Pilger passes an important marker

August 28, 2007 at 4:45 pm (israel, Jim D, palestine, politics, Racism)

I have written before about how John Pilger was, for me, an early influence and about my distress at his descent into crude anti-Americanism and general hysteria in recent years.

Paradoxically, Pilger’s degeneration into incoherent anti -“western” ranting (and concomitant tolerance of tyrants and mass-murderers, so long as they are his enemy’s enemy) has paralleled his increasing acceptance by the mainstream media and his gradual slide into becoming a tame radical of the Michael Moore variety (though even at his worst, Pilger is infinitely preferable to that hypocritical toad Moore).

As far as I was concerned, Pilger ceased to be a serious commentator the moment (a couple of years ago) he offered his support to the Iraqi ‘resistance’, with (an imagined) offhand shrug and the casual explanation of why anti-imperialists sometimes have to support child-killers, nihilists and woman-haters: “you can’t be too choosy”.

Now, with the inexorable logic of anti-working class, third-worldist  hysteria, Pilger has lined himself up with the “boycott Israel” campaign. In an appropriately-named article (“An important marker has been passed“) in the current New Statesman, Pilger gives unconditional backing to a “boycott of Israel” (note: not Israeli goods or even Israeli academics, but Israel itself – presumably its very existence).

In the course of his New Statesman piece, Pilger appears to question the truth of the well-documented fact that Arab leaders called for Jews to be “thrown into the sea”, appears to blame Israel for the ‘war on terror’ (I say “appears” because Pilger’s latter-day prose style is far from clear), dismisses the “premises of Zionism” as “racist” and those who oppose the boycott as “Zionist fanatics”,  seems to dismiss anti-semistism as a “mere threat” and backs the “courageous Israeli historian” Iian Pappe’s call for “a single democratic state to which Palestinians are given the right to return”, as the “only feasible and just solution”.

It’s a filthy piece of work that marks a new low in the degeneration of this once respect-worthy journalist.

However, given Pilger’s enduring prestige and the relative influence of the New Statesman, it’s a piece that warrents a more detailed rebuttal than I’ve had time for here. I’m presently trying to persuade someone else to take on that task: but if he doesn’t, then I will. Watch this space.

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The Passing of Paul Rutherford

August 27, 2007 at 10:08 am (Bruce C, jazz, politics)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket(This is what I hope will be the first of many guest posts from Bruce Coates, a young and upcoming free-form jazz player and composer. The first is a tribute to political radical and pioneer of free-form, Paul Rutherford – VP)

The passing of Paul Rutherford has been admirably marked by the major broadsheet newspapers, something that would have made Paul smile wryly since they almost entirely ignored him when he was alive. He wouldn’t have read them anyway, his paper was the Morning Star. Paul was a good friend and colleague, we shared the bandstand on a number of occasions and I heard him play on numerous others; each was a thrilling for me, his sheer inventiveness left me breathless.

In the realm of free improvisation the word free is often misunderstood to mean that there are no rules or boundaries, perhaps it is better to see it as way of thinking and playing that can lead to magically unexpected outcomes within what is often as stylistically recognisable as any Jazz (or other musical) form. In Paul’s case however, he seemed to be able to come closer to a genuine stylistic freedom, transcending ideas of rules and boundaries almost with every performance, always surprising and delightful. One of his friends and fellow musicians commented to me as we stood at Paul’s wake, that he was only true free improviser.

Perhaps this ability was rooted in his political ideals – a committed communist from teenage he never lost the idea that politics could be genuinely transformative, both personally and to the common good. His musical ideas reflected this; free improvisation was for Paul (and for many of us) an analogue to a society that is genuinely democratic, productive and co-operative. My father, also a friend of Paul’s wrote a very moving appreciation, which he sent to Paul’s family, but it is worth quoting in full here:

“Paul Rutherford’s musicianship is beyond question and is recognised by all who respond to the rigour and complexity of ‘free’ musical expression. Perhaps his humanitarianism is less well known outside his immediate colleagues and those sympathetic to his politics. Paul never allowed himself to be distracted by pragmatism and was unequivocal in his belief in the inherent potential for goodness of human beings and the power of political thinking to improve their lives and engineer social change. Possibly the reality which is an attendant of aging may also give rise to the torment that accompanies the erosion of optimistic idealism” Andrew Coates

Although in recent times bitterness at the lack of appreciation for his music had crept into Paul’s demeanour, coupled with an at times crippling depression and long-standing problems with alcohol, he still maintained an impish sense of humour and was fabulous company. As I stood in a jam packed crematorium in South London last Thursday and listened to the memories of his family and friends, I began to realise what an enormous hole his passing would leave in both the musical world and the personal lives of those of us who knew him. I don’t think it was possible for anybody there assembled to hold back their tears as a quartet of his fellow trombonists played the opening bars of The Red Flag. The wonderful array of recordings he left behind and the huge influence he has had on generations of improvisers from the around the world will ensure, I have no doubt, his rightful place amongst the truly great Jazz musicians. However, I will miss his warmth, generosity, and the long conversations we had late into the night over several pints of Guinness on topics ranging from Stalin to J.J. Johnson, after blowing hearts out to 10 people in the back room of a smoky pub.

Goodbye Comrade Rutherford the world is a poorer place without you.

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Cohen Vs Hari: Volty’s Verdict.

August 26, 2007 at 8:07 pm (blogging, blogosphere, deviants, voltairespriest)

As promised to left wing blogging’s femme fatale, Red Maria, I now have considered in depth my verdict on the Cohen-Hari saga. And it is this.

Who gives a shit one way or the other? They’re both wankers from the same London media circles, from which originates most of the thud and blunder about “stoppers” versus “decents” in any case. Who cares whether one of them has recanted this view, whilst the other still asserts that one? We’re talking about two smug liberal journalists for Christ’s sake.

Send the two self-regarding twats on a tour of Kurdistan to see what actually happens in the areas which so many armchair Napoleons in the West (masquerading under the guise of “political activists”) seem to think they have the ideal solution for. That’ll help them both to put their dispute in perspective.

I hope that was unambiguous, and that my stance is clear.

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Engage Manchester Public Meeting, 9 September

August 26, 2007 at 9:31 am (anti-semitism, israel, palestine, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketAs promised at the Trots, here’s a little plug for the Engage anti-boycott of Israel campaign’s next public meeting. I’m told that it’ll be an open affair where boycott supporters will also be welcome. If you’re in the area, you should go: it’s an important issue and one which always excites passionate debate.


Engage’s Manchester public meeting: 7.00 PM, Sunday 9 September, Manchester Maccabi, Bury Old Road, Prestwich. Denis MacShane, Philip Spencer, Jane Ashworth, Richard Gold, David Hirsh.

Denis MacShane MP (Chair 2005 All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry Into Anti-Semitism)
David Hirsh (Editor, Engage)
Jane Ashworth (Campaigns Director, Engage)
Richard Gold (North West Organiser, Engage)
Philip Spencer (Advisory Editor, Engage)
Panel Discussion

Meeting ends 10.00 PM
ADMISSION BY TICKET ONLY £5 (students free)payable on the night, light refreshments will be provided.

To reserve your ticket please email engagemanchester@gmail.com IN ADVANCE letting us know how many tickets you require and in what names.

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The Kids Are Alright

August 24, 2007 at 9:14 am (students, TWP, youth)

Am I the only one who has found the constant references to the “feral yobs” who supposedly are “terrorising” our streets insulting and degrading to the youth of Britain? It seems the media in the midst of a very rainy silly season have nothing better to do but quote David Cameron and his ironically titled comments about “anarchy in the UK” and use the very real problem of gun crime to try and claim that the youth of Britain are out on the prowl intent on stabbing, harassing and murdering the upstanding and law abiding adult population.

Meanwhile the media pours scorn and ridicule on the same youth for getting the highest grades ever in the GCSEs. “GSCEs must be too easy!” they cry. “There are too many pupils taking soft subjects like Sociology!” bellows another. So even the vast majority of Britain’s youth who are excelling at education have this achievement belittled by the media who seem intent on making them into underachieving menaces.

We’ve been here before, particularly in the youth culture of the punk heyday of the late 70s. The difference now is there doesn’t appear to be a definable sub-culture in the way that punk and even the new-age music that followed gave to groups of youths rebelling in some way against the adult world. Instead of “Anarchy in the UK” we have Rhianna’s annoyingly catchy “Umbrella”, Pete Doherty’s drug addled ramblings and the occasional wit of Lily Allen’s lyrics.

And then there’s alcohol. The stuff the supposedly upstanding adults drink in blinding quantities and again pour ridicule on the youth for following in their footsteps. It’s hardly surprising that under aged drinking is so widespread and indeed we all know that experimenting with alcohol – at whatever age – can often lead to mayhem of different varieties. This is a much bigger issue for society and not some kind of “youth problem”. In fact who is it exactly that sits in corporate boardrooms and comes up with the idea that they need more colourful varieties of drinks to attract the youth? Who is it that comes up with strategies and creates campaigns aimed at encouraging young people to drink? It certainly isn’t the young people themselves.

The bottom line in all of this is that the youth are a good measure of society as a whole. What I see are a lot of kids who want to try and get decent jobs, do well in school and try to become full members of society. However, they are also tremendously concerned. These kids are growing up in a world where the insecurity of capitalism is evident everywhere and there is a certain environmental consciousness that doesn’t exist among their elders. But too there is a certain despair that us adults seem to think is our special preserve. They feel the decline and it affects them too. They see the instability in their future, the rising cost of education, seemingly endless war and they get down just like we do.

So yes there are some young people, just like there are plenty of adults, who engage in criminal activity. There are some young people who make bad decisions and get involved with people and situations they shouldn’t be involved with but on the whole, Britain’s youth are not “feral yobs” intent on taking over the street. They are rather human beings, perhaps more disheartened than previous generations about what the future holds, trying the best they can to get through life under an increasingly unstable capitalism. The kids are indeed alright.

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Sceptic tanks: the Stalinoid left’s irrational hatred of Europe

August 23, 2007 at 10:08 pm (elections, Europe, Human rights, Jim D, left, politics, stalinism)

It’s not my intention here, to discuss either the Philip Lawrence murder case, or the arguments for (or against) a referendum on the European Union reform treaty: both are important issues, but are not the issue at hand.

What I want to discuss is the Stalinoid “left”‘s enduring and totally irrational obsession with all things European, and in particular, with the European Union – and the way they will twist and distort any issue into an anti-EU perspective. The Lawrence case and the reform treaty referendum argument are – in that context – merely the two latest examples of the reactionary madness of the Europhobic Stalinists.

Item: the Lawrence case: we all  should  have immense sympathy with the feeings of Mrs Lawrence about the decision to allow her husband’s killer to stay in the UK , if and when he is released under licence next year. But her understandable anger, exploited by the right-wing tabloid press, cannot be allowed to determine the treatment of  the killer Learco Chindamo, when he is released. Like every other prisoner in Britain, Chindamo is subject to, and protected by, international and EU law, and – in Chindamo’s case – specifically the Human Rights Act, which is based upon  the EU citizen’s directive of 2004, which restricts the deportation of EU citizens.

The Sun and the Tories have seized upon Mrs Lawrence’s anger, in an attempt to embarrass the government and whip up anti-EU sentiment. So what does the Stalinist, fanatically anti-EU Morning Star, have to say? Why, it both denounces the Tories’ playing of the “populist card over rights” (as in the Human Rights Act –JD) and, simultaneously (in its edition of August 22 2007), agrees with the Sun that the EU is to blame. To quote the Star‘s editorial:

“That Mrs Lawrence may believe that an Asylum and immigration Tribunal took its decision not to deport her husband’s killer Learco Chindamo to Italy on the basis of the Human Rights act is understandable.

“For Mr Cameron to pretend likewise and, on that basis, to propose the Act’s abolition is an absurdity.

“He must have known that the tribunal is more likely to have been influenced by European Union legislation on the rights of citizens of any EU member state to live anywhere else in the EU”.  OK, you Morning Stalinists: tell us whether or not you think that that particular piece of EU legislation is a good or a bad thing?

Item: the EU treaty referendum: the same confusion and illogic seems to lie behind the disturbing news that (to quote the Guardian of August 23rd): “The row over whether Gordon Brown should have a referendum  on the EU treaty took a new turn yesterday with trade union leaders joining Conservatives in calling for a public vote on the issue”.

What the hell is going on here? The leaders of the GMB, the RMT, the T&G-bit-of-Unite and UNISON are aligning themselves with the Tories’ anti-European opportunism over the EU treaty: and what principle of working class political interest lies behind that, exactly? Ehhh…well, the British government’s opt-out from the Charter of Fundamental Rights, giving workers the right to take industrial action. Ehhh?  Shouldn’t that lead the unions to support the treaty and oppose  the government’s attempts to opt out of parts of  it? Well, the master strategists of the “left” of the British trade union movement think that the way to persuade the British government to opt “in” to the Charter is to campaign for the TUC to launch a “vote no” campaign against the Charter as a whole: follow that logic, if you can. But it just goes to show that the Stalinist and Stalinist-influenced “left” in Britain, is plain stupid and/or irrational when it comes to the EU.

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Well worth a read

August 20, 2007 at 9:32 pm (internet, left, voltairespriest, war)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketTake a look at the latest Dissent Magazine. Some kindly soul just emailed it to me. It’s really dead good.

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Disillusionment or just a need for change?

August 19, 2007 at 11:28 pm (left, libertarianism, politics, sectarianism, socialism, voltairespriest)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketIn this week’s Observer, Andrew Anthony writes of the disillusionment that he has felt growing in him about the left since 9/11 when he was shocked by the knee-jerk anti-Americanism of many reactions. Billed as someone “questioning basic assumptions” as though this was some kind of shocking innovation, Anthony and his upcoming book “The Fall-Out: How a Guilty Liberal Lost his Innocence” (Jonathan Cape, to be published 6/9/2007) actually could be seen as standing comfortably upon the path well trodden by Christopher Hitchens, Nick Cohen and other left-wing figures who have to one degree or another reassessed themselves and their comrades in light of events since 9/11. Anthony seems to have rather gone further along this road; the longest extract from his “gripping” book is a rather tedious tract about liberal attitudes to crime. He appears to suffer from the two drawbacks of being neither as politically interesting, nor having as entertaining a written style, as the libertarians Hitchens and Cohen. He also has none of Hitchens’ natural gift for controversy, and as such appears to be trying too hard. To be honest, judging at least from his extracts it would appear that what promises to be voluminous book could be summarised in a few words: “I’ve gotten more right wing since I grew up”. At least, that’s the sentiment that strikes me. Therefore, in spite of superficial similarities, perhaps Anthony is more Peter Hitchens than Christopher, after all.

That having been said, there is nothing wrong in my view with constant questioning of basic left-wing assumptions, as long as the purpose is the furtherance of radical politics rather than its abandonment. Sometimes people doing this will come up with conclusions that may strike many of us as bizarre: the most immediately proximate example that strikes me is of those pro-war leftists who did remember the “left” part, the Drink-Soaked Trots for War. Good friends of this blog though they are, the decision that they took to support the war on Iraq strikes me as both wrong and irrational. However even then, it seems to me very clear that theirs is a left-wing politics and one whose motivation is the furtherance of the interests of the working classes against those forces which seek to oppress us. Ergo, they fall into a very different category than those who have simply moved to the right – indeed the contention of more than one of them is (similar to Cohen) that the left itself has become a cheerleader group for the far right overseas, on the back of a spurious concern to appear “anti-imperialist” by challenging the USA. I personally think their criticisms of sections of the left have weight whereas their politics on the war in Iraq do not. However theirs is nevertheless a unique and therefore valuabble contribution to the debate.

Challenging orthodoxies, even “left wing” orthodoxies may be a dangerous game, and one with precedents that have previously led to exponents simply advocating a right-wing politics, but nevertheless that process of political re-examination is crucial to our not becoming completely irrelevant and ossified as a tradition. Ideas are supposed to be in a constant state of debate and conflict, not preserved in aspic like religious artifacts.

It’s evident to me that this isn’t a feeling which is held by me alone. I was both surprised and delighted by the response to my article on the human search for immortality, which threw into stark relief the way in which some people on the left really do wish to challenge even accepted “liberal” political bounds that may have since become authoritarian. What also struck me was the way in which others instinctively did operate within those bounds, even volunteering themselves to furiously defend Blairite legislation on smoking in pubs, which had barely been attacked in the course of the article. And yet, the fact that the assumptions of a political culture which now seeks to legislate “good” behaviour into the populace had been challenged, drew more support from more people than I had dared to expect.

Sometimes pushing the bounds can be as simple as being the first person to say something uncomfortable which others may be thinking, albeit that they don’t want to broach the subject. A decision about whether to offer automatic support for a campaign by an anti-fascist organisation is just one example of a case in point. Such is the state of the left now that discussing such issues can be seen as a form of heresy. However it should not be, and the left should not be allowed to become a Stalinised rump run by “Leninist” clerics and heresiarchs; if that ever does become completely true, then the Andrew Anthonys, Peter Hitchenses and Leo Mckinstrys of this world will simply have been proven right.

So next time you all write something, maybe you might want to consider that being a little contrarian is no bad thing. You might even help to keep radical politics alive.

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A good fillum: here’s my in-depth review

August 19, 2007 at 5:06 pm (Jim D, Uncategorized)

Muscular liberal thwarts neo-cons: car chases, ass-kicking, two nice ladies (but no sex -well, you can’t have everything)…best of all a Guardian journalist gets shot.  Unfortunately not the right one.

Still an’ all, a rattling good show.

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He dropped good bombs: Max Roach, RIP

August 18, 2007 at 5:00 pm (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Human rights, jazz, Jim D, music)

Maxwell Lemuel Roach, born January 10 1924; died August 16 2007 

“All the drummers were there at the Village Vanguard when Max Roach returned to action and taught them, once again, that he was the master, playing with a poetic command of his instrument that has never been equaled, even as he so completely absorbed the free, timeless drumming style that the avant-gardist Rashied Ali, both moping and admiring,  said, ‘Well, Max is playing free now. I guess I’ll just go home and get my little rubber practice pad and wait for him to get another ten years older'” – Stanley Crouch, ‘The Presence Is Always The Point’  in ‘Jazz – A History of America’s Music’ by Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns.

“Among musicians who identified with black consciousness, Roach was most frequently involved in direct action. Together with Charles Mingus – with whom he had set up the shortlived Debut label in 1952 – he organised the Newport Rebels concert, featuring musicians allegedly ignored by the main Newport festival. Roach even interrupted a Miles Davis Carnegie Hall charity performance because he disapproved of the beneficiary.

“The Village Vanguard club’s owner once pleaded with him to just play music and stop lecturing the audience” – Ronald Atkins, The Guardian.

Predictably, Doug Ramsey at ‘Rifftides‘ has some interesting thoughts and first-hand reminiscences about Roach: scroll down to August 16th. Ramsey’s description of Roach’s encounter with the winner of a San Fransisco cable-car bell-ringers’ competition is a classic. 

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