Yesterday (November 29th) was the 60th anniversary of the foundation of the state of Israel. To be more precise, it was the 60th anniversary of the UN Partition Plan for Palestine (General Assembly Resolution 181), which decreed that the old British mandate territory should be partitioned into a Jewish state (55 per cent) and an Arab state (45 per cent). The Arab bourgeoisie rejected this, and all the surrounding Arab states launched a war aimed at destroying at birth the state of Israel. Britain and the US placed an arms embargo on Israel, which would have meant its destruction at the hands of its Arab enemies: were it not for the USSR and Czechoslovakia, who supplied the arms that Israel used to fight for its survival, the Jewish state would have been strangled at birth by Hitler’s supporters, the Arab bourgeoisie.
Thus Israel survived its war of national liberation, and has gone on to defy and defeat the anti-semitic states that surround it. That does not excuse its shameful treatment of the Palestinians, but it does place it in some kind of context. It is also why all socialists should back a “two-state” solution, and not give in to the hopeless idealism and/or despair that is all too common on the left…never mind the self-pitying, self-righteous nihilism that middle-class Palestinian ex-pats regularly get away with.
“I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand ,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on those lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works ye mighty and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
-Ozymandias, Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1818
We Shirazers are no friends of Gordon Brown, but even so, the slow-motion multiple pile-up that is presently destroying the government and the Labour Party, has a certain tragic quality to it – especially when you remember how only a few months ago, proud Gordon seemed master of all he surveyed, while Cameron and the Tories floundered and quailed before him.
Well, that’s all changed, hasn’t it? Not all of it has been Brown’s fault, either: I don’t see how he, or Alistair Darling can be blamed for Nothern Rock, for instance (though once it happened it should, of course, have been nationalised); nor how Brown or any other government minister can fairly be blamed for the loss of the Child Benefit CDs – scandalous and embarrassing though it was; the election-that-never-was business was a bad political miscalculation brought about (so we are told) by Brown’s over-enthusiastic young advisors – but it needn’t have been fatal: what is simply unbelievable, and unforgivable is that as skilled and experienced an operator as Brown should have allowed yet another ‘Labour Sleaze’ scandal to erupt.
Again, Brown himself does not seem to be directly implicated, but that won’t help him. It happened on his watch and if he was unaware of what was going on, then the charge is one of gross negligence – which is very nearly as bad as active participation in what were, by his own admission, unlawful financial arrangements.
Harriet Harman’s position is even more dire: after initial prevarication, she has now been forced to admit that her team took the initative in approaching Janet Kidd (David Abrahams’ secretary and conduit for his donations to the Labour Party) for a £5,000 donation. The fact that her husband, Jack Dromey, is Party Treasurer, makes Ms Harman’s position all the more extraordinary. Brown has not exactly gone out of his way to defend Harman, and she is now claiming that it was Chris Leslie, co-ordinator of Gordon Brown’s leadership campaign, who recommended she contact Janet Kidd for a donation…it now seems highly unlikely that Brown and Harman can continue to work together as Leader and Deputy Leader, respectively, of the Labour Party.
The great irony of all this is that despite Brown’s bungling and Harman’s dissembling, this would appear to be a much less disreputable matter than “cash for honours”: there is (so far at least) no suggestion that the eccentric and secretive Mr Abrahams was attempting to buy any form of influence or personal advantage. “Cash for honours” was a blatant story of out-and-out corruption by Blair and his entourage, in which the investigation of the honerst cop John Yates that should have resulted in prosecutions, was thwarted by political pressure brought to bear (by Blair’s friend David Parry QC) on the Crown Prosecution Service. The entire business was a far more shameful and corrupt episode than this present business with Mr Abrahams. But whereas Teflon Tony got away with it, Gormless Gordon looks like he’ll be taking the rap.
Genuine labour movement people need to make sure that the correct lessons are drawn from this latest fiasco: that this is yet another example of the trouble Labour gets itself into by sucking up to rich businessmen, instead of looking to the voluntary donations of millions of trade unionists. The great danger is that this will give a renewed boost to those who advocate state funding of political parties – long the favoured option of those who want to take class out of mainsteam British politics.
SOCIALIST BLOGGERS MEET UP V: SANTA JIM & THE ANTI-RACISTS
We’re rounding up the Lefty Bloggers again for another piss up. This Saturday the 1st of December is the proposed date – starting at 4pm and ending God knows when at the Euston Flyer on Euston Road. It’s holiday time which means Santa Jim will be handing out the JDs and ESBs to all of the good lefty boys and girls!
There are a good deal of events taking place on Saturday – but we should be there for some time so feel free to pop along. Hopefully we can get some of the UNISON degenrates along as well.
Everyone is welcome!!!
… there are better things to do than watching apparatchiks lying about decent people on blogs, ya know ;)
Just wanted to reassure those kind souls who have expressed concern for my welfare that the only reason for my not having posted for some time is that I have recently moved house, and I have been too much of a lounge lizard to sort out my internet access as yet. Fuck me, I only got around to buying a microwave yesterday. Worry not, my little bunny rabbits.
Now, let me bring something to your close attention that has appeared in the blogosphere recently. It’s a discussion between two socialist feminists, our own TWP and my good friend Stroppybird, and George Galloway’s new-found online butler Andy Nooman. TWP and Stroppy, in a thread on Liam Macuaid’s blog, raised criticisms of George Galloway’s attitudes on issues of great importance on the left, for instance those of gender. The response from the former SWP apparatchik Nooman (a heritage he shares with another of Galloway’s goons, former SWP Birmingham organiser Ger Francis)? Firstly to blither on about what bastards the SWP are (wow, shocker), and then to attempt to invalidate the views which these two women who raised, entirely legitimately, about sexism on the left of not having the right to speak in the debate, on the grounds that they:
“…make a great deall out of a mildly sexist comment from GG, but go out drinking and share a blog with an open racist.”
Now, not withstanding the sickening nature of the idea that “mild” sexism shouldn’t be made a “great deall” (sic) out of, you get three guesses as to which “open racist” this wannabe stand-in for Sideshow Ron is referring to.
If you guessed Jim Denham of this blog, then you get the prize.
This was the point when I finally lost any respect I may once have held for Nooman. I’d always thought that in spite of his perceptible drift to the right, his obvious desperate desire for a job in Galloway’s tin-pot machine, his loss of any sense of political perspective that once defined him as a genuine left-wing independent, that somewhere underneath all of that rot and decay lay the beating heart of a decent socialist, with the same commitments to human liberation that we all share. And yet it seems I was wrong.
Instead of engaging in a discussion about “mildly” sexist comments on the part of his patron, Nooman has instead chosen to libel a life-long socialist and anti-racist whose political principles make him look like a cheap telephone salesman. Furthermore, to reiterate, he has used that lie in order to shut down a debate with two principled left-wing feminists about sexist comments made by the leader of his particular political faction.
They always used to say of ex-Stalinists like John Reid and Peter Mandelson that they retained the method, the will to lie, bully and smear, after they left the CP’s ideology behind. Et tu, Nooman: it seems you can take the boy out of the SWP but (even decades after the event, he’s not a young man), you can’t take the SWP out of the boy.
“…by whatever criteria you wish to use, our Party has shrunk to a shadow of the size it was even a few years ago. In many areas where the SWP once represented a chaotic pump of activity that connected with all that was vibrant, energetic and rebellious in the city, now meetings are tiny, bereft of anyone under forty and attended out of duty….A few years ago, almost any campaign or labour movement event in a medium-sized town would incluse a Socialist Worker presence. But over the last eighteen months, of the many such events I’ve attended and spoken at, hardly any has been blessed with anyone visibly from the SWP, or for that matter Respect.”
I have a feeling that the SWP-member, middle-class posh-boy, mockney ‘comedian’ Mark Steel’s critical comments about his organisation’s modus operandi may be more significant than most of us have given him credit for.
Steel, despite having joined the SWP in 1978, is a fairly lightweight figure in political terms, and a good part of his document seems to be a rather laughable (from a supposed “comedian”…) complaint that the SWP hadn’t mobilised its membership for his gigs:
“In the spring of 2006 I did a tour of theatres in Britain , performing my show on the French Revolution, in over forty towns, to a total of twelve thousand people…So before the tour began I spoke at length to members of the Central Committee, on four seperate occassions, about how the SWP could benefit from this, and they decided there should be Rsspect stalls at each venue. I arranged that for each venue there should be as many free tickets as needed, made available for Respect supporters, so that it could be used as a social event, as well as a means for publicising Respect…At not one venue did a single person turn up to do this.”
But what Steel’s bleatings tell us about the present state of the SWP is its loss of elan – or that je ne sais quoi that has been so essential to its survival over the years. After all, by any rational measure the SWP should have been discredited years ago: it expelled the bulk of its working class membership in the mid-1970’s; it failed to recognise the importance of the miners’ strike for the first six months; it has been consistently hostile to womens’ and gays’ self-organisation, its founding “third camp” theoretical positions long ago collapsed into a “second camp” semi-Stalinism; for some years it has promoted the anti-semite Gilad Atzmon…
And yet, until very recently, none of this seemed to matter, and the SWP continued on its merry way as the largest and most influential far left group in the UK.
After the catalogue of u-turns, re-writings of history and general record of opportunism, dishonesty and plain wrongness briefly alluded to above, many of us have had difficulty in understanding exactly how the SWP has managed to hang onto its pre-eminent position on the British left for so long. I came to the conclusion, long ago, that the secret lay not in the SWP’s theoretical positions (most of which – ‘state capitalism’ for instance – are non-Marxist garbage), nor in its organisational methods (which have always been simply chaotic), but in its reputation for being…well… more ‘human’, ‘down-to-earth’, and ‘realistic’ than most of its competitors.
To understand what I mean by that it’s worth recalling the SWP’s predecessor as the largest British far left group, the SLL/WRP: a vicious, dictatorial and ignorantly dogmatic sect that insisted a boom was a slump throughout the 1950’s because it didn’t have the theoretical equipment to come to terms with the ‘long boom’ of the 1950’s; in addition, its leader, Gerry Healy was a vicious thug and political gangster, eventually exposed in the mid-1980’s as a rapist. By then, most of the serious members of the WRP had left and even Vanessa Redgrave and her coterie of luvvies (the “West End Revolutionary Party”) couldn’t save Healy. The WRP imploded, leaving a few preposterous, laughable, offshoots, a few of which survive to mislead gullible people to this day…
In comparison with that sort of grotesquery, the IS/SWP seemed like a serious and honest organisation. In the 1950’s and 1960’s (until 1968), it had been explicitly anti-Leninist, with founder Tony Cliff claiming that Leninism led inevitably to Stalinism, and that Rosa Luxemburg’s model of the revolutionary party was much more appropriate to the conditions of contemporary European society than Lenin’s.
All this seemed like a breath of fresh air to many middle class intellectuals and working class militants who’d been repelled by the bureaucratism, thuggery and dishonesty of the CP and the WRP, and the IS gained, during the early 1970’s, a significant number of working class, industrial militants in factories in the midlands and the North – the sort of people who up until then would probably have joined the CP. It also gained the services of several outstanding intellectuals, including Jim Higgins (from a working class background), Duncan Hallas (who’d been an early supporter of the Cliffite ‘Socialist Review’ group in the 1950’s and then dropped out), and Wally Preston (from the Socialist Party of Great Britain): what all these people had in common was that they had an intimate understanding of the class struggle, a realistic grasp of the role of the revolutionary party…and in the cases of Hallas, Higgins and Preston, were outstandingly effective and witty public speakers, as was Cliff himself.
This combination of “realism”, contact with a significant vanguard of industrial workers, and political sophistication (in stark contrast with the self-evident lies and self-delusion of the CP and the WRP), made the IS an attractive option for intelligent workers and intellectuals in the early 1970’s.
Such was the appeal of the Cliffites to a wide range of workers and intellectuals, that most were willing to overlook the thoroughly undemocratic expulsion of the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ (Sean Matgamna and what became the AWL) in 1971…
Cliff’s prediction that Leninsm would lead, inevitably, to Stalinism, started to become a self-fulling prophesy in 1975, when two groups of oppostionists were expelled: the “Workers Opposition” (led by Jim Higgins), and the “Left Opposition” (led by Dave Hughes and Dave Stocking)…these groupings would become the Workers League and Workers Power, respectively. The Workers League soon collapsed, whereas Workers Power continues to this day, albeit with very different politics from its days as an IS-opposition group (for instance, it was vigorously “state capitalist”).
And yet the SWP still managed to maintain its image and reputation as the “sensible”, “realistic” far-left group. It maintained this image even during the miners’ strike of 1984/85…and here, I’ll tell you a little story:
When the strike began in March 1984, Miners’ Support Committees were formed in most large towns and cities throughout Britain. The driving forces behind these committees were usually Labour Party people, often backed up by Communist Party members and non-aligned trade unionists. Where they were present in a town or city, IMG’ers, AWL’ers (then called the WSL), and Workers’ Power, would also be involved. The SWP and the WRP were not involved in Miners’ Support committees.
The reason(s) for the WRP’s abstention is/are too tiresome to go into here; but the SWP’s was very simple: their analysis of the class struggle at that time was one of “downturn”, and therefore the miners’ strike was doomed to failure. It wasn’t until 6 months into the strike that the SWP changed its line and joined the united-front Miners’ Support Committees.
Just after the SWP changed its line and began to give support to the Miners’ Support Committees (having previously sneered at them as “the baked beans brigades” and “left-wing Oxfam”), I met SWP’er Paul Foot at an event in Birmingham. I was in the company of some friends who were SWP members, and because of that he assumed I was, myself, a member of the SWP: I asked him about the change of line towards miners’ support work, and he said something like: “Thank God that sectarian madness is over: I couldn’t have taken much more… I’m not saying that I’d have left the Party, if the sectarianism had carried on, but I’d certainly have had to have stayed in the background – I couldn’t have defended our attitude to the miners”; I then asked Foot about who should be held to account and he replied:
“We don’t want name-calling or recriminations; let’s just be grateful that the madness is over”…at this point someone pointed out to him that i was not a member of the SWP, and Foot recoiled, making a sort of “aghgg…hhh…gg!” noise; that was that last time I ever had any contact with him.
In many ways, it seems to me, that Foot and Steel are quite similar figures, and play quite similar roles within the SWP: both are/were political lightweights, both are/were well-known public faces for the SWP, and both eventually fell out with the sectarianisn of the SWP. Foot, of course, died before his disenchantment with the SWP could run its course (and, in fairness, there is no evidence to suggest that he would ever have left the SWP), wheras Steel seems to be on the verge of leaving after the forthcoming SWP conference…
The likes of Cliff, Hallas and Higgins had the wit, charisma and authority to keep political lighweight “stars” like Foot and Steel on board; the thick, pompous, over-promoted dullard Rees and the chronically uncharismatic Callinicos, cannot do that. The last remnant of the old IS, Chris Harman, is too compromised by going along with their flirtation with clerical fascism (here’s what the Cliffites used to write about it) . I think the Cliff tendency – after years of blagging it – is now, finally – fucked.
…no-one seems to have noticed…or, at least, commented:
3/ Lord Lucan
4/ Voltaire’s Priest…
(No idea who that guy was. The song is by Hoagy Carmichael).
I decided to write about Ella Fitzgerald last week, after reading an article by John Fordham, in the Graun G2, that led me to believe that last Friday would have been her 90th birthday:
“The star-studded 10-day London jazz festival opens on Friday with a celebration of what would have been Ella’s 90th birthday, with vocalists from four-time Mobo winner Jamelia and jazz and Broadway show singer Lea deLaria to the subtly swinging Claire Martin and the dramatic, subversive Ian Shaw queueing up to pay their respects.”
Then I checked: Ella was born on 25th April 1917 (and died 15 June 1996): just goes to show – once again – that you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the Graun.
After that I was going to forget about the Ella piece, until I read the reports of Amy Winehouse’s gig at the NIA Birmingham: “A shambles” (the Times), “One of the saddest nights of my life” (Birmingham Mail), “It was absolutely terrible – it was embarrassing for everyone” (Adele, Stourbridge).
Ms Winehouse was, apparently, very late arriving on stage, but still recieved a warm welcome from the audience. It was only after she started snorting coke on stage, and singing wildly out of tune, that they started booing.
According to Barbera Ellen of the Observer, she sounded like “an alley cat being tortured with rusty pliers.”
When the booing started, Winehouse went on to address her audience as follows:
“Who’s booing? Everyone who’s booing is a manky cunt. Wait till my husband gets out. He’s incarcerated. But wait till he gets out. I mean it, cunts.”
I think most of us know what to make of a ‘performer’ who adresses her audience like that – after having given a pathetically poor show. But that pillock Andrew Lloyd Webber defended Winehouse, claiming she has “Ella Fitzgerald quality”.
The idea that there could, possibly, be any comparison between a spoiled, middle-class brat like Winehouse, and the superb, divinely-gifted, but sadly insecure, Ella, is – simply- preposterous. Ella treated her audiences with respect and -despite considerable personal problems – always gave of her best. She would no more swear at an audience than sing out of tune.
I wrote about Ella in the early days of this blog, and I see no reason to revise what I wrote then.
Is Amy Winehouse in the same league? The proof of the pudding, as they say;
Here’s Ella in Amsterdam in 1957, singing ‘Angel Eyes':
…and during her run at Ronnie Scott’s, London in 1965, singing ‘Misty’ with the Tommy Flanagan trio:
Yesterday’s LRC event saw 250-300 people gathered at Conway Hall for a rather successful assessment of what the next steps for the left were.
While at times the contributions of the guest speakers dragged on somewhat, I was most impressed with the Women’s Network caucus during the lunch break. Here approximately 20 women and a few men briefly discussed the issues facing women and calling a conference in the new year of the network to begin to have an organised group of all women within the LRC which could address women’s issues directly. Nearly 10 women signed up on the spot to be on the steering committee and there was a marked optimism in the room about women’s self organisation and the possibility to build a serious movement for women’s issue inside the LRC which could attract members outside as well.
With regards to the main meeting, the conference significantly adopted a change to the LRC rules which abolished the “associate membership” category. This means that the only criteria for joining the LRC is that one must not be a member of an organisation which runs candidates against Labour. Mark Serwotka gave one of the more interesting speeches in which he questioned this criteria and indeed it is something that the incoming steering committee (to which I was elected) will need to address. For example, Bob Wareing was in the audience and if he runs against Stephen Twigg in the wake of his dodgy de-selection, he will need to run as a non-Labour candidate. The issue is going to increase rather than diminish and I look forward to being a part of the debate about the way forward. I am not certain what the SWP rank and file will do in relation to the LRC and indeed if they continue with their side of the Respect project then they would not qualify as members – but this is obviously an ongoing discussion.
In addition to this, Serwotka mentioned that he spoke at three of the four meetings which were taking place and made it very clear that he participated in the conferences that he believed were taking the left forward. I got the distinct impression that he did not attend the Respect Renewal conference which was later confirmed. He was however very clear that unity was desired and needed and indeed the presence of both vicitimised trade unionists Karen Reissmann and Michael Gavan indicated to me that while these rank and file trade unionist did not feel welcome at the Respect Renewal conference, they recognised the importance of attending this meeting. It’s a further reminder that, far from what those supporting RR maintain, the SWP contains a number of very good trade union activists who deserve to be recognised as such and not summarily discounted.
In fact, it was very good to see a rank and file women getting a standing ovation for a change with nearly £245 raised for her cause instead of some bombastic male as has so often been my experience on the British left.
The AWL put a specific motion forward which was moved by Chris Ford and also debated vigorously. According to the statement they were handing out and during Chris’ comeback after the debate it was clear that he was making analogies to the break with the Liberals in 1900. While taking their point, I tended to agree more with others who spoke that to split from Labour now was premature – but as I said before, one gets the impression that the discussion is ongoing in this regard.
Despite the largely elderly element to the meeting, I certainly got the impression that the LRC is going from strength to strength – and indeed most of the younger people at the meeting that I met were young women – certainly a very positive sign but perhaps once again should serve as a reminder to those supporting an anti-choice MP why they are failing to attract these young women.
All told I was pleased to be a part of this conference and still think it’s the best place to be for those activists wishing to rebuild the left in Britain.