Kenan Malik on “Islamophobia”

November 22, 2013 at 12:26 am (Anti-Racism, civil rights, democracy, Free Speech, intellectuals, islamism, posted by JD, Racism, rcp, reblogged, relativism)

Kenan Malik is not someone we often recommend, not least because of his dubious friends in the RCP/ Spiked Online / Institute of Ideas. Still, he’s often struck us as a bit more intelligent than most of that lot (the frankly embarrassing Claire Fox, etc), and this piece (from a couple of weeks ago), would seem to confirm that view:
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Kenan Malik
 
By Kenan Malik

I am taking part on Friday in a discussion entitled ‘When does criticism of Islam become Islamophobia?’, hosted by Oxash, the Oxford Atheists, Secularists and Humanists. So, I thought it might be worth setting out the basic points that undergird my own thinking about the relationship between criticism, Islam and Islamophobia.

1

Islamophobia is a problematic term. This is not because hatred of, or discrimination against, Muslims does not exist. Clearly it does. Islamophobia is a problematic term because it can be used by both sides to blur the distinction between criticism and hatred. On the one hand, it enables many to attack criticism of Islam as illegitimate because it is judged to be ‘Islamophobic’.  On the other, it permits those who promote hatred to dismiss condemnation of that hatred as stemming from an illegitimate desire to avoid criticism of Islam. In conflating criticism and bigotry, the very concept of Islamophobia, in other words, makes it more difficult to engage in a rational discussion about where and how to draw the line between the two.

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2

When it comes to criticizing ideas, nothing should be out of bounds. Nothing should be unsayable simply because someone finds it offensive. Particularly in a plural society, offending the sensibilities of others is both inevitable and important. Inevitable, because where different beliefs are deeply held, clashes are unavoidable. Important because any kind of social change or social progress means offending some deeply held sensibilities.

‘You can’t say that!’ is all too often the response of those in power to having their power challenged.  To accept that certain things cannot be said is to accept that certain forms of power cannot be challenged. The notion of giving offence suggests that certain beliefs are so important or valuable to certain people that they should be put beyond the possibility of being insulted, or caricatured or even questioned. The importance of the principle of free speech is precisely that it provides a permanent challenge to the idea that some questions are beyond contention, and hence acts as a permanent challenge to authority.

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3

If no criticism should be off limits, nevertheless some kinds of criticism need to be challenged. The other side of defending free speech is the necessity of confronting bigotry.  The whole point of free speech is to create the conditions for robust debate. And one reason for such robust debate is to be able to challenge obnoxious views. To argue for free speech but not to utilize it to challenge obnoxious, odious and hateful views seems to me immoral. It is, in other words, morally incumbent on those who argue for free speech to also stand up to racism and bigotry.

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4

When does criticism become bigotry? The line is crossed when criticism of Islam, of ideas or beliefs, become transposed into prejudice about people; or when critics demand that Muslims are denied rights, or be discriminated against, simply because they happen to be Muslims.

We should oppose all discrimination against Muslims in the public sphere, from discriminatory policing and immigration laws that might specifically target Muslims, to planning regulations that make it more difficult to build mosques than other similar buildings or restrictions on the ability of Muslims to assemble or worship that apply merely because they happen to be  Muslims.  Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be complete freedom to express them, short of inciting violence. Whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to assemble to promote them. And whatever one’s beliefs, there should be freedom to act upon those beliefs, so long as in so doing one neither physically harms another individual nor transgresses that individual’s rights in the public sphere. A Muslim should have the same rights and obligations as any other citizen.

We should also oppose all attempts to use criticisms of Islam to demonise Muslims. But criticism of Islam, of whatever kind, even if it is offensive or bigoted, should not be a matter for the criminal law. Bigoted speech should not be a legal but a moral issue. Just as Muslims have the right to express their beliefs, short of inciting violence, so should everyone else, including the right to express the most pungent beliefs about Islam. A society that outlawed anti-Muslim arguments would, in my mind, be as reactionary as one that banned Muslim immigration or pursued discriminatory forms of policing.

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5

It is important to make the distinction between criticism of Islam and prejudice against Muslims. There is also, however, a large gray area on the borderlands of bigotry that needs addressing, a gray area between, on the one side, vicious anti-Muslim hatred and, on the other, absurdly self-serving claims of ‘Islamophobia’ hurled at everyone from Salman Rushdie to Tom Holland. It is a large gray area where you may sometimes find, say, the likes of Sam Harris or Martin Amis. I have been highly critical of both; not because they are bigots in any reasonable sense of the word but because their arguments often so lack nuance, and are so bereft of context, that they both provide intellectual ammunition for bigots and can become a means of mainstreaming bigoted arguments.

Much of the problem arises from the way that the debate about Islam is filtered through the lens of the ‘clash of civilizations’, the claim that there is a fundamental civilizational difference between Islam and the West that will, in the words of Samuel Huntingdon, the American political scientist who popularized the term, set the ‘battle lines of the future’, unleashing a war ‘far more fundamental’ than any ignited by ‘differences among political ideologies and political regimes’. The ‘clash of civilizations’ is a threadbare argument, but it is part of a genuine academic debate. It is also the frame through which the ‘otherness’ of Muslims is established, a frame within which both popular discussion and the arguments of the bigots, including tellingly those of Islamists, have developed.

The academic arguments need challenging. So do popular perceptions, and the arguments of the bigots, too. The academic debate is clearly distinct from the popular discourse which in turn is separate from the claims of the bigots. Yet not only does each shade into the other, but the academic debate also provides the intellectual foundation for both the popular discussion and for the arguments of the bigots.

The real issue we need to address, then, is not so much where to draw a distinction between ‘legitimate’ and ‘illegitimate’ criticism, as how to remake the very framework within which Islam is viewed, a framework that helps define both mainstream and bigoted ideas. Or, to put it another way, we should stop being so obsessed by the distinction between legitimate criticism and Islamophobia, and start thinking about how an obsession with both Islam and Islamophobia distorts our culture and our debates.

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Housemartin shits on Cameron

November 21, 2013 at 7:11 pm (Champagne Charlie, comedy, culture, David Cameron, populism, song, Tory scum, trivia)

Politicians trying to sound like hep cats are always amusing. And as Anthony Blair Esq eventually found out, they usually end up looking like pillocks.

This is from today’s Times report on Hull winning City of Culture status for 2017:

“Yesterday’s announcement drew attention to the city’s long list of high achievers, although one of them reacted badly when named by David Cameron during Prime Minister’s Questions. Mr Cameron cited Hull’s ‘fantastic record’ in popular music. ‘I remember some years ago that great Hull Housemartins album London 0, Hull 4,’ he said.

“Paul Heaton, lead singer of the band, responded on Twitter: ‘When I took over my pub in Salford, the first people I banned were Cameron and Osborne. That ban still stands.’ He said that the Prime Minister ‘ruined my day’ and rebutted criticism that he had passed judgement without meeting Mr Cameron or the Chancellor. ‘You don’t need to smell s*** to know it stinks,’ he wrote

“Lord Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister who served as MP for Hull East for 30 years, responded jubilantly by referring to one of Mr Heaton’s songs. ‘It’s happy hour again!’ he said.”

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TSSA: the Basket Case of British Trade Unionism

November 21, 2013 at 12:55 am (Guest post, transport, unions, workers)

Guest post by Merle Stotten

This is the first of a series of articles about the TSSA. Part Two will appear online on Thursday, 28th November.

Part One: Bosses Stay, Workers Go.

On 13th November the TSSA trade union’s senior management team announced an organisational ‘restructuring’ under which over one in three jobs – 22.5 posts out of the current complement of 63.5 – is to be axed.

This plan to slash jobs by over a third was in marked contrast to a statement issued to TSSA staff and members by the union’s General Secretary less than two months earlier, following the collapse of merger talks with Unite:

“Your Executive Committee has agreed to undertake a wide-ranging review … to ensure that we continue to function in a way that safeguards your future. We currently have an ongoing operating deficit, (but) we also have significant assets to ensure that your livelihoods continue to be protected.”

Ironically, one of the reasons for the collapse of the merger talks given by the General Secretary in his statement was that if the merger had gone ahead as envisaged by Unite, then it “would have undoubtedly led to a significant reduction in staff headcount.”

But “a significant reduction in staff headcount” is precisely what lies at the core of the restructuring document. The goal of the planned restructuring is to reduce salary costs from the over 98% of membership income (2012 figure) to around 60% of membership income:

“This is not a reorganisation designed to take advantage of new-found opportunities, merger, diversification, growth, specialisation, integration or any other adjective commonly used to justify organisational change.”

The fact that the document had been produced by a senior management team that could not even tell the difference between a noun and an adjective was the least of its failings.

A GMB newsletter – the GMB is the union recognised by the TSSA for collective bargaining on behalf of its employees – summed up the double standards at the heart of the proposed re-structuring:

“The financial difficulties in which TSSA now finds itself are significantly the result of decisions made by senior management over the last few years. Yet it is other staff who are being made to pay the price for these failures.”

“Higher grades are more likely to be protected, and lower grades more likely to have their jobs cut or relocated.”

“Grades 1-3 have been slashed by nearly 50%, with an additional impact due to changes of location. Grades 4-5 are cut by around a third, with a significant further impact because of location changes. This is in addition to the proposal to downgrade all grade 5 Organiser posts.”

“By comparison, amongst senior grades there is only one proposed post cut, with the new structure having three Assistant General Secretaries for 41 staff and 22,000 members.”

For several years past TSSA has suffered from a growing disconnect between income and expenditure. As the 2012 Annual Report put it: “For well over ten years the TSSA has incurred a series of operating deficits – its membership income was somewhat less than its day-to-day operating costs.”

Somewhat less than??? Read the rest of this entry »

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Iraq’s workers deserve better than this

November 20, 2013 at 12:50 am (Eric Lee, internationalism, iraq, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

From LabourStart:

In the more than ten years since the fall of the Saddam regime, the Iraqi people have been disappointed, to say the least, with the promises of democracy, peace and prosperity.  

The country’s trade unions, reborn as independent organizations after the American-led invasion, continue to suffer under the repressive laws passed by the Saddam dictatorship.

That’s incredible, but true.  Saddam’s laws banning most union activity remain in force.

The IndustriALL Global Union and the International Trade Union Confederation have launched an online campaign demanding change — please take a moment to lend your support:

http://www.industriall-union.org/iraqi-workers-need-good-laws-now

It’s not all bad news, though.  Oil union leader Hassan Juma’a has just had charges against him thrown out of court earlier this month.  Read one account of this important victory here.

To learn more about the Iraqi labour movement, there’s no better place to start than the wonderful book Hadi Never Died: Hadi Saleh and the Iraqi Trade Unions which was published by the British Trades Union Congress.

This beautifully illustrated paperback is still available from LabourStart for just £10.00 (including postage to anywhere in the world).  Order your copy today – click here.

And finally, to stay on top of all the latest labour news from Iraq, make sure to bookmark our Iraqi labour news page.

Thanks very much

Eric Lee

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Cycling Investment: Spokes Autumn Public Meeting – 19 Nov

November 18, 2013 at 11:51 pm (Cycling, Rosie B, transport)

The Scottish Government has announced a welcome increase in cycling investment in the 14/15 draft budget – but funding drops again in 15/16 and in any case is nowhere near enough to meet the government’s own ambition for 10% of all journeys in Scotland to be by bike by 2020…

What is needed for investment in cycling and active travel as a whole in Scotland, and how can we campaign for that?  Find out what’s happening and get your ideas over at our autumn public meeting…

The Panel

Alison Johnstone MSP  –  Co-convener of the Scottish Parliament Cross-Party Cycling Group, initiator of the Parliament’s first ever debate on cycling and a Spokes member.    Alison will chair the meeting and hopes to take back to the Parliament ideas and enthusiasms from the meeting.

John Lauder  –  Director of Sustrans Scotland.  John will summarise their current work with Councils and other bodies across Scotland, and what could happen if (or when!) government funding for cycling reaches European levels

Sara Dorman  –  a Pedal on Parliament organiser, Spokes member and a public representative on Edinburgh City Council’s Transport Forum.  Sara will talk from a PoP perspective on the need for greater active travel investment and what it could achieve.

Tom Ballantine  –  Chair of Stop Climate Chaos Scotland and board member of Scotland’s 2020 Climate Group.  Tom will outline the SCCS campaign for a doubling of Scottish Government active travel investment from 1% to 2% of the transport budget in 2014/15, rising to 10% by 2020 so that the meeting can discuss what we can all do to push for change
When, Where, What

Date: Tuesday 19 November
Time:  7.30 – open 6.45 for coffee, stall, exhibition and chat
Venue:  Barclay Viewforth Church, Bruntsfield Place, Edinburgh

Poster here.

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‘Stop the War’ and Mother Agnès: the strange case of John Rees and Assad’s Nun

November 18, 2013 at 7:09 pm (apologists and collaborators, Catholicism, Christianity, conspiracy theories, ex-SWP, Human rights, John Rees, Lindsey German, Middle East, murder, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", religion, stalinism, Stop The War, strange situations, Syria)

Thanks to Comrade Coatesy and also Bob from Brockley for drawing this bizarre business to my attention. You don’t need to be a supporter of the Syrian rebels (certainly, neither Coatesy nor us at Shiraz are) to be appalled at people like Newman’s Socialist Unity blog and Rees’ Stop the War pimping for Assad’s fascistic regime. The following comes from Tendance Coatesy:

Mother Agnès-Mariam de la Croix will not be attending the Stop the War Coalition’s International Anti-War Conference on the 30th of November.

It seems that two speakers due to speak at the event – Owen Jones and Jeremy Scahill – threatened not to come unless her invitation was withdrawn.

The Stop the War Coalition announced on Saturday,

Over the last few days a campaign has developed over the invitation we extended to Mother Agnes — a nun from Syria, who leads a campaign called Mussalaha (Reconciliation) — to speak in London at the International Anti-War Conference on 30 November organised by Stop the War Coalition.

Mother Agnes has now withdrawn from speaking at the conference.

In inviting speakers to participate in its events, Stop the War has never sought to endorse all their views. We have always provided a platform for a diversity of opinions within a broad anti-war perspective.

John Wight of Socialist Unity writes today,

She has been demonised by her detractors as a ‘pro regime stooge’ due to her support for Assad and his government. But why wouldn’t she? As with the majority of Syrians who support their government – and none more so than Syria’s various minority communities – she understands that the only force capable of preventing her country being turned into a killing field by western and Saudi backed savages is the Syrian Government, the Syrian Arab Army and its allies.

The BBC reports on Mother Agnès-Mariam (Extracts)

In recent weeks she has become the focus of media attention because of her attempt to prove to the world that Syrian opposition activists fabricated the videos showing victims of the Damascus chemical attack.

She argues the horrifying scenes – of men, women and children either dead or dying from inhaling sarin gas – which caused such international outrage were stage-managed.

The BBC’s Richard Galpin  spoke to Mother Agnes.

Mother Superior Agnes Mariam de la Croix sprinkles blessings liberally over our conversation.

I’ve phoned her to request an interview about her strange role as an analyst of the chemical weapons attack in Damascus.

In her most startling conclusion she alleges some of the people seen in the videos are in fact women and children abducted by rebels from minority Alawite areas of the country. President Bashar al-Assad and his family belong to this community.

The BBC asks, “So how credible are the claims made by Mother Agnes which have been so eagerly seized upon by Moscow as it still tries to save the Assad regime?”

There’s just no basis for the claims advanced by Mother Agnes,” says Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director of Human Rights Watch, which has produced many detailed reports on Syria.

“She is not a professional video forensic analyst… we have found no evidence to indicate any of the videos were fabricated.”

One by one, Mr Bouckaert rejected the claims, saying:

  • There were tens of thousands of civilians trapped in the Ghouta area of Damascus, according to very regular reports received by Human Rights Watch
  • Children were often sleeping in the basements of buildings in significant concentrations because of the intense shelling and that is why so many died (Sarin gas accumulates at low levels)
  • The dead and those injured in the chemical attack were moved from place to place and room to room both at the clinics and ultimately for burial
  • There were many men and women who were victims of the attacks. But there were separate rooms for the bodies of children, men and women so they could be washed for burial
  • Almost all of the victims have been buried

Human rights researchers have spoken to the relatives of Alawite women and children abducted by rebels. None of them said they had recognised their loved ones in the gas attack videos

It is perhaps not a coincidence that arch-conspiracy theorist lunatics  Lyndon LaRouche’s group have diffused (November the 14th) a video of an interview with Mother Agnès-Mariam.

Bob from Brockley has been following this controversy closely.

He comments (yesterday),

Her invitation provoked outrage from Syrians and supporters of the Syrian revolution, as “Mother Agnes” has been a widely disseminated mouthpiece for the Assad regime’s propaganda, including vigorously denying some of Assad’s war crimes. (Of pictures of dead children in Ghouta, for example, she claims they are only sleeping.) Her lies are widely promoted by Russian media sources, by Christian news agencies, and by the LaRouche network. There are also live allegations about her own involvement in war crimes, and in the regime murder of journalists. Below the fold, I have pasted some information about her, but some good starting points are Linux BeachDemocratic Revolution, and Pulse.

The Stop the War Coalition could do without this kind of “opinion” amongst its “diversity”.

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John Palmer on the socialist case for European integration – even under capitalism

November 17, 2013 at 9:58 pm (Anti-Racism, capitalist crisis, Civil liberties, Europe, fascism, Guardian, internationalism, posted by JD, UKIP)

Ordinarily, we don’t republish articles from the bourgeois press, as you can read them for yourself. But this one, from John Palmer (a leading IS member in the early 1970’s) in the Graun, is so good and so important that we’re making an exception. The idiot-left such as the the Morning Star and  Bob Crow, who intends to squander RMT members’ dues on a  useless, reactionary campaign, should take note:

Picture of John Palmer

Above: John Palmer

The rise of far right parties across Europe is a chilling echo of the 1930s

Since the global banking crisis in 2007, commentators across the political spectrum have confidently predicted not only the imminent collapse of the euro, but sooner or later an unavoidable implosion of the European Union itself. None of this has come to pass. But the European project, launched after the devastation of the second world war, faces the most serious threat in its history. That threat was chillingly prefigured this week by the launch of a pan-European alliance of far-right parties, led by the French National Front and the Dutch Freedom party headed by Geert Wilders, vowing to slay “the monster in Brussels”.

Of course, the growth in support for far-right, anti-European, anti-immigrant parties has been fed by the worst world recession since at least the 1930s – mass unemployment and falling living standards, made worse by the self-defeating austerity obsession of European leaders. Parties that skulked in the shadows, playingdown their sympathies with fascism and Nazism are re-emerging, having given themselves a PR facelift. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French NF, plays down the antisemitic record of her party. The Dutch far-right leader has ploughed a slightly different furrow, mobilising fear and hostility not against Jews but Muslim immigrants. Like Le Pen, Wilders focuses on the alleged cosmopolitan threat to national identity from the European Union. It is a chorus echoed in other countries by the Danish People’s party, the Finns party and the Flemish Vlaams Belang, among others.

For now, the French and Dutch populists are carefully keeping their distance from openly neo-Nazi parties such as Golden Dawn, whose paramilitary Sturmabteilung has terrorised refugees and immigrants in Greece, and the swaggering Hungarian Jobbik, which targets the Roma minority.

According to some pollsters, the far right might win as many as a third of European parliament seats in elections next May. That would still leave the centre parties – Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Liberals – with many more members. But for the European parliament to form a credible majority, all of these parties might well be forced much closer together than is good for democracy.

Such a situation would be unsettlingly reminiscent of 1936, when the centre and the left – notably in France – temporarily halted the swing to fascism but formed an unprincipled and ineffective coalition. Its collapse on the eve of the second world war accelerated the advent of Phillippe Petain’s Nazi-collaborating regime. History does not normally repeat itself in an automatic fashion, but it would be foolish to take the risk.

More worrying than the growth of the far right are the temporising gestures to the racists and anti-immigrants now coming from mainstream Conservative and even Liberal Democrat politicians and from some of the new “Blue Labour” ideologues. The warning from the likes of David Blunkett that hostility to Roma immigrants might lead to a popular “explosion” is reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s rhetoric.

An antidote to the far right requires that the European left articulates and pursues a comprehensive alternative to economic stagnation, an ever-widening income and wealth gap and the degradation of our social standards, civil liberties and democratic rights. But that alternative has to be fought for at European as well as national and local levels, and will require more, not less, European integration.

Time is running out, not only for the European Social Democrats, but also for the wider socialist left and the greens, to show they can create a counterbalance to the rightward drift of the centre. Without that, the new far-right alliance may only have to hold together and wait for its hour to strike.

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Grangemouth: the left’s unserious response

November 16, 2013 at 7:31 pm (AWL, ex-SWP, left, political groups, posted by JD, scotland, Socialist Party, SWP, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Given the importance of the Grangemouth dispute, the scale of the defeat and the implictions for British trade unionism, we make no apology for returning yet again to the subject. This article by Dale Street, analysing the pathetically inadequate, self-deluding and unserious response of much of the British left, first appeared in the AWL‘s paper Solidarity.

Stevie Deans inside Unite's office at the Grangemouth facility, September 2013.

Above: Stevie Deans in his Grangemouth office

The Unite union’s defeat by Ineos at the Grangemouth oil refinery and petrochemicals plant in Scotland merits serious analysis and discussion by socialist organisations. We need to understand what happened and draw appropriate lessons in order to minimise the risk of such defeats in future.

Much of the left press has been desperate to spin a narrative of a militant workforce champing at the bit to take radical action, but being held back (and, ultimately, stitched up and sold out) by a capitulatory bureaucracy.

Workers Power told us: “The workers and their shop stewards, who bravely campaigned for a ‘No’ vote (i.e. rejection of the new terms and conditions), refused to be blackmailed.” By contrast, “McCluskey shamefully fled the battlefield at the first threat from Ineos billionaire boss, Jim Ratcliffe.”

The WP version of reality continued: “What followed (after Ineos announced closure) was an utter disgrace to trade unionism and a total betrayal of the loyalty of the workforce to its union. So-called socialist general secretary and darling of most of the left, Len McCluskey, not only accepted all of Ineos’ demands but ‘embraced’ a deal that extended the strike ban for three years.”

A common pattern. But is it what happened in this case? A statement by Ineos Unite convenor Mark Lyon said: “I made the call to accept the company terms and it was not at all easy. The decision was made by me but with the full endorsement of our stewards and our members. I make no apology to anyone for this decision.

“It is our judgement that they (Ineos) were prepared to close the site down and our members preferred to keep their jobs and take a hit on terms with the plan to work our way back.”

“Len McCluskey came to Grangemouth to give us support and solidarity. He did that but did not make this decision… we did.”

The eventual deal at Grangemouth represents a huge setback for workers, but it is simply not consistent with facts to suggest it was foisted on an unwilling workforce from above by Unite’s national leadership.

Both Socialist Worker and the International Socialist Network paint a similar picture, with both deeming Unite’s affiliation to the Labour Party a central cause. Socialist Worker said: “Despite McCluskey’s often fiery rhetoric, his strategy rests on winning a Labour election victory, not on workers’ struggle.” And, according to the ISN, “Unite’s leadership was still distracted, playing games in the Labour Party. Not only did they lose those games, they took their eyes off what was happening to their actual members.”

The SWP and ISN’s starting point is not an analysis of the actual events at Grangemouth, but their own position on the Labour Party (that it is an irrelevance and a diversion, and that no struggle against its leaders using the existing Labour-union link is possible). The facts are then interpreted to justify the preconceived position.

Such an approach entails ignoring events in the real world which contradict that “analysis”. Thus, when Mark Lyon’s statement was posted on the ISN website over a week ago, the response from the ISN was… not to respond at all.

This was despite the fact that the person who posted Mark Lyon’s statement was the author of the article which it contradicted! But what did reality matter for the ISN when compared with an opportunity for (inaccurate) denunciation?

And if events at Grangemouth unfolded as claimed by the SWP and the ISN, then one would expect no shortage of Unite members in Grangemouth to be criticising their leadership (at plant, Scottish and national level).

But neither the SWP nor the ISN articles (or any other article written from the same angle) carry any quotes from Unite members in Grangemouth criticising their leaders for having sold them out.

In fact, the best that the SWP could come up with by way of a Unite activist providing the obligatory statements about “bullying bastard bosses” and “what was needed was to occupy the plant” was a Unite convenor in Donnington in Shropshire (who has been providing similar on-cue and on-message quotes to the SWP for over a decade).

The ISN’s references to “playing games in the Labour Party” and Unite taking its eyes off “what was happening to their actual members” merit particular attention.

The mainstream media, the Tory leadership, and Tory strategists like Lynton Crosby have launched countless attacks on Unite’s alleged activities in Falkirk Labour Party, using them as their central conduit for their attacks on the Labour Party.

But the ISN majestically dismisses the focus of those attacks (i.e. Unite’s involvement in the local Labour Party) as a mere case of Unite “playing games”.

ISN is right to insist that Unite focus on what’s happening “to their actual members”. But one of those “actual members” is Stevie Deans.

When Unite defended him — not just in Ineos against management’s attacks. but also in the Labour Party against attacks by party officials — it was not getting bogged down in “playing games in the Labour Party”. It was defending one of its “actual members” — which is what trade unions are meant to do.

In contrast to the above analyses, the Socialist Party (SP) focused heavily and sympathetically on the dilemma facing shop stewards in the plant itself. But it too approached the situation by looking for opportunities to justify its own dogmatic and sectarian position on Labour. Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, the SP said, were “holding the union back,” Labour “does not support workers in struggle,” and Unite should therefore “come out clearly in favour of a new mass workers party.”

In other words: Unite should pull out of the Labour Party in exchange for… the SP’s spectacularly unsuccessful Trade Union and Socialist Coalition.

The other curiosity about the SP’s analysis was what was not in it: a call for a general strike.

This was not an oversight. The SP leaflet distributed at the rally in Grangemouth on 20 October also made no mention of a general strike. Nor did the SP’s model motion for union branch meetings, drafted in response to Ineos’ announcement of closure of the plant.

For the SP, a general strike is something to demand in motions to TUC congresses and trade union conferences or when Cameron suffers a defeat in Parliament (e.g. over Syria). But when a potential major industrial and political dispute looms on the horizon — the call for a general strike suddenly disappears. Perhaps the reason is that it’s a sloganistic article-of-faith designed to catch a mood, rather than a serious strategy proposal.

What characterises much of the left analysis of Unite’s defeat in Grangemouth is:

• Substituting a simplistic notion of workers-want-to-fight-but-leaders-sell-out for serious analysis (and, even if that simplistic notion were true, failing to explain how the leaders managed to get away with selling out such a highly organised workforce).

• Adapting their analysis in order to fit in with their own pet themes and hobbyhorses.

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The hottest jazz record ever made?

November 15, 2013 at 4:15 pm (BBC, jazz, Jim D, music, New Orleans, Sheer joy)

Us old jazzers love discussing the perennial question of the ‘hottest’ record of all time. Alyn Shipton at Radio 3’s Jazz Record Requests has asked for suggestions. The definition of ‘hot’ in this context is (like the word ‘swing’ or indeed ‘jazz’) not at all easy to pin down. But we know it when we hear it. It doesn’t necessarily just mean ‘up-tempo,’ though a brisk pace is usually a requirement. It’s to do with intensity, drive and raw excitement.

Philip Larkin reckoned that Louis Armstrong’s 1929 recording of St. Louis Blues was the Hottest Record Of All Time, and I’m inclined to agree. But leaving that aside, what other contenders are there?

I’d put forward Hello Lola by the Mound City Blue Blowers (1929), Bugle Call Rag by the Billy Banks Rhythmakers (1932), That’s A’ Plenty by Wild Bill Davison (1943), and this (which I’ve suggested to Alyn and should be played on JRR this Saturday):

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Matgamna on Irish Catholics, Muslims, and the Left

November 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm (AWL, Catholicism, communalism, From the archives, history, immigration, Ireland, Islam, islamism, left, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, stalinism)

Sean Matgamna.jpg

My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:

The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now

There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.

For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.

Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.

Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.

The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.

The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.

The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.

We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)

For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.

In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.

(from the Workers Liberty website)

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