On International Solidarity: Some Questions of Principle by Jan Myrdal
Palestine and Kashmir are both under foreign military occupation and we all are here to express our solidarity with the Palestinian and the Kashmiri people. In both cases this occupation and the periodically violent conflict with the occupiers has been going on for more than sixty years. The history of popular solidarity work in metropolitan and other states of our kind with people suffering under colonial and imperial rule is of course much longer. I thus here now want to raise and discuss some experiences.
I will begin by saying something we always ought to be aware of. Solidarity is not a question of doing something for others. This is not a truth just for the present. You know the words of John Donne from 1624: ”No man is an island…”. In present political terms we know that Marx in the nineteenth century pointed out that the struggle against the oppression of the Irish is necessary for the liberation here in Britain.
But there is a difference between the social and political work we take part in directly, you in the UK or we in Sweden, and our solidarity work. The solidarity work is has a different agenda. Some here might have come directly from Palestine or Kashmir and are thus a part of that present struggle. But I as a Swede must understand that it is not for me to say how the struggle for national independence in Palestine and Kashmir is to be conducted. I might have opinions. That is another thing. But the decision on how to struggle is not for me.
Nearly two generations ago we built a Swedish mass movement for solidarity with the peoples of South East Asia in their national struggle against French colonialism and the United States war. We did it independently and from below, outside parties. We expressed our principle of solidarity to to the representatives from South East Asia as ”solidarity on your terms”. It was for them – not us to decide. Why did we express ourselves in this way? We had summed up the experience of anti-colonial and anti-imperial and peace movements the last more than hundred years! Those of you who are from South Asia know the detrimental effects of well meaning outside advice and interference during the liberation struggle in the nineteen-thirties and forties.
During the first years the solidarity work against the United States war in South East Asia was an uphill struggle Not only the mass media were against us. Militants lost their jobs, both the security police and the regular police were used against us. Towards the end of 1967 the government even – for the first time in Sweden since 1917 – set in had mounted police against our peaceful demonstration. I too was beaten up, jailed and was to be given a four year jail sentence. But we had at that time such a strong following that the government changed policies. If you can’t beat them – join them! And in the next demonstration Olof Palme, then minister for education, later prime minister, led the demonstration. Of course the United States government was furious at Sweden. Our movement had by keeping a principled line and through talking with people, selling bulletins, demonstrating and holding meetings grown to a mass movement and thus been instrumental in changing the official Swedish policies. Which was good for our own independence as a nation.
I will say this still more concretely. Twelve years before my birth Norway fought for independence from the union with Sweden. What I could call ”we” in Sweden, the labour movement and the socialist youth league, were not only active but were a determining force in stopping the ruling class in Sweden from going to war with Norway. The leader of the Swedish Social Democracy, Hjalmar Branting, was sentenced in 1895 for warning the government that their policy could result in ”a bullet” against the or those for war responsible. Ten years later when the crisis became acute the socialist youth league spread the word among the recruits of our conscript army that in case of war against Norway they should turn their guns in the right direction; the officers of the Swedish army had to be shot before they could give any orders. That open threat of civil war scared the ruling class and it did not chose war but let Norway go. But remember – these I rightly can call ”we” did not interfere in Norwegian affairs. They surely were not in favour of the Norwegians opting for monarchy for instance. But that was a decision only for the Norwegians.
As we all know, or should be aware of, the freedom of the media in countries of our type will be restricted when the dominant forces deem it in their interest. The gate keepers of the official media earn their pay by keeping the public misinformed. But still it is normally in our countries not in the strict sense illegal to spread information that is being kept out of the media. Thus the solidarity work to a large extent becomes supplying basic information. I don’t think ordinary people in this country have a clear understanding even of the great crime in Palestine 65 years ago: Al nakba. Then 750 000 Palestinians were driven from their land upon which the state of Israel then was erected and the evicted Palestinians forcibly, at gun point, were forbidden ever to return.
This crime is continuing as settlers, many of them coming from Sweden or the United States or Eastern Europe, contrary to all international law build their villages on Palestinian land that was occupied by Israeli forces in the last violent annexation campaign. They try to sell the products from this illegaly occupied land in our countries. In Sweden we agitate against this. Inform, demonstrate. Show that the managers of the food chains selling this are in fact receivers of stolen goods.
Now and then governments and politicians from the United Kingdom, the United States and other of our countries mutter. But they do not stop the Israelis.The reason is clear, if you go back to the First World War you find that that the present policies supporting the state of Israel are a continuation of that economic and military Great Game in West and Central Asia. This truth has to be clarified in order to gain popular support in our countries for the freedom struggle of the Palestinian people.
At times there have in fact been attempts through the United Nations to reach a solution that was not a continuing crime against the Palestinian people. But when the Swedish count Bernadotte came forward with such a plan then Yizak Shamir – who later became prime minister of the Israeli state – just had him murdered. It is important for us in Sweden to keep making this murder known. Pro-Israeli groups have after the murder tried to slander him as pro-nazi He was not. He was a normal member of the royal family, not a revolutionary but as head of the Swedish Red Cross he managed at the end of the war to get Himmler to let at least Scandinavian prisoners out of the German concentration camps. He saved some 15 000 prisoners from different countries. He was murdered 17th September 1948 as he was putting forward a solution that went against the plans of the extreme sionists.
This murder was swept under the carpet. As far as the governments of what is callet ”the west” are concerned there will be no reaction against the continous crimes of the Israeli state against the Palestinian people. If we are not able to organize and put such an internal pressure on them that they have to act that is.
Here we must be able to see clearly with whom can we cooperate in this work. Let me take an example. In the nineten-fifties, during the beginning of the war for national liberation in Algeria I lived in Paris. Who supported the Algerian people in their struggle? Not the big and then still officially revolutionary labour movement and their notables. It was small ultra left groups as the FCL ”Féderation communiste libertaire” and the PCI, ”Parti communiste internationaliste”, a catholic writer, member of the French Academy who had just received the Nobel Prize, François Mauriac and then different writers and intellectuals generally. There are reasons for this. I can discuss them another time. But the pattern is the same today in the very broad solidarity movement with Palestine in Sweden. Several Christian organizations, many of them inside the Swedish Church are from a humanitarian stand very active in support of the Palestinian people and their rights. Yes, allies in the solidarity work can often be found in unexpected places. Or as Fidel Castro said when I was in Cuba 1967 making a film: ”A catholic priest taking a stand for the rights of the poor and oppressed is a friend of the people whereas an officially communist party that stands aside is not.”
It is also necessary to also closely watch the contradictions among the ruling circles. That the Swedish government of that time early on took contact with the Algerian liberation movement and then also as a first state established diplomatic relations with Algeria was important.