Guest post by Pink Prosecco
Above: Lib Dem idiot David Ward
Early Day Motion 739 is a call for the freedom of movement of Palestinian journalists. Its primary sponsor is Jeremy Corbyn, who once invited Raed Salah, a promoter of the blood libel, to Parliament, and it is being supported by many other usual suspects: George Galloway, who refused to debate with a student at Oxford once he realized he was Israeli, David Ward, who bemoaned the fact Jews hadn’t learned more of a lesson from the Holocaust and Bob Russell, who has drawn a false equivalence between the Holocaust and the suffering of the Palestinians.
However those of us who are inclined to defend Israel from disproportionate scrutiny and exaggerated, even racist, criticism will sometimes find ourselves on the same ‘side’ as people with views just as deplorable – eg: Israel supporters who deny the Palestinians’ right to self-determination, and assert that they are a “made up people” with only themselves to blame. So it doesn’t seem rational to dismiss this EDM just because supporting it will put one in some unwelcome company. Here is the full text.
That this House notes that, on a daily basis, Israeli authorities restrict journalists’ movements and there are hundreds of military checkpoints that constrain or forbid journalists’ movements; further notes that despite the long standing campaigning by journalists and civil rights organisations, the Israeli authorities continue to reject identity cards, accreditation and press cards, including the International Federation of Journalists press card, when carried by Palestinian journalists; condemns the continuous attacks by Israeli soldiers on Palestinian news gatherers, in particular photographers and camera crews, the level of attacks has increased during the first half of 2013, in 2012 the attacks involved rubber coated steel bullets, tear grenades and stun grenades; and reaffirms that freedom of movement is a central tenet of independent professional journalism and, in restricting such a right, Israeli authorities are in breach of international covenants and the right to report.
There would seem to be two possible objections to the EDM. First, the claims may be exaggerated; secondly, even someone who is, or seems to be, a journalist may still pose a threat. Here’s a link to a story about a clearcut example of this, a newsreader who dropped off a terrorist before going to work to report on the bombing: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/06/27/arts/television/27genz.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1386088156-piyAlCJHUvKKlpjcZCsThg
Yet security concerns don’t justify the apparently brutal treatment some Palestinian journalists have experienced, as documented here:
Trying to establish whether the EDM is reasonable or not, like most lines of enquiry relating to Israel/Palestine, has the same bewildering effect as looking at this ambiguous picture:
Is the journalist featured in this story (link below), Mohamed Jamal Abu Khdeir, a victim of Israeli heavy handedness or a real security threat?
While looking up recent news stories about Palestinian journalists I found an example of one unfortunate man, George Canawati, who had been beaten up for mere “slander and abuse” - making derogatory remarks about a police officer. However in this case the violence was carried out, not by Israeli forces, but by the Palestinian Authority:
However, even though one might wryly note that some sections of the media won’t be so quick to report on this attack on press freedom as on Israel’s shortcomings, that doesn’t mean those shortcomings aren’t real. The monitoring organisation Reporters without Borders doesn’t have the kind of profile one would associate with reflexive Israel-bashing, yet it seems increasingly critical of Israel’s treatment of Palestinian journalists:
So, whether or not one goes along with every element of the EDM, it certainly seems to highlight a genuine cause for concern in a year which has seen Israel’s press freedom ranking fall sharply:
Yeah, sure: that makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?
This marks a new low even for the preposterous tyrant-lover and conspiracy theorist Galloway:
Assad’s man was speaking on Press TV, natch.
The Guardian (no doubt under Seumas’ influence), once again gives space to this thoroughly dodgy and deceitful character, this time supporting Hezbollah, in a ‘head-to-head’ with Israel’s Tzipi Livni (and – just for the record- we don’t have any time for her, either).
Ramadani has form:
He supported the fascist Iraqi ”resistance” that killed and tortured trade unionists and Communist Party members. He now, like his sponsor, Seumas Milne, gives (not very “critical”) support to Assad in Syria.
Above: Ramadani chums up to Galloway and gives ’critical’ support to Assad
Here’s an account of a debate in November 2004, on the Iraqi trade union movement, from Workers Liberty:
About 50 people — many more than usual — were at the most recent monthly meeting of Iraq Occupation Focus to hear Sami Ramadani and Ewa Jasiewicz on “Trade unionism in occupied Iraq” (London, 9 November).
The first speech, Ewa’s, was informative and sober, but entirely detached from the debate which dominated the rest of the meeting. Ewa described the activity of the Southern Oil Company Union in Basra, an IFTU affiliate with which she worked for some months; expressed doubts about Communist Party control in most of the IFTU and the IFTU’s “ambiguous” stance on privatisation; and mentioned the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions of Iraq, which she saw as “more grass-roots” than the IFTU but “naive” in its implacable opposition to what it calls “Islamic terrorism”.
Sami Ramadani’s speech covered the same ground as the widely circulated letter he wrote to Alex Gordon, an RMT rail union activist who has done a lot of work in support of Iraq’s new trade unions, after Subhi al Mashadani, general secretary of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was shouted down at the European Social Forum.
Ramadani agrees that al Mashadani should not have got a hearing at the ESF, though he would have preferred a walk-out to shouting him down. The Communist Party of Iraq, says Ramadani, is collaborating with the occupation, and the IFTU under CP leadership “diverts the Iraqi working class from the main contradiction”. The IFTU are “Quislings”.
The meeting became mostly a debate between Ramadani and myself. I argued that for supporting the Iraqi labour movement against the Islamist militias.
The CP’s “realpolitik” — trying to get the best deal by working with whatever power-that-be it thinks most amenable — is wretched. But a trade union with bad politics is a very different matter from a Quisling organisation. Quisling was a fascist!
We want a free Iraq with free trade unions and no occupation. For a labour movement to build itself up, using the de facto openings for free organisation that exist now, and then play a central role in ending the occupation, is a possible route to that. For the labour movement to be crushed as “Quislings” in the cause of anti-imperialism, and then to hope for the triumphant Islamists to allow free unions to emerge at a later stage, is not.
Not just the IFTU but all the main trade unions and communist groups in Iraq oppose the Islamist militias. Activists in Britain should not dismiss their views.
Several other speakers favoured Sami Ramadani’s view. Some said that “collusion” by the IFTU with the occupation was something qualitatively worse than “bad politics”. (So class collusion is venial, but national apostasy is a mortal sin?)
Others reckoned that really there is no labour movement in Iraq — only a shell, only union offices. (So what about the struggles and organisations which Ewa Jasiewicz had described? So, if the union movement is weak, and some of it is more hopeful sketch than reality, then it doesn’t matter if it is branded as fascist and crushed?)
Some believed that the Communist Party of Iraq became fascist when it joined the Ba’thist government in the mid-1970s. (The same as the Social-Democratic Party of Germany was deemed by the ultra-left Stalinists of 1928-33 to have become “social-fascist” when it collaborated with the ultra-right Freikorps in 1919?). Or that any labour movement that supports an occupation becomes fascist. (So when it accepted the Treaty of Versailles the Social-Democratic Party of Germany became… fascist? The All India Trade Union Congress, led by the Communist Party of India, became fascist when the CP line during World War Two was to support Britain?)
The clincher for many people seemed to be the argument that the imperialists say that the Iraqi militias are Islamist and terrorist, and would clash with each other in civil war if the occupation troops vanished tomorrow. “We must combat their propaganda”.
So when the rulers of the West were saying that the USSR was a tyranny, we should have insisted that it was a paradise? When the US said that victory for the NLF in Vietnam and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia would lead to police states, we were duty bound to deny it? An “opposition to imperialism” which can sustain itself only by pretending that any force opposed to the USA must be benign is made of thin stuff!
Sami Ramadani concluded by saying flatly (as he did not in his letter to Alex Gordon) that the IFTU is “not a working-class organisation”. He “reserved judgement” on the Federation of Workers’ Councils and Unions, believing that their recent denunciation of Islamist attacks on women was “disgusting” at a time when Fallujah was under attack by US forces.
The debate must continue.
Ramadani denounces Iraqi trade unions, in a previous Guardian article, here.
Reblogged from Tendance Coatsey:
Galloway for London Mayor: “Real Labour versus a Transvestite.”
George Galloway has announced on Russia Today (where else?) that he intends to fight Boris Johnson for the job of Mayor of London, despite the present incumbent already insisting he will not stand for a third term.
The Respect MP for Bradford West said he had a team of people looking into the idea.
More on the Huffington Post.
He has also said,
“Labour, I understand, is contemplating selecting a transvestite comedian, Eddie Izzard, which would also be an interesting contest. Real Labour versus a transvestite.”
There is, as yet, no word on the Respect Party website on this important battle.
But the International Business Times cites Galloway’s first ideas,
Galloway said it was too early to discuss any specific policies but insisted that alongside his ‘real Labour’ stance: “I would also have an internationalist relationship – ensuring for example that London has a relationship with China, giving China a base in the West.
“China doesn’t have that because many countries fear them but London doesn’t fear them. I’d want Chinese investment as a basis [for my policies].”
We learn that Galloway has just backtracked on this significant initiative – Here.
But a spokesman (that is, not the man himself) for Mr Galloway yesterday told the Telegraph & Argus it was a “not-too-serious response to a rather facetious question”.
“George is committed to Bradford, to fighting the seat in 2014, helping the Bradford East candidate (not yet selected) defeat David Ward, and in the meantime assisting in getting a serious number of councillors elected in 2014 to be the official opposition and holding the balance of power,” he added.
Bradford West Labour councillor Shakeela Lal added: “He’s only been an MP here just over a year but already George Galloway’s bored of Bradford and looking for his next challenge. He’s more interested in running for Mayor of London than standing up for his constituents.”
“We hardly ever see Mr Galloway in Bradford anyway so this hardly comes as a surprise.”
Ilkley Conservative MP Kris Hopkins said: “To be fair to George, the London Mayoral election is not due to held until 2016, the year after the next General Election.
“A lot could happen between now and then and, knowing George, it probably will.”
From the archive: Rumy Hasan’s 2003 article arguing against electoral pacts with ‘Muslim groups’ (he plainly means ‘Islamist groups’) and the left’s use of the word “Islamophobia.’ At the time he wrote it, Rumy was a member of the SWP and active in the Socialist Alliance. We don’t agree with every last detail of the piece (eg Rumy’s enthusiasm for the Scottish Socialist Party), but its main thrust, in my opinion, remains sound: the prospect of the left making further electoral pacts with Islamist groups has receded since the demise of ‘Respect’, but Rumy’s central point about the the left’s approach to Islamist groups, and use of the word ‘Islamophobia’ still needs to be repeated and argued for amongst the left and anti-racist campaigners.
‘Islamophobia’ and Electoral Pacts with Muslim Groups
Above: Rees, Murray and Galloway: prime movers in promoting Islamism on the “left”
By Rumy Hasan
SINCE 11 SEPTEMBER 2001, the epithet “Islamophobia” has increasingly become in vogue in Britain – not only from Muslims but also, surprisingly, from wide layers of the left, yet the term is seldom elaborated upon or placed in a proper context. Invariably, it is used unwisely and irresponsibly and my argument is that the left should refrain from using it.
Shockingly, some on the left have, on occasion, even resorted to using it as a term of rebuke against left, secular, critics of reactionary aspects of Muslim involvement in the anti-war movement. So what does the term mean? Literally, “fear of Islam” but, more accurately, a dislike or hatred of Muslims, analogous to “anti-Semitism”. Since September 11, there has undoubtedly been an increasing resentment and hostility by some sections of the media towards Muslims in Britain and more generally in the West that, in turn, has also given rise to some popular hostility. But this is rarely made explicitly – rather it is coded as an attack on asylum seekers, refugees, and potential “terrorists”, above all, on Arabs from North Africa and the Middle East. This has been most intense in America, where there has been systematic harassment of Arabs for almost two years.
Surprisingly, however, all sections of the media, including the gutter press, have largely refrained from open attacks on British Muslims. In terms of physical attacks, including fatalities, to my knowledge these have been relatively few. Indeed, in the immediate aftermath of September 11, it was a Sikh man who was murdered in the US because he wore a turban in the manner of Bin Laden. But there were certainly attacks – both on individuals and on mosques – in Britain, especially in Northern towns, probably by BNP thugs; and other notorious acts such as leaving a pig’s head outside a mosque. But these largely abated soon after, though such incidents still periodically occur. Hence there is certainly no room for complacency. But does all this amount to Islamophobia? Clearly not: we are not dealing with a situation comparable to the Jews under the Nazis in the 1930s, nor even of Muslims in Gujarat, India, that is currently run by a de facto Hindu fascist regime. Arguably, the situation in the 1970s, when the National Front was becoming a real menace in Britain, was more dangerous for Muslims and non-Muslim ethnic minorities alike.
Moreover, perhaps as a counter-balance, the more responsible TV and press media have, in fact, been portraying a number of, if anything, over-positive images of Islam and Muslims (examples include the BBC’s series on Islam – which was a whitewash; a highly sympathetic week-long account of Birmingham Central Mosque; and a 2-week long daily slot on the Hajj by Channel 4 that downplayed the appalling death toll which occurs there every year). An establishment paper such as the Financial Times has had front-page photos of the Hajj and of anti-war placards of the Muslim Association of Britain. Soon after September 11, both political leaders and the media – out of concern for the backlash this was likely to generate, dropped the term “Islamic fundamentalist” from usage. In the same vein, Bush invited an imam to the special religious service held soon after S11 in Washington; and Blair met Muslim leaders in Britain. This was a symbolism that went down well with Muslim leaders in these countries.
Nonetheless, many Muslims still believe that the US-led “war on terror” is in fact a war against Islam and therefore is the clearest expression of Islamophobia. But such reasoning overlooks some uncomfortable realities. The country at the forefront of this “war” is of course the US. Let us, therefore, summarise briefly its relations with the “Islamic” world:
i. The US has long propped up the Saudi regime, a crucial ally in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the most sacred sites of Islam. But there has never been a squeak of protest by the US government against the brutality and oppressiveness of this barbaric society – rather, the US has gone out of its way not to criticise it out of “respect for Islamic values and culture”. This, of course, is humbug, but the fact remains;
ii. The second largest recipient of US aid (after Israel) is Egypt – a Muslim country;
iii. In 1991, the US-led coalition “liberated” Kuwait, a Muslim country – with the help of practically all the Muslim Gulf states;
iv. In 1999, the US and its NATO allies “liberated” Kosovo – a predominantly Muslim province, from “Christian” Serbia. The ex-Serb President Milosevic is undergoing a show-trial in The Hague for “crimes against humanity” (specifically, against Kosovar Muslims);
v. The US armed, trained, and funded the Islamic fundamentalists of the Afghan Mujahideen in the fight against the Russians. This included nurturing one Osama Bin Laden.
vi. The US had no problems of the takeover of Afghanistan in 1996 by the Taliban – the creation largely of Pakistan, a strong ally of the US and an avowedly “Islamic Republic”.
vii. The US has been strongly pushing for Turkey’s membership of the EU – though Turkey is a secular state, most Turks are, nominally at least, Muslims.
The list could go on. One might, therefore, wonder where is the “war on Islam” or “Islamophobia” of US foreign policy? It is not for nothing that leaders of Muslim countries rarely talk about “Islamophobia”. Moreover, it is a rarely stated fact that Muslims say from the Indian sub-continent or East Asia are likely to experience much harsher treatment and discrimination at the hands of “fellow Muslims” in Arab (especially Gulf) countries than they are in the West. So, woe betide those who parrot the Islamophobic argument against the Western right – for those foolish enough to do so will surely be in for a serious hammering. Moreover, by so doing, they will let the imperialists off the hook. In reality, US imperialism does not give a damn about the religion of a country as long as its economic and strategic interests are served. It has long supported the most reactionary, dictatorial regimes in the Muslim world – as long as they do its bidding. If they fall out of line, as with Iraq, then they are subjected to the full imperial onslaught. At most, we could say that there has been a degree of Anti-Arab hostility that has spilled over into anti-Muslim sentiment as one of the justifications for this. But this does not alter that fact that, both domestically and internationally, there is simply no material basis to “Islamophobia”. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: the explanation?
All too predicatably, the usual suspects have rushed to explain the Woolwich killing by means of the so-called ‘blowback‘ argument (utilised with varying degrees of obvious gloating). Comrade Clive dealt with this back in the immediate aftermath of the 2005 7/7 bombings. Obviously, the 7/7 attacks were somewhat different to what happened in Woolwich (though it seems likely that the Woolwich perpetrators intended to commit ‘suicide by police’), but I think Clive’s essential case remains incontrovertible – JD:
‘Blowback’: a banal non-explanation
Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).
And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.
But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.
And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.
Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.
It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.
But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.
And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.
And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islamists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all. Read the rest of this entry »
Nigel Farage is used to getting an easy ride. Most of the British press fawn over him and even political opponents (including Labour) have evidently decided to avoid direct attacks and criticism.
So the heckling and minor jostling he and his supporters received on Thursday in an Edinburgh pub, and some mildly critical remarks from a BBC Radio Scotland interviewer, seemed to come as a terrible shock: the saloon bar loudmouth suddenly turned into a priggish prima donna and left Scotland in a frightful huff.
I don’t know who the people who organised the Edinburgh protest are. They have been described as “left wing nationalists” so I suspect I for one wouldn’t agree with them on Scottish independence. But their representative on last night’s Newsnight came over as quite reasonable, and another organiser, Liam O’Hare is quoted in today’s Graun saying: “The people who demonstrated were internationalist. We opposed Nigel Farage coming as we believe in a society that welcomes immigrants, that welcomes people from all walks of life, wherever they come from, but doesn’t welcome racists like Nigel Farage.”
Farage and Ukip are not (quite) fascists. But they are thoroughgoing racists and general-purpose ultra-reactionaries. The nearest recent UK precedent would be Enoch Powell and the semi-official movement he built round himself in the late sixties and early seventies. The left didn’t pussy-foot about when it came to Powell: so why are most of us so polite when it comes to Farage and Ukip?
P.S: Check out Mr Galloway’s craven comments, here.
I keep promising myself (and readers) that I’ll never write another word about that posturing charlatan Galloway. But for a blogger, he’s the gift that just keeps on giving:
George Galloway: “But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalization and by Western mores and is very interesting to see. But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea…”
H/t: Pete Cookson
George Galloway is always on Twitter. He tweeted his joy at winning the by-election in Blackburn which he had just won in Bradford. Then he tweeted that someone had hacked into his Twitter account to mistweet him. (This was technically impossible).
He was tweeting 25 minutes ago (time of writing 20:32, 21/3/13). He calls his critics “labour stooges” and retweets any compliments that come his way*. He promotes himself indefatigably.
So why has he put down this early day motion:-
“That this House notes that Twitter is now a very widely used mode of social networking; further notes that Twitter is a US-based enterprise whose primary motivation is to maximise its profits; further notes that Twitter is now used for a variety of criminal activities including sending malicious communications; further notes that Twitter refuses to co-operate with the UK authorities in general and the police in particular in trying to detect the source of criminal communications ‘unless it is a matter of life and death’, to be determined by Twitter; believes that this failure to co-operate with the detection of the sources of criminal behaviour is reprehensible; and calls on the Government to impose sanctions on Twitter until it agrees to fully co-operate with the UK authorities and police in the detection of crime.”
It’s Twitter’s seventh birthday and celebrities are celebrating it. But GG is calling it a bad thing that should have sanctions imposed on it.
He is missing the chance to set an example by boycotting Twitter . After all, he is a supporter of boycotting, divesting and sanctioning Israel, and showed it by refusing to debate with an Israeli citizen. Yet there he is on Twitter, helping to maximise its profits.
He is tweeting, while eating Jaffa oranges.
*Doing that make you look like a conceited jerk, as outlined here. Nesrin Malik is talking about writers but it goes for everyone:- “Don’t retweet compliments. Ever. Not once”
Julie Bindel, a socialist feminist [or should that be "radical feminist" ? - see comments below], writes in the generally right-of-centre magazine Standpoint. It should go without saying that us Shiraz’ers don’t necessarily agree with all of what she argues:
Disrespect for women: Tommy Sheridan (left) and George Galloway (right) share anti-feminist attitudes with the Occupy movement
Feminism’s natural home is the political Left. The struggle for equal pay, kick-started by the female workers at the Ford Dagenham car plant who went on strike in 1968, was supported by male-led unions. Socialists are assumed to be in favour of total equality between men and women and castigate the Right for considering women to be only worthy of childrearing and housekeeping.
In 2012 the Trades Union Congress appointed a female general secretary, Frances O’Grady, for the first time in its 145-year history. Yet the Tories managed to vote in a woman as party leader as far back as 1975. Who says sexism is the domain of right-wing traditionalists?
The leading contemporary socialist feminist thinkers such as Sheila Rowbotham and Lynne Segal are well known in the academy but will never become as prominent publicly as their male counterparts. The reason for this is straightforward. When women work with leftist men to achieve a common aim, any issues specific to women are often seen as a “bourgeois deviation” and counter to the wider cause.
In 1964 Stokely Carmichael, the prominent US Black Power activist, was asked about the role of women in the civil rights movement. He replied, “The only position for women in the movement is prone.” Carmichael’s remarks caused outrage among many women and are still considered emblematic of the entrenched misogyny of 1960s activist movements. Sexism on the Left on both sides of the Atlantic has a long and shameful history. One Berkeley anti-war leader said of feminists in 1969, “Let them eat cock.” At Students for a Democratic Society meetings, “brothers” reported their unique dreams for utopia which included, “Free grass, free food, free women and free clothes.” If and when women tried to criticise male chauvinism within the movement, their actions were mocked. Such sexism prompted the feminist critiques of the New Left that would later develop into the women’s liberation movement of the 1970s.
Despite more than four decades of feminism, sexism on the Left has barely abated. As recently as 2004 former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone warmly welcomed to City Hall Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a Muslim cleric who advocated domestic violence and the stoning of adulterous women, and justified doing so when challenged. Al-Qaradawi was a speaker at a conference, hosted by Livingstone, defending the “right” of Muslim women to wear the hijab. Although the conference claimed to promote “choice”, al-Qaradawi has ruled that wearing the hijab is not a matter of choice but of religious obligation. There were no feminists of Muslim origin invited to speak at the conference or any Muslims critical of religious doctrine. Feminist critics of Livingstone’s friendly relationship with al-Qaradawi described the conference as a one-sided presentation of religious fundamentalism masquerading as a human rights debate.
George Galloway is a fine example of a man on the Left who appears to consider women as inferior. Galloway, along with left-wing heroes Ken Loach, John Pilger and Michael Moore, is a supporter of Julian Assange, currently holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in order to avoid being extradited to Sweden to face questioning on allegations of sexual assault and rape.
Galloway implied that once a woman had agreed to sex with a man her ongoing consent was implicit, even if she were asleep. His remarks were deemed to be so offensive to women that the then leader of the Respect party, Salma Yaqoob, resigned in protest. “It might be really bad manners not to have tapped her on the shoulder,” Galloway pontificated in a YouTube video, “and said: ‘Do you mind if I do it again?’ It might be really sordid and bad sexual etiquette, but whatever else it is, it is not rape or you bankrupt the term rape of all meaning.”
Suggestions by a number of men on the Left that Assange’s two accusers are part of a CIA-inspired honeytrap and that the great man himself is the only victim are in themselves indicative of a culture of “bros before hos”, a term some left-wing women have heard male counterparts use.
Nowhere is sexism and hypocrisy on the Left more evident than in relation to the abuse of women. The late Stieg Larsson, heralded as a left-wing anti-sexist hero for his portrayal of women’s resistance to male violence in his Dragon Tattoo trilogy, once said that those who campaigned for the rights of women in immigrant communities wanted only to “portray all male immigrants as representatives of a single homogeneous attitude towards women” and that such people “only talked about honour crime because they wanted to divert attention from how white men raised in the ‘patriarchal structures of Swedish society’ abused and murdered women as a matter of course”.
It was recently revealed that some male “leaders” of the Socialist Workers Party attempted to hold a sharia-type court hearing as a response to an accusation of rape. Tom Walker, a journalist on the party’s paper, Socialist Worker, resigned in disgust at the blatant anti-women stance taken by the central committee. “There is clearly a question mark over the sexual politics of many men in powerful positions on the Left,” he said. “It may shed some light to learn that ‘feminism’ is used effectively as a swear word by the leadership’s supporters. In fact it is deployed against anyone who seems ‘too concerned’ about issues of gender.”
Similar tales of sexism and downright misogyny came to light in Scotland during the Tommy Sheridan debacle. Sheridan, a charismatic working-class activist and convenor of the Scottish Socialist Party, stepped down from his post in 2004, citing his wife’s pregnancy. But it later came to light that the News of the World had got hold of explosive evidence of Sheridan’s extramarital affairs and trips to a Manchester swingers’ club. Sheridan admitted his indiscretions at a party meeting but demanded that members cover for him for the good of the SSP. The feminists refused on a matter of principle.
Catriona Grant, equality spokesperson at the time, says that Sheridan decided his best form of attack was to pretend that a political plot by feminists was afoot. “Seemingly the women in the party wanted to get rid of him by means of a matriarchal coup. Sheridan found himself talking publicly about witches and dark arts,” Grant told me.
Sheridan went on to sue the News of the World in 2006 for defamation and won £200,000 damages. But following a subsequent police investigation he was convicted of perjury, and sentenced to three years in prison, of which he served one. (Andy Coulson, formerly News of the World editor and David Cameron’s communications director, and two other journalists have since been charged with perjury and other offences in connection with the Sheridan case.) Gregor Gall, professor of industrial relations at the University of Hertfordshire, is author of a book on Sheridan. I asked if he considered the male party members who covered up for Sheridan to be sexist. “There were concerns about his behaviour when he was in Militant [before setting up the SSP] and complaints were made, but the leadership in London chose not to act on it. I suppose they didn’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg.”
The Occupy movement appears to be yet another left-wing movement dominated by sexist men. One female member, who asked not to be named for fear of being classed as a “splitter” or “scab”, explains that the movement is a perfect example of “mostly young, almost exclusively white, almost all middle-class men, who thought that the revolution was finally here. But don’t bother mentioning the oppression of women in society, sexual harassment on site, or how we end up doing all the dirty jobs in the camp, as they’ll talk over you, or shout at you to stop monopolising the conversation.”
She added: “There’s no point questioning the objectification of women, or the way we’re talked down to and not listened to by men on the site despite often having many years of campaigning for social justice behind us.”
Women in the workplace suffer sexism from men of all political persuasions, but the reality is that the very unions that can potentially support them against discrimination and sexual harassment, for example, are themselves often bastions of male privilege. Cath Elliott is a union activist and freelance writer who finds herself battling sexism almost on a daily basis. “Having been involved in left politics since I was a teenager I thought I might have got used to sexist left-wing men by now,” says Elliott. “But no, it is always disappointing when men on the Left sell women out.”
Brendan O’Neill, an extreme libertarian formerly associated with the Revolutionary Communist Party and its magazine Living Marxism, is one of many men on the Left who defendspornography despite a long battle by feminists to show how it degrades women. In a recent article, “A Marxist defence of Page 3 girls”, on the LeftCentre website O’Neill quoted Marx on press freedom before wading into the feminists who gave evidence to the Leveson inquiry about sexist media representation of women. O’Neill called them a “bevy of feminists”, “a shrill chorus”, and “boob blockers”.
Male Labour MPs are not exempt from uttering the odd sexist rant. Austin Mitchell, Labour MP for Great Grimsby, tweeted to Louise Mensch when she resigned as a Conservative MP, “Shut up Menschkin. A good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics.” Although his comment was probably intended to be tongue in cheek, it still showed a blatant disrespect for women. When David Cameron told Angela Eagle, an openly lesbian Labour MP, to “calm down, dear” in the Commons it attracted widespread criticism. Somehow men on the Left seem to get away with it more easily, perhaps because of the patronising view that the working classes treat their women rough and ready (despite the fact that successful leftwingers are rarely working-class these days).
Vera Baird QC, Solicitor-General in the last Labour government and now Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria, says that she gets tired of some left-wing men sidelining women and disregarding crucial issues such as sexual violence and harassment in the workplace. “Feminists have long challenged men’s sexism, whether in trade unions or political groups, but unfortunately the same old stories keep being told. It is high time those particular men recognised that we are not going to wait for the so-called ‘revolution’, meanwhile standing there, cap in hand, waiting for our turn to speak out about what matters to women.”
Sucheta Chatterjee, a lawyer and feminist activist, recently posted on a social networking site what she imagines to be in the heads of her male comrades. “Just stop bitching about feminism and race issues. Stop being divisive and undermining the class war. How many times have I told you that after the revolution, life will be paradise? Women will be treated like full-fledged humans and blacks will be taken seriously. Till then, shut the fuck up. And bitch, go make me a sandwich. Only fair trade wheat please.”
As much as I loathed the Thatcher government I have always felt deeply perturbed by the misogyny directed towards Baroness Thatcher by men on the Left. When I hear young male socialists today shout “Burn the witch” and other such grotesque slogans I realise that the vitriol towards her goes beyond a robust dislike of her political legacy. It comes also from a woman-hating resentment that she climbed to the top of the political tree. I will not be dancing on Thatcher’s grave or holding a street party when she dies unlike many of my male comrades. I would sooner celebrate the end of the left-wing dinosaur and the beginning of true political equality.