Why Israel is not (for Marxists) an “apartheid” state: and why BDS is a program of despair

August 8, 2014 at 8:20 am (internationalism, israel, Middle East, national liberation, palestine, posted by JD, reblogged, solidarity, zionism)

By Barry Finger in New Politics July 29, 2014

[NB: Shiraz doesn't necessarily agree with all of this: but we think it's important and should be widely read]

Supporting the Struggle Against Apartheid Then and Now

The discussion of a socialist strategy towards Palestine never recedes from global pertinence and urgency. The basic terms of the Palestinian tragedy established in 1948 remain a festering wound—unaddressed, malignant and oozing in blood and rot. With it the Israeli garrison state continues to descend, and rightfully so, into isolation and disrepute in the court of civilized opinion. But under the protective and ever indulgent umbrella of American imperialism, Israel nevertheless continues to defy international outrage without consequence in its relentless march to impose a grotesque and monstrous caricature of a one-state solution on the whole of Palestine.

The Palestinian plight has its origins in the 1948 partition and ensuing war, although this was a direct continuation of the Zionist-Arab conflict that had been brewing for decades. In that conflict, both sides practiced ethnic cleansing, with no Jews remaining in areas conquered by the Arabs and few Palestinian remaining in areas conquered by Israelis. But the UN partition plan called for the Israeli state to constitute 55 percent of Palestine, in which the Arab population would represent almost half of the population.  In the run up to and during the war, the victorious Israeli state expanded its territories to 78 percent, and mostly emptied those regions of their Arab inhabitants. Three quarters of a million Palestinians, some from the original 55 percent allotted to the Jewish state, were driven out; over 450 Arab villages were uprooted and their dwellings leveled. New Jewish villages, kibbutzim or immigration camps were built on or near the former sites of these Arab villages. Urban dwellings were reoccupied by Jews, often holocaust survivors. Jewish refugees from Arab nations, subsequently cleansed in retaliation for the Palestinian catastrophe (Nakhba), were sent to jerry-rigged development towns.

Gaza and the West Bank, the sites of huge concentrations of Palestinian refugees, fell—with Israel’s approval—into the hands of Egypt and Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) respectively; the possibility of a Palestinian state all but extinguished. This all changed when, after the Six Day war in 1967, these territories were brought under the control of the Israelis, uniting all of historic Palestine and reviving the Palestinian national movement. The colonial project at the heart of Zionism, of settlement and expulsion, was also reignited and several hundred thousand additional Palestinians were again expelled to Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. The remnants were left to the mercy of an ever more brutalizing occupation. The armistice boundaries of the 1948 war (the green line) were effectively effaced and Israel emerged as a nation unique in its refusal to define its borders—symptomatic of an Israel further seeking to consolidate its character as an ethnic Jewish state, but on a vastly broader canvas.

Today the struggle for justice for Palestinians continues. Where are Palestine’s allies? What power can it leverage? International solidarity has yet to save lives, to redeem territories, to compensate and repatriate refugees, or to establish the right of Palestinians to national self-determination in defiance of Israeli intransigence. An internationalist Israeli left, never more than a tiny minority and unable to implant itself in the Hebrew working class, is besieged not only by state repression, but also by a now burgeoning fascist street presence. The protracted Arab Spring, momentarily checked by United States and Iranian intervention, has yet to mature as an agency that can brake and reverse the momentum of Israeli settlement and dispossession. Read the rest of this entry »

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The socialist case against Scottish independence … in a nutshell

June 2, 2014 at 6:45 pm (AWL, internationalism, national liberation, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", scotland, Steve Bell, workers)

Steve Bell 25.2.2014

I’ve never seen or heard it expressed better, or more succinctly, than this from my comrade Patrick Murphy:

Something I will never understand is left wing support for Scottish independence.

This is not a matter of championing the RIGHT to self-determination against national oppression, rather it consists of socialists running around trying to persuade an electorate which has been consistently opposed to independence and prefers unity that they are wrong and should separate from their fellow-workers across national borders

The default position of the entire socialist tradition is for internationalism and no borders. The right to self-determination is an important exception to address particular conditions (colonies, Ireland, Palestine etc). It’s not the norm and we certainly shouldn’t be agitating for it where those conditions don’t exist in any meaningful sense.

Yet another bizarre reflection of a loss of political bearings.

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The left on Ukraine: third camp or no camp?

March 26, 2014 at 9:50 am (AWL, imperialism, internationalism, left, national liberation, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP)

Above: SW’s “no camp” stance
.
By Martin Thomas (at the Workers Liberty website):

Many responses from the left to the Ukraine crisis have ignored, sidestepped, or downplayed the right to self-determination of the Ukrainian people.

Yet Ukraine is one of the longest-oppressed large nations in the world. In an article of 1939 where he raised Ukraine’s right to self-determination as an urgent question, Leon Trotsky wrote: “The Ukrainian question, which many governments and many ‘socialists’ and even ‘communists’ have tried to forget or to relegate to the deep strongbox of history, has once again been placed on the order of the day and this time with redoubled force”.

The same is true today. If the right of nations to self-determination is important anywhere, it is important in Ukraine. If the axiom that peace and harmony between nations is possible only through mutual recognition of rights to self-determination is valid anywhere, it is valid in Ukraine.

Only a few currents on the left side with Putin, and even those a bit shamefacedly: Counterfire and Stop The War, No2EU, the Morning Star.

Others propose a “plague on all houses” response. The US Socialist Worker (which used to be linked with the British SWP, but has been estranged from it, for unclear reasons, since 2001) puts it most crisply: “Neither Washington nor Moscow, neither Kiev nor Simferopol, but international socialism”.

For sure socialists side with Ukrainian leftists in their fight against the right-wing government in Kiev. But as between Ukraine being dominated by Moscow, and Ukraine being ruled by a government based in Kiev and among the people of Ukraine, our response should not be “neither… nor”. We support Ukraine’s national rights.

Nations’ right to self-determination does not depend on them having a congenial governments. The governments under which most of Britain’s colonies won independence were authoritarian and corrupt. The socialist who responded with the slogan “Neither London nor New Delhi”, or “Neither London nor Cairo”, or “Neither London nor Dublin”, would be a traitor.

The even-handed “plague on all houses” response also leads to a skewed picture of reality. Thus, the official statement from the SWP’s international network includes no call for Ukrainian self-determination, for Russian troops out, or for cancellation of Ukraine’s debt; but it declares:

“The anti-Russian nationalism that is strongest in western Ukraine has deep roots. Russia has dominated Ukraine since independence in 1991…” And for centuries before that!

“The memory of Russian oppression within the USSR is still vivid and reaches even earlier to the independence struggles of the first half of the 20th [century]”. Stalin’s deliberately-sustained mass famine in eastern Ukraine killed millions in 1932-3. There is a deep historical basis to Ukrainian nationalism in eastern Ukraine, and among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, as well as in the West.

“On the other side, many of the millions of Russian speakers identify with Russia”. And many don’t. On the evidence of the referendum in 1991, where 92% of the people, and at least 84% even in the most easterly regions, voted to separate from Russia, most do not.

“One of the first acts of the new Ukrainian government after the fall of Yanukovych was to strip Russian of its status as an official language. This encouraged mass protests in the east of the country”. The parliament voted to reverse the 2012 law making Russian an official language. That was undemocratic — and stupid. The new president vetoed the measure, and it was dropped. Even if passed, it would not have applied in Crimea. Russian had not been an official language in Ukraine (outside Crimea) between 1991 and 2012. The protests in the east (often violent, but not, by most reports, “mass”) were generated by Russian interference, not by the language question.

The “plague on all houses” response is an addled version of the “Third Camp” attitude which AWL has advocated on many issues; but a very addled version.

Usually the SWP argues for “two camps”. Really to oppose US imperialism and its allies, they say, you must to some degree support the US’s adversaries, whether it be the Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Israel-Palestine, Saddam Hussein and then the sectarian Islamist “resistance” in Iraq, or Milosevic in Kosova. To do otherwise is to be “pro-imperialist”. Support for an independent working-class “third force”, against both the US and allies, and their reactionary opponents, is ruled out.

On Ukraine (as also on Syria) they break from that “two camps” approach, but to an approach which is more “no camp” than “third camp”. (The “no camp” stance has precedents in SWP history, in the wars for independence of Croatia and Bosnia, for example).

Our slogans of Russian troops out and cancelling Ukraine’s debt to the West seek to support the Ukrainian people as a “third camp”. We solidarise with the East European leftists who, on the LeftEast website, call for “the third position [opposed to both Yanukovych and the new Kiev regime]… namely a class perspective”, and appeals to Ukraine’s left “to form a third pole, distinct from today’s Tweedledums and Tweedledees… You are the only ones who can give meaning to the deaths and wounds of the [occupied square in Kiev]”.

Our position is defined primarily by its positive support for those “third poles” — the people of Ukraine, as against Putin’s troops or the IMF and Western government imposing neo-liberal measures; the working-class left in Ukraine, as against the oligarchs and the chauvinists. When we use negative “neither, nor” slogans, we use them as consequences, expressions, or summaries of that positive alignment; and they do not stop us assessing the other “poles” in the political situation in their varied realities.

The “no camp” stance, instead, offers only abstract ultimate aims (international socialism) as an evasion.

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The Stop The War Coalition and the rise of neo-Stalinism

March 5, 2014 at 8:35 pm (apologists and collaborators, capitalism, class collaboration, democracy, Europe, ex-SWP, Guest post, history, Human rights, imperialism, internationalism, John Rees, Lindsey German, Marxism, national liberation, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, trotskyism, USSR)

Above: neo-Stalinists Rees, Murray and Galloway

Guest post by George Mellor

“The attempt of the bourgeoisie during its internecine conflict to oblige humanity to divide up into only two camps is motivated by a desire to prohibit the proletariat from having its own independent ideas. This method is as old as bourgeois society, or more exactly, as class society in general. No one is obliged to become a Marxist; no one is obliged to swear by Lenin’s name. But the whole of the politics of these two titans of revolutionary thought was directed towards this, the fetishism of two camps would give way to a third, independent, sovereign camp of the proletariat, that camp upon which, in point of fact, the future of humanity depends” – Leon Trotsky (1938)

Many readers will be familiar with the concept of the ‘Third Camp’ – independent working class politics that refuses to side with the main ruling class power blocs (or ‘camps’) of the world. At the outbreak of WW2 the majority of would-be revolutionary socialists (and quite a few reformists as well) supported Russia, seeing it as some form of socialist state. However a minority (the ‘Third Camp’ socialists, mainly grouped around Max Shachtman) disagreed, viewing it as imperialist – of a different type to Western imperialism, but imperialist nevertheless.

Some on the left who came out of the Third Camp tradition (and, remember, the SWP was once part of that current and over Ukraine has shown signs of returning to it) now come to the defence of capitalist Russia. In doing so these acolytes of Putin – the neo-Stalinists – use the same framework to defend Russian imperialism as their predecessors did to defend ‘Soviet’ imperialism.

The basic framework they take from the arsenal of Stalinism is the view of the world as divided into two camps: on the one hand the peace-loving countries who supported Stalin’s USSR and on the other, the enemies of peace, progress and socialism. In the period of the Popular Front (1934-39) this found Russia aligned with the bourgeois democracies of the West, but between 1939 and ’41 that policy was superseded by an alliance with Hitler and the Axis powers. The consequence of both policies (and the intellectual zig-zagging required of Comintern loyalists) was that communist politics were subordinated to Stalin’s foreign policy, effectively cauterising the revolution in the inter-war years and disorientating socialists for over a generation.

For today’s neo-Stalinist the world is divided into Western imperialism on the one hand and China, Russia and other states (like Iran and Venezuela) that broadly identify with them against the ‘West’ on the other. Their conclusion is that socialists must stand up for China, Russia, or, indeed, any state or movement (eg the Taliban) that finds itself in conflict with ‘The West’. Seeing the world through this lens has led them to support Russian imperialism against Western imperialism, turning them into Putin’s Foreign Legion.

With the advent of the Ukraine crisis the neo-Stalinists were faced with the following problem: Russia invaded (using traditional Stalinist / Fascist methods) another county, after the people of that country overthrew the incumbent, corrupt, government. From what bourgeois – let alone socialist – principle does Russia have the right to invade an independent country? Of course there is none and so the neo-Stalinists have to invent one or two: the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) ten point statement is just such an invention.

The StWC statement provides a rationale which adds up to telling us the fact Russia has invaded a sovereign country is not as important as the new cold war (I feel a moral panic or, perhaps, political panic coming on as StWC functionaries stalk the land warning us of the dangers of ‘the new cold war’). Woven through the ‘ten points’ is the continual attempt to demonise the 1 million-plus movement which overthrew the Ukrainian government. They claim the movement is fascist / neo-con / in collusion with the European Union – in fact every bad thing one can think of. Such demonization is straight out of the Stalinist playbook, a classic example of blaming the victim. The character of the Ukraine movement has been largely shaped by its experience of greater Russia chauvinism: the idea that a pure democratic let alone socialist movement would spring fully formed out of the Euromaidan was never a possibility. For sure fascist and ultra-nationalist forces played a prominent role, and maybe even paid agents of the EU were present: the point is how should socialists relate to the million-strong movement and how can we seek to influence it? This is simply not an issue for the neo-Stalinists because they have written off the Ukrainian rebels as one reactionary mass not worth a second look.

In truth the StWC statement is neither here nor there, (a blogger at The Economist has taken apart the non sequiturs, half-truths and downright lies of the neo-Stalinists in a point by point rebuttal): it is simply a particularly crude example of the ‘campist’ world view.

For the neo-Stalinists the `hard headed’ geopolitical realties of the need to defend Russia against the ‘West’ always trumps the truth, morality, political principle and consistency: just as they support the invasion of the Ukraine and fit the facts around this, so they support the butcher Assad (crimes against humanity, mass murder, poison gas user, indiscriminate use of barrel bombs, starvation, state-sponsored terror, wholesale torture) and in that case, support for sheer barbarism.

Of course socialists are unlikely to affect events in the Ukraine, let alone Syria: however even if we can only proclaim it, we have a right – and a duty – to say we support neither Western or Russian imperialism but fight for independent working class action.

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Ukraine: for independent working class action!

February 27, 2014 at 9:49 am (class, Guest post, history, liberation, national liberation, revolution, Russia, solidarity, stalinism, USSR, workers)

Ukraine Russia Protests

Guest post by George Mellor

Events in Ukraine are shaping up to be a re-run of what happened to Eastern Europe at the end of WW11 – one hopes with a very different conclusion. Then, a struggle took place over whether these countries would be assimilated into the orbit of either Western or Soviet Imperialism. The tragedy was that betrayal by the West (at Teheran, Yalta and the ‘percentages agreement’ between Stalin and Churchill in Moscow in October 1944) allowed the GPU and the `red army’ to place their jackboot on the necks of the workers, and these countries became vassals of Stalinism for nearly 50 years.

Then (as now) the question was (and is) how to build independent working class activity, and here we can see a difference between the imperialisms of East and West: the former crushed and atomised civil society. The norms of bourgeois democracy, the rule of law, pluralism – all the building blocks on which a free and independent labour movement could exist, were extinguished. This repression was met with sporadic revolts, all branded ‘counter-revolutionary acts’ put down by the Russians providing ‘fraternal assistance’ to the local Stalinist ruling classes.

While the Eastern European states, as well as the Ukraine, obtained independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union, all had been shaped by their experience of subjugation by Russia. For over 50 years the national question (once banished as a political question in Europe and raised by Trotsky specifically  around the Ukraine  in 1939) has shaped the body politic of these countries. Recovering from this subjugation some of these countries have fared well in nation building, others – mainly those infected by the gangster capitalism of Russia (look at the pictures of Yanukovych’s palace – the amassing by an individual of state sanctioned plunder) have not.

Russia is of course still a major power and is intent on rebuilding its empire through the mechanism of the Eurasian Union. For sure outside of a successful workers’ revolution nations will either be drawn into the orbit of either the West or Russia . For the Ukraine – which has the potential of being an important economic power- a precondition for embracing the Eurasian Union was to the need for an autocratic state seen in the centralising of power in the President.

Yanukovych’s support for Ukraine’s integration back into  Russia’s orbit  triggered the Euromaidan, a response which would not have been out of place in 1848. A movement of over 1m who have shown great fortitude and discipline in the face of continual attacks by the riot police. Far from acting like a mob ‘the people’ have organised the control of public buildings, and refused to be bowed by their so-called leaders or their ‘saviours’ the EU. This incoherent mass from the far right through to the far left linked by the single ill-defined idea of national sovereignty and independence. The idea that this civic protest could have been shaped by anything  other than nationalism would be naïve.

Russia is then faced with a mass movement of dissent from the path it has chosen for the Ukraine. So behind the scenes they will be sowing the seeds of dissention playing on the fears of  the Russian speaking regions.

In the West most of this propaganda war is being run by the successors to Stalinism, the neo-Stalinists, echoing their predecessors’ propaganda which accompanied the assimilation of Eastern Europe into the Stalinist Empire. Then the Stalinist lie was based on a false premise that Russia was exporting socialism. Today our neo-Stalinists continue to play the role of the border guards to a capitalist Russia.

However the propaganda is the same: all living movements such as we see in Ukriane are branded fascist or reactionary. Unless one wishes to be a functionary in such a Russian dominated regime the socialist who argues such a view will only succeed in cutting themselves off from any influence on the Euromaidan.

I am sure sections – I do not know what proportion – of the Euromaidan are fascists or semi-fascists: how could this be otherwise? The job of socialists is to organise against them at the same time supporting Ukrainian right to self determination including independence from Russia, arguing for maximum democracy including the right of the CP to organise and most importantly organising independent working class action.

Between now and the election in May we can only watch how events unfold; how far Putin will be able to destabilise the situation, how far the Ukrainians are going to find real leaders and weed out the false messiahs (as the election approaches workers will be faced with more false messiahs than the Catholic Church has saints.) will in part be down to how socialists intervene. However I wonder how far workers will be open to socialist ideas when their lived experience has been that of actually existing socialism  i.e. Stalinism.

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The banality of the blowback ‘explanation’

May 24, 2013 at 7:31 am (Afghanistan, Clive Bradley, From the archives, Galloway, Guardian, iraq war, islamism, Jim D, Lindsey German, murder, national liberation, palestine, religion, Stop The War, SWP, terror)

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 »

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Vieux Farka Touré and the music of Mali: “spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening”

February 22, 2013 at 8:08 pm (africa, anti-fascism, culture, Human rights, humanism, islamism, liberation, music, national liberation, song, terror, The blues, Uncategorized)

From Chicago magazine:

By Kevin McKeough

Since the late, legendary Ali Farka Touré first brought the music of Mali to widespread attention in the mid-1980s, the western African nation’s musicians have beguiled listeners worldwide with their trance-inducing guitar patterns and Arabic flavored keening. Tragically, Mali has received more attention lately for the violent conflict in the country’s northern region, which encompasses part of the vast Sahara Desert. After Islamist extremists recently seized control of a large part of the area, including the storied city of Timbuktu, and committed numerous human rights violations, in January France sent soldiers into its former colony to drive out the militants. While the French military has retaken most of the area, the situation remains unstable both in northern Mali and in the south, where the country’s military has deposed two successive governments and reportedly is engaging in harsh repression.

Vieux Farka Touré, Ali Farka Touré’s son and a world music star in his own right, was performing Friday, Feb. 22, at the Old Town School of Folk Music. C Notes contacted Touré, who lives in the Malian capital, Bamako, to gain his perspective of the travails afflicting his country and how he and other Malian musicians are responding.

What are your thoughts about the Islamists’ invasion of northern Mali and France’s efforts to drive them out of the country? My thoughts are the same as everyone in Mali. The invasion of the Islamists was hell on earth. It was a nightmare unlike anything we have ever experienced. We are very grateful to President Hollande and the French for their intervention. For the moment at least they have saved our country.

How have these disruptions affected you personally? I am safe and my family is safe. But there is great uncertainty in Mali today. Nobody knows what we can expect in the next years, months or even days. So it is very bad for the spirit to be living in this kind of situation.

What’s your reaction to the Islamist invaders banning music in the areas they controlled? I was furious. It broke my heart like it did for everyone else. It was as though life itself was taken from us.

You were part of an all-star group of Malian musicians who recently recorded the song “Mali-ko” in response to the conflict. Please talk about the project and why you participated in it. Musicians in Mali play a very important role in society. We are like journalists, telling people what is happening. We are also responsible for speaking out when there are problems, and we are responsible for lifting the spirit of the nation. So that is why we made “Mali-ko.” Fatoumata [Diawara] organized everyone and we all spent some time hanging out in the studio and doing our little parts. It was a very nice project. I’m happy with the result and I’m happy that it got a lot of attention in the United States and in Europe.

Aside from the song, what role do you think musicians can play in responding to the situation in Mali? We can do what we are already doing—we are going everywhere we can around the world and spreading the news of what has happened to us and what is still happening. Equally, we must continue to entertain our people and keep them proud to be from Mali. For Malians, music is the greatest source of pride so we must work very hard to keep that pride alive. Right now it is not easy for people to be proud and have faith.

What do you think needs to be done in Mali? First and most importantly, we need to continue to drive out all the militants from our country. There is no future for Mali with terrorists living amongst us. Period. Also we must move quickly to engage in free and open elections to restore the faith and the legitimacy of our country in the eyes of the world and its people. These two things are the most critical at this time.

Your music resembles your father’s but has its own distinct quality. Can you talk about what you’re trying to do in the music, how and why you combine traditional and contemporary styles? With my music I try not to think very much about what I am doing. I just let myself be open to inspiration and it will take me where I need to go. So I am not thinking “for my next album I must do a song with reggae, or I must do an acoustic album because this will be good for my career” or anything like that. I think all artists are like lightning rods for inspiration and you must be open to it or it will not strike you. If you try to do something artistic it will not be as good as if you just let inspiration decide what you are doing. So my style is just based on what influences me and what inspires me.

For a country with a small population, Mali has produced a large number of internationally recognized musicians. Why do you think the country has so many excellent musicians? This is the mystery that everyone wants to understand. I do not know for sure why there are so many big international stars from Mali. But I know this: We take our music very, very seriously. It is at the core of our culture and it is the definition of Mali as a people. There is no Mali without Malian music. So I think this inspires many young people to try to become musicians. Maybe everywhere in the world has this kind of talent but there is not as strong a push for everyone to develop their talents in music. But honestly, I don’t know. We are lucky for this great richness of talent. That is for sure.

Kevin McKeough is a contributing music critic for Chicago magazine

See also ‘The Hendrix of the Sahara’

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The incoherence of modern anti-Zionism

August 25, 2012 at 3:27 pm (AWL, intellectuals, islamism, israel, Jim D, national liberation, palestine, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism, zionism)

By Harry Glass, Workers Liberty

Review of Rebels Against Zion, edited by August Grabski.

This book is a collection of Jewish left “anti-Zionist” essays that ultimately shows the descent into incoherence of anti-Zionism over the twentieth century.

The sheer panorama of perspectives in the book renders a consistent thread of anti-Zionism implausible. And the closer one gets to today, the clearer it becomes that much of anti-Zionism is merely a cover for left anti-semitism.

The principal virtue of the book is the long essay by Workers’ Liberty member Stan Crooke, which forensically deconstructs the politics of the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign in the British labour movement.

If anything illustrates the reductio ad absurdum of “anti- Zionism” uncoupled from any positive political programme, then it is BDS. Supporters are expected to unite around tactics laid down by a noisy but unrepresentative group of Palestinian NGOs, while ignoring other more representative Palestinian voices. BDS is premised on deliberate silence over the political solution, while smuggling in a one-state utopia. But it explicitly requires acceptance of conditions — principally of the right of return — which render any democratic solution impossible. In the rush to “do something”, BDS supporters end up doing something really reactionary — painting all Jews in Israel as the enemy and appealing to outside pressure to enforce a politics far from democracy, never mind socialism.

Other essays examine different historical strands of “anti- Zionism” and some are very interesting.

Ronnie Gechtman writes a good account of the Second International debates on the Jewish question. The majority view was assimilationism, i.e. that Jewish people should be integrated into whatever society they lived in with equal rights. This might have worked had the Jewish question simply been about religion. But the growth of virulent racial anti-semitism during the 19th and early 20th centuries rendered the assimilationist perspective redundant. Whilst the Bund grasped the national status of the Jewish people and were able to deconstruct the dominant view, it was Trotsky within the classical Marxist tradition who finally broke decisively with assimilationism and came to engage with the idea of a territorial solution i.e. to with the rational kernel of Zionism as Jewish national self-determination.

Whilst Rick Kuhn and Jack Jacobs discuss non-Zionist and anti-Zionist Jewish organisations in Europe, it is not clear what this tradition might represent had it survived until today.

Henry Srebrnik discusses the Bolshevik government’s attempts to resolve the Jewish question within the narrow confines of the USSR and how these efforts were mangled by Stalinism in the form of a territorial settlement in Birobidzhan. The merit of these essays is to indicate the wide variety of political assessments by Jewish socialists in the pre-Second World War period.

The essays on the period after the Holocaust and the creation of Israel are generally much worse, with only a couple of notable exceptions.

August Grabski’s essay on the Israeli socialist organisation Matzpen (1963-72) demonstrates the heroism of its militants under very difficult conditions, as well as the limitations of their understanding of Lenin’s consistent democracy on the national question.

Philip Mendes’ essay on the Australian 3CR community radio station in the 1970s shows how anti-Zionism in the post-war period became anti-semitism, using many of the tropes (such as equating Israelis with whites in apartheid South Africa) that are propagated today.

However much of the rest of the book is simply risible. Uri Davis promotes the one-state solution, which satisfies the national aspirations of neither people.

Ilan Pappe writes about opposition groups such as Hadash, Peace Now and Gush Shalom, sneering at those who advocate two-states while flattering Islamists like Hamas.

However this only goes to prove where incoherent anti-Zionism leads in current conditions. If this book inoculates readers against the dominant, negative, nonsensical anti-Zionist politics of much of the “left”, then it will have served a purpose.

 
Photo of Professor Ilan Pappé

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Binationalism and the sad story of Judah Magnes

March 7, 2012 at 10:23 am (anti-semitism, Christianity, history, immigration, Islam, islamism, Jim D, liberation, national liberation, palestine, religion, terror, zionism)

Judah Leon (or Leib) Magnes
Born July 5, 1877(1877-07-05) San Francisco, California, USA
Died October 27, 1948(1948-10-27) (aged 71) New York, New York
Spouse Beatrice Lowenstein

The recent mini-row over Baroness Jenny Tonge’s comments about Israel and her ‘explanation’ (accepted at face value by some quite sensible people) got me thinking about the whole question of denying Israel’s right to exist. I’m (just about) willing to believe that some people who deny the right of Israel to exist and/or promote slogans like “for a democratic secular state of Palestine” are benign and niave, rather than antisemitic. The problem is (as I commented at Representing The Mambo):

The problem with Jenny Tonge is that her words can be interpreted in at least two ways – one benign if naive (Israel must voluntarily give up its statehood and turn itself into some kind of bi-national state in which Jews and Palestinians will live together in happy harmony), the other definitely *not* benign (Israel must be destroyed). The fact she appears not to recognise the need to be very precise and clear about what she is, and isn’t, saying, and the fact that she’s quite happy to share platforms with people whose “anti- zionism” has definitely crossed the line into antisemitism, makes me very doubtful about her motives – to say the least. Unfortunately, she’s only too typical of the kind of “well-meaning” liberals in and around the PSC who claim they’re not antisemites, but seem quite willing to associate with people who are.

Finally, even if we accept Tonge’s claim that she simply means Israel reforming itself out of existance , or the widely-touted argument that socialists are in favour of the “withering away” of all states…how come these arguments are virtually never used about other nation-states, including those (like the USA, Australia and Argentina) that – unlike Israel – were created by means of genocide?

All of which got me thinking about binationalism (the main benign version of “Israel has no right to exist”) and its leading champion, Judah Magnes. The best brief account of the political life and thinking of Magnes that I’ve been able to find is the following by Benny Morris (himself a controversial figure in some circles, but a pretty good, and always truthful historian) :

Politically, the most important figure linked to Brit Shalom and Agudat Ihud was Magnes. He enjoyed a strong following among American Jews and was respected by the Mandate government; his diplomatic, orotorical, and intellectual skills also won the sneaking admiration of Ben-Gurion and other mainstream Zionists. The American-born and -trained Magnes, a rabbi and pacifist, viewed the call for a Jewish “National Home” in Palestine, to which he immigrated in 1922, as, above all, a call for the creation of “a Jewish spiritual, educational, moral and religious center,” as he put it in a letter to Weizmann in 1913. In this, he was an heir to the spiritual or cultural Zionism propagated by Ahad Ha’am (Asher Hirsch Ginsberg, 1859-1927), the great Russian Jewish essayist. Magnes supported immigration (or Jewish “ingathering”) in Palestine and hoped the country would become “the numerical center of the Jewish People.” He opposed the idea of conquest, which he called “the Joshua way,” and did not believe in the Great Powers’ right to dispose of the country as they saw fit. Like Jews, the Arabs also had historical rights to the country, he believed. So Palestine was the home of two peoples and three religions and belonged neither to the Arabs nor to the Jews nor to the Christians: “it belonged to all of them.”

The Balfour Declaration “contains the seed of resentment and future conflict. The Jewish people cannot suffer injustice to be done to others even as a compensation for injustice [over the centuries] done to them,” he wrote in 1920. The Jewish “National Home” should not be established “upon the bayonets of some Empire.” Magnes, like Buber, feared that the Jews in Palestine would “become devotees of brute force and militarism as were some of the later Hasmoneans, like Edomite Herod.” Magnes dissented from Brit Shalom in that he believed that its desire for an accomodation with the Arabs was tactical and practical rather than deeply felt; he knew that most of its members, including Ruppin who at times espoused the transfer of Arabs, were not pacifists.

All of this left Magnes with a somewhat fuzzy picture of what a future Palestine would look like. He spoke variously about both open-ended “international control through a mandatory” — that is, perpetual rule by a foreign power — and “a binational [Jewish-Arab] government.”

The problem with binationalism, however — apart from mainstream Zionist opposition — was that Brit Shalom and Magnes could find no Arab partners, or even interlocutors, who shared the binational vision or hope. As Magnes succinctly put it as early as 1932: “Arabs will not sit on any committee with Jews…[Arab] teachers…teach children more and more Jew-hatred.” In this sense, things only got worse with the passage of time, the deepening of the Arabs’ political consciousness, and the increase in Jewish immigration.

In 1937, in the privacy of his study, against a backdrop of the bloody Arab Revolt, Magnes took off the gloves: “The great drawback on the Arab side was the lack of moral courage. If only one man would step out now and brave his people and plead that his leaders should sit down with Jewish leaders, the situation would be saved…[but] not even one Arab stood up.” Yet perhaps it wasn’t so much a matter of the Arabs’ lack of courage as of Arab convictions. “Islam seemed to be a religion of the sword,” a monumentally despondent Magnes concluded.

(Indeed, many observers defined the Arab Revolt as a jihad. After reviewing the the testimony of Bishop Hajjat, the metropolitan of the Greek Catholic Church in Acre, Galilee, and Samaria, and other Christians before the Peel Commission, one of the commissioners concluded: “We were informed that though they [that is, the Christians] are not afraid of the educated Moslem or the Effendie class who live in the towns, they have come to realize that the zeal shown by the fellaheen in the late disturbances [that is, in 1936] was religious and fundamentally in the nature of a Holy War against a Christian Mandate and against Christian people as well as against the Jews.” Already in June 1936, two months into the revolt, the deputy inspector-general of the British Mnadate police, J.S. Price, wrote, in summarising the revolt, under the subheading “The Religious (Moslem) Aspect — Jehad or Holy War”: “It has long been the considered opinion of students of the Palestine problem that real and prolonged disorder can only be stimulated and protracted through the medium of religion…There are now demands that Haj Amin al-Husseini…should declare a Holy War (Jehad). It is unlikely that he will do this openly as he is not prepared to stake his all…[But] there are…indications that this spirit is being engendered by the medium of the Ulamas (learned religious[figures]). Fullest prominence is likely to be given to any incident having a religious complexion…There are [already] allegations of defilement of the Quran.” He had a point. At the start of the revolt, the Palestinian Arab political parties established a supreme  cabinetlike body, the Arab Higher Committee. is founding declaration stated: “Because of the general feeling of danger that envolops this noble nation, there is need for solidarity and unity and a focus on strengthening the holy national jihad movement.” As the revolt unfolded, the mufti and kadi of Nablus toured the surrounding villages “preaching that anyone who killed a land seller would reside in paradise in the company of the righteous.” The language of the rebellious nationalists was commonly the language of jihad. ‘Abd al-Fatah Darwish, a penitent land seller, swore in May 1936: “I call on Allah, may He be exalted, to bear witness and swear…that I will be a loyal soldier in the service of the homeland. I call on Allah and the angels and the prophets and the knights of Palestinian nationalism to bear witness that if I violate this oath, I will kill myself.” A placard hung on the walls in the village of Balad al-Sheikh, outside Haifa, after the murder of a collaborator, read: “Nimer the policeman was executed…as he betrayed his religion and his homeland…The supreme God revealed to those who preserve their religion and their homeland that he betrayed them, and they did to him what Muslim law commands. Because the supreme and holy God said: ‘Fight the heratics and the hypocrites; their dwelling-place is hell.”

Magnes occasionally found an Arab willing to meet and talk with him — and ready to hear what he, Magnes, might be willing to concede. In 1936 he met Musa al-‘Alami, a Palestinian Arab “moderate” and mandate government senior official, and agreed to the limiting of Jewish immigration to thirty thousand per year. In late 1937 or early 1938, Magnes met the leading Iraqi politician Nuri Sa’id. Sa’id apparently proposed a ten-year truce during which the Jews would promise not to exceed 40 percent of the country’s population (though Magnes later always insisted that he had never agreed to permanent minority status for the Jews). But these contacts and their outcome were hardly the comprehensive, final binational accord Magnes was striving for. (And, of course, neither ‘Alami nor Sa’id were leaders of the palestinian national movement.)

By mid-World War II Magnes realized that an open-ended international mandate was no longer feasible. He had despaired of ever reaching substantive Jewish-Arab negotiations or agreement and decided that the only solution would be an externally imposed “union between the Jews and the Arabs within a binational Palestine.” Further, he determined, this union would need to be subsumed or incorporated in a wider economic and political “union of Palestine, Transjordan, Syria and Lebanon” and linked to and guaranted by an “Anglo-American union.” And the binational state would need to be based on “parity” in terms of political power, between the two constituent groups, in order to guarantee the rights of whichever group was in the minority.

By mid-1948, with the first Arab-Israeli war in full swing, Magnes was deeply pessimistic. He feared an Arab victory: “there are millions upon millions of Muslims in the world…They have time. The timelessness of the desert.” An Arab ambush on 13 April 1948 of a Jewish convoy bearing doctors and nurses travelling through East Jerusalem to the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School campus on Mount Scopus — in which seventy-eight were slaughtered — was in effect the final nail in the coffin of Magnes’s binationalism. It was not that he publicly recanted. But he understood that it was a lost cause — and that his own standing in the Yishuv had been irreparably shattered. Within days, he left for the United States, and within months, never returning to Palestine/Israel, he was dead.

-from ‘One State, Two States’ by Benny Morris (Yale University Press 2009).

NB: I have not included Morris’s extensive footnotes, giving sources. These can be found in the book itself – JD

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Josef Skvorecky: Jazz vs totalitarianism

January 12, 2012 at 8:55 pm (fascism, good people, history, Human rights, humanism, jazz, Jim D, liberation, literature, music, national liberation, stalinism)

INTERVIEWER

From The Bass Saxophone to The Swell Season, to The Engineer of Human Souls, and now Dvorak in Love, one thing that comes through loud and clear in your work is your love of music.

SKVORECKY

Well, I always wanted to be a jazz musician, and was really never much of one.

INTERVIEWER

How did you first get turned on to jazz?

SKVORECKY

There was a Chick Webb recording called “I’ve Got a Guy,” which featured Ella Fitzgerald. At the time I didn’t know it was Ella, because most records then didn’t list the names of the singers; the showcase was the band. That was around 1938, when Ella was twenty. “I’ve Got a Guy” also had a wonderful saxophone chorus, and when I heard it for the first time, I thought I was listening to the music of the heavenly spheres, and I still think that.

The full interview here

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The great Czech author Josef Skvorecky died aged 87 on 3rd January, just a fortnight after his friend and fellow-dissident Vaclav Havel. Skvorecky was less well-known, not having entered formal politics, but he was just as important in his way and, in fact, was responsible for publishing Havel’s work and smuggling it back into Czechosovakia after the 1968 Soviet invasion. He also published the first edition of Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being, again smuggled back into the author’s country of origin.

But it should be for his own funny (ha-ha), sad, wise and humane writing that he is mainly remembered: The Cowards (banned as “Titoist and Zionist”), The Tank Battalion, The Miracle Game, and the book that many people regard as his masterpiece, The Engineer of Human Souls. Skvorecky’s  passion for jazz runs through his work. Many of his novels feature a saxophone-playing hero called Smiricky, and the author himself was a saxophonist-manqué

In the introduction to his best-known book, The Bass Saxophone, Skvorecky explains some of the appeal of jazz for a free spirit like himself:

“In the days when everything in life was fresh – because we were sixteen, seventeen – I used to blow tenor sax. Very poorly. Our band was called Red Music which in fact was a misnomer, since the name had no political connotations: there was a band in Prague that called itself Blue Music and we, living in the Nazi protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, had no idea that in jazz blue is not a colour, so we called ours Red. But if the name itself had no political connotations, our sweet, wild music did; for jazz was a sharp thorn in the sides of power-hungry men, from Hitler to Brezhnev, who successfully ruled in my native land.”

Later, in the same essay, Skvorecky reproduces an almost unbelievable set of rules drawn up by the regional Gauleiter during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, and binding upon all local dance bands. Skovorecky assures the reader that this is not satire and his recollection is accurate, as these rules “have engraved themselves deeply on my mind“:

1. Pieces in foxtrot rhythm (so-called swing) are not to exceed 20% of the repertoires of light orchestras and dance bands;

2. In this so-called jazz type repertoire, preference is to be given to compositions in a major key and to lyrics expressing joy in life rather than Jewishly gloomy lyrics;

3. As to tempo, preference is to be given to brisk compositions over slow ones (so-called blues); however, the pace must not exceed a certain degree of allegro, commensurate with the Ayrian sense of discipline and moderation. On no account will Negroid excesses in tempo (so-called hot jazz) or solo performances (so-called breaks) be tolerated;

4. So-called jazz compositions may contain at most 10% syncopation; the remainder must consist of a natural legato movement devoid of the hysterical rhythmic reverses characteristic of the barbarian races and conductive to dark instincts alien to the German people (so-called riffs);

5. Strictly prohibited is the use of instruments alien to the German spirit (so-called cowbells, flexatone, brushes, etc.) as well as all mutes which turn the noble sound of wind and brass instruments into a Jewish-Freemasonic yowl (so-called wa-wa, etc);

6. Also prohibited are so-called drum breaks longer than half a bar in four-quarter beat (except in stylized military marches);

7. The double bass must be played soley with the bow in so-called jazz compositions;

8. Plucking of the strings is prohibited, since it is damaging to the instrument and detrimental to Aryan masculinity; if a so-called pizzicato effect is absolutely desirable for the character of the composition, strict care must be taken lest the string be allowed to patter on the sordine, which is henceforth forbidden;

9. Musicians are likewise forbidden to make vocal imporovisations (so-called scat);

10. All light orchestras and dance bands are advised to restrict the use of saxophones of all keys and to substitute for them the violin-cello, the viola or possibly a suitable folk instrument.

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Below: in memory of Josef Skvorecky, here’s the undisputed champ of the bass sax, Adrian Rollini, in 1927 with Joe Venuti (vln) and Eddie Lang (gtr). The tune’s called ‘Beatin’ The Dog':

Daily Telegraph obit here

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