WARNING: this film contains extremely disturbing images as a Saudi woman pleads for mercy before being beheaded.
By Pete Radcliff
For many decades the relationship between the Saudi Wahhabist dictatorship and the arms, oil and other companies in Britain has been ignored by the media.
Despite Bin Laden’s wealthy Saudi family background. Despite the majority of the 9/11 bombers being Saudi. Despite the Saudi Arabia’s brutal treatment of women and migrant workers. Despite Saudi having been second only to Iran in numbers of executions per head of population (this year it’s likely to overtake Iran).
Despite too, having a legal system run by religious reactionaries who execute people for being gay, an atheist, for fighting back against rapists or demanding democratic change. Despite having the fourth highest military expenditure in the world. Despite its record of imperialist intervention in the Middle East (Bahrain, Yemen). Despite the complete lack of trade union rights or free speech.
The media were no doubt intimidated and told criticism would disrupt profitable and politically influential UK businesses.
But over the last year, this has started to change, largely in response to the growth of Daesh (Islamic State).
For decades Saudi has exported its reactionary ideology through schools, mosques and other institutions they have financed. The aim was to create religious movements and political parties, to penetrate the civil services and state apparatuses of the countries they “aided”.
But the Arab Spring of 2011 shook the Saudi regime. Their allies in the ruling classes of the Middle East were challenged like never before.
The Saudis had to send in what was effectively an occupying army in support of the Bahraini dictators to suppress the revolt. Even in fiercely repressed Saudi Arabia, voices of criticism started to be raised, questions started being asked about how it was that the terror of 9/11 and of Al Qaeda had begun in Saudi Arabia.
Prominent amongst those questioning the Saudi state’s political ideology was a blogger in his late 20s, Raif Badawi.
Al Qaeda started breaking up in 2012 with the emergence of Daesh and the setting up of a geographical “Islamic state”, the centre of a claimed caliphate. This was an even greater challenge to Saudi Arabia’s standing within the international Sunni Islamist movement.
The response of the Saudi rulers was threefold.
Firstly, they reasserted the brutality of their regime in competition with the Daesh. The rate of executions doubled. Intimidation of the Shia minority in Saudi increased with their acknowledged figurehead, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, sentenced to death. Provocative attacks on Shia were allowed to happen and protests in defence were brutally repressed.
Secondly, they stepped up their military activity in the region — launching a war on Yemen.
Thirdly, they have tried to forge an alliance with fellow Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and sections of Al Qaeda (itself formed in opposition to the Saudi regime), both militarily and politically. In Syria, with seeming US agreement they have attempted to reorganise non-Daesh Islamist militias.
But their repression and imperialist interventions are not going unnoticed. The start of the lashings of Raif Badawi triggered off protests throughout Europe. It led to a confrontation between the Saudi regime and the Swedish government and their Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström. She described the Saudi’s treatment of Raif as “medieval”. The Swedish government made threats to stop supplying the Saudi regime with arms. The Saudi regime and their close ally in the UAE blocked visas to Swedish people in an attempt to scare Swedish businesses.
However the UK Tory government has proved itself the most loyal of Saudi friends. Not only have they not spoken out against Saudi internal repression, they also helped ensure Saudi Arabia, possibly the world’s largest human rights abuser, was granted the chair of the UN Human Rights Council!
Jeremy Corbyn has demanded Cameron take action against the planned beheading and crucifixion of the nephew of Sheikh Nimr, the young Shia activist Mohammed Al-Nimr. Corbyn also called for the cancelling of the contract between the Ministry of Justice’s commercial arm and the prison system of Saudi Arabia. Parts of the press, particularly Channel 4 News also pursued Cameron on this. But Cameron refused.
There then followed press revelations about the Saudi-UK deal in the UN and the Tories buckled and cancelled the contract.
For months NGOs and campaigners had been campaigning on Raif’s behalf and against the Ministry of Justice contract. English PEN had been holding weekly vigils outside the Saudi Embassy; in June a day of action was held in support of Raif Badawi and his imprisoned lawyer. Parliamentary debates and interventions were organised.
A new coalition has been launched “We are Raif: for Free Speech and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia”. It has brought together many NGOs already active on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. But it has also got the support of campaigns in protest against Bahraini repression as well as Hope Not Hate, and anti-Islamist campaigns One Law for All and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
The main practical focus of the campaign is to “end the sales of UK arms and military equipment, including military support packages, to Saudi Arabia” and to “call for an end to any business relations with the Saudi regime…”
Saudi military and political tentacles are spreading across the Middle East; already 5,400 have died as a result of their war on Yemen. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s third largest military supplier.
The Saudi economy has been one of the fastest developing economies in the world, with one million un-unionised building workers. There will be a lot to campaign about.
Teachers and senior staff linked to the Trojan Horse allegations of “undue religious (ie Islamist) influence” in Birmingham schools, have been appearing before the misconduct panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) since mid-October. The NCTL is the professional body for teachers and has the power to impose lifetime prohibitions on teachers.
As the hearing has not yet concluded (it is expected to last until December), Shiraz has taken a conscious decision not to cover the proceedings, even though the hearing is in public and the local Birmingham Mail has carried extensive reports of the disturbing evidence presented by witnesses. Most of the national press, including (until now) the Guardian, also seem to have decided not to cover the hearing in detail, or to be very circumspect in their coverage, while it is in progress*.
But today’s Guardian carries an article by the paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams, headlined “Witness in ‘Trojan Horse’ case accused of religious slurs”.
Adams’s story is written entirely from the standpoint of the teachers and senior staff accused of misconduct, and seems to be based upon the ‘line’ of cross-examination being pursued by their lawyer, Andrew Faux, as he attempts to discredit one of the witnesses (‘Witness A’, a former teacher at Park View School) who has given evidence of malpractice. Faux has accused Witness A of herself making a series of racial and religious slurs.
Faux, as a lawyer acting for some of the accused teachers, is perfectly entitled to pursue this line of cross-examination. What is, however, quite outrageous, is for the Guardian, in one of its few articles covering the hearing, to report Faux’s attacks in detail, adding that the witness “faced an internal complaint in the wake of comments she was alleged to have made at an event.” No details whatsoever are given of the evidence presented by Witness A against the teachers and senior staff of the Trojan Horse schools.
Adams closes his article by repeating, once again, the tired old red herring that “The [Trojan Horse] letter is widely regarded as a hoax” – yes it is, but that’s not the point. The question is, are the claims of Islamist influence in Birmingham schools true or not? The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether the Trojan Horse letter was all it purported to be.
Whether Adams is acting directly on the wishes of Mr Faux and his clients, or whether he (Adams) is so committed to defending/excusing the accused teachers and senior staff that he simply cannot write an impartial article, we shall probably never know.
But he has form:
Here’s what Adams, had to say about this matter in June 2014, shortly after the story first sufaced: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP throughout.
- * Adams has written two other articles covering some of the allegations, and emphasising that “The Department for Education said its case against Johirul Islam, a former teacher at Park View, ‘has been discontinued’ in the hearing’s fourth day… The decision suggests the NTCL may struggle to press its case against several other teachers facing similar allegations” (here)
- * The Guardian website has carried another article reporting one of the allegations of misconduct: this was not, however written by Adams, but came from the Press Association. And as far as I’m aware (and I read the Graun every day) it did not appear in the print edition – C.C.
By Ann Field (at Workers Liberty)
Two hundred and seventy jobs are directly at risk after Tata Steel announced plans to “mothball” its Dalzell and Clydebridge plants, the final remnants of the Scottish steel industry after the Tories’ de-industrialisation of the 1980s.
Hundreds more jobs in local communities which depend on the plants and their workforces are also at risk.
The Scottish Labour Party has responded with a range of slightly confusing demands on the SNP government in Holyrood:
– Use public procurement powers to ensure that Scottish infrastructure projects place orders with the two plants.
– Support short-time working (but Tata, not the Scottish government, is the employer).
– Temporarily bring the plants into public ownership (but why only “temporarily”?).
– Cut Tata’s energy costs by putting pressure on Scottish Power and SSE (but why can’t we all have cheaper electricity?);
– Consult with “workers and the industry” to develop a government-led steel strategy (but why allow Tata to be involved if the industry is to be taken into public ownership?);
– Provide support for those who will soon be out of a job (which suggests a certain lack of confidence in the other demands).
Scottish Labour also demands action because of the “iconic” status of the Scottish steel industry. This is not a persuasive argument. Razor-gangs in Glasgow on a Saturday night also once enjoyed an “iconic” status. But this hardly justified their preservation.
However confused and inconsistent such demands might be, they reflect a genuine commitment to try to protect jobs in the residual Scottish steel industry. Local CLPs have also been campaigning on the streets to save steelworkers’ jobs.
SNP First Minister Nicola Sturgeon visited the two plants last week. A government-led taskforce has been set up to try to find an alternative buyer for the plants. According to Sturgeon, “nothing is off the table”, including public ownership.
The SNP, Scotland’s patriotic party, can hardly point to its record of supporting Scottish steel jobs. In 2012 it awarded all steel contracts for the new Forth crossing to China, Poland and Spain. Not a single one went to Dalzell or Clydebridge.
While any steps to save jobs are to be welcomed, more is needed than either Scottish Labour or the SNP are currently proposing.
And far more is certainly needed than anything the notoriously right-wing leadership of the Community trade union – the biggest union in the steel industry – has to offer by way of a ‘campaign’.
The job losses in the west of Scotland are part of a bigger wave of job losses in the British steel industry, hitting Tata workers in Scunthorpe, SSI workers in Redcar, and workers employed by Caparo Industries.
Jobs have also been lost or are now at risk in the steel industry throughout Europe and elsewhere – including China. These losses are a product of the unregulated and globalised nature of steel production and supply.
China and other major steel-producing countries (such as South Korea, India and Russia) have massively increased steel output in recent years, while global demand has been stagnant or declining.
The result is a typical capitalist crisis of overproduction. But, in the context of a globalised economy, it is a crisis on an international scale: in line with the logic of capitalism, excess steel output is sold cut-price (‘dumped’) in the international marketplace.
One ‘answer’ to globalisation – whether it be in the steel industry or any other industry – is nationalism: Put the blame on a particular country (in this case: China), demand controls on imports from that country, and retreat behind tariff barriers, national borders and trade wars.
This is the often unspoken ‘logic’ at the heart of the SNP’s demand for independence.
But why, in an independent Scotland, would the steel industry, with a current workforce of less than 300, be better able to compete against the more than 800 million tons of steel produced each year by China, and the 100,000 workforce of the biggest Chinese steel company alone?
The socialist answer to the anarchy of capitalist production – which produces too little of what people need, and too much of what can find a buyer in the marketplace – is not economic autarky, when states and nations try to wall themselves off from the world market and strive for economic self-sufficiency.
Our answer is the socialisation of the means of production: democratic planning; production to meet need not profit; work-sharing with no loss of pay; and environment-friendly production processes.
This campaign to saves jobs in the steel industry throughout the UK should be a part of an international campaign which brings together steelworkers and their unions to fight for such demands, backed up by industrial action.
The labour movement unites workers across national borders. Nationalism divides workers according to their national identities. In the fight to save steelworkers’ jobs – whatever their country, and whatever their national identity – the labour movement internationally must take the lead.
The ad in the Guardian
Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”
It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.
The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.
However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »
Germaine Greer has said some unforgivable things in the past eg about FGM. But she is a great woman, a splendid writer, a courageous human being and in her time was an inspiring feminist. Trans activists’ attacks on her are gross.
Here’s an excellent piece on the issue.
Pop feminism has willfully abandoned political analysis for the feel-good factor of disposable aphorisms. See for example Laurie Penny (@pennyred) who recently performed the ultimate no risk “coming-out” of announcing she’s a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition “genderqueer” . . . which is the LGBT equivalent of claiming one retroactively looooved punk rock before it was mainstream.
And to prove her gendercred to her fans, she’s been eager to defend Caitlyn Jenner’s perpetual womanhood — that Bruce was female when winning the decathlon. Egregiously, Penny backs this up with the usual cut-and-paste misinterpretation of Simone de Beauvoir.
I’ll say it again: Beauvoir is spinning in her tomb over the intellectually dishonest, quote-mined appropriation of her life’s work. It is simply wrong that Beauvoir means “one … becomes a woman” as an endorsement of gender/femininity as empowering to female persons. It is embarrassingly clear that Penny, and her cadre of retweeters, hasn’t actually bothered to give Beauvoir the decency of a good read.
Laurie Penny, always modish, always wrong. It’s startling to be told you are “a femme-presenting, female-assigned at birth, no-transition” creature when you’d always described yourself as a “girl” or “woman”.
From Tendance Coatesy
Salma Yaqoob and (behind her) Ger Francis “confront” Roger Godsiff MP in 2005
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
For reasons that escape me Socialist Unity has chosen to publish this by Andy Newman: St Crispin’s Day.
Meanwhile the only remaining other member of Socialist Unity’s band of brothers John Wight, has published this stirring call to arms,
Seumas Milne and His Swivel-Eyed Detractors
What we have seen take place is nothing less than a feral and unhinged scream from the swamp of reaction that resides in our culture, where every crank with a computer resides, consumed with bitterness and untreated angst, much of it in the form of self loathing over their own inadequacies and lack of talent – not to mention in some cases a jump from the extreme left to extreme right of the political spectrum, with all the psychological dysfunction such a metamorphosis describes.
So feral, so extreme has been this motley crew of first rate second rate men (and women) in their biblical denunciations of Seumas Milne, they make the McCarthy witchhunts seem like child’s play by comparison.
Wight ends this call to muster behind Milne with this remark,
“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”
We learn that Corbyn has taken upon himself to appoint another genius to his team, who is, surely no-coincidence, a former Socialist Unity contributor (Telegraph – Thanks Jim…).
It can also be revealed that Mr Corbyn has employed a key aide to the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Ger Francis, Rahman’s former political adviser, worked for Mr Corbyn at the Commons, a member of Mr Corbyn’s Westminster office confirmed last week. “He worked here on the leadership campaign,” she said.
Mr Francis moved to work for Mr Corbyn after Rahman was disbarred from office in April. An election court found the mayor guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” including vote-rigging, bribery and lying that his Labour opponent was a racist. The judge, Richard Mawrey QC, said Rahman had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign which “drove a coach and horses” through electoral law.
Mr Francis, one of Rahman’s highly-controversial twelve political appointees, was at the heart of the mayor’s personal machine which saw millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash channelled to personal allies and Muslim groups in return for political support.
He is a former member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party who was expelled from the SWP in 2007 for being too extreme. He then became an organiser for George Galloway’s far-Left Respect party and was agent for the party’s then leader, Salma Yaqoob, at the 2010 elections in Birmingham. He joined Rahman after the collapse of Respect and Ms Yaqoob’s resignation as leader.
This is what Ger said on what he intended to do in Respect (from, surprise, surprise, Socialist Unity March 2008).
Our contribution to the international class struggle starts with the work we do to undermine British imperialism. In this context, the significance of the developments that have taken place around Respect, under the leadership of George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, should not be underestimated. The demands made by Respect would probably have been accommodated by left social democracy in previous generations, but they have been given backbone by a resolute anti-imperialism, anti-racism and a critique of capitalism. This is the correct political orientation for mass politics.
Francis is particularly hated by Iranian and other exiles from Islamist countries for the role he played in Birmingham back in 2001-2 – preventing these democratic secular socialists from expressing their views in the Stop the War Campaign.
You can read about Francis’s activities in this text by respected comrades Sue Blackwell and Rehan Hafeez – the pseudonym of a greatly valued Iranian activist [actually, South Asian -JD] I have had close contact with (WHY WE WERE RIGHT TO LEAVE THE SWP).
On 4th April 2002, Rehan Hafeez (SWP member of 16 years’ standing) and Sue Blackwell (SWP member of 19 years’ standing) sent a joint letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the SWP. Our letter was sent by Recorded Delivery and we had expected some sort of response from the CC. Of course we didn’t expect them to take all our allegations at face value, but we did hope that they would at least investigate them. However, we never received a reply in any form whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of our resignations. The only contact from the Centre was a couple of months later when we each received a phone call from the Membership Office enquiring why our subs had stopped! (Sue took great pleasure in answering that at some length to the poor sod at the end of the phone).
We therefore decided to post our letters on the web along with related documents, so that people can judge for themselves whether we made the right decision. Since we posted them in 2003, we have received dozens of supportive e-mails from others who have left the SWP under similar circumstances, and remarkably also from people who are still in the SWP suffering the same kind of abuses but haven’t yet plucked up the courage to leave. (I call it “battered comrade syndrome”).
In our letter we complained about the packing of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) meeting on 5th February 2002, where the SWP rode roughshod over the existing democratic procedures in order to kick Steve Godward out of his post as Vice-Chair of BSTWC and to end the practice of open committee meetings and regular elections. This event was exactly mirrored at the Birmingham Socialist Alliance AGM held on 1st July 2003, where – guess what – the SWP packed the meeting in order to kick Steve Godward out of his position as Chair, along with every other committee member who was not in the SWP, including Rehan who was voted out of his post as Press Officer.
One point we would mention: the texts of these letters make repeated reference to Ger Francis, the Birmingham SWP full-timer. Ger was finally sacked by the SWP around the time of the Party Conference in early November 2002, and we are confident that our complaints about him contributed in some measure to that welcome decision. However, it would be wrong to think that the problems began and ended with comrade Francis: he was the symptom, not the cause. After his replacement the SWP in Brum continued to behave in exactly the same sectarian, dishonest and undemocratic manner within the anti-war movement and the Socialist Alliance. The rot, as far as we can see, comes from the head: Ger was repeatedly backed by CC members such as Chris Bambery, Lindsey German and John Rees and those individuals have not changed their positions. We have seen no real improvement in the internal democracy of the SWP.
We also note that no explanation was given to the rank-and-file as to WHY Ger was sacked, and why at THAT PARTICULAR TIME given that complaints against him had been made since the beginning of 2002. Ger carried on behaving in the exactly the same way, still taking a leading role in the BSTW Coalition for instance, but nothing was done to stop this. We considered this to be further evidence of the contempt the leadership had for ordinary members. Eventually Ger was expelled from the party itself as part of the fall-out from the split in Respect in 2007, when he sided with the Salma Yaqoob / George Galloway faction after the SWP had apparently seen the light.
This is one text: Concerning Events in Birmingham Since the Autumn of 2001. There are many more on the site.
This account of some of the events backs up their account of Ger’s factionist pro-Islamist stand in Birmingham: STWC gravediggers. Steve Davis. (Weekly Worker. 9.1.03).
Here is Ger lauding Galloway (November 2009).
Hundreds attend George Galloway meeting in Birmingham University by Ger Francis
For those involved in Palestinian solidarity in Birmingham, its university has long felt like some weird Zionist outpost. For years Israeli apologists, through bureaucratic bullying and intimidation via the Student Union Guild, have been able to hinder and stifle debate.
George Galloway is simply the most eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause in the English speaking world.
To follow Henry the V is a hard task.
But this is what Sue said about Ger when he was finally booted out of the SWP (here),
Sue sent this as an e-mail to various comrades on hearing in early November 2002 that Ger Francis, the cause of so much of her misery, had been sacked from his post as full-time organiser for the SWP in Birmingham. Steve Godward replied “well said brother Wordsworth”.
In hindsight, however, this proved to be overly optimistic. Ger Francis remained very much in the driving seat of the Bham Stop The War Coalition, the “clumsy desperation” continues with a vengeance and there are still plenty of “madding factions” needing to be tranquilised ….
By the way – I shouldn’t need to say this but I’ll say it anyway – I do not in any way condone or encourage acts of individual violence and I do not wish anyone dead, even my worst enemies. In any case my worst enemies are the governments of the USA, the UK and Israel, not anyone on the British left. The “rivers of blood” here are strictly metaphorical (and nothing to do with Enoch Powell either!)
… but the foremost of the band
As he approached, no salutation given
In the familiar language of the day,
Cried, “Robespierre is dead!” – nor was a doubt,
After strict question, left within my mind
That he and his supporters all were fallen.
Great was my transport, deep my gratitude
To everlasting Justice, by this fiat
Made manifest. “Come now, ye golden times,”
Said I forth-pouring on those open sands
A hymn of triumph: “as the morning comes
From out the bosom of the night, come ye:
Thus far our trust is verified; behold!
They who with clumsy desperation brought
A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else
Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might
Of their own helper have been swept away;
Their madness stands declared and visible;
Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth
March firmly towards righteousness and peace.”
Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how
The madding factions might be tranquilised,
And how through hardships manifold and long
The glorious renovation would proceed.
Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts
Of exultation, I pursued my way …
William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book
It is, frankly, outrageous that Ger Francis should be working for any Labour MP.
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By Ann Pettifor (This blog originally appeared at LabourList)
Michael Meacher has died as he lived, seldom attracting any fuss or attention, and seldom burdening his friends and comrades. That makes me sad, as he was a man deserving of attention – and not just as he was dying.
He was marginalised for most of his political life, often by the same people that will today mourn him. And that disregard for, and dismissal, of his unerringly principled political stance was wrong – both in political and moral terms – because Michael Meacher was magnificently right on the key democratic, economic and environmental issues of the day.
He was often patronised by some Labour MPs, but his intellect, decency and courtesy meant he had few real enemies. Those who opposed or marginalized him were mostly wrong, often unpleasantly so.
His understanding of the key challenges facing our country was outlined in his latest book: the British State We Need. Its House of Commons launch went unheralded – attended by only two Labour MPs – Kelvin Hopkins and Andy Burnham, and a few of Michael’s real friends. Michael did not mind: instead he shared his knowledge and analyses generously, and focused his energies on supporting those both inside and outside the House of Commons willing to fight the good fight – for social justice, a sound economy and a sustainable and liveable environment. He not only maintained and regularly contributed to Left Futures but also sponsored and hosted progressive campaigns, most recently Economists Against Austerity.
I loved our discussions. Michael was a great intellectual – thoughtful, scholarly, well briefed and numerate. He was also considerate, enthusiastic and kind. A gentle man.
We first met more than thirty years ago – when he was a leading light in the ‘soft Left’ as it was then known, and in particular the Labour Coordinating Committee (LCC). Together with Stuart Weir and Frances Morrell, Michael had founded the LCC after the electoral debacle of 1979. I met and got to know Frances through the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy. Appalled by the results of the ‘79 election when only eleven women were elected as Labour MPs – just a few more than fifty years earlier when eight were elected in 1929 – we were both active in the Labour Women’s Action Committee (LWAC). Michael consistently supported our campaign for positive action to expand the number of women selected as candidates for parliamentary seats.
At the LCC Frances, Stuart and Michael were a formidable team producing thoughtful and sharp analyses and strategies for the Labour Party after the election of Margaret Thatcher. Together they provided a much-needed antidote to the deeply ingrained anti-intellectualism of the Labour Party. Frances took a fiercely independent stand when she backed the right-wing trade unionist Frank Chappell in his call for the general management committees of Constituency Labour Parties to be bypassed, and for the vote instead to be extended to individual members: the “one Member one Vote”, OMOV campaign.
Looking back, both Michael and I were on the wrong side of that argument. As the election of Jeremy Corbyn proved just before Michael died, Frances was right. Sadly, she too has not lived to see the full impact of what at the time was her very unfashionable stance on the Left.
Fortunately Michael lived to witness the election of Jeremy Corbyn, which pleased him enormously. But he was not uncritical of his friends in the Campaign group, as one of his last blogs testifies. He maintained his economic acuity, political integrity, and indeed his passion, until the end.
He leaves a big vacuum in British politics – a vacuum unlikely to be filled by many in his party who are less principled, informed, decent, loyal and courteous. Which is why his abrupt departure from political life causes me great sadness.
Ann Pettifor is Director of Policy Research in Macroeconomics and is a member of John McDonnell’s Economic Advisory Committee.
You meet the nicest people … on facebook.
Pee Wee Russell, the eccentric poet-genius of jazz clarinet, has always been a personal favourite of mine.
I’m so grateful to Herb Gardner for sharing his memories of PWR in the course of a facebook exchange a few weeks ago. The exclamation mark after “milk” is significant. Milk was not known to be a favourite tipple of either PWR or Eddie Condon, even at breakfast:
JD: Herb: I’m presently reading Robert Hilbert’s ‘Pee Wee Russell: The Life of a Jazzman’ and have come across a reference to you playing in the ‘New York’ band led by Max Kaminsky, with Pee Wee Russell at the New Orleans ‘Jazzfest ’68’: “The band started off with a hard-hitting ‘Dippermouth Blues,’ with Kaminsky playing a fiery solo and Pee Wee sounding very inventive and self-assured.”
Have you written about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts about PWR, in particular.
Herb Gardner: Yeah, that was a memorable trip. I’ve always felt that I spent a month in NO that weekend. The Haggarts and I asked locals about secret good places to eat, so we had some of the best seafood ever. One evening I got to march in a parade with the Onward Brass Band, including Louis Cottrell and the Barbarins, playing bone next to Frog Joseph.
Pee Wee was always uniquely inventive and unpredictable. When he mumbled you couldn’t tell what he said, but when he played it was inspiring. I also worked a week with him, playing piano in an Eddie Condon Band up in the White Mountains of NH. This was near the end of his life, and my lasting image was of him and Eddie having milk (!) and doughnuts for breakfast in the coffee shop.
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Above: the liar, sexist and bully Sheridan
By Ann Field
“The left in Scotland can’t look to the Labour Party for a way forward,” proclaimed Socialist Worker, paper of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in one of a flurry of articles about Scotland published immediately after last year’s referendum.
Instead, the focus had to be on maintaining the momentum of the “Yes” campaign. As the SWP modestly put it in another article:
“The SWP in Scotland has fought magnificently in the Yes campaign. It has been imaginative, involved, determined and hardworking. We have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.”
What the Scottish left needed after the referendum was “its own political party – and urgently. Days and hours matter at such a time.” Tommy Sheridan – perjurer, misogynist, demagogue, ultra-nationalist populist and all-round charlatan (but not in the eyes of the SWP) – had a central role to play in this:
“Tommy Sheridan played an astonishing role in the [Yes] campaign, speaking to over 25,000 people at meetings and inspiring many more. He ought to play a leading role in building the left.”
The delicate matter of the SWP’s role in splitting the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – which the SWP helped destroy in 2006 by backing Sheridan’s demand that members of the SSP Executive Committee lie on behalf of his ego – was imperiously dismissed:
“This [new] party cannot be defined by the splits in the SSP a decade ago. Imagine you are talking to one of those thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds who voted yes. What would make sense to them now? Surely radicalism, activity, bold left politics – and unity.”
But a conference held in October by “Solidarity” – the Sheridan-cult set up by the SWP and the Socialist Party after their departure from the SSP – produced a split rather than unity. The SWP walked out after the conference backed a vote for the SNP in the 2015 General Election.
(Sheridan’s questioning of female witnesses about their sex lives in his very public perjury trial of 2006 had not been a reason for the SWP to break with him. But for Sheridan to advocate openly what the SWP would subsequently advocate implicitly was the SWP’s line in the sand.)
Unabashed by the debacle of the “Solidarity” conference, the SWP now declared: “Everyone should come to the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference on 22nd November. Let’s not see this opportunity wasted.”
RIC had been initiated by members of the International Socialist Group (ISG), a 39-strong Scottish breakaway from the SWP in 2011. Given its origins in a breakaway from the SWP, RIC was unlikely to extend the hand of “unity” to their former comrades.
And so it proved to be.
The SWP hyper-ventilated about the numbers at the RIC conference. Over 3,000 in attendance! People had travelled from all over Scotland to be there!! “A phenomenal turnout!!!”
But it was downbeat about the outcome: “For all the talk of alternatives, there was no official call for a new organisation coming from RIC as many [read: the SWP] had hoped. Sadly, the prospect of a unified left seems as distant as it was directly after the referendum.”
In early 2015 the SWP began to enter general election mode. It was at least capable of reading opinion polls:
“Old political certainties are crumbling across Britain. In Scotland they barely exist any more. Many believe they are witnessing the death of Labour in Scotland. The latest poll of polls this week puts the SNP on 50% of the vote – a landslide. But the left could do well too.”
Although Labour in Scotland was standing in the same election, on the basis of the same manifesto, and with the backing of the same unions, as the Labour Party south of the border, the SWP made a point of not calling for a vote for Labour in Scotland:
“Where there isn’t a left alternative candidate, Socialist Worker is calling for a vote for Labour in England and Wales. Many working-class people still see it as the party with trade union roots. …
In Scotland this picture no longer fits. Labour’s role in blocking with the Tories to defend the union with Britain in the independence referendum has lost it the mass support of millions of workers.”
In a leaflet distributed in Scotland in the run-up to election day, the SWP implicitly called for a vote for the SNP.
The leaflet was unqualified in its hostility to Labour. By contrast, it praised the “many positive policies in the SNP manifesto”. Given the “mood to punish Labour”, it was “understandable” that so many people would be voting SNP.
But, the leaflet explained, “the SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May.” This was because the SWP was standing a handful of its own candidates as part of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Not calling for “a blanket vote for the SNP” because you are standing some candidates of your own can only be read as: vote SNP where there is no TUSC candidate.
In its coverage of the election campaign in Scotland Socialist Worker was certainly enthusiastic about the SNP campaign, and Sheridan’s parallel campaign for a vote for the SNP:
“Hope filled the streets of Glasgow last Saturday. At two separate events a combined total of up to 10,000 people pursued a common purpose – building the SNP vote.” While SNP leader Sturgeon addressed 2,000 in Glasgow city centre, “socialist politician Tommy Sheridan was addressing a mass Hope Over Fear rally.” Read the rest of this entry »
“Why the interest? It’s a psychological detective story. Why should clever men at the very heart of the Establishment, who enjoyed its trappings, seek to betray it? Why did they devote their lives to a known totalitarian regime, abandoning friends and family, ending their lives in lonely exile in Moscow? How did they get away with it given their drunkenness, drug-taking and sexual promiscuity? Are there other spies still to be uncovered? (Andrew Lownie, International Business Times)
The release of over 400 previously unrevealed MI5 and Foreign Office files provides some fascinating insights into the psychological and personal motivations of Burgess, Philby, Maclean and the rest of the Cambridge spy ring and their associates, as well as the sometimes hilarious incompetence of the British security services. However, the underlying political motivation of these upper class Stalinists who’d started out as genuine anti-fascist idealists in the 1930s, has been evident to astute observers for many years, and carries important lessons for serious socialists to this day. Sean Matgamna describes the political background in this 2004 article:
From left: Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby.
In The Climate of Treason Andrew Boyle recounts a conversation which took place amongst a group of young communists in the summer of 1933, in Cambridge. Some of them would become the famous traitors who would be exposed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, after having served the USSR as double agents within the British secret services for decades.
Kim Philby had just come back from Germany, and he reported to his friends on what he had seen. There, at the beginning of the year, Hitler had been allowed to come to power peacefully. The powerful German Communist Party (KPD) could rely on four million votes; it had hundreds of thousands of militants; it had its own armed militia, and the strength to physically crush the fascist groups in most of the working-class districts of Berlin — and yet it had put up no resistance at all to the Hitlerites. It had allowed itself to be smashed, without a struggle.
In the years when the Nazi party was burgeoning, the KPD had refused to unite with the Socialists (who had eight million votes) to stop them; and now that the capitalists had brought the Nazis to power, the KPD slunk into its grave, without even token resistance.
It is one of the great pivotal events in the history of the labour movement, and in the history of the 20th century. The Second World War, Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe the decline and decay of the revolutionary working class movement — all of these things grew out of Hitler’s victory over the German working class movement. Unexpected, and enormous in its consequences, the collapse of the KPD was almost inexplicable.
In fact, the KPD acted as it did on Stalin’s direct orders. Stalin had decided that it was in the USSR’s interests to let Hitler come to power because Hitler would try to revise the Treaty of Versailles and “keep them busy in the West while we get on with building up socialism here”, as he put it to the German Communist leader Heinz Neumann (who he would later have shot).
In Cambridge in that summer of 1933 the young men who listened to Philby’s report tried to make sense of the German events. The Communist International was still denying that any catastrophe had occurred at all, denying that the KPD had been destroyed. It was still playing with idiotic slogans like: “After Hitler, our turn next.” Those who wanted to stay in the Comintern had to accept this way of looking at it. But was the International correct?
More daring than the others, one of the Cambridge group suggested that, maybe mistakes had been made. Maybe they should have fought. Maybe Stalin’s critics — Trotsky, for example — had been right. Maybe, after all, Stalin did not quite know what he was doing.
“No!”, said Philby, very heated. He denied that the KPD had made mistakes, or that Stalin had got things wrong: further, he denied that, where the affairs of the labour movement were concerned, Stalin could be wrong. As the infallible Pope cannot err where “matters of faith and morals” are concerned, so Stalin could not err where the affairs of the left were concerned. He denied that there was any left other than Stalin. “W…why,” the future KGB general stuttered, “W…what-ever Stalin does — that is the left.”
It is a statement which sums up an entire epoch in the history of the left. What Stalin did, that is, what the Stalinists in power did — that was the left! The official accounts of what they did; the rationalisations and fantasies which disguised what they did; the learned “Marxist” commentaries on the “reasons” for what they did; the deep “theoretical” arguments which were concocted to explain why “socialism” in the USSR was so very far from the traditional hopes and goals of the revolutionary left; the codification of Stalinist practice, written over and into the basic texts of socialist learning, turning them into incoherent Stalinist palimpsests — that was now “the left” and “Marxism”. The left was restyled out of all recognition.
A movement rooted historically in the French Revolution, whose drive for democracy and equality it carried forward against the shallow, empty, and false bourgeois versions of these ideas, now championed a tyrannical state ruled by a narrow intolerant elite.
A movement dedicated to collective ownership and therefore needing democracy because collective ownership is, by definition, not possible unless ownership is exercised collectively, and thus — there is no alternative — democratically, nevertheless championed the idea of ownership by an undemocratic state, itself “owned” by a narrow elite, and confused it with collective ownership. Read the rest of this entry »
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