Whatever happened to “blowback”?

March 22, 2017 at 8:02 pm (apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, Galloway, Jim D, John Rees, Lindsey German, London, murder, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, Stop The War, SWP, terror, tragedy)

First picture of London terror attack suspect

There was a time when no Islamist terror outrage was complete without an article published within a day or two, from Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Terry Eagleton or the undisputed master of the genre, Seamus Milne, putting it all down to “blowback”. Such articles usually also claimed that no-one else dared put forward the “blowback” explanation, and the author was really being terribly brave in doing so. No such articles have appeared for a few years (the last one I can recall was after the Charlie Hebdo attack), so here’s my idea of what such a piece would read like today:

LONDON – In London today, a police officer was stabbed to death and pedestrians killed by a car driven by a so-called “terrorist”. Police speculated that the incident was deliberate, alleging the driver waited for some hours before hitting the pedestrians

The right-wing British government wasted no time in seizing on the incident to promote its fear-mongering agenda over terrorism, which includes pending legislation to vest its intelligence agency, CSIS, with more spying and secrecy powers in the name of fighting ISIS. A government spokesperson asserted “clear indications” that the driver “had become radicalized.”

In a “clearly prearranged exchange,” a Conservative MP described the incident as a “terrorist attack”; in reply, the prime minister gravely opined that the incident was “obviously extremely troubling.” Newspapers predictably followed suit, calling it a “suspected terrorist attack” and “homegrown terrorism.” A government spokesperson said “the event was the violent expression of an extremist ideology promoted by terrorist groups with global followings” and added: “That something like this would happen in London shows the long reach of these ideologies.”

In sum, the national mood and discourse in Britain is virtually identical to what prevails in every Western country whenever an incident like this happens: shock and bewilderment that someone would want to bring violence to such a good and innocent country, followed by claims that the incident shows how primitive and savage is the “terrorist ideology” of extremist Muslims, followed by rage and demand for still more actions of militarism and freedom-deprivation. There are two points worth making about this:

First, Britain has spent the last 16 years proclaiming itself a nation at war. It actively participated in the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and was an enthusiastic partner in some of the most extremist War on Terror abuses perpetrated by the U.S. Earlier this month, the Prime Minister revealed, with the support of a large majority of Britains, that “Britain is poised to go to war against ISIS, as [she] announced plans in Parliament [] to send CF-18 fighter jets for up to six months to battle Islamic extremists.” Just yesterday, fighter jets left for Iraq and the Prime Minister stood tall as she issued the standard Churchillian war rhetoric about the noble fight against evil.

It is always stunning when a country that has brought violence and military force to numerous countries acts shocked and bewildered when someone brings a tiny fraction of that violence back to that country. Regardless of one’s views on the justifiability of Britain’s lengthy military actions, it’s not the slightest bit surprising or difficult to understand why people who identify with those on the other end of British bombs and bullets would decide to attack the military responsible for that violence.

That’s the nature of war. A country doesn’t get to run around for years wallowing in war glory, invading, rendering and bombing others, without the risk of having violence brought back to it. Rather than being baffling or shocking, that reaction is completely natural and predictable. The only surprising thing about any of it is that it doesn’t happen more often.

The issue here is not justification (very few people would view attacks on civilians and police officers to be justified). The issue is causation. Every time one of these attacks occurs — from 9/11 on down — Western governments pretend that it was just some sort of unprovoked, utterly “senseless” act of violence caused by primitive, irrational, savage religious extremism inexplicably aimed at a country innocently minding its own business. They even invent fairy tales to feed to the population to explain why it happens: they hate us for our freedoms.

Those fairy tales are pure deceit. Except in the rarest of cases, the violence has clearly identifiable and easy-to-understand causes: namely, anger over the violence that the country’s government has spent years directing at others. The statements of those accused by the west of terrorism, and even the Pentagon’s own commissioned research, have made conclusively clear what motivates these acts: namely, anger over the violence, abuse and interference by Western countries in that part of the world, with the world’s Muslims overwhelmingly the targets and victims. The very policies of militarism and civil liberties erosions justified in the name of stopping terrorism are actually what fuels terrorism and ensures its endless continuation.

If you want to be a country that spends more than a decade proclaiming itself at war and bringing violence to others, then one should expect that violence will sometimes be directed at you as well. Far from being the by-product of primitive and inscrutable religions, that behavior is the natural reaction of human beings targeted with violence. Anyone who doubts that should review the 13-year orgy of violence the U.S. has unleashed on the world since the 9/11 attack, as well as the decades of violence and interference from the U.S. in that region prior to that.

Second, in what conceivable sense can this incident be called a “terrorist” attack? As I have written many times over the last several years, and as some of the best scholarship proves, “terrorism” is a word utterly devoid of objective or consistent meaning. It is little more than a totally malleable, propagandistic fear-mongering term used by Western governments (and non-Western ones) to justify whatever actions they undertake. As Professor Tomis Kapitan wrote in a brilliant essay in The New York Times on Monday: “Part of the success of this rhetoric traces to the fact that there is no consensus about the meaning of ‘terrorism.’”

But to the extent the term has any common understanding, it includes the deliberate (or wholly reckless) targeting of civilians with violence for political ends. But in this case in London, it wasn’t civilians who were really targeted. If one believes the government’s accounts of the incident, the driver attacked pedestrians at random, but his real targets were in uniform. In other words, he seems to have targeted a policeman– a member of a force that represents British imperialism.

Again, the point isn’t justifiability. There is a compelling argument to make that police officers engaged in security duties are not valid targets under the laws of war (although the U.S. and its closest allies use extremely broad and permissive standards for what constitutes legitimate military targets when it comes to their own violence). The point is that targeting soldiers who are part of a military fighting an active war is completely inconsistent with the common usage of the word “terrorism,” and yet it is reflexively applied by government officials and media outlets to this incident (and others like it in the UK and the US).

That’s because the most common functional definition of “terrorism” in Western discourse is quite clear. At this point, it means little more than: “violence directed at Westerners by Muslims” (when not used to mean “violence by Muslims,” it usually just means: violence the state dislikes). The term “terrorism” has become nothing more than a rhetorical weapon for legitimizing all violence by Western countries, and delegitimizing all violence against them, even when the violence called “terrorism” is clearly intended as retaliation for Western violence.

This is about far more than semantics. It is central to how the west propagandizes its citizenries; the manipulative use of the “terrorism” term lies at heart of that. As Professor Kapitan wrote in The New York Times:

Even when a definition is agreed upon, the rhetoric of “terror” is applied both selectively and inconsistently. In the mainstream American media, the “terrorist” label is usually reserved for those opposed to the policies of the U.S. and its allies. By contrast, some acts of violence that constitute terrorism under most definitions are not identified as such — for instance, the massacre of over 2000 Palestinian civilians in the Beirut refugee camps in 1982 or the killings of more than 3000 civilians in Nicaragua by “contra” rebels during the 1980s, or the genocide that took the lives of at least a half million Rwandans in 1994. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some actions that do not qualify as terrorism are labeled as such — that would include attacks by Hamas, Hezbollah or ISIS, for instance, against uniformed soldiers on duty.

Historically, the rhetoric of terror has been used by those in power not only to sway public opinion, but to direct attention away from their own acts of terror.

At this point, “terrorism” is the term that means nothing, but justifies everything. It is long past time that media outlets begin skeptically questioning its usage by political officials rather than mindlessly parroting it.

(c) Glenn Greenwald, Mehdi Hasan, Patrick Coburn, Seamus Milne, George Galloway, John Rees, Lindsey German, Peter Oborne, the SWP, Stop The War Coalition, etc, etc.

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Unite: the stakes are too high to indulge Allinson’s vanity project

March 21, 2017 at 6:09 pm (campaigning, elections, Johnny Lewis, labour party, Unite the union, workers)


Above: the threat from Watson’s man Coyne is too serious for “leftist” gestures

By Johnny Lewis

The latest concocted row about an alleged “hard-left plot”, supposedly orchestrated by Momentum and supporters of Len McCluskey, to “seize permanent control of the Labour party” is palpable nonsense, being cynically used by Tom Watson and the right wing candidate in the Unite general secretary election, Gerard Coyne. The claims don’t stand a moment’s scrutiny, but nevertheless the way they’ve been seized upon by Watson, the right of the PLP and most of the media, demonstrates exactly what’s at stake in the current Unite election. And it demonstrates quite decisively why a victory for Len McCluskey is of crucial importance to the serious left, and why Ian Allinson’s left-wing challenge to McCluskey is an irresponsible indulgence.

I was chatting to some friends who are foot soldiers in McCluskey’s re-election campaign and I innocently asked if now Allinson is on the ballot and he’s proved a point will he step down and throw his weight behind McCuskey? I was met with laugher and a look which I can best describe as pity. Not a chance, I was told: he’s out for his fifteen minutes minutes of fame. They also believe Allinson actually thinks he can win (whereas I’d put any statement Allinson may have made about winning down to hyperbole rather than the man being delusional).

Although they were laughing it was clear they are very angry with Allinson as they consider Coyne could take it if he is able to mobilise those who don’t usually vote. To get to these passive members Coyne is relying on social media and will surely see the red tops back him, and if anything will win it for him it will be The Sun. Also, as pointed out in a previous post Coyne will pick up numbers from the old AMICUS section who voted Hicks last time, viewing Coyne as far closer to their craft ethos than McCluskey. Although a Coyne victory is unlikely its very possibility is the context in which Allinson’s candidacy has to be judged and is the source of the anger of McCluskey’s foot soldiers.

While the consequences for Unite of a Coyne victory are not that easy to quantify, the impact on the broader movement is a known quantity. Unite is the buckle which holds the Labour left together: a Coyne victory would see that left unravel. A victorious Coyne would in quick order ensure Unite delegates on Labour’s Executive would vote with the right giving the anti Corbyn forces an inbuilt majority. All this is known to everyone, so why does Allinson continue to press his case?

Given the stakes in this election, the justification for left winger to stand against McCluskey needs to be pretty good. Allinson’s core reasons for standing can only be a combination of a belief that McCluskey has fallen short / sold out the members industrially and therefore needs to be challenged and, secondly, a desire to make propaganda for his vision of socialism through demonstrating an alternative to the supposed industrial shortcomings of McCuskey.

Self-evidently these reasons for standing do not have equal weight: the cornerstone of Allinson’s challenge must necessarily show McCluskey has failed to pursue a militant industrial policy; I don’t think that would be difficult to show – I think it is impossible. Apart from some lacklustre sallies at some of the union’s industrial activity Allinson has nothing to say on this matter. While the industrial ethos of McCluskey’s tenure has been one where the union supports all workers who take industrial action, refuses to repudiate strikes, and has set up a substantial strike fund. Of course it is quite possible to have a different assessment from McCluskey of what is possible but that is a matter of judgement / tactics rather than principle.

On this fundamental issue there is no difference in substance between Allinson and McCluskey, yet the context in which this election takes place means this industrial question is the only conceivable rationale for standing a left candidate. Unable to make any sort of case of ‘McCluskey the sell-out’, his campaign can only turn tactical differences into major concerns and invert the relationship between McCluskey’s industrial record and Allinson’s desire to propagate his socialist views so that the latter dominate.

While my Unite friends tell me that at nomination meetings the SWP and other Allinson supporters have tried to squeeze every ounce out of any real or imagined failure on the union’s part, it is Allinson’s broader socialist musing which dominate the debate – and those musings really are not to be taken seriously. To give one example:

While Allinson is clearly a Corbyn fan he is more ambiguous about the Labour Party he tells us:

‘…if there is a real movement of resistance to Tory policies at grass roots level, “wait for Jeremy” is not good enough when our rights, jobs and services are under attack every day’.

The political literacy of this statement is, to say the least, suspect. To start with the idea that Unite is ‘waiting for Jeremy’ originates from the socialist stricture that unions should not curtail industrial demands to placate an existing Labour Government or, indeed, to maximise the likelihood of a future Labour Government. The idea Unite is being held back from industrial action by the possibility of a Labour Government is palpable nonsense. Perhaps it is a propaganda point to show that Allinson has no illusions in Labour or Corbyn?

Then there is the question of what Allinson calls ‘a real movement of resistance’: now this is instructive because Unite has been at the centre of the People’s Assembly and I think it is doubtful whether that body would have much life without Unite’s support. So Unite under McCluskey has been central to building ‘resistance’ and it seems to me as an outsider it is the cornerstone of McCluskey’s general political approach. In fact Unite has done more to develop political activity outside of the Labour Party than any other union or political organisation. Allinson may well have done this or that aspect of campaigning differently but in the broad sweep of things he can have no serious difference with the present Unite leadership. The final point is his silence on what to do in our failure to date to build such a movement.

While he reckons the best means of defending Corbyn from right wing attacks attacks is to build ‘a real movement’, Allinson has no idea what to do in the absence of such a movement except make propaganda for building one. This of course betrays a passivity towards the Labour Party. While that may be OK for a political organisation it is not OK for a trade union. Whether he likes it or not the battle to support Corbyn and to get a Government that supports unions is taking place inside the Labour Party and among union members – and the crucial job of the left within the unions is explaining to them why they should vote Labour.

Two tragedies

The Unite election encapsulates two tragedies for the left: first that a large number of activists think it is quite permissible to split the left vote on what is to all intents and purposes an indulgence, and second that it is the right whose victory is contingent on mobilising sections of the passive membership. Or perhaps the nub of the left’s problem is that few people outside the ranks of the committed really care.

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Martin McGuinness and “the hand of friendship to unionists”

March 21, 2017 at 6:50 am (communalism, From the archives, history, Ireland, Monarchy, nationalism, posted by JD, reformism, republicanism, RIP, strange situations)

Image result for picture Martin McGuinness met the Queen

By Sean Matgamna (first published in 2012)

In a hugely symbolic moment on 27 June, during a royal visit to Northern Ireland to mark her jubilee, the former commander of the IRA shook hands with the Queen.

The man who commanded the force responsible for, amongst other things, the death of the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, exchanged a handshake with the woman whose armed forces murdered 14 innocent civil rights marchers in his hometown of Derry. This was, all proportions guarded, a real life instance of David Low’s famous cartoon “Rendezvous” in which Hitler (“the bloody assassin of the workers”) greets Stalin as “the scum of the earth”.

The response of the press, in Britain, Ireland and internationally, was very positive.

The Guardian thought “it underlined how far we have come since the Troubles”. The Mirror contained an unusually calm and rational article from Tony Parsons who described it as “the end of something — the decades of hatred, loathing and bloodshed” as well as “the beginning of something, too — when the raw wounds of the past can perhaps begin to heal”.

The Belfast Telegraph, traditionally a Unionist paper, hailed the handshake as “bridging a gulf that spanned centuries”. The southern Irish press was unreservedly impressed. The New York Times called it “a remarkable sign of reconciliation for both figures”.

The working-class socialist response to this would seem to be fairly straightforward. McGuinness claims still to be a republican in both important senses of the word. As a “capital R” Republican he appeared to make peace with the highest symbol of British rule while her state and government continue to “occupy” the northern part of Ireland and deny his people self-determination.

Even more objectionable is his apparent suspension of “lower case” republicanism — the rejection of rule by hereditary, unelected privilege. Contempt for such an institution should be taken for granted by even the mildest democrat.

Didn’t McGuinness, by shaking the Queen’s hand, acknowledge both her right to rule and her government’s sway in Ireland?

A glance at the fiercest critics of this historic handshake is a reminder that things are more complicated.

Before the meeting the Daily Mail advised the Queen to burn her gloves after carrying out her “distasteful duty”. The Sun’s front page headline declared “We don’t blame you for wearing gloves M’am”. The Times cartoonist provided an image of the Queen putting on four pairs of gloves before shaking the bloodstained hand of McGuinness.

The idea that there might be plenty of blood on the monarch’s hands too didn’t occur to any of them.

The Daily Mail was the one paper that didn’t deem the occasion to be worth a front page story. Inside, though, they brought us arch-militarist Max Hastings under the headline “I’m sorry, even in the name of peace, it was wrong to shake his blood-soaked hand”.

Hunting for evidence that McGuinness, the deputy prime minister and latter-day conciliator, remained “a fanatic”, Hastings alighted on his principled decision not to take his full ministerial salary (£71,000).

For me, that is evidence that Sinn Fein retains some connection with its mainly working-class base. For Hastings, it shows “certitude about his own moral compass” and this, he claims, is “the foremost requirement of a fanatic”.

On what appears to be the opposite side of the spectrum, McGuinness and Sinn Fein have been attacked by harder line Irish Republicans for yet another betrayal. Protests were held by dissident republicans, and senior SF councillor Alison Morris resigned in opposition to the event.

It’s important to register clearly what the critics are opposed to. On the republican side it isn’t seriously claimed that McGuinness or his party have become soft on the monarchy. For certain McGuinness and Sinn Fein have rapidly acclimatised to being part of the establishment and clearly enjoy being normal bourgeois politicians. What took place on 27 June was, however, more than just a further shift down that road.

The justification given by Sinn Fein had nothing to do with either the Queen or British rule. McGuinness described his move as “in a very pointed, deliberate and symbolic way offering the hand of friendship to unionists through the person of Queen Elizabeth for which many unionists have a deep affinity”. There is no reason not to take that rationale at face value. He went on to claim that this sort of symbolism had the potential to define “a new relationship between Britain and Ireland and between the Irish people themselves”.

That view can be criticised as naive. It can be attacked as a top-down way of managing the communal differences without challenging the fundamental causes. In common with most elements of the “peace process” it seems to reinforce rather than undercut cultural division. It’s a different matter, however, to criticise it for “going too far” towards the unionists. The least bad fault with modern-day SF is that they are insufficiently intransigent nationalists. Yet that is the criticism most commonly levelled at them from the left.

And it’s hard not to take some pleasure from the visible discomfort this event has caused to the British right. The fact that their Queen has felt it necessary to shake the hand of the former IRA commander has opened a very old sore for reactionaries.

The most reliable of these, Peter Hitchens, summed up the problem in the Mail on Sunday. After a few predictable and gratuitous personal swipes at McGuinness he compressed all his familiar anxieties into this short sentence: “If anyone doubted that the Good Friday Agreement was a humiliating surrender by a once-great country to a criminal gang, they can’t doubt it now.”

The sort of Tories whom Hitchens and Hastings write for spent their formative years insisting that those who took up arms to fight British rule anywhere in the world were no more than criminals. They said it too of Mandela and the ANC. Time and again they have seen these claims crumble to dust as the era of direct imperialist rule has given way to triumphant independence movements. And it hurts deeply.

Hitchens’ adult life has been blighted by one episode after another of “humiliating surrender” by his “once-great country” to movements fighting to free their countries from colonial or racist rule (or “criminal gangs” as he prefers to put it).

But the Irish people have not yet won a united independent state. The British have not surrendered and nor would it matter much if they did. The key to Irish territorial unity is, and has for decades been, democratic unity between its people. What Martin McGuinness did on 27 June offended the sensibilities of democrats and socialists because of our contempt for the institution of monarchy. However, his motive at least was progressive.

It was also republican in the sense defined by the founder of modern Irish republicanism Wolfe Tone — “to replace the name Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter with the common name Irishman”. We should be bold enough to point that out.

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‘The Battle Of Grangemouth’ – a worthless exercise in self-righteous posturing

March 20, 2017 at 8:55 pm (Beyond parody, class collaboration, fantasy, scotland, Unite the union)

Book review by Anne Field

The Battle of Grangemouth – A Worker’s Story, written by former Ineos convenor Mark Lyon, is as “a vital new book”, “a book which had to be written”, and “one of the most important books in modern working-class history.”

That is what Unite claims in its advertising campaign for the book, published last week by Lawrence & Wishart in association with Unite itself.

In one of the multiple endorsements which preface the book Unite General Secretary candidate Len McCuskey describes Lyon as “one of our most respected activists”. By writing the book he has “done the movement another service”.

McCluskey’s Chief of Staff, Andrew Murray, is of the same opinion: “Mark Lyon’s credit rating is triple A. Through his part in the struggle (at Grangemouth), and then through this memoir, Mark has laid two stones on the highway to the future.”

Lyon finished writing “one of the most important books in modern working-class history” in January of 2016. Fourteen months were then allowed to pass before this “vital new book” saw the light of day.

But every cloud has a silver lining. By the purest of coincidences, the book’s publication conveniently falls just ten days before ballot papers go out in Unite’s General Secretary and Executive Council elections.

“Why don’t we start out on the story – and I will see you on the other side for your thoughts,” writes Lyon in the book’s Introduction. This invitation soon turns out to be as enticing as an offer by Charron the boatman to ferry the souls of the dead across the River Styx into Hades.

The book begins with a potted history of the Lyon family dating back to the beginning of the last century, reminisces of the author’s childhood, and self-congratulatory memories of his apprenticeship and earliest years of paid employment.

The tenor of Lyon’s autobiographical sketches is the usual ‘life was tough, but that didn’t stop us having a good laugh’: “Hardy folks with gallows humour were clearly the order of the day.”

The book concludes with more reminisces on the part of the author: his experiences as a guitar player and member of a band, his musical tastes, a visit to evening mass in his local church, and random half-thought-through comments about the Scottish referendum of 2014 and the general election of 2015.

Unfortunately, what fills the gap between the opening and concluding sections of the book does little to enhance the style or content of Lyon’s literary endeavour.

The book is peppered with homespun homilies (“I think everyone should see Auschwitz at least once during their life”), useless titbits of information (“you can enjoy cherry vodka, fine beer and jazz in Krakow”), new paradigms of Scottishness (“Scottish is a condition and a philosophy; there is no automatic qualification by birth”) and some particularly excruciating turns of phrase:

“The only things missing were sackcloth, ashes and a pig’s bladder on the end of a stick as Tom tried to cajole and humour his master like a seventeenth-century court jester. … They may take our bicycles but they will never take our freedom! …”

“They had been smashed, wasted and destroyed and now lay prostrate and face-down in the street before the majesty and might of Unite the Union. … Even without reference to Old Moore’s Almanac, you can tell that the future is littered with certainties.”

A variety of themes run through the substance of Lyon’s literary endeavour. One of them is the contrast between Good People and Bad People. Good People are simply brilliant:

“As a contract welder I met some brilliant people … (Scottish Regional Secretary) Pat Rafferty and all the union sections were just brilliant … our brilliant members at Grangemouth … our brilliant Unite officer Scott Foley … individual Labour Party members were brilliant … it was brilliant for our members to know that Len was there beside us … Thompsons Solicitors have been brilliant … Canon Leo is the most brilliant man you could meet … we were given brilliant support.”

That’s a lot of brilliance. And things “fantastic” and “magnificent” do not lag far behind:

“Our fantastic political department … the response from our branch was nothing short of magnificent … it was a fantastic response from our members … our branch was simply magnificent … our magnificent branch members.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Star promotes claims of Israeli “apartheid” – from slave-state Qatar!

March 19, 2017 at 6:37 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, hell, Human rights, israel, Jim D, Middle East, stalinism, UN)

Foreign construction workers queue for buses back to their accommodation camp in Doha.
Foreign construction workers queue for buses back to their accommodation camp in Doha, Qatar

I’m sometimes asked why I bother commenting on the reportage of the Morning Star, a small-circulation daily controlled by the Communist Party of Britain.

The reason is because the M Star exerts an influence on the mainstream British left – and especially the trade union movement – that is out of all proportion to its circulation, or to the membership of the CPB.

The M Star’s domestic ‘line’ is fairly mainstream pro-Corbyn banality; its foreign policy is characterised by uncritical support for Assad in Syria and absolute hostility to Israel, inherited from Stalinist anti-semitism. So, Fridays’s M Star front-page was not that much of a surprise:

Israel is guilty of apartheid, says UN report


Mar
2017
Friday 17th
posted by Steve Sweeney in Britain

Campaigners hail findings as ‘breakthrough’ in the struggle for Palestinians


ISRAEL is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime of racial discrimination on the Palestinian population, according to a “historic” United Nations (UN) report.

The report, published by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) on Wednesday, urged member states to work together to bring such apartheid regimes to an end.

It concluded that it was “beyond reasonable doubt” that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid as defined by international law.

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) hailed the publication of the report, which condemned the “systematic regime of racial domination” over the Palestinian people and their exclusion from all levels of society.

PSC director Ben Jamal said: “This is a hugely significant moment … The case for the international community to hold Israel to account via the imposition of meaningful sanctions is overwhelming.”

And the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said it was a “historic breakthrough.”

Its co-founder Omar Barghouti said: “Our South Africa moment is nearing. This new UN report is a stark indicator that Israel’s apartheid is destined to end, as South Africa’s did.

“BDS is not only growing impressively on campuses, in churches, trade unions, cultural organisations and social movements, it is today adopted by a UN Commission.

“This may well be the very first beam of light that ushers the dawn of sanctions against Israel’s regime of occupation, settler-colonialism and apartheid.”

Although considered a breakthrough by pro-Palestinian organisations, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the report did not reflect the views of the secretary-general.

He added that the ESCWA — a UN agency made up of Arab states — did not consult with the UN secretariat before publishing their findings.

The report — titled “Israeli Practices towards Palestinian People and the Question of Apartheid” — called on UN member states to remember their collective duty not to recognise an apartheid regime, not to assist a state in maintaining such a regime and to work to bring apartheid states to an end.

It accused Israel of “demographic engineering” to maintain a Jewish state, and it detailed how control over matters including immigration, land use and public development planning by the World Zionist Organisation and Jewish Agency reinforces discrimination against Palestinians.

The system of martial law operated over 6.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip sees Israel “systematically and routinely” practice every inhuman act other than genocide as defined under the 1973 Apartheid Convention, it added.

Around 1.7 million Palestinians who are living as citizens of Israel suffer oppression on the basis of not being Jewish, according to the report, and they suffer discrimination through inferior services, restrictions on jobs and are legally prohibited from challenging legislation that maintains the “racial regime.”

While Palestinians are entitled to Israeli citizenship only Jews are entitled to Israeli nationality.

In East Jerusalem, the report found widespread discrimination in access to jobs and services with Palestinians suffering expulsions and home demolitions.

Their classification as “permanent residents” in the city means they have no legal standing to challenge Israeli law and, if they openly identify with Palestinians in the occupied territories, they risk automatic expulsion to the West Bank and a ban from visiting Jerusalem.

… except that, for anyone who bothered to read the M Star‘s front page article all the way through, it soon became apparent that

“Although considered a breakthrough by pro-Palestinian organisations, UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said that the report did not reflect the views of the secretary-general.

“He added that the ESCWA — a UN agency made up of Arab states — did not consult with the UN secretariat before publishing their findings.”

In other words, the M Star‘s lead story and headline was thoroughly misleading.

And who are the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) ? Well, it is made up exclusively of Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Libya. There are no democracies – by any definition of the word – in its ranks.

And, most outrageously, the ESCWA includes the state of Qatar, presently enslaving 1.8 migrant workers from India, Nepal and other South Asian countries. And the Morning Star repeats Qatar’s claim that Israel operates “apartheid”!

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Unite: for a critical McCluskey vote

March 18, 2017 at 3:14 pm (elections, Jim D, labour party, reformism, Unite the union, workers)

Image result for picture Len McCluskey Jeremy Corbyn

Serious leftists should vote for Len McCluskey in the Unite general secretary election for which voting begins on 27 March, because it’s a first-past-the-post poll, and without left-wing votes going to McCluskey there is a real risk Gerard Coyne will win.

Coyne is heavily backed by the Labour right wing around Tom Watson and Progress. If he wins, he will swing Unite decisively to the anti-Corbyn camp. That could close down all the openings for Labour revival opened by Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victories.

Vote Coyne to help Watson and Progress get rid of Corbyn: that’s the deal.

In the 2013 general secretary election there was no right-wing candidate. In the 2010 poll the right-wing vote was split between two right-wing candidates. Their combined vote was only 16,000 less than the vote for McCluskey.

A good chunk of the 53,000 votes won in that ballot by supposed “left-winger” Jerry Hicks will have been by no means tightly anchored to the left. Many members who voted Hicks because they saw him as closer to the old AEU strand in Unite, or because they backed his promise to boost the role of retired members, or because they liked his complaint about “the relationship with Labour being put ahead of members’ interests” (Hicks’s words), may be seduced by a well-crafted Coyne campaign.

Coyne probably has a better “machine” behind him than Bayliss or Cartmail did in 2010. The media has already been much more aggressively anti-McCluskey than in previous elections (partly using ammunition which, it has to be said, McCluskey has handed to them on a plate).

If there were no difference between McCluskey and Coyne, then we could dismiss the “splitting the left vote” argument. But there is a real difference.

There are many legitimate criticisms to be made of McCluskey, and many on the left in Unite felt it was a great pity that he felt it necessary to stand again, for a third term. But McCluskey is right about one thing: Unite’s backing for Corbyn “in 2015… was a decision of our elected lay Executive Council, and in 2016 of our 600-strong Policy Conference, by a vast majority… Gerard Coyne’s campaign is not being driven by concern for Unite and its members’ interests. It is being scripted by the failed plotters in the Parliamentary Labour Party… in their political project to bring back Blairism”.

During his time in office McCluskey can rightly claim credit for the re-organisation of the union’s branch structures (replacing amorphous and often moribund geographical branches by workplace-based ones) and building the union’s Organising and Leverage Department.

He has presided over the development of Unite community branches, targeted at bringing community activists, the unemployed, and students into the trade union movement, and bringing trade union resources to bear in support of their campaigning.

McCluskey backed Corbyn in the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest, and did so again in 2016.

Leftwinger Ian Allinson is standing as “an experienced workplace activist”, “the grassroots socialist candidate”, and “the only candidate who knows first-hand the experiences and frustrations of our members”. By contrast, writes Allinson, Len McCluskey and Gerard Coyne have both been “been paid officials of Unite for many years.” McCluskey stands for “more of the same” and Coyne stands for “turning the clock back”.

Allinson criticises the current Unite leadership for its failure to build a serious campaign against the Tories’ latest anti-union laws, its (alleged) shortcomings in a succession of industrial disputes, and its concessions to the ideology of “partnership” with employers. Allinson also unreservedly defends freedom of movement of labour, cites “increasing the participation and power of workers” as his “number one priority”, and has promised to remain on his current wage (i.e. not take the General Secretary salary of £130,000 a year).

Having Allinson in the race will be a good thing. It will mean that his arguments about Unite’s shortcomings under McCluskey and his alternative ideas about rank-and-file control will reach a much wider audience than just the branches which have nominated him.

That could help open up the debate about what a lay-member-led union would really look like and how it would function in practice — something which does not figure in either McCluskey’s or Coyne’s election material. So far, so good. But there are problems with Allinson’s election platform and campaign.

Allinson claims to be a better supporter of Corbyn than McCluskey. But Allinson is not even a Labour Party member and has made clear that he has no intention of joining. He advocates “extending Unite’s support for Jeremy Corbyn”, including “through Unite’s role in the Labour Party”. What that means is not spelt out. At a minimum, it must include encouraging more Unite members to join the party, which Allinson himself refuses to join.

Given Allinson’s defence of freedom of movement of labour, he ought to be critical of Corbyn (from the left): Corbyn has retreated from demanding access to the Single Market (and the freedom of movement which goes with it) and has backed the Tories’ Brexit Bill. But Allinson is silent about this. In fact, he does not seems to have ever spelt out own position on Brexit. (The group of which Allinson is a member, RS 21, took no position on the EU referendum — it was too divided internally to have done so.)

Allinson campaigns for a million “green jobs” to help protect the environment, as opposed to “costly and destructive vanity projects”. But he includes in those “vanity projects” Hinkley Point (although even George Monbiot sees a role for nuclear power) and HS2 (which could be developed into a much more environmentally friendly project). Allinson’s proposals for greater lay-member-control in Unite certainly provide a basis for discussion. But they lack a focus.

Alongside some specific demands, such as the ill thought-out ritual call for election of officers, there are vague proposals such as “fortnightly e-mail bulletins [from whom, about what?] to all activists, not filtered through officers and committees” and “involving members, officers and staff in a major review of Unite’s structures”. So officers should be by-passed when a fortnightly e-mail is sent out, but participate in a major review of Unite structures? Allinson “opposes the exclusion of Community and retired members from participation in Unite structures”. This smacks far more of Jerry-Hicks-style electioneering than a thought-through analysis of the role of Community and retired members’ branches. (In the 2010 and 2013 General Secretary elections Hicks ran shamelessly opportunist campaigns, to pick up both right and left votes. The most damning statement in Allinson’s election material is surely: “In previous Unite elections, Jerry Hicks, standing on a similar basis to me ….”)

In order to justify his own candidacy, Allinson refers to previous Unite General Secretary elections “when left challengers beat the right.” But 2013 was a straight clash between McCluskey and Hicks (i.e. no right-wing candidate, although Hicks certainly picked up votes from the ex-Amicus right). In 2010 Hicks came second to McCluskey — but only because two right-wing candidates split the right vote. And when Mark Serwotka beat Hugh Lanning to become PCS General Secretary in 2000, which Allinson also cites, it was a straight left-right clash.

Allinson is not always consistent in his critique of McCluskey and Coyne. McCluskey’s defeat and Coyne’s victory would be “a disaster for Unite,” writes Allinson. But he also argues that there is no real difference between them: “Far from my candidacy splitting the left vote, McCluskey and Coyne are splitting the establishment vote.” At the same time, Allinson declares that if he was not standing himself, he would vote for McCluskey: “There will be some members who will support me who would support McCluskey if there were no better option. I would be one of those members myself.”

In fact, the real problem confronting Allinson is a different one. Because there is a worse option (Coyne), members who would otherwise support Allinson, or at least be sympathetic to his ideas, are more likely to vote for McCluskey in a first-past-the-post poll. The shortcomings of Allinson’s campaign, especially in the context of the threat posed by Coyne, outweigh the case for voting for him. Even so, the argument at the core of Allinson’s campaign is the right one: for a member-led union in place of a bureaucracy-led union which pretends to be a member-led one. And that is a message which needs to be pursued beyond the current election campaign.

LINK TO COMPLETE UNITED LEFT EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE AND GENERAL SECRETARY SLATE.

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Derek Walcott RIP

March 17, 2017 at 8:48 pm (Jim D, literature, poetry, RIP)

Derek Alton Walcott, poet: born (Castries, St Lucia) 23 Jan 1930, died 17 Mar 2017


Sea Grapes

Sea grapes are a type of grapes indigenous to Caribbean Sea that has particularly bitter and sour taste. The title of this poem is obscure in terms of the connection between the content and the title. However, the important message or the theme of the poem lies within the sour taste of sea grapes. Furthermore, Derek Walcott was born and raised in the Caribbean, and his experiences around there inspired many of his writings. Walcott was engrossed in Greek mythology, and mentioned about it frequently in his work, comparing and contrasting it with the present situations and problems. This poem, “Sea Grapes,” written by Derek Walcott, illustrates that conflicts between obsession and responsibility must be solved, weaving them to ancient Greek myth and the hero by using allegory and metaphor.

Guardian obituary, here

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That NICS capitulation: why not just ask The Mail what’s acceptable?

March 16, 2017 at 7:14 pm (Conseravative Party, Daily Mail, economics, Europe, Jim D, populism, Tory scum)

Image result for daily mail newspaper front page budget

I hate to admit this, but Hammond’s proposed increase in national insurance contributions (NICS) for the self employed wasn’t such a bad idea.

It would have been a modest, progressive increase in the national insurance contributions paid by the better-off self-employed while abolishing the £2.85 per week flat-rate contribution paid by those earning less than £16,250.

It would have raised  a much-needed £2 billion in a relatively fair way, recognising that  structure of NICs is a major driver in the growth of self-employment. An employer who can persuade a worker to become a self-employed contractor immediately saves paying 13.8% national insurance, while the newly self-employed contractors’ payments fall from 12% to 9%.

Hammond’s enforced (by May) U-turn now leaves a £2 billion hole in public finances, with no obvious means of plugging it.

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Reactions to Indyref2

March 14, 2017 at 11:33 am (Beyond parody, Europe, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, scotland, SNP)

These are all genuine:

It’s odd. I voted in the Westminster & Holyrood elections. Can’t remember anyone offering to fuck my life up.
 
Politics today: Insert silver bullet into single chamber, spin revolver, place barrel on temple.
 
Like King Arthur, summoned from sleep when the realm is threatened, our heroes awake from slumber:
 
                                             Inline image


 Sturgeon wants an indyref without a plan on the basis Brexit is happening without a plan.
 
Spent all day (and many prior) trying to grasp the idea that the answer to nationalism is more nationalism. It’s an inscrutable mindset.
 
I knew life expectancy in parts of Scotland was lower than the rest of the UK, but a generation lasting 5 years is pretty bleak #indyref2
 
As a 24 year old it is nice to know I have lived for six generations. Mightily impressive. #indyref2
 
Not even an hour since the announcement and I’m already sick of this shite #indyref2
 
WELCOME TO BRITAIN. ALL REFERENDUMS ALL THE TIME. WE ALL HATE EACH OTHER NOW. NEXT WEEK A REFERENDUM ON GRAVITY. SEND HELP.
 
BMG poll for Herald: 49 per cent of Scots do not want a 2nd independence referendum before Brexit; 39 per cent do; 13 per cent are unsure.
 
I’ve already seen an international publication photoshop Nicola Sturgeon’s face onto Mel Gibson’s body. Please, not again.
 
#Indyref1 was flag-wavers screaming at a passive majority. #Indyref2 will be two lots of flag-wavers screaming at each other. I can’t wait.
 
2017-19 was going to be longest stint without a major UK election in half a decade so at least #indyref2 is job creation for journalists.
 
As Scotland pushes for #IndyRef2, what would Europe look like if all independence movements won? #maps
                                          
                                                   Inline image

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Second Scottish referendum: why Corbyn was wrong

March 13, 2017 at 3:33 pm (labour party, nationalism, posted by JD, reformism, scotland, SNP)

Image result for picture Jeremy Corbyn Kezia Dugdale
Above: Dugdale and Corbyn

By Dale Street (also published at the Workers Liberty website)

Only a fortnight ago Kezia Dugdale summed up Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum on Scottish independence:

“[At this weekend’s Scottish Labour annual conference] I set out Scottish Labour’s opposition to another independence referendum. Scotland is divided enough already, without yet another attempt to separate our country from the rest of the UK.

The people of Scotland do not want another independence referendum. It’s time for the Nationalists to listen to the voices of ordinary working people. [Given the levels of poverty in Scotland], it would be shameful to spend the next few years talking about independence.”

Although it counted for little more than gesture politics, Scottish Labour underlined its opposition to a second referendum by launching an online petition:

“Sign the pledge against a second independence referendum and join the fight for a stronger Scotland inside a reformed UK, with jobs and opportunities for all.”

But last weekend Jeremy Corbyn visited Glasgow and told the media: “If a referendum is held, then it is absolutely fine, it should be held. I don’t think it’s the job of Westminster or the Labour Party to prevent people holding referenda.”

“A spokesman for Corbyn” and “a source close to Corbyn” tried to minimise the damage.

According to the spokesman: “Jeremy reaffirmed our position today that if the Scottish Parliament votes for a referendum, it would be wrong for Westminster to block it. Labour continues to oppose a further referendum in the Scottish Parliament”.

But Labour has not taken a position that Westminster should agree to a referendum if Holyrood votes for it. And Corbyn’s argument that the Labour Party should not “prevent people from holding referenda” does not fit in with Scottish Labour’s opposition to a second referendum.

According to the “close source”: “Westminster blocking a second referendum would give the SNP exactly what they want – more grievance. Kezia Dugdale is absolutely right to oppose a second referendum at Holyrood and keep the pressure on Nicola Sturgeon to rule one out.”

But the SNP has an infinite supply of “more grievance” anyway. Their entire political life consists of conjuring up “more grievance”. And if Dugdale is right to “keep the pressure” on Sturgeon to rule one out, a second referendum could only be the result of a defeat for Scottish Labour – not something to be described as “absolutely fine”.

Corbyn, his spokesman and the close source all reaffirmed opposition to independence in the event of a second referendum.

But this faded into the background, overshadowed by (not entirely accurate) headlines along the lines of Corbyn: Second independence referendum should be held and Corbyn absolutely fine with a second Scottish referendum.

Corbyn’s opponents within the Labour Party were quick to exploit his statement: “Often asked why I resigned from Shadow Cabinet. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Jeremy Corbyn. He’s destroying the party that so many need”, tweeted Scotland’s only Labour MP.

For the viscerally anti-Corbyn MSP Jackie Baillie it was too good an opportunity to miss: “This is a misguided and irresponsible comment from Jeremy Corbyn that is an insult to the dedicated work of Scottish Labour MSPs, councillors and thousands of activists who have campaigned against a divisive second referendum”.

Of course, Corbyn’s factional opponents within the Labour Party will attempt to exploit the issue.

And it would be legitimate to argue that Corbyn’s core argument is correct, i.e. Scotland’s right to self-determination means not just the right to independence but also the right to hold a referendum without having to seek Westminster approval.

Even so, Corbyn’s statement was wrong on any number of levels.

Despite the attempted spin of the unnamed spokesman and close source, Corbyn’s layback attitude to the prospect of a possible second independence referendum cannot be reconciled with Scottish Labour policy.

Corbyn’s statement clearly came out of the blue and without advance warning: Corbyn had not described a second referendum as “absolutely fine” when he had spoken at the Scottish Labour conference just a fortnight ago.

Although Corbyn was referring to what position Labour in Westminster might or should adopt towards the demand for a second referendum, his statement read – even without the additional spin by the media – as an endorsement in principle of a second referendum.

The statement confused “people holding referenda” with the SNP’s campaign for a second referendum.

Opinion polls suggest there is no popular support for a second referendum (at least in the short term). The SNP demand for another referendum is the product of its own one-trick-pony nationalist politics, not a reflection of public opinion. The SNP wants to hold a referendum, not “people”.

By appearing to legitimise their demand for a second referendum, the statement played into the hands of the SNP. Sturgeon’s mocking response to Corbyn’s statement was to tweet: “Always a pleasure to have @jeremycorbyn campaigning in Scotland.”

The statement also played into the hands of the Tories, who have already overtaken Labour as the official opposition at Holyrood. It allowed them to present themselves as the only genuine opposition to Scottish independence (which, in turn, is a further gift to the SNP).

Corbyn’s statement was also an extension of what is wrong with his approach to Brexit.

For Corbyn, it seems that once a referendum appears on the political agenda, the specific interests of the labour movement no longer count for anything. Instead, the labour movement should either submit to the result and vote with the Tories (Brexit) or submit to the demand for one and vote with the SNP (Scotland).

Above all, it is not “absolutely fine” if a second referendum were to be held. Irrespective of the result, it would divide Scottish society and weaken the labour movement – in both cases, probably for more than a generation – to an even great degree than the 2014 referendum.

The 2014 referendum was a profoundly divisive event. Previously coexisting national identities were pitted again each other. By elbowing aside class-based politics and voting patterns in favour of national-identity politics, it also resulted in a collapse of electoral support for Labour.

A second referendum would take that process a stage further. In fact, the impact would be far worse than in 2014.

In 2014 the SNP did at least attempt to run a campaign which was based to some degree on economic arguments (however spurious those arguments may have been). But identity politics will be at the core of a second referendum: bad English/British (racist and pro-Brexit) and proud Scot (pro-EU and inclusive).

What was fundamentally wrong with Corbyn’s statement was not so much his off-the-cuff speculation about what position Labour in Westminster might take about a second referendum. It was his failure to understand the poisonous political impact of a second referendum, whatever its result.

Corbyn was wrong. And no-one on the left should feel obliged to defend the indefensible.

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