Bob Hoskins, who died today aged 71, was a great character actor and, in life, one of the good guys. A working class lad, he started his career (accidently and, by his own account, drunkenly) at the left-wing Unity Theatre in 1969. Colleagues who worked with him on one of his last films, Made in Dagenham, (2010) confirm that he was passionate about the film’s main themes of working class women’s rights and trade unionism.
Although he specialised in tough-guys and gangsters, he always managed to convey a sense of vulnerability and even innocence in these roles. – as in the memorable closing scene of his first major film success, The Long Good Friday (1981):
Perhaps his finest role as the tough-with-a heart was as the small-time crook who falls in love with Cathy Tyson’s character in Neil Jordan’s Mona Lisa (1986):
In fact, reflecting on his work over the years, I find it difficult to decide on a favourite. His role as the Chandleresque private dick in Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988) is a personal favourite, but in the end I’d have to plump for his first major TV role, as the doomed sheet music salesman in Dennis Potter’s masterpiece, Pennies From Heaven (1978):
So long, Bob
Above, from the left: Charles Glass (freelance journalist), Seymour Hersh (‘investigative’ ‘journalist’), Robert Fisk (Middle East ‘correspondent’ for The Independent), and John Pilger (conspiracy theorist). A panel discussion on “Reporting War” at Low Library Rotunda of Columbia University, April 14, 2006
Yassin al-Haj Saleh is a Syrian writer who spent 16 years in the regime’s prisons. In this exclusive for PULSE, Saleh, who has been described as the “conscience of Syria“, discusses the distorted lens through which most people are viewing the conflict:
By Yassin al-Haj Saleh at the Pulse website:
In the West, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh are considered critical journalists. They occupy dissident positions in the English-speaking press. Among Syrians, however, they are viewed very differently.
The problem with their writings on Syria is that it is deeply centered on the West. The purported focus of their analysis – Syria, its people and the current conflict – serves only as backdrop to their commentary where ordinary Syrians are often invisible. For Fisk and Hersh the struggle in Syria is about ancient sects engaged in primordial battle. What really matters for them are the geopolitics of the conflict, specifically where the US fits into this picture.
On the topic of chemical weapons, Fisk and Hersh, completely ignore the antecedents of last summer’s attack on Ghouta .
A reader who relies exclusively on Fisk/Hersh for their understanding of Syria would never know that the Assad regime had used chemical weapons several times before the August 21, 2013 massacre in Ghouta. I was there at the time. I saw victims of sarin gas on two occasions in Eastern Ghouta and I met doctors treating them. The victims were from Jobar, which was hit with chemical weapons in April 2013 and from Harasta, which was hit in May 2013.
It is shocking that investigative journalists such as Fisk and Hersh know nothing about these attacks. They write as if Ghouta was the first time chemical weapons were used in Syria. Their credibility and objectivity is compromised by these omissions.
For these renowned commentators, the entire Middle East is reducible to geopolitical intrigue. There are no people; there is only the White House, the CIA, the British Government, Recep Tayyib Erdogan, the Emir of Qatar, the Iranian regime and of course Bashar Assad and the jihadis.
In Fisk’s myriad articles, one rarely reads about ordinary Syrians (the observation also applies to the late Patrick Seale).
Robert Fisk was once a scourge of American reporters embedding with US forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But he saw no irony in himself embedding with Syria regime forces as they entered Daraya in August 2012.
More than 500 people were killed in a massacre at that time (245 according to Fisk). Who killed them? The rebels, determined Fisk based solely on interviews with regime detainees. Why should local fighters kill hundreds from their own community? Robert Fisk does not provide an answer. Had he spoken to a single citizen without his minders present, he would have learned that they had no doubts about the regime’s responsibility. Indeed, it was an American journalist, Janine di Giovanni, who established that fact shortly thereafter by visiting Daraya on her own.
At the same time when this was happening Human Rights Watch documented ten attacks on bread queues around Aleppo. Fisk did not mention a single one.
During this time Fisk visited a security center in Damascus where he was welcomed by a security official. He was given access to four jihadi fighters, two Syrians and two foreigners. Fisk made a point of mentioning that the prisoners were allowed family visits. As someone who spent 16 years in Assad’s jails and who has firsthand knowledge of these factories of death, I find this claim highly improbable. Fisk’s credulity is risible; he is assisting a shameful attempt to beautify the ugly polices of the House of Assad.
Why has Robert Fisk never attempted to contact people of Eastern Ghouta to ask them what happened there last August? It would have been easy for a person as well-connected as he to convince his friends in the regime, such as Assad’s media adviser Buthaina Shaaban, to facilitate his entrance to the besieged town. He could have met ordinary people for a change without the intimidating presence of regime minders and found out for himself who used the chemical weapons that killed 1466 people, including more than 400 children.
Ignoring local sources of information on the conflict in Syria seems to be a standard practice among many in the West, especially among left wing and liberal commentators. This speaks volumes about their ideological bias. Their dogmatic self-assurance with its veneer of professionalism is not substantively different than the obscurantist self-righteousness of the jihadis.
The Hersh/Fisk narrative unfolds in a historical vacuum: it tells you nothing about the history and character of the regime. You will not learn that the regime has used collective punishment as a policy since the very beginning of the Syrian revolt. That it has used fighter jets, barrel bombs and scud missiles against civilians to cow them; that it has invited foreigners from Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and other countries to assist in the slaughter.
Nor will you learn about a flourishing death industry in the very places to which Fisk is a welcome visitor. Three months ago he penned an article about Assad’s systematic killing of the detainees in his dungeons, but Fisk reported on this topic in a way that gives us a biopsy of his professional conscience.
Fisk prefaces his report on the regime’s atrocities by warning readers about the horrors that may soon exist “if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds.” For most, the significant fact about the photos was the industrial scale killings inside Assad’s jails that they evidenced. But Fisk appeared more obsessed with the timing of the photos, as they appeared a day before the Geneva 2 Conference. Fisk may have been reminded of Nazi Germany by the horrific fate of the 11,000 prisoners, but he still found occasion to expatiate at length about Qatar, whose “royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad”, for funding the investigation. For Fisk, the atrocities were a mere detail in a larger conspiracy whose real victim was Assad’s regime.
To the uninitiated, Fisk’s article might convey the impression that those 11,000 were all that were killed by Assad’s regime and the 20,000 killed in Hama in 1982 were all that that were killed by his father’s. The actual number of victims is eleven times as many for Assad and twice as many for his father. Moreover, these figures ignore the tens of thousands arrested, tortured, and jailed, and the millions who have been humiliated by this regime
By methodically ignoring the Syrian people and by focusing on Al Qaeda, Robert Fisk and Seymour Hersh have done us all a huge disservice. The perspective on Syria portrayed by these writers is exactly the view of Syria that Bashaar Assad wants the rest of the world to see.
– Yassin al-Haj Saleh (born in Raqqa in 1961) is one of Syria’s most prominent political dissidents. In 1980, when he was studying medicine in Aleppo, he was imprisoned for his membership in a pro-democracy group and remained behind bars until 1996. He writes on political, social and cultural subjects relating to Syria and the Arab world for several Arab newspapers and journals outside of Syria, and regularly contributes to the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, the Egyptian leftist magazine Al-Bosla, and the Syrian online periodical The Republic. Among Saleh’s books (all in Arabic) are Syria in the Shadow: Glimpses Inside the Black Box (2009), Walking on One Foot (2011), a collection of 52 essays written between 2006 and 2010, Salvation O Boys: 16 Years in Syrian Prisons (2012), The Myths of the Others: A Critique of Contemporary Islam and a Critique of the Critique (2012), and Deliverance or Destruction? Syria at a Crossroads (2014). In 2012 he was granted the Prince Claus Award as “a tribute to the Syrian people and the Syrian revolution”. He was not able to collect the award, as he was living in hiding in the underground in Damascus.
H/t: Gene at That Place
An urgent message from Eric Lee of LabourStart :
Turkey’s first mass May Day demonstrations in Istanbul’s Taksim Square took place in 1976, with the participation of hundreds of thousands. A year later, half a million people took part — but 37 were killed by gunfire.
No one has ever been prosecuted for this crime, and for decades the government banned May Day celebrations in Taksim. Attempts to meet there have been met by tear gas, violence and arrests.
The violence peaked in last year when hundreds were injured.
This year, when unions including DISK, KESK and the Chambers of Medicine and Engineers announced that they would once again attempt to commemorate May Day in Taksim, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded by announcing a ban on the event.
When union leaders attempted to hold a small press conference in late April (pictured above), police responded with tear gas and more arrests.
Turkey’s trade unionists are demanding their right to celebrate May Day peacefully in Taksim Square, to commemorate the martyrs from 1977, and to call for trade union freedom, a more democratic society, an end to precarious work and better working conditions.
Please support them:
It will take you less than one minute to send off your message of protest to Prime Minister Erdoğan — click here to do this: http://www.labourstart.org/go/taksim
Spread the word about this campaign to your friends, family and fellow union members email this, and post the link to the campaign on Facebook, Twitter and other social networks. If your union has a mailing list, please send on this message to as many members as you can. Time is short. May Day is only two days away. Our brothers and sisters in Istanbul need our help right now.
A strike broke out on 22nd April in the coalmines belonging to Rinat Akhmetov in the Lugansk region (in the south-east of Ukraine). Two thousand miners besieged the management offices and demanded a pay rise. Is this a sign that the direction of the Ukrainian protests is changing?
According to Andrei Ishchenko, a member of the united-socialist organization “Left Opposition” and co-ordinator of the Workers Defence Committee of Odessa:
“Until now it was difficult to call the protests in the south-east class protests. They were dominated by Russian-nationalist slogans and reactionary-abstract ideas. But now the situation can change radically.”
“In my opinion, the pro-Russian direction of the protests in south-east Ukraine is beginning to dissipate, and there are objective reasons for this.”
“Initially, the main goal of the protestors was unification with the Russian Federation. All the talk about a referendum and federalization – with a Russian flag in the background – was, of course, nothing more than an attempt to give the protest the appearance of a certain legality.”
“But the real role of Russia has become clear to many participants in the “anti-Maidan” protests. It is intervening in the situation just as much as it needs in order to keep the protests half-alive for the purpose of accomplishing its geo-political tasks.”
“The unrest in the south-east can be used (by Russia) for bargaining with the west, and as a means of putting pressure on the weakened authorities in Kiev.”
“It seems that the miners in Krasnodon (city close to the mines) have understood who their real enemy is.”
“Few people now believe in unification with Russia. The pro-Russian protest has exhausted itself from within. Deprived of goals and of any meaning, it is simply dying away. But at the same time, Ukraine is in the grip of a profound economic collapse.”
“The participants in the protests are disappointed now not just in the policies of the Kiev authorities but also in those of Putin’s Russia. More and more they are turning to their own basic problems: the exchange rate of the hryvnia (Ukrainian currency), local rates of pay, and prices in supermarkets and petrol stations.”
“These are of much greater concern to people than problems of language or big questions of geo-politics. Let’s hope that that protests will now gradually take on a different meaning, and that there will be no more empty chants about “Glory-to-Ukraine – Glory-to-Russia”!
Additional information about Rinat Akhmetov and the miners’ strike:
Rinat Akhmetov is the richest man in Ukraine, worth somewhere between $7 billions and $17 billions. He claims that he accumulated his wealth through commercial risk-taking.
Investigations by the Ukrainian government, on the other hand, have identified him as the leader of an organized crime syndicate. In 2005 Achmetov fled to Monaco, but returned the following year after an investigation into his financial activities was killed off by the Yanukovich government.
Akhmetov is also a prominent member and financial benefactor of Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions, and a former MP for the party. Like all good Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs, he owns a football club (Shachtar Donetsk).
(His predecessor as club president was, alas, killed in an unsolved bombing assassination in 1995.)
The current strike involves miners in five pits owned by “Krasnodon Coal”, one of Akhmetov’s many business subsidiaries. The decision to strike was taken by a mass meeting held in Krasnodon’s main square at four o’clock in the afternoon on 22nd April.
2,000 miners then ‘laid siege’ to the company’s offices overnight, demanding that their rates of pay be raised to the average rate of pay for miners in the Donbas. For footage of the ‘siege, see: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rTPa3YSkOCA
(The chant is: “(Put the money) On the Table!”)
According to one of the striking miners:
“Yesterday (22nd April) there was a meeting in Krasnodon about the referendum and there was some other meeting. But 22nd of the month is when we get an advance payment on our salary. We each got a thousand hryvnia.”
“But prices have gone up in the last week – petrol is dearer, bread is dearer. Then one of the lads said: ‘Let’s demand a pay rise.’ And we backed him. Top pay here is 6,000 hryvnia, but the average in the Donbas for anyone working at the pit face is between 8,000 and 10,000 hryvnia.”
The strikers have not raised any political demands.
The separatist movement in south-east Ukraine has also been condemned by Nikolai Volynko, leader of the Independent Trade Union of Donbas Miners:
“As far as separatism is concerned, these issues could have been closed off a long time ago, if it had not been for these anti-terrorist campaigns, with their opening phases, medium phases, concluding phases, stops and postponements. And with every phase, more and more regional offices are seized.”
“The local authorities are on the side of the separatists because they have unofficially been promised that they will all remain in their posts if anything changes in terms of Russia. The time has come to be open in our resistance.”
“The central authorities are behaving indecisively, very indecisively. The local forces are not helping the army. What is left for us, the people of the Donbas, to do? Are we to wait until the authorities are kind enough to conduct another anti-terrorist operation? But what phase, or what stage, will the pregnancy be at the next time?”
“We will resist!”
Guest post by Roger McCarthy
BBC Scotland has produced a programme on Helen Crawfurd which I highly recommend for as long as it is available on iplayer (2 PM on 29th April).
Born in Glasgow in 1877 Helen had a respectable Victorian lower middle class upbringing with staunchly Tory parents, initially dreamed of becoming a missionary and married at 21 a Presbyterian minister who was old enough to be her grandfather.
However (at least as she recalls it from her autobiography written around 1950) her Christianity always had a radical and socialist bent which led her into the women’s suffrage movement – and inspired by her husband’s preaching of the text where Jesus chases the moneychangers from the temple the Sunday before a big suffragette ‘raid’ she gravitated into its most radical direct action wing.
This led the respectable minister’s wife into multiple stints in prison for throwing rocks through the Liberal education minister’s window and that of an army recruiting office, for setting off a small bomb at the Botanic Gardens and ‘inflammatory language’ and went on hunger strike three times.
After the death of her husband and the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 she was appalled by the transformation of most of her radical suffragette comrades into white feather waving militarists and threw herself into Red Clydeside’s anti-war movement – joining the Glasgow women’s rent strike campaign in 1915, confronting her former idol Christabelle Pankhurst at a recruiting rally and becoming an increasingly prominent and militant member of the Scottish ILP, the Women’s International League and the Women’s Peace Crusade winning a reputation as one of Red Clydeside’s fieriest orators.
She also acted at some point (probably in the summer or latter part of 1915) as a courier between James Connolly and his old SLP comrades in Glasgow who around this time had taken over the printing of The Workers Republic and met Connolly himself and other Republicans in Dublin.
The October Revolution threw her further to the left as the Bolshevik publication of the imperialist secret treaties removed whatever lingering illusions she may still have had about liberal democracies and she was increasingly involved with the internationalist left-wing of the ILP arguing for joining the new Communist International.
And this led this 43-year old Scottish minister’s widow to make the difficult and dangerous pilgrimage to Russia itself in summer 1920, travelling via fishing boat, cargo ship and the Arctic port of Murmansk, meeting up with John Reed in Petrograd who gave her a tour of the revolutionary sights and finally in late August (her autobiography’s chronology is frustratingly vague) arriving in Moscow – a few days too late for the Second Congress of the Comintern itself.
Here her 1950 autobiography is probably less than fully frank as while she met Lenin (which seems to have been a standard feature of a Moscow tour at this point) and Alexandra Kollontai she has nothing to say about any meetings with Zinoviev or Radek or any of the other senior Comintern functionaries who were to become unpersons in the 1930s, but who were hardly likely to have ignored a prominent figure in the ILP who they needed to press for either its accession to the Comintern or the biggest possible split over the issue at its next conference.
She does however have a lot to say about John Reed who she met again in Moscow on his return from the Baku Congress in mid-September and accompanied him and Louise Bryant to the Bolshoi theatre, a night which 30 years later inspired one of the few lyrical passages in her autobiography:
The great Bolshoi Theatre was opened as the autumn days approached and John Reed got tickets for us to attend several performances of opera and ballet… One evening I was seated in a small box near to the great centre box … which had originally been the Czar’s . In the box on my left was an American millionaire named Vanderlip whom John Reed told me had been visiting to see if he could get a concession in Kamchatka for something or other. –
On that evening the Czar’s box was occupied by a delegation of peasants who had come from some of the distant villages for some conference. An old peasant was seated in the centre chair – the Czar’s chair – and around him were the middle aged and young peasant men and women with bright kerchiefs on their heads. I looked at the old peasant with his greying beard and saw the expression of wonder on his face as he gazed at the magnificence and beauty of the scene being enacted on the stage. Then I turned to watch the millionaire in the small box on my left and the words of Mary in the Magnificat came to my mind ‘He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hast exalted those of low degree. Thou hast filled the hungry with good things and the rich thou hast sent empty away’. The old Russian eagle had been removed from the shield on the front of the Czar’s box and the hammer and sickle had taken its place. The men and women who were out in the fields producing the food of Russia were honoured while the American millionaire who wanted to exploit the resources of Russia got a third rate seat. l was on top of the world.
Above: Len McCluskey of Unite (left) and Mark Serwotka of PCS
A report (below) that should be of interest and, perhaps, concern, to members of both Unite and PCS. I have yet to be convinced of the industrial logic of this proposed lash-up. In addition, as PCS is not affiliated to the Labour Party, it could give a boost to those stupid/sectarian elements within Unite who want to disaffiliate from Labour:
“The Special Executive on Thursday agreed to sanction the commencement of
formal talks with PCS, following a period of exploratory talks. This will
not be a merger but a transfer of engagements, in which PCS will agree (or
not agree?) by ballot to join UNITE. Therefore there is not expected to be
any significant change to the Rule Book though it may require minor
technical changes. In other words there is not expected to be any disruption
to UNITE and/or its members and officers/staff as a result of the transfer
“PCS would bring with it some 200,000-230,000 members almost all of whom
would form a new industrial sector in UNITE for civil servants. The
remaining private sector members would be allocated to the appropriate UNITE
industrial sector e.g. GPM and IT Comms? One of the attractions is that
UNITE would be a stronger voice for public sector workers linking up Health,
Local Authority, MOD & Gov Depts with PCS’ Civil Servants. Politically PCS
sees itself as a fighting back union like UNITE and we do not expect
difficulties there. We still do not know what financial liablities this
would bring but due diligence would apply in formal talks and if the
implications are not acceptable this could of course be a deal breaker
“There was a small vote ( 5 or 6?) against the proposal from some UNITE NOW
and other non-UL exec members.”
(From the United Left email list)
By Camila Bassi (at Anaemic On A Bike)
“[…] Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, the West, “us”) and the strange (the Orient, the East, “them”).” (Said, 43)
Edward Said’s book Orientalism (1977) is a retort to his conceptualisation of a dual camp schema of the world called Orientalism, which effectively inverts this dual camp and with a method devoid of class politics. He opens his book with a quote by Karl Marx:
“They cannot represent themselves; they must be represented.”
The tone is thus set for a necessary antidote to a paternalistic and patronising Western system of political representation and domination, of which Marxism is an inevitable part.
Said attributes Orientalism to three interdependent meanings: firstly, the academic discipline of Orientalism and its research on the Orient and the Occident; secondly, a particular style of thought that differentiates, ontologically (on the nature of being) and epistemologically (on the theory of knowledge), ‘the Orient’ and ‘the Occident’; and finally, commencing from around the late eighteenth century, the corporate institution that deals with the Orient “by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it” (Said, 3). With this threefold definition in mind, Said reviews Orientalism as a Western-style discourse employed first by British and French imperialisms and later by US imperialism, to dominate, restructure, and have authority over the Orient.
Orientalism is seen to be heavily imbued with geography, that is, imaginary spatial prejudices infused with power and exploitation, and a Western-centric notion of development and progress. Said goes as far as describing Orientalism as a delusion of exaggerated self-importance:
“Psychologically, Orientalism is a form of paranoia, knowledge of another kind, say, from ordinary historical knowledge. These are a few of the results, I think, of imaginative geography and of the dramatic boundaries it draws.” (Said, 72-73)
This paranoid form of knowledge, Said argues, ennobled British, French, and later US imperial projects:
“The important thing was to dignify simple conquest with an idea, to turn the appetite for more geographical space into a theory about the special relationship between geography on the one hand and civilized or uncivilized peoples on the other.” (Said, 216)
The following article, first published by Al Jazeera, should be drawn to the attention of those on the left who, throughout the Ukraine crisis, have been taken in by and/or parroted Putin’s hypocritical “anti fascist” rhetoric:
Is the Russian leadership formenting links with some European far-right parties?
By Halya Coynash
Ukraine’s main far-right party, VO Svoboda, has been dumped by its erstwhile European ultra-nationalist allies. It was dumped for Russia with whom the most virulently anti-Semitic, anti-migrant and far-right parties in France, Hungary and other EU countries are developing close ties. The Kremlin’s blossoming contacts with those parties, and the far-right roots of prominent pro-Russian activists in Ukraine do not deter Russia from claiming to be protecting Russian nationals from the anti-Semitic and fascist hordes who have allegedly seized control in Ukraine.
The claims have been refuted countless times and attempts to use anti-Semitism condemned by the Chief Rabbi of Ukraine, prominent Jewish civic figures, academics and others. The UN’s High Commissioner on Human Rights has rightly indicated that “misinformation, propaganda and incitement to hatred need to be urgently countered” but missed the point entirely about the source of it all.
Who is fascist?
Russia’s propaganda machine, and especially Russian-language TV channels are feeding not only the Russian audience, but also a significant number of Ukrainians with lies and manipulated reports. Images of a Crimean rabbi forced to leave for Kiev after condemning Russian intervention are presented as showing a rabbi forced to leave Ukraine because of mounting anti-Semitism.