By Rhodri Evans (in the Workers Liberty paper Solidarity)
A “common sense” which has dominated much left thinking since the late 1980s or early 1990s is now breaking down. That’s a good thing.
The old line was to support whomever battled the USA. By opposing the USA, they were “anti-imperialist”, and therefore at least half-revolutionary.
So many leftists backed the Taliban. They sided with Khomeiny’s Iran. They claimed “we are all Hezbollah”.
But Syria’s dictator, Assad? Some leftists have taken the US support for the Syrian opposition, and the US threats to bomb Syria, as mandating them to side with Assad. Most find that too much to swallow.
And ISIS? Leftists who have backed the Taliban are not now backing ISIS. Not even “critically”.
The outcry about ISIS ceremonially beheading Western captives has, reasonably enough, deterred leftists. So has the threat from ISIS to the Kurds, whose national rights most leftists have learned to support.
And so, probably, has the fact that other forces previously reckoned “anti-imperialist” — Iran and its allies, for example — detest ISIS as much as the US does.
The Taliban converted Kabul’s football stadium into a site for public executions, and chopped hands and feet off the victims before killing them. The Taliban persecuted the Hazara and other non-Sunni and non-Pushtoon peoples of Afghanistan.
Now the media coverage of ISIS has focused thinking. But leftists who now don’t back ISIS must be aware that their criteria have shifted.
The old “common sense” was spelled out, for example, by the SWP in a 2001 pamphlet entitled No to Bush’s War.
It portrayed world politics as shaped by a “drive for global economic and military dominance” by a force interchangeably named “the world system”, “globalisation”, “imperialism”, “the West”, or “the USA”.
All other forces in the world were mere “products” of that drive. They were examples of the rule that “barbarity bred barbarity”, “barbarism can only cause more counter-barbarism”, or they were “terrorists the West has created”.
The pamplet promoted a third and decisive idea, that we should side with the “counter-barbarism” against the “barbarism”.
It was nowhere as explicit as the SWP had been in 1990: “The more US pressure builds up, the more Saddam will play an anti-imperialist role… In all of this Saddam should have the support of socialists… Socialists must hope that Iraq gives the US a bloody nose and that the US is frustrated in its attempt to force the Iraqis out of Kuwait” (SW, 18 August 1990).
But the idea in the 2001 pamphlet was the same. The SWP talked freely about how “horrifying” the 11 September attacks in the USA were. It refused to condemn them.
“The American government denounces the Taliban regime as ‘barbaric’ for its treatment of women”, said the pamphlet. A true denunciation, or untrue? The SWP didn’t say. Its answer was: “It was the Pakistani secret service, the Saudi royal family and American agents… that organised the Taliban’s push for power”.
Bin Laden was behind the 11 September attacks? Not his fault. “It was because of the rage he felt when he saw his former ally, the US, bomb Baghdad and back Israel”.
Now Corey Oakley, in the Australian socialist paper Red Flag, which comes from the same political culture as the SWP, criticises “leftists [for whom] ‘imperialism’ simply means the US and its Saudi and Israeli allies.
“Syria, Iran and even Russia, whose strategic interests brought them into conflict with the US, are portrayed as playing a progressive role…
“Events in Iraq… leave such ‘anti-imperialist’ fantasies in ruins. The Saudis are conspiring with the Russians while US diplomats negotiate military tactics with their Iranian counterparts… Israel tries to derail a US alliance with Iran while simultaneously considering whether it needs to intervene in de facto alliance with Iran in Jordan.
“If your political approach boils down to putting a tick wherever the US and Israel put a cross, you will quickly find yourself tied in knots. The driving force behind the misery… is not an all-powerful US empire, but a complex system of conflict and shifting alliances between the ruling classes of states big and small…
“The British, Russian, French and US imperialists are no longer the only independent powers in the region. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt – though all intertwined in alliances with other countries big and small – are powerful capitalist states in their own right, playing the imperialist game, not mere clients of bigger powers…” (1 July 2014).
The shift signifies an opening for discussion, rather than a reaching of new conclusions.
On ISIS, a frequent leftist “line” now is to deplore ISIS; say that the 2003 US invasion of Iraq contributed to the dislocation from which ISIS surged (true); express no confidence or trust in US bombing as a way to push back ISIS (correct); and slide into a “conclusion” that the main imperative is to campaign against US bombing.
The slide gives an illusion of having got back to familiar “auto-anti-imperialist” ground. But the illusion is thin.
The old argument was that if you oppose the US strongly enough, then you oppose the root of all evil, and hence you also effectively combat the bad features of the anti-imperialist force. But no-one can really believe that the US created ISIS, or that there were no local reactionary impulses with their own local dynamic and autonomy behind the rise of ISIS.
Our statement of basic ideas, in this paper, says: “Working-class solidarity in international politics: equal rights for all nations, against imperialists and predators big and small”. We have a new opening to get discussion on that approach.
A reaction to Socialist Worker on ISIS: “among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press”
There’s a fascinating debate going on at Facebook, sparked by this evasive and historically ignorant Socialist Worker article, and Comrade Coatesy’s reaction (republished in full below). Dave Osler initiated the discussion, thus:
‘Parallels have been drawn between young British Muslims who volunteer for ISIS and socialist/communist young men who joined the International Brigades that fought in Spain in the 1930s. Is the analogy valid?’
Later, Dave (a non-aligned socialist not prone to hyperbole) posted the following comment:
David Osler: ‘Actually, Andrew Coates puts his finger on what is wrong with that Socialist Worker article. It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it.‘
Tendance Coatesy’s coverage:
The UN has just made this announcement,
The Syrian government and Islamic State insurgents are both committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in their war against each other, U.N. investigators said on Wednesday.
Islamic State forces in northern Syria are waging a campaign to instill fear, including amputations, public executions and whippings, they said.
This follows a story in the Guardian on Monday,
Isis accused of ethnic cleansing as story of Shia prison massacre emerges
As many as 670 prisoners thought killed in Mosul with other abuses reported in Iraq amounting to ‘crimes against humanity’
A few days ago, in what can only be called one of the vilest exercises in whataboutery Socialist Worker published this week this apology for the racist genociders of ISIS/Islamic State:
There is resistance to this frenzy of Islamophobia by Hassan Mahamdallie, co-director of the Muslim Institute.
Mahamdallie begins by making a string of unsavoury comparisons.
The beheading of US journalist James Foley by the Islamic State, formerly known as Isis, was horrific. But is the Nigerian military slitting the throats of 16 young men and boys any less horrific?
Or last week’s Israeli air strike that blew to smithereens the wife and seven month old son of Hamas military leader Mohammed Deif? Surely that was horrific and disturbing too?
One atrocity was carried out by a murderer who calls himself Muslim. The second was sanctioned by a head of state who calls himself Christian. And the last was executed by an entity that defines itself as an exclusively Jewish state.
That is to ignore the widespread revulsion at the religious and ethnic cleansing by the genociders of ISIS/Islamic State.
That is, the suffering of the hundreds of thousands of Yazidis, Christians, Kurds and Turkomans massacred, tortured and driven from their homes in Iraq. The same gang is carrying out these actions in Syria.
One might imagine a few words on this topic.
But the eminently self-righteous Mahamdallie remains fixed to the Foley murder.
He comments that,
Yet only one triggered convulsions of outrage, with calls from the establishment in Britain and the US to take action. Madness descended yet again.
Continuing in this vein he comments on the condemnation of the Foley decapitation (though he is too polite to use this word) made by former Labour foreign minister Kim Howells and makes this observation that he should look into his own past and see how people are motivated to fight in wars. That is, one fight in particular, the defence of the Spanish Republic against the Franco-Led armies.
In the 1930s radicalised young men from the same mining communities illegally made their way into Spain to take up arms against general Franco’s fascist army.
He then takes time, a long long time, to pass smug comments ridiculing British Muslims who have denounced the genociders – for a variety of reasons. Apparently Muslims should not be asked their opinion on Muslim groups and Muslim religious authorities should not have to speak about those who declare themselves the only true Muslims.
The (present/former?) Senior Officer, Diversity, Arts Council England concludes that he prefers this response from the leader of the Lewisham Mosque,
The press asked him to condemn a tweet from a woman “Jihadi” in Syria who might have once attended the mosque.
He retorted, “The young woman’s desire to travel to Syria has nothing to do with the Centre. Unfortunately, the Muslim community are being subjected to a burden of proof based on a ‘guilty by association’ standard”.
Not a word of condemnation for the religious and ethnic cleansing.
But instead this, “It was good to see someone refusing to bow to the frenzy, a spark of resistance in a very dark week.”
No doubt Socialist Worker will applaud a “spark of resistance” to the “frenzy” of the UN announcement.
Update: Amongst Comments on Facebook about the Socialist Worker article,
“It doesn’t just ‘blur the distinction’ between ISIS and the International Brigades, it effectively equates them. This ranks it among the most odious pieces I have come across in over 30 years of reading the far left press. Disgusting is the only word for it” – David Osler.
The SWP/NUT/Guardian “line” on Islamist influence on Birmingham schools – that it’s all an “islamophobic” campaign – is no longer tenable.
Even Rick Hatcher of Socialist Resistance, which is broadly sympathetic to the Graun/SWP line, has cast doubt upon their claim that there are simply no problems in Birmingham schools.
Just for the record, let me remind you of what the Graun‘s education editor, Richard Adams, had to say about this matter: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP.
Yet now, even the Graun has had to face reality, and last week leaked the conclusions of the Peter Clarke enquiry (commissioned by the government) and then gave extensive and detailed coverage of the enquiry led by Ian Kershaw, commissioned by Birmingham City Council.
Both reports backed the main thrust of the ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations – that there had been (in the words of Ian Kershaw, quoted in the Graun), a “determined effort to change schools, often by unacceptable practices, in order to influence educational and religious provision for the students served.”
Kershaw differs with Clarke only in nuance, with the former finding “no evidence of a conspiracy to promote an anti-British agenda, violent extremism or radicalisation of schools in East Birmingham”, while the latter found there had been a “sustained and coordinated agenda to impose upon children in a number of Birmingham schools the segregationist attitudes and practices of a hardline and politicised strain of Sunni Islam.”
Clarke uncovered emails circulated amongst a group of governors and others, calling themselves the ‘Park View Brotherhood’ which he describes thus: “The all-male group discussions include explicit homophobia, highly offensive comments about British service personnel, a stated ambition to increase segregation at the school, disparagement of Muslims in sectors other than their own, scepticism about the truth of reports on the murder of [soldier] Lee Rigby and the Boston bombings, and constant undercurrent of anti-western, anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiment.”
Both reports also agree that Birmingham City Council, on grounds of “community cohesion” chose to ignore evidence of headteachers and other staff being bullied and driven out in order to turn what were supposed to be secular schools into de facto Islamic schools. The Council preferred a quiet life and turned a blind eye in the name of “community cohesion.” Council leader Albert Bore has since apologised “for the way the actions of a few, including some within the council, have undermined the great reputation of our city.”
Perhaps surprisingly, the Gove-commissioned Clarke report makes the obvious, but politically inconvenient, point that the academy status of many of the ‘Trojan Horse’ schools made them especially vulnerable to extremist influence: “In theory academies are accountable to the secretary of state, but in practice the accountability can amount to benign neglect where educational and financial performance seems to indicate everything is fine. This inquiry has highlighted there are potentially serious problems in some academies”
So we now have a situation in which the two reports commissioned into ‘Trojan Horse’ have both concluded that there was a real issue of organised, ultra-reactionary Islamist influence in some Birmingham schools. The newspaper at the forefront of the campaign of denial that followed the allegations has now relented and faced reality. The leader of Birmingham City Council has acknowledged what happened and apologised. But will those on the left (in particular, but not only, the SWP), who took the Guardian ‘line’ now admit their mistake? More importantly, will the NUT leadership, instead of prevaricating on the issue, now take a clear stand in support of secular education?
This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:
BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:
How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.
An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”
The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.
Can anyone explain the logic behind this?
H/t: Comrade Pete
Hmmm… May be able to tell the strategic political and industrial sense of the slogan “Gove out!” now. I wonder if he’ll be replaced by someone committed to a well funded, public education system…
Thanks to Owen Jones, in today’s Graun, for drawing my attention to a nasty little piece in the present edition of Socialist Worker. SW was once essential (and – believe it or not – entertaining) reading on the left, even for those of us who had little time for the SWP’s politics. But I haven’t bought a copy since September 2001 and so very rarely get to read it.
Above: Prof Callinicos, privately educated scion of the ruling class
For those of you who can’t be arsed to follow the link above, the article is entitled ‘Eton by Bear? The inquest begins,’ a supposedly ‘humorous’ take on the death of Horatio Chapple, mauled to death by a polar bear while on a trip to the Svalbard archipelago of Norway.
What makes the death of Chapple suitable material for SWP chortling is, it seems, the fact that he was a posh boy who went to Eton.
There was a time when I might have joined in with the sniggering, but I well remember being admonished over this by a senior comrade (himself of unimpeachable working class credentials) who told me, “socialism is about doing away with the idea that people’s worth should be judged by an accident of birth – and that applies just as much to workerism on the left as it does to mainstream society’s fawning before the aristocracy.” He was surely right, and I’ve never forgotten it – or the shame I felt at having to have such an elementary point explained to me.
Socialist Worker’s unpleasant sniggering over the death of this young man is all the more bizarre and distasteful when you consider the upper class, public school backgrounds of so many of their leading comrades, past and present – not least head honcho Callinicos, who (according to Wikipedia) “was educated at St George’s College, Salisbury (now Harare) … [and] … first became involved in revolutionary politics as a student at Balliol College, Oxford, from which he received his BA.”
Even more importantly, SW‘s gloating over this horrible death tells us a lot about the kind of “socialism” that this degenerate organisation now represents. Jones usefully reminds us of the words of Peter Fryer, the Daily Worker (forerunner of the Morning Star) journalist who resigned from the Communist Party of Britain after they suppressed his sympathetic coverage of the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Fryer was describing the Stalinist CP, but his words equally well apply to the nominally “Trotskyist” SWP of today:
“Stalinism is Marxism with the heart cut out, de-humanised, dried, frozen, petrified, rigid, barren.”
The picture below should shame anyone and everyone in Britain (and the rest of the West) who doesn’t bother to vote …
Men show their fingers after the ink-stained part of their fingers were cut off by the Taliban after they took part in the presidential election, in Herat province June 14, 2014.
…but even more, it should shame those on the so-called “left” who have ever expressed (publicly or privately) any degree of sympathy for the rural fascists of the Taliban. You know who you are (and so do we), you scum.
Above: Jerry Hicks
The following article from today’s Times requires little comment from me. I am by no means an uncritical supporter of Len McCluskey, but the developments described in the article (which, like previous pieces in the Murdoch press, has clearly been written with the full co-operation of Hicks) vindicate my assessment that Hicks was not worthy of support in last year’s Unite election and is entirely unfit to lead a trade union. If Hicks had any genuine concerns about the conduct of the election, he could have raised them within the union, which whatever its faults under McCluskey is at least a fairly open and democratic organisation. Those leftists (not just the SWP) who supported Hicks should now be hanging their heads in shame. Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about Unite will know that any “phantom voters” would have been, overwhelmingly, from the ex-Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency that Hicks was appealing to in his campaign. A shameful indictment of a man (Hicks) who can no longer be considered even to be a misguided part of the left:
Union leader faces re-election inquiry after ‘ghost’ vote claim
-Laura Pitel Political Correspondent
The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest.
Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 “phantom voters” who should not have been allowed to take part.
Unite is being investigated by the independent trade union watchdog over the claims. The Certification Office has the power to order a re-run of the race if Mr Hick’s concerns are upheld.
This week it announced a formal hearing into the claims, provisionally scheduled for July.
Mr Hicks, a former Rolls-Royce convenor who was backed by the Socialist Workers Party, believes that Unite’s decision to include 158,824 lapsed members in last year’s vote was in breach of the rules. The charge emerged after the discovery that there was a mismatch between the number of people granted a vote and the number of members cited in its annual report.
It has been claimed that some of those who were sent a ballot paper for the election, which took place in April 2013, had not paid their subscriptions for several years and even that some of them were no longer alive. The Times revealed in January that fewer than 10 per cent of the disputed members had renewed their subscriptions.
The hearing will listen to eight complaints, including allegations that Unite resources were used to campaign for Mr McCluskey and that it refused to allow Mr Hicks to make a complaint.
All the charges are rejected by Unite, which says that the rules were adhered to throughout the contest. It argued that it sought legal advice on sending ballot papers to those in arrears with their membership and was informed that excluding those who had fallen behind with their payments would be against the rules.
If the complaint about the disputed voters is upheld, Mr Hicks will have to persuade the watchdog that it could have had a significant impact on the outcome if he is to secure a re-run. Failing that, the ombudsman may instruct the union to take steps to ensure that the breach does not happen again.
The outcome of the vote was that Mr McCluskey won 144,570 votes compared with 79,819 for Mr Hicks.
Mr Hicks said he was “very buoyed up” by the news that he had been granted a hearing. He lamented the low turnout in the race, when only 15 per cent of Unites 1.4 million members voted and said he hoped that his complaints would lead to a more democratic union.
The last time a re-run of a general secretary contest was ordered was in 2011, when Ucatt, the construction union, was found to have sent ballot papers to only half of its 130,000 members.
* the use of alleged “extreme tactics” by trade unions is to become the sole focus of an official inquiry into industrial relations, ministers have revealed (Michael Savage writes).
The investigation, announced last year, was originally ordered to examine bad practices by employers as well as the controversial “leverage campaigns” wages by some unions. However, it will now only focus on the alleged intimidatory tactics used by unions.