Who challenges the challengers?

March 31, 2011 at 10:31 pm (anti-semitism, BBC, Middle East, Rosie B)

When the topic of Julian Assange comes up these days, thoughtful people say, “He’s not the story, what the material from Wikileaks reveals is. Wikileaks is bigger than one man ” The leaked cables were supposed to have been one of the levers that upturned dictatorships in the Middle East.   In an interview Assange said:-

“We started publishing cables about the region from early December. In particular, through our Arabic partners al-Akhbar and al-Masry al-Youm (Cairo). al-Akhbar, the most respected newspaper on-line in the region, published about nearly all the MENA countries, including Tunisia. A site, Tunisleaks, was set up, to also translate our material into French. The Tunisian government banned us and al-Akbar and a hacker war started, also involving Saudi Arabia. al-Akhbar was taken out three times, in what appears to be a state-sponsored attack. Hackers loyal to us, then redirected Tunisian government websites to WikiLeaks and the cables exposing the Ben Ali regime, then on December 16 a 26 year old computer technician in Tunis self-immolated, bringing a vital emotional and physical expression to the brewing outrage. Similar events happened with our involvement in Egypt.”

If this is right, it is heady and inspiring, that the truth will set you free. I haven’t the knowledge to assess how great a part Wikileaks played in the present upheavals. But I do wonder from where someone as brave and clever and dedicated as Assange has picked up his repugnant views, that leftist anti-Semitism, the embarrassing hanger on of anti-Zionism, which is hawking and spitting all over the Zeitgeist at the moment. A supposedly left wing outfit like Counterpunch will publish articles by the poisonous anti-Semite Israel Shamir. (See Bob for details).

Julian Assange is proud of inventing something he calls “scientific journalism”.

WikiLeaks coined a new type of journalism: scientific journalism. We work with other media outlets to bring people the news, but also to prove it is true. Scientific journalism allows you to read a news story, then to click online to see the original document it is based on. That way you can judge for yourself: Is the story true? Did the journalist report it accurately?

Showing how you got your information is what academics do by citing sources with references and footnotes, while bloggers prove their case with  links. With digital technology, it is now possible for a journalist to offer drill down routes to some of the sources of a story. For myself, I would have called this “drill down journalism”, or “data journalism” rather than the more pompous “scientific journalism” but it’s sound enough. Check the source of the story as far as you can, right to the horse‘s mouth.

But when it comes to following his own maxims, as so often with Assange it is Physician, heal thyself. Before a Panorama  programme which he guessed would be hostile towards him, he said in an interview with Francesco Piccinin for the French online magazine Agora Vox:-

What relationships did you with other Media UK ? Why do they accuse you of being anti-Semitic?

Our relationships are not looking good. Particularly with the BBC. Today I was verbally attacked a journalist at the exit of the station. It was John Sweeney’s Panorama program. The BBC is one of our biggest rivals. . .. They will make a show that will air on Monday (coincidentally during the first day of trial) and try and influence judges. We finally discovered that the wife of producer for this show was part of the Zionist movement in London.

(This is in French and translated by the internet and me. Neither of us is good at French)

Could he please give us the name and website of this London Zionist movement that the producer’s influential wife belongs to? Who is this “we” that thinks the BBC times programmes in order to influence the judiciary?

The producer of the Panorama programme is Jim Booth, who is quoted as saying: “. . .he can only be talking about me. I have got no idea why he said that. My wife is not Jewish, has nothing to do with Zionism or the Jewish community. It’s absolutely ridiculous and insulting for me as a producer. I do not set out with an agenda and he gave the sense there was a Jewish agenda. Assange is a pioneer and Wikileaks is a tremendous thing but I wish he had got his facts right.”

“Getting your facts right” is an old term for “scientific journalism”.

However Assange is inclined to see the Zionist hidden hand pulling strings. From the same interview:-

Are you more afraid of Israel or the U.S.?
It is the union of two countries that scares me the most .For an even better reason because they share a number of interests in the Iraqi conflict. Bush has supported Israel since it was surrounded by friends at the head of the oil companies. Israel, meanwhile, has strong ties with the east coast of the United States. Not only because of the presence of many Jews on American soil, but also because many Israeli passports were provided to the Jews of the east coast to strengthen their ties with their homeland. Russia has done the same with South Ossetia, distributing passports to the local population to promote the fight against Georgian nationalism.

He hasn’t used the words “Zionist entity” yet, but that will come. This meme of Israel controlling every darned thing is a few steps away from explaining media hostility towards you by some people in the media being Jewish, or their brothers-in-law being Jewish, as he said to Ian Hislop of Private Eye.  It’s an infection going round at the moment, so, for instance, a blog conversation about why Seven Jewish Children is a bit dodgy will soon have accusations of networks, lobbies, machines and other forces – never explicitly named or their members listed – but existing, somehow.

Assange has said of this conversation with Hislop that “Hislop has distorted, invented or misremembered almost every significant claim and phrase“ but Hislop says in Private Eye (issue 1284) that he took notes and typed it up immediately. “The content of the conversation was too bizarre to invent, too surprising to misremember and too weird to need distortion.” .

So in this instance we have conflicting sources. I’d go with Hislop myself. I can’t give the “scientific journalistic” reason for doing so, just the undocumentable sense that someone like Hislop wouldn’t make something like that up.

In the Vox Agora interview Assange says:-

This media has accused me of collaborating with the alleged anti-Semitic Israel Shamir who supports us. He is a journalist and writer born in Siberia and settled in Israel. Denying Judaism and becoming pro-Palestinian, he was later converted to Russian Orthodoxy. That is why he is hated in the same proportions as Salman Rushdie. He now lives in Sweden, and as he helped us for a while, the media accuse us our turn of being anti-Semitic, of having provided documents to the Russians and having relations with Lukashenka.

It’s easy enough to drill down to where Assange gets the totally off key idea that you can compare the hatred against the “alleged” anti-Semitic Israel Shamir with the hatred against Salman Rushdie- it’s what Shamir says about himself. (Google “israel shamir” “salman rushdie” if you want to check).

The Panorama programme got hold of an email that Assange had written to Shamir:-

Dear Israel/Adam

Someone wrote saying they refused to associate with an organisation that would work with an anti-Semite like Israel Shamir. . .

From a brief sampling of your writing I did not find the allegation borne out. I found the samples to be strong and compassionate.

I did a brief sampling of Shamir’s work myself and found stuff like this:-

David Irving was sentenced for denial of Jewish superiority. His doom seals the reign of (albeit limited) freedom that began with the fall of Bastille. European history went full circle: from rejecting the rule of Church and embracing free thought, to the new Jewish mind-control on a world scale. Not only is Western Christian civilisation dead, but even its successor, secular European civilisation, has met its demise only a few days after its proud and last celebration by the Danish scribes. It was short-lived: about two hundred years from beginning to the end, the Europeans may once have had the illusion that they can live without an ideological supremacy. Now this illusion is over; and the Jews came in the stead of the old and tired See of St Peter to rule over the minds and souls of Europeans.

I’m not going to link to the scabby-tailed rat so you can google that for yourself to read the whole thing.

Could Julian Assange quote the “strong and compassionate” writings he came across in Shamir? Also, if you are assessing someone’s views “a brief sampling” isn’t really enough. You have to read a fair amount and it isn’t a bad idea to google them and find what other people say about them as well. Where’s the “scientific journalism” when you need it?

Assange then suggested Shamir write for Wikileaks under another name.

I would say Assange had some fellow feeling with Shamir as a freebooter and shape shifter, what with his way of changing identities (the indulgent Dear Israel/Adam suggests that) and one who is persecuted, as he sees it. So he opened his arsenal of data and handed him one of the weapons, which Shamir has been using to support the regime in Belarus against its opposition.

Assange has said that Shamir’s association with Wikileaks was minimal but he hasn’t explained that email when asked (by Hislop for one). He has said that Shamir was merely given access to some of the diplomatic cables – whereas of course someone like him should not have been given access to any of them. If Assange stopped avoiding questions and showed himself to be aware of the implications that you can draw from his finding Shamir’s views congenial I would give him a pass. He could admit his dealings with Shamir were a big error of judgement. After all, Assange has been under great pressure and has a huge heap of data to shift, arrange and distribute. He may have handled the rest of it impeccably for all I know.

Assange, though, hates criticism and being called to account, which he regards as “betrayal“, or an “international conspiracy” (Private Eye, issue 1283 p8). He has been dedicated to laying the powerful open to view, but with his possession of sensitive data he has become powerful himself. When this power is challenged he starts talking like some of the Middle Eastern dictators that his work has supposedly helped to bring down – opponents must be of malevolent intent or part of some conspiracy, preferably “Zionist“.

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Why we should not denounce intervention in Libya, by Sean Matgamna

March 30, 2011 at 9:30 pm (africa, AWL, Jim D, Marxism, Middle East)

By Sean Matgamna

An individual, a group, a party, or a class that “objectively” picks its nose while it watches men drunk with blood massacring defenceless people is condemned by history to rot and become worm-eaten while it is still alive. (Leon Trotsky)

The would-be left is yet again tying itself in knots over a false political dilemma: the belief that in order not to give general support to the British-France “liberal intervention” in Libya, they must stridently oppose them on this and on every specific thing they do. Or at least on every military action. In fact it is a dilemma of their own making.

Of course, socialists should not give positive political support to the governments and the ruling capitalists of Britain, France, the USA, or the UN, in Libya or anywhere else. Even when what they seem to be doing may, or is likely to, produce desirable results, they act for their own reasons, not ours.

Of course, their “humanitarian” concern to prevent Qaddafi murdering the Libyan rebels is not unconnected with their concern for Libyan oil. Of course they are hypocrites. Of course they operate double standards. Of course, we should not give them political credence or endorsement for anything they do. Of course we cannot trust them to do what they say they are doing and only that.

Of course the no-fly zone on Qaddafi might in certain conditions develop into invasion and occupation. Wars escalate, combatants respond to situations they did not foresee. Of course, political logic unfolds according to its own needs and the interests of the big powers.

In 1882 the Gladstone Liberal government occupied Egypt “temporarily”, and then Britain remained there for 70 years, until 1952. To give them support would be to repeat the experience in relation to Iraq of those who ardently backed the Americans in Iraq. In other words it would be stupid and,for revolutionary socialists, politicaly self-destroying.

Nevertheless, we have to look at a situation as it is. The UN, with Britain and France as its instruments, has set very limited objectives in Libya. There is no reason at all to think that the “Great Powers” want to occupy Libya or are doing other than a limited international police operation on what they see as Europe’s “southern border”. The bitter lessons of their bungling in Iraq are still very fresh to them.

What they are doing now has prevented, for now at least, the immediate fullscale massacre that Colonel Qaddafi threatened to inflict on his opponents, to whom he vowed “no mercy”. In the name of what, then, should we oppose what they so far are doing in Libya? In the name of what alternative should we have told them to stop using air power to prevent Qaddafi massacring an incalculable number of his own people? That is the decisive question in all such situations.

So,why? We tell them to stop preventing Qaddafi killing his own people, because we think it is alright if he kills his own people? Because we are pacifists pure and simple and oppose military action of any sort in any conditions? Because we positively want Qaddafi to re-establish control in all of Libya? Because actions that might in themselves appear good are not really “good” if they are carried out by those we rightly distrust and want to overthrow? Because it is a principle in all circumstances to defend the self-determination of any state against intervention by outside stronger states? Because we have slogans like “troops out” (of wherever) that are outside of history and circumstances; which we worship as a fetish?

Obviously, this is to reduce the whole question to absurdity. Or rather, it is to bring out the logic of the would be left’s belief that they have got to oppose France and Britain, whatever the consequences.

From any humanitarian, socialist or even decent liberal point of view it is desirable that the Qaddafi forces, trained military personnel and mercenaries, should not be allowed to slaughter the comparatively unarmed and untrained rebels they have in their sights.

It is not necessary to believe that Britain and France are certain to do good. But it is possible, and necessary, to separate certain actions of such powers. Some things they do are, from our point of view, desirable and should not be “opposed”. Our stand of rooted class opposition to them does not require that we oppose and condemn everything and anything that they do. Take an historical example.

Britain abolished the slave trade in 1808. Britain did not abolish slavery in such colonies as Jamaica for 30 years more. This was a Britain in the hands of the corrupt oligarchy that opposed the American democratic republic of that time, had opposed and fought the French revolution, and was at war with post-revolutionary France. The motive of the ruling class was by no means pure and simple. Yet Britain did make war on the slave trade at sea. It stopped ships in which large numbers of human cargo were packed like sardines; ships whose masters in bad weather or when the need for speed became predominant routinely threw large numbers of living slaves overboard. That was good work, whatever the motives of Britain. Recognising that it was good work does not commit anybody to the retrospective backing of Britain against Napoleonic France or against the USA with which it again went to war in 1812.

left arguments

The arguments deployed by the left groups whose starting point is that they have to oppose Britain and France whatever they do, show the foolishness of such a posture.

To justify opposing not occupation, which, if it were to come, socialists would surely oppose, but this limited police action to stop massacre, the Socialist Worker website carries a laboured list of the ruling class’s hypocrisies, double standards, etc, and indicates possible bad consequences — maybe occupation, etc. It even lets itself deploy the idiot argument that to bomb Qaddafi’s strongholds “would kill innocent civilians”. That, as an argument for opposing action aimed at stopping very large scale massacres! It is an example of the political self-negating, self-killing, of people who are in politics terminally confused!

At the end of the day, their posture comes down to opposition to whatever the main imperialist bourgeoisies are doing. No matter what. Much that they do, most of what they do, should indeed be opposed. But to equate our long term, rooted, class opposition to these powers with deep opposition to every specific thing they do is not to be independent of them, but to be their slavish mirror image.

From the unrefined impulse to oppose whatever they do or say, the would-be left here ends up being utterly foolish. And repulsively irresponsible. The last thing this is is independent working class politics.

Or coherent anti-imperialism.

On this question, the left, and in the first place the SWP, is hamstrung by its own recent history.

When in 1999 the Nato powers undertook a police action to stop a Serbian drives to massacre and drive out the Albanian population of Kosova, Serbia’s long time colony, the SWP and others started an anti-war movement which focused entirely on the demand to stop bombing Serbian installations, which was the coercion used to force Serbia to withdraw from Kosova.

In that situation, they sided entirely, and consciously, with a Serbian regime engaged in an attempt at genocide. (See Workers’ Liberty 55, April 1999)

It is impossible to find a clearer example of the lethal consequences of negativism on principle, rather than independent working class politics that look critically and independently at what is going on, and whose proponents think about the issues and do not do the political equivalent of paint by numbers in concocting mindless and often reactionary “anti-imperialist” politics.

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A month is a long time in some politics

March 29, 2011 at 6:33 pm (Rosie B, war)

Richard Seymour 21 Feb 2011

The Gadaffi regime is prepared to fight to the last drop of blood to crush the revolution. This isn’t new. He and his Free Officer allies have always hammered opposition with ruthless efficiency – the public execution has been a centrepiece of the regime’s repertoire since serious challenges first emerged in the 1980s. What is new is the level of escalation demanded of the dictatorship. When they couldn’t rely on the police and army to crush the protesters, they turned to mercenaries to butcher them in their hundreds. . . .

The surreal atmosphere in the presidential palace is communicated in dispatches from defecting officers. “I am the one who created Libya,” Gadaffi reportedly said, “and I will be the one to destroy it.” Last night, one of Gadaffi’s thuggish sons – an alumnus of the London School of Economics, as well as a close friend of Prince Andrew and Lord Mandelson – threatened civil war if people didn’t go home and stop protesting. They’ve cut off the internet and the landlines, and banned foreign journalists in order to be able to carry out massacres under the cover of secrecy. This is a catastrophic lashing out by a regime in mortal freefall. It is seeking, in effect, a blood tribute in compensation for its lost authority.

Even at this late hour, it would be foolish to underestimate Gadaffi’s ability to just hang on, to clench Libya in a rigor mortis grip. As crazed as he manifestly is, he has demonstrated considerable shrewdness in his time.

Richard Seymour rather deftly describes a tyrannical regime going dangerously crazy as it puts down its opponents.  But on 22 March he’s had second thoughts:-

The air strikes on Libya are, under the terms of the UN resolution, supposedly intended to protect civilians and result in a negotiated settlement between Colonel Gaddafi and the rebels. This has resulted in some controversy, as air strikes devastated Gaddafi’s compound – Bab El-Azizia, the presidential palace abutting military barracks in Tripoli. The defence secretary Liam Fox has insisted, against British army opposition, that Gaddafi would be a legitimate target of air strikes. Assassination, whatever else may be said about it, would leave Gaddafi unavailable for negotiations. But a “compound” – what could be wrong with bombing such a facility?

Well if this compound is as you described it above – the headquarters of a megalomaniac “crazed” dictator willing to butcher protesters in their hundreds – it would seem  productive to bomb it.

Richard S. then goes on to complain about the violent rhetoric used against Gadaffi.  What a difference a month (and a UN resolution and the chance of some effective action) makes!

Thanks to TimB in the comments.


Richard Seymour on Gadaffi, and any other dictators/tyrants/despots

If the western powers supported him,
He was dangerous; wicked; mad;
If the western powers then thwarted him,
He wasn’t quite that bad.

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Gilbert Achcar on Libya: a Pab who won’t scab

March 28, 2011 at 11:10 pm (africa, Jim D, Marxism, Middle East, trotskyism, truth)

Can anyone claiming to belong to the left just ignore a popular movement’s plea for protection, even by means of imperialist bandit-cops, when the type of protection requested is not one through which control over their country could be exerted? Certainly not, by my understanding of the left. No real progressive could just ignore the uprising’s request for protection — unless, as is too frequent among the Western left, they just ignore the circumstances and the imminent threat of mass slaughter, paying attention to the whole situation only once their own government got involved, thus setting off their (normally healthy, I should add) reflex of opposing the involvement. In every situation when anti-imperialists opposed Western-led military interventions using massacre prevention as their rationale, they pointed to alternatives showing that the Western governments’ choice of resorting to force only stemmed from imperialist designs.”


Gilbert Achcar, a member of the mainstream (“Pabloite“) Fourth International, refuses to scab on the Libyan revolutionaries… other “revolutionaries” aren’t happy

Here’s what Gilbert says:

“Cannot oppose if only way to prevent massacre

 “Given the urgency of preventing the massacre… and the absence of any alternative means of achieving the protection goal, no one can reasonably oppose [the UN Security Council resolution]…

“The Western response, of course, smacks of oil. The West fears a long drawn out conflict. If there is a major massacre, they would have to impose an embargo on Libyan oil, thus keeping oil prices at a high level at a time when, given the current state of the global economy, this would have major adverse consequences… Only France emerged as very much in favour of strong action, which might well be connected to the fact that France — unlike Germany (which abstained in the UNSC vote), Britain, and, above all, Italy — does not have a major stake in Libyan oil, and certainly hopes to get a greater share post-Qaddafi.

“We all know about the Western powers’ pretexts and double standards…

“The fact remains, nevertheless, that if Qaddafi were permitted to continue his military offensive and take Benghazi, there would be a major massacre. …The attack by Qaddafi’s forces was hours or at most days away. You can’t in the name of anti-imperialist principles oppose an action that will prevent the massacre of civilians. In the same way, even though we know well the nature and double standards of cops in the bourgeois state, you can’t in the name of anti-capitalist principles blame anybody for calling them when someone is on the point of being raped and there is no alternative way of stopping the rapists.

“This said, without coming out against the no-fly zone, we must express defiance and advocate full vigilance in monitoring the actions of those states carrying it out, to make sure that they don’t go beyond protecting civilians as mandated by the UNSC resolution. In watching on TV the crowds in Benghazi cheering the passage of the resolution, I saw a big billboard in their middle that said in Arabic “No to foreign intervention.” People there make a distinction between “foreign intervention”, by which they mean troops on the ground, and a protective no-fly zone. They oppose foreign troops. They are aware of the dangers and wisely don’t trust Western powers.

“The Egyptians are reported to be providing weapons to the Libyan opposition — and that’s fine — but on its own it couldn’t have made a difference that would have saved Benghazi in time. But again, one must maintain a very critical attitude toward what the Western powers might do.”

– Gilbert Achcar, writing in International Viewpoint

Barry Finger comments on Achcar and “anti-imperialism”, here

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Unite Executive election: vote for the serious left!

March 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm (elections, Johnny Lewis, Unite the union, workers)

Unite the Union Logo 

Ballot papers are now going out for the Unite Executive Council elections. This will be the first time that Unite has elected its Executive as a a single, united union (as opposed to an amalgam of the old T&G and the old Amicus): it is vital that the serious left, grouped around the United Left, win a healthy majority to back the new left-wing general secretary, Len McCluskey, and as and when necessary, keep him in line.

The United Left slate is here.

This is not to say that McCluskey and the United Left are perfect: they’re most certainly not. McCluskey is a bureaucrat – an honest left bureaucrat, but a bureaucrat nonetheless.  The United left is essentially an electoral machine and not a campaigning rank-and-file organisation.  Their politics are an amalgam of Tribunite/LRC left-reformism and (worse) ‘Morning Star’-style soft-Stalinism. They’re all too willing to go along, unthinkingly,  with the worst nonsense of the Stop The War Coalition, the PSC and the Cuba Solidarity Campaign.  But the entire serious left within Unite is grouped within the United Left, which (these days) is a relatively open and democratic organisation. There has recently been an attempt to establish a new “grass roots left” based around the increasingly egotistical figure of Jerry Hicks and his petty-bourgeois followers, presently taking the union to the Certification Officer. For all their “left” posturing these people are unfit to lead the union and unworthy of any socialist’s vote.

It is essential that the  Unite Executive  gets a serious Left majority. But that’s just a start: the real job is to build in the workplaces and establish a properly functioning structure of accountable industrial committees.

Vote United Left! Then hold them to account!

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26 March: day of hope

March 27, 2011 at 10:52 pm (capitalist crisis, Cuts, Johnny Lewis, labour party, unions, women, workers, youth)

The anti-cuts march in London Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

Well, it was a bloody good turn-out (at least half a million) and proof that when the official trade union movement makes a real effort it can still put on a good show. Some comrades have complained that the mood was too “carnival-like” and not “angry” enough. I know what they mean, but I think we can build on that spirit of good-humoured optimism and turn it into the basis for a union-led coalition against the cuts, involving the voluntary sector, disability groups, women’s organisations and local Labour Parties.

I called the march “a good show,” and so it was. I don’t use that term in a disparaging sense: the numbers and the atmosphere were great. But it musn’t be just a one-off exercise in letting off steam before the TUC and the bureaucrats return to business as usual. We need to take the enthusiasm of the march, and the new forces it attracted, into local anti-cuts committees or where they don’t yet exist, use the momentum of the march to set them up. In particular, we need to send our people into the Labour Party to demand that the leadership opposes all cuts and that Labour councils refuse to implement cuts.

Calls for a general strike (SWP), even of the “one-day” variety (Socialist Party) are at present unhelpful. But we need to be looking for opportunities for action and encouraging the unions that will be affected by public sector pension cuts, and the TUC general council,  to prepare for co-ordinated industrial action (which can be done legally over that issue).

26 March has not transformed the political landscape in Britain – it was never going to! But it has given our movement a shot in the arm and drawn thousands of new people into political activity. We must ensure that this opportunity isn’t squandered.

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26 March: hope I don’t see you…

March 24, 2011 at 9:06 pm (Cuts, Johnny Lewis, parasites, solidarity, stalinism, Tory scum, unions, Unite the union)

I hope I don’t see anyone I know on Saturday’s march. I say that because  it should be so big that the chances of bumping into a friend, colleague or comrade will be minimal. Meeting up somewhere for a drink later is a different matter, of course.
A massive march is to be welcomed. But it is, of course, only a start. It must be more than a one-off execise in gesture politics and must, instead, be the start of a co-ordinated political and industrial campaign by the trade union movement against the cuts and the Coalition government itself.
Maria Exall (CWU Executive and TUC LGBT Committee) discusses the way forward in the latest edition of Solidarity & Workers Liberty. She writes in a personal capacity:

The TUC “March for the Alternative” is an attempt to put pressure on the Conservative led coalition Government to change the direction of their economic policy.

It is good that labour movement bodies as well as voluntary sector and community organisations are marching together. Realistically, though, the aim of defeating Government policies can only be achieved by a greater level of industrial resistance and much more focused political campaigning.

The Tory led Coalition Government is pursuing an ideological agenda — keeping lax arrangements for bank regulation, cutting back workers’ rights (including recently stopping improvements in flexible working arrangements), rolling back the welfare state — all continuations of the “laisse faire” capitalism that gave us the credit crunch in the first place.

But trade union reaction is, so far, very limited. 26 March can only be the beginning, we need a more strategic and political response.

Though trade unions in the public sector are looking at the possibility of co-ordinated industrial action on the major cutbacks in public pension schemes, this is an issue that only affects public sector workers directly.

The ideology behind the Tory plans (supported by constant media references to inefficient bureaucracy and privileged and overpaid public sector workers) is this — a dismantling of decent conditions of employment for public sector workers as a precursor for the dismantling of the public sector itself. The challenge is for public sector trade unionists to argue against this ideological intent and win over the majority of working people to defend the public sector.

The massive attacks on working-class living standards through job losses, public and private, changes to tax and benefits systems, and the higher prices for necessities will only get worse over the coming year. Progressive trade union leaders need to lead the resistance to this attack on living standards too.

The involvement of a broad coalition of community groups and the voluntary sector will be important, but the commitment of trade unionist to fight cuts and job losses is vital. This is not only because organised labour has economic and political power which it can use through targeted industrial action, but because (imperfect though it is) the labour movement represents working class democracy.

We need to build a truly non sectarian campaign, formally backed by several unions, to take things forward.

A conference called around this aim, and open to all would be a start. We need a broad-based but political coalition against the cuts, left unity amongst socialist groups, and a recognition that the cuts will hit certain groups within the working class harder — disabled people, women, BME and LGBT communities. The demands of such a political coalition can form the focus of community campaigns but also the basis of the policies we should expect from the Labour Party.

Now is the time for focused political demands — putting flesh on the bones of an “alternative”. An increase in political involvement in grassroots anti cuts campaigning led by the labour movement is the best chance of achieving political change.

We need a workers’ government and this can only be built through workers’ democracy.


Johnny Lewis writes:

Meanwhile, it has been suggested in certain none-too-reputable quarters that the scabs of the ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and the once-honourable CND, are hoping to use the march to give the false impression that there is significant trade union support for their objectively pro-Gaddafi line of opposing intervention in Libya. It is being suggested that they will try to flood the march with their “Cut Warfare Not Welfare” placards, hoping that marchers will not realise that this apparently unobjectionable slogan will be presented by both ‘Stop The War’ and the right wing press as opposition to intervention in Libya.

I very much hope these rumours are unfounded, and that such cynical manipulation will not be tolerated by responsible figures like Mr Andrew Murray, who will surely have used his influence as both “Chief of Staff” for Unite the union and Chair of the Stop The War Coalition to prevent the march being brought into disrepute in such a disgraceful manner.

So if you’re offered one of these placards…just say no!

Above: ‘Stop the War’ / CND scabs must not hi-jack the march

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Damned if you, damned if you don’t

March 24, 2011 at 8:12 pm (Rosie B, war)

From Private Eye Issue No 1284:-

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Elizabeth Taylor RIP

March 23, 2011 at 10:38 pm (cinema, good people, Jackie Mcdonough)

She wasn’t just a great beauty with a tempestuous private life: she could really act and held her own alongside Katharine Hepburn and Montgomery Clift in this intelligent thriller (imho her best film) written by Tennessee Williams:


In some ways a sad figure in later years, her fund-raising for aids research should not be forgotten. She was,  by all accounts, a very nice person. That helps, doesn’t it?

The New York Times obit (written by someone who predeceased her by six years) is here.

It is always said (and I’m sure it’s true) that her and Burton “couldn’t  live with each other and couldn’t live without each other). But I note Burton’s comment, quoted in the NY Times obit: “She has wonderful eyes, but she has a double chin and an overdeveloped chest, and she’s rather short in the leg.” I like to think Buirton was making the point that someone doesn’t have to be physically perfect in order to be beautiful. On the other hand he may just have been a sexist swine. Or drunk.

RIP Liz.

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Bad and dangerous if not mad

March 23, 2011 at 7:49 pm (Guardian, Rosie B, war)

One of our most prolific commenters here has drawn attention to this piece from Richard Seymour.  He doesn’t want us to see Gaddafi as a mad dictator or even a particularly bad dictator it seems:-

The defence secretary Liam Fox has insisted, against British army opposition, that Gaddafi would be a legitimate target of air strikes. Assassination, whatever else may be said about it, would leave Gaddafi unavailable for negotiations. . . [Also unavailable to order his army to kill civilians.]

In situations like this, the usual affective repertoire is unleashed. Gaddafi is a “Mad Dog”, the Sun, the Mirror, the Star and the Daily Record inform us – an epithet first applied by Ronald Reagan when the latter bombed Gaddafi’s compound, among other targets, in 1986. He is “barking mad”, they say. Jon Henley in the Guardian went further – not just “barking mad”, but “foaming at the mouth”. “Cowardly Colonel Gaddafi,” the Sun almost alliterated.

I grant that Gaddafi is a dictator whose determination to hold on initially seemed to defy reality. Yet the reality is that he has shown every sign of being a canny operator, from his rapprochement with the EU and US to his outmanoeuvring of the rebels.

Hmm, Richard S, if you had been Gaddafi’s advisor wouldn’t you have told him, listen, tone down the rhetoric.  Don’t go and make ranting speeches where you denounce the citizens of your own country as being rats and high on hallucinogenic drugs, and that you‘re going to kill a large number of them.  This kind of raving is reminiscent of Hitler – and once you convince the American or British public that you’re Hitler, they will support their leaders when they start bombing you out of power.   So I don’t think he’s been that canny.  If he’d been that canny he would have been talking sweetness and negotiations and listening to justified complaints and then started swooping down on his opponents and stuffing them into jail.  Also, is “outmanoeuvring the rebels” the same as “having a trained army and much better weaponry?”

Besides, such language has connotations which overflow its formal significations, and does important ideological work in the context of war. . .

You mean, calling the enemy a bad bastard?  Well, he is a bad bastard, isn’t he?   Are you saying he’s not?

I’ll grant Richard S that the gung-ho bloodthirstiness of the tabloids is nauseating.  I have serious misgivings that this operation could go terribly wrong in all sorts of ways.  But while Gaddafi may not be mad in the way the simple-minded tabloids like to portray him, he’s a dangerous, nasty fucker, and if those he is attacking are calling for help it seems horribly callous not to help if we can.

I knew there would be a Downfall parody of Gaddafi, so here it is:-

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