This is a guest post by Jonathan Hoffman
“Am I an anti-Semite”?
This was the topic of Ilan Pappe’s talk on Tuesday evening at UCL (another ‘Apartheid Week’ event – on the strength of this talk, there is really no question). It was a real gathering of the Israel-traducing clans, including the Trotskyist [Ie SWP’er – JD] John Rose, author of ‘The Myths of Zionism’.
Ilan Pappe published his book “The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine” in 2006. It has been widely criticised as dishonest. See here how Pappe is accused of rewriting history (It compares his book with newspaper archives). Pappe’s hysterical thesis – that Israel ‘ethnically cleansed’ half the Arab population in 1948 – has been comprehensively disproved, for example by Efraim Karsh in 2008:
“By the time of Israel’s declaration of independence on May 14 1948, the numbers of Arab refugees had more than trebled. Even then, none of the 170,000-180,000 Arabs fleeing urban centers, and only a handful of the 130,000-160,000 villagers who left their homes, had been forced out by the Jews.”
Incredibly Pappe on Tuesday said ‘Israel in 1948 was as bad as Daesh today’. Let’s remember that in 1948, the Mayor of Haifa, Shabtai Levy, pleaded with the Arabs to stay. How on earth does this compare with the atrocities perpetrated by Daesh?
Benny Morris said of Ilan Pappe: “At best, Ilan Pappe must be one of the world’s sloppiest historians; at worst, one of the most dishonest. In truth, he probably merits a place somewhere between the two.”
Pappe further disgraced his academic status by his approbation of Thomas Suarez’s racist apology for a ‘book’ : ‘A tour de force, based on diligent archival research that looks boldly at the impact of Zionism in Palestine and its people in the first part of the 20th century. The book is the first comprehensive and structured analysis of the violence and terror employed by the Zionist movement and later the state of Israel against the people of Palestine. Much of the suffering we witness today can be explained by, and connected to, this formative period covered thoroughly in this book.’
And remember him on the Al Jazeera ‘Lobby’ programme, saying that the charge of ‘antisemitism’ is being used falsely, “to intimidate Corbyn”!
The security at Tuesday’s meeting was as near as possible on a UK University campus to closing down opposition. It was reminiscent of the meetings of the former Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The organisers tried to eject me even before the meeting began. The pretext was that I had the wrong ticket but of course the truth was that they wanted to censor me. No filming was allowed, though that injunction seemed to apply only to the Zionists – at least one anti-Zionist (Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi) filmed freely.
Two security guards in Hi-Vis jackets were present throughout the Q+A. Hecklers (there were none) would surely have been manhandled out. The biased Chair failed to call on me in the Q+A. Questions not relevant to what Pappe had said were not allowed (so no criticism of his dishonest book, for example).
The Hatefest was presided over by Yahya Abu Seido and Yousef (I think his second name is Anis). How ironic that they were free to hold this Hatefest when (27 October 2016) they did their best to stop a UCLU Friends of Israel event from happening.
Yahya Abu Seido’s desire that Israel be destroyed is laid out here. He was one of the leaders of the attempt to stop Hen Mazzig speaking on 27 October. He was caught on camera celebrating what he believed was the success in achieving this. He was responsible for the people that left Jewish students locked in a room. Those who necessitated a police escort for pro-Israel students and advocates to leave UCL safely on 27 October. At 12.30 on 27 October in the Quad at UCL, the following conversation with Seido was noted by an Israel activist:
Yahya Abu-Seido: You seem interested, can I help you?
X:No, I’m fine thanks
YAS: Because you’re staring at people, they find it intimidating
X:I hardly think so. Are you going to intimidate the speaker this evening?
YAS (confidently): The talk is not going to happen
YAS – does not answer, turns his back
X:I hope you are not going to do anything illegal
YAS: Don’t worry, we won’t do anything illegal
The drama on Tuesday began even before the start. I got there early, before the ticket checking started. Yousef and Yahya Abu Seido checked my ticket – and deemed it invalid, asking me to leave and join the waitlist.
Apparently the early bookers (like me – I booked on 8 February, before the date of the meeting was changed from 24 February) were asked to rebook and non-students to pay £5. Well, I never received that message – so I stood my ground. They threatened me with security. Fortunately a Union sabbatical officer was there to resolve it. The truth – of course- was that they wanted me out – pure censorship.
The meeting started by introducing the Chair, Dr Lee Grieveson, Reader in Film Studies at UCL. Like the Chairs at the other three IAW meetings I have attended, he was of course irredeemably biased. He has signed anti-Israel letters here and here.
Pappe’s talk was pure anti-Israel vitriol and falsehoods. His thesis was that Israel was founded by ‘settler colonialists’ and that the Jews righted the wrong done to them by the Nazis by committing another wrong, on the Palestinians (in his talk he repeated the phrase ‘settler colonialism’ 13 times – remember how he organised a hatefest ‘conference’ on the topic at Exeter University in October 2015). Fifteen years ago pro-Israel people said “don’t criticise Israel, you will damage the peace process”. But now there is no peace process so (according to Pappe) supporters of Israel have to call all criticism of Israel ‘antisemitic’. Ridiculously Pappe said that Israelis and Zionists define antisemitism as “criticising Jews for what they are doing, even when they are doing something wrong.”
In other words, Pappe did not address the question. Instead he railed at a straw man – our old friend the ‘Livingstone Formulation’: the charge that Israel advocates use the charge of ‘antisemitism’ to suppress all criticism of Israel. Of course it is a false charge and those who use it can never – when challenged – provide an example. The IHRA Definition of Antisemitism does NOT attempt to suppress criticism of Israel – and the allegation that it does is absurd, shameful and ‘Antisemitism Denial’.
The reason Pappe did not address the question is doubtless because of the number of antisemitic remarks that he wished to make. One of the worst was the suggestion that the solution to the antisemitism of the Nazis was also antisemitic because “people who live in Palestine are also Semites”. The response “Arabs are Semites too” is used by antisemites to deny Middle Eastern antisemitism. Antisemitism Denial is right up there alongside Holocaust Denial. Pappe also said several times that Israel is a racist state – the IHRA Definition says that to ‘claim that the State of Israel is a racist endeavour’ is antisemitic. Pappe said “For me, Israel is not a Jewish State”; “Is there a legitimacy for a racist state?” And “regimes like the one we have now in Israel cannot exist for very long”. We also had David Ward-style admonition of naughty Jews for not learning the lessons of the Holocaust: Pappe described how he lost members of his family in the Holocaust and then said “The State of Israel – instead of creating a certain sensitivity toward crimes against humanity, sees it as a licence to perpetrate crimes against humanity. I don’t accept that an abused person is entitled to abuse”. Suggesting that Israel has not learned the lessons of the Holocaust is vile, period – the fact that Pappe lost family in the Holocaust absolutely does not give him licence to say it with impunity. Not only vile but anti-Semitic: To compare Jews with Nazis is antisemitic.
Several people heard one of the audience members made a borderline antisemitic comment too. Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi turned around to the pro-Israel supporters behind her and alleged “the media are all on your side”.
However despite the intimidating security and biased Chair, Pappe did not have it all his own way on Tuesday. The Jewish students there did a ‘silent protest’ with signs (‘Ilan Pappe does not represent me’ plus the name of their institution):
I joined them with this sign, referring to the topic of the meeting and the offensiveness of the suggestion that non-Jews should decide what constitutes racism against Jews:
(The footage is on the Facebook page of the organisers).
And the debate after the meeting outside in the yard was fierce and peaceful, with the Jewish students rebutting the lies with passion and knowledge. Well done guys, you know who you are!
But why could this debate not have happened in the room …
Readers may remember the incident a week or so ago when Fran Cowling, the NUS lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) representative, said that she would not share a stage with Peter Tatchell, whom she described as “racist” and “transphobic”. The row was covered in some detail by Comrade Coatesy here, and in the Guardian here.
Tatchell, a long standing campaigner for gay rights and human rights more generally, quite understandably, decided to mount a public defence of his good name against these outrageous slurs. As a result of doing so, he was denounced yet again, in this hysterical Open Letter – which includes the truly Orwellian charge of Tatchell referring to a “confidential email chain” that had been forwarded to him “without permission”, thus apparently making Tachell’s accuser the true ‘victim’ of this story!
The signatories include not just the usual NUS suspects and their petty bourgeois and authoritarian friends in academia, but shamefully, the editor of the anarchist Freedom News has signed, too.
It’s a depressing read, but serious in its way, as an example of the anti-free speech, authoritarian logic of extreme identity politics and the hysteria it can induce.
Note, in particular, this paragraph:
“Tatchell has a long record of urging that public platforms be denied members of ethnic and religious groups, especially Muslims. He has called for banning so-called “Islamist” speakers from Universities. He has even demanded mosques apologise “for hosting homophobic hate preachers” and give “assurances that they will not host them again.” Tatchell claims the right to decide who qualifies as a “homophobic hate preacher”; what counts is not inciting violence or any tangible threats to LGBT Londoners, but rather simply expressing religious opinions about homosexual acts. The peculiar urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims lends credibility to the charge of racial insensitivity.”
So, at some point, it has apparently become acceptable for supposed leftwingers to consider speaker tours for homophobic bigots to be a matter of indifference, and that it is “racially insensitive” for LGBT rights campaigners to object to people expressing “religious opinions about homosexual acts“. Most decent lefties (and liberals) will find this euphemistic description of far-right hate preachers pretty sickening. Now, some might disagree with Tatchell on minor tactical issues of precisely how he approaches this, but my gut response, when ‘lefties’ tell gay rights campaigners to shut up about organised far-right bigotry is: “fuck off”.
Also: “The particular urgency with which Tatchell targets Muslims“? Well – which Muslims? All of them? An attack on a far-right preacher who thinks all gay people are animals is an attack on all Muslims? Isn’t it “racially insensitive” to identify all Muslims with the hard-right ideologues that Tatchell feels “urgent” about?
What a wretched, hypocritical shower these self-righteous NUS authoritarians and their academic friends, are!
Like (I’m sure) most decent people, I was appalled to read in today’s Observer that the NUS’s LGBT representative, one Fran Cowling, has denounced Peter Tatchell as “transphobic” and “racist”.
The “evidence” for this nonsense is non-existent to any rational person, so I don’t intend, here, to even dignify it with a response: Comrade Coatesy deals with it here.
Suffice to say that my immediate reaction was that Fran Cowling, the NUS’s LGBT representative who made these comments, may be mentally ill: certainly, she should not be taken as speaking on behalf of the NUS: the NUS told the Observer “Tatchell has not been ‘no-platformed’ by the union as a whole, and that it was up to Cowling to make her own choices with regard to this event.”
So I assumed this was the reaction of one strange and disturbed individual, carried away by the self-righteous logic of identity politics. Until this was drawn to my attention:
Here is what passed – overwhelmingly – at NUS LGBT conference 2015
Motion 101: End Transphobia, Biphobia and Islamophobia on Campus
Content warning: Transphobia, biphobia, and Islamophobia
1.1. NUS LGBT has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as part of LGBT NUS, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.2. All students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus where they can learn, develop as an individual, and achieve their full potential. This safe space must include an environment that is free from all forms of discrimination and prejudice including but not limited to: homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, racism, sexism, ableism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism.
3.3. Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as Trans, including (but not limited to) transgender, transsexual, transvestite, and genderqueer people, and anyone who does define into the gender binary norms of society.
4.4. NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’ Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach prejudice and discrimination based on an individual’s identity, and who incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity or beliefs.
5.5. The NUS LGBT Campaign and the NUS Women’s Campaign have previously passed policy refusing to share a platform with Julie Bindel, a journalist and author who is notorious for her transphobic publications and views, and other individuals who hold transphobic views.
Conference further believes:
1.1. Julie Bindel is renowned for her transphobic viewpoints, which first came to light in her article Gender Benders, Beware (2004). Bindel has apologised for the ‘tone’ of this article, but has not renounced further writings which argue that Trans people should be denied medical care. Moreover, she has spoken at events such as Femifest 2014 that explicitly exclude Trans people.
2.2. Julie Bindel argued in her latest book, ‘Straight Expectations’ (2014) that that bisexuality doesn’t exist as a sexual identity, thus erasing bisexual individuals’ identities and experiences.
3.3. Julie Bindel has also criticised women who wear the niqab in her article for the Daily Mail: Why are my fellow feminists shamefully silent over the tyranny of the veil (2013); in refusing to believe that Muslim women have made their own decision to wear the niqab she denies Muslim women agency.
1.1. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT committee shall not share a platform with Julie Bindel.
2.2. That the NUS LGBT Officers and members of the NUS LGBT Committee shall not engage with transphobic, biphobic or Islamophobic speakers
And here is a motion that passed at NUS Trans Conference in autumn 2015 – note “The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform … Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform”
Motion 108 | Hate has no place on campuses
Content Warning: Transphobia
1.NUS has a duty to protect and promote the rights of those who self-define as trans, on campus at University or college and in wider society.
2.All students, regardless of their gender identity, have the right to a safe environment at their University or College campus.
3.Transphobia is an irrational dislike, hatred, prejudice and/or discriminatory action towards individuals who define as trans.
4.NUS Liberation Campaigns have previously passed ‘No Platform’, “no sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies in order to protect students from individuals who preach and incite hatred against an individual based upon their identity.
5.Legally “hate speech” does not cover transphobic speech
Conference Further Believes:
1.1. Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or antiSemitic speakers have no place at universities or colleges.
2.2. “No sharing of platforms” and “no invite” Policies do not limit the freedom of speech
3.3. Transphobic speech should be legally recognised as hate speech
4.4. Transphobia and transphobic speakers have lead to poor access to health care and welfare services by spreading myths about trans people.
5.5. By allowing transphobic speakers onto campus this can affect the mental health of trans students on campus.
6.6. By giving a speaker a platform it is a method to legitimises their views
7.7. The sharing of content on social media is also granting a platform
8.8. Covering transphobic speech both in a positive and negative light is still granting it a platform.
9.9. Transphobic speech is still transphobic hate speech even if they are a member of another or the same liberation group.
10.10. There is no such thing as reverse discrimination.
11.11. Universities and Colleges should be a place for trans people to thrive where they feel safe and accepted.
1.1. To support all campaigns, protests and petitions making people who are Transphobic, homophobic, biphobic, racist, sexist, ableist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and/or anti-Semitic speakers not to invited onto campuses.
2.2. To not share platforms with and not to invite onto campuses all transphobic speakers including but not limited to: Germaine Greer1 , Julie Bindel2 , Julie Burchill3 and Milo Yiannapolous4 .
3.3. To actively campaign against the platforming and inviting onto campuses of all transphobic speakers at universities.
4.4. To encourage the platforming and inviting onto campuses of people from liberation groups, specifically pertaining to the issue at hand.
5.5. Encourage students’ unions to have safe spaces for trans people, as well spaces where they can operate autonomously
6.6. To work on making transphobic speech covered under the definition of “hate speech”
So it would seem that Fran Cowling is not just an individual lunatic, but is acting on behalf of the NUS’s LGBT conference: in which case socialists have a job of work to shake these tossers out of their self-righteous idiocy, before society as a whole declares them beyond the pale.
The ad in the Guardian
Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”
It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.
The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.
However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »
“Why the interest? It’s a psychological detective story. Why should clever men at the very heart of the Establishment, who enjoyed its trappings, seek to betray it? Why did they devote their lives to a known totalitarian regime, abandoning friends and family, ending their lives in lonely exile in Moscow? How did they get away with it given their drunkenness, drug-taking and sexual promiscuity? Are there other spies still to be uncovered? (Andrew Lownie, International Business Times)
The release of over 400 previously unrevealed MI5 and Foreign Office files provides some fascinating insights into the psychological and personal motivations of Burgess, Philby, Maclean and the rest of the Cambridge spy ring and their associates, as well as the sometimes hilarious incompetence of the British security services. However, the underlying political motivation of these upper class Stalinists who’d started out as genuine anti-fascist idealists in the 1930s, has been evident to astute observers for many years, and carries important lessons for serious socialists to this day. Sean Matgamna describes the political background in this 2004 article:
In The Climate of Treason Andrew Boyle recounts a conversation which took place amongst a group of young communists in the summer of 1933, in Cambridge. Some of them would become the famous traitors who would be exposed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, after having served the USSR as double agents within the British secret services for decades.
Kim Philby had just come back from Germany, and he reported to his friends on what he had seen. There, at the beginning of the year, Hitler had been allowed to come to power peacefully. The powerful German Communist Party (KPD) could rely on four million votes; it had hundreds of thousands of militants; it had its own armed militia, and the strength to physically crush the fascist groups in most of the working-class districts of Berlin — and yet it had put up no resistance at all to the Hitlerites. It had allowed itself to be smashed, without a struggle.
In the years when the Nazi party was burgeoning, the KPD had refused to unite with the Socialists (who had eight million votes) to stop them; and now that the capitalists had brought the Nazis to power, the KPD slunk into its grave, without even token resistance.
It is one of the great pivotal events in the history of the labour movement, and in the history of the 20th century. The Second World War, Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe the decline and decay of the revolutionary working class movement — all of these things grew out of Hitler’s victory over the German working class movement. Unexpected, and enormous in its consequences, the collapse of the KPD was almost inexplicable.
In fact, the KPD acted as it did on Stalin’s direct orders. Stalin had decided that it was in the USSR’s interests to let Hitler come to power because Hitler would try to revise the Treaty of Versailles and “keep them busy in the West while we get on with building up socialism here”, as he put it to the German Communist leader Heinz Neumann (who he would later have shot).
In Cambridge in that summer of 1933 the young men who listened to Philby’s report tried to make sense of the German events. The Communist International was still denying that any catastrophe had occurred at all, denying that the KPD had been destroyed. It was still playing with idiotic slogans like: “After Hitler, our turn next.” Those who wanted to stay in the Comintern had to accept this way of looking at it. But was the International correct?
More daring than the others, one of the Cambridge group suggested that, maybe mistakes had been made. Maybe they should have fought. Maybe Stalin’s critics — Trotsky, for example — had been right. Maybe, after all, Stalin did not quite know what he was doing.
“No!”, said Philby, very heated. He denied that the KPD had made mistakes, or that Stalin had got things wrong: further, he denied that, where the affairs of the labour movement were concerned, Stalin could be wrong. As the infallible Pope cannot err where “matters of faith and morals” are concerned, so Stalin could not err where the affairs of the left were concerned. He denied that there was any left other than Stalin. “W…why,” the future KGB general stuttered, “W…what-ever Stalin does — that is the left.”
It is a statement which sums up an entire epoch in the history of the left. What Stalin did, that is, what the Stalinists in power did — that was the left! The official accounts of what they did; the rationalisations and fantasies which disguised what they did; the learned “Marxist” commentaries on the “reasons” for what they did; the deep “theoretical” arguments which were concocted to explain why “socialism” in the USSR was so very far from the traditional hopes and goals of the revolutionary left; the codification of Stalinist practice, written over and into the basic texts of socialist learning, turning them into incoherent Stalinist palimpsests — that was now “the left” and “Marxism”. The left was restyled out of all recognition.
A movement rooted historically in the French Revolution, whose drive for democracy and equality it carried forward against the shallow, empty, and false bourgeois versions of these ideas, now championed a tyrannical state ruled by a narrow intolerant elite.
A movement dedicated to collective ownership and therefore needing democracy because collective ownership is, by definition, not possible unless ownership is exercised collectively, and thus — there is no alternative — democratically, nevertheless championed the idea of ownership by an undemocratic state, itself “owned” by a narrow elite, and confused it with collective ownership. Read the rest of this entry »
The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University, Belfast, has cancelled a symposium on the issues raised by the Charlie Hebdo killings. The professed reasons for the cancellation were supposed security concerns and – more worrying in many ways – concern for the “reputation” of the University. Nick Cohen has written a typically good piece about this and other attacks on free speech in higher education, but the article we re-publish below (from Little Atoms) is by one of the invited speakers, Jason Walsh, and you can tell that despite his measured tone, he’s angry:
This response to the present horror in Gaza is a little confusing:
BDS (total boycott of all things – and people – Israeli) activist Haim Bresheeth appears to be heavily involved in an appeal, also involving Noam Chomsky, which quite rightly, calls on Israeli academics to speak out against the bombardment and siege of Gaza:
How does this fit with his and others’ desire for a boycott? The appeal is signed by at least one SWP’er (Mick Cushman, assuming he’s still a member) and also by leading boycotter and Hamas apologist Ilan Pappé.
An account of the difficulties of getting Israeli signatures (written by a supporter of Pappé) is linked to, but criticised for being “too dismissive of the Israeli reaction.”
The actual statement has so far been signed by about 40 Israeli academics and is a clear call for a negotiated settlement and peace agreement that will end the occupation and settlements. Unless anyone tries to interpret this as a voluntary liquidation of Israel it can only be a call for a two state solution.
The signatories to this statement, all academics at Israeli universities, wish it to be known that they utterly deplore the aggressive military strategy being deployed by the Israeli government. The slaughter of large numbers of wholly innocent people, is placing yet more barriers of blood in the way of the negotiated agreement which is the only alternative to the occupation and endless oppression of the Palestinian people. Israel must agree to an immediate cease-fire, and start negotiating in good faith for the end of the occupation and settlements, through a just peace agreement.
So the BDS movement (SWP included) is calling for action, from people they say should not be engaged with in any way, advocating support for two states and laying into Pappé’s supporters for being unduly cynical about it.
Can anyone explain the logic behind this?
H/t: Comrade Pete
Above: excerpt from John Akomfrah’s film ‘The Stuart Hall Project’
The death yesterday of Stuart Hall, aged 82, robs the British left of a major intellect, an energetic organiser and a warm, charismatic human being. I should declare an interest: in the early 1970’s Stuart was one of my tutors at Birmingham University (where he was director of the Centre for Contemporary Studies) and, together with Dorothy Thompson in the History department, was instrumental in ensuring that I wasn’t chucked out and eventually obtained a degree (albeit an ‘Ordinary’). So I owe him a great deal: I only wish I’d got to know him better and found out, for instance, that we shared a love of jazz (although, I learned from Desert Island Discs, his favourite musician was Miles Davis, so even that might have generated some disagreement).
So I hope it’s clear that I liked and respected Stuart Hall a great deal, and if the articles reproduced below, in his memory, are quite sharply critical of aspects of his politics (particularly his rejection of the centrality of the working class to the struggle for socialism), that’s because serious, honest people can (or, at least, ought to be able to) disagree and still hold one another in high regard.
Paving the way for New Labour
By Matt Cooper (2013)
Cinema documentary has undergone a renaissance in recent years, with fine examples exploring subjects as diverse as sushi in Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011) and death squads in 1960s Indonesia in The Act of Killing (2012).
Nonetheless, a film about the semi-Marxist cultural theorist Stuart Hall is unexpected. Hall was born in Jamaica in 1932, went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar in 1952 and was the founding editor of New Left Review (NLR) in 1960. This was a journal which explicitly adopted a “third way” approach between Soviet Communism and social democracy, but was ambivalent about the working class and its revolutionary potential.
After resigning as editor of NLR in 1962, Hall became a leading radical academic joining the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University in 1964 and becoming its director from 1968 to 1979. Cultural studies grew out of the New Left interest in the culture of the working class, which had largely been ignored by academia, and was part of a rise in a form of academic radicalism that mixed some real insights in an overly abstract and obtuse theoretical carapace and, like the New Left, often had little relationship with real struggles.
The last phase of Hall’s career commenced after 1979, when, despite his earlier rejection of both Stalinism and social democracy, he was one of the key theorists of bringing the two together. Through the pages of Marxism Today (the journal of the right wing of the Communist Party), and his own books, Hall argued that Labour needed to form a new progressive alliance in tune with “new times” where the organised working class was a diminishing force.
The problem with Akomfrah’s film is that it fails to address the development of Hall’s thought. It is strongest on his part in the formation of the New Left, and here hints at the weakness of this approach. While Hall’s co-thinkers were well established in Oxford and London, he reports that he was perplexed by an early encounter with the northern working class in Halifax. Like much else in the film, which is straitjacketed by its choice to use only the words from radio and TV appearances by Hall, this is left undeveloped.
Similarly, the film moves briefly over Hall’s work in the 1970s and fails to communicate what was specific about Hall’s understanding of culture — particularly his work on the moral panic over mugging in Policing the Crisis (1978).
Worst of all, the film entirely misses out Hall’s analysis of Thatcherism in the 1980s and his increasingly pessimistic response about how the left should respond to it.
Strangely, the film includes a clip of the 1984-1985 miners’ strike, but there is no reference to any words from Hall to accompany it. Hall, while clearly sympathetic to the strike, thought it the doomed expression of class struggle that could no longer win. Without any clear sense of transforming society, Hall looked only to create a new more progressive ideology removed from such outdated class struggle. Unwittingly, he was preparing the ground for New Labour (which was more enthusiastically supported by many of his Marxism Today collaborators).
Without much grasp of Hall’s place in the movement away from class politics from the 1960s to the 1980s, The Stuart Hall Project ends up with a fragmented kaleidoscope of images without any clear narrative.
It neither does justice to Hall’s ideas nor shows any critical understanding of them.
“Post Fordism”: collapsing into the present
By Martin Thomas (1989)
Capitalism has changed and is changing. Vast new areas in the Third World have industrialised. The introduction of small, cheap, flexible computers is revolutionising finance, administration, retailing, manufacturing. The majority of the workforce in many capitalist countries is now “white-collar” – but white-collar work is becoming more industrial.
Dozens of other shifts and changes are underway. Which of them are basic? How are they connected? What implications do they have for socialists?
Into this debate has marched the Communist Party’s magazine “Marxism Today”, bearing a banner with a strange device – “post-Fordism”. “At the heart of New Times”, they write, “is the shift from the old mass-production Fordist economy to a new, more flexible, post” Fordist order based on computers, information technology and robotics” (Marxism Today, October 1988). These New Times call for a new politics: in place of the old class struggle, diverse alliances.
There are several issues here. Do the political conclusions really follow from the economic analysis? Is the economic analysis sound? Where does the economic analysis come from? What do the terms “Fordism” and “post-Fordism” mean? Read the rest of this entry »
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Above: Kassim Alhimidi (left) and Trayvon Martin (right)
By Unrepentent Jacobin (Reblogged from Jabobinism):
On the Hounding of Adele Wilde-Blavatsky
There is a damaging idea fast gathering influence on the Left that – like a lot of contemporary postmodern Leftist thought – urgently needs dismantling. This idea holds that racism is only possible when prejudice is married with power. The corollary of this premise is that racism may only travel in one direction – from the powerful to the powerless – and it is therefore nonsensical to discuss, still less condemn, racist attitudes expressed by ethnic minorities. In the West, racism is the preserve of the white majority who use it – often, it is claimed, unconsciously – to sustain their advantage and to oppress those they deem to be ‘other’. In the geopolitical sphere, meanwhile, this racism is the preserve of the world’s wealthy democracies and is expressed as Orientalism, Military and Cultural Imperialism, and Neoliberalism, all of which are used to dominate and subjugate the Global South.
Furthermore, racism exists independently of individual prejudice and cultural mores – like the power systems of which it is a part, it is abstract; metaphysical; unavoidable; unchanging. It is all-pervasive, ‘structural’, endemic, systemic, and internalised to such a degree that even (or especially) white liberal Westerners who perceive themselves to be broad-minded and non-prejudicial are not even aware of it. It is therefore incumbent on every white person, male or female, to ‘check their white privilege’ before venturing to comment on matters pertaining to minority cultures, lest they allow their unconscious ethnocentricity to reinforce oppressive power structures. Instead, moral judgement of minorities by universal standards should – no, must – be replaced by a willingness to indulge and uncritically accept difference.
In the view of this layman, this kind of thinking is wrong, both morally and in point of fact.
Postmodernism is notoriously unhappy with anything as concrete as a dictionary definition. However, the inconvenient fact is that racism remains clearly defined in the OED, and by the common usage its entries are intended to reflect, as follows:
Racism, n: The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. Hence: prejudice and antagonism towards people of other races, esp. those felt to be a threat to one’s cultural or racial integrity or economic well-being; the expression of such prejudice in words or actions. Also occas. in extended use, with reference to people of other nationalities.
That the effects of this prejudice and antagonism are aggravated, perpetuated and sometimes institutionalized by the effects of power is undeniable, but this is a separate issue. Many unpleasant aspects of human nature and behaviour (greed, for instance) are also exacerbated by power, but that doesn’t change the ugly nature of the behaviour itself, nor allow us to infer that the powerless are incapable of making it manifest.
Efforts to effect an official change to this definition should be strongly resisted on grounds of egalitarianism (an idea the Left once cared about deeply). The difficulty with the power + prejudice formulation lies, not just in its dilution of what makes racism so toxic, but in a consequent moral relativism which holds people to different standards. It is manifestly unjust to hold some people to a higher standard of thought and behaviour based on their unalterable characteristics. However, it is far worse to hold others to a respectively lower standard based on those same characteristics, which insists on the indulgence of viewpoints and behaviour by some that would not be tolerated from others.
This separatist thinking has given rise to identity politics, moral equivalence, cultural relativism and what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others have called “a racism of low expectations”. As Hirsi Ali remarked in her memoir-cum-polemic Nomad (excerpted here):
This Western attitude is based on the idea that people of colour must be exempted from “normal” standards of behaviour. There are many good men and women in the West who try to resettle refugees and strive to eliminate discrimination. They lobby governments to exempt minorities from the standards of behaviour of western societies; they fight to help minorities preserve their cultures, and excuse their religion from critical scrutiny. These people mean well, but their activism is now a part of the very problem they seek to solve.
Identity politics reinforces the racist argument that people can and should be judged according to their skin colour. It rests on the same crude, illiberal determinism, and results in what the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner has described as a “racism of the anti-racists”. This, as we shall see, leaves those vulnerable to oppression within ‘subaltern’ groups without a voice and mutes criticism of chauvinism and out-group hatred when expressed by minorities.
The alternative to this, now routinely derided as ‘Enlightenment Fundamentalism’, is a principled commitment to egalitarianism and universalism – the notion that what separates us (culture) is taught and learned, but that what unites us is far more important and fundamental: that is, our common humanity. On this basis, the same rights and protections should be afforded to all people.
This is what underpinned the idealism of the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the American Declaration of Independence, two of the most noble documents produced by Enlightenment thought. It was the foundation for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted and adopted in the wake of the carnage of the Second World War. And it is the basis upon which civil rights groups and human rights organisations have sought to advance the laws and actions of nations and their peoples.
The answer to prejudice, and to the division and inequality it inevitably produces, is not exceptionalism based on a hierarchy of grievance, but to strive for greater equality on the basis that we belong to a common species, divided only by our ideas. As Martin Luther King declared on the steps of the Lincoln memorial:
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
On 20 December, the feminist writer and activist Adele Wilde-Blavatsky published an article in the Huffington Post entitled Stop Bashing White Women in the Name of Beyonce: We Need Unity Not Division. Wilde-Blavatsky’s post was a rebuke to those – on what she described as the post-colonial or intersectional feminist Left – who use identity politics and arguments from privilege to delegitimise the voices of white feminists speaking out about the abuse of women in the Global South and within minority communities in the West. Read the rest of this entry »