This sort of thing just isn’t supposed to happen…
… according to the Tories, the Daily Mail and Farage. The anti-EU idiot left is just as nonplussed, as today’s Morning Star demonstrates, as it struggles between attempting to give an accurate report (eg Putin’s threat of trade sanctions, and the “violent police attacks”), and a nudge-nudge/dog-whistle suggestion to its readers that the protesters and opposition leaders like Lutsenko are dodgy characters (ie: the stuff about Lutsenko quitting the Socialist Party and being a “prominent figure in the 2004 Orange Revolution”); the closing statement that “Mr Yanukovych condemned the brutality and pledged to punish those responsible” is, of course, simply laughable:
100,000 defy ban to rally for EU deal
By Our Foreign Desk
MORE than 100,000 Ukrainians defied a ban on protests yesterday to rally in Kiev’s Independence Square over the president’s refusal to sign a deal with the European Union.
The crowd was the biggest yet since President Viktor Yanukovych’s surprise eastward turn last Sunday.
Police allowed the rally to proceed peacefully but broke out tear gas and truncheons when thousands of protesters tried to storm the presidential offices with a front loader.
Several hundred demonstrators also burst into the Kiev city council building and occupied it despite police attempts to drive them back with tear gas.
Opposition leaders called for a general strike and the setting up of a protest camp.
Yuriy Lutsenko, a prominent figure in the 2004 orange Revolution who quit the Socialist Party when it began coalition talks with the communists, said: “Our plan is clear — it’s not a demonstration, its not a reaction. Its a revolution.”
The protesters are furious that Mr Yanukovych backed away from a dal establishing free trade with the EU and greater political co-operation.
Mr Yanukovych said Ukraine couldn’t afford to break ties with Russia — a view shared by a third of the public, while 45 per cent want more EU integration.
Moscow had threatened trade sanctions if the EU deal — which was meant to be signed by Friday — went ahead.
Yesterday’s protests followed violent police attacks on Saturday’s demonstration.
Mr Yanukovych condemned the brutality and pledged to punish those responsible.
Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970′s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).
As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.
Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:
* ”These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”
* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”
* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point. Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.’”
Today’s Graun carries an editorial about a man who wrote some fine music but who was (to be charitable) an idiot when it came to politics. Maybe because his execrable political opinions quite resemble those of many Graun journalists and (no doubt) readers, it’s an almost laughable piece of hagiography:
Benjamin Britten at 100: voice of the century
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality
Imagine an English classical music composer who is so famous in his own lifetime that his name is known throughout the country, who is the first British composer to end his life as a peer of the realm, a composer from whom the BBC uniquely commissions a prime-time new opera for television, and whose every important new premiere is a national event, a recording of one of which – though it is 90 minutes long – sells 200,000 copies almost as soon as it is released, and a musician whose death leads the news bulletins and the front pages.
Next, imagine an English classical composer who is a gay man when homosexuality is still illegal, who lives and writes at an angle to the world, who can compose strikingly subversive music, who is passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes.
Now, imagine an English composer who in many estimations is simply the most prodigiously talented musician ever born in this country, who wrote some of the deepest and most rewarding scores of the 20th century, who set the English language to music more beautifully than anyone before or since, who almost single-handedly created an English operatic tradition and who, all his life, saw it as his responsibility to write music, not just for the academic priesthood or for the music professionals but for the common people, young and old, of his country.
Benjamin Britten, who was born in Lowestoft 100 years ago, was not just some of those multifarious things. He was all of them. And he was much more besides – including a wonderful pianist, the founder of the Aldeburgh Festival, and arguably the 20th century composer who is best served by his own extensive legacy in the recording studio. He was also, as many have written, a difficult and troubled man – even at times a troubling one.
Above all, he was the writer of music that still thrills because of its toughness, beauty, originality and quality. In his 1964 Aspen lecture, Britten said: “I do not write for posterity.” In fact, he did. In his lecture he said he wanted his music to be useful – a noble aim for an artist. He said he did not write for pressure groups, snobs or critics. He wrote, he said, as a member of society. His job was to write music that would inspire, comfort, touch, entertain and “even educate” his fellows. Britten spoke – and composed – as a serious man of his serious time. Impressively, much of that endures. If we seem today to have let some of Britten’s ideals slip, that may say more about our shortcomings as a culture than about Britten’s greatness and achievement, then and now.
Bearing in mind that “visitor to the Soviet Union” is Grauniad-speak for “willfully blind apologist for mass-murder”, just how many non-sequiturs can you spot in the following:
“…passionately anti-war, so much so that he escapes to America as the second world war threatens, who is in many ways a man of the left, certainly an anti-fascist, certainly a believer in the dignity of labour, as well as a visitor to the Soviet Union and a lifelong supporter of civil liberties causes” ..?
Thanks to Comrade Coatesy and also Bob from Brockley for drawing this bizarre business to my attention. You don’t need to be a supporter of the Syrian rebels (certainly, neither Coatesy nor us at Shiraz are) to be appalled at people like Newman’s Socialist Unity blog and Rees’ Stop the War pimping for Assad’s fascistic regime. The following comes from Tendance Coatesy:
Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition’s International Anti-War Conference on the 30th of November.
It seems that two speakers due to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – threatened not to come unless her invitation was withdrawn.
The Stop the War Coalition announced on Saturday,
Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes — a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) — to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.
Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.
In inviting speakers to participate in its events, Stop the War has never sought to endorse all their views. We have always provided a platform for a diversity of opinions within a broad anti-war perspective.
John Wight of Socialist Unity writes today,
She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’ due to her support for Assad and his government. But why wouldn’t she? As with the majority of Syrians who support their government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – she understands that the only force capable of preventing her country being turned into a killing field by western and Saudi backed savages is the Syrian Government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.
The BBC reports on Mother Agnès-Mariam (Extracts)
In recent weeks she has become the focus of media attention because of her attempt to prove to the world that Syrian opposition activists fabricated the videos showing victims of the Damascus chemical attack.
She argues the horrifying scenes – of men, women and children either dead or dying from inhaling sarin gas – which caused such international outrage were stage-managed.
The BBC’s Richard Galpin spoke to Mother Agnes.
Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix sprinkles blessings liberally over our conversation.
I’ve phoned her to request an interview about her strange role as an analyst of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.
In her most startling conclusion she alleges some of the people seen in the videos are in fact women and children abducted by rebels from minority Alawite areas of the country. President Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to this community.
The BBC asks, “So how credible are the claims made by Mother Agnes which have been so eagerly seized upon by Moscow as it still tries to save the Assad regime?”
There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, which has produced many detailed reports on Syria.
“She is not a professional video forensic analyst… we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated.”
One by one, Mr Bouckaert rejected the claims, saying:
- There were tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Ghouta area of Damascus, according to very regular reports received by Human Rights Watch
- Children were often sleeping in the basements of buildings in significant concentrations because of the intense shelling and that is why so many died (Sarin gas accumulates at low levels)
- The dead and those injured in the chemical attack were moved from place to place and room to room both at the clinics and ultimately for burial
- There were many men and women who were victims of the attacks. But there were separate rooms for the bodies of children, men and women so they could be washed for burial
- Almost all of the victims have been buried
Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos
It is perhaps not a coincidence that arch-conspiracy theorist lunatics Lyndon LaRouche’s group have diffused (November the 14th) a video of an interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam.
Bob from Brockley has been following this controversy closely.
He comments (yesterday),
Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as “Mother Agnes” has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime’s propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad’s war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux Beach, Democratic Revolution, and Pulse.
The Stop the War Coalition could do without this kind of “opinion” amongst its “diversity”.
My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:
The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now
There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.
For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.
Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.
Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.
The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.
The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.
The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.
We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)
For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.
In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.
(from the Workers Liberty website)
By Ross Spear (taken from Facebook). It should go without saying that us Shirazers don’t necessarily agree with all of the author’s opinions, and we didn’t seek his permission before publishing this, as it was already in the public domain:
How To Argue
The crisis inside the SWP has long been peppered with calls to conduct the debate in a comradely fashion inside the organisation. What goes unsaid is just how difficult this has been made. It takes two to tango, and the leadership has expended considerable effort destroying any possibility of a reasoned debate on the events of the past year. Its interventions on the subject are more akin to the smear tactics found in tabloid newspapers than the kind of debating you would expect to have amongst comrades. I take here the Charlie Kimber/Alex Callinicos article in the most recent ISJ as an example of this sort of behaviour. I stress that this is only that of an example, for the writings of the SWP leadership on the crisis are riddled from top to bottom with the wilful distortions that characterise their approach to ‘debate’. That this is their modus operandi only goes to show that their aim is not to convince their opponents so much as it is to discredit them. They aim to publicly sow confusion in order that the relevant facts are accorded a degree of ambiguity in the minds of their readers.
For anyone closely involved in the SWP crisis the various diversions, distortions and omissions are always plain to see. For those looking on at a distance this is likely not always so clear, thus why the opposition has been forced in to a rear-guard action so as to publicly set the record straight at every twist and turn. David Renton has already comprehensively dismantled the claims in the first part of the article that refers to the two cases. 65% of the article, however, is not concerned with this but deals with refuting what Callinicos and Kimber believe to be the mistaken politics of the opposition. They seek to take the debate “onto a political terrain where the issues can genuinely be clarified.” What emerges, however, is precisely the opposite.
Their main claim is that the opposition is subject to the deviation of ‘movementism’. That is to say that it, or at least a sizeable component of it, has renounced class politics and, specifically, the primacy of the working class as the agency of socialist change. This is what underpins the current split within the organisation, and is a common thread running through each split since the 2007 Respect crisis. It is through this lens that Kimber and Callinicos understand the opposition.
Argument by diversion
In reality, there is little indication that any drift towards ‘movementism’ is a defining aspect of the opposition. It is certainly not a unifying element of this heterogeneous bloc, which is unified solely in its disagreement with the systematic covering up of rape accusations. The opposition remains unified by this, and probably this alone, in spite of any protestations by Kimber and Callinicos to the contrary. In order to achieve their ideal target of an argument with ‘movementists’ they pursue diversionary tactics, away from what the opposition is talking about and towards what Kimber and Callinicos would like to talk about. They are unable to produce a sustained argument that would vindicate the SWP in its handling of two serious disputes, thus they move us on to something that they are confident talking about: the importance of the working class. The structure of the piece betrays this, for they quickly put forward their (incorrect) version of how the allegations were handled before launching in to a lengthy diatribe about movements, class and the united front.
If this is intended to be read and digested by the opposition then they merely waste paper, for that is not the dispute we are having. But this is not, of course, the purpose of the article. The diversion here is so absurd that one struggles to think that Kimber and Callinicos believe their own fantasy. There is certainly a time and a place for putting the arguments of revolutionary socialists as to the importance of the working class out in public, in order to convince people of our ideas. An article seeking to understand why a large portion of the SWP’s membership is resistant to the endemic sexism present in its handling of rape allegations is not it.
Argument by distortion
This diversion is achieved by way of presenting two pieces of evidence, provided to the reader as if they were telling examples of SWP members gone bad. For the first, they paraphrase the view of Richard Seymour: “Neoliberalism has entered the very soul of the working class, crushing class solidarity and identification, engendering acceptance of market relationships and hollowing out resistance.” According to Kimber and Callinicos the claim put here by Seymour is that neoliberalism “has totally gutted working class power.” It must be left up to Seymour to clarify his own ideas, but based on Kimber and Callinicos’ own summary he has said nothing of the sort. It is a well-known fact of the last thirty years that social attitudes have changed considerably (in what thirty year period do they not?) and that the working class has been on the back foot in the class struggle. Identifying the nature of this is the first step to changing it. Kimber and Callinicos are surely not yet so far fallen from revolutionary socialism that they would deny Marx’s postulate that the ruling ideas are those of the ruling class – and yet this is all Seymour’s claim really amounts to. Thus Seymour is presented as a heretic to revolutionary socialism not by the use of supporting evidence but by asking the reader to make a leap of faith, to trust in Kimber and Callinicos to know what he is really getting at. The authors travel swiftly from what he did say to what they would have liked him to have said, and then they comprehensively rebut that instead.
Their second target is Renton, whose crime is to contend that “’Core’ public sector workers… having final salary pensions arguably have as much in common with MPs and bankers as they do with the nine out of ten workers who rely on private pensions or no pensions save the state pension.” Once more a jump is made by Kimber and Callinicos, who transform this statement – that the minority of workers who have decent pensions have something significant in common with other social strata that do also – in to a moral claim on Renton’s part that these workers are somehow bad because they have attained this level of security. Renton is said to be ‘directing fire’ at groups of workers. Unfortunately for Kimber and Callinicos, the quoted passage does not make the argument that they go on to counter. They are once more left to argue against a target that they have constructed themselves. If I make the observation that those who have been to Russell Group universities and become workers have something in common with lots of non-workers, like MPs, I am not ‘directing fire’ but making a potentially valuable statement about a certain lived experience. That this is a fact does not make those involved any less working class, but may nonetheless be of use in understanding the lived experience of workers if socialists wish to lead them. The ruling class has consciously pursued stratification within the working class, attempting to break down its bonds of solidarity. The least we owe them is to acknowledge this. Read the rest of this entry »
Christian mourners outside the church in Peshawar protest against the Islamist attack
In the light of the Nairobi terror attack and the massacre of Christians in Pashawar, Pakistan, it’s high time the so-called “left” faced up to an elementary truth: Islamism (as distinct from the religion of Islam) is a form of fascism, and must be fought as such. It’s to the eternal shame of “left” groups like the SWP (not to mention liberal “mainstream” publications like the Guardian) that they’ve repeated the mistakes of 1930′s Stalinism (Third Period and Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) in promoting and prettifying fascists as somehow “progressive”.
The only far left group in Britain to openly describe Islamism as clerical fascist in recent years has been the AWL. Here’s their Martin Thomas in 2008, on the subject:
Political Islam as clerical fascism
Examining Gilles Kepel’s comprehensive history, Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (Harvard University Press).
“Left-leaning Arab intellectuals have traditionally regarded the [Muslim] Brothers as a populist movement… [with] similarities to the workings of European fascism during… the 1930s…
“In the eyes of leftist intellectuals, both among Muslims and in the West, Islamist groups represented a religious variety of fascism…
“But gradually, as Islamist numbers increased… the left discovered that Islamism had a popular base; consequently Marxist thinkers of every stripe, casting around for the mass support so critical to their ideology, began to credit Islamist activists with socialist virtues…”
Kepel reports this shift of attitudes in a dispassionate way. But the facts assembled in his book give a verdict. The recent granting of political credit to political Islam by would-be Marxists reflects those leftists’ loss of self-confidence, in an era of bourgeois triumphalism, rather than any shift to the left by the Islamists.
Political Islam, or “Islamism”, as a political movement or congeries of movements, is distinct from Islam as a religion. Before the late 70s, in modern times, if a government called itself “Islamic” or “Muslim”, that was a vague gesture rather than a ferocious commitment. The only large exception was Saudi Arabia, a peculiarly archaic state.
Modern political movements, using modern political mechanics to convert society to an Islamic state, absolutely governed and permeated by revivalistically-rigorous Islamic doctrine, were levered into life and prominence in a sequence of three big turning points, 1967, 1973, and 1979.
The theory had been prepared before then. Hassan al-Banna and Mawlana Mawdudi, the founders of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jamaat e-Islami in India (later Pakistan) began activity in the late 1920s. Sayyid Qutb, a Muslim Brotherhood ideologist who has become the main literary inspiration for “harder” Sunni political Islam, wrote his books in the 1960s and was hanged by Egypt’s secular government in 1966. Ruhollah Khomeiny formulated his thesis of direct political rule by senior clergy in 1970.
But the movements were weak. In Iraq, for example, the Shia-Islamist movements which now dominate politics there had originated in 1958-63, but until the 1970s were small circles of clerics and theological students, concerned mostly with pious discussion among themselves. They kept a low profile as much because they knew their ideas would seem uncongenial to the wider population as for fear of repression.
“The first Islamist onslaught”, writes Kepel, “was against nationalism. The 1967 defeat [of the Arab states by Israel, in the war of that year] seriously undermined the ideological edifice of nationalism and created a vacuum to be filled… by Qutb’s Islamist philosophy”.
The rise of political Islam was also (so it seems to me, though Kepel does not spell this out) based in part, paradoxically, on the relative successes of Arab nationalism. Over the two decades before 1967 the Arab states had won political independence, and legislated land reforms and nationalisation.
Many of the cadres of political Islam would be young men from rural backgrounds who – thanks to the “successes” of nationalism – had become the first generation from their families to go to university, to live in big cities, and, often, to travel the world as migrant workers, especially in the Gulf.
Paradoxically, the cadres of consciously backward-looking political Islam would come from among the most “modernised” or “Westernised” people in their countries. They had been roused up and tantalised by nationalism and its promises – but also dashed down by them. “Qutb spoke to the young, born after independence, who had come along too late to benefit from the vast redistribution of spoils that followed the departure of the colonial occupiers”.
Bourgeois nationalism must always create disappointments. What led to special tumult in the Arab world, rather than a “moderate” disillusion and “settling-down”, was the peculiar attachment of Arab nationalism to an unrealistic (indeed, reactionary) objective, the destruction of “Zionism” (the Israeli Jews), and the peculiarly extreme conjunction, created by the oil economies, of seething poverty with vast wealth controlled by various species of bureaucratic “crony capitalism”.
In 1973 the Arab states warred with Israel again, coming out of it a bit better, but not well enough to rehabilitate the nationalists. Oil prices and oil revenues increased hugely. The Saudi regime started pouring funds into promoting Islamic rigorism internationally.
“Prior to 1973, Islam was everywhere dominated by national or local traditions rooted in the piety of the common people”, with a “motley establishment” of clerics who “held Saudi-inspired puritanism in great suspicion”.
Now, “for the first time in 14 centuries, the same books (as well as cassettes) could be found from one end of the [Muslim world] to another… This mass distribution by the conservative Riyadh regime did not… prevent more radical elements from using the texts… to further their own objectives”.
In the 1970s, and into the 1980s, “conservative governments on the Saudi model [and often with US approval] encouraged Islamism as a counterweight to the Marxists on university campuses whom they feared”. There was “re-Islamisation” from above, even in countries where grass-roots Islamist movements were weak or repressed.
World-wide, far beyond the Arab domain, “all Muslims were offered [and many, not just political Islamists, accepted] a new identity that emphasised their religious commonality while downplaying differences of language, ethnicity, and nationality”. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (an alliance of states) was set up in 1969; the Islamic Development Bank, in 1975.
In 1979, political Islam took power in non-Arab Iran, and became the banner of a long war, with popular support, in non-Arab Afghanistan, against the USSR’s attempt to subjugate that country militarily.
The Shah’s brutal modernisation “from above” in Iran had created mass discontent. While in most Sunni countries, the religious establishment was diffuse and heavily controlled at its higher levels by the state, in Shia Iran the clerics had an organised hierarchy outside state control.
In Sunni political Islam, the main leaders had been (and would continue to be) laymen. Khomeiny created the first political-Islamist movement using clerics as cadres, and proposing not just an Islamic state, but a state ruled by clerics.
He also introduced social demagogy, otherwise a thinner seam in political Islam than in the European fascism, or even clerical-fascism, of the 1930s. “Neither Mawdudi nor Qutb gave any explicit social content to their theorising”.
The Iraqi ayatollah Baqi as-Sadr, uncle and father-in-law of the current Mahdi Army leader Muqtada al-Sadr, had in 1961 published a book on “Islamic economics”; but the main distinctive upshot has been the rise of “Islamic banking”, now a reputable sideline in the City of London.
All Islamists thought that “the coming reign of the sharia… would be built upon the ashes of socialism and of a Western world completely devoid of moral standards”; but it was Khomeiny who introduced a specific appeal for an “Islam of the people” and to the “disinherited” (mustadefeen).
Still, for Khomeiny, as Kepel notes, “the disinherited” was “so vague a term that it encompassed just about everyone in Iran except the shah and the imperial court… includ[ed] the bazaar merchants opposed to the shah”. The main actual measure for the poor of Khomeiny’s Iran would be distribution of state subsidies to the families of Islamist “martyrs”.
Socially, Kepel sees political Islam as resting on two distinct groups – the “devout middle class”, both traditional-mercantile and modern-professional, who feel mistreated by corrupt secular-nationalist state bureaucracies; and the young urban poor such as the Algerian “hittistes” (from the word hit, meaning wall: young unemployed men leaning against walls).
That small-bourgeois/ lumpenproletarian alliance has also generally been the social base of fascism.
Political Islam, however, has a vast range of variants, from middle-class movements confining themselves to mild pressure-group politics (Kepel cites the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, friendly to the monarchy) to plebeian “takfiris” for whom all outside their own ranks, even pious Muslims who deviate slightly, deserve terrorist chastisement.
Kepel sees the search for a middle way and a broad alliance, necessary to any successful political-Islamist movement, as ultimately unviable. He concludes that political Islam reached its high point around 1989 – with the USSR’s retreat from Afghanistan, the temporary triumph of an Islamist regime in Sudan, the rise of Hamas and Islamic Jihad among the Palestinians, and Khomeiny’s death-decree against Salman Rushdie – and has mostly declined since. He cites the defeat of the Islamist-terrorist “ultras” in Algeria and Egypt as evidence.
The trend, he argues, must be for the devout middle class to be co-opted and pulled towards parliamentary democracy, on the lines of the Turkish Islamists, and for the “ultras” to be isolated.
In 2008, eight years after Kepel published the first edition of his book, his conclusion looks implausible. Political Islam has had some defeats, but its success in Iraq shows it still has great vitality.
Kepel’s error, I would guess, is shaped by a certain disdain: he just cannot believe that many people, in the Arabic and Muslim cultures which he loves, can be lastingly seduced by such crudities and brutalities.
What is true, surely, is that those cultures contain many strands utterly alien to political Islam. The assertion, common on the left, that hostility to political Islam implies de facto hostility to most Muslims, is untrue.
On those strands, a working-class socialist movement can build, answering the social questions which political Islam so obscures, on condition that the socialists acquire the self-confidence to brand the clerical-fascists for what they really are.
Above: Palestinians carry the bodies of three toddlers killed in an Israeli strike in Gaza City. Brutal, certainly: but is it apartheid?
I thought some readers might be interested in an exchange of views, involving myself, on the subject of whether it is accurate and/or politically useful to describe Israel as an ‘apartheid’ state. What is particularly significant is not so much the content of the debate – most of which covers well-trodden ground – but the fact that it appeared in the Morning Star, a publication which has hitherto presented the ‘fact’ of Israeli ‘apartheid’ as a given, and never (to the best of my knowledge) carried any debate on the question on its letters page, or anywhere else. Regulars will be aware that the Morning Star is not my favourite publication, but it is to their credit that they published my first letter on the subject and also then gave me the right of reply to two critical responses. My letters were edited, though not in such a way as to misrepresent my views, and I presume the two critical replies may well have been as well. I reproduce them all exactly as printed, apart from a couple of minor corrections to spelling and grammar.
Because the Morning Star revamped its website in September, no record of the editorial that gave rise to my first letter remains there, and I have not kept a copy. I have been able to track down the opening lines from elsewhere on the web, and these should give you a flavour of what sparked it all off in the first place. I took a conscious decision to restrict my response to the question of ‘apartheid’ and not comment on the rights and/or wrongs of the BBC’s “censorship”:
More Zionist Bias at Beeb
BBC4 is screening a Nigel Kennedy concert this evening in which he speaks up for Palestinian rights, but the national broadcaster has decided to censor his remarks.
The August 8 Proms concert featured Kennedy and the Palestine Strings, a group of young Palestinian musicians from the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music.
The violinist paid tribute to his fellow musicians, telling the audience: “it’s a bit facile to say it, but we all know from the experience of this night of music making that giving equality and getting rid of apartheid gives a beautiful chance for things to happen.”
His comments were carried live on BBC Radio 3, but a pro-zionist campaign campaign of pressure has led to … (from MS Editorial, August 23)
JD: 1st letter:
Your editorial More Zionist Bias at Beeb (M Star August 23) is mistaken. Nigel Kennedy’s concern for the Palestinians is laudable but his use of the term “apartheid” to describe Israel is highly contentious.
“Apartheid” was not simply a term of abuse, but had a definite class content.
It was a peculiar system in which a white caste, intertwined with the capitalist ruling class, denied the black majority elementary rights in order to enforce their super-exploitation.
The answer was a single state with equal rights for all. For democrats there could be no question of national or collective rights for the whites as distinct from individual equal rights after the overthrow of apartheid.
The Israelis are not a narrow caste and Israel is not an apartheid state but a nation – one that denies rights to the Palestinians but a nation nonetheless.
Iraq, Iran and Turkey are not “apartheid states” because they oppress the Kurds and Russia is not an “apartheid state” because of its occupation of Chechnya.
Israel is a national entity not simply a settler-caste. Within Israel the great majority of the working class is ethnically “Jewish” and their view matters.
They do not have the right to oppress Palestinians but they do have the right to their own national identity.
That is why in Palestine, unlike in South Africa, the best immediate settlement is two states.
Arab citizens of Israel face discrimination in many areas of life. But the situation more resembles the discrimination faced by ethnic minority people in Britain or the US than it does apartheid South Africa.
Some techniques used by Israel against the Palestinians resemble those used by the apartheid-era South African regime but the social and political realities are fundamentally dissimilar.
Recognising that should not lessen our hostility to oppression of the Palestinians. But to call it “apartheid” is politically illiterate, alienates many Jewish people and serves no useful purpose in building solidarity with the Palestinians — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
Letter from Stephen Smith
I was puzzled by Jim Denham’s assertion (M Star August 30) that the term “apartheid” wasn’t appropriate to describe Israel.
Given that it means “separate development” in Afrikaans, it is a good fit for a state which segregates citizens in every conceivable way on the basis of their ethnic origin.
Apartheid did indeed have a class dimension but even a cursory glance at the extreme poverty experienced predominantly by Palestinian Arabs signposts economic disadvantage based on ethnic origin as a feature of Israeli and Palestinian life.
Jim describes Israel’s “ethnically Jewish” working class yet inexplicitly excludes non-Jewish working people in Israel, largely working class Arabs denied the same rights and status as other Israeli workers.
If that isn’t apartheid, I’m not sure what is.
Desmond Tutu noted in 2002 that this situation “reminded me so much of what happened to us black people in South Africa…the humiliation of the Palestinians at checkpoints and roadblocks, suffering like us when young white police officers prevented us from moving about.
“Many South Africans are beginning to recognise the parallels to what we went through.”
Far from being “politically illiterate,” both Nigel Kennedy and the Morning Star’s editorial (M Star August 23) hit the mark.
It is the bitterest of ironies that a nation forged in response to the greatest crime against humanity is one of the perpetrators of the very ethnic division and hatred standing in the way of the peace, justice, prosperity and equality that could resolve this conflict. — STEPHEN SMITH Witney
Letter from John Nicholson
I presume you published the letter from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (M Star August 30) in support of the Israeli state in order to provoke responses.
That may be permissible in journalistic terms.
However it is not a good justification for a left newspaper to give any coverage at all to these views.
If anything what the Israeli state is perpetrating on the Palestinian people is worse that apartheid — Palestinian refugees who have no right of return to their homes in villages which Israel demolished. Palestinians living within Israel with substantially fewer social, economic and political rights than their Jewish neighbours, and Palestinians in Gaza who are contained within what is effectively a very concentrated concentration camp, in increasingly severe deprivation and subject regularly to annihilation from Israel’s bombs.
And meanwhile our government — and the EU — gives support to Israel, not least by contracting with the appalling G4S which is integrally involved in the Israeli prisons and detention centres where Palestinians, including children, are illegally held and ill-treated. — JOHN NICHOLSON Manchester
JD: 2nd letter
Since neither Stephen Smith nor John Nicholson (M Star September 3 and 7-8, respectively) address the central point of my first letter (M Star August 30) about Israel and apartheid, let me spell it out.
Israel was given its character by Zionists’ refusal to use Arab labour. Whatever we think of that, it was the opposite of the form of exploitation on which apartheid South Africa was built.
As a result, in Israel there is a large, powerful Jewish working class and the Histadrut trade union that organises Jewish and Arab workers.
In apartheid there was no major white working class, just a tiny and massively privileged labour aristocracy.
The Israeli Jewish workers’ movement must be crucial in the fight for a just solution to the Israel/Palestine tragedy in a way that was simply not the case with white workers in South Africa.
Socialists should support Palestinian and Jewish activists in fighting for workers’ rights, democracy, secularism and the right of all peoples to self-determination.
In the immediate term that means the struggle for two states. I’m afraid that many of the people who insist on describing Israel as an “apartheid state” don’t really want that. — JIM DENHAM Birmingham
More relativist garbage and pro-Putin apologetics from Mr John Wight and his fellow sub-Stalinists at the laughably misnamed Socialist Unity blog:
Many societies remain uncomfortable with homosexuality. In our own country gains in LGBT rights and equality are a relatively recent phenomenon. Whether we like to admit it or not, homosexuality and sexual promiscuity are still viewed as two sides of the same coin in some societies, feeding a misplaced understanding of homosexuality as solely a lifestyle choice motivated by hedonism. It is seen as a corrupting and corrosive influence on social cohesion as a consequence. There is of course nothing wrong with homosexuality as a lifestyle choice. The freedom to choose any lifestyle a person so wishes, as long as it does not impinge on the rights of others, is rightly deemed sacrosanct in a healthy society.
But social attitudes are inevitably buttressed and influenced by cultural traditions, which differ across the world and are the product of specific histories and inevitably develop at different rates of progress. These factors cannot simply be abstracted in favour of a western-centric approach on the part of liberal commentators and activists in Britain.
If you want the context, and/or have a morbid fascination with moral relativism, the full article is here.
Today’s Morning Star editorial is almost as craven, but at least makes it clear that, in their opinion “Russia’s law banning so-called propaganda in favour of homosexuality is a repressive measure that cannot be justified” … before going on to lecture Stephen Fry and Russian LGBT organisations to the effect that they “would gain more from closer links with oversees groups in and heightened publicity about discrimination rather than boycott proposals that imply a Western moral superiority.”
Again, readers may wish to read the full article in all its wretched, squirming relativism: it’s here.
Wight, Nooman, and the Starlinists find themselves in thoroughly suitable company when they denounce Stephen Fry over his call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics over this issue: the Daily Mail.
Fry has written a scathing response to the Mail. One section, in particular, applies to Wight, Nooman and the Starlinists every bit as much as it does to the Mail:
Of course I know Putin isn’t Hitler. But then Hitler wasn’t the full Hitler we now think of in back in 1935 either. The death camps and atrocities were years away. He became the Hitler of 1939 because we never stopped him. All historians agree now on how doubtful and uncertain he was in 35, 36, 37, and 38. The occupation of the Rheinland provinces of Alsace Lorraine and the annexation of Austria went unchallenged. The Olympic games reinforced his huge status at home.
Nor was Stalin the full Stalin in 1920. True terrible bloody leaders become so because they are not stopped. The last four lines of W. H. Auden’s The Tyrant come to mind:
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Franco and any other despot you care to mention: they become despotic, maniacal, more autocratic, more insane every time they are given a greater sense of their own power. The fanatical junior KGB officer Vladimir Putin will become, if he is allowed to get away with it, as autocratic as any Tsar or any Soviet chairman. Vladimir the Terrible will have blood on his hands. He already does, but there will be so so much more. Little children will die in the streets. All power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely. That saying is so well-known it’s hardly worth repeating. You would think…
But apparently I don’t have the right to bleat my liberal opinion…
PS: and before anyone points it out, yes, I am generally sceptical about the political effectiveness of boycotts and certainly oppose the proposed “delegitimisation” boycott/disinvestment campaign against Israel. But Fry’s call for a boycott of the Winter Olympics so long as Russia hosts it, is an entirely proper response to Putin’s fascistic outlawing of so-called “gay propaganda” and Russian state-sponsored physical attacks on gay individuals – JD.
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.
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
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)
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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