Prime Minister Borodai: fascism draped in a Russian tricolour

May 24, 2014 at 3:38 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, fascism, Guest post, philosophy, reactionay "anti-imperialism", Russia, stalinism, thuggery, truth)

Aleksandr Borodai, the self-proclaimed prime minister of the pro-Russian separatists' self-declared 'People's Republic of Donetsk,' speaks to media during a press conference in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Saturday, May 17, 2014 (photo credit: AFP/Alexander Khudoteply)

Above: Borodai – a ruler in the tradition of Plato?

Guest post by Dale Street

In mid-May the previously unheard-of Aleksandr Borodai was declared Prime Minster of the so-called ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’.

This fact alone should disabuse anyone deluded enough to believe that there is anything ‘progressive’, ‘anti-imperialist’ or ‘left-wing’ about the ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ and its Lugansk counterpart.

In 1992 Borodai fought as a volunteer in the war in the predominantly ethnic-Russian Transnistrian region when it broke away from Moldova. In 1993 he took part in the defence of the Russian Parliament after its dissolution by Yeltsin.

Borodin went on to write for the Russian newspaper “Zavtra” – poisonously anti-semitic, full of nostalgia for Stalin, rabidly Russian nationalist, and arguably outright fascist. According to the newspaper’s owner and editor, Aleksandr Prekhanov:

“I’ve known him (Borodai) since 1991. In terms of his ideology he is a Russian nationalist. He is a supporter of a strong Russian state. … He’s always been close to me, and has preached the idea of a Russian national white – not red – imperial consciousness.”

Apart from turning his hand to running his own PR consultancies and working as deputy editor of the magazine “Russian Businessman”, Borodai helped Prekhanov to launch the “Djen” television channel in 2011.

Like “Zavtra”, the channel’s output consists of anti-semitism, Russian nationalism, conspiracy theories, homophobia, misogyny, denunciations of the decadence of European civilization, and, more recently, treatises on the ‘fiction’ of a Ukrainian national identity.

Borodai is on the channel’s editorial board and, until recently, regularly hosted its programmes. Another “Djen” regular is Konstantin Dushenov. He has served time for anti-semitic incitement and is the author of a video series entitled: “Russia with a Knife in its Back – Jewish Fascism and the Genocide of the Russian People.”

In early 2014 Borodai turned up in the Crimea, working as a “political strategist” for the peninsula’s “governor” (and mafia boss) Sergei Aksyonov at the time of its annexation by Russia.

From the Crimea Borodai moved directly to south-east Ukraine: “The territory of the Crimea is quite closely connected to the Donbass, and naturally the people who set up these popular movements are the same people, they are connected to each other. So when I finished in Crimea, I automatically came here.”

More information about Borodai’s politics can be found in an interview recently published by “Russkaya Vesna”, the website of the Donetsk and Lugansk ‘People’s Republics’:

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Q: “Aleksandr, how did it come about that it was you who ended up as the head of the republic’s government?”

A: “Fate decreed it to be so. I cannot answer any differently. I was prepared to take this responsibility on myself and to take up this role simply by virtue of my personal characteristics. I see what is happening as a confirmation that history has not ended, contrary to the claims of fashionable philosophers. Today it is happening in front of our eyes. And the most important thing is that it is the history of my native country.”

Q: “You are a product of the Faculty of Philosophy of Moscow State University, the son of a philosopher. You’ll recall Plato’s idea that philosophers must rule. I know you fought as a volunteer in Transnistria and defended the Russian Parliament in 1993. What are your opinions?”

A: “To put it briefly and simply, I am a Russian patriot. I consider that the extent of the Russian world was artificially reduced as a result of certain circumstances, and that the Russian world was divided by artificially created borders. Those borders divide people of Russian culture. I am convinced that the difference between the inhabitants of, say, the Rostov and Donetsk regions is to a certain degree imaginary. I therefore see my task as defending and supporting my compatriots. Basically, we are at one of the first stages (this became particularly obvious after the reunification of the Crimea and Russia), the gathering together of the Russian world, which was violently dismembered after the geo-political catastrophe of 1991.”

Q: “Is it true that you were personally acquainted with the philosopher Lev Gumilev (see below). Could one say that his creativity has influenced your own views?”

A: I was still a child when I had the good fortune to associate with him. He was often a guest in our home and spent summers in my father’s dacha.  Once he even had something like a mystic revelation, but I’ll talk about that another time. Many early but valuable memories link me to this mystic. I highly value his contribution to Russian culture and science. Absolutely, he has influenced me.”

Q: “In that case, could what is happening in the Donetsk Republic be regarded as an eruption of passionarity?” (see below)

A: “What’s happening confirms that the Russian cultural archetype is far from having exhausted his vitality. Just as in Transnistria, so too in the Donetsk Republic we are confronted with the process of the self-organisation of the Russian world, in response to the uncompromising challenge it faces. What is happening in the south-east of Ukraine can be characterized as a Russian uprising. Russian in the broad sense of the word – in terms of culture, mentality and civilization. But I’d also like to point out that ethnic Ukrainians are massively involved in the resistance movement. This process is not to be stopped.”

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The Lev Gumilev praised by Borodai was a Russian ethnologist and anthropologist (and anti-semite) who theorized that ethnic groups went through a particular life-cycle. Such groups expanded, through conquest, when their national “passionarity” reached maximum heat.

“Passionarity” is stimulated by external, mostly natural, events (such as oscillations in solar radiation levels). Similarly, it is natural events which set cultures apart. Hence, according to Gumilev, the border between Russia and the West coincides with the negative isotherm for January.

For Gumilev, the Mongol domination of medieval Russia saved Russia from the West and Catholicism and created a Russian “super-ethnos”, through a merger of Eastern Slavs (currently: Russia, Ukraine and Belorus) with Tatars and Mongols.

Gumilev contrasted the “passionarity” of the Russian “super-ethnos” with “parasite states” which exercised only “chimera statehood”. Examples of the latter states were America and France, both of which has been created by Jews (who, lacking a “passionarity” of their own, are necessarily parasitic on other peoples).

The next time British Stalinists want to stage a protest about fascism in Ukraine – perhaps they could direct their anti-fascist endeavours towards Prime Minister Borodai and his supporters? Or are they incapable of recognizing fascism when it comes draped in a Russian tricolour?

 

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April Showers (May Come Your Way)

April 12, 2014 at 1:58 pm (cinema, film, jazz, Jim D, philosophy, song)

An appropriate song for today, from hep-cat Mel Torme (who always wanted to be a drummer):

…but if you want real, classy corn, here’s Al Jolson singing it, acted and lip-synched by Larry Parks (happily, not in black-face):

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Sokal – the hoaxer who made a serious point – speaks at UCL

February 24, 2014 at 6:51 pm (academe, intellectuals, Jim D, left, philosophy, relativism, satire, science, socialism, spoofs, truth)

postmodernism_foot_on_neck

Do you remember the so-called ‘Sokal hoax’? For those who don’t (or whose memories have faded), here’s a good article explaining what happened and why it was – and still is – of significance. I say “still is” because of the recent nonsense on sections of the UK left concerning “intersectionality” and the like.

Anyway, Alan Sokal spoke at a packed Left Forum meeting in UCL on 12th February – here’s the recording:

http://leftforum.podomatic.com/entry/2014-02-12T08_46_15-08_00

The sound quality’s not great (especially when it comes to contributions and questions from the audience), but Sokal’s opening talk is easy to follow, and well worth listening to.

I think it’s particularly important to note that Sokal describes himself as “an unabashed old leftist who never quite understood how ‘deconstruction’ helps the working class.”

Well done to Omar and the other comrades at UCL for pulling this off!

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Rational, critical thought from QualiaSoup

November 6, 2013 at 8:23 am (Art and design, atheism, cyberspace, Jim D, philosophy, relativism, religion, science, secularism)

Ive only just discovered QualiaSoup, an artist and thinker whose YouTube videos present the case for rational, critical thinking and the scientific method. It’s excellent stuff, that anyone with religious hang-ups, belief in the “supernatural,” tolerance of backward ideas in the interests of “open-mindedness” and indeed quite a few people who consider themselves “Marxists,” would do well to watch and ponder. Here’s an example:

P.S: It transpires that QualiaSoup has a brother, TheraminTrees (!)

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The poverty of Žižek’s philosophy

October 11, 2013 at 9:32 am (AWL, celebrity, cinema, fantasy, film, intellectuals, Marxism, philosophy, post modernism, posted by JD, wild man)

The Perverts Guide to Ideology, reviewed by Matt Cooper at the Workers Liberty website:

It is difficult not to warm to a film that places a radical left wing philosopher into mock ups of various film sets to lecture on his theory of ideology. That is what film maker Sophie Fiennes has done with Slavoj Žižek.

So we have Žižek dressed as a priest talking about the ideology of fascism in the mother superior’s room from The Sound of Music, about the vampiric attitude of the ruling class towards the working class in the lifeboat from Titanic and about the nature of political violence in Travis Bickle’s single iron bed from Taxi Driver. All of this is amusing enough and makes a long and in places opaque lecture pass pleasantly enough, but the ideas that underlie it are rotten.

Slavoj Žižek has been proclaimed by some as the greatest political philosopher of the late twentieth century — there is even an International Journal of Žižek Studies. His work is popular with a layer of the radical left, although maybe the kind who consumes rather than acts on their politics.

He has somewhat replaced Chomsky as the author of the coffee table books of choice for the armchair radical, and he sold out the Royal Festival Hall when he spoke there in 2010.

His ideas have been developed in a series of books since the late 1980s, and fit with the themes of anti-globalisation, Occupy, and other radical struggles that are often one side of class struggle.

It is noticeable that Žižek does not attack capitalism as such. The exploitation of workers as workers is notably missing from this film. Rather he attacks consumerism, particular in its Coca-Cola/Starbucks form. This is despite, or maybe because, his philosophy is obtuse.

Although Žižek places himself in the revolutionary tradition and draws on Marx, he does not see himself primarily as a Marxist. He says he wants to reinvigorate German idealist philosophy, particularly that of Hegel, through the application of the French post-Freudian, Jacques Lacan.

There is no feeling in this film (or in Žižek’s numerous books) that this view emerges from a study of society and the forms of ideology in it. Rather, consistent with his idealist philosophical approach, the ideas emerge from the realm of pure thought, albeit cut with some empirically based psychoanalytic theory The world is sampled, squeezed and (mis)interpreted to fit this theoretical view.

His evidence about society is what many of us would not think of as evidence — mainly film. This is not an affectation, but central to Žižek’s view of the world. Ideology is fantasy, and film is the purest form of the projection of such fantasy. Film is not the mirror which we hold up to ourselves, but feeds us the fantasies by which we constitute ourselves. The films are, for Žižek, reality. Thus M*A*S*H and Full Metal Jacket are used to understand the American military, Brief Encounter the nature of social control, and Jaws, fascism!

To say that the shark in Jaws stands for nothing other than fear itself is hardly a startling insight. Alfred Hitchcock spoke in similar terms about how the purpose of his films was not essentially narrative or plot, but to create an emotional response in the viewer. To say this kind of work gives us an insight into how the Nazis scapegoated the Jews is little short of ridiculous.

Onto his argument, Žižek bolts some bits of other people’s theories as if they were his insights. So he goes on to say that underlying the fantasy of Nazi ideology was one of a modernising revolution that preserved tradition. But the idea of fascism being “reactionary modernism” was asserted by Jeffrey Herf in 1984, and has antecedents stretching back to the 1930s.

Similarly, Žižek’s assertion that the riots in the UK were driven by consumerism (the “wrong dream”) is both unoriginal and, in Žižek’s case, seems to be based on the most casual of acquaintance with the evidence.

The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology also demonstrates a wilful failure to engage with a Marxist understanding of ideology. In this film (and elsewhere) Žižek has dismissed the Marxist theory of ideology which he claims can be summarised by Marx as “they do not know it but they are doing it”. The line is a rather obscure one (from the first German edition of volume one of Capital, but not in future editions).

Nor is the line directly about ideology; the “it” here is people producing exchange values for the market. For sure, this has a relationship to ideology, Marx argues that it obscures the real nature of production to satisfy human needs, a veil that will only be lifted by once production is carried out by “feely socialised man under their conscious, planned control.” But the Marxist view of ideology based on the nature of social life is not understood, far less developed, by Žižek.

For Žižek both the nature of ideology and the liberation of humanity is based on the idea of fantasy. For him, people’s relation to ideology-fantasy is “I know very well what I am doing but am I still doing it.” The project of liberation is not to end fantasy, but to replace it with a better fantasy, or to dream with the right desire.

Thus Žižek goes down the road of anarchist cliché, we should “be realistic, demand the impossible”, and he argues that the dream should not be of wanting the working class to awake, but that new dreams and revolution become a subjective act of will.

Žižek’s politics are, ultimately, mere fantasy.

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What Albert Murray taught us…

September 9, 2013 at 3:11 pm (Anti-Racism, black culture, civil rights, culture, intellectuals, jazz, literature, philosophy, posted by JD, RIP, The blues, United States)

…about jazz and much else…

Above: Murray (left) and friend Ralph Ellison

By Eugene Holley (at npr’s a blog supreme)

An essayist, cultural theorist, novelist, educator and biographer who died on August 18 at 97, Albert Murray spent more than five decades developing his thesis that America is a culturally miscegenated nation. His contention was that blacks are part white, and vice versa: that both races, in spite of slavery and racism, have borrowed from and created each other. In all of his writing, jazz music — derived from the blues idiom of African-Americans — was the soundtrack at the center of his aesthetic conception.

For the Alabama-bred, Tuskegee Institute-educated, New York-based Murray — and his Tuskegee classmate and aesthetic fellow traveler Ralph Ellison, author of Invisible Man — jazz was “the embodiment of the American experience, the American spirit, the American ideal,” he is quoted as saying in Jazz: A History of America’s Music, the companion book to the PBS documentary series for which he served as commentator and artistic consultant. It was the creation of a sepia panorama of black, brown and beige people, partially descended from Africa but fully Euro-American in outlook, character and aspiration.

“The omni-Americans are the Americans. My conception makes Americans identify with all their ancestors.” —interview in American Heritage, September 1996

To fully understand Albert Murray’s jazz aesthetic, a vital part of the worldview he called “Cosmos Murray,” you have to read his first book, The Omni-Americans (1970). The collection of essays counter-states “the folklore of white supremacy and the fakelore of black pathology” as social-science fictions that dehumanize black people as inferior. “American culture, even in its most rigidly segregated precincts, is patently and irrevocably composite,” he writes.

In The Omni-Americans, Murray critiques black authors Richard Wright and James Baldwin for creating clichéd views of black life; Afrocentric romanticism and the separatist tendencies of Black Nationalism; and well-meaning but paternalizing U.S. inner city social programs. Murray’s answer to such folly is the blues: home-grown black music that acknowledges the “essentially tenuous nature of all human existence … through the full, sharp and inescapable awareness of them.” In the subsequent essay collection The Hero and the Blues (1973), Murray celebrates the bluesman as an epic hero who, in his tragicomic lyricism, confronts the difficulties of life through the creation of a resilient art.

“We invented the blues; Europeans invented psychoanalysis. You invent what you need.” —interview in American Heritage, September 1996

Musically speaking, all this leads up to Stomping the Blues (1976). Beautifully illustrated with vivid period photos, LP covers and broadsides of black jazz icons, Stomping represents the zenith of his writing on the subject. Eschewing a bleak sociological approach for affirmative, literary prose, Murray celebrates jazz as the most advanced and comprehensive blues-derived art form, one which ritualistically provides people with “equipment for living.” The music serves as a “stylistic code for representing the most difficult conditions, but also provides a strategy for living with and triumphing over those conditions with dignity, grace, and elegance.” In other words, one does not kill the blues, but one can, by what he called “the velocity of celebration,” stomp the blues to keep them at bay.

In Stomping, Murray portrays African-American musicians like bandleader Duke Ellington, singers Jimmy Rushing and Ella Fitzgerald, and saxophonists Lester Young and Johnny Hodges as courageous blues stompers. Their artistry is “a synthesis of African and European elements, the product of an African sensibility in an American mainland situation.” Musicologically, Murray also examines jazz in its myriad locales, inventions and dimensions, from New Orleans and Chicago to Kansas City and Harlem, and how it grew from a folk art to a fine art, “stylized into aesthetic statement.”

Murray also co-wrote Good Morning Blues (1985), the intimate autobiography of the pianist and bandleader Count Basie. It covers the halcyon days of Kansas City in the ’30s, where Negro territory bands reigned supreme and where Basie — who hailed from the East Coast — transformed his stride-style piano into the rugged, 4/4 swing that characterized the driving Kansas City sound. The Blue Devils of Nada (1996) features more impassioned essays on Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and his friend, collage artist Romare Bearden. Jazz and the blues also color his quartet of semi-autobiographical novels, starting with Train Whistle Guitar (1974), a coming-of-age chronicle of a boy named Scooter who hails from Alabama, grows up to be a college-educated bassist and leaves home to find fame in Harlem-like Philamayork.

“Jazz is only possible in a culture of freedom.” —from Jazz: A History of America’s Music

Though Murray was not as well-known as his contemporaries Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, his work not only lives on in his books, but also in well-known Murray-ites. Writer and cultural critic Stanley Crouch, whose long-awaited biography of Charlie Parker will be published in September, is a prominent one. Another is Wynton Marsalis, the celebrated musician and artistic and managing director of Jazz at Lincoln Center; the well-known jazz performance venue was largely built on Murray’s philosophical and musicological ethos. “He’s my mentor, but it’s more than that,” Marsalis told Newsweek. “Stomping the Blues had a profound impact on me in terms of understanding the context of the art form and the society.”

In the 21st century, Murray’s omni-American idea — that the U.S. is a composite nation of culturally multiracial people — still deeply resonates in today’s browning, globally connected world. He used jazz to shine a light upon these lesser-seen pockets of American culture — the ones that he believed unite us all.
*****
Guardian obit, here
Fascinating interview with Murray at The Ralph Ellison Project, here

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Chomsky -v- Žižek (and Lacan)

July 20, 2013 at 2:18 pm (academe, Beyond parody, Chomsky, cults, intellectuals, jerk, Jim D, language, philosophy, stalinism, strange situations, wankers)

Regulars will know that us Shirazers are not big fans of Noam Chomsky. But back in December 2012 he gave an interview that warmed the cockles of our collective heart, slamming, amongst others, those two verbose charlatans Žižek and Lacan:

Mike Springer (at Open Culture) writes:

Noam Chomsky’s well-known political views have tended to overshadow his groundbreaking work as a linguist and analytic philosopher. As a result, people sometimes assume that because Chomsky is a leftist, he would find common intellectual ground with the postmodernist philosophers of the European Left.

Big mistake.

In this brief excerpt from a December, 2012 interview with Veterans Unplugged, Chomsky is asked about the ideas of Slavoj Žižek, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. The M.I.T. scholar, who elsewhere has described some of those figures and their followers as “cults,” doesn’t mince words:

What you’re referring to is what’s called “theory.” And when I said I’m not interested in theory, what I meant is, I’m not interested in posturing–using fancy terms like polysyllables and pretending you have a theory when you have no theory whatsoever. So there’s no theory in any of this stuff, not in the sense of theory that anyone is familiar with in the sciences or any other serious field. Try to find in all of the work you mentioned some principles from which you can deduce conclusions, empirically testable propositions where it all goes beyond the level of something you can explain in five minutes to a twelve-year-old. See if you can find that when the fancy words are decoded. I can’t. So I’m not interested in that kind of posturing. Žižek is an extreme example of it. I don’t see anything to what he’s saying. Jacques Lacan I actually knew. I kind of liked him. We had meetings every once in awhile. But quite frankly I thought he was a total charlatan. He was just posturing for the television cameras in the way many Paris intellectuals do. Why this is influential, I haven’t the slightest idea. I don’t see anything there that should be influential.

via Leiter Reports

Related content:

John Searle on Foucault and the Obscurantism in French Philosophy

Clash of the Titans: Noam Chomsky and Michel Foucault Debate Human Nature and Power on Dutch TV, 1971

Jacques Lacan Talks About Psychoanalysis with Panache (1973)

Philosopher Slavoj Zizek Interprets Hitchcock’s Vertigo in The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (2006)

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Oh, goody goody! Žižek has replied…(and makes some fair points about Chomsky’s record), here

Further comment on the spat, at Open Culture

H/t: Norm … who also draws our attention to the John Searl link on Foucault and Obscurantism, above.

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Was Eichmann’s evil ‘banal’?

June 27, 2013 at 11:56 pm (anti-semitism, cinema, fascism, film, genocide, Germany, history, intellectuals, Jim D, literature, philosophy, zionism)

Margot Lurie, writing in the present edition of the neo-con Standpoint magazine, doesn’t think much of Margarethe von Trotta’s new film about Hannah Arendt:

Von Trotta is eager to fight Arendt’s battles, but time and again shows that she is no more equipped to understand them than [Mary] McCarthy was. Especially clumsy is her attempt to correlate Arendt’s philosophy to a contemporary posture toward Israel. Despite von Trotta’s having Arendt refer to her Zionism as a “youthful folly”, the political picture has simply changed too much for an overlay of Arendtian acetate paper to mean anything.  

The Yad Vashem footage and Hannah Arendt are not the only film releases to explore Arendt’s legacy, or Eichmann’s. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Claude Lanzmann premiered his documentary The Last of the Unjust. More than three-and-a-half hours long, the film is a series of outtakes from Lanzmann’s monumental Shoah, all of them featuring Benjamin Murmelstein, a Nazi-appointed “Jewish Elder”, who speaks about the choices he had to make while running the Czechoslovakian concentration camp Theresienstadt; at one point, he describes himself as a “marionette that had to pull its own strings”. 

Murmelstein is a figure like those that Arendt implicated in Eichmann in Jerusalem, where she alleged that the co-operation of leaders of the Judenräte (Jewish councils) with the Nazis expedited their own annihilation. Murmelstein’s reflections make Arendt’s wholesale indictment of those in his position seem unjust. 

And so the Arendtian myth suffers a bit, on one end from Lanzmann’s repudiations and on the other from von Trotta’s anaemic boosterism. The best outcome would be a recalibration of her legacy, one acknowledging that her literary inclinations (nurtured by her friend Mary McCarthy) occasionally overtook her philosophical principles. 

Read the full article here.

I haven’t seen the film and so cannot comment upon whether Lurie’s criticism is fair. But I’m grateful to her for reminding us that we don’t have to take Arendt’s word for it regarding Eichman’s “banality” as supposedly demonstrated at his trial: we can see, and judge, for ourselves, thanks to the extraordinary and inevitably highly disturbing Yad Vashem footage:

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The inspirational Prof Norm

May 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm (blogosphere, good people, humanism, intellectuals, Jim D, Marxism, philosophy, politics, socialism)

Prez

Above: “I tried to talk them out of it -so much work- but they insisted” – Norm

I don’t always agree with Norm, but there can be no doubting his integrity, wit and wisdom. His long-running blog is a must-read for anyone who values rigorous, original thinking from a critical-Marxist and always vigorously humanist standpoint. Like me, he also enjoys jazz and Westerns.

So it was with great concern that I read this, yesterday:

From a window on Nine Wells

Since starting this blog in late July 2003, I have tried to update it regularly, my aim being to have something new most days and, ideally, more than one post a day. I have succeeded in meeting this objective for much of the time, though with exceptions: when following the Ashes in Australia during the 2006-7 series (a wonderful lifetime experience); on infrequent holidays; during the odd weekend busy seeing family or friends; and some days just because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to blog about. However, a different obstacle has lately arisen for me, which explains some of the falling off readers may have noticed, and I’ve decided to make the reason for it public because I can no longer guarantee the same frequency of posting as before.

Since March of this year I have become ill. I was first diagnosed with early prostate cancer at the beginning of 2003, not long before starting normblog. Though my initial treatment failed to cure the condition, I have remained asymptomatic and in good health for 10 years under the first-rate care of Christie Hospital in Manchester and the treatments recommended and implemented there. But this decade of good fortune ran out for me at the end of February this year when I learned that the cancer had now spread and, simultaneously, I started to suffer the effects of that. For the last few days I’ve been not only ill but also in hospital – though I hope it won’t be for very long. I am now under the outstanding medical eye and hand of Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge. I will just say here, in passing, that my own personal experience of cancer and the treatment of it (as also of my diabetic condition, which is a more longstanding one still) have shown me nothing but the excellence of the NHS.

Adds1

This is what I see from the window of my ward at Addenbrooke’s. Just before the sky begins, in the centre ground of the picture (courtesy of Adèle, about whom no words of loving gratitude for her support in every sense could be adequate to what I owe her) is a place called Nine Wells, not far from where we now live…

… I mean to carry on blogging to the best of my ability for as long as I can. Blogging has become part of the work – or a kind of adjunct to it – and also of the play that are important in my life. But I can’t promise the same regularity as before. Sometimes I may manage it, but it will depend on the outcome of the treatments still available to me.

So for now, all of us at Shiraz join with Yer Man from Brockley in sending Norm our very best wishes, and via Bob, direct readers to two other admirers, who make their choices of the best of Norm’s blogging:

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David Hirsh at Engage has posted a list of favourite Normblog links, all of which bear re-reading. The Soupy One posted a list of his favroutes on Twitter, which I reproduce below. I’m sure others are doing the same.

Back in 2010, I nominated Norm as a “good influence” on the left:

Norman Geras – a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.

At the end of the year, I returned to the theme, with a post on influential left-wing ideas, to which Norm responded, so I’ll nominate that post as my special Normblog post, and reproduce it here:

Bob from Brockley has tagged me, among others, for the exercise of suggesting five ideas for the left that are a good influence, five that are a bad influence, and five that aren’t influential enough. I plead the season and the need to do some late Christmas shopping this afternoon as my reason for chickening out. As a token of goodwill towards the project, however, I comment below on one each of Bob’s own suggestions.

National sovereignty Bob has down as a bad influence, and he has no trouble alluding to bad usages of that concept, such as the notion of a ‘clerical-fascist’s right to use his country as a personal fiefdom’. However, I disagree with Bob that the idea of sovereignty is a bad influence. Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have. Maybe one day they will be replaced by a more effective global community, but that doesn’t look like happening any time soon. Maybe some different institutions than the state will in due course take over its functions. Meanwhile statelessness threatens those afflicted by it with a nightmare. Bob’s opening implication that the idea of sovereignty presupposes some metaphysical national ‘self’ doesn’t have to be accepted. All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory.

Class analysis, Bob says, from once having been too all-encompassing on the left, at the expense of other types of identity, is now not influential enough. Without it the notion of social justice ‘goes adrift’. I agree.

The one-state solution... Bob gives it the thumbs-up. But, to my mind, he does so on the basis of a misplaced premise; which is (as I read him between the lines) that the idea could come to be accepted voluntarily by Israelis and Palestinians and thereby become consensual. If so, then well and good. But the two-state solution rests on the assumption that this consensus does not obtain, or obtain yet. While it doesn’t, a one-state solution can only be coercive and therefore violate the right to self-determination of one or both peoples. We need influential ideas for different possible states of affairs and not only for ones that look out of reach at the moment.

Norm always makes me think again.

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The SWP crisis and Cliff family values

February 20, 2013 at 12:59 am (anti-semitism, AWL, food, Jim D, left, Marxism, philosophy, sectarianism, socialism, strange situations, SWP, trotskyism)

“Sunday’s meeting was a caucus to establish the political ground for the faction.  A vote on whether to open the meeting to comrades outside the faction upheld the original decision that this would not be helpful in allowing the faction to clarify its views. The CC had been informed of this in advance. It was, therefore, surprising that some supporters of the CC’s position since conference arrived at the caucus with the expectation they could attend.

“The discussion with these comrades was polite and they respected the decision of the faction that it was to be a closed caucus.”

The above is one of the the SWP opposition groups’ (the In Defence of Our Party faction [IDOP]) account of an incident at their meeting last Sunday.

Here’s another version, this time from Anna Gluckstein, daughter of SWP founder Tony Cliff and his partner Chanie Rosenberg (still alive and also involved in the incident):

“As you know I never do facebook, but today I feel compelled to. Today there was a faction meeting in central London. I went along with a couple of comrades and others and we were barred from entry! This was not only me, this was two CC members and two of our journalists. I had invited my mum to the meeting and then I had to tell her she wasn’t allowed to come. I understand that there will be organisational points that the comrades in the faction may wish to discuss and we would have left at that point, but they were having a five hour meeting in which general political perspectives were to be discussed. Chanie was very upset about this situation as we have never had closed political discussions from other members. We are all in the same organisation, how can this happen? where is the democracy in this?”

The Socialist Review / International Socialism group was always at least in part, a ‘friends and family’ outfit, centred around the Cliff/ Gluckstein/ Rosenburg family and their close personal associates. The fact that the present-day SWP leader, Professor Callinicos, has felt it necessary to draft in the remaining Cliff family in an obvious attempt boost the leadership and embarrass the opposition, is a sure sign of desperation.

Still, the Cliffs could be quite pleasant (up to a point) when they invited you round for dinner:

Above: Chanie and Tony, newly arrived in London, 1946

Dinner with the Cliffs By Mike Kyriazopoulos (1998)

I happened to meet Tony Cliff and his partner Chanie Rosenberg of the Socialist Workers Party recently and they invited me to dinner. Why? To recruit me to the SWP! I accepted. Dinner that is, not membership.

Cliff, ideological leader of the SWP, would I thought be worth a chat, and would provide a better argument than your average SWPer, who tends to be politically ill-educated and disablingly out of touch with the labour movement. I might learn something. Who knows, I might be able to put the old bugger straight on a couple of points.

I was to be disappointed. The food was fine; the politics, however, were indigestible. Cliff fleshed out and pressed home SWP policies with greater skill and subtlety than your average SWPer. He is wittier. But his politics are no better, nor his arguments noticeably more sophisticated.

Cliff’s central argument? We’re the biggest because we’re the best; we’re the best because we’re the biggest. We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here…

He was little better on detail. No SWPer had tried to stop me selling papers on the train to the recent lobby of Labour Party Conference (where I’d met Cliff). Neither had the SWP (which really does have 10,000 members) tried to stop us selling Workers’ Liberty at their summer school. SWPers had never tried to smash up any Workers’ Liberty meetings or assaulted any of our comrades! But I have witnessed or been involved in such things. No I haven’t! “Bloody rubbish!”

Yes, Cliff conceded, in 1978, the SWP had ignored the fascists’ attempt to march down Bengali-inhabited Brick Lane, east London, in favour of building the Anti-Nazi League Carnival (a party) in Brockwell Park, prioritising building the ANL and SWP over stopping the fascists. So what? They were right!

Yes, in 1992, as the Tories closed the last pits, the SWP had raised the call for a general strike , suddenly, from nowhere, and then just as suddenly dropped it. That was, “completely right.” It went down well. It caught a mood. They sold a lot of papers. They didn’t mean it? Obviously. But so what?

Doesn’t the SWP expel anyone disagreeing with the leadership? “Bloody rubbish!” The SWP has expelled “maybe 50 people” in the last two decades, only for things like violence to other comrades. (Not for violence to members of other groups, though!) Most people claiming to have been expelled from the SWP haven’t really been expelled; they’re just, “making it up.” Pardon? “Bloody rubbish!”

Why was WL’s forerunner expelled from the International Socialists, forerunner of the SWP? Because they thought the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers’ state. They did, I said, but weren’t they expelled because they opposed the decision to join Little Englanders and Stalinists in opposition to Britain joining the EC? They said that in the choice between a bosses’ Britain and a bosses’ Europe workers should say in effect: Neither Westminster nor Brussels but International Socialism! “Bloody rubbish!”

Why not debate WL now , on the Middle East, for example? Because WL is “small”, “sectarian”, irrelevant”,  “nothing.” Straight to the heart of the political issues! In what way are we sectarian? We criticise the SWP! Oh… The problem is that WL, “sees the flea but not the elephant.” I’ll repeat that for less sophisticated readers: we see the flea but not the elephant.

And so it went on. The ANL/SWP alone prevented the rise of fascism in Britain. The SWP is “a big force” in the unions (and not just the white collar unions); it is “massive”, makes all the campaigning initiatives… Drawing on my experience as a union activist in a large workplace I tried to prick Cliff”s fantasy bubbles with the odd fact, but Cliff”s bubbles are made of tougher stuff than soap suds.

Finally we got to Israel-Palestine, and then the cutlery was drawn and the croutons really started to fly!

Why, I asked Cliff, a Palestinian Jew in origin, were the Israeli Jews the only national/communal group on earth who do not have the right to self-determination? He listed every real and alleged atrocity committed by Israel. I agreed to condemn many things about Israel. My sympathy is with the Palestinians. But what about Jewish-Arab working class unity? There can be no unity of Jewish and Palestinian workers, shouted Cliff, writing three million workers out of history, nor can there be a compromise giving national rights of both groups. In this portion of the Middle East class politics cannot apply. Ever? Never!

The SWP never used the phrase “smash Israel” but, Cliff agreed, their policy amounted to that. Any Jewish state in Palestine will inevitably oppress Arabs, and be a tool of US imperialism.

To advocate any kind of Jewish state in Palestine, he insisted, was to favour immigration controls. This was bizarre, coming from the man who in an autobiographical piece in Socialist Review (issue 100) said that, in retrospect, he felt he was wrong in 1938-9 not to have favoured immigration controls to keep Jews out of Palestine. Jews fleeing Europe, when the alternative was certain death, before and during the Holocaust!

“The Zionists” had used the Holocaust to brainwash Jews into advocating imperialism and oppression in the Middle East. I — Cliff had twigged that I am Jewish in background — had been brainwashed, though my conscience made me advocate “concessions” to the Palestinians. Cod-psychoanalysing me, while he himself argued more from emotion and distant personal experience, heatedly evading what I thought was a reasoned case, I felt Cliff revealed more about his own psychology than mine.

The row became increasingly charged. Isn’t the SWP’s a policy hostile to all Jews alive today? Yes, he said, with a candour that surprised me. But only because they have been brainwashed! Cliff was being a vicarious Arab chauvinist, I argued. And so it went on… Cliff, I had said, was objectively an anti-semite. He had attacked me as a pro-imperialist fruitcake.

The evening, I thought, had been a social failure: I had missed my chance to join “the socialists”. I stood (or rather, sat) denounced as a murdering Zionist, Labourite, pro-imperialist, an idiot with the wrong idea about absolutely everything!

But no. Cliff and Chanie, their expressions softened, aren”t sectarians. I would be more than welcome, said Chanie warmly, producing a membership form, in the SWP!

Paul Foot somewhere calls Cliff the Philosopher in Stoke Newington. As I left Cliff”s house that night I knew for sure that Foot was half right. Tony Cliff does, indeed, live in Stoke Newington.

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