Dear Mr Bagley,
You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.
On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:
” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”
The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.
But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.
But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.
Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”
Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?
But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:
EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;
OR it was edited out by the Star itself.
If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.
I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :
Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.
A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.
This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:
- What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
- In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
- If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
- As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done - assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.
“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.
The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.
It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.
It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.
This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace – almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.
Above: “Pluralism” in action?
Jon Cruddas, head of Miliband’s policy review and the embodiment of the phrase “fake left,” was busy sucking up to the Lib Dems as they gathered in Brighton yesterday. In a “debate” organised by the Fabian Society on the topic of “Is the future Plural?“, he and the uber-Blairite Lord Adonis set about being nice to the Lib Dem’s Jo Swinson and Ming Campbell. Now I am well aware that all factions within the present Labour leadership are (to use the old phrase) class collaborators, but what exactly was the purpose of telling the Lib Dems that they’ve been a “benign force…checking the worst excesses” of the government? I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard it on the Today programme this morning.
Winning over Lib Dem voters and members is one thing: telling members of the Tory-led government that they’re a “benign force” is quite another. And Cruddas’s immediate reaction to Jo Swinson’s statement that politics is aready “plural” was also telling – enthusiastic agreement. the word “plural” in this context, of course, means a permanent state of coalition in both central and local government - something that has be the de facto objective of the Lib Dems and their predecessors for many years.
Adonis’s proposal for the Lib Dems to trigger a general election* sounds more radical, but in reality is a proposal to lock Labour into a Lib-Lab coalition - and of course, it’s pie-in-the-sky anyway: why would any Lib Dem in their right mind want an election just at the moment?
Perhaps the most extraordinary moment in the entire “debate” was Swinson’s rsponse to all this grovelling from Cruddas and Adonis: Labour has “a lot of work to do” before the Lib Dems would deign to consider a deal, especially as a lot of Labour MP’s are really very nasty people who’d displayed “vitriol” against the Lib Dems in Parliament…
But what the hell did Cruddas, Adonis (and presumably their boss Miliband) think they were playing at?
It’s time to crush the Lib Dems, not offer them a life-raft. Remember Professor Pongoo!
* Unfortunately, even some people on the Labour left are also advocating this foolishness.
Carol Ann Duffy does rise to her job as Poet Laureate by turning out occasional poems, though she doesn’t always rise to the occasion. In her poem for the Olympics she sank like a Lib Dem poll; like Tony Blair’s credibility; like the brotherly love in the Coalition – insert your own political metaphor.
Enough of the soundbite abstract nouns,
austerity, policy, legacy, of tightening metaphorical belts;
we got on our real bikes,
for we are Bradley Wiggins,
side-burned, Mod, god;
we are Sir Chris Hoy,
Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Kenny, Hindes,
Clancy, Burke, Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas,
We want more cycle lanes.
Or we saddled our steed,
or we paddled our own canoe,
or we rowed in an eight or a four or a two;
our names, Glover and Stanning; Baillie and Stott;
Adlington, Ainslie, Wilson, Murray,
Valegro (Dujardin’s horse).
(No we aren’t and we didn’t. Speak for yourself. “We” mostly sat on the sofa.)
“Lamia” produced this fine pastiche, which caught the Larkin mood (glass three quarters empty and a fly drowning in the remaining liquid).
by Philip Larkin
With a stern blazered smile the judge draws near,
Headmasterly, to where I loiter, bald
Bowing my head, and blinking behind my specs.
And then a velvet fumbling, a falling into place
As something heavy slithers round my neck
To hang in awkward gaudiness. A cheer,
And then the National Anthem strikes up gold.
Gold? Or something else? Stepping down slowly
From the podium to piss, I wonder
What it was all for. ‘Run for Team GB’
They said. But where does one run from here?
The crowds will quietly drift away,
The stadiums will crumble into pieces.
The asphalt lanes will gather weed and leaf.
This cycling Kraut, that weightlifting Bolivian,
That crew of sailing Japs, each year will sink
A little further into blank oblivion.
And poised between my thumb and finger
This cold token of autumnal grief.
In a bare wintry drawer it will linger,
for a while, gathering dust, unsold,
Among dead stamps and a leaflet about wine.
An old wives’ charm to ward away new failure.
Something to please the nephews and the nieces.
Something to taunt those pricks in Australia.
In the Olympic bar I stand a drink
For a Danish woman and some ass from Spain.
The hot triumphant evening turns to thunder,
And somewhere out beyond the finish line
The first small medals of rain. Strange to think
We will never be so happy again.
The theme “Lamia” has taken, that no happiness endures, is in the tradition of Pindar, the poet who wrote poems to celebrate the victories of the original Olympic athletes. Here are the last verses of his Ode to Aristomenes of Aegina, the winner of the boys’ wrestling contest:. He speaks of the humiliation of the losers as well as the joy of the winners:-
Now from on high on four young bodies
You hurled your strength with fierce intent. For them
No happy homecoming from Pytho was decreed,
As that of yours, nor at their mother’s side
Could pleasant laughter ring a joyful greeting
For their return. But shunning hostile eyes, they creep
By quiet paths, o’erwhelmed by their ill-fortune,
But he to whom is given new glory
In the rich sweetness of his youth, flies up,
Aloft, high hope fulfilled on wings of soaring valour,
In realms that brook no dullard cares of wealth,
But man’s delight flowers but for a brief moment,
And no less swiftly falls to the ground again, shattered,
By destined will that may not be gainsaid.
Creatures of a day! What is man?
What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being. But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of Heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days.
(Translated by Geoffrey S Conway)
Duffy of course is entitled to write about the Government’s economic policy with the fiercest anger – but a poem about the Olympics is not the best place to start, at least not in this tone – Yay Hoy! Boo Cameron! Inserting a local political message jars with the events and sounds ridiculous. “Lamia” as Larkin and Pindar describe an event which becomes haloed with a universal theme.
When Larkin did write an occasional poem it was for the opening of the Humber Bridge, which became part of a broader theme of isolation and joining. If he’d been in Duffy mode he would have added something about more money should be spent on cycle paths, and damned transport policy generally.
The winds play on it like a harp; the song,
Sharp from the east, sun-throated from the west,
Will never to one separate shire belong,
But north and south make union manifest.
Lost centuries of local lives that rose
And flowered to fall short where they began
Seem now to reassemble and unclose,
All resurrected in this single span,
Reaching for the world, as our lives do,
As all lives do, reaching that we may give
The best of what we are and hold as true:
Always it is by bridges that we live.
‘Shiraz’ Commenter Robin Carmody writes:
“The really scary thing (see Friday’s Guardian) is how hard those with vested interests are trying effectively to fix the election, or come as close to doing that as is constitutionally allowed, by making it as hard as possible for likely Obama supporters to vote. Worse still, this is strongest in Florida.”
Here’s the Doonesbury take:
Gordon Brown is a tragic figure in many ways. I always regarded him as a flawed character, but much more principled than Tony Blair. Unlike Blair, he was of the labour movement, and seemed to want an end to the Thatcherism that Blair perpetuated.
Today, at Leveson, Brown was asked straight, whether (as his erstwhile friend Rebekah Brooks, claimed) he gave permission to the Murdoch press to publish details of his young son’s illness. He denied that he had, effectively calling Brooks a liar. Similarly, he flatly denied Rupert Murdoch’s claim that, in the course of a phone call in late September or early October 2009, he’d (in Murdoch’s words) “declared war” on Murdoch’s business empire when the Sun changed sides and came out in support of Cameron before the last election.
I certainly believe Brown on the matter of his son. I’m not sure (who can be?) about the phone conversation with Murdoch. But even if he did say what Murdoch claims, who could reasonably blame him?
But, I’m afraid, Brown has proven himself to be a liar, plain and simple, on a further matter: in his evidence to the Inquiry, Brown denied asking his Treasury adviser Charlie Whelan to brief against Tony Blair while he (Brown) was Chancellor.
Blair’s former spin doctor Alastair Campbell had, previously, told the Inquiry that there was a “real problem” with Whelan.
Asked by Robert Jay, Leveson’s “forensic” inquirer, if Whelan or any other advisers briefed behind Blair’s back in order to force him from office, Brown replied: “I would hope not, I have no evidence for that.”
There was “tittle-tattle”, he said, but all special advisers’ media dealings went through civil servants under tough guidelines.
Now, we all know that’s a lie. Sadly, it taints everything else that this tragic figure had to say at Leveson today, including the stuff about his son that was almost certainly true.
Pedal on Parliament: a mass ride on Holyrood
Gather at the Meadows on April 28th
(2pm for a 3pm start)
Pedal on Parliament will be gathering cyclists from across the nation to cycle on Holyrood to tell our politicians that cycling matters, to show our need for safer cycling and cities fit for people. Please join us and help make a Scotland fit for cycling!
In February, up to 2000 cyclists gathered in London to cycle on the Westminster Parliament in support of safer cycling and cities fit for people. On April 28th, to coincide with a follow-up ride in London, Pedal on Parliament will be gathering cyclists from across the nation to cycle on Holyrood. We’re asking everyone who cycles in Scotland – or who would like to cycle, or would like their families to cycle, but who doesn’t feel safe – to join us for a big ride of our own – and a big picnic. Young and old, keen commuter or weekend pedaller, fit or not – you don’t even need to be on a bike. You just need to show up and add your voice to help make Scotland safe for cycling.
What do we want?
We have created an eight point manifesto to help Scotland’s devolved government reach its target of 10% of journeys by bike by 2020, a target which is now also embedded in its low carbon and obesity strategies. The government’s present Cycling Action Plan [CAPS] is far too limited to achieve the target, whilst the proportion of the transport budget allocated to cycling remains wholly inadequate at under 1%. Our manifesto covers:
- Proper funding for cycling.
- Design cycling into Scotland’s roads.
- Slower speeds where people live, work and play
- Integrate cycling into local transport strategies
- Improved road traffic law and enforcement
- Reduce the risk of HGVs to cyclists and pedestrians
- A strategic and joined-up programme of road user training
- Improved statistics supporting decision-making and policy
More info here.
What a horrible night Thursday was. I had vaguely expected to hear of another humiliation for George Galloway on the electoral trail, and with that, and Press TV being shut down I thought he would disappear from sight and hearing. But he comes screaming back. I have to give him a grudging salute for his strength and indefatigability. He certainly wrecked my sleep.
Socialist Unity were crowing over his triumph. I made a couple of comments on the victory evening:-
“How utterly wretched. Shameless pandering to religious prejudices wins an election in mainland Britain. I suppose if there had been an appropriate seat up for grabs in Belfast he could have pushed the Catholic buttons – gone on about being anti-abortion, say.
And even more wretchedly, a bunch of activists and politicos who regard themselves as progressive cheer him on.”
“That little hint that his opponent wasn’t a good Muslim because he had had a drink in the past – how would he have managed a similar ploy if he had been chasing a Catholic vote? Once, in stricter times, he could have suggested:-
My opponent has eaten meat on Friday;
My opponent has used a condom; or
My opponent has considered divorce
but Catholics are far more liberal these days.
What would be a clever hint to make about your opponent’s impurity of religion in order to chase Catholic votes rather than Muslim ones?
After all, if politics are going to be conducted through communalism, we should start thinking of the tactical advantage of comparative religious observance. That Ed Miliband guy’s an atheist, isn’t he?”
Those comments were deleted of course.
I was disgusted at the religious communalism that ran through this election. I thought that was what the Yanks did, out-godding each other as they chase the Presidency.
But Galloway - all praise to Allah at his victory and that he’s on a mission from God, and those that don’t vote for him will go to hell. Saying of his rival,
“When I hear Imran Hussein say, you should vote for him because he’s a Pakistani, because he is a quote, unquote “Muslim” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. On the question of Islam, God knows who is a Muslim or who is not. . . Everybody knows he’s never out of the pub.
Rather missing the chance of saying, “Let’s drop religion from this election. It shouldn’t matter.”
Politics as expression of religious tribalism is poison whether in Glasgow or Cairo. I added Bradford to the list of B’s that Christopher Hitchens spoke of when asked about the peace-making aspect of religion:-
“I was to imagine myself in a strange city as the evening was coming on. Toward me I was to imagine that I saw a large group of men approaching. Now-would I feel safer, or less safe, if I was to learn that they were just coming from a prayer meeting? […] Just to stay within the letter ‘B,’ I have actually had that experience in Belfast, Beirut, Bombay, Belgrade, Bethlehem, and Baghdad. In each case I can say absolutely, and can give my reasons, why I would feel immediately threatened if I thought that the group of men approaching me in the dusk were coming from a religious observance.”
Galloway is coy about whether he has converted or will convert to Islam. A couple of theories:-
1. If he converts and then after losing Bradford West he needs a seat where he can play communalist Catholic politics e.g. Belfast or the west of Scotland, he would have to be received by Catholicism again. That might just make him look opportunistic and inconsistent.
2. If he converts and then unconverts, it could make it inconvenient for him in some countries he will no doubt be visiting eg Iran where apostasy is illegal.
Since my initial outrage I have read some analysis – that West Bradford is a peculiar seat; that the politics there were corrupt and clan-driven; that Labour has played communalist politics there for years themselves and this was now biting them in the bum ; that the voters are kicking all the main parties, as they often do in by-elections; that only a rock-star politician like Galloway could have pulled it off. So it is unlikely to be the trend towards communalist politics that I feared. You can only be communalist in constituencies which will accept it.
I am though pissed off with the Bradfordian for electing him. Galloway’s over-blown rhetoric turns my stomach but a lot of them, especially the young ones, lapped it up. Bradford spring! for Chrissake. Who does he think he is? Answers own question – a kind of cross between Saladin on a white horse with a train of Saracens fighting the Crusaders and Lenin leading the masses. He really does see himself as a man of destiny, with God on his side.
When he says things like ” From the Punjab to Palestine, from Bagdhad to Bradford, everyone will sit up and take notice for by the Grace of God., ~I have a strong voice.” he believes in his own fantasies and gets his followers to believe in it as well.
By the way, note in this video that when addressing people in Bradford he doesn’t adopt a cod Yorkshire accent, though when addressing Arabs for some reason he puts on a weird Arab accent eg in this one where he extols Assad and Syria’s democracy and human rights record.
Well, he’s got MP written after his name now, which will make him a more acceptable courtier to whatever particularly bloody, repressive despot whose hand he wants to kiss. Saddam is gone, Assad, the man who upholds the dignity of Arabs and Muslims*, will no doubt be gone soon. There’s Ahmadinejad and sadly there will be some ugly Islamist regime established in at least one of the countries that have gone through the Arab Spring. He’ll be at its leader’s court, discussing “Zionism” and saluting this new lion with many Your Excellencies and that serious, respectful look and understanding nods.
(*If you can bear it, read Amnesty’s report on what Assad’s security forces visit do to the regime’s opponents)
The newspapers are gleeful that Galloway tweeted “Shattered but happy after the Blackburn triumph.
Well, he is a rock star after all. Sometimes on tour the lead singer appears in the stadium and yells to the crowd “Hullo Liverpool,” when in Manchester, and “Hullo Madrid,” when in Lisbon. (I know this has happened but “rock star” “wrong city” “hullo” isn’t turning up any actual examples).
Being Galloway, he couldn’t just say, sorry, stupid mistake. No, someone has to have hacked into his twitter account. I can’t do the technology but it seems that is unlikely. But being Galloway he has to lie about it. No doubt it was an American and Zionist propaganda plot against him.
A little competition for readers. I haven’t decided on the prize as yet. Or even whether there’ll be one. But have a go, anyway, even if it’s just a wild guess. From where (and/or from whom) does this speech come? -
” I wonder if you feel as I and some others do about our movement, a sense of inestimable privilege at being able to take part in a great historical transfuguration; I hope you feel that. And it’s more than taking part, it’s directing, shaping, building. When we have finished our work, the world will never be the same again. In the end our names will be forgotten, but we’ll have left our mark on events for as long as human society lasts. Our monument will be in men’s minds. By liberating others we’ll have liberated ourselves and all who come after us. I imagine the same thoughts, the same consciousness of purpose, uplifted our great predecessors in Petrograd as the autumn of 1917 advanced. Our task is to restore that revolution. And we shan’t fail.”