Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.
By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):
The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]
Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.
When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!
IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.
The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.
They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.
Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.
The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.
You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.
They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.
Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.
The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.
Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.
There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.
More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.
Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?
Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?
Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?
One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.
This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strikes in the wake of the USA.
When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.
One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.
Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.
If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.
The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.
Steve Bell’s If … © Steve Bell
By Dale Street (of Workers Liberty)
“Neither Nicola Sturgeon nor her deputy (Stewart Hosie) are saying austerity can be avoided. Instead, it’s being re-badged and re-profiled, or spread out for longer. …”
“The defiant refusal to accept more austerity, which won power for Syriza in Greece last month, is not being offered here. Instead, a serious bid for a share of power in Britain requires a message that won’t spook the markets.”
That was the verdict of BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser, and it is about right.
The fact that the SNP are saying that more austerity is unavoidable is at odds with the SNP’s message on the doorstep (and in television debates): that the SNP is the only Scottish party with an anti-austerity agenda.
This kind of incoherence — and dishonesty — permeates the SNP general election campaign. In fact the SNP is not running one election campaign but a collection of mutually exclusive campaigns.
SNP leaders says that this election is not about independence for Scotland but about austerity. In fact, as far as the SNP is concerned, everything is about independence, including this election.
Although both Salmond and Sturgeon previously described last September’s referendum as a “once-in-a generation” event, both of them — just seven months later — are now refusing to rule out another referendum after the Holyrood elections of 2016.
SNP election activists are far more honest and describe the general election as “a stepping stone” (sic) to another referendum and independence. (So too do the SNP’s “socialist” bag-carriers. But not even the SNP takes them seriously.)
SNP leaders claim that they want to help Ed Miliband into 10 Downing Street. But they don’t actually want anyone to vote Labour! Instead, Scotland should vote for the SNP, Wales for Plaid Cymru, and England for the Greens.
Again, SNP election activists are more honest and want Scots to vote SNP and the Welsh to vote Plaid Cymru because they cannot conceive of voting on any basis other than national identity, and because there is no such thing as an English National Party, they cannot work out how the English should vote.
Unlike the public face of the SNP, they are also refreshingly honest in declaring that they really don’t care if the Tories win the general election because a Tory victory would be just an additional reason for another referendum and independence. Read the rest of this entry »
Pedal on Parliament, 25 April 2015 12:00 Middle Meadow Walk Edinburgh
This Saturday I’ll be among the thousands pedalling from The Meadows down Edinburgh’s Royal Mile to Holyrood for the fourth year of Pedal on Parliament (POP). The motorised traffic will stop and for once we can enjoy Edinburgh’s beautiful centre without the fumes, noise and fear that are the usual experience of cycling among the internally combusting.
This is Pedal on Parliament’s fourth year.
Transport is a devolved power in Scotland. According to Sally Hinchcliffe, one of the organisers of POP:-
Since we started in 2012, Pedal on Parliament (PoP) has become a national force for cycling in Scotland. As soon as we saw the first-year turnout – the biggest demonstration ever outside the new Scottish Parliament building, apparently – we realised we were going to have to continue.
At the time, although the SNP government had made bold promises about having 10% of journeys made by bike by 2020, on closer examination its plans proved to be no more than the usual UK-style handwaving: training a few schoolchildren, encouraging people to get on their bikes (ignoring the fact that most of them would love to if it wasn’t for the traffic), and asking everyone to be nice to each other on the road.
Funding for the one measure proven to be effective at getting people cycling – building safe, direct and attractive cycle routes – was being cut. Instead, money was being poured into roads: a new Forth crossing, extending Glasgow’s motorway network, and dual carriageways between every city in Scotland.
Sally though does point out the accessibility of Scottish politicians, some who will be at POP including the Minister for Transport. Some of the MSPs are members of Spokes, Edinburgh’s cycling pressure group. The First Minister obviously thinks appearing on a bicycle does her no harm.
If the First Minister likes to be seen riding a bicycle, perhaps we can hold her pedals to the fire to do more for cycling in Scotland than photo opportunities.
Cycling activism moves slowly and incrementally and the news that a kerb will be dropped will cause you a frisson of achievement. However there is the bigger picture, and who better to talk about cycling than a Dutchman Henri de Ruiter:-
As I grew up in the Netherlands, cycling is so entirely normal for me that it still feels strange to advocate for it. As a teenager, I cycled to football training from one end of the city to the other end. It did not matter whether it was dark, light, raining, or sunny; we just cycled. The only thing my mother worried about was how dirty the laundry would be when I returned, not whether I would return at all. We cycled to school, to music lessons, to football training, to friends – just everywhere. No parents or their cars needed. Here in Aberdeen, I would never let my child cycle from one side of the city to the other. One small mistake could kill here.
So cycling is an enabler, especially for children. Though most cycling advocates stress the health and environmental benefits of cycling, for me cycling is about liveable, enabling cities – places where everybody wants to live and where children can play on the streets. Even in the US, arguably the car-loving country in the world, people want to keep cycle lanes once they are put in, because the vast majority agrees that their “neighbourhoods became more desirable to live in”. So why wouldn’t that be the case in Scotland?
70% of our world’s population will live in cities in 2050, and people will be increasingly geographically mobile. As a result, cities compete for talent and businesses in a global marketplace. If Aberdeen, Edinburgh or Scotland wants to thrive, it needs to be able to attract people; hence an attractive cityscape will be vital.
More densely populated cities are needed, because “Generation Y” is different (more singles / fewer kids / more focused on experiences) and has other demands, such as work close to home and smaller apartments. The Atlantic recently reported that car makers are worried about these “Millenials” because they don’t seem to care about owning a car. So why build an infrastructure based on current preferences without talkin’ ‘bout my generation?
Densely populated cities are also needed because suburban sprawl is becoming too expensive for an ageing population (more maintenance of roads/sewers/landlines ). However, in order to function properly, densely populated cities need a different transport hierarchy: pedestrians first, cyclists second, public transport third and the private car last.
So the new urban types, the harbingers of the two-wheeled future, are going to Pedal on Parliament. There are feeder rides and also a feeder walk.
A crowd looks on as Armenians are hanged in the street in Constantinople before their forced removal to the desert had begun after April 1915
By Dan Katz
The Ottoman Empire existed from 1299 until its abolition by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists in 1923. At the height of its power, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Empire spread from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the Persian Gulf and from southeastern Europe down to the Red Sea.
A long period of decline followed, characterised by the loss of territories, fragmenting centralised authority and attempts at reform from above. In the 19th century the backward, stagnant Empire faced the rise of nationalisms inside its European boundaries as the constituent peoples rose to national consciousness. Britain, France, Russia and Austria detached territories.In response the Ottomans attempted to reform along Western lines. They modernised the army, abolished guilds, and somewhat reformed banking and the legal codes.
But a measure of the Empire’s continuing backwardness was that the trade in slaves continued until the early 20th century.
Groups began to emerge amongst the elite demanding more radical change. In 1876 a military coup forced the abdication of the Sultan, Abdulaziz, and the new Sultan was allowed to assume power on condition he declared a constitutional monarchy and convened a parliament.
The genocide of the Armenians, which started in April 1915, was orchestrated by nationalists, but had been prepared by Islamic-Turkish domination within the old Empire.
Modern Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir, campaigning for the refounding of the Caliphate (religious authority which existed within the Ottoman state), claim that Jews and Christians were simply obliged to pay a tax to the Ottomans in order to practice their religion freely. In fact non-Muslim religious groups were subjected not only to a special tax but to a range of discriminatory, deliberately humiliating laws:
“[Non-Muslim] men were forbidden from marrying Muslim women. Testimony [from non-Muslims] against Muslims was not accepted in court… [Non-Muslims] were forbidden from conducting their religious observance in a way that would disturb Muslims. The ringing of church bells or the construction of churches of synagogues were forbidden… [Non-Muslims] were forbidden to ride horses or carry arms and were obliged to step aside for approaching Muslims” (Taner Akcam, A Shameful Act). In some periods the non-Muslim groups were forced to wear clothes of particular colours (Armenians wore red shoes and headgear, Greeks wore black, Jews turquoise).
Armenians and others were expected to abide by this religious “agreement”, which had been imposed on them. When the Armenians and other nationalities began to demand equality in the 19th century, they were seen as violating Islamic custom.
Read the rest of this entry »
Comrade Coatesy has provided excellent coverage of today’s ruling of the Election Commissioner, who has found Rahman guilty of massive corruption and illegal practices, commented upon his personal dishonesty, barred him from office and fined him £250,000. Coatsey’s piece is rightly scathing about the various “leftists” who have defended and/or covered up for Rahman, often joining in with the ritual cries of “racist!” and “Islamophobe!” directed at anyone who dared criticise him.
Though Cowards Flinch places the scandal in the context of an underlying problem with elected mayors.
I will, no doubt be returning to this matter in due course. In the meanwhile, readers may find the following background information helpful:
Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council. However, he lost this position in 2010. The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC. The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause. The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh. They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.
Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him. Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in 2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman could run the administration drawing on only these councillors. THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect. One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat. He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne. The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.
There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run:
First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists. For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy. It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain. The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group. It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities. In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religious lines, that strengthens the links between people of Bangladeshi origin. Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million. Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups. It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.
Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth. These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but young men in suits and whose beards are either neatly clipped or absent. In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors. This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque. The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere. As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.
Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems. Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent. Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.
Rahman’s links with the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami are described on pages 27-29 of this booklet.
The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, has cancelled a symposium on the issues raised by the Charlie Hebdo killings. The professed reasons for the cancellation were supposed security concerns and – more worrying in many ways – concern for the “reputation” of the University. Nick Cohen has written a typically good piece about this and other attacks on free speech in higher education, but the article we re-publish below (from Little Atoms) is by one of the invited speakers, Jason Walsh, and you can tell that despite his measured tone, he’s angry:
Illustration: Fiona Hanley
The tragic irony of censoring Queen’s University’s Charlie Hebdo discussion
Censorship by the Vice Chancellor of Queen’s has done far more damage to the university’s reputation than an academic discussion on citizenship after Charlie Hebdo ever could
I hate to break it to you, but there’s a security risk in Northern Ireland. No, don’t stop reading just yet. I promise you it’s interesting. A threat has been issued, apparently, against that most august and liberal of institutions: Queen’s University Belfast. Well, “issued” is perhaps too strong a word. Perhaps we should go for “perceived”. Or “made up”.
No, it’s from not a dissident IRA splinter group; no, it’s not from loyalists demanding the Union Jack be flown above the campus. In fact, we don’t even know who this spectral threatening force is. What we do know, however, is that the “security risk” relates to a symposium where a bunch of academics would sit and talk about the nature of civil society after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
We know about this risk because the office of Queen’s Vice Chancellor Patrick Johnston has cancelled the symposium. He is also concerned about the risk to the reputation of the university. He should be. Now.
The symposium, entitled “Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship after Charlie Hebdo”, doesn’t sound to me like a hotbed of radicalism or Islamophobia, so any claim of risk hinges on the threat of violence by whom, exactly? Who could possibly be offended by a good faith discussion of the fallout from such an appalling event? No-one. That’s who.
Among the participants at this conference was to be yours truly, the Ireland correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor, the world’s most measured, careful and, critics (with whom I would disagree) would say, stiff newspaper. Other participants included, well, academics. It was an academic symposium, after all. As I was a putative participant there is an ethical conflict in me reporting on the matter. There is no such impediment, however, on me complaining about it, so buckle-up while I take you for a spin around the insanity that is the modern university.
We all know about recent events at universities across the UK: shutting down a debate about abortion because it was between two men; the routine “no-platforming” of radical feminist Julie Bindel, the banning of the Sun newspaper and Robin Thicke’s pop song Blurred Lines. To that we can now add merely talking about the concept of freedom of speech.
There you are: you are not free to speak about whether or not you are free to speak. Honestly, in this case I feel sorry for the organisers of the conference. I have only a faint notion of what the internal politics of universities are like, but this is not an isolated incident in a single institution.
These bastions of liberal education have, over the last few years at least, fallen far short of the measure. Some blame “neo-liberalism”; others “political correctness”. Both views have some merit: the transformation of the student into a consumer is a serious issue and, sadly, more and more things are simply declared unsayable for nakedly political reasons. But I am a mere reporter with pretensions toward the academy so for now I will stick to what is observable and leave the epistemology to my ballooning PhD thesis: the real problem is cowardice.
Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s an interesting perspective from someone who voted “Yes” in the Scottish referendum, but didn’t like the behaviour of the nationalists in the aftermath, and won’t be voting SNP in the general election. We don’t necessarily agree with all of what follows: I think the author is much too soft on the dishonest shysters who run the SNP and (speaking for myself) I certainly disagree with the author’s closing heavy-hint that s/he intends to vote Green. But it’s a worthwhile piece that makes some good points along the way. From Promised Joy:
Posted: April 16, 2015
I don’t have much of a track record as a tipster – the horse I backed in last weekend’s Grand National exceeded my expectations simply by not dying – but even I feel emboldened to hazard that the SNP might do quite well in next month’s General Election.
The polls suggest the SNP will win a majority of Scottish votes and almost all available seats. On the face of it this looks like a deep political consensus, but in reality I don’t remember our political culture ever feeling so divided.
In this post I explore post-referendum polarisation and unpick some of the myths that have come to be accepted as reality by large swathes of the electorate.
There is less than one month to go until the 2015 General Election, and Scotland is a land of myths and legends.
Here are just a few of them:
- The SNP are wild extremists;
- The SNP are more left wing than the Labour Party;
- Alex Salmond is still controlling the SNP;
- The ‘unionist’ parties are engaging in Project Fear 2 when they warn against Full Fiscal Autonomy; and
- Everyone in Scotland is either a nationalist or a unionist.
Regular readers (hi mum) will recall that I voted enthusiastically for independence last September. I was excited by the prospect of democratic renewal. I didn’t know what the policy priorities of an independent Scotland would be any more than you, but the optimist in me was keen to find out. And if as a political community we opted to pursue a greener, nuclear-free and more equal line, than that would have suited me down to the ground.
Since the No vote, of course, the imagination and fun of the Yes campaign has calcified into something far less pleasant. I wrote about it around the time the National was launched and the SNP had its massive party in the Hydro in Glasgow. Kinda thought I was being harsh at the time, but some of it was probably fair enough. Alas.
But to listen to the #SNPout mob, you’d think the SNP were a bunch of fascists.
And so we have myth number one: the SNP are wild extremists.
The SNP? Really? I know I had a pop about the enormo-dome rallies, but I just thought the party leadership had got a bit over-excited. Clearly the leadership are otherwise entirely reasonable people.
Now, there has been a bit of recent coverage of the excesses of nationalist direct action. You’ll have probably seen this stuff – you know, the strange folk who film Margaret Curran when she’s out canvasing, or who compare Blair McDougall to Hitler, or who track down and abuse young voters who express admiration for Jim Murphy during televised debates. Or who paint a ‘Q’ for quisling on the door of a Tory campaign office. Or who go berzerk at Scottish journalists like James Cook for no reason at all, yet see no problem with telling Faisal Islam that Sky should really have sent someone Scottish to cover an SNP rally.
These people are, I think we can all agree, complete pricks. And there are far too many of them.
But the SNP as a party? To me the SNP has at its core an essential decency that you’d have to be hugely partisan to miss.
You only have to glance through the First Minister’s Twitter feed to realise how humane she is. And consider the Government’s gender-balanced cabinet, the party’s all-women shortlists, and the visible diversity of the membership. These things don’t necessarily prove anything, but 100,000 people from all walks of life have joined the SNP and seem very comfortable with how things are done within the party.
Judge the SNP by their actions. They’ve been in government for eight years now (of which more later – fear not, Labour people, I’ll give them a kicking in a bit) and I don’t remember too many radical policies. I certainly don’t recall any nasty policies (although policing policy has been a bit…assertive). You can call the SNP government many things, but extremists they are not.
Which leads me to myth number two: the SNP are more left wing than the Labour Party. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a sober rebuttal of the nonsensical and totally irresponsible remarks George Galloway made about forced marriage.
It’s from the Muslim Women Network.
Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK) is a charitable organisation with the aims of promoting equality, diversity, social inclusion and racial/religious harmony, and does not support, nor is affiliated to any political party. However in order to defend and strengthen women’s rights and in particular to promote the empowerment of Muslim women and girls, we regularly engage with, and if required challenge, politicians, political candidates, public servants and any other body or organisation where considered necessary.
It is for this reason that MWNUK deems it necessary to challenge certain insinuations made about forced marriage and domestic violence victims by George Galloway, currently the Respect Party’s PPC for Bradford West, when he commented on Labour candidate Naz Shah’s forced marriage and domestic violence experience. Given his influence, we consider Mr. Galloway’s insinuations to be irresponsible and which will have a wider, counter productive impact on victims of forced marriage and domestic violence or those at risk.
When Ms. Shah shared her story publicly, she explained that she was married at the age of 15 and suffered from domestic violence. Many women tend to remain in abusive relationships and suffer in silence. Cultural concepts of honour and shame often prevent women from articulating their experiences openly even when they have escaped their situations. We therefore commend Ms. Shah’s courage in sharing her very personal experiences. It is important that when survivors share their stories, which is often very difficult, that they are heard. Only with open discussion will more victims or those at risk come forward and ask for help.
Although we cannot comment on the details of Ms. Shah’s personal experiences, we are very concerned about the misleading information regarding forced marriage and domestic violence being alluded to in the statements made by Mr. Galloway and his officials. MWNUK challenges the assertions that have been made as follows:
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah could not have been married as a minor at the age of 15 because her official marriage certificate registered with the authorities in Pakistan states her age as 16 and a half.
It is not uncommon for victims of child marriage to have an unregistered Islamic (nikah) ceremony while they are under age and to later register the marriage officially once the child is over 16 especially if documents are needed to make an application for a spousal visa. It is important to recognise this can happen to children. In fact we have come across victim stories where this has indeed happened.
¥ It has been alleged that Ms. Shah’s marriage could not have been forced because her mother was present at the marriage.
Parents are often the instigators of forced marriage, coercing their children to marry against their will and therefore present at the marriage ceremony. In fact parents themselves can be pressured by members of the extended family to accept marriage proposals for their children and feel they cannot back out due to dishonor.
¥ Ms Shah has been questioned as to why she did not (as a British citizen) simply get on a plane and come back to the UK if she had been forced into marriage.
Girls are more aware of their rights now due to forced marriage campaigns, yet the crime continues to be under reported. Twenty-five years ago victims faced even greater barriers to disclosing. The Forced Marriage Unit did not exist then and there were far fewer women’s rights organisations. To imply that it is easy to escape a forced marriage suggests that victims are at fault for not leaving abusive situations.
¥ Ms. Shah has been questioned about why she had not gone to the police, social services or an imam if her husband had subjected her to violence.
This indirectly suggests that women who do not report their abuse cannot be suffering from domestic violence. Such assertions are very dangerous. Women from all communities find it difficult to come forward and report abuse and the reasons can vary such as: fear of consequences; women blaming themselves; women not realizing they are victims; lack of awareness of the help available; being isolated from family and friends and not being able to reach help; being worried about finances; and hoping the partner may change. Asian women face additional cultural barriers that prevent them from seeking help such as, fear of dishonouring family, shame, stigma, taboo and being rejected by the community. Also women in these communities are expected to suffer in silence. They are also usually blamed for any problem within the family including the violence and abuse to which they are subjected. This fear of blame can also prevent women from coming forward and getting the help they need. Not surprisingly domestic violence is therefore under reported in Asian / Muslim communities.
¥ Ms. Shah was questioned about her domestic violence and child marriage because her first husband has denied the abuse. [WELL HE WOULD, WOULDN’T HE?]
Denial by the alleged perpetrator should never be used as evidence to determine whether abuse has occurred or not.
A list of petty bourgeois wankers, from ‘All That Is Solid…’
On the Far Left’s General Election Campaign
As well as being a pretty weird general election, 2015’s will see a record number of far left candidates standing. As if to underline the peculiarity of the campaign, even anarchists are standing. So let’s have a bit of a burrow into the lists and see what it says about the far left party family.
No one in a revolutionary socialist or anarchist outfit now would say women’s rights and the question of gender are distractions from the hard graft of knuckling down and prosecuting the class struggle. At least aloud, or for public consumption. As self-declared representatives of the most class conscious sections of the British proletariat, they’re the best fighters for women’s liberation. The implementation of their programmes would strike a permanent and irreversible blow for equitable gender relations. We’re a long way off from that happy day, however. So how do women fair as a percentage of far left candidates? I make it 52 out of the 223 listed so far. That’s 23.3%. For TUSC specifically of 131 seats contested women are standing in 34 of them, or 25.9%. What to say about this. The LibDems say that just 26% of their candidates are women. Annoyingly, comparable figures for the Tories and Labour are hard to come by (I don’t have the inclination to run through every single constituency). But of interest 29 for the former and 54 for the latter have been selected for the parties’ top 100 winnable seats. Among all party selections done up until last November – including incumbents – it was 73-27 men-women. Of new candidates, Labour had selected 39% women, the Tories 31%, LibDems 30%, Greens 37%, and UKIP 12%.
Pretty poor for the far left as a whole to be outdone on women’s representation by all bar UKIP, and to be less representative than the field of candidates as a whole. However, the far left should be cut a bit of slack, but only a little. They can only stand the activists they have on the books, and in the Socialist Party’s case – who’ve provided the bulk of TUSC candidates – the party comprises one quarter to one third women. To be fair, during my membership they did encourage women to come to the fore and its leading body, the executive committee, had a slight female majority. Still, the same searching questions about why more women aren’t involved have to be asked.
The second thing I want to look at is how much the election campaign is a party building opportunity. We know that far left candidates generally get pretty poor results – see last year’s European election and 2010’s outing, for example. To try and build a head of steam behind your campaigns, you require consistent electoral activity in a given area and a long-term strategic plan. Can we see evidence of that here? Last time, the far left contested 120 seats with 135 candidates. Have they built on this? Well, 92 of our candidates are standing in seats that were previously contested, which is 41%. This doesn’t look too good but do remember that TUSC has massively upped its electoral game. 53 were contested in 2010, 26 of which were under TUSC’s banner (I’ve included here the four Socialist Alternative candidates). Quite why the 17 that previously had TUSC haven’t been so visited this time is a mystery. Also, only 15 candidates are standing in the same seat as 2010, ten of which are TUSC. Sitting MPs aside, I expect the proportion in the bigger parties is about the same or even lower. However, when you’re in the business of building a radical alternative consistency and continuity between elections is important provided the candidate has been working the seat hard in the meantime.
All this begs the question of why. I doubt the CPB, SEP, CL, and WRP central committees sat down to determine their general election intervention believing a general breakthrough lies just over the horizon. Sure, like the SPGB, AGS, Workers’ Party, SSP, and Class War, it’s an opportunity to get the organisation and your work known. You’re taking advantage of a wider interest in politics than is hitherto the case. But is it worth it? Taking 2010 as our benchmark, polling scores were more often beneath one per cent than not. However, the far left tend not to measure success in terms of votes scored – as anyone familiar with post-election write ups by those concerned will tell you. It’s about the breadth of the message, of the leaflets distributed, papers solds, contacts made, and recruits who’ve signed up. There is also the experience of taking part in the campaign itself. To be involved and live in the micro universe of a campaign can be a gratifying experience, even if you don’t win. It’s an occasion of forming close ties, of working together collectively around a clearly definable common objective, of deepening one’s relationship with the group. It’s the stuff fond memories are made of. Or can be, provided it’s not deeply dysfunctional and characterised by fraying friendships. So for a small party, it’s a bonding experience, of toughening up collective discipline and identity. But it’s a risk. For newer recruits the poor result can be an occasion for disillusion and burnout.
TUSC is qualitatively different. While the general election is an occasion for party building on the Socialist Party’s part (and, to a lesser extent, the SWP’s), the objective is to work TUSC up into an electoral force that will be taken seriously over the longer term. It’s their contribution toward the new workers’ party they believe is a necessity since Labour stopped conforming to what they think such a party should look like. Implicitly, TUSC exists to show an electoral life for leftist class politics outside Labour is possible. However, there are a number of problems.
As we know, the Green Party has grown massively since last summer, a growth reflected in its spread of candidates. TUSC’s challenge, however, is not a result of organic growth. As far as I can tell, the SP is roughly the same size it was five years ago and the SWP, of course, are much diminished. Nor has there been an upsurge of active opposition to never-ending austerity that can power TUSC’s 100% no cuts message. Why then such an effort which, lest we forget, is also supported by about 600 local council candidates?
There are two things going on here. SP cadre are keen to flag up how much more advanced TUSC is compared to UKIP after the first five years of its existence, while accidentally on purpose forgetting the last 25 years of the SP standing against Labour under a variety of labels. TUSC appears to be a project that has stalled. The 2010 results were down on its predecessor’s 2005 efforts, including in its Coventry and Lewisham “strongholds”. Since then local election results have given little cheer, even if they had a councillor elected last year … on an independent ticket. As growth eludes TUSC, voluntarism has stepped into the breach. By pulling out all the stops and standing absolutely everywhere they can reflect back a sense of dynamism to their members, that this project might actually be going somewhere. The second issue is their friends in the RMT. As the sleeping partner in the TUSC initiative, it remains a source of acute embarrassment that barely any of its 72,000 members are aware of what TUSC is, let alone that their union is an affiliate. Even the much-missed Bob Crow studiously avoided all mention of the coalition of which he was a founder on his Question Time appearances. And now the RMT has Mick Cash, a Labour Party member at the helm, it’s reasonable to suppose the union’s support is living on borrowed time. In this context, to try and keep them on board, running a large campaign is about showing the RMT that another party is possible. It won’t deliver the votes, but the SP must be hoping that the sheer size of the “biggest post-war left electoral challenge” will squeeze out a respectable – by far left standards – result. Because without the RMT, not only does TUSC go the way of the dodo,their perspectives suffer ignominious collapse and a good chunk of their membership will be profoundly demoralised.
But can TUSC and the other comrades standing in the election expect a continuation of poor results? Thanks to the rise of social media, the traditional press and TV matter less this time than has ever hitherto the case. They may be locked out of the leaders’ debates but they can, to a degree, bypass them. There is also the general mood too. If by some dark miracle the Tories scrape their way into power again, it won’t be because of a resigned acceptance of the need for more austerity. It’s not uniform, it’s complex and contradictory, but the much hallowed centre ground has moved left on a number of key issues. And also the far right has disappeared up its own backside. However, with established “anti-establishment” parties in the shape of UKIP and the Greens, and with the latter fielding its own anti-austerity message, it’s hard to see how TUSC and family can hope to poll anything other than derisory votes in the absence of name recognition, consistent work, and in competition with more viable alternatives to mainstream politics.
Left Futures reports:
Dave Ward who has been the deputy general secretary (postal) of the Communication Workers Union (CWU) since 2003 was this afternoon (April 16th) declared elected as general secretary to replace Billy Hayes who has held the post since 2001 and was standing for a fourth term. CWU is the biggest trade union in the communications sector with 200,000 members working in companies including BT, Capita, EE, O2, Parcelforce, the Post Office, Royal Mail, Santander and UK Mail. Dave Ward takes over the role of general secretary from 1 June.
It is not yet clear what practical difference this will make to the union or its politics. Dave Ward is also widely regarded as being on the left, and as a member of the Labour Party he has previously served on its national executive. Whilst Billy Hayes has been a critical friend of Labour, Dave Ward who promises “no more something for nothing, blind loyalty to Labour” may be rather more distant. He does, however, promise to “make Labour and politics work for us” and recognises that “the general election will be very close and we need to fight against austerity and the divisive ideas of UKIP for a Labour victory.” His stance may become clearer in 10 days time when the CWU conference will discuss several motions which seek to break the link with Labour and, in some cases, consider backing other parties including the Grens, Plaid Cymru, SNP and TUSC.
Billy Hayes has been a very prominent figure in the trade union movement, the Labour Party and the wider Left for many years, and has also been a contributor to Left Futures and an active supporter for 35 years of the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy at whose AGM he was the keynote speaker earlier this year. More recently, he was an opponent of the changes to the Labour-Union link which were agreed last year in the Collins report.
A CWU member told Shiraz:
“Billy lost for many reasons. One of them is that he is more ‘left wing’ and political than most CWU activists.
“Dave is no better industrially than Billy and in fact is more accommodating in his dealings with Royal Mail. He is not really that militant I don’t think – its just industrial relations in the postal sector are red in tooth and claw so you have to be prepared to take action in a way that would be resolved in other sectors.
“Dave is very limited in his wider union approach for example to organising the whole communications sector, to equality issues etc. The real difference between them is that Billy (though flawed – and I could give you chapter and verse on those flaws!) at least has a broad political approach to his trade unionism.
“The fact that Dave is sceptical about the LP-TU link, something he really played up in this election, and previously, is not of course evidence of him being more left wing or having a political view at all. Its just narrow minded ‘sub syndicalist’ trade unionism I would say.It is my opinion that if Dave had been the GS when Mandelson tried to part privatise Royal Mail we would have a had an unprincipled deal rather than the fightback that Billy led on the political front.
“Dave’s election is a step back for the CWU.”
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