I’ve been reading the brilliant Orwell Diaries website, which puts up pages from Orwell’s diaries of 70 years ago day by day. It is now 31 August 1939 and war is imminent. The British government has passed the Emergency Powers Act.:-
Emergency Powers Act passed evidently without much trouble. Contains clauses allowing preventive arrest, search without warrant & trial in camera. But not industrial conscription as yet. [Wireless 6 pm]
It is just after the signing of the Russo-German pact, as Orwell calls the Treaty of Non-Aggression between the Third German Reich and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Moscow airport was decorated with swastikas for Ribbentrop’s arrival. M. Guardian adds that they were screened so as to hide them from the rest of Moscow. Manchester Guardian
These menacing national and world events are juxtaposed against his observations of his garden and the natural world:-
Blackberries are ripening in this district. Finches beginning to flock. Very heavy mists in the early mornings.
Autumn and war advance together.
Orwell seemed to read about half a dozen newspapers every day, from the Daily Telegraph to the Daily Worker, and pages from those papers are included on the site. He was also a great collector of pamphlets.
E’s [Orwell’s wife Eileen] report of speeches in Hyde Park suggests that Communist Party are taking more left wing line but not anxious to thrash out questions of Russo-German pact.
There have been other entries of going to hear what the speakers in Hyde Park were talking about for a running update of the views and feelings of fringe parties, at a time when they were far more significant than they are now. The equivalent these days would be to read partisan political blogs, and for pamphlets we have reports like those put out by Quillam or the Centre for Social Cohesion or whatever that are uploaded as PDFs for us to print out.
Veteran Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery has written a powerful piece explaining the falsity of crude comparisons between Israel and apartheid South Africa – and therefore why the boycott campaign is misguided.
The article is published in today’s Morning Star, which is interesting in itself as the Star’s coverage of Israel/Palestine has, for some time, verged upon “absolute anti-Zionism” that seems to question Israel’s very right to exist. They have published Avery’s articles before, but never one that makes his “two states” position and his rejection of the “apartheid” comparison so plain.
The article opens with a description of a conversation the author had recently with Desmond Tutu and why Avnery – an admirer of Tutu – believes he’s wrong about boycotting Israel:
“To show the importance of the boycott he told me the following story. In 1989, the moderate white leader, Frederik Willem de Klerk, was elected president of South Africa. Upon assuming office he declared his intention to set up a multiracial regime. “I called to congratulate him, and the first thing he said was: Will you now call off the boycott?”
“It seems to me that Tutu’s answer emphasises the huge difference between the South African reality at the time and ours today. The South African struggle was between a large majority and a small minority.
“Among a general population of almost 50 million, the whites amounted to less than 10 per cent. This means that more than 90 per cent of the country’s inhabitants supported the boycott, in spite of the argument that it hurt them too.
“In Israel, the situation is the very opposite. The Jews amount to more than 80 per cent of Israel’s citizens and constitute a majority of some 60 per cent throughout the country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And 99.9 per cent of the Jews oppose a boycott on Israel.
“They will not feel that “the whole world is with us,” but rather that “the whole world is against us.”
“In South Africa, the worldwide boycott helped in strengthening the majority and steeling it for the struggle.
“The impact of a boycott on Israel would be the exact opposite. It would push the large majority into the arms of the extreme right and create a fortress mentality against the “anti-semitic world.”
“People are not the same everywhere. It seems that the blacks in South Africa are very different from the Israelis and from the Palestinians too.”
I don’t agree with everything in Avnery’s piece, but it makes a refreshing change from the unremiting root-and-branch hosility to Israel’s very existance that permeates much “left-wing” discourse these days. It also points out that “the vast majority of Palestinians want a Palestinian (or Islamic) state”…which inevitably must mean “next to Israel.”
Read the whole article (link in second paragraph, above).
A few weeks ago I stopped challenging the relentless pro-faith commentary in the UK press because I became bored with the repetitive nature of those commentators’ arguments, sick of their self-satisfied tone and feeble jokes, and depressed by their poverty of thought, lack of imagination and absence of compassion.
If you too are weary with Bunting, Brown, Byrnes, Eagleton, Gray, Armstrong, Vernon, Appleyard and all the other bores and charlatans making the same weak arguments over and over again in the comment pages, you might enjoy Nick Cohen’s savage counterblast:
When Ayaan Hirsi Ali published Infidel, her account of escape from forced marriage and genital mutilation to Europe, her defence of the liberal values they once believed in appalled ‘liberal’ Europeans. Although Ali needed bodyguards to protect her from Islamist assassins, Timothy Garton Ash sneered that she was an ‘Enlightenment fundamentalist’ while Ian Buruma denounced her as an absolutist. Maryam Namazie, a Marxist Iranian exile who set up the ‘One Law for all Campaign’ to oppose the Archbishop and the Lord Chief Justice, tells me that she experiences every variety of Western duplicity. When she argues in favour of the demonstrators in Tehran, the hard Left tell her she is serving the interests of US imperialism — ‘It’s now reactionary to have a revolution,’ she sighs. When she last appeared on the BBC, to argue that the burka was a straightjacket designed to mark off a woman as a man’s private property, the presenter told her she was an ‘extremist’. With dreary inevitability, Does God Hate Women‘s critics say that Benson and Stangroom’s atheist liberalism is as fundamentalist as the religion of the hardliners they condemn.
Leave aside, however, that the critics do not even-handedly condemn misogynists, homophobes and inquisitors but dedicate all their polemical energy to denouncing those who do. Consider instead whether their equivalence holds good. If you abandon atheism, no atheist police force imitates the religious police in Saudi Arabia and arrests you. If you decide you no longer believe in the equality of the sexes and say that God has made men dominant, no one arraigns you before an equality court. If you stop believing in free speech and start arguing for censorship, no ‘enlightenment fundamentalist’ judge punishes your apostasy with a death sentence.
It’s a long essay, but well worth reading.
I missed the anniversary of jazz violinist and legendary practical joker Joe Venuti‘s death (14 Aug 1978), and we haven’t quite reached the anniversary of his birth (16 Sept 1903), so here’s a little in-between tribute: an all-too-brief colour film of him and his childhood friend, fellow Italian-American and musical partner, guitarist Eddie Lang in 1929:
… now you know where Django and Stephane got the idea from…
…and here’s Venuti towards the end of his career and life, in 1974:
Yesterday’s Morning Star carried an article marking the fortieth anniversary of the ‘Battle of the Bogside’ in Derry, Northern Ireland. It’s good that these events are remembered, and interesting to note that the Star‘s piece is written by a member of the Socialist Workers Party. Even more interesting is what the author of the piece, SWP’er Keith Flett writes about the Wilson government’s decision to send in the troops:
“Many words have been written about whether the British troops were welcomed into Derry.
“However, the view of those among the leaders of the Bogside uprising at that time, such as Eamon McCann and Bernadette Devlin-McAliskey, remains clear. The arrival of the troops and the pullout of the B Specials represented a short-term victory – a rare enough thing. In the longer term, the British troops were recognised as no friends to the republican cause. It did not take long for the point to be made – in 1972 Derry saw the events that came to be known as Bloody Sunday.”
I’ve quoted that section of Flett’s article in full, because I don’t want to misrepresent him in any way. It’s clear that Flett considers the arrival of the troops to have been a “short term victory”: which was, indeed, the ‘line’ of the SWP’s forerunner, the IS (International Socialists) at the time, even though the present day SWP leadership regularly deny it.
All of which would seem to confirm much of the accuracy of this account, by the Alliance for Workers Liberty’s Sean Matgamna (at the time a leader of the oppositionist ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ within IS), including the following damning account of the role and politics of IS with regard to Northern Ireland in 1969:
“That (IS) approach was either an assertion that there would soon be a unification of Catholic and Protestant workers on both sides — or a call for letting the sectarian forces fight it out. And at the very beginning of the article (in Socialist Worker) the author had already effectively dismissed the Protestant workers.
“‘The Green Tories of the South showed that while Irishmen were being attacked by armed sectarian mobs, their chief concern was to keep the Southern arsenals locked, while making unreal speeches about a UN peace-keeping force” ( from Socialist Worker, August 1969).
“‘Irishmen’ were being attacked? And what were those who attacked them? What nationality were the Protestant sectarian mobs? What nationality were the “sectarian” Catholic youth who stoned the Orange march? It would be difficult to find a more concentrated expression of primeval Catholic-nationalism than this! The editorial wanted to expose the Southern government as not good “Irishmen”.
“In fact “open the arsenals” was the cry of the comic-opera Stalinoid “Republicans”, whose major contribution during the mid-August crisis was to stir things up and vindicate Northern Ireland prime minister James Chichester-Clark’s story that what was happening was a general Catholic-Nationalist insurrection, with the lie that the IRA had active service units fighting in the North.
“The cry “open the arsenals” was a cry that the southern Government should abdicate in favour of letting nondescript “republicans” loose on the Northern Protestants: that is – abdicate the responsibilities of government and let the island dissolve into civil war.
“Since no government would choose to do what “open the arsenals” implied then, the demand was an “impossibilist”, for propaganda-purposes-only, Sinn Fein demand to show up the Dublin Government as “traitors”.
“From what point of view, anyway, should socialists want such chaos? The consequences would have been Catholic-Protestant civil war all over the island. As it was, there was a small eruption of Catholic sectarian threats against Protestants in Donegal and a Protestant church was set on fire.
“In the name of honest dealing, I need to say here that if the Southern Government had on 12 or 13 August sent its army into Derry and the other Catholic-nationalist territories on the border, including the Catholic-majority towns, then I would not have been amongst those who condemned them. Socialists would, in my view, then of course have tried to protect Protestants, denounce the Irish hierarchy, condemn church-state relations in the South, etc.
“However, IS’s “politics from below” backing the Republicans’ call was irresponsible idiocy. And to combine that with sighs of relief and oblique support for the British Army in the North — and with denouncing us (the forerunners of today’s AWL, then the ‘Trotskyist Tendency’ within IS) for “wanting a bloodbath”!
“One of the curious features of IS’s performance is that it did not call for volunteers from Britain to help the embattled Northern Catholics, as in all seriousness it should have done. The Trotskyist Tendency did, in a fashion. Immediately after IS Conference, the IS branch in Manchester where we were mainly concentrated sent Joe Wright and myself to Derry.”
PS: I’ve just noticed this piece by Eamon McCann in last week’s Socialist Worker: McCann (who was, like Matgamna, physically present and actively involved in the defence of ‘Free Derry’ at the time), confirms Flett’s (and the 1969 IS) assessment of the arrival of the troops as at least a “short term” victory. Presumably, the SWP are now going to have to stop re-writing their own history on that particular point…
The situation in Iran remains unstable and conflicted. The recent election and the unrest that followed it has been a source of division amongst Western intellectuals. Some commentators instinctively side with the protestors on the street, while others are concerned about the sovereignty of a foreign government to which the West is hostile. It’s all very complicated, which is why I welcome the input of our Shiraz Socialist commenter, Comrade Resistor, who has contributed a sophisticated pictorial analysis of the situation in Iran.
(Via Harry’s Place)
And don’t give me the idiocy that ‘we can’t talk about immigration’. Immigration is a minor political issue elevated to continual public debate. It’s the only political issue discussed in some particularly virulent corners of debate.
The idea that there is some kind of taboo, or prohibition, on discussing immigration is absurd fiction, yet it’s one that passes unchallenged in newspapers, on blogs, in political speeches, and in everyday conversation. It is, in a way, a successful contemporary conspiracy theory – an inflexible belief of the punditocracy whose near-pathological hatred for immigrants has framed this debate for so long.
Ted Kennedy was also – at the very least – guilty of manslaughter, and got off because of his influence and connections.
No socialist should waste a tear.
Could someone please set up a Shiraz Socialist Watch Site? Harry’s Place has got one. David Aaronovitch has got one, and he’s only one bloke, and not even that prolific a writer. Christopher Hitchens has got one, which I find convenient as it links to his articles. I used to go to the Drink Soaked whatevers for that service, but they are no longer with us. Having a Watch site means you have made it, i.e. you’ve got up a collective nose somewhere.
Watch sites that watch one person or one other site in order to abuse them are strange. There are sites like Searchlight that watch and report back on the malevolent BNP and the far right in general which do really useful work, and respect to them for reading racist filth and idiocy that turn my stomach. A fan site of someone you admire, say a musician or a band, is of course absolutely fine, where you share your pleasure with the like-minded and pay the tribute that is due to talent. But an anti-fanzine site is the equivalent of keeping on going to hear a band that you really dislike so that you can then get together with your cronies and say how terrible they are. What’s the point? Why waste the time?
These sites always come across as barmy and obsessive, set up and maintained by stalkers in rain coats, jotting in scruffy notebooks and then meeting in someone’s room to cackle together over the horribleness of their targets. Or they are like a coven of extremely bitchy schoolgirls rolling their eyes at each other and saying, “Did you see what she was wearing today? I couldn’t believe it. Not even from her!”
Update:- There is a Shiraz Socialist watch site here.
Further update:- Some of the comments below hint that this post is politically biased. It was not meant to be. It is merely that the watch sites for Harry’s Place, Christopher Hitchens and David Aaronovitch are the watch sites I am most familiar with. If there are watch sites for Socialist Unity or Lenin’s Tomb, or even watch sites for HPWatch (HPWatchWatch?) Hitchenswatch or Aaronovitchwatch I should be pleased to add them to my list of sites set up by the crazily obsessive and grossly parochial. In the meantime, I deeply regret the offence I have caused and apologise to the victims and their families for any distress they may have felt.
Back to work tomorrow. I’ve had two very pleasant weeks of dossing about and visiting nice places like Ludlow and the Forest of Deane (both thoroughly recommended). Sadly, I narrowly missed the Severn bore. Anyway, now it’s back to work. Larkin had the right idea. Twice: first, this; then (probably more appropriate to me), the following:
Walking around in the park
Should feel better than work:
The lake, the sunshine,
The grass to lie on,
Blurred playground noises
Beyond black-stockinged nurses –
Not a bad place to be.
Yet it doesn’t suit me.
Being one of the men
You meet of an afternoon:
Palsied old step-takers,
Hare-eyed clerks with the jitters,
Still vague from accidents,
And characters in long coats
Deep in the litter-baskets –
All dodging the toad work
By being stupid or weak.
Think of being them!
Hearing the hours chime,
Watching the bread delivered,
The sun by clouds covered,
The children going home;
Think of being them,
Turning over their failures
By some bed of lobelias,
Nowhere to go but indoors,
Nor friends but empty chairs –
No, give me my in-tray,
My loaf-haired secretary,
What else can I answer,
When the lights come on at four
At the end of another year?
Give me your arm, old toad;
Help me down Cemetery Road.
(‘Toads Revisited’, from ‘The Whitsun Weddings’).
Hancock understood as well: