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 »
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.
Above: the reptile and its master
The very idea of Peter Mandelson complaining about “cabals” within Labour “trying to exert influence” is simply laughable. The reptilian Mandelson was central to New Labour’s 1990′s takeover of the Labour Party, when he and his Blairite cronies systematically undermined Party democracy, imposing ex-Tories and SDP’ers as parliamentary candidates while excluding long-standing, loyal members.
So Mandelson’s extraordinary bleating about the efforts of Unite in supporting working class people as parliamentary candidates, and in particular, the nomination of Unite member Katie Murphy for Falkirk, deserves to be treated with one bloody great horse-laugh. Unite’s alleged “manipulation” involves encouraging its members to join the Party and subsidising their first year’s membership. This is done quite openly and is entirely within Party rules. The support given to Blairite would-be candidates by Mandelson’s ‘Progress’ group, funded by multi-millionaire Lord Sainsbury, is much more secretive and conspiratorial. Yet Mandelson has the audacity to accuse Unite of “manipulation”!
Len McCluskey puts Mandelson in his place in an article in today’s Graun. Lenny’s a bit more polite than I would be, mind:
Peter Mandelson’s selection argument is about politics not procedure
Opposition to union-backed MPs is driven by a desire to keep New Labour the preserve of a socially restricted elite
You report that Peter Mandelson is accusing my union, Unite, of “manipulating selection procedures” in the Labour party, which “stores up danger for a future Labour government” (Labour warned on selection panel procedures, 13 May).
This does no service to Labour democracy or the facts. I have no axe to grind with Lord Mandelson. His second stint at the business department under the Labour government was marked by fresh thinking about industrial policy, which I wish he had had the opportunity to develop; and he seems more willing than some to acknowledge that the pre-2008 economic model was flawed.
But now he appears rattled that Blairite true believers are not winning every Labour nomination. Your report does not have him alleging any breach of party rules or procedural abuses, perhaps because there are none. Unite’s aim is simple – to recruit members to the party (welcome, I would have thought) and then encourage them to endorse union-supported candidates in one member-one vote selections. A sinister construction is put on this – “selections are being run by a cabal of union members”, according to your report. This is, to say the least, an irony. Many serving Labour MPs were parachuted into constituencies at the request of leading members of the last Labour cabinet, including Mandelson himself.
Dishing out seats on the basis of personal connections bears a closer resemblance to the rotten borough system before 1832 than it does to modern democratic procedures, and it also helps keep politics as the preserve of a socially restricted elite. Mandelson also appears untroubled that Lord Sainsbury’s vast wealth, channelled through the Progress organisation, has been used to give particular candidates, invariably on the right, an advantage in Labour selections.
Mandelson argues, correctly, that it is “wrong to conflate trade unionists and the working classes”, although the overlap is hard to miss. I don’t conceal that I want to see more Labour MPs supporting the sort of policies developed by Unite and other trade unions, regardless of their personal backgrounds. But Labour MPs look less and less like the people they seek to represent. The big strides made in securing more women Labour MPs have also, unfortunately, been paralleled by a decline in those from working-class backgrounds. Mandelson has no proposals to address this.
This is really an argument about politics, not procedure. Mandelson is probably intensely relaxed about cutting democratic corners if it means more “New Labour” special advisers and the like on the green benches, but utterly opposed to the normal workings of Labour democracy if it means leftwing or trade union candidates being chosen.
Let’s have the political debate instead. I am confident that most potential Labour voters want to see both a more diverse Labour party in parliament, and also a Labour government radically different from the last one.
Finally, I object strongly to his insinuation that union-backed MPs might be loyal not “to the party as a whole”, but “a section of it”. Trade unionists have always been Labour loyalists. Rightwing MPs, not unions, split Labour in 1931 and 1981, just as it was New Labour parliamentarians who fuelled the debilitating Blair-Brown factionalism that so weakened the most recent Labour government, as Mandelson surely knows.
To slightly misquote PG Wodehouse:
“Loon is calling to loon like mastodons bellowing across primaeval swamps”…
The ad above appears in today’s Daily Telegraph: a good choice as, together with the Mail and Express, it’s become more or less the unofficial mouthpiece of Ukip. Today’s edition also carries the following:
The real impact of ‘loongate’, says James Kirkup, is to expose the “running sore” within the Tory party over core ideals.
With reports of Tory party activists already beginning to defect to Ukip over the comments, which have been attributed to an unnamed close ally of Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Political Editor James Kirkup said the story exposed “a running sore” within the Conservative ranks.
Emerging at the same time a Tory grassroots backlash over gay marriage proposals and following on from the Parliamentary infighting over an EU referendum, the Telegraph reporter said the continued Conservative unrest was making life easy for Ukip.
“Everyday is Christmas if you’re Nigel Farage,” he said.
“Each week that comes by the Tories find a way of splitting, dividing, essentially underlining that strategic fracture that they have on the issues where Nigel Farage harvests votes.”
We’ve argued many times here at Shiraz, that the mainstream hard-left’s traditional hostility to the EU (and its predecessors) has been ignorant, short-sighted and counter-productive. It is based upon a fundamental misconception: that British workers’ difficulties stem from Brussels rather than from capitalism itself, and that getting out of the EU would somehow, magically, remove – or, even, lessen- capitalist exploitation.
The present issue of Solidarity (paper of the AWL, the one far-left group with a consistent record of talking sense on this question), lambasts the attempts of idiots like Bob Crow, to delude our movement into imagining that there is a “left-wing” case for agitating against EU membership:
“Britain already has harsher anti-union laws and weaker social provision in most areas than the main EU states. It has resisted the Social Charter, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers’ Directive. Given free rein, British governments would reverse their limited implementation of those EU provisions, and scrap other limited measures of worker protection such as TUPE.
“In the meantime, the workers’ movement would have been weakened by the nationalist demagogy accompanying EU exit – the nonsensical claims that British workers’ difficulties are due not to our capitalist bosses but to this or that official in Brussels – the replacement of worker-versus-boss agitation by Britain-versus-Brussels.
“Crow claims to set out a ‘left-wing, pro-worker case’. But when Crow, with the Socialist Party, ran a ‘No2EU’ slate in the 2009 euro-election, that slate denounced ‘the so-called freedom of movement of labour’ in the EU – in fact, the real, and welcome, freedom for workers in the EU to work and live where they wish.
“Another phrase it used to denounce EU migrant workers was ‘the social dumping of exploited foreign workers in Britain’. It was only a phraseological variant of the right-wing Ukip’s rants against Bulgarian and Rumanian workers”… (read the full article here).
But now the argument within the labour movement and Labour Party isn’t only about principles (crucial as they are): it’s also about tactics and pragmatism. With the Tories tearing themselves apart over Europe, Cameron aides denouncing the grassroots as “swivel-eyed loons” and Geoffrey Howe saying the Europe debate has reduced the party to “a new, almost farcical, low”, Miliband and Labour would have to be mad to come to the aid of the Tories by endorsing the call for a referendum on Europe.
Miliband would be well advised to say little on the subject, and watch the Tories self-destruct.
The EU, despite the unrelenting propaganda of the right wing press, is by no means as unpopular as the Tory-Ukip hard-right likes to make out. And even amongst those voters who express hostility to it, the EU ranks about 10th in their list of priorities.
So leave the swivel-eyed Tory-Ukip fanatics to it, Ed, and concentrate on jobs, housing and economic growth.
As for the fake-”democratic” argument (as touted by the Tory right, Ukip and -on the “left”- the likes of Crow and Seumas Milne) for a referendum: what’s wrong with offering all those who want to get out of Europe a real democratic choice: to vote for Ukip or the Tories at the next general election?
BBC Radio 3 starts a week of Wagner in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the composer’s birth.
It begins with:
Wagner In Zurich: 12.15, Saturday 18 May
Tom Service travels to Zurich, where Richard Wagner the revolutionary lived in exile for nine years, and finds a city which played a crucial role in the development of the composer’s thinking and provided fertile ground for his Ring Cycle, and which is marking the 200th anniversary with a festival including a new musical theatre piece by the director Hans Neuenfels. Tom visits the home of the Wesendonck family, where Wagner was inspired to write Tristan und Isolde and his Wesendonck Lieder, and also the idyllic Tribschen district of Lucerne, where Wagner later lived and composed his Siegfried Idyll as a birthday gift to his second wife, Cosima. It was from Germany’s 1848 revolutions that Wagner had fled to Switzerland, and from Leipzig, Wagner’s birthplace and a city which is central to this year’s anniversary celebrations, the BBC’s Berlin correspondent Stephen Evans reports on the composer’s controversial place in German culture today.
Saturday Classics: 3.00pm, Saturday 18 May
The great English operatic bass Robert Lloyd joins Radio 3′s celebration of the 200th anniversary of Wagner’s birth with selections from his favourite Wagner operas.
Mastersingers of Nuremberg
Duration: 58 minutes: 1.00pm, Sunday 19 May
Immortalised by Wagner in his famous opera, Lucie Skeaping looks back on the life and music of the real Hans Sachs and his fellow Mastersingers in 17th Century Germany.
Wagner and His World
At 12.00 pm throughout the week Donald Macleod explores the connections and relationships that helped establish Wagner as the most revolutionary musical thinker of the 19th century. Includes:
One Winter’s Afternoon
8.00 pm, Sunday 19 May
The story of the great operatic rivalry between Guiseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner in the year marking the bicentenary of their births. In real life, the two great composers never met.
There’s no denying the fact that Richard Wagner wrote some sublime music. But never forget this, either:
The global union federation IndustriALL (of which Unite and the USW are major affiliates) has been running a campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh textile and garment industry.
Below, Tony Burke (writing yesterday at Left Foot Forward) gives some more backround:
The tragedy in the Bangladesh garment industry at Rana Plaza in Dhaka, which has claimed the lives of over 1,000 workers when a building that housed eight factories collapsed, has lead to outrage across the world.
Condemnation has come from all quarters. Governments, NGOs and customers who have been wringing their hands saying “we must put a stop to this – but how do we do it?”.
Those persons condemned include the building’s owner, (who went on the run and now faces with calls from workers for his execution); the owners of the factories; the builders themselves (now all under arrest); but also the Western customers, such as Primark, Mango and others who allegedly ignore abuses of millions workers in the garment industry in order to produce cheap clothing for sale in the West.
The Rana Plaza tragedy follows on from the deadly fire which killed over a hundred workers at Tazreen Fashions in late 2012. And this week eight more workers were killed in a fire at a clothing factory.
Mass industrial manslaughter
The global manufacturing union federation IndustriALL has correctly described the Rana Plaza tragedy as “mass industrial manslaughter”.
Seeing large cracks appear in the building, workers at Rana Plaza evacuated the building – only to be forced back to work by the factory owners.
At Tazreen escape and entry doors and windows were locked shut and workers could not escape the blaze.
IndustriALL has been running a long-term campaign to support workers in the Bangladesh garment industry. There are around 100,000 Bangladesh companies associated with the garment industry, employing up to four million workers who feed the West’s insatiable appetite for cheap clothes. The industry itself is worth 20 billion US dollars .
According to BRAC, one of the leading NGOs in Bangladesh, the country has a safety inspection force of just 18 people.
IndustriALL reports that there are 39 unions in the national garment industry, and too many times they have failed to co-operate with each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Matt Hill, writing at the New Statesman website, makes some very interesting comments on the Hawking “boycott” and the BDS movement in general. It’s well worth reading the entire article, but this section is especially telling:
The problem with the BDS campaign is that the message it sends Israel is anything but clear – and, as a result, it risks being counterproductive. In his letter to the conference’s organisers, Hawking wrote about his concerns about “prospects for a peace settlement”, saying that “the policy of the present Israeli government is likely to lead to disaster”. But Israel’s supporters claim that the BDS movement has little to do with the occupation, peace, and government policy, and is instead intended to bring into question the Jewish state’s right to exist.
It’s true that Israel’s supporters throw the word ‘delegitimisation‘ around to portray fair-minded criticism of Israel as invidious and sinister. But when it comes to BDS, the fact is that they have a point. The BDS movement doesn’t have a single leadership with stated goals, but most of the biggest groups within it make little secret of their preferred outcome to the conflict. Instead of a two-state solution, they support a single, Palestinian-majority state that would mean the end of Israel’s existence. Don’t take my word for it. Norman Finkelstein, the heroic pro-Palestinian author and activist, recently launched a blistering attack on the BDS movement, telling an interviewer: “[The Israelis] say ‘They’re not talking about rights. They want to destroy Israel.’ And in fact, I think they’re right. . . . There’s a large segment of the movement that wants to eliminate Israel.”
And just in case any readers haven’t yet seen the clip of Finkelstein (someone this blog would not describe as “heroic”) accusing the BDS movement of fundamental dishonesty about Israel, here it is:
From The Mirror website:
Ten days ago Stephanie Bottrill sat in the redbrick terrace house which had been home for 18 years to write notes to her loved ones, the Sunday People reports.
She ripped the pages from a spiral-bound notebook and placed them neatly in little brown envelopes.
There was one for her son. Another for her daughter. Her mother. Friends. And a very special one for the year-old grandson she doted on.
Then in the early hours of last Saturday Stephanie, 53, left her home for the last time, leaving her cat Joey behind as the front-door clicked shut.
She crossed her road in Meriden Drive, Solihull, to drop one of her letters and her house keys through a neighbour’s letterbox. Then she walked 15 minutes through the sleeping estate to Junction 4 of the M6.
And at 6.15am she walked straight into the path of a northbound lorry and was killed instantly. Stephanie Bottrill had become the first known suicide victim of the hated Bedroom Tax.
In the letter to her son, Steven, 27, she had written: “Don’t blame yourself for me ending my life. The only people to blame are the Government.”
Read the full article, from the Mirror, here