As the old year of 2016 is now dying, here are some of my favourite pieces of writing about death.
This came to mind because of the very recent death of Richard Adams. The death scene which ends Watership Down – well, there must be a German word which describes knowing something is sentimental, yet still being moved by it. Disneyschmerz perhaps? The nature-loving agnostic imagines an afterlife with as false a comfort as angels escorting the departed to heaven yet a rabbit soul eternally scampering through the beech woods has great charm. By now the reader has come to like and respect Hazel and enjoy the rabbit’s eye view of the English countryside, in whose pockets between roads, housing and farms the rabbits make their lives.
One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way — something about rain and elder bloom ~ when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him — no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to me?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said, “Yes, I know you.”
“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be all right — and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
Shakespeare was much obsessed with deaths – 74 of them in his plays. Someone did a play which featured them all.
These death scenes though are mostly violent sword stabbings, with the occasional strangulation and poisoning so I’ll quote the death of Falstaff reported in Henry V.
ACT II SCENE III London. Before a tavern.
Enter PISTOL, Hostess, NYM, BARDOLPH, and BOY
HOSTESS Prithee, honey-sweet husband, let me bring thee to Staines.
PISTOL No; for my manly heart doth yearn.
BARDOLPH Be blithe: Nym, rouse thy vaunting veins:
BOY Bristle thy courage up; for Falstaff he is dead,
And we must yearn therefore.
BARDOLPH Would I were with him, wheresome’er he is, either in heaven or in hell!
HOSTESS Nay, sure, he’s not in hell: he’s in Arthur’s bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. A’ made a finer end and went away an it had been any christom child; a’ parted even just between twelve and one, even at the turning o’ the tide: for after I saw him fumble with the sheets and play withflowers and smile upon his fingers’ ends, I knew there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as a pen, and a’ babbled of green fields. ‘How now, sir John!’ quoth I ‘what, man! be o’ good cheer.’ So a’ cried out ‘God, God, God!’ three or four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a’ should not think of God; I hoped there was no need to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So a’ bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and upward, and all was as cold as any stone.
The Hostess would have been accustomed to tend the dying at a time when the women of the household did the nursing.
The Death of the Mrs Proudie from The Last Chronicle of Barset by Anthony Trollope
Trollope wrote 6 volumes about Cathedral politics in Barsetshire. One day in his club he overheard two men complaining that he was reintroducing the same old characters, including Mrs Proudie and how tired they were of it. So he told the men that he would kill her off that day.
Mrs Proudie of much reforming Evangelical energy has dominated her husband the bishop to carry out her will to the point of utterly humiliating him so they are now bitterly estranged.
Mrs. Proudie’s own maid, Mrs. Draper by name, came to him and said that she had knocked twice at Mrs. Proudie’s door and would knock again. Two minutes after that she returned, running into the room with her arms extended, and exclaiming, “Oh, heavens, sir; mistress is dead!” Mr. Thumble, hardly knowing what he was about, followed the woman into the bedroom, and there he found himself standing awestruck before the corpse of her who had so lately been the presiding spirit of the palace.
The body was still resting on its legs, leaning against the end of the side of the bed, while one of the arms was close clasped round the bed-post. The mouth was rigidly closed, but the eyes were open as though staring at him. Nevertheless there could be no doubt from the first glance that the woman was dead. ..
The bishop when he had heard the tidings of his wife’s death walked back to his seat over the fire, ….. But there was no sound; not a word, nor a moan, nor a sob. It was as though he also were dead, but that a slight irregular movement of his fingers on the top of his bald head, told her [Mrs Draper] that his mind and body were still active. ..
She had in some ways, and at certain periods of his life, been very good to him. …..She had never been idle. She had never been fond of pleasure. She had neglected no acknowledged duty. He did not doubt that she was now on her way to heaven. He took his hands down from his head, and clasping them together, said a little prayer. It may be doubted whether he quite knew for what he was praying. The idea of praying for her soul, now that she was dead, would have scandalized him. He certainly was not praying for his own soul. I think he was praying that God might save him from being glad that his wife was dead.
(As a strict Protestant, Bishop Proudie would not pray for a soul whose destiny is decided at death.)
A Very Easy Death by Simone de Beauvoir
After a long agony of being treated for cancer, Simone de Beauvoir’s mother finally dies. Her sister, Poupette, is at the death bed. De Beauvoir was an atheist, her mother a devout Catholic.
Maman had almost lost consciousness. Suddenly she cried, “I can’t breathe!” her mouth opened, her eyes stared wide, huge in that wasted, ravaged face: with a spasm she entered into coma..
Poupette rang me up: I did not answer. The operator went on ringing for half an hour before I woke. Meanwhile Poupette went back to Maman; already she was no longer there – her heart was beating and she breathed, sitting there with glassy eyes that saw nothing. And then it was over. “The doctors said she would go out like a candle: it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t like that at all,” said my sister, sobbing.
But, Madame,” replied the nurse, “I assure you it was a very easy death.”
“Maman” though religious did not ask for a priest – de Beauvoir concludes:-
“She knew what she ought to have said to God – “Heal me. But Thy will be done: I acquiesce in death.” She did not acquiesce. In this moment of truth she did not choose to utter insincere words…
Maman loved loved life as I love it and in the face of death she had the same feeling of rebellion that I have. During her last days I received many letters with remarks on my most recent book: “If you had not lost your faith death would not terrify you so,” wrote the devout, with rancorous commiseration. Well-intentioned readers urged, “Disappearing is not of the least importance: your works will remain.” And inwardly I told them all that they were wrong. Religion could do no more for my mother than the hope of posthumous success could for me. Whether you think of it as heavenly or as earthly, if you love life immortality is no consolation for death.
A devout Christian, C S Lewis did take consolation in his wife’s immortality though the whole of A Grief Observed is about the despair and misery at his loss of faith he undergoes after her painful death (cancer again). He longs for her undeath but at the end thinks she has been transfigured into something resembling pure intelligence, away from her torturing body:-
How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back! She said not to me but to the chaplain, “I am at peace with God.” She smiled, but not at me. Poi si torno all’ eterna fontana.
The last words in Italian being Dante’s view of his beloved Beatrice in a blissful afterlife.
Lewis’s view of death is harsher in Till We Have Faces, a surprisingly feminist work. Orual the heroine is about to enter into single combat with an enemy which will decide the fate of their city. Her father, the king and a cruel brute, has been lying helpless with a stroke. She is in the royal Bedchamber, searching out armour.
And it was when we were most busied that the Fox’s voice from behind said, “It’s finished.” We turned and looked. The thing on the bead which had been half-alive for so long was dead; had died (if he understood it) seeing a girl ransacking his armoury.
“Peace be upon him,” said Bardia. “We’ll be done here very shortly. Then the women can come to wash the body.” And we turned again at once to settle the matter of the hauberks.
And so the thing I had thought of for so many years at last slipped by in a huddle of business which was, at that moment, of more consequence. An hour later, when I looked back, it astonished me. Yet I have often noticed since how much less stir nearly everyone’s death makes than you expect. Men better loved and more worthy loving than my father go down making only a small eddy.
How the world shrugs off our death is brutally stated by A E Housman’s in Is My Team Ploughing:-
So to all, a long and healthy life, and then a quick and easy death, causing the least amount of nuisance and hassle.
From the website of Socialist Worker (US), the publication of the International Socialist Organisation, and nothing to do (any more) with the UK Socialist Worker / SWP:
How to sum up 2016–a year of important struggles and a reawakening to the meaning of socialism in the U.S., but also a year of emboldened bigotry and hate and the triumph of a reactionary creep? SocialistWorker.org’stakes a shot, in an article based on a speech to an International Socialist Organization event in Burlington, Vermont.
REMEMBER BACK to this time last year? It looked like the coming 2016 would be a drearily predictable election year, pitting yet another Clinton against yet another Bush.
Instead, 2016 turned out to be a stunning turning point–the year when growing dissatisfaction on both the right and the left broke through a corrupt and broken U.S. political system.
The year began with a sense of hope among millions of people that Bernie Sanders, with his campaign for the Democratic Party presidential nomination, could open a left-wing path out of decades of neoliberalism. But it ended with the crushing fears and disappointment brought on by the victory of a right-wing nationalist and billionaire bigot, Donald Trump.
The success of both the Sanders and Trump candidacies may have shocked the political establishment–and almost everyone else–but both clearly resulted from the fact that the system is failing the vast majority of people.
We have endured four decades of attacks on the working class, four decades of the scapegoating of oppressed people, and four decades of counter-reforms that robbed us of nearly all the victories won by the social movements and mass struggles of the 1960s and even the 1930s.
All these elements of the neoliberal era only intensified after the Great Recession of 2008-09. America’s political leaders–first under a Republican president, then a Democrat–dragged the system out of economic free fall by bailing out the banks and corporations, but there was nothing for working people who suffered the brunt of the crisis. On the contrary, they made us pay for the bailouts with austerity measures and even worse scapegoating.
To enforce the savage inequalities of American society, police increased their reign of racist terror against Black people, and the immigration authorities deported well over 2 million of the undocumented. And this escalation in racist state violence was overseen by America’s first Black president.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
THE SAME dynamics have been playing out across the world. Establishment politics is provoking both struggle from below and right-wing populist reaction. The great Irish poet William Butler Yeats wrote about a world of such polarization amid World War One: “Things fall apart; the center cannot hold.”
Thus, 2011 marked the high tide of left-wing struggles following the Great Recession, from the Arab Spring uprisings to the occupations of public squares in Greece and Spain; from the massive students movements in Chile and Quebec to Occupy Wall Street and later #BlackLivesMatter in the U.S.
These struggles crystallized the bitter discontent with a status quo of deteriorating living standards and worse to come. But in most, if not all, cases, they didn’t achieve lasting victories, and their setbacks came at a terrible cost. For example, the Middle East and North Africa have suffered through a savage counterrevolution as local and global ruling classes reasserted their dominion.
As popular resistance receded, right-wing populism has taken advantage in many societies, rushing in to play on people’s despair to win them to their reactionary solutions.
Trump is the latest example, but there are many more around the world: Narendhra Modi’s Hindu communalist regime in India; Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal “war on drugs” in the Philippines and Michel Temer’s electoral coup in Brazil, as well as rising far-right European leaders such as Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Marine Le Pen in France.
In the U.S. and around the world, the right wing is finding coherence around a program that combines immigrant-bashing and Islamophobia with nationalist opposition to rotten free trade deals.
On the other side of this political polarization are many threads of resistance that have yet to cohere into a clear left-wing alternative to both the new right and the rotten old establishment forces of the ever-rightward-moving center. That is the clear task of socialists in 2017 and beyond.
Thus, 2016, like the whole preceding period before it since the Great Recession, was a year of contrasts–a year of hope and a year of despair. The moment was encapsulated more than a century and a half ago by the great British novelist Charles Dickens, in the famous opening lines of his book A Tale of Two Cities, written about Paris and London on the eve of the French Revolution of 1789:
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
IN THE U.S., Election 2016 was the media’s obsession throughout the year, even though it seemed, after the circus of the Republican primaries, that the Democratic establishment’s choice would be a shoo-in on November 8.
Socialists regularly pointed out how bad a candidate Hillary Clinton was. Yet her loss to Trump is still shocking more than a month later.
But we must restate some facts amid all the confusion. Trump didn’t win the election. Clinton won the popular vote by a margin that could be as big as 3 million votes, but lost the While House because of the slaveholder’s Electoral College. Factoring in those who didn’t cast a ballot at all, Trump barely got the vote of a quarter of the eligible population.
He will come into office with the lowest approval ratings for any president-elect in recent history. In other words, in the immortal words of the great Gil Scott-Heron: “Mandate, my ass!”
But Trump has never been concerned with facts. He’ll act like he did win with a mandate and push to impose his reactionary agenda. We can see that clearly in the cabinet of horrors he is appointing.
Far from “draining the swamp” in Washington as he promised, he is filling his team with swamp creatures–from Wall Street magnates to establishment Republicans, along with far-right crackpots like former Breitbart News boss Steve Bannon.
And he’s planning to attack all of us–workers and oppressed people alike. He wants to cripple unions, privatize whole sections of the U.S. state, and further shred what’s left of the social safety net with attacks on Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The people he’s appointing to run departments like Education and the Environmental Protection Agency despise the very institutions they will rule over.
Trump hopes to get away with this generalized attack through his program of scapegoating oppressed groups. The scariest immediate effect of Trump’s victory has been the emboldening of racist street violence. Already last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center documented a 67 percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and it reports a further intensification since Trump’s election.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
OUR HOPES have to lie in the wave of protest triggered by Trump’s (un)election.
Spontaneous marches of hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands swept through cities and towns around the country each day after the election. Student walkouts took place from middle schools through universities. Immigrant rights activists initiated calls for sanctuary cities and campuses.
This instinctive resistance stood in stark contrast to the calls to give the new president a chance from Democratic Party leaders who had spent the previous months calling Trump a fascist menace in an effort to scare up Clinton votes.
Hopefully, the protests and actions being called against Trump’s inauguration–both national mobilizations for Washington, D.C., and local events shaping up in every city–will be the starting point for building the truly mass movements that will be necessary to oppose his agenda of mass deportations, Muslim registries, union busting and attacks on reproductive rights.
But Inauguration Day must be just the beginning. It will be a chance to show how many people want to send a message of defiance against the illegitimate president-to-be. But the work of resistance will take place in the struggles to come, whether on a local scale or a national one, around any number of issues.
Unfortunately, the potential for building large-scale resistance has been hindered by the invisibility of large institutional forces on the left. To this point, unions and mainstream civil rights organizations have been largely absent or inconspicuous from the anti-Trump protests, which were largely organized on short notice via social media. Even the Washington Inauguration Day protests have yet to get substantial backing from bigger organizations.
Amid the first protests of the coming Trump era, the struggle at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) stands out as a beacon pointing a way forward.
This struggle is built on hundreds of years of Native American resistance to colonization and dispossession–and, more recently, the heroic struggle of the Lakota Sioux to draw a line and refuse to move until the pipeline pushers stop the project that threatens their sacred land and water.
Their call for solidarity was heard by Indigenous people throughout the world, from Palestine to the Sami people of Norway, and thousands of non-Indigenous from all backgrounds flocked to North Dakota to stand against the pipeline.
Most dramatically, more than 2,000 military veterans mobilized for the first weekend in December to confront the police and private security hired by the pipeline builders. After word spread that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, under pressure for months to take a side, had denied a necessary permit, blocking construction for now, representatives of these veterans of an institution that committed genocide against Native Americans organized a ceremonial apology for the crimes committed against Native peoples.
The fight against DAPL and other pipelines isn’t over, but our side has won an important battle. Standing Rock can be our North Star in the dark winter of Trump’s rise to power. It shows our potential and power when we unite in common struggle against our common enemies.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
THE ELECTION proved again that the U.S. is a profoundly polarized country, but now with an emboldened right wing that can cohere around Trump’s reactionary agenda and right-wing populism, while a new and stronger left is still struggling to be born.
Trump’s presidency will present it with huge challenges. But make no mistake: that new left is being born. We know that people are flocking to socialist meetings, reading socialist publications and joining with socialist organization in much greater numbers–something that started before the election, but has accelerated since.
One Internet meme captured this aspect of 2016 better than I ever could. “Sophie’s Merry Mom” sent a tweet with two pictures. The first picture, of Bernie Sanders, was labeled “Me at the beginning of 2016. The second picture, labeled “Me at the end of 2016,” was of Karl Marx.
We need to raise the left in the politics of solidarity and democracy to defeat Trump’s politics of divide and conquer. The old labor movement slogan needs to be pressed into service for a new generation: “An injury to one is an injury to all.” The opposite is also true: Each victory for our side is a victory for the whole left and the whole working-class movement.
There are initial lessons we can draw from the month since the election about the patterns of emerging resistance: There is widespread anger, not just at Trump but the entire two-party system–but organizing has been hobbled by the weakness of the left that came before, and especially the subservience of unions and liberal organizations to the Democratic Party and the interests of Corporate America that the Democrats serve.
We can’t kid ourselves about these weaknesses. But Trump’s aggressive attacks will provoke eruptions of protest–at unpredictable times and over unpredictable issues–and radicals need to try to help these protests develop from spontaneous reactions into lasting organizations of opposition.
These arenas of grassroots struggle and resistance–more than the local election and certainly more than doomed efforts to take over the Democratic Party–will be the primary place where the socialist left can begin to develop itself into a viable alternative.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
I WANT to close these reflections on the last year of hope and horror with the words of the great poet of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes.
In 1935, amid the labor and socialist radicalization of the Great Depression, Hughes wrote a vision of solidarity and resistance that is probably the best single response to Donald Trump and his sickening slogan of “Make American great again.” It puts forward a vision of humanity and struggle that would make this country and the whole world actually great for the first time.
May it be read at many meetings and protests in 2017:
Let America be America Again
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed–
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the black man bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek–
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the black man, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean–
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today–O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home–
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay–
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again–
The land that never has been yet–
And yet must be–the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine–the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME–
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose–
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The abuse and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain–
All, all the stretch of these great green states–
And make America again
Brexit is our opportunity to reshape Britain
Trade Unionists Against the EU’s FAWZI IBRAHIM gives his take on what’s up for grabs during the government’s Brexit negotiations
BREXIT has opened up opportunities for workers to shape their future and the future of the UK.
Such opportunities are very rare. They come but once in a lifetime. The last time such an opportunity presented itself was at the end of World War II.
On that occasion, the people created the welfare state, the NHS, social housing and the public ownership of the commanding heights of the economy. This time, let’s aim even higher.
Never before had the British people given such a clear instruction to a government to pursue a specific course of action as they did on June 23 2016.
The government had no choice but to heed this unequivocal instruction to leave the EU, to leave in a clean break and not some half-way house, a fake Brexit in which we remain subservient to the EU’s core institutions including the single market and its equally neoliberal Customs Union.
With “Brexit means Brexit,” Theresa May made it plain that her government will carry out the settled will of the people.
The fact that she was officially on the Remain side during the campaign and had spoken of the threats to the economy of leaving the EU to a Goldman Sachs meeting of investors before the referendum is irrelevant; if anything, it’s a testament to the depth and maturity of British democracy. The 80 per cent vote in favour of triggering Article 50 by the end of March by our parliamentarians who only a few months previously voted Remain by the very same majority is another testament to the strength of our democracy and the power workers can exert. MPs and governments are not elected to fulfil their own desires or satisfy their personal foibles, but to carry out the instructions of the people that elected them.
The referendum vote was also an instruction to the leadership of all trade unions to accept the settled view of workers and move on from the referendum debate. Generally this has been the case as more and more trade unions ditch their attachment to the free movement of labour and embrace Brexit.
Although Labour accepted the decision to leave the EU and whipped its MPs to support invoking Article 50 by the end of March, it nonetheless joined forces with those who are demanding the government state its negotiating priorities. Such a demand is both disingenuous and dangerous. It is disingenuous because its real purpose is to derail our exit. It is dangerous because it weakens the hand of the government as it goes into negotiations with the EU. As any negotiator knows, the one thing you don’t do is give away your priorities and tactics in advance.
Nicola Sturgeon’s attempt to derail Brexit by her contention that “the Scottish people voted for Scotland to remain in the EU” is fatuous. The referendum was for Britain as a whole and not whether any individual nation within it wished to stay or leave the EU. Equally questionable is her contention that by voting for the UK to remain in the EU and having failed to convince the rest of the country to do the same, Scottish people would want to leave the UK and join the EU. If four of five friends on a night out decide to go to a restaurant and a fifth expressed a wish to go clubbing, it does not follow that the person who disagreed would wish to go to a night club had she been on her own, let alone leave her friends and go to the club by herself. So it is with the EU referendum.
If Sturgeon calls a referendum on Scottish independence on the basis of joining the EU, it may very well prove her undoing. By the time the issue arises in two or three years time, countries would be queuing to leave a fractured, crisis-ridden EU rather than new ones eager to join, unless, that is, the Scottish people want Edinburgh to be the Athens of the north in more than one sense.
The Brexit vote was a rejection of neoliberalism as embodied by the single market and its four freedoms of movement.
This is the spirit of 2016, as powerful and all embracing as the spirit of 1945, which if seized could enable us to transform our economy.
Any shilly-shallying, any wavering will leave space for anti-working class organisations to divide and divert. The trade unions are uniquely placed to define this transformation.
With their extensive knowledge and expertise, trade unions should debate and formulate the policies necessary to re-orientate the economy towards a post-capitalist future. It is not a question of changing governments; it is a question of re-building Britain whichever government happens to occupy Downing Street.
Letter in response to the above, sent to the Morning Star on December 29 2016:
On reading Fawzi Ibrahim’s paean to the May/Farage approach to Brexit (M Star December 29) I thought, for a moment, that this paper’s policy of wide-ranging debate had been extended to Daily Mail leader writers.
Here’s what Ibrahim called for:
“A clean break and not some half-way house”: ie leaving the single market, which Unite says would cost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs.
“Trade unions (must) ditch their attachment to free movement of labour and embrace Brexit”: ie unions must support tighter immigration controls – which, thankfully Unite and other progressive unions are resisting.
And here’s his attack on Corbyn’s Labour Party:
“Labour (was wrong in) demanding the government state its negotiating priorities … because it weakens the hand of the government”: ie full support to Theresa May in refusing parliamentary scrutiny!
But then I realised, this bizarre article couldn’t be written by someone from the Daily Mail, because that paper is realistic enough to understand that Brexit cannot, under any circumstances “re-orientate the economy towards a post capitalist future”! Only a delusional fantasist would expect that.
Workers’ Liberty member Daniel Randall spoke on a panel at Limmud, a Jewish cultural and educational conference, on a panel entitled “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The other speakers were Jon Lansman (Momentum), Anna Lawton (Labour Party member and Limmud 2017 chair), and Barnaby Raine (RS21). The session was chaired by Andrew Gilbert (London Jewish Forum and Labour Party member).
This is a slightly-edited version of Daniel’s speech at the session.
I’m Daniel Randall; I work on the underground in London, where I’m a rep for the RMT union. I’m also a member of the socialist group Workers’ Liberty; we’re a Trotskyist organisation, but a rather heterodox one. I should also say that I’m not currently a member of the Labour Party, having been expelled, twice, for my membership of Workers’ Liberty. So I’m speaking here somewhat as a Labour Party member “in exile”.
The title of this panel is “why Jews should join Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. I’m going to approach the issue slightly differently, because I’m not a communalist; I’m not a Zionist, or a Bundist, or nationalist or cultural autonomist of any other stripe. I don’t believe in a unitary “Jewish interest”, and I don’t believe there’s any essentialist, innate “Jewish characteristics” that ought to compel Jews to join Labour, or any other political party. Fundamentally, I think Jews should join the Labour Party if they support its foundational purpose: to represent in politics the interests of working class.
I should also say that I don’t believe there’s any such thing as “Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party”. The Labour Party belongs to its members, not to its leader, and has always been a politically contested space and a site of struggle. You might not like the current political composition of the leadership, for whatever reason, but if you believe in labour representation, you should be in the Labour Party.
But to say nothing more than that would be a missed opportunity, I think, so I will use the not-very-much time I have to say a bit more on what a Corbyn-led Labour Party might imply for the relationship between Jews and the left.
I think the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to recompose and renew the left. Hundreds of thousands of young people, many of them new to politics and without the training and baggage of years spent organised under prevailing far-left common sense, good and bad, have become politicised, and some have become mobilised and active.
If you’re a Jewish leftist or labour movement activist who has felt uncomfortable with, or alienated by, the ‘common sense’ that has prevailed on the left around certain issues, and I agree that there has been much to feel uncomfortable about, then the febrile political atmosphere created by the Corbyn surge represents an opportunity to challenge and change that ‘common sense’. You should get involved in and be part of those discussions, but that means making a commitment to attempt to see this political moment through, on its own terms.
Much has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s personal, individual attitude to Israel/Palestine and antisemitism. On substantive questions of policy he has a much better position, in my view, than the one which has predominated on much of the far-left: he is for a two-state settlement, rather than the destruction of Israel, and against blanket boycotts of Israel. That puts him one up on much of the far-left.
His weaknesses on these issues, his historic softness on Hamas, for example, reflect the reality of him as a product of the existing left – a left characterised by Stalinist politics, and a “my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend” approach to international issues. But the new left in the Labour Party is bigger than Jeremy Corbyn himself and, as I’ve said, represents an opportunity to challenge those politics.
I think it’s also important for me to say here that the view that the entire far-left is institutionally antisemitic is a calumny, and I think some of the antisemitism scandals in Labour have been blown out of proportion and manipulated for factional ends, by figures on the right of the party.
Nevertheless, left antisemitism is a real and distinct phenomenon which needs a specific analysis and response. We don’t have time to say much here, but briefly, I think we can understand antisemitism on the left as a form of implied political hostility to Jews, distinct from the racialised antipathy of far-right antisemitism. This has its roots in the efforts by Stalinism, from the 1950s onward, to cynically conflate “Zionism” with imperialism, racism, and even fascism, which established a ‘common sense’ which came to dominate even on the anti-Stalinist left. Only an analysis that understands the historical roots of left antisemitism, and which sets as its aim the renewal of the left, on a politically healthier basis, can meaningfully confront it. The required response is fundamentally political, rather than moralistic or administrative or bureaucratic; to be part of recomposing and renewing a movement you must first be part of the movement.
The key is a culture of open debate, discussion, and education, conducted in an atmosphere of free speech, on all sides. We’re not there yet; far from it. But I believe we have an opportunity to build a left that is characterised by those things, and if you believe in them too then I urge you to help shape it.
I will finish by offering a different, perhaps more fundamental set of reasons why Jews should join the Labour Party.
We live in a grossly unequal world, characterised by exploitation and oppression. Just in this country, one of the richest in the world, over 500,000 people use food banks. In 2016, nearly 200 employers were found to be paying less than the minimum wage – a wage which it is now widely acknowledged it too low to live on anyway. Various forms of social oppression persist, and ecological degradation continues. It’s a bleak picture. And against this backdrop, the wealth of the richest continues to skyrocket. The richest 1,000 in Britain have increased their wealth by 112% since 2009.
All of that is grotesque and obscene. It should offend you, “as Jews”, and as human beings. It should make you want to change it. The only way we can change it is on the basis of a movement based fundamentally, structurally, on the relationship and conflict that animates it all: class. That is what the Labour Party and wider labour movement is for. And if you believe that it is the mission of the labour movement to change the world, and you find the labour movement before you inadequate or deficient in some way, then it is your responsibility not to abandon it, but to help transform it.
As I said at the beginning of this speech, I don’t believe in any innate Jewish characteristics that ought to compel us in a particular direction. But perhaps there is something in our historical experience that can help us gain an understanding of why our world is organised in that way, and how it might be different. In his essay “The Non-Jewish Jew”, Isaac Deutscher explores why Jews have seemed to be over-represented in the ranks of the thinkers and organisers of the left. Considering various figures including Marx, Trotsky, and Luxemburg, he writes:
“Have they anything in common with one another? Have they perhaps impressed mankind’s thought so greatly because of their special ‘Jewish genius’? I do not believe in the exclusive genius of any race. Yet I think that in some ways they were very Jewish indeed. They had in themselves something of the quintessence of Jewish life and of the Jewish intellect. They were a priori exceptional in that as Jews they dwelt on the borderlines of various civilisations, religions, and national cultures.
“They were born and brought up on the borderlines of various epochs. Their minds matured where the most diverse cultural influences crossed and fertilised each other. They lived on the margins or in the nooks and crannies of their respective nations. They were each in society and yet not in it, of it and yet not of it. It was this that enabled them to rise in thought above their societies, above their nations, above their times and generations, and to strike out mentally into wide new horizons and far into the future.”
That is our history. We do the most honour to our heritage when we attempt to use that history and experience to go beyond our own experience, into perspectives for universal emancipation.
That is why you, as a Jew, should dedicate yourself to the struggle to change the world. That is why you should join the Labour Party.
See also: Comrade Coatsey
Above: Gove repeats his Brexit lies, scarcely challenged by Stephanie Flanders
Many of us were genuinely shocked by the failure of supposedly serious BBC journalists to challenge the lies of the Brexit leaders during the referendum campaign, and the willingness of the BBC news to treat those lies as though they were serious, legitimate political arguments..
The BBC’s craven capitulation to the Brexiteers continues apace. I awoke this morning to Radio 4’s Today programme, compiled by ‘guest editor’ Helena Morrisey, billed in the Guardian thus: “Morrissey, who spent 15 years as chief executive of Newton Investment Management and also spoke out in favour of Brexit, said she would be “exploring the theme of ‘power to the people’ in a year when democracy reasserted itself and disruptive forces were unleashed, leaving many of us scrambling to work out what happens next”. This ultra-wealthy member of the ruling class and representative of finance capitalism, was allowed to present herself as some sort of persecuted representative of ‘the people.
The entire programme was a plug for Brexit, with virtually no balancing opinion. Michael Gove was allowed to lie (again) about what he said about “experts” (he now claims he only meant economists) and the usually excellent Stephanie Flanders scarcely challenged him, allowing him to semi-defend the “£350 million per week for the NHS” lie.
The BBC’s craven capitulation to the lies of the Brexiteers is all the more worrying in the light of the government’s ‘power grab’ whereby ministers will have increased powers to pick political allies for senior jobs at public bodies like the BBC.
Post-referendum (and the election of Trump), we live in an age of shameless cronyism, patronage, fear and ‘post truth’ – or to give ‘post truth’ its simple, correct name: lies.
Of course, some on the idiot-left continue in their state of denial.
The Hangover by Kingsley Amis (from Everyday Drinking – The Distilled Kingsley Amis, Bloomsbury 2008):
What a subject! And, in very truth, for once, a ‘strangely neglected’ one. Oh, I know you can hardly open a newspaper or magazine without coming across a set of instructions – most of them unoriginal, some of them quite unhelpful and one or two of them actually harmful – on how to cure this virtually pandemic ailment. But such discussions concentrate exclusively on physical manifestations, as if one were treating a mere illness. They omit the psychological, moral, emotional, spiritual aspects: all that vast, vague, awful, shimmering metaphysical superstructure that makes the hangover a (fortunately) unique route to self-knowledge and self-realisation.
Imaginative literature is not much better. There are poems and songs about drinking, of course, but none to speak of about getting drunk, let alone having been drunk. Novelists go into the subject more deeply and extensively, but tend to straddle the target, either polishing off the hero’s hangover in a few sentences or, so to speak, making it the whole of the novel. In the latter case, the hero will almost certainly be a dipsomaniac, who is not as most men are and never less so than on the morning after. This vital difference, together with much else, is firmly brought out in Charles Jackson’s marvellous and horrifying The Lost Weekend, the best fictional account of alcoholism I have read.
A few writers can be taken as metaphorically illuminating the world of the hangover while ostensibly dealing with something else. Perhaps Franz Kafka’s story The Metamorphosis, which starts with the hero waking up to find he has turned into a man-sized cockroach, is the best literary treatment of all. The central image could hardly be better chosen, and there is a telling touch in the nasty way everybody goes on at the chap. (I can find no information about Kafka’s drinking history.)
It is not my job, or anyway, I absolutely decline to attempt a full, direct description of the Metaphysical Hangover: no fun to write or read. But I hope something of this will emerge by implication from my list of counter-measures. Before I get on to that, however, I must deal with the Physical Hangover, which is, in any case, the logical one to tackle first, and the dispersal of which will notably alleviate the other – mind and body as we have already seen, being nowhere more intimately connected than in the sphere of drink. Here, then, is how to cope with:
THE PHYSICAL HANGOVER
1. Immediately on waking, start telling yourself how lucky you are to be feeling so bloody awful. This recognises the truth that if you do not feel bloody awful after a hefty night, then you are still drunk and must sober up in a waking state before hangover dawns.
2. If your wife or other partner is beside you, and (of course) is willing, perform the sexual act as vigorously as you can. The exercise will do you good, and – on the assumption that you enjoy sex – you will feel toned up emotionally, thus delivering a hit-and-run raid on your Metaphysical Hangover (M.H.) before you formally declare war on it.
WARNINGS. (i) If you are in bed with somebody you should not be in bed with, and have in the least degree a bad conscience about this, abstain. Guilt and shame are prominent constituents of the M.H., and will certainly be sharpened by indulgence on such an occasion.
(ii) For the same generic reason, do not take the matter into your own hands if you awake by yourself.
3. Having of course omitted to drink all that water before retiring, drink a lot of it now, more than you need to satisfy your immediate thirst. Alcohol is a notorious dehydrant, and a considerable part of your Physical Hangover (P.H.) comes from the lack of water in your cells.
At this point I must assume that you can devote at least a good part of the day to yourself and your condition. Those who inescapably have to get up and do something can stay in bed only as long as they dare, get up, shave, take a hot bath or shower (more of this later), breakfast off an unsweetened grapefruit (more of this later) and coffee, and clear off, with the intention of getting as drunk at lunchtime as they dare. Let me just observe in passing that the reason why so many professional artists drink a lot is not necessarily very much to do with the artistic temperament, etc. It is simply that they can afford to, because they can normally take a large part of a day off to deal with the ravages. So, then:
4. Stay in bed until you can stand it no longer. Simple fatigue is another great constituent of the P.H.
5. Refrain, at all costs, from taking a cold shower. It may bring temporary relief, but in my own and others’ experience it will give your Metaphysical Hangover a tremendous boost after about half an hour, in extreme cases making you feel like a creature from another planet. Perhaps this is the result of having dealt another shock to your already shocked system. The ideal arrangement, very much worth the trouble and expense if you are anything of a serious drinker, is a shower fixed over the bath. Run a bath as hot as you can bear and lie in it as long as you can bear. When it becomes too much, stand up and have a hot shower, then lie down again and repeat the sequence. This is time well spent.
Warning: Do not do this unless you are quite sure your heart and the rest of you will stand it. I would find it most disagreeable to be accused of precipitating your death, especially in court.
6. Shave. A drag, true, and you may well cut yourself, but it is a calming exercise and will lift your morale (another sideswipe at your M.H.)
7. Whatever the state of your stomach, do not take an alkalising agent such as bicarbonate of soda. Better to take unsweetened fruit juice or a grapefruit without sugar. The reasoning behind this is that your stomach, on receiving a further dose of acid, will say to itself, ‘Oh. I see: we need more alkaline,’ and proceed to neutralise itself. Bicarbonate will make it say: ‘Oh, I see: we need more acid,’ and do you further damage.
If you find this unconvincing, take heed of what happened one morning when, with a kingly hangover, I took bicarbonate with a vodka chaser. My companion said: ‘Let’s see what’s happening in your stomach,’ and poured the remnant of the vodka into the remnant of the bicarbonate solution. The mixture turned black and gave off smoke.
8. Eat nothing, or nothing else. Give your digestion the morning off. You may drink coffee, though do not expect this to do anything for you beyond making you feel more wide awake.
9. Try not to smoke. That nicotine has contributed to your P.H.is a view held by many people, including myself.
10. By now you will have shot a good deal of the morning. Get through the rest of it somehow, avoiding the society of your fellows. Talk is tiring. Go for a walk or sit or lie about in the fresh air. At 11am or so, see if you fancy the idea of a Polish Bison (hot Bovril and vodka). It is still worthwhile without the vodka. You can start working on your M.H. any time you like.
11. About 12:30pm, firmly take a hair (or better, in Cyril Connolly’s phrase, a tuft) of the dog that bit you. The dog, by the way, is of no particular breed; there is no obligation to go for the same drink as the one you were mainly punishing the night before. Many will favour the Bloody Mary. Others swear by the Underburg. For the ignorant, this is a highly alcoholic bitters rather resembling Fernet Branca, but in my experience more usually effective. It comes in miniature bottles holding about a pub double, and should be put down in one. The effect on one’s insides after a few seconds is rather like that of throwing a cricket ball into an empty bath, and the resulting mild convulsions and cries of shock are well worth witnessing. But, thereafter, a comforting glow supervenes, and very often a marked turn for the better. By now, one way or another, you will be readier to face the rest of mankind and a convivial lunchtime can well result. Eat what you like within reason, avoiding anything greasy or rich. If your Physical Hangover is still with you afterwards, go to bed.
Before going on to the M.H., I will, for completeness’s sake, mention three supposed hangover cures, all described as infallible by those who told me about them, though I have not tried any of them. The first two are hard to come by:
• Go down the mine on the early-morning shift at the coal-face.
• Go up for half an hour in an open aeroplane (needless to say, with a non-hungover person at the controls).
• Known as Donald Watt’s Jolt, this consists of a tumbler of some sweet liqueur, Benedictine or Grand Marnier, taken in lieu of breakfast. Its inventor told me that with one of them inside him, he once spent three-quarters of an hour at a freezing bus-stop ‘without turning a hair’. It is true that the sugar in the drink will give you energy and the alcohol alcohol.
At this point, younger readers may relax the unremitting attention with which they have followed the above. They are mostly strangers to the Metaphysical Hangover. But they will grin or jeer at their peril. Let them rest assured that, as they grow older, the Metaphysical Hangover will more and more come to fill the gap left by their progressively less severe Physical Hangover. And of the two, incomparably, the more dreadful is…
THE METAPHYSICAL HANGOVER
1. Deal thoroughly with your P.H.
2. When that ineffable compound of depression, sadness (these two are not the same), anxiety, self-hatred, sense of failure and fear for the future begins to steal over you, start telling yourself that what you have is a hangover. You are not sickening for anything, you have not suffered a minor brain lesion, you are not all that bad at your job, your family and friends are not leagued in a conspiracy of barely maintained silence about what a shit you are, you have not come at last to see life as it really is and there is no use crying over spilt milk. If this works, if you can convince yourself, you need do no more, as provided in the remarkably philosophical:
G.P.9: He who truly believes he has a hangover has no hangover.
3. If necessary then, embark on either the M.H. Literature Course or the M.H. Music Course or both in succession (not simultaneously). Going off and gazing at some painting, building or bit of statuary might do you good, too, but most people, I think, will find such things unimmediate for this — perhaps any — purpose. The structure of both Courses, HANGOVER READING and HANGOVER LISTENING, rests on the principle that you must feel worse emotionally before you start to feel better. A good cry is the initial aim.
Begin with verse, if you have any taste for it. Any really gloomy stuff that you admire will do. My own choice would tend to include the final scene of Paradise Lost, Book XII, lines 606 to the end, with what is probably the most poignant moment in all our literature coming at lines 624-6. The trouble here, though, is that today of all days you do not want to be reminded of how inferior you are to the man next door, let alone to a chap like Milton. Safer to pick somebody less horribly great. I would plump for the poems of A.E. Houseman and/or R.S. Thomas, not that they are in the least interchangeable. Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustum is good, too, if a little long for the purpose.
Switch to prose with the same principles of selection. I suggest Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich. It is not gloomy exactly, but its picture of life in a Russian labour camp will do you the important service of suggesting that there are plenty of people who have a bloody sight more to put up with than you (or I) have or ever will have, and who put up with it, if not cheerfully, at any rate in no mood of self-pity.
Turn now to stuff that suggests there may be some point to living after all. Battle poems come in rather well here: Macaulay’s Horatius, for instance. Or, should you feel that this selection is getting a bit British (for the Roman virtues Macaulay celebrates have very much that sort of flavour), try Chesterton’s Lepanto. The naval victory in 1571 of the forces of the Papal League over the Turks and their allies was accomplished without the assistance of a single Anglo-Saxon (or Protestant). Try not to mind the way Chesterton makes some play with the fact that this was a vicrory of Christians over Moslems.
By this time you could well be finding it conceivable that you might smile again some day. However, defer funny stuff for the moment. Try a good thriller or action story, which will start to wean you from self-observation and the darker emotions. Turn to comedy only after that; but it must be white – i.e. not black – comedy: P.G. Wodehouse, Stephen Leacock, Captain Marryat, Anthony Powell (not Evelyn Waugh), Peter De Vries (not The Blood of the Lamb, which, though very funny, has its real place in the tearful catagory, and a distinguished one). I am not suggesting that these writings are comparable in other ways than that they make unwillingness to laugh seem a little pompous and absurd.
Here, the trap is to set your sights too high. On the argument tentatively advanced against unduly great literature, give a wide berth to anyone like Mozart. Go for someone who is merely a towering genius. Tchaikovsky would be my best buy, and his Sixth Symphony (the Pathetique) my individual selection. After various false consolations have been set aside, its last movement really does what the composer intended and, in an amazingly non-dreary way, evokes total despair: sonic M.H. if ever I heard it.
Alternatively, or next, try Tchaikovsky’s successor, Sibelius. The Swan of Tuonela comes to mind, often recommended though it curiously is (or was in my youth) as a seduction battleground-piece (scope for a little article there). Better still for the purpose, I think, is the same composer’s incidental music to Maeterlinck’s play, Pelléas and Mélisande: not to be confused with Debussy’s opera of that name. The last section of the Sibelius, in particular, carries the ever-so-slightly phoney and overdone pathos that is exactly what you want in your present state.
If you can stand vocal music, I strongly recommend Brahms’s Alto Rhapsody – not an alto sax, you peasant, but a contralto voice, with men’s choir and full orchestra. By what must be pure chance, the words sung, from a – between you and me, rather crappy – poem of Goethe’s, Harzreise im Winter, sound like an only slightly metaphorical account of a hangover. They begin, “Aber abseits we ist’s?” — all right, I am only copying it off the record sleeve; they begin “But who is that (standing) apart?/His path is lost in the undergrowth”, and end with an appeal to God to “open the clouded vista over the thousand springs beside the thirsty one in the desert”. That last phrase gets a lot in. You can restore some of your fallen dignity by telling yourself that you too are a Duerstender in der Wueste. This is a piece that would fetch tears from a stone, especially a half-stoned stone, and nobody without a record of it in his possession should dare to say that he likes music. The Kathleen Ferrier version is still unequalled after twenty years.
Turn now to something lively and extrovert, but be careful. Quite a lot of stuff that appears to be so at first inspection has a nasty habit of sneaking in odd blows to the emotional solar plexus; ballet music (except Tchaikovsky) and overtures to light operas and such are much safer – Suppé, if you have no objection to being reminded of school sports days here and there, is fine. Or better, Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto, which would make a zombie dance.
Jazz is not much good for your M.H., and pop will probably worsen your P.H. But if you really feel that life could not possibly be gloomier, try any slow Miles Davis track. It will suggest to you that, however gloomy life may be, it cannot possibly be as gloomy as Davis makes it out to be. There is also the likely bonus to be gained from hearing some bystander refer to Davis as Miles instead of Davis. The surge of adrenalin at this piece of trendy pseudo-familiarity will buck up your system, and striking the offender to the ground will restore your belief in your own masculinity, rugged force, etc.
Warning: Make quite sure that Davis’s sometime partner, John Coltrane, is not “playing” his saxophone on any track you choose. He will suggest to you, in the strongest terms, that life is exactly what you are at present taking it to be: cheap, futile and meaningless.
* Wine maketh merry: but money answereth all things — ECCLESIASTES
I never tasted [whisky], except once for experiment at the inn at Inverary…It was strong but not pungent…What was the process I had no opportunity of inquiring, nor do I wish to improve the art of making poison pleasant — – SAMUEL JOHNSON
Above: some useful idiots at a ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ meeting, London 2014. Present to hear a message from Borotba were Richard Brenner (Workers Power), Andrew Murray (then of the CPB) and representatives of Socialist Action and the RMT.
By Dale Street
Workers Power (now rebranded as Red Flag) hailed them as their “Ukrainian allies” and as “revolutionary socialists” who had taken the lead in “mobilising workers and youth on the streets to defy the neo-liberals and the fascist gangs.”
Scarcely a meeting of the “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” (SARU) took place without a Skype link to one of their members. They provided “the most moving contributions” to SARU meetings, which were “rightly met with a standing ovation”.
For Socialist Appeal it was “the revolutionary organisation that is playing a leading role in the struggle against fascism in the (sic) Ukraine.” Articles by this “left-wing group” were published on the Socialist Appeal website.
Andrew Murray (formerly of the Communist Party of Britain, but now a member of his local CLP) shared platforms with its members. The Morning Star hailed them as part of the “left-wing forces” fighting back against “the neo-Nazi juggernaut” and the “fascist-coup-installed President Poroshenko”.
But e-mails from the office of Putin aide Vladislav Surkov – dating from 2014 and published by Ukrainian hackers at the close of last year – reveal that leaders of the Ukrainian supposedly-socialist organisation Borotba were nothing more than propagandists for Putin.
According to an article on the Ukrainian “Reft and Light” website (covering the blurring of differences between sections of the right and left internationally):
“This mass of e-mails contain documentary confirmation of the co-operation of all leading figures in Borotba with the Kremlin – or, to be more exact, the work undertaken by Borotba for the Kremlin.”
And the Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky writes:
“It is now an established fact that Borotba, the left-wing party of Manchuk, Kirichuk and co., was working for Surkov. They claimed they were combating the oligarchs and big capital. In fact, they were working for oligarchs and big capital – not of Ukraine, but of Russia.”
The copious material released by the hackers contains e-mails sent in the summer of 2014 to Aleksei Chesnakov, a long-standing associate of Surkov with a record of promoting the Kremlin’s politics through media outlets. In 2014 his remit, like that of Surkov, included Ukraine.
Documents attached to the e-mails include lists of journalists and activists whose writings pursued an unremittingly pro-Kremlin line during the still unresolved conflict in Ukraine.
Names on the lists include the Borotba leaders Shapinov, Albu, Manchuk, Kirichuk and Bliuminov, as well as the lesser known Ivan Zelensky (who writes under the name Nikolai Lenivtsyn).
Kirichuk is on a list entitled “High Profile Individuals”. Manchuk and Albu are on the “Not-High-Profile Individuals” list. Shapinov and Bliuminov are on the “Individuals of Medium Effectiveness” list, as too is Zelensky.
The different headings under which the Borotba leaders are grouped are themselves evidence that these are not lists of individuals whose pro-separatist writings had been stumbled across by some petty Kremlin bureaucrat.
In fact, the list which includes Manchuk’s name goes a step further and refers to him as “kustovoi”, meaning, in this context, that Manchuk was a ‘cluster leader’ of the group around him and that he exercised an influence over it.
Some of the e-mails also contain “temniki”: bullet-point prompts about how particular issues should be written about (from a pro-Kremlin point of view). Articles written by Borotba leaders correspond to the “temniki”.
The clearest example are articles by Kirichuck about the shooting down of a civilian plane (by separatists, using Russian-supplied military equipment) in July of 2014. Almost word-for-word Kirichuk repeats four of the eight bullet points in the relevant “temnik”.
Kirichuk’s only innovation is that whereas the final bullet point in the “temnik” proposes drawing a historical analogy with the assassination of the Emperor Franz Ferdinand, Kirichuk prefers to draw an analogy between the conflict in Ukraine and genocide in Rwanda.
One of the documents – of no relevance to Borotba at all – published by the hackers is almost certainly a fake. The rest have been authenticated by experts. The hackers also went to the trouble of publishing copies of the Surkov family’s passports as proof they had hacked the e-mail account of Surkov’s office.
In one sense, the authenticity of the hacked e-mails is almost irrelevant. The e-mails only confirm now what was obvious then.
Throughout 2014 Borotba peddled the Kremlin line on the conflict in Ukraine, even going so far as to organise joint campaigns with overt Russian nationalists (Rodina) and anti-semitic and anti-immigration pan-Slav chauvinists (Slavic Unity).
One (ex-)member of Borotba – Zelensky – has responded to the scandal provoked by the release of the hacked e-mails with a “So what’s all the fuss about?” response:
“Find just one, JUST ONE, article, you bastard, where we breached communism and its ideas, bearing in mind that from the outset, you bastard, we said that the whole fucking Maidan would lead to civil war and the current sorry state of Ukraine.”
“Did we accept donations? Yes, we did. From whom? From everyone. We took donations from everyone, including Kremlin political functionaries. So what?”
“The ‘temniki’ listed the main events of the week, but we explained them in the only way possible for us. So what if it coincided overall with the Kremlin discourse? What all anti-imperialists in the world said (about Ukraine) coincided as well.”
Borotba itself has disappeared. Its paper is no more, and neither is its website. Kirichuk is based in Berlin, Bliuminov is somewhere in Asia, and Shapinov and Albu have found a home for themselves among Russian Stalinist-nostalgics.
Borotba had its moment of glory in 2014. Not in Ukraine, where it was always more of a name than an actual organisation. But on the western European ‘left’, where a plentiful supply of useful idiots boosted its counterfeit ‘anti-fascist’ credentials while ignoring its pro-Russian-imperialist politics.