Remind you of anything?
This, for instance:
Socialist Worker, Sat 15 Sep 2001
The full horror of the attacks in the US was breaking as Socialist Worker went to press. Very many innocent people had been killed or injured.
Nobody knew for sure on Tuesday who was responsible. If it was people from the Middle East it will be because they believe, wrongly, that it is the only way to respond to the horrors they have suffered from the US and other governments. The tragic scenes in New York and Washington are the bitter fruits of policies pursued by the US state.
US president George Bush spoke of terrorist outrages on Tuesday. Yet the state he heads has been responsible for burying men, women and children under piles of rubble. Ten years ago his father sent hundreds of US planes to bomb Iraqi civilians night after night during the Gulf War. They killed over 100,000 civilians and conscripts—’collateral damage’ in the US’s war for oil.
Two years ago the US and NATO bombed towns and cities in Serbia and Kosovo for 78 days. Children, hospital patients, old people—all these and more had as little warning that bombs were about to drop on them as did those who died in the US this week. And the US, backed by Tony Blair, imposes a murderous embargo on the people of Iraq, backed by frequent bombing raids.
In Israel the US supports Ariel Sharon, a war criminal. Israel has murdered over 600 Palestinians in the 11 months of the intifada (uprising). Faced with the might of the US, some people can become so desperate that they try to fight back against this military giant with the limited weapons they have to hand.
They do not have Cruise missiles—so they take to turning a hijacked airliner into a suicide bomb instead. It is not a method that can break US power. Some military officials would have suffered from the explosion at the Pentagon. But many more innocent civilians were killed in New York and Washington. Tuesday’s suicide raids were born of desperation at the supreme arrogance and contempt of the rulers of the most powerful capitalist state on Earth.
In 1998 the US responded to a bomb attack on its embassies in Kenya and Tanzania by blowing up the only medicine factory in the desperately poor country of Sudan, and by bombing Afghanistan. It will be looking for similar revenge now. That will drive more people to hate the US.
It is the responsibility of everyone who is revolted at the lethal world order the US and its allies sit at the top of to offer a way forward. It needs to be based on the mass collective power of ordinary people across the world, and targeted precisely at our rulers.
Like many readers of this blog, I was there on 15 February 2003, and I’ve never had cause to regret it. But I don’t share the self-righteous preening of tyrant-lovers like Andrew Murray, nor the slightly more forgivable solipsism of Laurie Penny (who at least has -or had- the excuse of youth). Even at the time, I was sickened by the refusal of the SWP, Galloway, Murray, etc to address the human rights issues and their systematic, deliberate, whitewashing of Saddam (Galloway, of course, being the most grovelling and egregious Saddam fan). A little later, their support for the fascistic gangs who were murdering Iraqi trade unionists alienated me once and for all. The subsequent degeneration of the Stop The War Coalition into a shrivelled Westphalian excuse-machine for vicious dictators and tyrants everywhere has only served to confirm my worst expectations.
Ian Taylor, an unrepentant marcher and anti-war campaigner, puts his finger (in the present issue of the New Statesman – no link presently available) on the central weakness of the ‘line’ of the SWP/Galloway leadership at the time, though he naively puts it down to a lack of political imagination rather than a lack of political will:
“In my opinion, what we needed more than anything else was an answer to the dilemma of what should have been done about Saddam Hussein and the appalling human rights abuses that were undoubtably that were undoubtably going on inside Iraq. Questions about this came up a great deal at public meetings, when leafletting the high street and in letters to local and national newspapers from supporters of the war. When asked about Iraq now, Blair always plays this card because he knows that opponents of the war don’t have an answer to it. If being on the left means anything, it ought to mean standing up for the oppressed. It shouldn’t have been beyond the wits of those speaking for the movement to have woven an answer to the problems of human rights abuses by non-western regimes into the fabric of their anti-imperialist principles. My view is that, just as we had weapons inspectors in Iraq, we should also have had human rights inspectors there. That would have done a lot to wrong-foot Blair et al.”
I can remember stumbling across the following searingly honest ’Letter to an unknown Iraqi’ that pretty much summed up my own feelings at the time. I circulated it on the local Stop The War email list, where it didn’t go down terribly well as I recall:
The Urge to Help; The Obligation Not To
By Ariel Dorfman (February 28, 2003)
I do not know your name, and that is already significant. Are you one of the thousands upon thousands who survived Saddam Hussein’s chambers of torture, did you see the genitals of one of your sons crushed to punish you, to make you cooperate? Are you a member of a family that has to live with the father who returned, silent and broken, from that inferno, the mother who must remember each morning the daughter taken one night by security forces, and who may or may not still be alive? Are you one of the Kurds gassed in the north of Iraq, an Arab from the south displaced from his home, a Shiite clergyman ruthlessly persecuted by the Baath Party, a communist who has been fighting the dictatorship for long decades?
Whoever you are, faceless and suffering, you have been waiting many years for the reign of terror to end. And now, at last, you can see fast approaching the moment you have been praying for, even if you oppose and fear the American invasion that will inevitably kill so many Iraqis and devastate your land: the moment when the dictator who has built himself lavish palaces, the man who praises Hitler and Stalin and promises to emulate them, may well be forced out of power.
What right does anyone have to deny you and your fellow Iraqis that liberation from tyranny? What right do we have to oppose the war the United States is preparing to wage on your country, if it could indeed result in the ouster of Saddam Hussein? Can those countless human rights activists who, a few years ago, celebrated the trial in London of Chilean Gen. Augusto Pinochet as a victory for all the victims on this Earth, now deny the world the joy of seeing the strongman of Iraq indicted and tried for crimes against humanity?
It is not fortuitous that I have brought the redoubtable Pinochet into the picture.
As a Chilean who fought against the general’s pervasive terror for 17 years, I can understand the needs, the anguish, the urgency, of those Iraqis inside and outside their homeland who cannot wait, cannot accept any further delay, silently howl for deliverance. I have seen how Chile still suffers from Pinochet’s legacy, 13 years after he left power, and can therefore comprehend how every week that passes with the despot in power poisons your collective fate.
Such sympathy for your cause does not exempt me, however, from asking a crucial question: Is that suffering sufficient to justify intervention from an outside power, a suffering that has been cited as a secondary but compelling reason for an invasion?
Despite having spent most of my life as a firm anti-interventionist, protesting American aggression in Latin America and Asia, and Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe and Afghanistan, during the 1990s I gradually came to believe that there might be occasions when incursions by a foreign power could indeed be warranted. I reluctantly agreed with the 1994 American expedition to Haiti to return to power the legally elected president of that republic; I was appalled at the lack of response from the international community to the genocide in Bosnia and Rwanda; I applauded the Australian intervention to stop the massacres in East Timor; and, regarding Kosovo, though I would have preferred the military action to have taken place under the auspices of the United Nations, I eventually came to the agonizing conclusion that ethnic cleansing on such a massive scale could not be tolerated.
I am afraid that none of these cases applies to Iraq. For starters, there is no guarantee that this military adventure will, in fact, lead to a “regime change,” or peace and stability for your region.
Unfortunately, also, the present affliction of your men and women and children must be horribly, perversely, weighed against the impending casualties and enormous losses that the American campaign will surely cause. In the balance are not only the dead and mutilated of Iraq (and who knows how many from the invading force), but the very real possibility that such an act of preemptive, world-destabilizing aggression could spin out of control and lead to other despots preemptively arming themselves with all manner of apocalyptic weapons and, perhaps, to Armageddon. Not to mention how such an action seems destined to recruit even more fanatics for the terrorist groups who are salivating at the prospect of an American invasion. And if we add to this that I am unconvinced that your dictator has sufficient weapons of mass destruction to truly pose a threat to other countries (or ties to criminal groups who could use them for terror), I have to say no to war.
It is not easy for me to write these words.
I write, after all, from the comfort and safety of my own life. I write to you in the knowledge that I never did very much for the Iraqi resistance, hardly registered you and your needs, sent a couple of free books to libraries and academics in Baghdad who asked for them, answered one, maybe two, letters from Iraqi women who had been tortured and had found some solace in my plays. I write to you harboring the suspicion that if I had cared more, if we all had, there might not be a tyrant today in Iraq. I write to you knowing that there is no chance that the American government might redirect to a flood of people like you the $200 billion, $300 billion this war would initially cost, no real interest from those who would supposedly liberate you to instead spend that enormous amount of money helping to build a democratic alternative inside your country.
But I also write to you knowing this: If I had been approached, say in the year 1975, when Pinochet was at the height of his murderous spree in Chile, by an emissary of the American government proposing that the United States, the very country which had put our strongman in power, use military force to overthrow the dictatorship, I believe that my answer would have been, I hope it would have been: No, thank you. We must deal with this monster by ourselves.
I was never given that chance, of course: The Americans would never have wanted to rid themselves, in the midst of the Cold War, of such an obsequious client, just as they did not try to eject Saddam Hussein 20 years ago, when he was even more repressive. Rather, they supported him as a bulwark against militant Iran.
But this exercise in political science fiction (invade Chile to depose Pinochet?) at least allows me to share in the agony created by my own opposition to this war, forces me to recognize the pain that is being endured at this very moment in some house in Basra, some basement in Baghdad, some school in Tarmiyah. Even if I can do nothing to stop those government thugs in Iraq coming to arrest you again today, coming for you tomorrow and the next day and the day after that, knocking once more at your door.
Heaven help me, I am saying that if I had been given a chance years ago to spare the lives of so many of my dearest friends, given the chance to end my exile and alleviate the grief of millions of my fellow citizens, I would have rejected it if the price we would have had to pay was clusters of bombs killing the innocent, if the price was years of foreign occupation, if the price was the loss of control over our own destiny.
Heaven help me, I am saying that I care more about the future of this sad world than about the future of your unprotected children.
I’ve just used a Christmas book token to purchase the latest Noam Chomsky. Well, I say “latest” but in fact the modestly entitled ‘How The World Works’ is, in fact, a collection of “intensively edited speeches and interviews” (writes editor Arthur Naiman) from the 1990s and (in some cases) the late 1980s.
Above: the old genocide-denier himself
Both Naiman and David Barsamian, who conducted the interviews that make up most of the book, are clearly uncritical Chomsky fans, almost breathless in their hero-worship. Naiman writes “I think you’ll find Chomsky’s take on things more insightful than anything you hear on the airwaves or read in the papers today. His analyses are so deep and farsighted that they only seem to get more timely — and startling — with age. Read a few pages and see if you don’t agree.”
Not to be outdone, Barsamian writes “Chomsky is an electrifying speaker, and that’s due solely to what he says, not to the unpretentious, straightforward way in which he says it (he consciously avoids rhetorical flourishes). Sharp as a razer in debate but warm and amiable in convesation, he’s both the most moral and most knowledgable person I’ve ever met.
“I hope he lives to be 100. You should too. The world will be an emptier, lonlier and less just place without him.”
Given the period in which most of the speeches and interviews took place, and also some previous criticisms that I’ve made of Chomsky, I first checked the contents and index to see what the book contained about former Yugoslavia and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo; I was surprised to find just one piece on the subject, an interview that seems to be from the early 1990′s. Even more surprising, in the light of some of what Chomsky has written and said on the subject since, is the anodyne nature of what he has to say. In answer to the question “Would you comment on the events in the former Yugoslavia, which constitute the greatest outburst of violence in Europe in fifty years — tens of thousands killed, hundreds of thousands of refugees. This isn’t some remote place like East Timor we’re talking about — this is Europe –and it’s on the news every night”, Chomsky replies:
In a certain sense, what’s happening is that the British and American right wings are getting what they asked for. Since the 1940s they’ve been quite bitter about the fact that Western support turned to Tito and the partisans, and against Mikailhovich and his Chetniks, and the Croatian anti-Communists, including the Ustasha, who were outright Nazis. The Chetniks were also playing with the Nazis and were trying to overcome the partisans.
The partisan victory imposed a communist dictatorship, but it also federated the country. It suppressed the ethnic violence that had accompanied the hatreds and created the basis of some sort of functioning society in which the parts had their role. We’re now essentially back in the 1940s, but without the partisans.
Serbia is the inheritor of the Chetniks and their ideology. Croatia is the inheritor of the Ustasha and its ideology (less ferocious than the Nazi original, but similar). It’s possible that they’re now carrying out pretty much what they would’ve done if the partisans hadn’t won.
Of course, the leadership of these elements comes from the Communist party, but that’s because every thug in the region went into the ruling apparatus. (Yeltsin, for example, was a Communist party boss.)
It’s interesting that the right wing in the West — at least its more honest elements — defend much of what’s happening. For example, Nora Beloff, a right-wing British commentator on Yugoslavia, wrote a letter to the London Economist condemning those who denounce the Serbs in Bosnia. She’s saying it’s the fault of the Muslims. They’re refusing to accommodate the Serbs, who are just defending themselves.
She’s been a supporter of the Chetniks from way back, so there’s no reason why she shouldn’t continue to support Chetnik violence (which is what this amounts to). Of course there may be another factor. She’s an extremist Zionist, and the fact that the Muslims are involved already makes them guilty.
Some say that, just as the Allies should have bombed the rail lines to Auschwitz to prevent the deaths of many people in concentration camps, so we should now bomb the Serbian gun positions surrounding Sarajevo that have kept that city under siege. Would you advocate the use of force?
First of all, there’s a good deal of debate about how much effect bombing the rail lines to Auschwitz would have had. Putting that aside, it seems to me that a judicious threat and use of force, not by the Western powers but by some international or multinational group, might, at an earlier stage, have suppressed a good deal of the violence and maybe blocked it. I don’t know if it would help now.
If it were possible to stop the bombardment of Sarajevo by threatening to bomb some emplacements (and perhaps even carrying the threat out), I think you could give an argument for it. But that’s a very big if. It’s not only a moral issue — you have to ask about the consequences, and they could be quite complex.
What if a Balkan war were set off? One consequence is that conservative military forces within Russia could move in. They’re already there, in fact, to support their Slavic brothers in Serbia. They might move in en masse. (That’s traditional, incidentally. Go back to Tolstoy’s novels and read about how Russians were going to the south to save their Slavic brothers from attacks. It’s now being reenacted.)
At that point you’re getting fingers on nuclear weapons involved. It’s also entirely possible that an attack on the Serbs, who feel that they’re the aggrieved party, could inspire them to move more aggressively in Kosovo, the Albanian area. That could set off a large-scale war, with Greece and Turkey involved. So it’s not so simple.
Or what if the Bosnian Serbs, with the backing of both the Serbian and maybe even other Slavic regions, started a guerrilla war? Western military “experts” have suggested it could take a hundred thousand troops just to more or less hold the area. Maybe so.
So one has to ask a lot of questions about consequences. Bombing Serbian gun emplacements sounds simple, but you have to ask how many people are going to end up being killed. That’s not so simple.
Zeljko Raznjatovic, known as Arkan, a fugitive wanted for bank robbery in Sweden, was elected to the Serb Parliament in December 1992. His Tigers’ Militia is accused of killing civilians in Bosnia. He’s among ten people listed by the US State Department as a possible war criminal. Arkan dismissed the charges and said, “There are a lot of people in the United States I could list as war criminals.”
That’s quite correct. By the standards of Nuremberg, there are plenty of people who could be listed as war criminals in the West. It doesn’t absolve him in any respect, of course.
Now that is pretty inoffensive and uncontentious stuff, especially when compared with what Chomsky was writing and saying just a few years later. Take this commentary on Milošević and the Srebrenica genocide, published in Chomsky’s 2006 book ‘Failed States’:
Let us return to the Yugoslavia Tribunal, where Milošević was charged with genocide. The indictment was restricted to crimes in Kosovo. It kept almost entirely to crimes subsequent to the NATO bombing, which, as anticipated by the NATO command and the Clinton administration, elicited serious atrocities in reaction. Presumably because the Kosovo charges were so ambigious, Bosnia was later added, specifically the charge of genocide at Srebrenica. That too raises a few questions, if only because after these events, Milošević was accepted by the United States and its allies as a partner for diplomatic settlement. A further problem is that the most detailed enquiry into the Srebrenica massacre, by the Dutch government * concluded that Milošević had no connection to it, and that he “was very upset when he heard about the massacres,” the Dutch scholar who headed the team of intelligence specialists reported. The study describes the “incredulity” in the Belgrade government, including Milošević, when they learned of the executions.
Suppose we adopt prevailing Western opinion that such unwelcome facts are irrelevant. Even so, the prosecution has had considerable difficulty in establishing the charge of genocide. Suppose, however, that someone were to unearth a document in which Milošević orders the Serbian airforce to reduce Bosnia or Kosovo to rubble, with the words “Anything that flies on anything that moves” [Nixon's instructions to Kissinger to order bombing in Cambodia - JD]. The prosecutors would be overjoyed, the trial would be over, and Milošević would be sent off to many successive life sentences for the crime of genocide – a death sentence, if the tribunal followed US conventions. But as always, the principled exemption from moral truism prevails.
* Chomsky conveniently ignores the July 1999 findings of the International Criminal Tribunal which attributed the atrocities at Sebrenica to a “direct chain of military command” from Belgrade and, specifically, Milošević. He also ignores the fact that one of the two Serb generals who ordered the killings, Radislav Krstic (the other being Ratko Mladic), was promoted to general within a few days of the atrocity.
George Monbiot on the genocide denial of his former “hero” Chomsky (and others on the “left”), here
In his increasingly undignified rightward belly-crawl from the SWP, via Respect, into a sort of incoherent Labourite Stalinism whilst playing the role of tame anti-Trot witch-hunter for unspecified audiences, Andy Nooman at least provides some entertainment this festive season. I was about to say “harmless” entertainment, but his latest ranting on his ”Socialist Unity” blog, about the revolutionary left (in this case, the AWL/ Alliance for Workers Liberty) is, by his own account “a redacted version of something I wrote for another audience.” I wonder who that “other audience” might be?
Above: Stroppybird’s cat
Nooman’s sub-political tirade is avowedly based upon John Sullivan’s ‘When This Pub Closes’ which is poor stuff but at least evinces some political grasp of its subject(s). In fact, Nooman, whether he knows it or not, is more in the tradition of the rank Stalinist ignoramous Denver Walker’s student union-level, scummy little tome ‘Quite Right Mr Trotsky.’
Anyway, there is much to be enjoyed in Nooman’s bile against the revolutionary left and his grovelling to the Labour/TU bureaucracy, but sadly he doesn’t let us link to “Socialist Unity,” so you’ll have to use Google, or copy/paste socialistunity.com/the-alliance-for-workers-liberty-the-dynamics-of-a-malignant-cult/
The comments are most entertaining as well, including:
* 23. How inept do you have to be in order to pen a hatchet job that embarrasses yourself more than anybody else? - Patrick Smith
* 123. EDUCATION? DEMOCRACY? ACTIVITY? What a DISGRACE to the left. A disgrace to socialist countries/union leaders/students.
I’m really glad you’ve outed them about all that sexual impropriety.m Who needs facts when you’ve got pure conjecture? I bet they’re all a bunch of filthy deviants. Oh and yes, I heard that Sheffield was particularly bad too. Need castrating, the lot of them – RHuzzah
* 142. Until this article was posted I’d never heard of the AWL, and from reading all the heated posts about occult meetings sexual impropriety and filthy deviants I only have one question.
Where do I sign up? – CJB
* 161. Ok. John [John Wight, Nooman's antisemitic sidekick - JD] couldn’t care less about someone writing for this blog or its standing among people who used to advocate for it. Andy completely agrees with him. Egal.
A narrowing of vision accompanied by a growing climate of intolerance, abuse and bullying — I for one have seen this movie a couple of times before And know well the last reel.
So no song and dance, just ciao — bella – Kevin Ovenden [former Socialist Unity contributor - JD]
P.S: Check out the attacks on Yours Truly: Nooman can’t even get this attempt at “humour” right, and work out whether I’m Father Ted or Father Jack…
Tendance Coatsey opines on “The Cairo Conferences – or how some on the left have got the Muslim Botherhood so wrong”:
Above: John Rees speaking at a Cairo Conference
One major factor that explains the inability of some on the British left to support, clearly, Egyptian democrats is their [the British "leftists"] long-standing links with the Muslim Brotherhood.
This is not just a matter of domestic alliances with the (then) Muslim Association of Britain in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC).
On the principle of being ‘with’ the MB – indeed anybody – when ‘fighting’ ‘imperialism’ and its allied states: this reached its highest point in the Cairo Conferences, from 2002 to 2009.
Wikipedia is the most convenient source of the history of this alliance,
The first conference was held on the 17–19 December 2002, at the Conrad Hotel on the banks of the Nile . Four hundred attended. Speakers included former United Nations (UN) humanitarian coordinator for Iraq Dr Hans von Sponeck. Former Algerian president Ahmed Ben Bella (TC Note- who had become an Islamist) chaired the conference. One outcome of the conference was the production of the ‘Cairo Declaration’, which took a stance against the then looming Iraq war; it also noted the negative effects of capitalist globalisation and U.S. hegemony on the peoples of the world (including European and American citizens). In addition, it noted that “In the absence of democracy , and with widespread corruption and oppression constituting significant obstacles along the path of the Arab peoples’ movement towards economic, social, and intellectual progress, adverse consequences are further aggravated within the framework of the existing world order of neoliberal globalisation”, while firmly rejecting the ‘advance of democracy’ justification for attacking Iraq.
The UK Stop the War Coalition, in particular John Rees then of the SWP, initiated the signing of the declaration by European leftists, including: Jeremy Corbyn MP, George Galloway MP, Tony Benn, Susan George (scholar/activist based in France), Bob Crow, Mick Rix (general secretary, UK train drivers’ Aslef union), Julie Christie, George Monbiot, Harold Pinter, Ghayasuddin Siddiqui (Muslim Parliament), Tommy Sheridan (Scottish socialist), Dr Ghada Karmi (research fellow, Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies, University of Exeter), Tariq Ali. attended.
I shall miss out the specific references to Iraq and concentrate on what the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty highlighted of the original ‘Cairo Declaration’.
Selective and misleading extracts from the ‘Cairo Declaration’ have been published in “Socialist Worker” (18th January 2003). The carefully edited extracts refer to the internationalist struggle against neo-liberal globalisation, the growth of poverty and unemployment as a result of capitalist globalisation and US hegemony, and the need for total opposition to war on Iraq. Such worthy sentiments, however, are not representative of the politics encapsulated in the ‘Cairo Declaration’. The ‘Cairo Declaration’ criticises the US for ‘maintaining the existing uni-polar world order’ and blocking a shift in the balance of power ‘towards multi-polarity.’ This is not an obscure and coded call for working-class struggle against capitalist inequality. It is a complaint that the domination of international markets by large-scale US capital (uni-polarity) is squeezing out the local capitalist classes and elites (multi-polarity).
It would be tedious to go through all these ‘conferences’ declarations but this one indicates the truth of this analysis (from the 3rd Conference 2003),
• The U.S. monopolizes political, economic and military power within the framework of capitalist globalization, to the detriment of the lives of the majority of the world’s people.
• The U.S. imposes control through naked aggression and militarized globalization in pursuit of its rulers’ interests, all while reinstating the characteristic direct occupation of classical colonialism.
• The U.S. global strategy, which was formulated prior to September 11 2001, aims to maintain the existing unipolar world order, and to prevent the emergence of forces that would shift the balance of power towards multi-polarity. The U.S. administration has exploited the tragic events of September 11, under the pretext of fighting terrorism, to implement the pre-existing strategy. Attention to this global context helps explain current world developments:
• Prioritize the interest of monopolistic capitalist circles above those of the people, including Europeans and U.S. citizens.
• Integrate the economies of different countries into a single global capitalist economic system under conditions which undermine social development and adversely affect the situation of women, child health, education, and social services for the elderly. In addition, unemployment and poverty increase.
The last conference in 2009 was under the banner of ”The International Campaign Against Universal Imperialism and Zionism”. Its main slogan was “Pro-Resistance and Anti-Occupation with its crimes”, will be discussing a number of issues such as supporting the resistance, developing the struggle against the occupation of Iraq, confronting the racist policies of imperialist governments and issues against dictatorship and globalization in Egypt and the Arab world.
Workers’ Liberty’s comments on the 2003 Cairo Declaration, are relevant,
The Cairo Conference was convened by an organisation committed to the defence of the national security of Egypt. At best, the conference was financed by local businessmen. (At worst, the Iraqi government had a hand in funding it.) Those attending the conference including representatives of the Iraqi Baath regime, members of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, a delegation from the Cuban Castroite regime, and various veteran Stalinists lamenting the collapse of the Soviet Union.
I will not go into the issue of Israel, or Stalinism.
The most important point is that they [the "left" supporters of the Cairo Conference/Declaration] aligned themselves with a section of the pious Egyptian bourgeoisie – with all its own financial and capitalist links with Gulf States.
The MB’s anti-globalisation and ‘anti-imperialism’ now stand as a cover for their promotion of their own religious-political national interests.
These interests are increasingly anti-democratic and anti-working class.
But will those in Britain who have worked with them draw a balance sheet?
It seems highly unlikely.
Very occasionally (about once every five years of so), the Graun carries a sensible, balanced and thought-provoking article that I am able to unreservedly recommend. It happened on Saturday (print edition), when Jonathan Freedland asked “We condemn Israel. So why the silence on Syria?”
Freedland contrasts the protest, publicity and outrage over Israel’s Operation Cast Lead four years ago, with the general lack of interest over the Syrian government’s ongoing atrocities; here’s a flavour:
There is no such clamour now. The Stop the War Coalition is not summoning thousands to central London to demand an end to the fighting, as it did then. On the contrary, its statements are content simply to oppose western intervention – of which there is next to no prospect – while politely refusing to condemn Assad’s war on his own people. Caryl Churchill has not written a new play, Seven Syrian Children, exploring the curious mindset of the Alawite people that makes them capable of such horrors, the way she rushed to the stage to probe the Jewish psyche in 2009. The slaughter in Syria has similarly failed to move the poet Tom Paulin to pick up his pen. Apparently, these Syrian deaths are not worthy of artistic note. The contrast has struck Robert Fisk, no defender of Israel. He puts it baldly: “[T]he message that goes out is simple: we demand justice and the right to life for Arabs if they are butchered by the west and its Israeli allies, but not when they are being butchered by their fellow Arabs.”
Read the full article here.
Inevitably, Freedland’s argument provoked the usual response from the loons, conspiracy theorists, professional Israel-haters and outright antisemites who frequent Comment Is Free. It also resulted in a typically stupid letter from Baroness Jenny Tonge, the Lib Dem’s and House of Lords’ resident anti-Israel thicko and fanatic. The most charitable thing that can be said is that she seems to completely misunderstand Freedland’s central point:
Jonathan Freedland makes the usual plea “why condemn Israel?”. Israel claims to be a western-style democracy that respects human rights and international law. The US and the EU, as well as our own country, have social, academic, cultural and trade links with Israel, and many of us have friends or colleagues in Israel. To many UK citizens, it is their home too. Israel drove the Palestinians from their homeland and livelihoods in 1948 and for 45 years Israel has occupied the West Bank. The treatment of the Palestinians is brutal and humiliating, as I have witnessed. We are right to condemn Israel for its actions. We are right to demand a higher standard of behaviour from Israel than from Arab states that are only now struggling to achieve political change. I have been to Syria. Does Mr Freedland really want Israel to be judged by the same standards by which we judge Syria?
Prof Norm delivers a devastating riposte here.
But it’s not Tonge’s stupidity that I particularly want to draw to your attention, but this strange and (I would submit) sinister comment from Lindsey German of Stop the War (and the objectively pro-Assad ‘Counterfire’), quoted by Freedland:
Anxious for answers, I called Lindsey German of Stop the War, who told me the organisation was not active on Syria because that “isn’t Stop the War’s job”. Its focus is on what “Britain and the US are doing”. Why, then, was it so vocal on Gaza? Because the west “was very much in support of the Israelis, so it was very different”. (In fact, Britain did not support Operation Cast Lead but called for a ceasefire.) She adds that the Palestinian question “has its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”.
Assuming that Freedland quoted her accurately, what on earth did German mean by the Palestinian question having “its own dynamic, which isn’t true of any other country”? After all, the Palestians do not have a “country” – which is, of course, the root cause of their tragedy. Can anyone suggest what German means by that particular statement?
PS: hidden away in the foul madness that is the Comment Is Free “discussion” that followed Freedland’s piece, is a reasonably sensible debate between one David Pavett and ‘Aloevera’ that drew my attention to this fascinating interview given by the late Fred Halliday in April 2010. Recommended.
Have you noticed how many of those people who’ve recently been writing about Salman Rushdie and expressing varying degrees of horror at the Ayatollah’s muderous fatwa, just have to throw in a little aside about Rushdie’s alleged arrogance, lack of self-awareness, or simply not being a very nice person? The slippery Pankaj Mishra in the Graun even berated Rushdie (in the context of the fatwa) for ”peevish righteousness” against “those who criticised or disagreed with him.” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2012/sep/18/joseph-anton-salman-rushdie-review).
Now, I don’t know Mr Rushdie and so if writers in the Graun and elsewhere are saying he’s not a nice man, etc, then who am I to disagree? What I can tell you, however, is that he’s certainly a more forgiving person towards at least one of those who betrayed him in 1989, than I would be.
Let’s be clear about this: what was at stake then and in the years that followed was a fundamental question of freedom of expression. It was, to put it simply, a battle between the forces of enlightenment (actually, The Enlightenment) and the forces of barbarism. There was no middle ground. Rushdie’s enemies included not just the cynical, fascist, rulers of Iran and some Muslim people foolish enough to allow themselves to be influnced by them, but also plenty of non-Muslims including some Western “liberals.”
The list of writers, commentators and so-called “intellectuals” in the West who scabbed on Rushdie (and I’m omitting those who merely equivocated) is a despicable role of shame: John Berger, Germaine Greer, Roald Dahl, Jimmy Carter and (probably nastiest of all) John le Carré, who accused Rushdie of (you guessed it) “arrogance” and “self-canonisation.” The treachery of la Carré led to a long-running feud between him and Rushdie (the latter vigorously supported by Christopher Hitchens).
As far as I’m concerned the likes of le Carré are simply beneath contempt and branded, forever, with infamy. In fact, I’d go so far as to agree with David Aaronovitch that:
It is a conceit of the British that, had fascism come to this country or we been invaded, then our reaction would have been very different from that of, say, the French. In those non-Muslims who attacked Rushdie, who blamed him for stirring things up, who argued that the book should not be published in paperback, who said that he had brought the danger on himself and publicly resented the costs of his protection, you see the same arguments and psychology that would have justified collaboration with totalitarianism.
Well, it seems old Salman isn’t quite as peevish and self-important as has been made out: according to today’s Times, Rushdie (speaking at the Cheltenham Literature Festival), expressed his regret for the quarrel with le Carré. “I wish we hadn’t done it,” he said. “I think of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as one of the great novels of postwar Britian.”
He added that la Carré had also expressed regret: “He’s a proud man, David Cornwell [la Carré's real name -JD], but he said, ‘If I was wrong, I was wrong for the right reasons.’”
That would not be good enough for me. But then, I’m obviously more “peevish” than Rushdie.
NB: Before they made up: the Rushdie-le Carré exchanges, http://www.rjgeib.com/thoughts/burning/le-carre-vs-rushdie.html
H/t (for the Aaronovitch quote): prof Norm, http://normblog.typepad.com/normblog/2012/09/blaming-salman.html
This article by Seumas Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. It is not available anywhere else online (as far as I can tell), nor is it included in the new book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. We publish the piece as a service to the international workers’ movement and in the interests of the study of moral and political bankruptcy.
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930′s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950′s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,ooo were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991, they yielded new data that most reputable scholars consider to broadly confirm Robert Conquest’s position if not (quite) the figure of 20 million deaths directly resulting from Stalin’s rule and policies.
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
According to his friend, Kingsley Amis, when his (Conquest’s) publishers asked him to expand and revise The Great Terror, Conquest suggested the new version of the book be entitled I Told You So, You Fucking Fools.
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.