Open letter to the Editor of the Morning Star

September 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, democracy, Feminism, Free Speech, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, libertarianism, media, misogyny, politics, religion, Russia, secularism, stalinism, thuggery)

Dear Mr Bagley,

You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.

On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:

” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”

The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.

But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.

But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.

Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed  to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”

Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?

But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:

EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;

OR it was edited out by the Star itself.

If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.

I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :

Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.

A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.

This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:

  • What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
  • In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
  • If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
  • As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done – assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.

“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.

The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.

It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.

It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.

This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace — almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.

Yours

Jim Denham

(Unite member)

26 Comments

  1. Andrew Coates said,

    It’s absolutely right to rub in again and again about the ‘missing’ sentence on Holocaust deniers.

    That’s the dog that didn’t bark in the night.

  2. lostbutnotreturning said,

    once again,although i subscribe to your blog/website,i find that i am excluded from commenting please let me know if you haveblocked me or please asist me to rectify the situation Date: Tue, 25 Sep 2012 12:23:13 +0000 To: lostlostlostlost@hotmail.co.uk

  3. Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce said,

    BTW – excellent letter Jimbo. fuck them. dirty stalinoid cuernts$#@@!!!!!

  4. pinkagendist said,

    “The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint”

    Just because there are opposing viewpoints does not mean they’re equally valid or merit being voiced/published. Priests are not specialists in family or child welfare, the media should not be giving them a voice in regards to those matters. Creationists are not scientists, they should not be given equal time to evolutionary biologists in debates about evolution.

    And regarding “…shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.”- I can’t begin to describe how offensive that is. There are tens of thousands of lgbt people who are victims of hate crimes every year. Murder statistics are on the rise. Not too long ago a 46 y/o transexual woman in Portugal was tied up and tortured for three days at an abandoned construction site. She was gagged and burnt with cigarettes. Raped with various objects. Then thrown to her death down an empty ten metre deep well.
    Christian groups regularly offend those who do not submit to their ideology, (wrongly) comparing homosexuality to pedophilia and bestiality- and they get away with it, because of free speech. What Christians want and have always wanted is unilateral free speech. The kind where they get to offend everyone else and society has to sit down and shut up.

  5. Roger McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    Are you aware that there is a MS rally at Labour Conference at 12.00 on Monday 1st addressed by Len McCluskey and Paul Kenny as well as Bagley?

    Somebody (not me as afraid I’ll be otherwise engaged) should go and ask these questions there.

  6. Pinkie said,

    How can anyone sign this letter?

  7. Jim Denham said,

    Send me your name, and I’ll add it; either here or at
    jimcftu@yahoo.com

  8. SteveH said,

    Why are you not so outraged when your friend Bob from Brockley links to far right fascists? Why are you not denouncing him as unfit. This is my problem with Shiraz, you are not doing this out of principle but out of opportunism. You hope that one day everyone on the left will be servile pro imperialist apologists like you but that will never happen. Let it go.

  9. Jim Denham said,

    I hold no brief for Bob from Brockley. I’m not fully cogniscent of the facts surrounding Bob’s alleged publication of a racist post. If he did he was surely wrong. But…

    1/ Bob’s blog is a small-time, private effort run by himself alone;
    2/ It is clearly a left-libertarian affair and thoroughly anti-fascist;
    2/ My union, Unite, does not pay for Bob’s blog
    3/ Bob is “unfit” for what, exactly?

    By “let it go” do you mean it’s OK for the Star to have published a piece by a holocaust-denier? Or just that we shouldn’t make too much of an issue out of it?

  10. rosie said,

    Good letter.

    EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;

    OR it was edited out by the Star itself.

    If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.

    Yeah – the piece was published by the arts team. I would cut some slack for Comrade Arty who was careless and lazy, glanced at it and thought “that looks edgy and different” and published it, if he received it with that sentence removed. However, if Comrade Arty read it intact, thought ” I’ll cut out the holocaust revisionist reference and that should make it all right” then Comrade Arty needs some strenuous re-education.

  11. SteveH said,

    I don’t actually read the morning star (or very rarely) to be honest but I think it is fair to point out that a communist paper should not post articles from anti semites or even moderate right wingers without at least giving a background on the person first. But sometimes our enemies say things that are pertinent, Marx even deferred to Malthus on occasions when he had correct propositions. Though attacking Pussy Riot is NOT a correct position!! This is the bit I found most startling.

    But, you call every fucker who disagrees with you an anti semite (another way of shutting down free speech) and you are doing this not out of principle but out of opportunism. And your hope that the left will embrace your servile pro imperialist mass murder apologetic is a forlorn hope. Let it go.

    • sackcloth and ashes said,

      Not surprised to see you side with the man who sings Pol Pot’s praises, engages in Holocaust denial, and who snitched for the Belarussian KGB.

      The sooner the British left kicks your kind out of its ranks, the better.

  12. Sarah AB said,

    Very good letter indeed.

  13. Jim Denham said,

    SteveH: you accuse me of “calling every fucker who disagrees with [me] an anti semite…”

    So tell me, is what follows “anti-semitism” or not?

    “Shamir-bashing is a popular pastime for supporters of Judaic supremacy on the Web.” http://www.israelshamir.net/FAQs.htm

    “The problem is, good people are quite unable to stop the anti-Christian and pro-Jewish tendency, for the Jewish supremacists today control a major chunk of world media and wealth. Besides, the tendencies are unstoppable: they can only be counterbalanced. What good people can do is stop the opposite thought, and they do that very efficiently. In my essays I have frequently noted the advantages of Christian and Muslim universalism over Jewish particularism. ” http://www.israelshamir.net/English/antiSemit.htm

    “The unified and perfected Jewish media machine can be utilised for much more important tasks than fighting off holocaust jokes. Its main goal is to bring us to the Brave New World, to the new spiritless totalitarianism, while smaller tasks are incidental to the great one.” http://www.israelshamir.net/English/Satanic.htm

    “9/11 was by far too powerful of a symbol to give it away to the Enemy. Not in vain did people all over the world rejoice when this Mammon symbol collapsed. The knowledge that the Americans may be beaten on their home ground has comforted the innumerable victims of the Empire. I do not know who did it, but it was planned and executed by people of great spirit.” http://www.israelshamir.net/English/Eng42.htm

    Re: Tony Greenstein, an outspoken ‘absolute anti-Zionist’ who is no friend of ‘Shiraz’ (nor we of him): http://www.israelshamir.net/Left/Left1.htm

    Tell me, Steve: does any of the above strike you as possibly being just a wee bit…anti-semitic? Or not?

    P.S: you say (correctly) that … “sometimes our enemies say things that are pertinent.” This suggests that you think something in the Shamir article is “pertinent.” What would that be?

  14. Clive said,

    I don’t think you understand the principle of free speech, Jim – according to SteveH anyway. This is: if you run a publication – any publication, left wing or otherwise – you are in principle obliged to publish absolutely anything anyone submits to you, regardless of politics (never mind, say, quality), or you are suppressing freedom of speech and attempting to impose uniformity.

    I’m unclear, on the basis of this, whether, if I now submit some sort of tirade about, let’s say, ancient Egyptian funeral practices, the Mail on Sunday would be obliged, not only to publish it but to pay me. Hope so!

    • Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce said,

      steeve haitch is a made up persona anyway. he is probably a CIA agent

  15. Chris Brennan said,

    I don’t mind a bit of Judaic supremacy given the attempt to create an Islamo fascist movement across Europe

  16. Jim Denham said,

    I’ve received this from Richard Bagley, the editor:

    Dear Jim,

    Thanks for your letter. I am afraid that I cannot devote time to writing a 1,250 word reply to your 1,250 correspondence.

    Rest assured I do not take the appearance of this article lightly and I have made quite clear to those responsible the scale of their error.

    There is no way that the Morning Star would have published this article if there had been an awareness of Israel Shamir’s biography. I share your opinion that Shamir’s views are repugnant and anti-semitic and agree with you that they have no place in the Morning Star.

    The journalists responsible were rather seeking to publish an alternative view on the Pussy Riot story that would provoke a debate on the letters page. In doing so they committed a serious professional error in not clarifying the biography of the author, preferring to rely on the apparently non-existent vetting process of Counterpunch. I do not consider the site an appropriate source of articles for the Morning Star and intend to institute a ban on their use.

    The Morning Star will continue to stand four square with those subjected to anti-semitism, or any similar form of race hate.

    Best wishes,
    Richard

  17. SteveH said,

    “This is: if you run a publication – any publication, left wing or otherwise – you are in principle obliged to publish absolutely anything anyone submits to you”

    Clive hasn’t been paying attention I am sorry to say. My point is that freedom of speech has limits. One limit is the likelyhood of a political organisation not giving space to opposing views, this highlights that freedom of speech depends on the balance of power. Everyone has freedom of speech just some have more freedom than others!

    Now when the fringe left do this it does not resonate but imagine this being done by those with the real muscle in society, i.e. the corporate media. Then we see that this self censorship has real affects and makes the concept of freedom of speech problematical. The rich have more freedom of speech than the poor, the capitalist has more freedom of speech than the worker. To get more freedom of speech the worker must act collectivley etc.

    However this does not address the fact that a left wing paper may wish to print something they agree with from someone who has a dodgy history. In that case by banning this person from making a point you now agree with you ban the individual for things they have said on other topics. I.e. a curtailment of freedom of speech.

    But freedom of speech always has limits as it is an historical construct, not some ideal handed down by the lord at the beginning of creation.

    Another example where I would stop freedom of speech. Those New York adverts calling the oppressed Palestinians savages and calling the brutal sadists of Israel, civilised. Now that is worth getting out on the streets and protesting against.

    • Jim Denham said,

      SteveH: what you’re saying is either yet more incoherent gibberish (“Now when the fringe left do this it does not resonate but imagine this being done by those with the real muscle in society, i.e. the corporate media. Then we see that this self censorship has real affects and makes the concept of freedom of speech problematical”), or it’s simply a banal statement of the bleedin’ obvious (eg “But freedom of speech always has limits as it is an historical construct, not some ideal handed down by the lord at the beginning of creation”).

      You seem to be simply incapable of addressing (or understanding) the central issue: does the left stand in principle for free speech? Yes or no?

      P.S: the reason you’re tolerated (up to a point) here is because, in general, we’re in favour of a fairly liberal comments policy. When (as will inevitably happen) you over-step the mark and we ban you again, that won’t be because we are against your right to exercise freedom of speech; just that we don’t see why we should offer you our facilities to do so. Clear enough?

  18. Sarah AB said,

    They were horrible adverts, Steve, but your reference to the ‘brutal sadists of Israel’ is pretty horrible too.

    • Jim Denham said,

      Be fair, Sarah: he does want the Jews driven into the sea, after all.

  19. » Email Suggests Morning Star Asked Israel Shamir Personally for Permission to Publish anti-Pussy Riot Article Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion said,

    [...] arrangement. However, it was noted by Jim Denham that one particularly egregious sentence had been dropped from the Morning Star version of the article: this was that “Western governments call for [...]

  20. Shamir: Jewish Lobby Ate My Morning Star Article. « Tendance Coatesy said,

    [...] AKA: the well-known Rabbinical  families of Coates and Denham. [...]

  21. Civic College said,

    but in the end, Pussy Riot are a collection of shitbags who work for and support the oligarchs against the people, and just because some lunatic says it doesn’t mean that Pussy Riot is somehow blessed and worthy of praise by tinpot lefties.

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