Boyce Brown, aka Brother Matthew

August 25, 2011 at 7:55 pm (Catholicism, Christianity, Disability, good people, humanism, jazz, Jim D)

I’ve been liaising with jazz writer Michael Steinman on the subject of alto saxist  Boyce Brown (aka “Brother Matthew”), possibly the most complex and fascinating character in the entire history of jazz.  Here’s Michael’s excellent posting on his site ‘Jazz Lives’:



Posted on August 24, 2011 by jazzlives|

Boyce Brown (1910-1959) is a tantalizing, elusive figure.  Although he played hot jazz with the great Chicagoans, he was not one of them — hard-living and hard-drinking.  The picture above shows him in 1956, surrounded by Wild Bill Davison, Pee Wee Russell, Ernie Caceres, Eddie Condon, and George Wettling, at his final recording session.

Scott Yanow calls Boyce “eccentric,” “outlandish,” “an erratic individual,” although those characterizations sound ungenerous.  I think of the famous lines from T. S. Eliot’s THE FAMILY REUNION, “In a world of fugitives, it is those that turn away that appear to run away.”

In the case of Boyce Brown, it is difficult to know if he chose to turn away from the world of musicians and gigs for the world of the spirit, or if the earthly world scorned him.  All we know are the facts of his short life.  He became a professional musician at 17 and recorded with some of the greatest Hot players — but his path was an unusual one outside the clubs and recording studios.

Boyce loved marijuana and what it could do, but it didn’t contribute to his death.  He didn’t die of tuberculosis or freeze on a Harlem doorstep, but prejudice and sorrow seem to have shortened his life.  He is certainly underrated and not well-known or well-remembered.  I agree with Jim Denham (of SHIRAZ SOCIALIST) who thinks that Boyce should be both remembered and celebrated.  And although I’ve never met Jeff Crompton (of HELLO THERE, UNIVERSE) I and other jazz fans are indebted to him for his generosities.  (You can find the blogs written by Jim and Jeff on my blogroll.)

What facts I have collected seem at first an assortment of weird personality traits, but viewed lovingly, they are the markings of a rare bird.

Boyce was someone who “saw” musical notes as colors.  He nearly died at birth; the midwife saved him by reshaping his unformed skull.  His parents encouraged him to take up the saxophone in hopes that it would strengthen his weak chest.  When he played, he had a habit of stretching his neck out like a bird — causing him to be rejected at an audition for the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra.

Eddie Condon said Boyce was “a slow reader,” Condon-speak for partial blindness.  Boyce lived with his mother, wrote poetry, listened to Delius.  Condon’s SCRAPBOOK OF JAZZ contains Boyce’s whimsical poem about ROYAL-T (slang for the best marijuana), hilarious and tenderly decorated by Boyce himself — a Hot illuminated manuscript.

He named his alto saxophone Agnes, and thought deeply about her personality and moods; if a recording disappointed him, he blamed himself for not being in harmony with his instrument.  All of this might seem freakish on first perusal, but other musicians have spoken of their synesthesia (Marian McPartland, whom no one considers an eccentric, told Whitney Balliett that the key of D was daffodil yellow), and Ben Webster, hardly an introvert, called his saxophone Betsy or Ol’ Betsy.

But before we get caught up in the debris of habit and personal history, let us — as Al Smith used to say — look at the record.  Or listen.  Two, in fact, from 1939: THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE SUNRISE and JAZZ ME BLUES:

Boyce sounds like himself.  Those rolling, tumbling figures are the playing of a man on a mission, someone with a message for us in the eight or sixteen bars allotted him…

…Read the rest here

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The scab and liar Milne’s despicable bleatings

August 25, 2011 at 6:56 pm (apologists and collaborators, Asshole, Guardian, Jim D, Libya, stalinism)

Even by the loathsome standards of this posh-boy, public school Stalinist scab and liar, his latest bleatings in the Graun are simply despicable…

Seumas Milne

Lest we forget: scab #4, Seamas Milne

…and they don’t even make sense, or have any internal consistency, except that of scabbing on the Libyan revolution: here are some edited highlights of Milnesque scabbery:

* “British and US forces have played the decisive role in the overthrow of an Arab or Muslim regime. “

* “…the made-for-TV images of the sacking of compounds and smashing of statues, or the street banners hailing Nato leaders.”

* “Violent repression was certainly meted out against a popular uprising, but once insurrection had morphed into war there’s little evidence that the regime’s troops were in a position to overrun an armed and hostile city of 700,000 people.”

* “None of that means the euphoria on the streets of Libyan cities at the fall of a regime long decayed into dynastic despotism isn’t entirely genuine. Or that the rebels who fought their way across the country haven’t made heavy sacrifices for a victory they regard as their own – let alone that Libyans were incapable of bringing down the Gaddafi regime by themselves.”

* “But the facts are unavoidable.Without the 20,000 air sorties, arms supplies and logistical support of the most powerful states in the world, they would not be calling the shots in Tripoli today.”

* “However glad people are to see the fall of the Gaddafi clan, it’s clear that such intimate involvement of the US and the former colonial powers taints and undermines the legitimacy of Libya’s transformation.”

…and here’s the crucial quote, proving that Mine doesn’t really give a toss about the people of Libya, but is primarily interested in a world-scale chess board, in which the crucial consideration is not human libertation but the balance between  power-blocks:

“Beyond Libya, the apparent success of Nato’s operation has given an unwelcome boost to the doctrine of pick-and-choose liberal interventionism, just as its dangers had come to be recognised in the wake of the disasters of the war on terror. That matters in the Middle East now more than ever.”

An object lesson in how Stalinist ignorance and/or lying can blind you to the elementary requirements of class politics: which is, possibly, why the ‘Graun’ continues to publish the degenerate ramblings of this Stalinist scumbag…

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August 25, 2011 at 4:48 pm (Anti-Racism, homelessness, Jim D, protest, travellers)


As the launch of Camp Constant on August 27th approaches, the authorities appear poised to blockade Dale Farm.

ROAD BLOCK WARNING: Notices have gone up along Oak Road, adjacent to Dale Farm, saying that the road will be closed to all but residents from Friday, Sept. 2nd. See for details.  Both ends of Oak Road will be blocked (blocking access via both Hardings Elm Road and Gardiners Lane North). Additionally, the lay by on the southern end of Oak Lane (leading on to the A127; by the white ‘Basildon onion’ water tower) will be blocked. There will be a no stop zone on the footpaths on the A127 between A176 at Billericay and A132 at Wickford.  Residents are feeling under siege, with children asking how many more nights they are going to be able to sleep in their beds.  Dale Farm is a big site, so it should be possible to find routes in, but be advised that after Sept. 1, it will be harder to get in, and likely impossible to get vehicles in.

WATER AND ELECTRICITY TO BE CUT: The Council have released information that they intend to cut water and electricity supplies from Dale Farm after the eviction notice period expires on midnight 31st August. This will leave sick, elderly, young, and pregnant residents without access to water or electricity. Amnesty International have condemned the removal of vital water and electricity in these circumstances, and asked their supporters to put pressure on the council to cease this action which represents a serious violation of human rights. An injunction has been sought in consideration of two residents who are dependent upon a constant electricity supply for nebulisers, without access to which their lives are placed in serious jeopardy. See Amnesty’s Kartick Raj speaking to BBC Essex this week.

CAMP CONSTANT: On Saturday, 27th August, we will launch CAMP CONSTANT a solidarity and resistance camp for supporters of the Dale Farm community. JOIN US.

See: for more information, the weekend’s schedule of workshops, and a welcome pack.

DESPERATE PLEA TO UN: Richard Sheridan as president of the Gypsy Council has been involved in eleventh-hour negotiations with the UN Commission on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination in Geneva; the Special Raporteur has already entreated the UK Government to cease the evictions and to ensure the families at Dale Farm are offered viable culturally appropriate alternative sites. Lord Avebury will accompany Dale Farm residents to 10 Downing Street on Thursday, 25th August to present a petition to the PM calling for the eviction to be called off.

INDEPENDENT MEDIA: Any independent media people planning to come on to the site (with video, cameras, etc) please read this first and make contact…

DONATE: use this paypal link to donate some money to the camp.

LONDON INFO-EVENT & MEETING: 2pm, Thurs, 25th August, at the Haircut before the party, Whitechapel…see here for more info.

MAKING THE CONNECTIONS: Workshop, Sunday Sept. 4th, 2pm, Camp Constant, Dale Farm.  Freedom of Movement and the Right to Stay!  This is the rallying cry for Roma, Gypsies and Travellers and of migrants throughout the world. A common thread of persecution, of forbidden lands, eviction and deportation connect the struggles for migrant rights and the rights of Gypsies and Travellers. These realities have met dramatically in the crack-down and deportations of Roma people from France and Italy.  Come to the Workshop organised by No One Is Illegal and London No Borders including speaker who is an activist in Amnesty International’s campaign against the persecution of Roma in Europe.

TELL EVERYONE ABOUT THE DEMO: Sat, 10th Sept, 1pm, see here for more information and email: to add your group’s support to the list…

RISE UP!: We cannot stand by and do nothing while the UKs largest Travellers site, home to hundreds of families, including many children, elderly and sick residents, is brutally evicted. Travellers should not have to live in constant fear of eviction with their lives and communities under constant threat. They should not have to be forced out of their homes and off their land by bulldozers and police. This constant hounding, marginalisation, and lack of provision is how rural England does ethnic cleansing. It is time for a resurgence of support for Gypsy and Traveller communities. Time to stand against the extreme racial discrimination faced by Gypsies and Travellers. Time to defend the right of Gypsies and Travellers to land, life, respect, and dignity.

More on Dale farm here

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Jerry Leiber, RIP: Is That All there Is? (sung by Peggy Lee)

August 25, 2011 at 1:37 am (black culture, jazz, Jim D, music, The blues, United States)

Mike Stoller, Elvis Presley and Jerry Leiber

Jerry Leiber, right, and Mike Stoller examine the sheet music for Jailhouse Rock, one of several songs they wrote for Elvis Presley

No one sold black culture to white kids like Jerry Leiber, whose lyrics to such songs as Hound Dog, Love Potion No 9, Yakety Yak, Stand By Me, Spanish Harlem and Jailhouse Rock, mostly set to music by his friend, co-composer and business partner Mike Stoller, were a vital force in the transformation of popular music in the second half of the 20th century. When Leiber, who has died aged 78, wrote a line such as “I took my troubles down to Madam Ruth / You know, that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth”; “Who walks in the classroom, cool and slow? / Who calls the English teacher ‘Daddy-O’?”; or (as interpreted by Elvis Presley) “They said you was high-classed, but that was just a lie / You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine”, young ears were pinned back by the pungent informality of the language, the vividness of the exotic imagery and the earthy irreverence of the humour, such a long way from the strait-laced moon-and-June lyrics of Tin Pan Alley and all the product of Leiber’s childhood immersion in the music and conversation of his African-American neighbours…

…read the rest here

• Jerome (Jerry) Leiber, lyricist, record producer and song publisher, born 25 April 1933; died 22 August 2011

(From the Guardian)

Below: Possibly Leiber and Stoller’s best number (especially when sung by the fabulous Peggy Lee):

Unfortunately, that clip cuts out before the end of the song; so here’s the original recording in full: thank you for the music, Jerry.

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AWL statement on Libya

August 24, 2011 at 1:28 am (AWL, Jim D, Libya, Marxism, Middle East, trotskyism, truth)

“Workers’ Liberty believes that a people staring down the wrong end of a state-sanctioned massacre have the right to call for assistance, even from imperialist powers. It is not for us, from the safety of Britain, to sanctimoniously condemn as insufficiently ‘anti-imperialist’ the Libyans who demanded NATO intervention, such as the thousands of women who demonstrated in Benghazi in early March.”

Libya: The return of hope

For anyone who believes in basic human freedom, the fact that Muammar Qaddafi’s 42-year long reign of autocratic terror in Libya is seemingly at an end must be a cause for celebration.

As we go to press fighting is still going on in the capital Tripoli, but for the vast majority of Libyan people it seems to be the return of hope.

Qaddafi’s rule was characterised by the most brutal extermination of all political opposition. Torture and public execution were commonplace. The scenes of mass jubilation on the streets of Tripoli and other Libyan cities that greeted the rebels’ advances are an inspiring expression of joy and relief that Qaddafi’s vice-like grip on power is irreversibly loosening.

But while celebration and hope are the proper first reactions, they must be tempered by a sober assessment of the uncertain political future the Libyan people now face.

The opposition which organised the fighting against Qaddafi on the ground, its leaders grouped in the National Transitional Council, appears to contain very diverse political elements, some at odds with each other. Some are secular, some Islamist. The rebels included some defectors from Qaddafi’s regime and some supporters of the deposed monarchy. A competitive battle to shape Libya’s future is now underway.

The Transitional National Council’s “Draft Constitutional Charter” already expresses many of those contradictions; it seeks to enshrine freedoms of assembly and association, as well as the right to strike, but also states that Islamic Shari’a is the “principal source of legislation”. There will be battles over women’s rights, Libya’s relationship to foreign countries and over control of its natural resources. Tribal tension may blight the country as sectarian tensions have blighted post-Ba’athism Iraq.

For us, the point-of-departure is workers’ organisation; but there is next to no working-class organisation in Libya. That is hardly surprising, given the brutal nature of Qaddafi’s rule. But if Libya’s future is to be even a minimally democratic one, trade unions and working-class political organisations need space to develop and assert themselves. The basic levels of freedom that we hope will exist in the new Libya — freedoms that did not exist, that could not have existed – under Qaddafi will make such developments possible.

Perversely, some on the would-be left in Britain will not share in the Libyan people’s joy. The Stop the War Coalition, led by Stalinists like Andrew Murray and the eclectic Counterfire group, prefers to emphasise the “negative aspects” of the overthrow of the regime, and can only bring itself to say that “many Libyans may welcome the outcome, and will be glad to see the back of Qaddafi”. The word “many” does not even begin to quantify the immense, mass, celebration that is now taking place in Libya. And mealy-mouthed does not describe this zombie-like response to these tremendous events.

Outright support for Qaddafi is confined to a marginal fringe of sects like the “Trotskyist” Workers’ Revolutionary Party.

For most of the far-left, the intervention of NATO in Libya cancelled out the genuine democratic content of the Libyan uprising. To argue that NATO somehow engineered or orchestrated the Libyan uprising is a form of “anti-imperialism” based on a cynical, nihilistic defeatism. If American imperialism is so all-powerful and all-pervading that it can conjure up a mass movement in a foreign country entirely at will, then surely it is unbeatable? Of course the many kinds of imperialist interests that will now come to the surface in Libya — around oil, and rebuilding infrastructure — will not be there to act in the interests of democracy or workers’ rights.

But in fact the fundamental lesson of Libya — as with all the heroic and inspiring uprisings we have see in the Middle East and North Africa this year — is that no ruling class is unbeatable. Those on the left have no business ignoring, marginalising or misrepresenting the political will of the Libyan people who organised to overthrow a tyrant.

The NATO intervention helped them by preventing the crushing of the uprising at a critical point. That is a good thing. But this victory does not belong to NATO, who intervened for their own reasons. It belongs to the Libyan people who fought and died to get rid of Qaddafi and who remained resolute in the face of conditions far worse than any more-anti-imperialist-than-thou demagogue on the British left will ever have to face.

Workers’ Liberty believes that a people staring down the wrong end of a state-sanctioned massacre have the right to call for assistance, even from imperialist powers. It is not for us, from the safety of Britain, to sanctimoniously condemn as insufficiently “anti-imperialist” the Libyans who demanded NATO intervention, such as the thousands of women who demonstrated in Benghazi in early March.

We know imperialism will only act in its own interests, and if and when it intervenes it will do so using its own, blundering, means. We offered NATO no positive support, trust or confidence. But when such an intervention is all that stands between the continued existence of a revolutionary movement and its annihilation, it is irresponsible and morally degenerate to simply demand that it ceases, or to oppose it ever taking place. We believe that the gains of the uprising vindicate that view.

What now? At this stage, when much still hangs in the balance in Libya, and at this distance, our main job is to support any elements struggling for the maximum democracy and the maximum freedom.

If working-class organisation is our starting point, then the fundamental question must be whether that organisation is more or less possible, easier or harder, without the crushing, murderous Qaddafi regime.

The answer is that it is infinitely more possible. And that alone is cause for celebration and hope.

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Gaddafi “is stronger than ever” (Seymour, 29 July)

August 24, 2011 at 12:36 am (apologists and collaborators, Guardian, Jim D, Libya, SWP, twat)

Richard Seymour

Lest we forget #3: Richard Seymour of Lenin’s Tomb, part of the Guardian Comment Network (below):

**********************************************************************************************************,             Friday 29 July 2011 09.35 BST

Gaddafi is stronger than ever in Libya

The fact Gaddafi has survived the rebellions and Nato bombing undermines the simplistic view of a hated tyrant clinging on

    • Libya demonstration
Above: Supporters of Muammar Gaddafi participate in a demonstration in Tripoli, Libya, 28 July 2011.

The war on Libya has not gone well. Kim Sengupta’s report on Wednesday detailed this starkly:

“Fresh diplomatic efforts are under way to try to end Libya’s bloody civil war, with the UN special envoy flying to Tripoli to hold talks after Britain followed France in accepting that Muammar Gaddafi cannot be bombed into exile.

The change of stance by the two most active countries in the international coalition is an acceptance of realities on the ground. Despite more than four months of sustained air strikes by Nato, the rebels have failed to secure any military advantage. Colonel Gaddafi has survived what observers perceive as attempts to eliminate him and, despite the defection of a number of senior commanders, there is no sign that he will be dethroned in a palace coup.

The regime controls around 20% more territory than it did in the immediate aftermath of the uprising on 17 February.”

If the Gaddafi regime is now more in control of Libya than before, then this completely undermines the simplistic view put about by the supporters of war – and unfortunately by some elements of the resistance – that the situation was simply one of a hated tyrant hanging on through mercenary violence. Of course, he uses whatever resources he has at his disposal, but a) it would seem that the involvement of imperialism has driven some Libyans back into the Gaddafi camp, as it’s unlikely he would maintain control without some degree of support, and b) we know that rebellious sectors started to go back to Gaddafi within mere weeks of the revolt taking off, meaning in part that his resources of legitimising his regime were not exhausted even before the US-led intervention. Despite the defections, he has consolidated his regime in a way that would have seemed improbable in the early weeks of revolt…


Read the rest of this SWP ‘intellectual”s brilliant analysis, as published on the Graun‘s CIF site,  here

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The best article on Libya so far…

August 22, 2011 at 5:38 pm (africa, Human rights, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, solidarity)

‘Top Ten Myths about the Libya War’  by Juan Cole (from Shabab Libya – the Libyan Youth Movement)

The Libyan Revolution has largely succeeded, and this is a moment of celebration, not only for Libyans but for a youth generation in the Arab world that has pursued a political opening across the region. The secret of the uprising’s final days of success lay in a popular revolt in the working-class districts of the capital, which did most of the hard work of throwing off the rule of secret police and military cliques. It succeeded so well that when revolutionary brigades entered the city from the west, many encountered little or no resistance, and they walked right into the center of the capital. Muammar Qaddafi was in hiding as I went to press, and three of his sons were in custody. Saif al-Islam Qaddafi had apparently been the de facto ruler of the country in recent years, so his capture signaled a checkmate. (Checkmate is a corruption of the Persian “shah maat,” the “king is confounded,” since chess came west from India via Iran). Checkmate.

The end game, wherein the people of Tripoli overthrew the Qaddafis and joined the opposition Transitional National Council, is the best case scenario that I had suggested was the most likely denouement for the revolution.I have been making this argument for some time, and it evoked a certain amount of incredulity when I said it in a lecture in the Netherlands in mid-June, but it has all along been my best guess that things would end the way they have. I got it right where others did not because my premises turned out to be sounder, i.e., that Qaddafi had lost popular support across the board and was in power only through main force. Once enough of his heavy weapons capability was disrupted, and his fuel and ammunition supplies blocked, the underlying hostility of the common people to the regime could again manifest itself, as it had in February. I was moreover convinced that the generality of Libyans were attracted by the revolution and by the idea of a political opening, and that there was no great danger to national unity here.

I do not mean to underestimate the challenges that still lie ahead– mopping up operations against regime loyalists, reestablishing law and order in cities that have seen popular revolutions, reconstituting police and the national army, moving the Transitional National Council to Tripoli, founding political parties, and building a new, parliamentary regime. Even in much more institutionalized and less clan-based societies such as Tunisia and Egypt, these tasks have proved anything but easy. But it would be wrong, in this moment of triumph for the Libyan Second Republic, to dwell on the difficulties to come. Libyans deserve a moment of exultation.

I have taken a lot of heat for my support of the revolution and of the United Nations-authorized intervention by the Arab League and NATO that kept it from being crushed. I haven’t taken nearly as much heat as the youth of Misrata who fought off Qaddafi’s tank barrages, though, so it is OK. I hate war, having actually lived through one in Lebanon, and I hate the idea of people being killed. My critics who imagined me thrilling at NATO bombing raids were just being cruel. But here I agree with President Obama and his citation of Reinhold Niebuhr. You can’t protect all victims of mass murder everywhere all the time. But where you can do some good, you should do it, even if you cannot do all good. I mourn the deaths of all the people who died in this revolution, especially since many of the Qaddafi brigades were clearly coerced (they deserted in large numbers as soon as they felt it safe). But it was clear to me that Qaddafi was not a man to compromise, and that his military machine would mow down the revolutionaries if it were allowed to.

Moreover, those who question whether there were US interests in Libya seem to me a little blind. The US has an interest in there not being massacres of people for merely exercising their right to free assembly. The US has an interest in a lawful world order, and therefore in the United Nations Security Council resolution demanding that Libyans be protected from their murderous government. The US has an interest in its NATO alliance, and NATO allies France and Britain felt strongly about this intervention. The US has a deep interest in the fate of Egypt, and what happened in Libya would have affected Egypt (Qaddafi allegedly had high Egyptian officials on his payroll).

Given the controversies about the revolution, it is worthwhile reviewing the myths about the Libyan Revolution that led so many observers to make so many fantastic or just mistaken assertions about it.

1. Qaddafi was a progressive in his domestic policies. While back in the 1970s, Qaddafi was probably more generous in sharing around the oil wealth with the population, buying tractors for farmers, etc., in the past couple of decades that policy changed. He became vindictive against tribes in the east and in the southwest that had crossed him politically, depriving them of their fair share in the country’s resources. And in the past decade and a half, extreme corruption and the rise of post-Soviet-style oligarchs, including Qaddafi and his sons, have discouraged investment and blighted the economy. Workers were strictly controlled and unable to collectively bargain for improvements in their conditions. There was much more poverty and poor infrastructure in Libya than there should have been in an oil state.

2. Qaddafi was a progressive in his foreign policy. Again, he traded for decades on positions, or postures, he took in the 1970s. In contrast, in recent years he played a sinister role in Africa, bankrolling brutal dictators and helping foment ruinous wars. In 1996 the supposed champion of the Palestinian cause expelled 30,000 stateless Palestinians from the country. After he came in from the cold, ending European and US sanctions, he began buddying around with George W. Bush, Silvio Berlusconi and other right wing figures. Berlusconi has even said that he considered resigning as Italian prime minister once NATO began its intervention, given his close personal relationship to Qaddafi. Such a progressive.

3. It was only natural that Qaddafi sent his military against the protesters and revolutionaries; any country would have done the same. No, it wouldn’t, and this is the argument of a moral cretin. In fact, the Tunisian officer corps refused to fire on Tunisian crowds for dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, and the Egyptian officer corps refused to fire on Egyptian crowds for Hosni Mubarak. The willingness of the Libyan officer corps to visit macabre violence on protesting crowds derived from the centrality of the Qaddafi sons and cronies at the top of the military hierarchy and from the lack of connection between the people and the professional soldiers and mercenaries. Deploying the military against non-combatants was a war crime, and doing so in a widespread and systematic way was a crime against humanity. Qaddafi and his sons will be tried for this crime, which is not “perfectly natural.”

4. There was a long stalemate in the fighting between the revolutionaries and the Qaddafi military. There was not. This idea was fostered by the vantage point of many Western observers, in Benghazi. It is true that there was a long stalemate at Brega, which ended yesterday when the pro-Qaddafi troops there surrendered. But the two most active fronts in the war were Misrata and its environs, and the Western Mountain region. Misrata fought an epic, Stalingrad-style, struggle of self-defense against attacking Qaddafi armor and troops, finally proving victorious with NATO help, and then they gradually fought to the west toward Tripoli. The most dramatic battles and advances were in the largely Berber Western Mountain region, where, again, Qaddafi armored units relentlessly shelled small towns and villages but were fought off (with less help from NATO initially, which I think did not recognize the importance of this theater). It was the revolutionary volunteers from this region who eventually took Zawiya, with the help of the people of Zawiya, last Friday and who thereby cut Tripoli off from fuel and ammunition coming from Tunisia and made the fall of the capital possible. Any close observer of the war since April has seen constant movement, first at Misrata and then in the Western Mountains, and there was never an over-all stalemate.

5. The Libyan Revolution was a civil war. It was not, if by that is meant a fight between two big groups within the body politic. There was nothing like the vicious sectarian civilian-on-civilian fighting in Baghdad in 2006. The revolution began as peaceful public protests, and only when the urban crowds were subjected to artillery, tank, mortar and cluster bomb barrages did the revolutionaries begin arming themselves. When fighting began, it was volunteer combatants representing their city quarters taking on trained regular army troops and mercenaries. That is a revolution, not a civil war. Only in a few small pockets of territory, such as Sirte and its environs, did pro-Qaddafi civilians oppose the revolutionaries, but it would be wrong to magnify a handful of skirmishes of that sort into a civil war. Qaddafi’s support was too limited, too thin, and too centered in the professional military, to allow us to speak of a civil war.

6. Libya is not a real country and could have been partitioned between east and west.
Alexander Cockburn wrote,

“It requites no great prescience to see that this will all end up badly. Qaddafi’s failure to collapse on schedule is prompting increasing pressure to start a ground war, since the NATO operation is, in terms of prestige, like the banks Obama has bailed out, Too Big to Fail. Libya will probably be balkanized.”

I don’t understand the propensity of Western analysts to keep pronouncing nations in the global south “artificial” and on the verge of splitting up. It is a kind of Orientalism. All nations are artificial. Benedict Anderson dates the nation-state to the late 1700s, and even if it were a bit earlier, it is a new thing in history. Moreover, most nation-states are multi-ethnic, and many long-established ones have sub-nationalisms that threaten their unity. Thus, the Catalans and Basque are uneasy inside Spain, the Scottish may bolt Britain any moment, etc., etc. In contrast, Libya does not have any well-organized, popular separatist movements. It does have tribal divisions, but these are not the basis for nationalist separatism, and tribal alliances and fissures are more fluid than ethnicity (which is itself less fixed than people assume). Everyone speaks Arabic, though for Berbers it is the public language; Berbers were among the central Libyan heroes of the revolution, and will be rewarded with a more pluralist Libya. This generation of young Libyans, who waged the revolution, have mostly been through state schools and have a strong allegiance to the idea of Libya. Throughout the revolution, the people of Benghazi insisted that Tripoli was and would remain the capital. Westerners looking for break-ups after dictatorships are fixated on the Balkan events after 1989, but there most often isn’t an exact analogue to those in the contemporary Arab world.

7. There had to be NATO infantry brigades on the ground for the revolution to succeed. Everyone from Cockburn to Max Boot (scary when those two agree) put forward this idea. But there are not any foreign infantry brigades in Libya, and there are unlikely to be any. Libyans are very nationalistic and they made this clear from the beginning. Likewise the Arab League. NATO had some intelligence assets on the ground, but they were small in number, were requested behind the scenes for liaison and spotting by the revolutionaries, and did not amount to an invasion force. The Libyan people never needed foreign ground brigades to succeed in their revolution.

8. The United States led the charge to war. There is no evidence for this allegation whatsoever. When I asked Glenn Greenwald whether a US refusal to join France and Britain in a NATO united front might not have destroyed NATO, he replied that NATO would never have gone forward unless the US had plumped for the intervention in the first place. I fear that answer was less fact-based and more doctrinaire than we are accustomed to hearing from Mr. Greenwald, whose research and analysis on domestic issues is generally first-rate. As someone not a stranger to diplomatic history, and who has actually heard briefings in Europe from foreign ministries and officers of NATO members, I’m offended at the glibness of an answer given with no more substantiation than an idee fixe. The excellent McClatchy wire servicereported on the reasons for which then Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Pentagon, and Obama himself were extremely reluctant to become involved in yet another war in the Muslim world. It is obvious that the French and the British led the charge on this intervention, likely because they believed that a protracted struggle over years between the opposition and Qaddafi in Libya would radicalize it and give an opening to al-Qaeda and so pose various threats to Europe. French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been politically mauled, as well, by the offer of his defense minister, Michèle Alliot-Marie, to send French troops to assist Ben Ali in Tunisia (Alliot-Marie had been Ben Ali’s guest on fancy vacations), and may have wanted to restore traditional French cachet in the Arab world as well as to look decisive to his electorate. Whatever Western Europe’s motivations, they were the decisive ones, and the Obama administration clearly came along as a junior partner (something Sen. John McCain is complaining bitterly about).

9. Qaddafi would not have killed or imprisoned large numbers of dissidents in Benghazi, Derna, al-Bayda and Tobruk if he had been allowed to pursue his March Blitzkrieg toward the eastern cities that had defied him. But we have real-world examples of how he would have behaved, in Zawiya, Tawargha, Misrata and elsewhere. His indiscriminate shelling of Misrata had already killed between 1000 and 2000 by last April,, and it continued all summer. At least one Qaddafi mass grave with 150 bodies in it has been discovered. And the full story of the horrors in Zawiya and elsewhere in the west has yet to emerge, but it will not be pretty. The opposition claims Qaddafi’s forces killed tens of thousands. Public health studies may eventually settle this issue, but we know definitively what Qaddafi was capable of.

10. This was a war for Libya’s oil. That is daft. Libya was already integrated into the international oil markets, and had done billions of deals with BP, ENI, etc., etc. None of those companies would have wanted to endanger their contracts by getting rid of the ruler who had signed them. They had often already had the trauma of having to compete for post-war Iraqi contracts, a process in which many did less well than they would have liked. ENI’s profits were hurt by the Libyan revolution, as were those of Total SA. and Repsol. Moreover, taking Libyan oil off the market through a NATO military intervention could have been foreseen to put up oil prices, which no Western elected leader would have wanted to see, especially Barack Obama, with the danger that a spike in energy prices could prolong the economic doldrums. An economic argument for imperialism is fine if it makes sense, but this one does not, and there is no good evidence for it (that Qaddafi was erratic is not enough), and is therefore just a conspiracy theory.

Source-Juan Cole for informed Comment

H/t George Clinton (whoever he may be)

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Tripoli being liberated

August 22, 2011 at 3:01 am (africa, democracy, Libya, Middle East, revolution)

0019 GMT: Martyrdom is a theme for the Libyan people. Green Square, the central square in Tripoli, has been renamed “Martyr Square.”00:15 GMT: The celebratory mood in Benghazi has shifted. The ICC has requested that Saif al Islam, the son of Muammar Qaddafi who has been the mouthpiece for the regime since the birth of Arab Spring, be turned over to the ICC for trial. They have begun to chant “the blood of the martyrs will not be spilled in vain.”

Dateline –  Monday August 22 above.

The best live coverage: here

Al Jazeera clarifies the position regarding Gaddafi’s son Muhammed:

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Tariq Ali: “the Libyan people have lost”

August 22, 2011 at 12:50 am (africa, apologists and collaborators, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, national liberation, Pabs)

Lest we forget (#2):

Tariq Ali

Here’s how the Libyan people, in Gaddafi’s supposed ‘stronghold’ of Tripoli,  feel about having “lost”:

…and here’s how a Libyan exile answered Ali immediately after that article appeared:

Tariq Ali is anything but consistent (Who will reshape the Arab world: its people or the US?, 30 April On the one hand he declares, “It is too soon to predict the final outcome, except to say it is not over yet” and on the other he dismisses the Libyan uprising with “whatever the final outcome, the Libyan people have lost”. It is a combination of ignorance and arrogance that has afflicted the “left” ever since the revolution in Tunisia that leads Mr Ali to think that the Libyans, who have experienced colonial rule and imperialist exploitation first hand, are unaware of the machinations of the US, the UK and France. The Arab people need no lectures. They will take their own unique path to social and political change which need not follow the models of the past. – Fawzi Ibrahim, London

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A bad day for Gaddafi…and his friends

August 21, 2011 at 11:45 pm (africa, apologists and collaborators, democracy, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, Libya, Middle East, stalinism)

Lest we forget:

Andrew Murray

    • Below: article by Andrew Murray (Guardian 28 June 2011) 
    • ‘Lacking aim, support and cash, Nato still bombs Libya’
Over 100 days of war and counting. The news from David Cameron’s high-altitude attempt to pick winners in Libya’s civil war is gloomy for those who believed, back on day one, that a quick win in the north African desert was going to rehabilitate the damaged doctrine of “liberal interventionism“.

The heads of the air force and the navy have announced that their services can’t carry on combat for much longer without more kit, and that’s even before Liam Fox’s latest cuts announcement.

The secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, has found what Tony Blair never had – a reverse gear – and changed his mind about endorsing the attack, removing the fig leaf of regional support which Cameron made much of at the outset. Arab involvement was always on the cool side of unenthusiastic, and its propaganda utility was reduced because it came from regimes with no better mandates to rule than Muammar Gaddafi. Now this looks ever more clearly like another straightforward war by former colonial powers against an Arab nation.

The cost which the allegedly cash-strapped government has found to keep the operation going has hit £260m already, despite George Osborne’s early pledge that it would be “tens of millions, not hundreds of millions, of pounds“, and is rising fast.

Opinion polling shows little support in the combatant countries for continuing, and still less for escalating through either bombing non-military targets or the deployment of regular ground forces (the irregulars already being there, we can assume).

The Italian government has had enough fighting and has joined the ceasefire chorus. More surprisingly, Republicans in the United States have tried to declare the war unlawful and are demanding American disengagement – far from true to type. And civilians are increasingly victims of Nato’s bombing raids. Even the bombers owned up to nine such deaths last week. In other recent wars, civilian fatalities could be euphemistically filed under “collateral damage”, since keeping ordinary folk alive was not the official purpose of the conflict.

Since, however, “protecting civilians” is the rubric under which this whole bill of goods was marketed, such casualties in Libya confound the whole project and leave David Cameron open to the charge of hypocrisy, to say the least.

Meanwhile on the ground, neither party to the civil war, neither Tripoli nor Benghazi, Gaddafi nor his opponents, seem within sight of the decisive blow.

So the Libyan war is now short of cash, munitions, allies, sponsors, support and purpose. Benghazi leaders talk optimistically of a resolution by August, although this seems to lean more on religious timing – the start of Ramadan – than military realities. Time, one might have thought, for a ceasefire and talks towards negotiated political solution acceptable to the Libyan people themselves.

That is the view of the African Union, China, Russia, India and Turkey – to name just a few of those states urging an end to hostilities. That is now mainstream world opinion. It is also, intermittently at least, the view of Colonel Gaddafi himself, who has embraced ceasefire proposals that London and Paris have brushed aside.

Now under the shadow of an international criminal court arrest warrant, issued yesterday, it should at least be possible to induce Gaddafi to agree to serious talks on Libya’s political future. As for the Benghazi regime, it could scarcely say no, given its evident dependence on Nato firepower.

But a ceasefire only runs up against the combatants’ clear aim – to save face for Cameron. Him, and Nicolas Sarkozy. Having started on the basis of what is now clear was a grotesque misapprehension of the actual situation in Libya, they nevertheless demand victory before finishing. This position is supported by David Owen and few others, for whom maintaining the credibility of Nato in the world trumps all other considerations.

The definition of winning the war in Libya at present pivots on Gaddafi doing what the royal family of Bahrain – to take one pertinent example – has declined to do, and stand aside.

Even if that were to happen it is entirely unclear what the next step would be in a deeply divided country. Cameron could be doomed to re-run the catastrophe of Iraq, seizing control of an Arab country by main force and with no clue as to how or by whom it should be governed thereafter.

In fact the governments of the west should by this time be more used to losing, or at least not meeting the objectives set when the conflicts of this century began. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have been “won”, nor will they ever be.

That is because these wars are all marked by imperial political overstretch – they are the living, if that is the right word, expression of the mentality that a few rich and powerful countries have the right to intervene where they will to further their own interests which, in the case of Libya, clearly include oil.

Most people in Britain want the bombing to end. They want no more wars of intervention, and they want the money saved. On that point, at least, the cabinet and the generals might be able to agree.

My reply  to the Graun was not published, but here it is:

Dear Sir,

Andrew Murray (‘Lacking aim, support and cash, Nato still bombs Libya’ – 28 June) offers a number of arguments against Nato’s intervention in Libya: British military shortages, the Arab League having second thoughts, the cost to the British government, luke-warm public support in the combatant countries, and civilian casualties.

Apart from the point about civilian casualties (something a consistent pacifist could honourably put forward, but not someone with Mr Murray’s politics), all those ‘arguments’ could be (and are) put forward by the isolationist right. Murray seems to think it helps his case to note that some US Republicans agree with him.

What Mr Murray leaves out of account in his attempt to portray the situation as ” a straightforward war by former colonial powers against an Arab nation” is the fact that the rebel forces in Benghazi called for the intervention and greeted it with jubilation. Their only complaint has been that it hasn’t been vigorous enough. Mt Murray makes his own positon (and presumably, that of the Stop The War Coalition that he chairs) clear when he describes the intervention as an “attempt to pick winners in Libya’s civil war,” and suggests that Gaddafi’s intermittent “embrace” of a ceasefire should be taken at face value. Mr Murray and his friends have chosen their side in this civil war and the brave rebels of Benghazi and Libyan democrats everywhere will surely note and remember that fact.

The forthcoming 75th anniversary of the Spanish Civil War should give us all pause to consider what happens when those, like Mr Murray, who adopt ‘non-interventionism’ as an absolute matter of principle, get their way.

-Jim Denham


Live blogging from Libya and Syria here

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