Or Professor Dawkins, to put it correctly.
Video here shows the great man laying the smackdown on apologists for religion. I particularly like the line about people who patronisingly talk up the “merits” of religious belief, whilst holding themselves to be above such beliefs. Watch and weep, SWP’ers.
Last weekend I attended a debate entitled “Fidel Castro: Friend of Cuban Workers?”. The speakers were Paul Hampton from the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), and Stephen Wilkinson from the Cuba Solidarity Campaign. It was an extraordinary event, that at one point seemed about to collapse into disarray, with the Cuba Solidarity speaker apparently on the verge of walking out.
The reason for Wilkenson’s evident rage, bewilderment and disbelief was not that he had been heckled, personally insulted or denied the right to put his case (none of those things happened: he was listened to in silence and applauded politely by the predominantly AWL audience). It was, apparently, that he had never heard anyone “claiming to be from the left” who argued (as Hampton did) that “Fidel Castro is not a friend of the workers…it’s just irrational, and I’m not prepared to listen to anyone who says that”. The guy was obviously totally furious, and although he finally decided to stay for the rest of the debate, he was still ranting and raving at the end.
Wilkenson’s rage and disbelief were clearly the result of a genuine belief that Cuba under Castro represents “socialism”, and that anyone who disses Castro is dissing socialism itself: he regaled us with impressive statistics about Cuba’s health service and education provision. Hampton did not dispute these statistics, but countered that these were not measures of working class socialism, and that bourgeois-democratic, capitalist Sweden could come up with equally impressive statistics on health and education. The important point about Castroite Cuba, from a Marxist point of view, is the lack of genuine trade unions and the repression of working class democracy. Hampton also made it very clear that his political hostility to Castro and the Stalinist ruling class of Cuba, does not imply any support for the US economic embargo or for the US-backed Miami opposition, even when they take the form of “trade unions”.
But none of this was good enough for Wilkinson: “You’re either for the revolution or against it”, he declared, adding that Castro’s Cuba is the “main opposition to the USA in the world”, and that that fact alone was sufficient to require unconditional support (I’ve paraphrased that last bit, but Wilkinson did not demure when I, from the floor, described it as a “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” argument).
Clearly, with Castro now on his death bed and brother Raul poised to take over, these arguments are going to become more immediate and more important. IMHO the AWL and Paul Hampton failed to recognise that Wilkinson and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign have majority support within the British trade union movement (their “Latin America 2006” event on 2nd December, for intance, is supported by the T&G, the GMB, Amicus, SERTUC and Tribune) : whereas a the “third camp” position put forward by Hampton is, presently, very much in the minority within the British labour movement.
It is also the case that, unfortunately, a form of left-wing hero-worship has infected large sections of the British left. Apart from the long-established Castro-worship, we now have uncritical adulation for populists like Venezuelian president Hugo Chavez and Evo Morales of Bolivia. This western adulation comes, mainly, from petit bourgeois “leftists” like Tariq Ali (whose latest book, Pirates of the Caribbean, praises not just Castro, Chavez and Morales, but also Ahmadinejad, Muqtada Al-Sadre and Hassan Nasrallah), and the racially-sick, self-hater and groveller Richard Gott, whose racial twist to this whole business adds an additional element of nausea.
Unfortunately, however, it isn’t just the likes of Ali and Gott who are now promoting this latter-day “socialism from above” hero-worship of castro and (in particular) Chavez: people who should know better like the Trotskyists of Socialist Appeal now compete with followers of Ken Livingstone and “Respect“/SWP, for the favours of Chavez. The decline (but not disappearance) of the working class seems to have lead these erstwhile “revolutionaries” to look for charismatic leaders to create socialism from above. Ironically, many of those who now subscribe to this new version of Stalinism, still promote Hal Draper’s definitive demolition of socialism from above “The Two Souls of Socialism” (currently published by the Chavez-loving, Respect-supporting British SWP!)
For a far more detailed an analytical critique of the new Stalinism, have a look at Paul Hampton’s article “The new manana socialism from above”, on the Workers liberty website.
Just so ya know, within the past few days it has come to my attention, via Joanna, that the Evil-World fighting crusaders of Vigil have removed their page from the bizarre IC-HUMINT website. Furthermore, although it may just be a technical glitch, it would seem today that the IC-HUMINT site itself isn’t working either. So much for saving Jerusalem from the Muslim hordes, these goons couldn’t even handle moderate amounts of hostile attention stemming from a botched attempt to stitch up two UK-based loony toon theocratic groups. Think about it – it’s perfectly possible to do a number on a bunch of nutters like the Hizb-ut-Tahrir or Al-Muhajiroun, merely by telling the truths about them that everybody already knows. But Vigil couldn’t even get that right.
Anyway, the slow withdrawal from the public sphere of Jenvey and Whiteman’s little band of brothers is something to be applauded, although I very much doubt whether they’ve gone away altogether. Their online secret-squirrel-cum-boys-own adventuring will undoubtedly continue apace. Remember folks, if that guy chatting to you online seems a bit dodgy, it’s probably because he is.
I opened the Grauniad today (yes, I am a Guardian-reading leftie) only to see yet another article on the national “controversy” about the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public. Tony Blair has been the latest to intervene in the debate, telling the CBI that although he is a “fan” of British Airways (he’s a fan of all capitalist companies, sadly for the national debt) he thinks they should back down on trying to stop a worker, Nadia Eweida, wearing a small cross over, rather than under, her jacket. BA have already instituted a “review” of their uniform rules.
He’s not the only one. Jack Straw said much the same thing in stronger terms last week, saying that he had to be in favour of the right to wear a cross because “he had always defended the right of Muslim women to wear a hijab” (unless, of course, they’re talking to him). The Tories have jumped on the “issue”, with Ann Widdecombe being her usual rabid self and calling for a boyctt of BA. Even the Liberal Democrats have chipped in with their twopenn’orth. The Archbishop of Canterbury has spoken of the Church of England selling its shares in BA, in the same manner as it disinvested a few years ago in companies mnufacturing torture implements – having been attacked by members of his Church for flying on a BA plane. The racist newspapers like the Mail and the Express say this is part of a huge “politically correct” conspiracy against “English culture” (whatever that is!)
I hardly need to point out how absurd this all is. Were I Ms. Eweida’s T&G shop steward I would of course take an interest in minor items of the dress code and have demanded a meeting with the managers to get them to stop being as silly as my fellow worker. But the matter should excite no interest beyond that. However, within a few days of Ms. Eweida, who refused to go to work, losing her tribunal claim for constructive dismissal the Prime Minister of Great Britain spoke about the matter to thye country’s bosses’ association; and everyone who is anyone in our moth-eaten Parliament has been shooting her or his stupid mouth off to the press.
I repeat, isn’t it absurd? Not only religious organisations making such a huge fuss about virtually nothing, but politicians jumping on the bandwagon so enthusiastically. Do people really care? No-one I’ve met does. Once again we see politicians using religious issues to distract the public’s attention from more important things, and thereby encouraging and giving credence to the maddest of religious sectarians. Though Ms. Eweida shouldn’t have been excluded from work on the ground of her dress sense, it must be said that she is clearly barmy. She thinks that wearing a cross under rather than over her uniform is to “compromise her faith” so much that it is preferable to become unemployed. She says “I am not politically motivated or minded, I just follow the Biblical truth.” Where in the Bible does it say one must wear a small cross above one’s clothing? What Christian sect demands that its members werar a cross? Not even the Amish, though they prescribe every other aspect of the dress of the faithful. This whole daft affair is a veritable Batrachomyomachia of the soul!
It is sad, though alas not surprising, that the “debate” on religious dress codes has moved away from the important issue of the veil and the oppression of women and moved on to such trivialities. It is disgraceful that most commentators are militantly in favour of religious dress when is is a Christian who is being attacked, but suddenly turn all secular when Muslims are the subject of the attack. Thus even the most absurd little issue, having been magnified from molehill into mountain by religious nutters with the benefit of their friends in Parliament and the press, becomes a vehicle for racism, religious obscurantism, moral relativism, hypocrisy, political cynicism and all the rest of the old rubbish of the British political system.
At the risk of providing a not-insignificant section of my readership on the left with a cheap one-liner, I’d like to draw your attention to an article by Christopher Hitchens in the current issue of “The Liberal“. Something remarkable appears to have happened.
Yes, it’s a Hitchens tirade, undoubtedly written after a three-bottle lunch, a plate of beef wellington and probably a couple of brandies to finish off. And it’s no worse reading for all that. One of the things that always annoyed me about Hitchens was watching his tirades get all the more broadsword and less rapier, as his descent into political lunacy over the war on Iraq proceeded apace.
But this time he seems to have recovered his old lightness of touch. And the really remarkable thing about this particular polemic, is that it is directed at Ann Coulter.
The article itself is a review of Coulter’s latest ranting book of right-wing codswallop, which is called “GODLESS: The Church if Liberalism“. Coulter is, remember, of that tendency on the US right who think that the centrist milquetoasts of the Democratic Party are one step away from instituting gulags and collective farming. Indeed, as she puts it (quoted by Hitchens), “If Hitler hadn’t turned against their beloved Stalin, liberals would have stuck by him too”.
In Hitchens’ view, “It is remarkable to find so much intellectual and syntactical chaos in an assertion that contains no more than fifteen words”. Does she mean that “liberals” loved Hitler? Or that they loved Stalin, so much so in fact that what finally persuaded the likes of Roosevelt to take a stand was watching beloved Uncle Joe’s homeland being invaded? It’s simple nonsense, whatever your perspective on conservative, liberal or socialist politics. And yet, to Coulter’s audience it fulfils a certain need, an itch that they have to scratch, where the real reason why their lives don’t feel safe and secure is “the liberal elite” whose sole purpose is to take away their livelihoods, let criminals break into their houses, and allow gay people to get married in their garages. Ann can give all of this to them, and in bite-size form. As Hitchens puts it:
“She emerged as a persona because she has mastered the politics of resentment, and because she can combine the ideology of Human Events (the obscure ‘Joe McCarthy was right’ magazine) with the demand of the chat-show bookers for a tall blonde with a very rapid delivery on a wide range of subjects”
There follow a number of fascinating diversions, devilish barbs, and even insights into Coulter’s likely mentality. Hitchens’ anecdote about how genuinely shocked Coulter appeared to be when Paula Jones did not turn out to be the maligned innocent with whom various figures on the right had hoped to pitchfork Bill Clinton, shows almost an innocence which is belied by her venomous, overstatedly angry style of writing.
So has Hitch rediscovered a little of himself? I certainly hope so. He certainly seems now to be wanting to draw lines between himself on the one hand, and the puritan right-wingers like Coulter with whom he was happy enough to line up over the Iraq war. He’s also determined to show why, philosophically, a right winger like Coulter will never even be able to offer a proper critique of those aspects of liberalism from which Hitchens would, in fact, like to distance himself.
“If it matters, I am with her on the tepid climate of moral and political relativism which, while it wants all children to do equally well at exam time, also regards the United States as no worse than the Taliban and thus, by an unspoken logic, as no better. But a polemic against this mentality cannot really be written by a McCarthyite”
It remains to be seen whether Hitchens has really done another volte-face, but on this occasion he’s done a marvellous job. Well done sir, well done.
This is just a quick fix for anyone who shares my new-found obsession with those loveably wacky would-be crusaders from Vigil, the flaky “intelligence” organisation who seem to be supplying BBC and Telegraph journalists with rather more information than they ought. There’s some fascinating information about the organisation here – I don’t know anything about the author beyond what’s in her blog profile, but she appears to know what she’s talking about. Perhaps she’d care to enlighten us?
Joanna, the comments box is all yours. Unless you’re really Glen Jenvey, in which you can go loiter in a Paltalk chatroom instead.
Given the apparent bigotry and hatred on both sides, it’s easy to give in to despair on the Israel/Palestine issue. For a change, here’s some encouraging news.
I especially like this;
“OneVoice says it is different from other peace organisations because it has offices on the ground working in both communities. More than 1,800 people have been through the leadership training and a quarter of a million have signed up to their mandate. The plan is to turn it into a mass civil movement. But can talking change anything? “If we stopped working on this, then nothing will change,” says Awwad. “If I know that 2% of the Israeli population is with me, I will want to make it 5% or 50%. Give me viable land and I have no problem accepting a stae of Israel living next to me.” OneVoice did a poll, and 76% of Palestinians and Israelis said the same”.
Thank you, Robert Altman for some of the most intelligent and enjoyable films I’ve ever seen. Even your bad films (and there were -let’s be honest – quite a few) were worth watching: Pret a Porter, Popeye and McCabe and Mrs Miller are all highly accomplished failures.
But at your best you were simply brilliant: I especially like Nashville (IMHO your masterpice), The Long Goodbye (the second-best Chandler adaption ever made), and Gosford Park (an unlikely venture for you – a British country house murder mystery. Hugely enjoyable). I look forward to te release of your last film, Prairie Home Companion, based upon Garrison Keillor’s radio show.
You were, of course, noted for a particular form of realism: multiple soundtracks and overlapping dialogue – much of it improvised. So I’m sure you would appreciate the following:
1/ (Elliot Gould in the Guardian G2, 23.11.06): “We all had a problem with the way Bob worked, which was so improvisational that you couldn’t anticipate what he wanted to do next. It took us a while to get used to – we even complained about it at the time, but we came back to earth and accepted it”.
2/ (The Daily Telegraph obituary, 22.11.06): “This approach was not univerally welcomed. On the set of M*A*S*H, Donald Sutherland and Elliot Gould were so disconcerted by what they considered confusion that they tried to have him fired”.
Socialism 2006, a weekend of discussion and debate is being held this coming weekend in Central London. For more info see www.socialism2006.net.
There will be some very good debates, on all sorts of questions. For eg, the muslim association of britain and a rep from the SP on the way forward for British muslims, debates on the labour pary question, with reps from the LRC and John4leader, Cuba solidarity campaign on Cuba. Tory, Green, Lab, Lib Dem, Socialist Students debate which party offers a way forward for young people.
Anyway there are loads of debates, with people from loads of different organisations, with a rally for Socialism on saturday night, including Lucy Redler from WASG, Tommy Sheridan, Peter Taaffe, Greek student, Sri Lankan activist on the situation in that country, Mark Serwotka, Len Hockey – steward at Whipps Cross Hospital. Should be a good weekend,, of course there will one or two beers as well.
For information, the SWP were invited to debate with us – but refused, one can only guess why.
Ok, put yourself in this situation. You’re the BBC, and you’ve just been forced to retreat from the arena by the barrage of criticism that your execrable Newsnight report on Hizb-ut-Tahrir and Al-Muhajiroun has attracted. What do you do? Apologise humbly? Re-investigate the issue and do a better report? Tell Glen Jenvey and Dominic Whiteman to go fight the Evil-World on their own time, and thus stop wasting resources on a pair of wazzocks who think that hanging around in a Paltalk chatroom amounts to serious espionage? Any of the above?
Noooo, don’t be silly. If you’re the BBC then you get the same pillock who did the initial report, to rehash the same stuff and pad it out into a longer broadcast. Then, not content with having demeaned journalistic standards on BBC2, you drag Radio 4 into the mire by broadcasting the whole dog’s dinner as this week’s File on 4. Highlights of which included such damning evidence as an official from Croydon Mosque saying that although they “have no evidence” that H-T are orchestrating any violence, you do always see “the same faces” when there’s a ruck. Oh, and let’s not forget Richard “Brains” Watson, the author of the report, concluding by saying that he cannot even be sure whether Hizb’s leadership knew anything about any of the incidents described in his report.
For God’s sake, when will one of you morons at Broadcasting House realise that you’re making fools of yourselves? Or at least make some attempt to check your sources before you do another report like this one? I’ll even help you get on the right track. Here’s a little link, to the complex wonder that is a Google Search, that may be of assistance to you when filtering out dodgy informants from genuine experts.
Now pull yourselves together and try to recover some professional self-respect… please.