Radio 4 gives Gramsci a (reasonably) fair hearing

September 2, 2014 at 4:49 pm (AWL, BBC, capitalism, class, democracy, Disability, history, intellectuals, Italy, Jim D, literature, Marxism, modernism, socialism)

It’s not often that the bourgeois media gives an anti-Stalinist communist leader and thinker a fair hearing – or, at least, allows that person’s thought and record to be presented in a balanced and objective manner.

But today’s ‘Great Lives’ on BBC Radio 4, introduced by the former Tory MP Matthew Parris (a good broadcaster, despite his politics) gave the life and thought of Antonio Gramsci affair hearing.

Dr Tom Shakespeare, a disability activist and former Euro-Communist, supported by Professor Anne Sassoon (‘expert witness’) presented a sympathetic and generally fair profile of Gramsci that is well worth listening to, here.

Naturally, I don’t agree with the Euro-Communist slant of the presentation, but that doesn’t detract (much) from the quality of the case put forward by Shakespeare and Sassoon, which will, hopefully, introduce a lot of new people to the ideas of this heroic figure and giant socialist intellect.

Once you’ve listened, you could do a lot worse than move on to this…

Antonio Gramsci

Gramsci
A collection of articles discussing the life and ideas of the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci

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East Ukraine: Russia installs a new leadership

August 26, 2014 at 5:09 pm (AWL, Cross-post, fascism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism)

By Dale Street (cross-posted from Workers Liberty):

Pro-Russian separatists parade Ukrainian prisoners through Donetsk

Above: Pro-Russian separatists march Ukrainian prisoners through Donetsk in response to the Independence Day celebrations in Kiev.

In mid-July Denis Pushilin resigned as chair of the Supreme Soviet of the Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR). In early August Alexander Borodai resigned as Prime Minister of the DPR.

In mid-August Valery Bolotov resigned as head – he was always simply referred to as “the head” – of the Lugansk People’s Republic (LPR) and Igor Strelkov-Girkin resigned as Minister of Defence of the DPR.

According to Boris Kagarlitsky (a longstanding Russian socialist turned cheerleader for the separatists), the latter resignations were the result of pressure by the Kremlin, in preparation for a deal with the Kiev government at the expense of what Kagarlitsky calls “Novorossiya”.

Kagarlitsky is particularly concerned about the pressures which Strelkov-Girkin – who, he claims, did the most to “aid the radicalisation” of the “revolutionary crisis” – must have suffered:

“How Strelkov was lured to Moscow, and what was done to him there in order to extract from him his ‘voluntary’ resignation (if, in fact, he signed such a statement at all), we can only guess.” (1)

(Donetsk inhabitants such as Alexander Chornov who had the misfortune to be interrogated, threatened and beaten up by Strelkov-Girkin after their ‘arrest’ by separatists probably do not share Kagarlitsky’s concerns. (2))

In theory, Kagarlitsky might be right to argue that the Kremlin is preparing to do a deal with Kiev. But there is an alternative, and much more straightforward, explanation for the resignations.

The fighting in Donetsk and Lugansk – according to the separatists, the Putin government, the state-controlled Russian media, and Boris Kagarlitsky – is a mass popular uprising.

But the fact that the key separatist leaders (Strelkov-Girkin and Borodai) were fascist in their politics, Russian in their citizenship, auxiliaries in Russia’s annexation of the Crimea, and directly linked to the Russian security services, made a mockery of such claims.

Replacing them by lesser-known locals removed that problem. Paradoxically, it also underlined the degree of Russian involvement: as Kagarlitsky himself admits, in however emotional a form, the decisions about the resignations emanated from Moscow.

Whereas Borodai and Strelkov were White-Russian imperialists who looked forward to the restoration of Tsarist “Novorossiya” on the territory of Ukraine, the new separatist leaders prefer to live the fantasy that they are fighting a re-run of the Great Patriotic War against fascism.

According to a statement issued last week by the Supreme Soviet of the DPR, instructing the Council of Ministers of the DPR not to accept a convoy of humanitarian aid organised by the Kiev authorities:

“In recent days the propaganda machine of fascist Ukraine has announced certain humanitarian aid which the Kiev junta is supposedly distributing on the territory of the DPR.

This propaganda action by Ukrainian fascists has been inspired by those who openly finance and support the mass elimination of the people of the DPR and its infrastructure – the USA, the European Union, and its other allies.

The people of the DPR will not accept the so-called humanitarian aid from the hands of the fascist punitive forces.” (3)

Last Sunday (24th August – Ukrainian Independence Day) the DPR authorities staged what they called the “Parade of Shame”, as they marched around 90 captured Ukrainian soldiers through the centre of Donetsk:

“At exactly two o’clock the person chairing the rally declared the anti-fascist meeting open and said a few bitter words: ‘Now you will see people who kill us and bombard our city. These people have also killed the Ukrainians in us. From now on we are Russians!’” (4)

The event was consciously ‘modelled’ on a parade of 57,000 German prisoners-of-war, organised by Stalin’s henchman Beria in Moscow in July of 1944. Beneath the headline “March of the Captured Fascists”, an article on a pro-separatist website explained the event as:

“A revival of the tradition of the Red and Soviet Armies of the time of the Great Patriotic War. Captured fascists marched through Leningrad and Moscow, so let them do the same here. In Novorossiya the militia are fighting extreme dregs lacking moral principles or constraints.” (5)

Underling the theme of Ukrainian soldiers being fascist filth and vermin, and not really even human, vehicles from the local authority’s cleansing department followed the parade, washing the streets along which the Ukrainian soldiers had been forced to march.

Elsewhere in Ukraine, Independence Day celebrations were used to whip up enthusiasm for the war from the other side.

Speaking at a Soviet-style military parade in Kiev – ironically, the first since 2009, when the annual event had been scrapped by the now ousted Yanukovich – President Poroshenko summoned up visions of permanent war-readiness:

“According to foreseeable historical perspectives, Ukraine will constantly be threatened by war. And we not only have to learn how to live with this, we also have to constantly be ready to defend the independence of our state.” (6)

Poroshenko also announced that the military budget would be increased by $3 billions in the period 2015-17. So, just when Ukraine’s workers will see massive attacks on their living standards, jobs and working conditions, in line with the strings attached to IMF loans, the government will be massively increasing the military budget.

Against such a grim background, socialists internationally need to step up their support for the beleaguered Ukrainian left in its fight for working-class unity and against all forms of militarism and national chauvinism.

And we should have no truck with those on the left, like Kagarlitsky, who deny Ukraine’s right to self-determination (and its very existence) and continue to hail the forces of “Novorossiya”:

“This (Ukrainian) state no longer exists and it will not be restored. It may be that after a time we shall again see a Ukrainian state that is not divided by the fronts of a civil war. … The road to founding such a state lies through civil war. Ukraine will again be united only if the forces of the insurgent south-east raise their banner over Kiev.” (7)

Not for nothing is Kagarlitsky now rightly denounced as “the ‘left wing’ of the Putin regime.” (8)

1) http://links.org.au/node/4008
2) http://www.ostro.org/general/politics/articles/452250/
3) http://novorossia.su/ru/node/5472
4) http://rusvesna.su/news/1408882616
5) ibid.
6)http://www.unian.net/politics/954789-poroshenko-ukraina-doljna-gotovitsya-k-jizni-v-usloviyah-postoyannoy-vneshney-agressii.html
7) http://links.org.au/node/3911
8) Comments in ibid.

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Protest against IS and the genocide of the Yazidis! Support workers, women and oppressed minorities in Iraq!

August 21, 2014 at 7:36 am (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, AWL, Human rights, internationalism, iraq, islamism, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, protest, secularism, solidarity, terror, women)

6 – 8pm, Friday 22 August, Downing Street, London
This rally is organised by the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, UK organisation, in alliance with other Iraqi, Iranian and UK organisations (see below).

mount sinjar

A Yazidi family on Mount Sinjar

Facebook event

The organisers say:

“Against the Genocide of the Yazidis
Against the Bloodthirsty Forces of IS
Against Fascism and Racism

“Support our demands:
1. Immediate steps and actions must be taken to help all those who are displaced, regardless of their ethnic or religious background. The Yezidis, in particular, are most desperately in need of such help.
2. The countries which have supported the IS financially and militarily should be condemned and held responsible.
3. The ruling parties across Iraq propagate racist and ethnocentric sentiments among the people, causing tension between Arabs and Kurds, as well as Sunni and Shiites. This is catastrophic and has brought about high levels of ethno-sectarian hatred in Iraq and Kurdistan. Pressure should be exerted on the political parties to stop this.
4. Any activities and demonstrations by IS supporters must be organised against by the trade unions, community groups and political organisations. What they do does not constitute freedom of political thought; they advocate hatred and killing. Tolerating these groups may create circumstances for other racist groups to flourish and spread hostility towards people from Muslim backgrounds.
We hope that the EU will register our concern on the matter and act against any and all forms of racist and sectarian attacks and incitement.”

***

Other sponsoring organisations

Worker-communist Party of Iraq UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran UK Organisation
Worker-communist Party of Iran Hekmatist UK Organisation
International Federation of Iraqi Refugees – IFIR
Kurdish and Middle Eastern Women’s Organisation in Britain – KMEWO
Workers’ Liberty

For more information please contact: 07577 781 626 or 07446 135 857 or 07894 252 708 

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Elizabeth Tsurkov, Israeli anti-war activist, on prospects for peace and justice in Israel/Palestine

August 18, 2014 at 10:06 am (AWL, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, solidarity, zionism)

My comrade Pate Radcliff conducted this interview with Elizabeth recently. She makes some interesting and perceptive points about the Israeli peace movement, the BDS campaign, antisemitism in the pro-Palestinian movement,  and the Netanyahu  government’s counter-productive attitude towards Palestinian ‘moderates’ and discouraging demographic trends within Israel.

As ever, Shiraz points out that we don’t necessarily agree with all the opinions being expressed (I personally, for instance, think what she says about the Histadrut is unfair, and could be said about any bureaucratic trade union organisation anywhere in the world -JD):

Put half an hour aside to watch this.

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The Guardian and antisemitism

August 14, 2014 at 6:30 am (anti-semitism, AWL, From the archives, Guardian, israel, Jim D, media, Middle East, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, stalinism, zionism)

It should not need saying, but it does: people can be as angry as they like at the Israeli government, but to attack a synagogue, threaten children at a Jewish school, or throw a brick through the window of a Jewish grocery store is vile and contemptible racism. It cannot be excused by reference to Israeli military behaviour. The two are and should be kept utterly distinct.

Some may counter that that is impossible, given the strong attachment of most Jews to Israel. But this is less complicated than it looks. Yes, Jews feel bound up with Israel, they believe in its right to survive and thrive. But that does not mean they should be held responsible for its policy, on which some may disagree and over which they have no control.

Nor should they be required to declare their distance from Israel as a condition for admission into polite society. We opposed such a question being put to all Muslims after 9/11 and, though the cases are not equivalent, the same logic applies here. This is a test for those who take a strong stance in support of the Palestinians, but in truth it is a test for all of us.

The Guardian has recently carried a number of pieces denouncing antisemitism, including the editorial quoted from above, a powerful piece by Jon Henley on the rise in antisemitic attacks in Europe, a polemic entitled ‘Please don’t tell me what I should think about Israel’ by self-described “liberal American Jew” Hadley Freeman, and a confused but well-intentioned ramble by Owen Jones, who makes some good points but still seems to think that (often) “the charge of antisemitism is concocted” to silence critics of Israeli policy. Still, whatever its weaknesses, Jones’ s piece is further evidence of the Guardian taking antisemitism seriously.

Why the Guardian‘s recent concern with antisemitism comes as something of a surprise is because the paper itself has, in the past, been accused of downplaying the dangers of antisemitism, and even of promoting it, due to its often extremely simplistic Middle Eastern coverage, its promotion of ‘one-state’ (sic) propaganda and crude ‘anti-Zionism,’ due in large part to the the influence of the paper’s Stalinist associate editor Seumas Milne and its middle east editor Ian Black. The criticisms have not only come from the right. At the time of the last Gaza war (2009), Sean Matgamna of the Alliance for Workers Liberty wrote the following open letter to editor Alan Rusbridger. It’s worth republishing now because the underlying political problems it identifies are still commonplace on the liberal-left, including – as Owen Jones’s piece arguably demonstrates – the Guardian itself:

Dear Alan Rusbridger,

The Guardian is the “house organ” of most of the non-Muslim people who took part in the two big demonstrations during the Gaza war. A vigorous campaign by the Guardian against anti-semitism on the “left” might do much good.

On Saturday 7 February, the Guardian carried an editorial, “Language and History”, denouncing anti-semitism and specifically the “anti-Zionist” anti-semitism that is now commonplace, remarking on the growth of anti-semitic incidents in Britain (now on average, one per day, and increasing).

Unfortunately, the editorial seriously misdefined the realities of what it discussed, and pussyfooted around the issue.

“Some extremists on the right and possibly [sic] the left might claim [that] the government is in the pocket of a ‘Jewish lobby’. There is no ‘Jewish lobby’ in the conspiratorial sense that the slur implies, and to assert that there is can only be the result of the kind of racism that has scarred Europe from tsarist Russia to the fascists and Stalinists of the 1930s through to the jihadists now. To present all Jewish people as coterminous with Israel and its supporters is a mistake with potentially terrible consequences. It aligns ethnicity with a political perspective, and it is simply racist”.

Indeed. The editorial records the Government’s statement that “unlike other forms of racism, antisemitism is being accepted within parts of society instead of being condemned.”

And the left? “Some within its ranks now risk sloppily allowing their horror of Israeli actions to blind them to antisemitism…. Last month, a rally in defence of the people of Gaza that included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel was followed by actual attacks on Jewish targets in north London”.

The editorial adds that such things as “kill Arabs” graffiti in Gaza are “chilling”. And? “The style in which that is condemned must not create the climate that allows scrawling ‘kill Jews’ on synagogues in Manchester”. The style….

The problem with all this is that it is so shot through with understatement that it seriously misrepresents the state of things. The demonstrations on Gaza “included verbal attacks on the so-called ‘Nazi tendencies’ of Israel”? Included? As we reported (www.workersliberty.org/gazademos) the demonstrations were entirely dominated by placards equating the Star of David and the Nazi swastika, Israel with South Africa, Gaza with the Nazi mass murder of Jews, or chants about a “Palestine” stretching “from the river to the sea”.

All the platform speakers, in their varying notes, tones annd degrees, proclaimed the same sort of politics. The one-time British diplomat Craig Murray explicitly called for the abolition of Israel and the rolling-back of Middle East history to before 1948. An SWP organiser on the megaphone at one of the marches was shouting that Israeli Jews should “go back to New York”.

The Guardian says that the left “possibly” subscribes to notions of an all-controlling “Jewish lobby”. Possibly? Moshe Machover came pretty close to saying it outright in the recent exchanges in this paper – and he is one of the most sophisticated of the “absolute anti-Zionists”.

Mr Rusbridger, the root and core of modern anti-Semitism is the denial of Israel’s right to exist and defend itself. That inexorably leads on to a radical political hostility to most Jews alive.

Of course Jews and Israel are not co-terminous. They could hardly be! It is a fact that all but a few Jews — revolutionary socialists, Neturei Karta, etc. — feel connected with Israel, however critically, and however much they abhor such things as the onslaught on Gaza. How could a people with their history not have such attitudes?

The “demand” that the self-proclaimed left has made on British Jews — very aggressively on university campuses, for example – has been that they repudiate Israel, that they not be Zionists, that they accept that Israel is “racist” in essence and has no right to exist.

The denial of Israel’s right to exist, predominant on the self-proclaimed left, is the precondition for the bizarre alliance of so much of the left with political Islam (to give it its proper name, Islamic clerical fascism). It is what allows the self-proclaimed left, political Islam, and Islamic communalists to merge and meld almost indistinguishably on occasions like the Gaza demonstrations.

Inevitably that radical political hostility to most Jews alive taps into the great half-buried septic reservoirs of old anti-semitism — into old racist, religious, and nondescript crank anti-semitism.

The Guardian Editorial writes of Nazi and Stalinist anti-Semitism in the 1930s. The worst Stalinist anti-semitism – from which come such things as the Stalinist-typical lunacy of equating Zionism and Nazism – erupted in the late 1940s and early 50s. The poisonous account of modern Jewish and Zionist history in the 20th century, which is dominant on the “left”, originates there, in Stalinism.

These old ideas of High Stalinist “anti-Zionism”/ anti-Semitism are rampant in the pro-Palestinian movement because they have conquered so much of the Trotskyism-rooted “left”. Young people who, to their credit, want to do something about such things as Gaza, come under the sway of the “smash Israel”, supposedly “pro-Palestinian” campaigns. The are taught ro reject a “Two State” settlement.

For the Guardian editorial to say that the difficulty lies in “the style” in which specific Israeli actions are criticised and condemned is simply preposterous! Whatever the “style” — and it varies from the seemingly reasonable to froth-at-the-mouth, open anti-semitism — the proposal to put an end to Israel leads inexorably to the things which the Guardian condemns, and to far worse.

The Guardian Editorial talks of the anti-semitism of the “jihadists”. The point is that the politics dominant in the Gaza demonstrations were entirely in line with the jihadists and their anti-semitism.

The Guardian has influence within the broad left. It is a pity you do not use that influence to tell the left the unpalatable truth about the state it’s in, that you don’t hold the mirror up, force people who should know better to see what they have let themselves become.

Yours, Solidarity

Sean Matgamna

Below: different faces of contemporary antisemitism:

The Argus: Synagogue is sprayed with pro-Gaza graffiti

God_bless_hitler

 
 

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Make 10 July the start of the fightback!

July 9, 2014 at 8:03 pm (AWL, posted by JD, protest, solidarity, unions, UNISON, workers)

Strike 10 July 2014

Adapted from a Workers Liberty leaflet:

Up to two million workers will strike on 10 July.  Members of unions in local government will strike to oppose a 1% pay offer, and are demanding an increase of at least £1 per hour or to the “Living Wage”, £7.65, or £8.80 in London. Other unions involved in the action have their own pay demands.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, the cost of maintaining a decent standard of living in the UK has risen by 46% since 2008, while wages have increased by just 9%. It’s the harshest squeeze on real wages in the UK since records began. According to TUC figures, around five million workers in Britain (20% of the total workforce) are paid less than the living wage.

The 10 July strike can be the start of a working class counter-offensive challenging the capitalist logic that demands workers pay for the financial crisis.

We need a plan, not just a day at a time

One-off strike days, each followed by a long wait until union leaders report back or call further action, aren’t nough.

The remedy is not just to convert one-day protest strikes into two-day protest strikes, but to plan continuing action, discussed and decided in advance by union members. This could include limited, selective action as well as all-out strikes and be directed by local strike committees.

Local strike committees should continue meeting after 10 July, and the executives of all the striking unions should meet together.

After 10th July?

Unison’s leaders have already talked about further strikes on 9 and 10 September. Unions should liaise with each other in order to pin down the most effective date, and other actions should be planned between now and then – even small, local events like lunchtime rallies, demos and street stalls.

NHS workers should be brought into the dispute. Unison should act on its 2014 Health sector conference decision to ballot for strikes over pay. Strike funds should be levied at both local and national level to ensure the lowest-paid  workers are supported in taking sustained and escalating action.

On strike days every workplace should be picketed, with pickets approaching non-striking workers and attempting to persuade them not to cross. In 2011 some activists held members’ meetings with discussion and voting – not just set-piece rallies.’ We should organise such meetings this time, as well.

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Of course Putin’s Russia is imperialist!

June 28, 2014 at 10:30 pm (AWL, imperialism, Marxism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, USSR)

By Dale Street (first published by Workers Liberty)

Sam Williams has written 16,000 words to claim that Russia is not imperialist, even when its tanks are rolling through other nations.

He describes the old Stalinist states “the former socialist countries of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.” In those days there was “no true Soviet imperialism”, claims Williams, because “wealth was not accumulated in the form of capital, and therefore not in the form of finance capital — there was not a single kopeck of finance capital.” Any other view is down to “imperialist Western propaganda and its bought and paid-for historians.”

And Russia retains its non-imperialism even after it has unambiguously reverted to capitalism. “Has the military-feudal imperialism of pre-1917 Russia been restored?” asks Williams. No, it’s not feudal. (But it was not the feudal residues in Tsarist Russia which made Marxists of the time classify it as imperialist. It was its domination and exploitation of other nations).

“What about a modernised Russian imperialism based on the rule of monopoly capitalism and finance capital?” He rejects this argument as well: Russia is “very poor in finance capital. … (Therefore) today’s Russia is very far indeed from becoming an imperialist country.”

This is really just a re-run of Williams’s denial of Stalinist imperialism. There was no finance capital in Stalin’s USSR, and therefore no Stalinist imperialism. Today’s Russia is “very poor” in finance capital, and therefore there is no Russian imperialism.

However, Williams’s equation of “imperialist” with “rich in finance capital” obliges him to classify Taiwan, Ireland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and New Zealand as imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Workers Liberty on the collapse in Iraq

June 22, 2014 at 4:24 pm (AWL, Cross-post, iraq, iraq war, islamism, kdp, kurdistan, Middle East, posted by JD, secularism, terror, war)

Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck. Picture appearing to show ISIS militants loading captives into a truck.

The following article, by Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty, carries weight because it is largely based upon interviews with representatives of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq and the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan. It first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity:

On Wednesday 11 June, the Al-Qaeda-oriented Sunni Islamist group ISIS seized control of Iraq’s second-biggest city, Mosul.

It has taken several other cities in the Sunni-majority north and west. Before 11 June it already had control of Fallujah and much of Ramadi, and of significant areas in Syria.

Nadia Mahmood of the Worker-communist Party of Iraq told Solidarity:

“What’s going on now with ISIS is a new phase of the sectarian violence which reached its peak in 2006-7 with the bombings in Samarra”.

That simmering sectarian civil war died down in 2007-8 and after. But, said Nadia: “After the Arab Spring [in 2011], the Sunni [minority in Arab Iraq] became more assertive.

“In 2013, [Iraq's Shia-Islamist prime minister] Maliki ended the [peaceful, and not sharply Islamist] protest camps outside the roads to Fallujah and ignored their demands.

“Now in 2014, after the election two months ago, Maliki wants to stay in power and has marginalised even the other Shia parties.

“Because of the sectarian nature of the government, this sort of violence will happen again and again. Socialists need to call for a secular state.

“The left and the labour movement in Iraq are not powerful right now, so first of all we need a secular state without religious identity which will give us ground to build. The target now is to end the sectarian nature of the state”.

Some of the roots of this collapse of the Iraqi state lie in what the USA did after invading in 2003. It disbanded much of the Iraqi state machine, including low-ranking people, and promoted “de-Baathification”.

At first the USA hoped that pro-US and relatively secular people like Ahmed Chalabi and Iyad Allawi would create a pro-US Iraqi government. But those neo-liberals turned out to be good at schmoozing US officials while in exile, hopeless at winning support from Iraqis in Iraq.

Amid the chaos and rancour which followed the invasion and the destruction of everyday governance, the mosques and the Islamist factions won hegemony.

The US adapted and worked with people like Maliki. As Aso Kamal of the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan told Solidarity: “The Americans made a political system that depended on balancing three ethnic and sectarian identities.

“Iraq had been a modern society, with sectarian divisions not so deep. These events are the product of the new system America brought to Iraq. Especially with other powers like Turkey and Iran intervening, seeking their allies within the Iraqi system, it has been a disaster”. Now Saudi Arabia has seized on the current crisis to call for the fall of Maliki and his replacement by “a government of national consensus”.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “I think some of the Ba’thists saw the de-Ba’thification policy as targeting Sunnis more than Ba’thists. In fact there were Shia Ba’thists who held powerful positions in the state, and they were protected because they were Shia.

“So the Sunni Ba’athists went to the Sunni side and the Islamist side, not the Ba’thist side. They held to their religious identity”.

According to Aso Kamal, Maliki’s government is seen as a Shia government, and that rallies groups like ISIS and ex-Ba’thists against it.

For us in Workers’ Liberty, the horrible events confirm the arguments we made during the previous simmering sectarian civil war in Iraq (especially 2006-7) for slogans of support for the Iraqi labour movement and democracy against both the US forces and the sectarian militias, not the negative slogan “troops out”. The two-word recipe “troops out” then certainly entailed a sectarian collapse like this one, only worse. Now it is happening, even those who previously most ardently insisted that anti-Americanism must be the first step, and everything else could be be sorted out later, dare not hail the ISIS advance and the Shia counter-mobilisation as “liberation” or “anti-imperialism”.

Of course, rejecting the slogan “troops out” did not mean supporting the US, any more than being dismayed at the ISIS advance means endorsing Maliki.

The sudden collapse of the Iraqi army as the relatively small ISIS force advanced shows how corrupt and discredited the state has become.

Nadia Mahmood explained: “Soldiers from Mosul were saying that even when ISIS were still far away from the city, the leaders of the army took off their military clothes and left the soldiers. The Mayor of Mosul told the soldiers to leave. Some of the soldiers are saying that there was a deal”.

The knock-on effect of the ISIS victories is a sharpening on the other side of Shia sectarianism. As Nadia Mahmood says: “Now the Shia political parties are becoming closer to each other and calling for resistance. There is a sectarian agenda against the Sunni”. Aso Kamal adds: “Sistani and Maliki are also calling for a holy war. This is taking Iraq back centuries. It could become like Somalia. That will destroy the working class. It is a very dark scenario”.

Workers’ Liberty believes that defence of the labour movement in Iraq, which will be crushed wherever ISIS rules and in grave danger where the Shia Islamists are mobilising, should be a main slogan now, alongside the call for a secular state.

“ISIS”, says Aso Kamal, “have announced what they are going to do. Women must stay at home. Nothing must be taught in schools outside the Quran. There will be no freedom of speech. They are like the Taliban”.

“I’m not sure how ISIS came to Iraq”, says Nadia Mahmood, “and whether they are popular even amongst Sunnis. Maybe they are allied with the Ba’thists. But are there more Sunnis supporting them? Many Sunnis seem very scared and oppose ISIS.

“It is horrible what is going on”. But, now they have power and access to big arsenals, “ISIS may keep hold of the Sunni cities, such as Mosul and Tikrit, for some time. It’s obviously not the same for Baghdad.

“Bringing in Iranian groups to fight ISIS will only encourage sectarian discourse and maybe accelerate Shia-Sunni polarisation. Already Maliki is accused by ISIS, and by the Ba’thists, of being an Iranian agent. Whether Iranian intervention calms the situation or it worsens it is unclear.

“Many people in Iraq would prefer the United States to attack ISIS. They have come all the way from Mosul to 60km outside Baghdad, killing in their wake. I don’t know if they stay longer how many crimes they will commit, how many tragedies are going to happen. People in Baghdad feel very scared now”.

That doesn’t mean endorsing US bombing. The US’s 12 years of bombing in Afghanistan have not installed a secular state, but rebuilt a base for the once-discredited Taliban.

As Aso Kamal explains: “The Americans have a common front against ISIS now. But the Americans are playing with both sides. They do whatever they think will stabilise the region and the markets, and ignore the future of the people. In reality, they are supporting reactionary forces in Iraq.

“The effect of the developing sectarian war will be to inflame nationalism in Kurdistan. Already the KDP and the PUK [the main parties] are asking people to support them in order to keep the territory which Kurdish forces have conquered”.

For the Worker-communist Party of Kurdistan, “the main issue is to keep Kurdistan separate from this war. We say there should be a referendum and independence for [Iraqi] Kurdistan”.

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Matgamna: take all religion out of schools!

June 12, 2014 at 10:56 pm (AWL, Brum, child abuse, children, Christianity, Education, Islam, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, religion, religious right, secularism, Tory scum)

Above: Park View School hosted this ultra-reactionary bigot as a speaker to its pupils

By Sean Matgamna (re-blogged from Workers Liberty)

A group of three academies, one other academy, and one council-controlled school in Birmingham have been put into “special measures” by Ofsted government inspectors for allegedly acting like “faith schools”.

Ofsted complains that Park View school has weekly “Islamic-themed assemblies”, with invited speakers “not vetted”, and that from year 9 onwards religious education is almost all Islamic. Faith schools are explicitly allowed to have their assemblies, and their religious education, organised around their chosen religion, and to imbue other subjects with religious ideology.

Over 35 per cent of all state-funded schools in England are “faith schools”. They can freely do all or most of what Ofsted complained of in Birmingham.

The furore about an alleged “Muslim plot” to turn the Birmingham schools into indoctrination centres for “extremist” Islam rips the covering right off one of the great scandals in British life.

The scandal is not about Muslims, but goes right across the spectrum of the religious indoctrination of children in Britain. The huge majority of faith schools are Christian. Some of them are bland about their religion, and some of them militant.

It is not only about the Tory/Lib-Dem coalition administration. Faith schools increased under Labour from about a quarter to over 35% of schools.

The Government’s answer is that faith schools should continue, but they must be obliged to teach “British values”.

That is dangerous nonsense. The real answer is that all schools must be secular. Religious preaching of all sorts must be taken out of them.

The problem is in part the marshmallow language the Government uses — “extremists” and “moderates”. It is also that much of the Government’s talk about “British values” is “spin” rather than something that has or will have substance to it.

The government lists among those values “tolerance” and “respect” for those of different faiths.

When a school is run by vigorous, convinced, ardently religious people, mandating “moderate” values is either an infringement on religious freedom, or a nonsense, or both.

All serious religious people believe, and in the nature of religious belief must believe, that their own faith is the one true faith. All of them teach that. Explicitly or by implication, they believe that other religious beliefs and practices are wrong, pernicious, even the work of the Devil.

When a religion ceases to think it bears the only real truth, it is on the road to self-weakening and dissolution, at a quicker or faster pace. Anglicanism is an example. Serious belief in the truth and godly inspiration of one’s own religion implies intolerance and contempt for, and desire to subdue, the false religion.

Now the Government says that devout Muslims — often the most convinced and most militant of contemporary religious people — must be “moderate”, and must have “respect” and “tolerance” for those whom their religion tells them are mistaken and sinful.

No doubt the majority of British Muslims do not hold the “extreme” positions, but those who do have the moral high ground, appealing to precedent, age-old tradition, and sense of historical identity and affinity.

Governments should enforce the law against, for example, those who plot religiously-motivated bombing campaigns. And governments have a right and a duty to interfere with what religious people do when they break the social code — for instance, ill-treatment of children by Christian sects, such as the one Victoria Climbie’s murdering religion-crazed aunt belonged to, or mutilation of the genitals of young girls.

But there is no way a government can tell a religious community what to think and believe and pass on to young people. How can a government eradicate the belief of its devotees that a religion or a sect is the only right one, that its devotees are the only “saved” people? It cannot, not without enormous repression; and that would not succeed either. The opposite: it would drive adherents of the faith being targeted into the camp of the “extremists” and “martyrs”.

What follows? That we should “defend” those who might want to indoctrinate children with beliefs and practices that are foul and might point some of them towards jihadism? That we should focus on the demand for “extremist” Muslims to be treated not with suspicion but like bland school-running Anglicans?

That would be absurd.

In the name of religious freedom and the equality of all religions before the law and the state, it would be to “defend” vigorous religious education of all stripes, at whose heart is the systematic and long-term psychological abuse of children. Religious education implants intense emotions, fears, and beliefs in children who as yet have little power of reason and judgement. It is vicious child abuse.

No, the Government has been drawn onto the dangerous ground of threatening to impinge on the freedom of religious belief because its scheme makes no sense.

The real solution is to make all schools — including those now Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, etc. — into secular schools, places where religion is studied only in the cool comparison of different religions, their histories, the origins of their sacred books, the derivation and evolution of their core beliefs, etc.

That would give the children some secular space to retreat to in face of bullying, insistent parents or religious officials, and give them different values to counterpose to the religious values of homes which may be spiritually from a different age and very different societies.

The children of religious parents are entitled to the protection of society and the social institutions.

In some faith schools today small girls go about covered from top to toe in Islamic religious dress. A society that does not win children freedom from such impositions is obscene, and if it does not use the law to stop them will be convincing neither to itself nor to the serious religious people who have contempt for modern commercial society and for those who would regulate and “moderate” them.

The possible social consequences of the continued development of faith schools are dreadful to contemplate. Faith and ethnicity here often go together. Faith schools are also often race-segregated schools. Instead of schools being a force for integrating communities, they entrench social, ethnic, and religious antagonisms. Children are moulded and narrowed in one outlook.

Faith schools in Northern Ireland played an important part in maintaining, reinforcing, and perpetuating Protestant-Catholic sectarianism. It was the Catholic Church, the church of the most oppressed people in Northern Ireland, which insisted on faith schools — or rather, on its own right to indoctrinate children with its beliefs.

At the height of the Troubles, a small group of people started “mixed” schools, as a means of helping to destroy sectarianism. The movement has so far had little success. It would have been better to have had “mixed” schools before sectarian conflict had ripped the society apart.

What all this means for Britain now and for what sensible people should advocate for Britain now is plain: take religion out of our schools. Make education public and secular. Make religion a private matter.

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The Left must face the truth about UKIP’s working class support

June 8, 2014 at 4:12 pm (AWL, class, elections, Europe, immigration, labour party, populism, posted by JD, unions, workers)

Words of wisdom from Dave Kirk at Workers Liberty:

Pointing the finger: the Ukip poster for the European elections has caused controversy

Above: UKIP’s appeal to angry British workers

In the left’s comments on UKIP “surge” there is much about anger and disenchantment with mainstream politics.

It is true that there is an understandable revulsion against the politicians and parties whose policies and ideology accelerated the effects of the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s.

Tom Walker talks about that anger in his article for Left Unity.

Walker sees UKIP’s support as primarily a repository for anger with the mainstream that is channelled against migrants, minorities and Europe by UKIP. He argues that a strong “populist” party of the left could channel that anger to progressive ends.

Other left commentators have argued a similar thing about the nearly two thirds of voters who abstained in the election. That many of them could be won over by a convincing left party, if it existed.

I think this is dangerous wishful thinking that ignores ideology. Neo-liberal, pro-austerity and anti-migrant ideas are the ruling and largely unchallenged ideas of the age. It would be patronising and wrong to think those working-class voters who voted UKIP were duped into voting for a neo-liberal anti-migrant party. They must to some degree be convinced by, share and reproduce those ideas.

We would also be kidding ourselves if we thought that non-voters shared a form of left wing anti-austerity politics rather then reflecting the balance of ideology amongst those who do vote.

We can win these people to independent working class politics, but we must face facts squarely. Those who vote UKIP or are so despairing that they do not vote are much further from socialism then most Labour voters or Green voters.

Anger is not enough to win people to socialism. We must consciously build a socialist mass movement, a socialist press, a system of socialist education.

To do this the fight to transform the existing organisations of the working class, the unions, is key. It will also require a fight in the political organisation most left-wing workers still look to, the Labour Party.

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