunni allies) and against Iran and the Shia Houthis that Saudi Arabia considers a threat. However, nominally, the U.S. justification for its involvement in this catastrophe has always been “anti-terrorism.” And for all the hypocrisy of this guise, it has recently just been strengthened by the recent decision by the U.S. to label the Houthis as a terrorist group. The bourgeoisie press is discussing how this will have negative ramifications for the already scant supply of aid to Yemen.
And this is true. It reminds me that this sort of thing isn’t without precedent in both politics and U.S. law. In a 2010 decision titled Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Supreme Court said that it is illegal under constitutional law to give aid to terrorist organizations. The terrorist organizations in this case were the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Tamil Tiger liberation forces in Sri Lanka. Despite the criticisms we could put on either of these organizations, it illustrates how the U.S. uses a terrorist designation in a manner that is beneficial only to the U.S., as with Trump adding Cuba to the state sponsor of terror list.
To give you a sense of the U.S. drone strikes in Yemen, I want to quote from a rare moment in Washington politics when a Yemini villager was afforded the opportunity to speak before a Senate subcommittee. He explained that “drone strikes are the face of America to many Yeminis”. “When they think of America, they think of the terror they feel from the drones that hover above their heads ready to fire missiles at any time.” And that was from 2013.
But by far the most damage was done by the U.S.-supported Saudi-led bombing campaign. For the past five years, the country—one of the poorest in the region—has been absolutely pounded by U.S.-made bombs. The coalition has blatantly violated international law and targeted schools, mosques, markets, factories, weddings, and a school bus full of children. From a report all the way back in 2016, the UN found at least 119 cases of such human rights violations.
The results are catastrophic. Amnesty International estimates that a quarter-of-a-million Yeminis have been killed. Most of the ports that receive food and other necessities have been destroyed. The conflict has led to the worst outbreaks of cholera and one of the worst mass famines in modern history. And now coronavirus is devastating the country. Today, the crisis in Yemen is the world’s most grave humanitarian disaster, and many are now finding it appropriate to use the word genocide.
The most pressing need for the people of Yemen in ending the conflict and creating the conditions for self-determination is an immediate end to the violence being carried out and supported by the big imperialist countries and regional powers. Working people in the United States, Great Britain, Saudi Arabia, and all along the supply chain of the mechanisms of war have the power to end the attacks on Yemen immediately.
In the current conflict, regional and global elites who supply arms to various militias and global capitalist institutions, and who meet to decide Yemen’s fate without any Yemenis in the room, seem to be in control of the fate of the Yemeni people. We must do our part to reduce the suffering and prevent the continued immiseration of the only social layers who can organize a lasting peace, the Yemeni working, farming, herding, and unemployed people. We must do our part to ensure that the antiwar movement here in the U.S. raises the cause of Yemeni self-determination and stops the giving of military aid to Saudia Arabia to continue to ensure the destruction of workers lives.
We must harken back to our antiwar roots and bring inspiration from the antiwar movements against Iraq and Vietnam. We need to bring in the labor movement as well, workers make the supplies needed to continue the conflict, but workers currently have little to no say in what they produce for the bosses, we should be inspired by dock workers in Italy who in February of last year refused to let a Saudi war ship dock at their port. Workers here at the weapons plants could refuse to make any more equipment to aid the conflict in yemen. Workers make the world run and workers gain nothing by making weapons of war that will be used against people around the world.
The U.S. government is a death cult; it has no interest in stopping the bloodshed in the Middle East. It will always do what is best for business, whether that means encouraging wars around the world or polluting to the point in which climate change closes the window for human viability on this planet.
So we are here in solidarity with the Yemeni people. We commit to do what we can here to ensure that the imperialist government can no longer supply weapons to do war crimes. And we are raise the demands
- Stop foreign aggression on Yemen.
- Stop weapons and war support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
- Lift the blockade on Yemen and open all land and seaports.
- Restore and expand humanitarian aid for the people of Yemen.
The Yemeni people themselves are the ones who must decide what self-determination means and the path forward out of their internal conflict. As working people rise up all over the world, and especially in the Middle East and North Africa, the means of building a society based on solidarity, prosperity, and respect will become ever clearer—as a new society struggles to be born in the death of the old. The Arab revolution is again raising its head; now on the tenth anniversary of the Arab spring, it is clear that the only lasting solution for working and oppressed people in Yemen, Iraq, and the entire region is through their taking state power and production into their own hands, and running society in their own name.