On paper the events in Kyrgyzstan seem to be another of the “democratic revolutions” that the US has been calling for across the world. But Washington has been less than enthusiastic about events in this former Soviet republic.
That is because Askar Akayev, Kyrgyzstan’s former president, was an ally of George Bush. Some 1,000 US troops are stationed at an airbase outside the capital. US aid to the ousted government totalled $51 million. Akayev enthusiastically privatised the economy, largely benefiting his own family in the process.
Opposition forces in the country decided to copy events in Ukraine and Georgia. But, after a clash with riot police, matters took a different turn. A crowd invaded the presidential palace, triggering a night of rioting and looting. As we went to press, oligarchs from the old regime and the opposition were claiming to run the country.
History teaches us that attempts at reform from the top of society can lead to an upsurge from below. Faced with the reality of the overthrow of Akayev, US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice suggested that the uprising might be “a good thing”. But many in Washington are worried that an old pattern could easily reassert itself, leading to events beyond the control of the US.
Veteran anti-war campaigner Tariq Ali has called for George Galloway to be returned to parliament at the expected general election. But in the Guardian last Saturday he rejected voting for Respect, the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP), or the Greens elsewhere in Britain. Instead he urged support for the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party.
Tariq’s argument ignores the fact that only Respect can defeat New Labour in east London and in Birmingham Sparkbrook & Small Heath.
And it ignores the fact that Liberal Democrat opposition to the war evaporated the moment that fighting actually began. What Tony Blair and the establishment really fear is the anti-war vote coalescing around a radical voice, that of Respect and the SSP. Together these parties have a chance of achieving an electoral breakthrough that has eluded the left for six decades.
Many tributes to Jim Callaghan, the former Labour prime minister who died last weekend, portrayed him as a decent man, and a democratic socialist, in contrast to the present incumbent of 10 Downing Street.
But Callaghan pursued his own version of adapting to the right. In 1968 Enoch Powell whipped up a racist campaign over immigration. As home secretary Callaghan responded by rushing through legislation that denied East African Asians the right to settle here — despite the fact that they held British passports. And as prime minister in 1976, Callaghan responded to the rise of the National Front by ordering “virginity tests” on Asian women coming to Britain to get married.
Callaghan bowed to the International Monetary Fund and imposed huge cuts on public spending, paving the way for Margaret Thatcher. All in all, Callaghan had much more in common with Tony Blair than many imagine.
Pride is a protest