Avnery on the Israeli elections

January 22, 2013 at 5:52 pm (elections, Human rights, israel, Middle East, palestine, socialism, zionism)

By Uri Avneri of Gush Shalom
(very slightly edited by Jim Denham)

THE ELECTIONS are taking place today, and they are boring, boring, boring.

So boring, indeed, that even to think about their boringness (if there is such a word) is boring.

For lack of any debate about the issues, media pundits are reduced to discussing the election broadcasts. Some are good, some indifferent, some atrocious. As if this were a contest between spin doctors, copywriters, “strategists” and such, with the public just a bystander.

WHEREVER I meet people, I am told with real worry: “I don’t know whom to vote for! There is no party I really like!” and then the question I dread: “Whom do you advise me to vote for?”

I have closely followed all the past 18 Knesset elections, except the first, when I was still a soldier. In several of them I was a candidate myself. I have always written about my preferences, but I have never told my readers how to vote.

I shall follow the same rule now.

FIRST OF ALL, there is an absolute imperative to vote, more than ever.
It is not about the “feast of democracy”, “civic duty” and bla-bla-bla. This time it is a vital necessity.

A non-vote is a vote for Binyamin Netanyahu and his allies, pure and simple. As it looks now, more than half the members of the 19th Knesset will belong to the extreme right and beyond, at least a dozen of them honest to goodness fascists.

Not to vote means to strengthen them even more.

This is especially true for Arab citizens. The polls predict that almost half of them will not vote at all. The reasons are many: a general protest against the “Jewish” state, protest against discrimination, despair of any change, disapproval of the “Arab” parties and more. All good reasons.

But abstention means that the Arab citizens are shooting themselves in the foot. If their situation is bad now, it can still become much, much worse: The Supreme court, which generally protects them, cowed into impotence. Discriminatory laws proliferating.

Some on the far right want to deprive them of the right to vote altogether. Why grant them their wish voluntarily?

LET’S PROCEED to the actual choice.

My method is to write down all the competing election lists in a random order.
Then I strike out all those I would not vote for if my life depended on it. That’s the easy part.

First of all, there is Likud-Beitenu. Likud alone was bad enough. The addition of Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beitenu makes it even more destructive.

I agree with President Barack Obama that Netanyahu is leading us to certain disaster. His total rejection of peace, the obsession with the settlements, the deepening of the occupation – all these are turning Israel (Israel proper, not just the occupied territories) inexorably into an apartheid state. Already in the outgoing Knesset, abominable anti-democratic laws have been passed. Now that all the moderate Likud members have been purged, this process will be accelerated.

With Lieberman and his acolytes joining the Likud, things look even more dangerous. Netanyahu will have to posture and act even more extremely, for fear of losing the leadership to Lieberman, who is now No. 2. It is quite probable that Lieberman will still succeed in replacing him somewhere along the road.

The emergence of Naftali Bennett as the star of the elections makes matters even more desperate. It seems to be a rule on the Israeli right that nobody is so extreme that another cannot be found who is even extremer.

THE NEXT group to be struck off the list is the religious one. It consists mainly of two parties: the Ashkenazi “Torah Jewry” and the Sephardi Shas.

Both used to be quite moderate in matters of peace and war. But those days are long gone. Generations of a narrowly ethnocentric, xenophobic education have spawned a leadership of rabid nationalist rightists. Bennett, too, was brought up in this camp.
As if this was not enough, these parties want to impose on us the Jewish Halacha, much as their Muslim counterparts want to impose the Sharia. They oppose almost automatically all progressive ideas, such as a written constitution, separation between synagogue and state, civil marriage, same sex marriage, abortion and what not. Off the list.

OF A different caliber are the self-styled “Center” parties.
The largest is the Labor Party under Shelly Yachimovich, which now stands at about 15%.

I must confess that I have never liked Shelly very much, but that should not influence my vote. She can (and sure does) boast of several achievements. She has taken a moribund party and turned it into a live force again. She has found new and attractive candidates.

The trouble is that she has helped to eradicate peace from the national agenda. She has made overtures to the settlers and their allies. Although she has paid the obligatory lip service to the “two-state solution”, she has done absolutely nothing to further it. Her sole concern is with what she calls “social justice”.

She has promised not to join a Netanyahu-Lieberman government. Experience has taught us not to take such pre-election promises too seriously – there is always a “national emergency” lurking round the corner – but even as head of the opposition, a peace-denier can do a lot of damage. Sorry, not for me.

Shelly’s main competitor is Tzipi. On the face of it, Livni is the exact opposite. Her main and almost sole election plank is the resumption of negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas.

Fine, but Tzipi and her former boss, Ehud Olmert, were in power for almost four years, during which they started two wars (Lebanon II and Cast Lead) and did not come even close to peace. Why believe her now?

I have never heard Tzipi utter a single word of sympathy or compassion for the Palestinian people. My suspicion is that she is really interested in a an endless Peace Process, not in peace itself.

AN INTERESTING character in these elections is Ya’ir Lapid.

What does he stand for? Well, he looks great . A former TV personality, he is good on TV, the only battleground in these elections. His program equates to the American “motherhood and apple pie”.

He reminds me of Groucho Marx: “These are my principles. If you don’t like them, I have others, too.”

For me he is “Lapid Lite”, compared to his late father, “Tommy” Lapid, who also moved from TV into politics. Father Lapid was a much more complicated character: very likeable in personal contact, very offensive on TV, an extreme rightist in national affairs and an extreme enemy of the religious camp. His son just pleads: Vote for me because I am a nice guy.

He makes no secret of his yearning to become a minister under Netanyahu. Sorry, not for me.

IGNORING THE Arab national lists, which are not interested in Jewish votes, and those which cannot be expected to make the 2% hurdle, there remain only two candidates on the list: Hadash and Meretz.

Both are close to what I believe in: they are actively engaged in the struggle for peace with the Palestinian people and for social justice.

How to choose?

Hadash is basically the public face of the Communist party. Should that deter me?
I have never been a Communist, or even a Marxist. I would define myself as a social-democrat. I have many memories concerning the Communist party, some positive, many negative. It is not easy for me to forget their orthodox Stalinist past. But that is not the point. We are not voting for the past, but for the future.

Hadash, to its credit, defines itself as a joint Arab-Jewish party – the only one (since the party I helped to found in 1984 lost momentum after eight years and disappeared.) However, for the vast majority of Israelis it is an “Arab party”, since more than 95% of its voters are Arabs. It does have a Jewish Knesset member, the very active and commendable Dov Hanin. If he had headed a list of his own, he could have attracted many young voters and conceivably changed the election landscape.

ON THE whole, I prefer Meretz, though without much enthusiasm.

There is something old and dreary about this party, which was founded in 1973. It says all the right things about peace and social justice, democracy and human rights. But it says them in a weary voice. There are no new faces, no new ideas, no new slogans.

A large number of leading intellectuals, writers and artists have come out for Meretz. (The party took great pains not to list leftists without clear “Zionist” credentials.) But, as a Labor minister said long ago about the intellectuals: “They don’t fill half a refugee camp.”

All in all, it is still the best choice in the circumstances. A significant increase of their presence in the Knesset would at least encourage hopes for the future.
AND IT is the future that counts. The day after these disastrous elections, the effort to create a different landscape must begin. Never again should we be faced with such a dilemma.

Let’s hope that next time – which may be quite soon – we shall have the chance to vote with enthusiasm for a dynamic party that embodies our convictions and hopes.

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More on Hope not Hate

January 22, 2013 at 12:49 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, Guest post, Pink Prosecco)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

There was a lively response to my earlier piece on Hope not Hate’s magazine – which made me reflect that it’s a pity anti-fascists seem to dissipate so much of their energy fighting each other rather than the far right. The magazine’s been going nearly a year now, and whenever it comes through my letterbox I look with interest at the contents page to see which issues are being flagged, and wonder just how much handwringing went into the selection process.

There’s a quite complex dynamic at work here. Hope not Hate’s main selling point is its combative stance towards the EDL, the BNP and similar groups. And, for the moment, the main enemy of these nationalist groups is Islam. Yet for some time now Hope not Hate has also had extremist, theocratic Muslim groups and individuals in its sights.

Hope not Hate’s stance brings some welcome nuance – and moral backbone – to these sometimes polarized debates. There’s no better antidote to people like Robert Spencer (I’m sure he has objections to the term Islamophobe so I’ll just call him a cunt) than this combination of reasoned and robust attacks on extremists combined with nuanced pieces by and about Muslims with a range of views: Julie Siddiqi of the Islamic Society of Britain celebrating the Olympics, Sara Khan, the Director of Muslim women’s human rights group Inspire, reflecting on the grooming issue, and a cheerful story about Muslim/Christian interfaith work in Blackburn.

Hope not Hate is tough on haters of all kinds in this issue. The creepy Mosquebusters campaign is profiled in a good piece by Dave Porter. I was aware of this attempt to prevent planning permission being obtained for mosques, but didn’t know about one particular underhand tactic used by planning lawyer, Gavin Boby:

“He threatens councilors and officers that if they allow a mosque application to go through, they could be held liable personally in law because of their approval of a religious doctrine which advocates violence.”

There’s a chilling report from Norway about the way a journalist, Nina Johnsrud, was targeted for investigating a story about a planned anti-Semitic attack:

“In June 2006 someone most probably belonging to Jihadist circles fired four rounds at her house, and in September the same year someone fired multiple rounds at the Oslo synagogue with an automatic weapon. While Arfan Bhatti was convicted as a ‘mental accomplice’ for the synagogue shotting two years later , the shooting at Johnsrud’s home remains unsolved.”

And there’s an interesting article by Nick Lowles about Holocaust revisionism which will probably displease Lowles’s enemies on the far left and the far right in roughly equal measure.

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A new Cliffite organisation…

January 22, 2013 at 2:32 am (Jim D, Pabs, socialism, SWP)

International Socialism, a new Cliffite organisation, linked to the US International Socialist Organization (ISO) is about to be formed in the UK:

Latest updates on International Socialism posted by ‘lenin’ (ie Richard Seymour):

International Socialism, the new blog set up by SWP members, gained 15,000 page views in its first eight hours of existence. Since going up, it has had three new posts. First, this on moralistic moaning about the internet; then this, in reply to the latest Party Notes; finally, this, important information for all (dissident SWP – JD) party members.

China (Tom) Miéville is expected to be their ‘celebrity’ member/leader.

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Django Unchained: the Western reinvented?

January 21, 2013 at 10:04 pm (adventure, Anti-Racism, cinema, Civil liberties, Clive Bradley, Cross-post, Racism, United States)

By Clive Bradley (reblogged from Solidarity and the AWL website)

Quentin Tarantino’s last film, Inglorious Basterds, walked a precarious line.

Set in World War Two Europe, it dealt with very serious matters — the genocide of the Jews — but in Tarantino’s inimitable way: at least as much about movies as about history, very violent, very funny.

It could have been a distasteful monstrosity. But to my mind it was a brilliant tour de force, with a delirious and unexpected climax that in fact was very thought-provoking.

Django Unchained sets out to pull off the same trick but this time about slavery in America. Does it succeed?

Django (Jamie Foxx) is a black slave sort-of-freed by a German bounty hunter, Dr Schulz (Christopher Waltz, the marvellous villain from Inglorious Basterds). Shulz — who is essentially a decent bloke — agrees to help Django rescue his wife, Broomhilde (Kerry Washington) from the most notorious and terrifying plantation in Mississippi, owned by Calvin Candle (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Much tension, and then, inevitably, much violence and gore ensues. Along the way there’s a brilliant turn by Samuel L Jackson as Stephen, Candle’s apparently-sweet but actually-terrifying Uncle Tom servant.

Some — notably Spike Lee (though apparently he refuses actually to see the film) have objected to the movie, and indeed to the very idea of Tarantino addressing this subject. He trivialises slavery, they say, and the African American experience. Much of this objection seems to be against Tarantino himself — a geeky white boy who verges, sometimes, on the “wigger”, a film obsessive rather than a historian, steeped in B movies, trash culture, (horror of horrors) genre.

And indeed, as you would expect, Django Unchained is as much about Westerns as about slavery. Its colours, its soundtrack, many of its events, are comments on the genre itself – which was once immensely popular, but died out in the 1970s or before (with occasional revivals, of course, like the recent remake of True Grit).

But what a comment. Westerns, as a genre, rarely (I think it might be never, but maybe some Western fan can correct me) have slaves in them at all, never mind as central characters. (There are black characters, occasionally – comedy buffoons with wide eyes and shuffling feet — but not, I think, acknowledged to be slaves).

Westerns certainly never have slaves or ex-slaves as heroes, riding horses, shooting guns, and exacting terrible vengeance on plantation owners.

Foxx’s Django is an avenging angel. There is — not quite the climax of the movie, but towards it — the inevitable set-piece Tarantino gore fest (as you would expect, both bloody and played for jokes). And you want him to blow these evil motherfuckers away. You root for the massacre. It’s exhilarating.

I don’t think, here, it’s as successful as the massacre in Inglorious Basterds (where the Nazi leadership is taken out) —which (for me, anyway) makes you reflect on your own bloodthirsty emotions; but it’s not, either, as purely ridiculous and jokey as the bloodfest in Kill Bill I.

But I don’t see that it trivialises anything. It is extremely entertaining — but how is it a valid criticism of a film maker that his film is too enjoyable? It’s not very sophisticated — Django is the good guy, the slave owners are the bad guys… But that’s how Westerns work; it’s pretty much the point of Westerns, except in the classic Western, Good is signified by white (hats, usually), and Bad by black…

Tarantino has said, rightly, that there’s nothing in Django Unchained that’s remotely as violent as slavery was itself. And it includes some marvellous — though very bloody — dramatisations of what slavery actually meant: a runaway torn apart by dogs; slaves forced to pummel each other to death for their owners’ enjoyment.

There is, I’m sure, a great film yet to be made about the experience of slavery in the US. Jonathan Demme’s Beloved, based on Toni Morrison’s novel, was leaden and dull; Spielberg’s Amistad was simply untruthful about the abolition of slavery. Django Unchained is not that film. But it’s a tall order for any film maker — to make the definitive statement about a vast historical experience.

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Michael Winner: not such a bad guy

January 21, 2013 at 4:17 pm (celebrity, cinema, film, gay, Human rights, Jim D)

The Graun‘s obit, here.

Here he has a go at the arsehole/asshole Littlejohn and defends lesbians.

But I still think his films are shite…

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Orwell and today’s left

January 21, 2013 at 11:08 am (apologists and collaborators, AWL, class, communalism, From the archives, Galloway, history, internationalism, Jim D, literature, Orwell, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP, trotskyism, truth)

Today is ‘Orwell Day’, the 63rd anniversary of the author’s death (additionally, he was born 110 years ago this June 25th) . To mark the occasion (even though ‘Orwell Day’ seems to be largely a stunt by Penguin Books), we publish below a ten year-old article from the AWL’s paper Solidarity. It was written just as the SWP was cosying up to George Galloway (then still – just – a Labour MP), and had discovered the supposedly “progressive” nature of Islamism. The dreadful abomination that would be ‘Respect’ was about to come into being…

Author: Sean Matgamna

“Revolutionary ardour in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth”.
Leon Trotsky, “Trotskyism and the PSOP”

“There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads – they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late”.

George Orwell, Looking Back On The Spanish War, 1942

The centenary of George Orwell’s birth is being widely celebrated in the bourgeois media. To these professional liars, Orwell, the man who told awkward and untimely truths, is a hero!

Apart from a few unteachable pickled-in-the-lies old Stalinists, most people who think of themselves as being of the left, for example the Socialist Workers Party, also see Orwell as a hero.

It wasn’t always so. When he was alive, Orwell, who died in 1950, was regarded by the dominant forces ‘on the left’ of the 1930s and 40s as a “right-winger”, a crank, an “anti-Soviet renegade”, an agent or a “dupe” of fascism, and an all-round enemy.

The only exceptions in Britain then were those whose ideas were informed by Trotsky’s writings on Stalinist Russia, the Stalinist “Communist” International, the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9, and other related questions.

Numerically those were few. The largest group was the declining Independent Labour Party, which Orwell joined in the mid-1930s. Then there were the organised Trotskyists, in the 1930s a handful of them. Their maximum number, in the mid 1940s, was never more than about 400.

The Trotskyists were shunned, hounded, persecuted, and where possible suppressed by the “left” of that time. They were the targets of the approach advocated in, for example, a witch-hunting wartime pamphlet of the Communist Party (the CPGB) entitled “Clear Out Hitler’s Agents”. Its message was: “Treat a Trotskyist as you would a fascist”.

Orwell was regarded as an enemy of “the left” because he shared some of the Trotskyists’ ideas. Orwell, like the Trotskyists, did not believe that an honest and serious person could be guided in politics, or in his attitude to the conventional left, by WB Yeats’ injunction: “Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams”.

Socialists “dream” about a world transformed. We do not spin consoling dreams about the world we live in. If we cannot bear to define that world as it actually is, then we will never manage to transform it. Our “socialism” will for us be only a consoling quasi-religion.

Orwell, like the Trotskyists, trampled with large hobnailed boots on the self-poisoning fantasies, dreams and sacred myths of that left.

On Spain, for example.

In July 1936 the fascist-minded generals revolted against the newly-elected Popular Front government, unleashing a terrible civil war. Spain became the great cause of the “anti-fascist” left, as indeed it should.

But the very “anti-fascist” Stalinist movement was wholly controlled and in part financed from Moscow by people whose main concern was to convince the Paris and London governments that their “communism” posed no threat to capitalism, and that they could control the working class for them, and, “for a consideration,” would. They wanted imperialist allies against Hitler’s Germany. These “anti-fascists” suppressed the workers who had seized power in Catalonia and set up a Stalinist-bourgeois police state in the anti-fascist Republican areas.

They, not the fascist armies which by March 1939 controlled all of Spain, suppressed the revolutionary Spanish labour movement.

Throughout the world, the Stalinist press, and most of the socialist and liberal press, which at that point saw the Stalinists as allies against fascism, suppressed news of what was actually happening in the real Spain.

They substituted heroic half-truths and myths about the “anti-fascist struggle” there. To do anything else, the “knowing” people said, would be to “undermine the anti-fascist fight” and “play into the hands of” the Spanish fascists and, ultimately, of Hitler.

You had to take sides and respect and defend the official truths of your “side”. You had to accept an entirely negative definition of what was “anti-fascist” and therefore “working-class”, “progressive”, “left”. You could not afford to concern yourself much with what the “anti-fascists”, whether bourgeois liberals or totalitarianising Stalinists, positively were, in their own right and what they were actually doing.

This was the time of the Popular Fronts, when the Communist Parties sought allies on the right. The Stalinists set the pace and tone here, and their social-democratic and liberal fellow-travellers acted as outriders and enforcers for them. Trotsky called these Stalinising “Liberals” “the priests of half-truth”.

In Britain, for example, the Liberal News Chronicle (which was twinned with a London evening paper, The Star) had fallen under Stalinist influence – its correspondent in Spain was Arthur Koestler, then a Stalinist – and seconded the lies of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker. So did such Stalinist-influenced labour papers as the then very influential New Statesman, and Tribune, which at its start in 1937, was a Stalinist-Popular Front paper.

When Orwell, who went to Spain politically naive, came back disabused of illusions about the “official” left and tried to break the “left front” of lying in the cause of “anti-fascism”, he found he could not get the truth past the “anti-fascist” and leftist “priests of half-truth”.

These were days of the Left Book Club (LBC). Published by Victor Gollancz – under an editorial committee of Stalinists and pro-Stalinists – the LBC was churning out large editions of its orange-jacketed volumes. One measure of that time was that Fate of a Revolution, an account of the USSR by Victor Serge, the old communist who had been in the USSR until 1936, was published in Britain by a rather feeble competitor of the Left Book Club, the Right Book Club, which also published such honest eye-witness left-wing accounts of the USSR as the American journalist Eugene Lyons’ Assignment In Utopia.

Orwell described the situation like this:

“The Spanish war has probably produced a richer crop of lies than any event since the Great War of 1914-18, but I honestly doubt, in spite of all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the eyes of Daily Mail reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, with their far subtler methods of distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real nature of the struggle. The fact which these papers have so carefully obscured is that the Spanish government (including the semi-autonomous Catalan government) is far more afraid of the [working-class] revolution than of the fascists…

The New Statesman, having previously refused an article of mine on the suppression of the POUM [quasi-Trotskyists, allied to the ILP] on the ground that it would ’cause trouble’, also refused to print the review as it ‘controverted editorial policy’, or in other words blew the gaff on the Communist Party… Whatever you do don’t believe a word you read in the News Chronicle or Daily Worker. The only daily paper I have seen in which a gleam of truth sometimes gets through is the [Daily] Express…”

It was the same with many things other than the Spanish Civil War. Orwell found himself like the “undersocialised” boy in Hans Andersen’s story who noticed that the Emperor, whose clothes everyone else wholeheartedly admired, was in fact naked.

Today we look back with respect and some gratitude to the Orwells and pioneer Trotskyists, and with contempt and revulsion on the broad “left” of that time. The untimely truths which Orwell and the Trotskyists told about Spain, the USSR, etc., are today commonplaces understood by most people who think of themselves as ‘left’.

In Orwell’s case, the pattern is not too far from what the Irish socialist-republican James Connolly wrote of the pioneer Republican Wolfe Tone on the centenary of the Republican rising of 1798 in which Tone lost his life: “Apostles of freedom are ever crucified when living, and idolised when safely dead”. Their once inconvenient ideas come to be “received” wisdom for the sort of people who most likely would, when they lived, have been among the persecutors of those ideas’ pioneers.

Orwell was made of less malleable stuff. He registered what he saw, thought about it honestly, and reported it accurately, believing with Karl Marx that the truth is a great revolutionary force.

Right now, the ideas of Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty are unpopular with most of the left on many contemporary questions – for example, on the attitude socialists should take to a Labour MP who acted for many years as a political agent (paid or unpaid makes little difference) for the quasi-fascist dictatorship in Iraq – people who for decades did in Iraq what the fascists Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War did when they won that war. We are so much at odds with the conventional left that it is no exaggeration to say: if the SWP and its political satellites like the ISG, the CPGB, WP, etc are left, then we aren’t. And the other way around.

It would be foolish to claim that because our ideas are unpopular with the contemporary mainstream left, therefore they are correct. The opposite claim, however, can safely be made. Today, as in Orwell’s time, we have a mainstream pseudo-left that has lost its way. For most practical purposes, it is not a “left”, still less a Marxist “left”, at all.

It makes no difference that the ABCs of Trotsky’s politics, and not, as in the 1930s and 40s, of Stalin’s, form the received truths of our left. “Tradition” in politics is only as good as those who try to give it current relevance and life. And in fact in today’s “Trotskisant” but eclectic and incoherent left, much of the Stalinist politics against which Orwell and the Trotskyists fought in the 1930s has been revived.

Popular frontism, for example. But, above all, negativism in self-definition.

Not now “anti-fascism”, but “anti-imperialism”. Never mind what a given political current, or a given regime in a given country, is “in itself”. If it is in conflict with “imperialism”, or targeted by imperialism, then nothing else matters. It is in the “camp” of the left. It is in “our” camp; “on our side”. Let it be!

In this way ideas against which the Trotskyists in Trotsky’s time, and Orwell, counterposed independent working-class politics have again become dominant on the left. Today’s left is swamped and waterlogged with the politics and the prejudices that went into the making of 1930s’ Stalinism.

It is shrouded in the vapours given off by various “anti-imperialist” chauvinisms (Catholic-Irish national-chauvinism, anti-Jewish Arab and Muslim chauvinism, etc). Even narrow British nationalism: purely negative opposition to the British ruling class and its governments, saying no when they say yes and yes when they say no, has for 30 years and more made the British left into boneheaded “little Britishers” opposed to the unification of Europe.

Solidarity has devoted much space to the pro-Iraqi politics of many on the anti-war left. It was not enough for them to oppose Britain and the USA, as we did. To feel whole, they needed to embrace the quasi-fascist Iraqi regime and the reactionary Islamic opponents of Bush’s and Blair’s war, notably the Muslim Brotherhood (MAB). Thereby they crossed the line separating working class from populist, cross-class politics. Is there a precedent for this? Yes.

In 1938 Maurice Thorez, the leader of French Stalinism, offered to extend the hand of Popular Front friendship all the way to “patriotic fascists”-to French fascists who were not bought or hypnotised by Nazi Germany and would in the coming war defend France. He did not manage to realise such a Popular Front. During the recent anti-war movement, the major forces on the British left realised something very close to it. They established a Popular Front with the Islamic near-equivalent of Thorez’ “patriotic fascists”, the ultra-reactionary Muslim Brotherhood.

Like Orwell and the Trotskyists of the 1930s, Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty have been howled down and are shunned by ‘the left’ for our opposition to such practices. As well as outright hostility, we have met with incomprehension, from good-willed people who unknowingly let their attitudes and ideas here be shaped by pressure of the “norms” on these matters established by the dominant “left”.

For ourselves, we have great difficulty understanding how people who call themselves socialists can accept as a comrade someone who has, as a government minister put it in the House of Commons recently, acted as a “mouthpiece” for the quasi-fascist Iraqi regime, and who on his own admission was financed by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and a Ba’thist businessman.

Orwell, and the Trotskyists of the 1930s and 40s, are better examples for serious socialists to follow than their equivalent of our conventional ‘left’.

He found the philistines, like the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin, bowing down to the “left public opinion” created by the Stalinists and their fellow-travellers. He found himself trying to gain foot-room for the truth in the pestilential swamp of lies and corruption created by the Stalinists and those who, for their own reasons, tolerated them.

He was confronted by a world in which the Labour ‘leftists’ who let the Stalinists influence their thinking, like Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps, advocated an alliance of the working class with Liberals and “progressive Tories” in a Popular Front. As Trotsky pointed out, they were in real political terms to the right of Labour right-wingers like Herbert Morrison. The Labour right rejected the Popular Front and wanted a Labour government.

Just so today when the left gives credence to Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Iraqi workers and Kurds, allies with the MAB, the advocates of an authoritarian clerical regime in all Islamic countries, and sees no reason to distance itself politically from Saddam Hussein’s admirer George Galloway. This pseudo-left is in basic class terms to the right of decent-minded reformist. anti-conventional left, workers, including Islamic workers in Britain and elsewhere.

It would, as above, be foolish to claim that because our ideas are unpopular on the “left”, therefore they are right. But those who follow “left-wing” fashion, and don’t dare question the “left consensus” will almost certainly go wrong. That is the point about George Orwell and the Trotskyists of his time.

The root source of the corruption of the “left” in Orwell’s time was the Stalinist ruling class in Russia which presented itself as “communist” and argued that the defence of their interests was the proper first concern of workers all over the world. Siding with the Russian “workers’ state” exerted a malign, corrupting and disorienting influence on the left for many decades, including the Trotskyist left who “critically” “defended the Soviet Union”.

But the USSR is long gone, and those who are the most corrupted now, the SWP, were once distinguished by their refusal to have illusions in the USSR or to see themselves as in the USSR’s “camp”. They were proud to define themselves as “Third Campists”, people working to develop the “camp” of the working class and oppressed peoples against both the US and USSR-led “camps”.

Today we have the SWP purveying the sort of politics which the Stalinists, the quasi-Stalinists, and the worst of the kitsch Trotskyists once purveyed about the USSR “workers’ state”.

As with the “anti-fascist” degenerates of George Orwell’s time who forgot all about class politics and working-class self-interest, defining themselves only negatively by what they were against-fascism, and, fundamentally, German fascism-and could therefore ally even with French anti-German fascists, so with the “anti-imperialism” of today.

There is, however, an important difference, and it is not the 1930s Popular Frontists who come out worse in the comparison. The Stalinists in the 1930s believed that the USSR was evolving towards socialism and that, in the long run, all their dirty dealings, in the interests of the USSR – as defined by its rulers – would serve the cause of progress and socialism. They were defined negatively as “anti-fascists” in practical politics, but not only negatively. By serving the USSR they served socialism. Or so they thought.

The SWP believes no such thing about those in whose camp it has rushed to place itself in the last 15 years-the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran (against Iraq); Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war; Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal primitive Serbian imperialism in Kosova (1999); the Taliban in Afghanistan; the Muslim fundamentalists and Saddam Hussein in the recent war.

The left today is entirely negative. It has no “historical perspectives”, no idea of and seemingly no concern with historical progress, no belief that those like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic with whom it allies “against imperialism” can, if they survive, help the cause of humanity, of socialism or of the working class.

For a whole vast range of the world they are – to put it in the basic ideas of the Communist Manifesto – “reactionary socialists”. They recoil against those forces in the world today-the capitalist bourgeois democracies-which are pushing forward the conditions out of struggle against which the working class can advance to socialism. They ally against them with regimes flatly reactionary both for their own peoples and for neighbouring peoples (Kosovars in the case of Milosevic, Kurds in the case of Saddam Hussein).

This is a left that has, in its blinkered negativism, turned the norms of socialist working-class politics inside out, back to front, upside down. No wonder it has stumbled into such long-discredited Stalinist patterns as Popular Frontism.

The example of Orwell, and of Trotsky and the Trotskyists of the 1930s and 40s, is therefore of great importance today to those who want the post-Stalinist left to go forward, not, as most of it has in Britain, to collapse in a heap on the poisoned ground of Stalinism. For ourselves we subscribe to and will continue to try to live up to Trotsky’s guiding principle: “Revolutionary ardour… is inescapable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth.”

[This article was an Editorial in Solidarity in July 2003.]

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The Algerian hostage crisis, Mali, and how to respond

January 20, 2013 at 1:37 am (africa, Andrew Coates, fascism, France, islamism, John Rees, Lindsey German, reblogged, Stop The War, terror)

By Andrew Coates (reblogged from Tendance Coatesey)

The Algerian hostage killings are shocking.

El Watan reports up to 50 hostages dead, though there are serious doubts about the accuracy of this figure.

This has to be looked up with deep ethical and political seriousness.

These are some reflections:

The Algerian army’s operation was entirely their own. On France-Inter and Europe I this morning it was repeated that the Algerians were determined to put an end to the crisis without negotiating – a long-standing principle. They were determined to “deal with internal problems by themselves (more here). The experience of confronting armed and murderous Islamists in Algeria, from the 1990s civil war to the present, is that the state’s army is prepared to use maximum force with minimum respect for human rights.

The Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has been a leading figure in ’Al-Qaeda au Maghreb islamique (Aqmi), is now clearly identified as the leader of the attack. He is dead. Belmokhtar has operated in the north of Mali. The ’emir’ is held responsible for kidnapping several French nationals in the recent past. In December Belmokhtar announced in une vidéo publiée par Libération.fr,that he had broken with Aqmi and created a new group, Al-Moulathamin (those who sign with blood)»), close to the Mouvement unicité et jihad en Afrique de l’Ouest (le Mujao, which controls the region of Gao in Mali). The reasons for this are likely to be connected to Belmokhtar’s personal smuggling rackets. However his men remain in alliance with Aqmi.

There are therefore clear links between the hostage taking and Mali. Belmokhtar is said to have demanded that the French intervention should end. Anybody going further into the shifting alliances and disputes in Mali should pause and look at this seriously before offering an analyses of, for example, the relations between the Tuaregs, their group, the l’Azawad (MNLA) (more here), and the Islamists. I would be very very cautious in this areas.

Belmokhtar is a man with an armed band with blood on their hands. It is no surprise that an Irishman who escaped from the Algerian hostage crisis had explosives tied around his neck.

“Primary responsibility for tragic events in Algeria rest with terrorists who murdered some and held others hostage”: For the first time it’s hard to disagree with Foreign Secretary William Hague.

How Not to Respond:

Lindsey German of the Stop the War Coalition directly links the taking of hostages to the French intervention in Mali. She states that, “This new scramble for Africa, where the old colonial powers of France and Britain try to reassert their control in the resource rich region, looks likely to end in tears very quickly. ” No doubt she can barely contain the floods of teardrops this morning.

She goes on to say, “When France began its air strikes and invasion in Mali last week the rebels there warned its government that there would be retaliation. Blowback has come more rapidly than anyone expected.”

German then says, portentously, “The spread of the wars and instability to Africa is a very dangerous development.”

Really!

The Stop the War Coalition have shown scant regard to what the people in Mali think themselves, or much awareness of what has happened in the country.

German now shows an astounding ignorance when she says, “The long running civil war in Algeria is being escalated as a result of instability elsewhere. “

Somebody should buy her a good Chronology and teach her how not to confuse the 1990s with, say, the year 2013.

Some Responses:

Let us make the point that the primary concern should be the wishes and interests of the people of North Africa and Mali.

It is clear that the Islamists, in their various shapes and alliances, are opposed to the most basic human rights. They torture and murder. They rape women who do not wear full Islamic covering. They destroy Muslim religious shrines that they consider ‘pagan’. They ban the wonderful music of the country. They fuel existing ethnic hatreds.

Opposition to them in Mali is not motivated by a ‘scramble for Africa’, which few outside the StWC and their ’anti-imperialist’ arm-chair generals have noticed at play in this crisis.

Still less, as some, like her partner John Rees suggests, is it a matter of the ‘West’ against ‘Islam’.

The fight against the Mali Islamists is motivated by common human decency.

And it comes from the people of Mali.

There are many issues around the French intervention, and the forces that govern the country. There is the background of the neo-liberal policies that have weakened the state and let the way open for this crisis. There is the responsibility of the country’s political class and army.

Does France intend to stay? Will its intervention, as the Nouveau parti anticaptialiste argues, make things worse?

But until we get that point, of combating the Islamists – in solidarity with Mali and North African peoples – across we will be as morally and politically bankrupt at Lindsey German.

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Now what the hell will we do for a reed player?

January 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm (good people, jazz, Jim D)

Norman Field at Whitley Bay, October 2012:

Here are a number of jazz heroes and a heroine (Emma Fisk on violin). Hark well, because this could be the last time reedman (on clarinet here) Norman Field will be seen blowing a horn. Norman says he’s decided to stop playing, so this appearance at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party in October may well be his swansong.

Norman is a very profound guy: a witty, sophisticated working-class autodidact who also happens to be a master clarinet and sax player specialising in the “hot” styles of players from the late twenties and early-to-mid-thirties. I’ve heard him “do” Jimmie Noone, Johnny Dodds, Omar Simeon, Frank Teschmacher, Jimmy Dorsey and Benny Goodman – and on one memorable occasion, all of the above, and more, in the course of a single gig (with Keith Nichols, entitled something like “history of jazz clarinet”). But Norman is most emphatically not some sort of musical impressionist, merely copying earlier pioneers: he’s an original, whose playing always bears the mark of his own individualism, even when he’s referencing someone else. In the clip above, for instance, Norman’s brilliant obligatos (to Duke Heitger’s trumpet) and solo spots contain more than a hint of Pee Wee Russell, but it’s a number Pee Wee himself never recorded (as far as I know), and Norman’s playing is 100 per cent original.

When I last met up with Norman we spoke of many things: the Princess Eugenie, Napoleon III and the Franco-Prussian war, the scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla and the ‘mad scientist’ in literature and film, and the possible uses that British intelligence may have made of 78rpm records during WW2. I did not ask him about his decision to stop playing.

A little later I met Tom ‘Spats’ Langham (the guitarist and singer in the clip) and we found we’d both had the same reaction to Norman’s announcement: it was a tragedy and an incalculable loss to classic jazz, but we had no right and no authority to challenge Norman or to try to persuade him to change his mind. Norman has had quite a difficult time of it, one way and the other, over the years and all we can do now is respect his decision and wish him well.

Still, I can’t help thinking of the (alleged) words of Wild Bill Davison, on hearing of the death of Frank Teschmacher back in 1932: “Now what the hell am I going to do for a sax man?”

NB: the Whitley Bay clip was filmed and made available by Michael Steinman, whose great blog Jazz Lives is a brilliant diary of classic and mainstream jazz activity in the US and (occasionally, when he visits) Britain.

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US “Thoughts on the crisis in the SWP”

January 17, 2013 at 1:50 pm (Jim D, political groups, reblogged, socialism, SWP, United States)

From the US Red Plebian blog (written by a member of the US International Socialist Organisation):

Edits: I would like to point out that I have made some edits to this post since I initially threw it out there. In the earlier version I had alluded to and quoted a discussion made by certain comrades in confidence. I didn’t think through the repercussions of this violation of privacy, and have since deleted that section of this blog post. I ask that those people who had read that section and know what I’m talking about to please ignore things said my individuals in a state of assumed privacy. Thank you.

So I have been blogging about the unfolding crisis in the British Socialist Workers Party on Tumblr for a while now so I thought it was about time that I synthesized a bunch of my thoughts into a proper blog post. Maybe I’m blogging about this too much, maybe there is also the issue that comes with a socialist in one country meddling and passing judgement on socialists in another country, but for those coming from the International Socialist tradition its really a big deal as the SWP enters what’s looking like a death spiral.

For a summary of the situation I think the best people to read are Tom Walker and Richard Seymour. To just say a few short points; a senior male member of the Socialist Workers Party’s Central Committee (I’m not entirely certain whether or not to name the scumbag here, but its pretty easy to find out who he is if you want and even find him on twitter) is accused of rape and sexual harassment by two female party members, an apparent cover-up takes place, the issue is brought toward an internal Disputes Committee that “investigates” the allegations in an incredibly problematic and sexist way by people with close ties to the accused and find the allegations. At the party conference a vote is taken on agreement with the Disputes Committee’s “findings” which barely passes, but word gets out about this scandal, and the whole left is justified uproar. Even though we can’t be certain if the rape allegations are true (my personal judgement is that they are; when it comes to rape allegations, you always trust the woman making the allegation), the whole proceedings of this scandal shows that the SWP’s leadership does not take allegations of sexist abuse seriously and they are unconcerned with keeping its membership informed or involving them in what is happening in the party.

The situation clearly is spiraling out of control for the SWP’s Central Committee just as you’d expect it to have in this political climate. In fact it shows a huge disconnect from reality on the part of the CC who didn’t foresee that in this environment where Rape Culture and Sexism are such big issues, and that there is a practical renaissance in feminism occurring, that shit like this could possibly be brushed under the rug.

But the cat is out of the bag, and mainstream news outlets, have taken up the story, such as the Daily Mail, The Independent and innumerable blogs (my own now being one of them). Now I just want to say unequivocally that the actions and policies of the Socialist Workers Party in handling these rape allegations are a travesty, a crime and a disgrace to all socialists and feminists everywhere. Shame on the Central Committee, the Disputes Committee and the entire Party bureaucracy. But I have nothing but disdain for those in the corporate media or even the left who are characterizing the SWP’s Dispute Committee as a “Sharia Court.” This is grossly racist and islamophobic terminology and it should have no place in the serious discussions that need to take place on this scandal. I just wanted to make that clear before moving on.

This scandal will without a doubt haunt the Socialist Workers Party and all of its members for here on out. The SWP has been thoroughly discredited in the eyes of the British public, the British left and the world left. Wherever members or the party goes, allegations and accusations of the party defending rapists (which are likely accurate) will follow them. The ability for the SWP to work with other groups, activist movements or labor unions will be undermined and become untenable. Forget “red-baiting”, rapist baiting is what SWP members will face forever after as the party becomes more and more isolated.

Speaking more broadly of the structural sources of this scandal, there’s the fact that this whole clusterfuck was a long-time coming. The SWP had been becoming more bureaucratic and sectarian for years, with less and less emphasis being put on the party’s membership base and their role and development, and more energy put into maintaining the insular elite of the now morally bankrupt leadership. These facts were illustrated by the group Marks21 resignation letter from the International Socialist Tendency over this scandal. Also the SWP, despite doing some decent work in the field of anti-sexist activism, has been underplaying the importance of women’s liberation on the theoretical level for far longer. In her talk on women’s liberation and Marxism, my own ISO comrade Sharon Smith points out those deficiencies of the SWP on that question. To quote one of her conclusions at length;

At this point in history, when feminism has been under sustained attack for the last 40 years with no end in sight, the last thing we [socialists] should feel compelled to do is to attack feminism. On the contrary, we need to defend feminism on principle as a defense of women’s liberation. Unfortunately, not all Marxists have always understood the need to defend feminism and to appreciate the enormous accomplishments of the women’s movement.

There is a big problem here. There are far too many “Brosocialists” to go along with the “Manarchists” of the world. Many defend their implicit misogyny on incredibly shaky theoretical basis. I’m actually kind of curious what the WSWS.org’s response to this crisis will be, they put like 90% of their energy into attacking groups like the SWP but they’re also infamous for being anti-feminist and coming to the defense of accused rapists. So who knows what they’ll do.

The point is I feel that if your socialist politics are “non-feminist” they will very likely lead you and your group to become anti-feminist and misogynistic. Socialism and Marxism shouldn’t be thrown out the door because of this travesty, but seen as needing proper and dialectical reinforcement and bolstering by feminist principals and ideas.

I’m still uncertain if the SWP will survive another week. There’s still a (slim) chance that the party can be saved, but its going to require purging out the whole bureaucracy and leadership, a proper cleansing of the Augean Stables of its whole anti-democratic, bureaucratic and sexist culture, and that means a pretty hardcore internal struggle. That’s the main reason I can see in staying in the party for those SWP members with still a conscious and any true socialist principals (at least for the time being), which is why I applaud those who seem to be taking such stances. That’s part of the point that SWPer Richard Seymour has in his most recent blog post, stay and fight. If there’s a chance that the party can be fixed, then it needs to be fought for. But if that all fails, it means a split, and everyone who is still worth a damn should get out of the dead SWP and start something new.

The point is the Central Committee of the Socialist Workers Party and the whole bureaucracy around it is now not just a barrier, but the greatest threat to the party’s future, the future of the British left, the struggle for women’s liberation and even the cause for socialism as a whole. Not to mention the harm it has done to the comrades who were likely victims of rape. The SWPs action are unforgivable, unjustifiable and a total disgrace. If we are to be true to our principals then a constant struggle most always be carried out against any signs or manifestations of sexism (along with racism, homophobia, transphobia, etc) within side the revolutionary organization. If a socialist party can’t be made a safe space for all women then it has lost its right to continue existing.

Also I should say, as I’ve indicated before, I am not writing in any official capacity of the ISO or on its behalf, merely just an individual.

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To the anti-EU idiot-left: is this REALLY what you want?

January 16, 2013 at 7:20 pm (Conseravative Party, David Cameron, Europe, Jim D, reblogged, Tory scum)

From Conservative Home
The Fresh Start Group calls for four “significant” EU treaty revisions. Will Cameron back them on Friday?

By Paul Goodman
The Editors of this site wrote yesterday about David Cameron’s coming EU speech on Friday and what he should say about a referendum.

No less important is what he should say about the repatriation of powers, given that party opinion is coalescing around the option of “Common Market or Out”.

The Daily Telegraph this morning previews today’s launch of the Fresh Start’s “Manifesto for Change. The paper reports that it contains four proposed “significant revisions” of EU treaties:

• The repatriation of all social and employment law, such as the Working Time Directive;

• An opt-out from all existing policing and criminal justice measures;

• An “emergency brake” on any new legislation that affects financial services;

• An end to the European Parliament’s costly monthly move from Brussels to Strasbourg.

The Fresh Start document also calls for agriculture, fishing policy and regional policy to be repatriated and makes proposals to limit the free movement of people across the EU.

It’s not “Common Market or out” (Douglas Carswell reminded readers of the Financial Times yesterday of the difference between a common market and the Single Market).

None the less, the proposals are wide-ranging and raise the question of how they would be achieved, given occupied field and the role of the Court. We will find out more later.

William Hague writes a foreword to the document. The Foreign Office’s door is open to Fresh Start – the Foreign Secretary has been hugging the group close – but his words are cautious:

“Many of the proposals are already government policy, some could well become future government or Conservative Party policy and some may require further thought.”

Which raises another question – namely, which idea falls into which category as far as the Governent is concerned. We may discover more on Friday.

George Eustice is quoted as saying that although it’s too early for the Prime Minister to set out proposals for negotiation, the group’s ideas are intended to stimulate debate.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013 in Europe | Permalink

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