New Labour: Let It Bleed?

July 31, 2008 at 7:52 pm (Andrew Coates, labour party, left, politics, socialism)

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In 1970 the Front Page of Red Mole, associated with the International Marxist Group (IMG), read: “Let It Bleed”. It showed Barbara Castle being decapitated. Robin Blackburn argued in the paper that both Labour and Tory campaigns in the forthcoming elections should be disrupted. Despite Pat Jordan’s efforts on the part of the official IMG to advocate support for the Labour Party, this headline has remained in left folklore as the epitome of ultra-leftist idiocy; see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Marxist_Group.

 

This episode came to mind when hearing and reading about Labour’s present difficulties. Since the 27th of June Henley by-election, where its candidate dropped to fifth place, and the disaster in Glasgow East, which saw the SNP grab a Labour heartland seat, we have heard, if we are interested, endless commentaries about Labour’s looming melt-down.  Part of me says: who bloody cares?

 

The furore around David Miliband’s will-he-or-won’t-he challenge Gordon Brown for the leadership of the Labour Party is the story of the moment. Miliband claims to address the “future”. He observes that, “Every member of the Labour party carries with them a simple guiding mission on the membership card: to put power, wealth and opportunity in the hands of the many, not the few. When debating public service reform, tax policies or constitutional changes, we apply those values to the latest challenges.” (Guardian. 30.7.08)  Apparently “we need the imagination to distribute more power and control to citizens over the education, healthcare and social services they receive.” In plain language, Miliband wants to continue ‘modernisation’. The rest is mere words.

 

As David Osler says, “Labour’s difficulty is not so much that the nuances of its policies are misunderstood, but rather that the main thrust is understood all too well and is deeply unpopular with the electorate”. There are two main factors. Firstly Labour has lost loyalty from its core electorate, trade union activists, the liberal middle class, and the working or not-working poor, by its failure to revive manufacturing, privatisation, and cosseting of the wealthy. For the low paid, tax credits annoyed those caught up in their labyrinth complicity. The 10 pence tax rate fiasco pissed off many more. New Labour’s obligations on welfare claimants, and moral reform, have produced a resentful pool of the excluded. There is a growth in absolute poverty amongst those ‘exited’ from benefits. Even ‘creative’ types are under threat from the globalisation of their trade. Secondly,  New Labour’s targeted constituency, the ‘aspirational’ working class’, ‘hard’ self-reliant men and women,  have been alienated by tightened credit, mortgage restrictions, and, as is customary, the tax ‘burden’ (which the Conservatives have always played on).

 

Everyone is alarmed by the spectacular rise in food and fuel prices. Few admire public sector ‘reform’ when outsourced firms deliver absurdly poor results. Plundering the Public Sector , (David Craig with Richard Brooks, 2006) supplies ample detail about how and why incompetent money-grubbing companies have grown rich on the public purse. Nothing on this score is recognised by anyone in New Labour.

 

This emerging ‘market state’ (ensuring equality of opportunity, but not the welfare of all of its citizens), has backing in the very wealthy (whose allegiance is dependent on their tax and other privileges) and those directly benefiting from contracted-out public services. The system’s reliance on the flourishing of finance capital is analysed brilliantly by Larry Elliott and Dan Atkinson in The Gods That Failed (2008). The Olympian super-wealthy running the show may now drag us all down as the financial sector tumbles. Debt, the motor of present prosperity, is now snarling the machine up. Elliott and Atkinson’s alternative is to restrain finance, and a new reforming social democracy. Unfortunately, they rue, the left does not think in their way. It has lost its bond to the working class and such bread-and-butter means. Some are absorbed into a layer of New Functionaries, whose job is to correct people’s attitudes, shape them into good, diversity accepting, citizens and defend the ‘identities’ of a myriad collection of groups. The ‘opportunity’ society, in short, is not an equal one.

 

With this in mind (before even broaching foreign policy) it is indeed tempting to say of Brown and New Labour: Bleed Away.

 

Tempting. When the National Policy Forum voted recently to back Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell’s plans for workfare – making the unemployed do ‘community service’ like convicted criminals – I felt I could not vote for such a party. Does this mean abandoning any fight?  Those promoting John McDonnell as a potential leadership candidate  must surely realise they have no chance, against a slick Miliband or even a dyed-in-the-wool reactionary like Purnell. But they promote the decent democratic socialist politics the majority of the left holds to. Unlike, say George Galloway’s self-promotion and abject worship of popular fronts with businessmen at home and reactionary “anti imperialism” overseas. Or the absurd pretensions of the grinning skull that is the SWP and its Left List. MacDonnell’s would-be backers have the merit of engaging in real politics. It is to be hoped that calls for ‘unity’ at the forthcoming Manchester Convention of the Left will not include these two cults. Many of us have barely escaped from the shadows of their Upas trees, and have no desire to be poisoned again.

 

For the moment like many I shall wait and see what happens. Two things are certain though: the Tories are on the up, and New Labour is paralysed.

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Great news for democracy in Turkey

July 31, 2008 at 9:44 am (AK Party, democracy, dtp, turkey, voltairespriest)

In a stunning reversal of every historical precedent, Turkey’s constitutional court has rejected a motion to ban the ruling AK Parti. More later, but for now let it suffice to say that I think this is a marvellous result for democratic politics in Turkey, which should be celebrated by all progressives and socialists. Let us hope that the forthcoming verdict on the left-wing DT Parti goes the same way.

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Three Versions of Brel’s “Next”

July 29, 2008 at 8:00 pm (music, Rosie B)

Alex Harvey performs the song with malevolent relish to a rock cabaret with strings backing. His voice goes from wheedling to rasp, from ruefulness to rage, in the Glaswegian accent which hangs onto words like “arses”.  Brilliant.

Scott Walker  half declaims and half sings with precise diction.   Scott Walker did an album of Brel songs but that heavy orchestration doesn’t suit them and both he and the arrangement are far too polished for such rawness.  I could only find half a video for his interpretation on YouTube but found the song here. Scott Walker has got a fine voice, but this angry, bitter song does not need a fine voice.


Here’s the man himself, Brel in concert.  I don’t know how Brel’s accent would sound to a Parisian –like Glaswegian to a Londoner? – but I love his harsh nasal “suivaaaaahnt”. He brays it like a donkey.  Minimal accompaniment, and so it should be for a song like this.

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Istanbul bombings – was Ergenekon to blame?

July 29, 2008 at 7:19 am (AK Party, truth, turkey, voltairespriest)

Most of the media coverage since Sunday’s bombings in Istanbul (which killed some 16 people) has been dominated by speculation that either the Kurdish nationalist PKK or one of the Islamic terrorist groups active in Turkey may have been responsible. Given that the knee-jerk reaction of Kemalist nationalists is to blame the PKK for everything of this kind, and that other reactionaries of a more Western flavour have a tendency to cry “Islamic Terrorism”, it was inevitable that these two groups would be flagged up as suspects. Indeed, neither would I discount either possibility, for all the predictability of the sourced that have raised them. However, in the course of yesterday another intriguing possibility was raised.

Bulent Kenes, writing on Comment is Free, suggests that the shadowy ultra-nationalist Ergenekon network, which is currently involved in a fight to the death with the ruling Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi, may have had a role in the bombings. He points out that the 2,455 page document indicting Ergenekon points out the organisation’s links not only with the PKK, but also with the “leftist” Mahir Cayan cultists of the DHKP-C, and also with Islamist terror organisations such as Turkish Hezbollah (as an aside, not linked to the Lebanese organisation of the same name). In the context of the current trials, both literal and of strength, between Ergenekon and the AKP, the ultra-nationalists would certainly be helped by a convenient extremist attack in Turkey’s largest city.

If this all seems implausible then I would ask you to bear in mind two things. Firstly, it has been done before, as demonstrated by various governments’ sponsorship of terror groups worldwide for all sorts of reasons. Early Israeli support for Hamas in an effort to break the PLO would make a very clear comparison with what Kenes and others suggest Ergekon is trying to do here. Secondly, Turkey is a country which almost (but not quite) forms an “exception that proves the rule” about grand conspiracies. There is a highly politicised “Deep State” in Turkey; this is both widely documented and commonly accepted. Ergenekon is a current, public manifestation of that long standing phenomenon. Indeed the only surprises or suspicions for me are the links raised in the Ergenekon document between said shadowy ultra-nationalists and groups such as the DHKP-C. For all that the latter group are self-flagellating cultists (their speciality is having their own members starve themselves to death en masse in Turkish jails, with no obvious demand other than “the revolution” or some such), their political record of written attacks on the “contra-guerilla” structures of the Deep State has been totally consistent. Also, there is something about the Ergenekon document that seems remarkably convenient in that it lumps together quite literally all of the AK Parti’s most fierce traditional enemies into one big, eradicable mass. Yet for all that suspicion, the notion that Ergenekon was behind Sunday’s attacks remains far from implausible.

In conclusion, what to make of this theory? I am frankly not sure. However what I do believe is that Sunday’s attacks were far too conveniently timed to be unconnected to the current constitutional battle within Turkey. Whether an extremist group acted alone or was backed by one of the protagonists, the attacks can only have helped Ergenekon’s members and harmed the legitimately elected AK Parti government. As a consequence it remains an open question whether the stories circulating about Ergenekon’s involvement are based in truth or in spin fed by AKP supporters to credulous journalists who would believe anything of the Deep State. It is to be hoped at the very least that the deaths of so many innocents in Istanbul will not be forgotten in the course of Turkey’s struggle towards the sort of democratic politics and civil freedoms that those of us in “the west” take for granted.

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The term “Islamofascism” will no longer be banned at the Graun

July 27, 2008 at 10:41 pm (blogosphere, Champagne Charlie, Guardian, Islam, media, publications)

It all started with quite a sensible article  in the Graun, by Gary Younge.

I sent a comment in to Comment Is Free (CIF), the Graun’s highly successful website. Unfortunately, I didn’t keep a copy, as it never occurred to me that it would be deleted. But it was, by the “Community Moderator”, whoever s/he may be.

My offending CIF comment started by stating that Gary Younge’s piece was “thoughtful” but marred by the “standard liberal/left casual dismissal of the term ‘Islamofascism'”; Younge had described it as, “that desperately belligerent phrase that some hurl about in the hope that it may one day land on a coherent meaning.”

I replied to this, on CIF, attempting to give the phrase a “coherent meaning” by citing the evidence presented by Ed Husain in his excellent book The Islamist, and making reference to Hizb ut-Tahrir,  Jamat-e-Islami (in Britain and Bangladesh) and the Muslim Brotherhood and its offshoots, the Muslim Association of Britain and the British Muslim Initiative; I stated that all these (including the “respectable” MAB and the BMI) were clerical fascist organisations, comparable to the “respectable” BNP. I closed by noting that the main victims of such clerical fascism are not white Guardian-readers, but women, gays and democrats within the Muslim “community”.

This comment was deleted.

I could find no obvious way of complaining, so sent an email to an innocent CIF functionary, Ms J****, whose email address was on their site:

Dear Ms J****,

I’m sure that you are not the appropriate person to write to about this, but having scoured the Guardian’s website I cannot find a “complaints” address. A comment of mine (non-abusive, non-racist, etc) has been deleted from the comments under Gary Younge’s most recent column without explanation. I wish to pursue this matter. Who at the Guardian do I contact in order to complain?

Your co-operation in this matter would be much appreciated. Many thanks in anticipation,

Charlie Farley

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Dear User,

The paragraph “Bigotry towards ethnic minorities, subjugation of women, hatred of gays, denial of the right of Israel to even exist, murderous hostility to organised labour – all these are the classic characteristics of both European fascism and current Islamofascism” was deemed to be in violation of the community standards – we do not deem the use of the word ‘islamofascism’ acceptable or useful in intelligent debate, especially when made in sweeping generalisations about all members of a religion.

Regards

Moderator

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Dear Moderator,

So you are saying that by definition  use of the term “islamofascism” renders a posting unacceptable? Please note as well that my original posting was not  about “all members of a religion” as a cursory reading of it would have made clear. It was about Islamism (a political ideology), not Islam (a religion).

Whilst I thank you for taking the trouble to reply, I have to say that I find your response completely unaccepatable and wish to take this matter further. Please advise as to your complaints policy.

Yours

Charlie Farlie

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Dear Charlie,

Thanks for your message. I am writing as senior moderator to confirm that on Comment Is Free moderators do remove comments that use the word ‘Islamofascism’, as an inflammatory and innaccurate term. You are welcome to repost your comment, amending Islamofascism to Islamism, to reflect your meaning accurately, and the revised version will be allowed to stand. If you wish to query this decision further, I can refer your complaint on.

Best wishes,

S****

Moderator

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Thank you S****:

I find this policy decision extraordinary, and clearly a form of political censorship based upon a subjective judgement. Would the same ban apply to the well-established Marxist term “clerical fascism”?

The policy is especially outrageous in the context of the Gary Younge article I was replying to: Mr Younge’s piece contained what amounted to a challenge to those who (in his words) “hurl about” the term islamofascism “in the hope that it might one day land on a coherent meaning”, to provide a “coherent meaning”: I was attempting to do just that. If comments defending the use of the term are in fact subject to a blanket ban, perhaps columnists like Gary Younge should be instructed not to issue such challenges?

And yes: I would like you to refer my complaint on.

Yours

Charlie Farley

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Dear Charlie,

Thanks for your message. Your point about the context is useful. I will discuss this with CIF and let you know the outcome.

Best wishes

S****

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Dear S****,

Has there been any progress as regards my complaint?

I note that Seamas Milne has a piece in today’s paper in which he defends Islamism, denounces Muslims (like Ed Husain) who reject Islamism, and describes the term Islamofascist as “ignorantly branded”. I presume that the blanket ban on use of, or defence of, the term Islamofascism means that I cannot reply? Or that if I do, it will once again be deleted?

Yours

Charlie Farley

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Dear Charlie,

I discussed this with the team yesterday, who came to the decision that moderation should take better account of context in future. So if the term is used aggressively, offensively or gratuitously it may still come down. But where it is discussed cogently in the context of a rational and relevant argument, it should remain. Please let me know if you encounter any further problems with this.

Best wishes,

S****

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Dear S****,

Thank you for that, which seems to me to be a reasonable decision. I have to say, however, that in the light of the first response I received from a moderator (“We do not deem the use of the word ‘Islamofascism’ acceptable or useful in intelligent debate, especially when made in sweeping generalisations about all members of a religion”), I am still worried that the presumption is against use of the term and that there are some moderators who seem to be predisposed to delete the term regardles of context – and who are quite willing to to deliberately misrepresent the motives of people who use the term. I shall be putting this to the test in the course of future contributions to CIF.

Finally, I would like to reproduce this exchange of correspondence on a blog I contribute to (Shiraz Socialist) with typos corrected and email addresses deleted. I trust that will be OK by you?

Many thanks,

Charlie

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Dear Charlie,

Thanks for your response. Clearly, I did not enter into this exchange in the expectation that it would be published. However, if you do decide to publish it, I would appreciate the removal of sensitive details, including email addresses and names.

Best wishes,

S****

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Johnny Griffin, little giant of the tenor

July 26, 2008 at 5:35 pm (jazz, Jim D)

R.I.P. Johnny Griffin, 24 April 1928 – 25 July 2008

“Athough he is fully conversant with the tenor tradition of Hawkins, Byas, Webster and Young, it has often been remarked how close in spirit Griffin’s playing is to that of Charlie Parker. The headlong rush of ideas, and the rhythmic variety and freedom that go with them, all point in this direction. In addition his tone combines a vocalised sound with a slightly hysterical edge that, at his best, can evoke almost uncontrollable exhileration -except perhaps for other tenor players, since Griffin is one of the fastest and most accurate ever on his instrument.” – Brian Priestley,  Jazz- The Rough Guide, 1995.

Here’s Johnny… with one of the few tenorists who could keep up with him: Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis (1921-1986). Johnny’s the little guy on the left who solos second:

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Did they pay him for this banal crap?

July 26, 2008 at 12:18 pm (blogging, blogosphere, Champagne Charlie, grovelling, publications, SWP, wankers)

A pretentious sub-Marxist pseudo-academic sucks up to his party boss:

“He shows that the USSR, fat from being concerned with emancipatory politics, adopted a manipulative sance towards left-wing movements, encouraged loyal parties to limit their radicalism and to connive in pro-colonial policies. In fact, his principle diagnosis here is that the twin pincers of Stalinism and fascism crushed the tradition of ‘socialism from below’ mid-century, and that this tradition was partially revived in the ‘New Left’ movements of the 1960’s. Thus, if the postwar strength of the USSR did not confirm the socialist case, Harman maintains, its collapse did not disprove it.”

 OOh me-oooh-my, what masterful, original analysis! Did the New Statesman pay Lenny Seymour real money for such profound insights as that? And did they know that the book he’s reviewing was written by one of his own party bosses? Still, the Karadzic sympathiser and genocide-minimiser Seymour does get a bit bold right at the end of his puff and actually ventures a mild criticism of Harman for “defend (ing) a version of Marx’s conception of the ‘Asiatic mode of production’.”   Sadly, Leading Intellekshull Comrade Lenny doesn’t deign to expand upon that point: was Marx wrong about the Asiatic Mode or what? Pray educate us, oh great post-Marxist banalyst Mr Lenny “Seymour” Gobshite.

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Dinah: Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair

July 26, 2008 at 12:21 am (Feminism, jazz, Jim D, women)

When I came in tonight, the telly was on and -amazingly- showing a documentary about Dinah Washington: pity I was down the pub for most of it.

Here the ‘Queen of the Blues’ remembers the ‘Empress’ in a defiant number: what a voice!

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In Praise of the Human Rights Left

July 25, 2008 at 6:22 pm (Andrew Coates, Human rights, left, Marxism, politics, serbia, socialism, stalinism)

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What priority should the defence of human rights, law, and International Courts in enforcing them, have for the left? The capture of Radovan Karadžić long after his initial  indictment by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia have brought some issues about this to out into the open. There are those who criticise ‘victor’s justice’ (not entirely without reason) and the legitimacy of any bourgeois court’s judgment. Not only are such Tribunals driven by the power of Western states, but their bias is, at root, a reflection of their function to protect the interests and property of the rich. Their ethical claims are human rights ‘imperialism’. Far from enforcing real rights they act as a smokescreen for the West’s own abuses, primarily in Iraq, across the planet.

 

Let’s begin with the charges Radovan Karadžić faces. He is accused of direct responsibility for the deaths of more than 7500 Muslims. Under his direction and command, Bosnian Serb forces set siege to Sarajevo, and carried out countless massacres across Bosnia. Tens of thousands of non-Serbs were killed, hundreds of thousands were expelled from their homes, and thousands more were held in appalling conditions in camps, where many died.  He is alleged to have ordered the massacre at Srebrenica, commanding Bosnian Serb forces to “create an unbearable situation of total insecurity with no hope of further survival of life” in the UN safe area… In sum Karadžić is indicted of complicity in genocide, extermination, murder, wilful killing, persecutions, deportation, inhumane acts, unlawfully inflicting terror upon civilians, and the taking of hostages. So it goes. http://www.un.org/icty/cases-e/cis/mladic/cis-karadzicmladic.pdf

 

No-one can imagine that these are ‘bourgeois’ charges. The actions of the Yugoslavian warlords go against the root of our existence as human beings. There is nothing ‘falsely’ universal about prosecuting what are universal offences.

 

Now back to Law. And Marxism (heavy, but, hey it’s a lefty thing, you non-Marxists wouldn’t understand…). Engels stated that law is a “reflection of economic relations in the form of legal principles”. (Engels to Schmidt October 27. 1890). There is a view, not often expressed today, that the Rule of law is “The chief obstacle in the development of class consciousness.” “Collective struggle should transcend concern for individual legal rights and justice according to law.”(Marxism and Law. Hugh Collins. 1984. P 139) Marx stated that the market (circulation) is the exclusive realm of freedom, Equality, Property and Bentham. Freedom, because both buyer and seller of a commodity, let as say of labour power, are determined only by their free will. The…” (Capital Vol. 1 1976. P 280) Against this: we have the standpoint that human rights, when enshrined in law,  are historical creations that go beyond securing goods and chattels. They come from below, and are a central part of the right against injustice (class oppressions and others). Marxism in this interpretation would make Courts answerable to the voices ‘from below’, but that their role, and their calm procedures, is essential to ending abuses and upholding rights. (The Historical-Critical Dictionary of Marxism. Justice. Historical Materialism. Vol. 13 No 3. 2005.)

 

Formal bourgeois law, whatever its roots in enforcing contracts and safeguarding property, is often more genuinely universal and just than many of the alternatives. Take legal systems based on status: ancient Roman or Anglo-Saxon law (which assigned worth to the free and nothing to the unfree), or religious-based law – the most glaring case being the non-law of the Sharia which refuses to treat people equally. Or indeed law in Stalinist states, which registered people’s class origins (fixed for ever). The problem is not the idea of human rights, but that making them real requires more than Courts: they can be fully realised only in the kind of egalitarian society we call socialism, or communism. Something like this idea was, at any rate, the opinion of those who have looked at the foundations of the left and the workers’ movements in early forms of human rights demands. Inspired as they are by the French Revolution, and key writings like Tom Paine’s Rights of Man, such principles have been continued by the non-Stalinist left into modern times.

 

Movements for human rights across the planet should inspire us. We, the left, should be at their forefront. That instruments like the International Court of Justice, or the present Tribunal on Yugoslavia, are flawed, may be the case. But our role should be to improve them, to build a society where justice and rights are real. Not to dismiss them because their claims to universality are blemished.  Or still worse, to run with the twisted apologists for nationalist murder and the ‘anti-imperialists’ who deny the very possibility of universal rights and freedoms.

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Shuggy on workfare

July 24, 2008 at 9:39 pm (capitalism, Champagne Charlie, Human rights, labour party, politics, poverty)

I was going to get around to writing something about New Labour’s latest attack  (fully supported, of course, by the Tories) on the poorest and most vulnerable in society. But Shuggy at the Sots has beaten me to it and I’ve nothing to add to what he says in an excellent, thoughtful piece. Read it!

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to motivate a vote for Labour, isn’t it?

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