A Morning Star reader agrees with Denham!

September 22, 2011 at 6:49 pm (Champagne Charlie, internationalism, Libya, Middle East, stalinism)

Is this a first? Not sure that Jim will be entirely pleased with the implied comparison with Harry Pollitt, though…

Sorry, but our enemy’s enemy is not our ally

Thursday 22 September 2011
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Jim Denham’s suggestion that “many people around the Morning Star hoped for a Gadaffi victory over the rebels” (Oil is not driving force behind Nato invasion, M Star September 19) was horrifically substantiated by the foreign desk’s piece Libyan militias fail to break resistance, published the same day.

“Nato-backed forces had suffered heavy casualties,” it tells us.

How can the militias of the Libyan revolution be described simply as “Nato-backed forces”?

The choice of words shows a great deal about sympathies. I would say “rebel forces” – though judging by the extent of international recognition the National Transitional Council is getting they would seem in diplomatic parlance to be the forces of the new Libyan government.

How can those at William Rust House use words suggesting support for the likes of Gadaffi?

Rust must be turning in his grave.

In 1939 the Communist Party of Great Britain’s leadership demanded Harry Pollitt’s resignation as general secretary when he was the only one to recognise that the British and French imperialists had been led – by their own ineptitude and stupidity, and for their own nefarious imperialist reasons – to enter an anti-fascist war.

We know now it was Harry who was right.

The complexities of that time led to huge political conflicts, the cold war and the end of colonialism.

The complexities of our time are equally difficult and troubling, but we must realise that occasionally our enemies can become our part-time allies in a particular situation.

The current “leadership” – still greatly disputed – in Libya is not taking orders from Nato, but is simply grateful for those of its actions which have helped against Gadaffi and his forces.

I am 86 and this has been the most exciting year of my life since 1945.

I know which side I’m on.

Paddy Apling
Norwich

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Support the Palestinians at the UN

September 21, 2011 at 5:36 pm (AWL, democracy, Human rights, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine)

Statement by Workers Liberty:

Israel/Palestine

Democrats and socialists should support the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to get United Nations recognition for a sovereign Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

Firstly, because the Palestinians have a right to a state of their own. Secondly, because the situation in which the Palestinians are now locked is one in which they cannot hope to win.

The declaration of a Palestinian state focuses the fundamental question — two states as the only possible solution.

It is a logical and necessary development of the process initiated by the Oslo agreement of 1993. Despite the continued Israeli occupation and the secession of Gaza, the rudiments of a Palestinian state do exist in the West Bank. This is widely recognised — for instance by the IMF and the West Bank.

It is in essentials a restatement of the 1947 UN partition decision under which Israel came into being. (The territory then allotted to a Palestinian state was taken in 1948-9 by Jordan, by Egypt, and, a small bit of it, by Israel). UN Resolution 242, from 1967, already calls on Israel to withdraw from the Occupied Territories. The settlements are illegal in terms of UN resolutions.

The declaration fulfills in an unexpected — and of course a grossly inadequate, no more than symbolic — way a variant of the commitment from 2003 of the Quartet (UN, European Union, Russia, USA) to a sovereign Palestinian state by 2011.

Progress to a Palestinian state by agreement with Israel would be far better? It would. But all such talk by the Israeli government is sheer hypocrisy. It wants no settlement involving an independent Palestinian state.

Agreed progress towards peace is chiefly blocked by obdurate Israeli rejection of a sovereign, independent Palestinian state in contiguous territory, side by side with Israel.

And it is not only a matter of deadlock. The position of the Palestinians is relentlessly eroded.

It is the intention of the Netanyahu government, as of previous Israeli governments, systematically to eliminate the possibility of a Palestinian state. At best they would settle for a “Palestinian state” comprising separate pockets of Palestinian territory, under Israeli control.

The declaration of a sovereign Palestinian state will not of itself change any of that. Immediately it may aggravate the situation.

But it is a symbol, and symbols are powerful things. Israel’s “facts on the ground” — the settlements — point one way. Symbols can point to, prefigure, facts-to-be, and map out the ground

The Arab Spring has radically changed the situation Israel faces. The old autocracy in Egypt had, since the 1970s and after wars the last of which was the Yom Kippur war of 1973, reached an accommodation with Israel. Now the Israeli embassy in Cairo is burned down.

Arab regimes more open to mass pressures will be a great deal more hostile to to Israel than the old regimes. We can see a shift too in Islamic Turkey, long an ally of Israel.

The Palestinians can never hope to win unless Israel is compelled by international pressure to settle with them, with something like an acceptance of Palestinian rights.

Progress towards an agreed Israeli/Palestinian settlement faces two giant roadblocks. On the Israeli side, progress to a just settlement is blocked by Israeli colonisation in Arab land since 1967. There are now half a million settlers on the West Bank.

On the Palestinian side, the roadblock is the demand for the “right of return” of the five million descendants of the 750,000 Arabs who fled or were expelled from Israeli territory in 1948.

In practice that is a demand for the abolition of the Hebrew state. It is in flat contradiction with the 1988 Palestine Liberation Organisation recognition of Israel, and its proposal of a two-state solution to the conflict.

But the unilateral declaration of a state implicitly jettisons the linkage of a Palestinian state with the demand for the “return” of five million people to what is now Israel. It disentangles the issues in a way that might prove impossible in negotiations.

Henceforth the Palestinian standpoint will be for recognition of the state that they have declared, and its territory, with practical negotiations about the settlements — maybe the dismantlement of some, and the swapping of land for the Palestinian territory occupied by the others. (It has been claimed that the Palestinian move for UN recognition preempts discussion on adjustments to the 1967 borders. No, it doesn’t. It only strengthens and clarifies the Palestinian position).

By uncoupling the question of a Palestinian state from the “right of return”, the declaration abandons, or anyway sidelines, the historic revenge-seeking, moralistic, irredentist drive of the Palestinians and the Palestinian-descended diaspora to destroy Israel.

In any case, the two roadblocks to agreement, Palestinian and Israeli, are not equivalents.

“Return” is simply a demand, which some at least of those who talk about it must inwardly accept to be unachievable. The Israeli settlement policy is a fact, and a growing, expanding, burgeoning fact.

Israel accepts no limits to expansion of the settlements. The settlers, and the Israeli road and defence systems that go with them, undermine and in time will destroy the very possibility of a Palestinian state.

From the point of view of Israeli national interests, the declaration, by notionally, prefiguratively separating out two distinct territorially-based people, the Palestinian nation and the Hebrew nation, will help secure Israel and those claims of Israeli nationalism that are politically and morally viable.

If the option of a Palestinian state is finally scuttled by the expansion of Israeli settlements, then the only alternative will be for the Palestinians and their supporters to fight for full integration of Jews and Palestinian Arabs in a common state.

Those who believe in a Jewish state cannot want it to have such a large and alienated non-Jewish minority. One of the objections to Netanyahu and the Israeli right is that even as Jewish nationalists they are stupid — stupefied by power and the misuse of power against the Palestinians — blind Samsons, pulling down the pillars of the Israeli entity.

A declaration of independence will provoke far more violence than there has been for some years. It may spark a new intifada, only now in the context of the “Arab Spring” and a part of it. It may lead some of the settlers to go to war against their Palestinian neighbours. A simmering war may flare up into something far worse. That will happen only if the Israeli government allows it to. The declaration may also lead to Israeli economic sanctions, or even US sanctions, against the Palestinian Authority.

There may be all sorts of unpleasant side-consequences. If we sat in the councils of the Palestinians, those might make us hesitate to vote for the unilateral declaration of a sovereign Palestinian state. But the choice of the elected leaders of the Palestinians is what matters here.

If they go ahead, they are entitled to the support of socialists and democrats everywhere.

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The evil madman Assange and his No 1 groupie, Pilger

September 21, 2011 at 12:05 am (Afghanistan, apologists and collaborators, Asshole, celebrity, Guardian, Jim D, mental health, truth)

Just in case you didn’t read Nick Cohen’s brilliant demolition of the thoroughly evil mental case Assange, in the Observer this Sunday:

“The betrayals and treachery of Julian Assange

“You did not have to listen for too long to Julian Assange‘s half-educated condemnations of the American “military-industrial complex” to know that he was aching to betray better and braver people than he could ever be.

“As soon as WikiLeaks received the State Department cables, Assange announced that the opponents of dictatorial regimes and movements were fair game. That the targets of the Taliban, for instance, were fighting a clerical-fascist force, which threatened every good liberal value, did not concern him. They had spoken to US diplomats. They had collaborated with the great Satan. Their safety was not his concern…”

Read the rest here

And here is a splendid denunciation of Assange’s No 1 groupie, Pilger:

“It is a curious journey that Pilger has undertaken. But it is one that shows
what happens when you abandon critical thought to allow a predetermined
narrative to overcome any commitment to principle you might have once had and
try to shoehorn a messy
reality
into a tidy explanation that suits your prejudices. Thinking back to

my early admiration, I can only see it as a tragedy, not a farce.”

Pilger links here

The Graun breaks with Assange

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Defend the Dale Farm travellers!

September 20, 2011 at 8:02 am (Anti-Racism, Civil liberties, Human rights, Jim D, travellers)

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Across Europe there’s a tidal wave of anti-traveller violence. Now it comes to Dale Farm, courtesy of the taxpayer.
If you can get down to there- do it now!
(check dalefarm.wordpress.com for updates)
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To follow what’s happening from a “neutral” though bourgeois-leaning standpoint I recommend http://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/local_news/dale_farm/9258216.Dale_Farm_eviction__Live_updates/ from the local newspaper or the paper’s twitter feed.
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BBC Essex reporters were also doing live updates on Twitter/web and you can listen online.
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Can’t get to Dale Farm? Or only there for a day or two?
Wherever you are you can let the bailiffs know what you think of them. In whatever way you consider appropriate.
Constant & Company
66 Harpur Street,
Bedford,
MK40 2RA
(t) 01234 340091
(f) 01234 301299
DX 5641 BEDFORD
bedford@constantandcompany.co.uk

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Christopher Hitchens is no Orwell

September 20, 2011 at 7:30 am (intellectuals, James Bloodworth, literature, Pro-War Left)

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James Bloodworth of Obliged to Offend reviews Arguably, by Christopher
Hitchens
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George Orwell once wrote that ‘every line of serious work
that I have written since 1936 has been written, directly and indirectly,
against totalitarianism and for democratic Socialism, as I understand it.’
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Today, many right across the political spectrum like to pick and
choose from Orwell according to taste, stressing either the democratic,
socialist or anti-totalitarian aspect of his work at the expense of the
multitude – the resulting ‘legacy’ depending very much upon the political
persuasion of those doing the accounting.

Christopher Hitchens, the
one-time darling of the left, has in recent years uncomfortably skirted this
same political dividing-line. He has at once attracted the scorn of his former
comrades for his alleged shuffle to the right, while in the process gathering a
substantial number of followers whose admiration rests almost entirely upon the
premise of him having ‘come to his senses’.

On the surface, the nature
of Hitchens’s politics depends, in a similar fashion to Orwell’s, almost
entirely upon whom one is talking to.

His latest effort, Arguably, is a collection of essays spanning
the past decade on politics, literature and religion. The prose (which is
unsurprisingly of an extremely high standard, even if at times Hitchens employs
rather too much Look-at-me vocabulary) comes with an added element of tragedy
due by the fact that Hitchens was diagnosed with terminal cancer before he wrote
a substantial proportion of it. This may, in fact, be Hitchens’s very last book.

In common with Orwell,
Hitchens stature as a political writer was firmly cemented towards the end of
his life (I sincerely hope Hitchens goes on to live a lot longer), his
reputation as controversialist par
excellence truly coming with his repudiation of the left and his
articulate opposition to monotheism.

Importantly, were Hitchens alone in
rejecting the conventional left/liberal, post-9/11 politics, his bravado and
bluster would likely be much less potent. (Hitchens’s politics were never about
posture alone; but one should not underestimate the importance of showmanship to
the Hitchens brand). As it happened, there were others on the left who also
viewed the attempt on the back of 9/11 to conflate John Ashcroft with Osama Bin
Laden as crass moral equivalence; or as Orwell put it 70 years before: ‘the
argument that half a loaf is no different from no bread at all’.

The problem with the notion that Hitchens, after 9/11, simply did the obligatory
shuffle to the right, or as David Horowitz puts it (underwhelmingly, considering
his own political trajectory), had ‘second thoughts’, is that a substantial
proportion of the left really did climb
into bed with reaction during this period, and continue to do so whenever a
group points AK47s in the direction of the United States and its allies.

This was not confined to the debased remnants of Stalinism, either. The
editorial of the liberal-left New
Statesman of 17 September, 2001, written by then-editor Peter Wilby,
appeared to blame Americans themselves for the 9/11 attacks – for ‘preferring
George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader’. A few weeks later, the Oxford
Academic Mary Beard wrote approvingly in the London Review of Books about the ‘feeling
that, however tactfully you dress it up, the United States had it coming’.
.

Arguably, however, also
shows Hitchens at his dogmatic worst; and at times he resembles Isaac
Deutscher’s description of the ex-Communist who, having recanted on his previous
belief system, is ‘haunted by a vague sense that he has betrayed either his
former ideals or the ideals of bourgeois society,’ and who ‘tries to suppress
his sense of guilt and uncertainty, or to camouflage it by a show of
extraordinary certitude and frank aggressiveness’. In Hitchens’s essays on Iraq,
as Jonathan Freedland points out: ‘The absence of evidence (of WMD) is deemed
not to be evidence of absence but, on the contrary, evidence of the presence of
WMDs in the immediate past.’

While it may be simplistic to simply write
Hitchens off as a ‘Neo Con’, he has very little to say on traditional left-wing
domestic concerns, such as economic or social policy; and it seems increasingly
clear, if only by omission, that interventionism is not the only ‘consensus’
that Hitchens now uncritically accepts.

In a 2008 interview with Prospect,
Hitchens, a man who lives in extremely comfortable surroundings in Washington,
showed a thinly-veiled contempt for those whose lives are made bearable by the
British benefits system, dismissing the welfare state as ‘little more than
Christian charity’. In a recent article for Slate in the aftermath of the
UK riots, Hitchens also appeared to take the establishment line that the unrest
was ‘sheer criminality’ (as one Tweeter put it at the time – ‘yes, we know it is
sheer criminality; the question is why are our youngsters sheer criminals?’).
While much of the British left is right now busy mobilising against the greatest
cut in living standards in a generation, in the same article Hitchens glibly put
‘the cuts’ in brackets and ridiculed the term as an ‘all-purpose expression…
used for all-purpose purposes’.

Dismissing Hitchens as a Neo-Con or a
free-market zealot is indeed a rather pointless exercise; it is, however,
necessary to acknowledge that he no longer notices or much cares for the
struggles of the working class. If it is not part of the dramatic fight against
totalitarianism (which I have no wish to downplay), then it does not seem to
appear on Hitchens’s radar.

Orwell, in a reply (dated 15 November, 1943)
to an invitation from the Duchess of Atholl to speak for the British League for
European Freedom, stated that he didn’t agree with their objectives.
Acknowledging that what they said was ‘more truthful than the lying propaganda
found in most of the press’, he added that he could ‘not associate himself with
an essentially Conservative body’, that claimed to ‘defend democracy in Europe’
but had ‘nothing to say about British imperialism’. His closing paragraph
stated: ‘I belong to the left and must work inside it, much as I hate Russian
totalitarianism and its poisonous influence in this country.’

Hitchens,
like many British journalists of his generation, has spent much of his career in
the shadow of Orwell. He has also spent perhaps a small proportion of it waiting
for his very own Orwell moment – a moment when he could take on his own side in
the way Orwell took on sections of the left over its appeasement of Stalinism.
Despite the bluster and fear-mongering (not-to-mention the genuinely repulsive
politics of the Jihadi movement), Islamism is not Nazism or Stalinism; and
Hitchens, however good his prose may be, is no Orwell. In defending the gains of
liberal democracy against its totalitarian enemies, Orwell never dumped his own
politics.

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Thoughts on Hari – and revenge

September 19, 2011 at 10:00 pm (bloggocks, Pink Prosecco)

Reading about Hari’s (mis)use of Wikipedia made me wonder – aren’t there more subtle ways of punishing one’s enemies? How about this counterintuitive approach. If your enemy is a modestly successful blogger or professional – create a Wikipedia page for them, complete with (carefully footnoted) references to all their achievements. Everyone will assume they have created the page themselves and think -before the page is deleted due to lack of notability – ‘what a dickhead’.

If your enemy is a writer – then write gushing reviews of their books on Amazon – if you have the energy to create multiple accounts, so much the better. This technique would work particularly well if your target’s books are obscure academic tomes which normally don’t attract any sales, let alone reviews. It will look as though the enemy is using friends (or sockpuppets) to inflate his or her reputation. A similar technique can be used to punish your blogger foes – write multiple admiring comments in different names (but the same style) as soon as their posts appear.

It’s amazing how many people effectively choose to punish themselves in this way already though.

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Clive on the ‘blowback’ argument

September 18, 2011 at 9:09 pm (fascism, Galloway, Guardian, iraq war, islamism, Jim D, relativism, SWP, terror)

Comrade Clive, an occasional contibutor to our comments boxes, has given me permission to republish two emails he wrote in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 bombings in July 2005, as part of an internal discussion within the AWL. He has asked me to emphasise that these were his immediate reactions, written before the full details of what had happened, emerged. They were also quite hurriedly written and not intended, at the time,  for publication. By the way, if some of what Clive writes here seems strangely familar, it may be because in the recent debate here at Shiraz, sparked by the recent ‘Hitchens’ post (10 September, below), I have shamelessly plagiarised these two emails from Clive…

12 July 2005

Just a note on the ‘blowback’ argument, which is put a bit less crudely in today’s Guardian by Gary Younge. Whereas the SWP/Galloway version of this just ritually nods at condemnation of the bombings, Younge seems more sincere, ‘to explain is not to condone’, etc. And, of course, presented with a ‘war on terror’ which is supposed to reduce terrorist attacks against us, it is not unreasonable to point out that, so far, this has not succeeded (I think, logically, this argument only runs so far, since nobody has suggested that the ‘war on terror’ will prevent terrorism until it is actually won; but there is some rhetorical force to this point).

And of course, if you think of the Beslan massacre, for example: you simply cannot account for the background to these events without explaining about Russian action in Chechnya. Clearly, Chechen Islamists did not materialise from nowhere, and there is a context to their existence. The same is true of Islamists elsewhere. Or to put this another way: of course if there were no real grievances to which Islamists could point, they would not be able to recruit anybody. Hamas would not be able to recruit young people and tell them to tie explosives to their chests and climb aboard buses, if the Palestinians were not actually oppressed and suffering grave injustices at the hands of the Israeli state.

But if this is all that is being said, surely it is banal. I suppose there may be some right wing crazies who think Hamas has grown among Palestinians purely because Arabs are bloodthirsty masochists or somesuch nonsense. But obviously, Hamas refers to real things in the real world to build its base, or it wouldn’t have one.

And the observation that there are actual grievances to which Islamists point as a way to recruit (or even, conceivably, that it is these grievances which motivate particular individuals to carry out atrocities) tells you absolutely nothing about the political character of the movement to which they are being recruited.

Of course it’s true, up to a point, that that the London bombs are connected to the British presence in Iraq. But this in itself is not an explanation for them. So if the ambition is to ‘explain but not condone’, you need to explain why people are recruited to these organisations – ones that want to blow up ordinary people on their way to work – rather than other ones. That bombs have dropped on Iraq and Afghanistan (or Jenin, or wherever) simply is not an explanation.

It would not be an explanation even if the organisations in question were identifiably nationalist, as opposed to salafi-jihadist. There have been plenty of colonial situations in the past which have produced armed struggle but not bombings of this kind.

But in any case they are not nationalist in the old sense, but something different – something whose political programme is not concerned with this or that grievance (Iraq, Afghanistan, etc) but with restoring the Caliphate, instituting sharia law, punishing apostates, and so on. Moreover – and this seems to me very important indeed – as far as the most extreme of these groups go, like the one presumably responsible for 7/7 – they are what can reasonably be called death cults. If the aim is explanation, then you need to tell us why this backward-looking death cult has prevailed over the old-style nationalists (not to mention more leftist movements – just to type the words tells you the fall of Stalinism has something to do with it), and so on.

And once you have identified the political character of these movements – what do you propose to do about it? We can withdraw from Iraq. But if you think withdrawal from Iraq will mean the jihadists will disappear from the Iraqi political landscape, I think you are deceiving yourself. There are much deeper social grievances which animate the militant Islamist movements, to do with the exclusion of the middle class from economic and political power, the decline of the old social classes, etc. Those social questions need to be addressed. And they need to be addressed by radical, democratic movements in those societies.

And, of course, Islamists – of all types – are the militant enemies of democratic movements and of democracy itself. Either you recognise the need to fight alongside democratic movements against the militant Islmists, in Iraq and elsewhere (including within Muslim communities here, of course) or…what? Even the more sophisticated blowback argument of the Gary Younge variety gives no sense of identifying the militant Islamists as our enemy – the enemy of socialists, of democrats, of feminists, of women in general, of lesbians and gay men, of trade unionists, and so on, both in the ‘Muslim world’ and on our doorstep. It criticises the method of fighting terror adopted by our governments, but as though there was simply no need to fight it at all.

14 July 2005

I think the fact that it has turned out that the perpertrators (of 7/7 – JD) were British Asians throws a lot of this into very sharp relief.

Racism and imperialist wars, Fallujah and so on, of course must have played a part in what made these kids want to be suicide bombers. But since the vast, overwhelming, incalculably larger number of people who have been victims of racism or outraged by imperialist wars, have not chosen to become suicide bombers, it is surely an ‘explanation’ of their state of mind or their actions only in the most fantastically minimal sense. And that, surely, is another way of saying that it isn’t an explanation at all.

Yet these generalities are repeatedly presented in the liberal media – a stack of articles in the Guardian for instance – and by the SWP, George Galloway and all, as the explanation for what has happened. Moreover, anyone who questions this is ‘in denial’, as Gary Younge puts it, about the Iraq war. The ‘blowback’ argument is presented as if it’s the height of worldly sophistication, political courage, straight talking, and what have you. In fact it’s so simplistic as to verge on an insult to the intelligence.

Apart from that, its inescapable logic is to ask you to have sympathy with the bombers or their supposed cause, and to shift the blame to the government. I won’t repeat everything I’ve already said about that.

If you want an explanation about the first ever suicide bombers in the UK, you surely need to look at the ideology and MO of the type of organisations that recruited them, brainwashed them and sent them to their deaths. You need to look also, sadly, at the prevailing culture within (some) Muslim communities, the ‘narrative’ youth are being told, which might allow al-Qaeda-type groups to prey on them.

This is very uncomfortable, even to think about. But it seems to me it must be true that poisonous stuff has been coming out of some mosques, maybe not just the Abu Hamza-period Finsbury Park variety, but softer versions also.

And worse: the left is not only not in a state to do anything about this problem (ie: to fight al-Qaeda type groups and the softer versions of them), but has morphed into part of the problem. The left talks about these movements as if they didn’t need to be be fought and as if to fight them is ‘racist’, etc, etc, etc.

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Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea minima culpa

September 17, 2011 at 11:12 am (bloggocks, media, Rosie B)

I confess to almighty God
and to you, my brothers and sisters,
that I have greatly sinned,
in my thoughts and in my words,
in what I have done and in what I have failed to do,
through my fault, through my fault,
through my most grievous fault;

The Act of Contrition (c1100) is really a model apology.  You say you are greatly at fault, you don’t offer excuses for doing what you did, and you don’t say, by the way, I did other good stuff and  my intentions were fine.  Also, it is very short.

Not like Johann Hari’s apology.  He starts by explaining why he plagiarised – because the people he interviewed didn’t produce good copy:-

The first concerns some people I interviewed over the years. When I recorded and typed up any conversation, I found something odd: points that sounded perfectly clear when you heard them being spoken often don’t translate to the page. They can be quite confusing and unclear. When this happened, if the interviewee had made a similar point in their writing (or, much more rarely, when they were speaking to somebody else), I would use those words instead.

He was doing them a favour you see.  He was wanting to make a nice job of it.  Just as an engineer, if he found a few cracks in a bridge he’d constructed, would put on extra thick paint to disguise this ugly appearance.

In my work, I’ve spent a lot of time dragging other people’s flaws into the light. I did it because I believe that every time you point out that somebody is going wrong, you give them a chance to get it right next time and so reduce the amount of wrongdoing in the world. That’s why, although it has been a really painful process and will surely continue to be for some time, I think in the end I’ll be grateful my flaws have also been dragged into the light in this way.

I, for one, don’t believe that dragging other people’s flaws into the light is motivated by a desire for their reform.   Dragging other people’s flaws into the light doesn’t need lofty motives – it is jolly good fun, immensely gratifying and much practised by our opinion writers, professional and amateur.  Think how many people would be pissed off if the targets of their criticism turned over new leaves.  What would they have to write about in happy self-righteousness?  (By the way, this gratitude for having one’s flaws exposed is reminiscent of a prominent evangelical Christian caught with a tart and furry handcuffs saying that this is a visitation from the Lord to humiliate them and bring them low and closer to Him, Hallelujah).

As well as creating a succinct apology, the middle ages had a line in thorough penances.  For inciting the death of Thomas a Becket, Henry II walked to Canterbury Cathedral in sack cloth and ashes and got the monks there to flog him.

HenryII

Not so Johann Hari:-

So first, even though I stand by the articles which won the George Orwell Prize, I am returning it as an act of contrition for the errors I made elsewhere, in my interviews. But this isn’t much, since it has been reported that they are minded to take it away anyway. (I apologise to them for the time they’ve had to spend on this.) So second, I am going to take an unpaid leave of absence from The Independent until 2012, and at my own expense I will be undertaking a programme of journalism training. (I rose very fast in journalism straight from university.) And third, when I return, I will footnote all my articles online and post the audio online of any on-the-record conversations so that everyone can hear them and verify they were said directly to me.

After this he will no doubt appear on the Piers Morgan show, saying how this was a humbling experience but he has really learned from it and hopes he is a better person and a better journalist now.

A few months job training, a career at the end of it and a bit of journalism with footnotes?   A bit flabby, Johann.   No, we need the full-blown medieval pentitential work-out.   Here’s what you should do for you plagiarism, misrepresentation and lies.

Retrieve every article where you interviewed someone and then added words from the interviewee’s own works or from other interviewers.   Go through the articles and highlight every phrase that you have interpolated.  Publish results on web.  Leave the comments open and unmoderated. – the modern equivalent of the stocks.

Better still, act out your interview.  For instance this one with Toni Negri:-

He looks at me very closely, with mild displeasure. He says in a level voice: “I never made an attempt on anyone’s life.” Then, with a shrug, he says to his translator: “I was accused of having committed hold-ups.” So, was that accusation accurate? He takes a long drag on his cigarette. “Stealing money, if it’s necessary, I can understand.” I wait for him to continue, but the sentence hangs there, like his fading smoke. Did you rob banks? “Brecht said that it’s hard to know which is a greater crime, to found a bank or to rob one,” he replies. More waiting, more smoke. He pushes his glasses on to the top of his head with his taut middle finger. “I agree with Brecht,” he says, waving his hand as though to physically push me on to another question.

So you can perform as Negri, with a cigarette as a prop.

Record this and put it on Youtube,  Leave the comments open and unmoderated.

After a week or so  read  each comment aloud and record yourself reading it.  Put that on Youtube.  Leave the comments open and unmoderated.  And so on . The sadism and schadenfreude of a chunky percentage of internet commenters is up there with our ancestors who chucked things at miscreants sitting in the stocks and cheered at heretic burnings.

Lazy and incompetent journalists who make stuff up to cover their laziness and incompetence are as old as journalism itself.   Young Scrubbs was supposed to cover the parish meeting, couldn’t be bothered, invented some copy and sent it in, only to find that at that meeting the parish hall had burned down and the mayor collapsed with a heart attack.  But Hari’s other crime, that of using sock puppets to edit Wikipedia entries, really belongs to the internet age.

The other thing I did wrong was that several years ago I started to notice some things I didn’t like in the Wikipedia entry about me, so I took them out. To do that, I created a user-name that wasn’t my own. Using that user-name, I continued to edit my own Wikipedia entry and some other people’s too. I took out nasty passages about people I admire – like Polly Toynbee, George Monbiot, Deborah Orr and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. I factually corrected some other entries about other people. But in a few instances, I edited the entries of people I had clashed with in ways that were juvenile or malicious: I called one of them anti-Semitic and homophobic, and the other a drunk.

What is the pre-internet equivalent of that?  Sending anonymous letters about your enemies to their spouses and employers?  But how crazily malicious that sounds.  Gossiping about them to all and sundry can be dangerous as it may blow back on you, so it is a crime that needs the anonymity of the internet and the invention of Wikipedia.

Hari says of this:-

I am mortified to have done this, because it breaches the most basic ethical rule: don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you. I apologise to the latter group unreservedly and totally.

Of course it is a basic ethical rule taught to us as kiddies not to pull the cat’s tail as how would you like it if the cat pulled your tail, but it isn’t that which would stop most of us from inventing personae to edit people’s Wikipedia entries.   Hari did this hundreds of times,  taking elaborate precautions and creating a whole cast of sock puppets.   Most of us wouldn’t do this because it makes you look like a crazy and obsessive loser.  I can imagine some blog commenters* that I know (in the internet sense)  doing this , but a writer with a prestigious job on a national broadsheet?  However, I was equally gob-smacked when Orlando Figes, a respected historian, did something similar.  There really is nothing queerer than folk.

So to continue Hari’s penance, he can edit each Wikipedia entry where he defamed someone and re-cast it, writing about their sobriety, homophilia, brilliance, tolerance and general sweetness.  Also, since he sent his sock puppets around the internet to infiltrate threads where they abused his enemies and praised the works of Johann Hari he can retrieve each of those items and produce them in a handy compendium somewhere – eg seventhcircleofhell.blogspot.com.  Comments open and unmoderated as above.

One year of this should be enough.  By then he should be very sick of writing and the internet.  However, he should have learned that it’s a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive and honesty is the best policy and all such things his parents neglected to teach him.   He may even become known as Honest Hari, the man who never tampered an odometer when he takes up his new career as a used-car salesman.

*Including some who hang around this site

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TUC march in Brum this Sunday

September 16, 2011 at 6:44 pm (Brum, Cuts, Jim D, Lib Dems, protest, unions, workers)

See you there?

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The banks’ crisis…and the left’s crisis

September 15, 2011 at 10:48 pm (banks, capitalism, capitalist crisis, economics, Jim D, Marxism)

What follows is an article by the veteran Canadian Marxist Leo Panitch, arguing for a bolder response by the left to the financial crisis:

A common response of the left to the financial crisis that broke out in the USA in 2007-08 was often a kind of Michael Moore-type populist one: Why are you bailing the banks out? Let them go under.

This kind of response was, of course, utterly irresponsible, with no thought given to what would happen to the savings of workers, let alone to the paychecks deposited into their bank accounts, or even to the fact that what was at stake was the roofs over their heads.

On the other hand, the even more common response was all about asserting state responsibility: This crisis is the result of the government not having done its duty: governments are supposed to regulate capital, and they didn’t do so. But this response was in fact fundamentally misleading. The United States has the most regulated financial system in the world by far if you measure it in terms of the number of statutes on the books, the number of pages of administrative regulation, the amount of time and effort and staff that is engaged in the supervision of the financial system. But that system is organized in such a way as to facilitate the financialization of capitalism, not only in the U.S. itself, but in fact around the world. Without this, the globalization of capitalism in recent decades would not have been possible.

It was indicative of the left’s sorry lack of ambition in the crisis that its calls for salary limits on Wall Street executives and transaction taxes on the financial sector were far more common than demands for turning the banks into public utilities. It was, of all people, the mainstream LSE economist Willem Buiter (the former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, appointed in November 2009 by Citibank as its chief economist) who in his Financial Times blog on September 17, 2008 a few days after Lehman Brothers’ collapse endorsed the “long-standing argument that there is no real case for private ownership of deposit-taking banking institutions, because these cannot exist safely without a deposit guarantee and/or lender of last resort facilities, that are ultimately underwritten by the taxpayer.” And he went further: “The argument that financial intermediation cannot be entrusted to the private sector can now be extended to include the new, transactions-oriented, capital-markets-based forms of financial capitalism… From financialisation of the economy to the socialisation of finance. A small step for the lawyers, a huge step for mankind.”

CREDIT IN THE HANDS OF THE STATE?

This sounds a little bit, if you’ve ever read the Communist Manifesto, like the call that Marx made — among his list of ten reforms — for the centralization of credit in the hands of the state — which just goes to show that in a crisis you don’t have to be a Marxist to have radical ideas if you have any sort of ambition or self-confidence.

Most Marxists don’t have that ambition and self-confidence today. But you do have to be a Marxist to understand that this is not going to happen by bringing some lawyers into a room and signing a few documents. What Buiter was putting forward was the technocratic notion of how reform happens. But fundamental change can only really happen through a massive class struggle, which would involve a massive transformation of the state itself.

Even in terms of calls for better regulation, with a working-class that is not mobilized to put pressure on, you can’t expect this state to simply follow policy guidelines that come from technocrats, progressive liberals or social democrats. So we at least ought to be using our opportunity to do more than offer left technocratic advice to a policy machine; we ought to be trying to educate people on how capitalist finance really works, why it doesn’t for them and why what we need instead is a publicly owned banking system that is part of a system of democratic economic planning, in which what’s invested and where it’s invested and how it’s invested is democratically decided.

The sort of bank nationalizations undertaken in the wake of the fallout from the Lehman’s collapse — with the lead of Gordon Brown’s New Labour government in the UK being quickly followed by Bush’s Republican administration in the U.S. — essentially involved socializing the banks losses while guaranteeing that the nationalized banks would operate on a commercial basis at arm’s length from any government direction or control. All they asked was that these nationalized banks seek to maximize the taxpayers returns on their ‘investment.’ As sagely put in the 2010 Socialist Register essay on “Opportunity lost: mystification, elite politics and financial reform in the UK,” this really represented “not the nationalisation of the banks, but the privatisation of the Treasury as a new kind of fund manager.”

The most important reason for taking the banks into the public sector and turning them into a public utility is that you would remove thereby the institutional foundation of the most powerful section of the capitalist classes in this phase of capitalism. That’s the main reason for nationalizing the banks in terms of changing the balance of class forces in a fundamental way.

A second socialist reason for nationalizing the banks would be to transform the uses to which finance is put. Let’s take an example. Where I come from in Canada, the backbone of the southern Ontario economy, apart from banking, is the automobile industry.

With the layoffs that occurred and the plants that have been closed (this has been going on for three decades, but it was heightened during this crisis very severely) you are not just losing physical capital .You’re losing the skills of tool and die makers. A banking system that was turned into a public utility would be centrally involved in transforming the uses to which credit is put, so those skills could be put to building wind turbines, so they could be used to develop the kind of equipment we need to harness solar energy cheaply rather than expensively.

We cannot even begin to think seriously about solving the ecological crisis that coincides with this economic crisis without the left returning to an ambitious notion of economic planning. It’s inconceivable. It can’t be done.

We’ve run away from this for half a century because of command planning of the Stalinist type, with all of its horrific effects — its inefficiencies, but even more its authoritarianism. But we can’t avoid any longer coming back to the need for planning. The allocation of credit is at the core of economic planning for the conversion of industry. When we on the left call for capital controls, we can’t just think about that in the sense of capital controls that would limit how quickly capital moves in and out of the country.

We need capital controls because without them we can’t have the democratic control of investment. It’s not just capital controls at the border that matter; what matters all the more for socialists is control over capital to the end of directing, in a democratic fashion, what gets invested, where it gets invested, how it gets invested.

Read the full article, here.

H/t: Workers Liberty

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