Ed Maltby writes:
Press briefing on the Papal jet. The Vicar of Christ is sitting at the head of the compartment, head resting on fist. Alberto Gasparri is half-standing out of his seat, waving for the press corps to sit down. When silence has fallen the Pontiff slowly unfolds himself out across his big chair until he’s sitting upright.
‘I wanna tell you this thing. I’m a modern guy. I’m in favour of this… whaddaya say, “Freedom a Speech”.
‘But what does that mean? Take my associate, Alberto Gasparri here.” Nodding to Alberto, “Now, if Gasparri were to insult my mother,” Alberto’s eyes widen a little, he breathes in, “heaven forbid – if he were to say a bad word about my mamma,’ Francis I leans across his seat to swing a vicious upper at his aide, who flinches back. Press corps smiles freeze. Silence on the plane until the punch stops short, silver pectoral cross swinging on its chain. The Pope relaxes, leans back into the red leather, ‘he’d get a little slap. Capisce?
‘Now this Charlie guy. Wise guy. He wants a make a joke out a religion? You know, for some people, religion is very serious. For me, it’s a business, my line a work. He wants to make a joke out a this? Make it a game? You wanna make religion a game’, finger jabbing the air, voice raised to a crescendo, ‘you gotta be ready to PLAY.’ Bergolio lets that sink in for a second, then, stretching back with a smile adds, softly, ‘Cos I am.
‘This Charlie guy, I guess he wasn’t ready.
‘Maybe not so wise after all.’
The Left Unity conference on Saturday is debating Kurdistan. There is a motion which describes ISIS as having “progressive potential” because it breaks down the imperialist-drawn boundaries of Middle Eastern states and literally – literally – calls for support for a caliphate in the region, describing this as representing “internationalism”, “protection of diversity and autonomy”, “accountability and representation” and “effective control of executive authority”. I honestly don’t think I’ve misrepresented it. Luckily there are a number of other decent motions supporting the Kurds and working-class and socialist forces, including one which highlights the nature of Western imperialism but argues for the Kurds’ right to get weapons and air support in their battle against ISIS (not proposed by Workers’ Liberty funnily enough).
NB: the motion, in pdf form, is p.41, amendement Ba2
Two motions debated at NUS NEC
The meeting then turned to motions submitted by NEC members. Unfortunately this part of the meeting was no feast of reason. There are two motions I want to focus on: Iraqi solidarity and Israel/Palestine. I urge you to read the motions before continuing.
The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).
The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” – (see Aaron Kiely, a fellow NUS NEC member’s, tweet during the meeting as reflective of the position). The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement.
(I must also put on record that after only a single round of speeches, Toni Pearce moved the debate on. This was wrong: there was no opportunity to respond to Bouattia’s allegations. I had my hand up to speak in response, but was not called.)
Let us look at Bouattia’s arguments: is the motion anti-Muslim or pro US intervention?
The motion was partly written by a Kurdish student activist, and presented by the International students’ officer, Shreya Paudel. I have looked again and again at the contents of the motion, yet I cannot track any Islamophobia or racism.
The US occupation, and its aftermath, has been an utter disaster for the people of Iraq. Resulting governments, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, have been authoritarian and carried out virulent Shia sectarianism. A civil war in the mid 2000s killed 34,000 civilians. Today there are 1.6 million refugees.
The dynamics in 2014 are complex. ISIS, who have grown out of Al-Qaeda, have seized huge swathes of the country; there is a new, shaky, shia-sectarian government; and a Kurdish regional government, whose self determination I believe we should support.
The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq. It is repressing and persecuting minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Sunni Muslim Arabs. On the 29th June it declared a “caliphate” (a religious dictatorship). It has carried out rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas.
These developments have been exacerbated and driven by US policy deliberately fostering sectarianism.
The situation is desperate.
In this situation, it is fundamental that the political Left, trade union and student organisations, like NUS, show our solidarity with the Iraqi people, in particular the hard-pressed student, workers and women’s organisations, and those fighting for democracy and equality.
It is unclear whether Western forces (which congregated in Paris the day before the NEC meeting, on the 15th of September, to announce a “game plan” to defeat ISIS) will send boots onto the ground in Iraq. We know already that French aircrafts have begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq; and that US aid has assisted the Kurds and Yazidis. However it is unlikely they will want a re-run of a war that even they believe to have been a colossal failure. It may be more likely that the USA assists established forces from afar to defeat ISIS.
However, the motion cannot be clearer in saying that such forces cannot be relied upon to deliver democratic change in Iraq: “no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” If one were to believe it is not sufficiently clear or that the motion is not worded strongly enough, fine: make an amendment to the motion; or seek to take parts to remove or strengthen a particular aspect. Instead, the whole motion – which calls for solidarity with oppressed forces in Iraq – was argued as wrong. This is a grave shame!
It is also true – and Left-wingers should think this over – that the Kurds and Yazidi’s thus far would not have been able to survive if it had not been for aid from the Americans. Calling simply for an end to this intervention is the same as calling for the defeat of the Peshmerga forces by ISIS. The policy is based on a negative criteria – opposing the US and UK – instead of positive critera – solidarity with the oppressed.
Perhaps this is what Bouattia meant when saying that the motion is pro-intervention? Such a suggestion is arrived at only when one’s “analysis” becomes an issue of principle: that even within limited parameters, that to suggest that imperialism is not the only problem is somehow to “support” imperialism. This is the basis of “Stalinist” politics on international questions: that one considers forces that oppose the US as either progressive or, at worst, not the real issue -no matter how barbaric and reactionary and fascistic that force is. This is not a useful or effective way of looking at the world.
Two interrelated issues struck me about this debate.
Firstly, there is a stranglehold of “identity politics” on the student movement. This is an issue which needs to be discussed in more depth, but essentially the idea is widespread that if a Liberation Officer opposes something, it must be bad. Of course this idea is not applied consistently (and could not possibly be) – eg the majority of the NEC has not accepted current and former Black Students’ Officers’ defence of Julian Assange or the SWP. But I think it was a factor here, perhaps because people see or claim to see debate on the Middle East as something that the BSO should somehow have veto power over, regardless of the issues and the arguments made.
Combined with this, there seems to be a low level of political education and even engagement and interest in the NEC. Some appear not to research issues, work out what they think, engage and take ideas forward. Instead, some are not very interested and vote on basis of who they want to ally with on NEC. In other words, many people who voted against didn’t seem to care about is happening in Iraq.
Another motion I believe deserves some discussion was on solidarity with an organisation, Workers’ Advice Centre/WAC-Ma’an, that organises Jewish and Arab workers in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This was voted down by both the Left and Right on NEC, for different reasons.
At the last NEC policy was passed favouring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy (BDS) – which I voted against. Policy was also passed favouring a two states settlement for the region, which I proposed.
For the Right on NEC (the “Right” on NEC are not Conservative party members but are certainly on the “Right” of debates on the NEC), the possibility of giving a tiny sum of our national union’s money to anyone – whether that is a student attacked by the police on a demonstration, or striking college workers, is unthinkable. We must challenge this! According to NUS estimates at national conference, there is a cumulative £4 million expenditure for 2014/15. Offering our resources to those that share our morals is important and potentially highly useful.
Unfortunately, this argument was also pursued by the Left-winger opposing the motion. Left-wingers: this is not something we should be in the business of doing. If left-wingers disagree with a motion, they should argue it on those grounds, not on the basis the right-wing argument that NUS “doesn’t have enough money”.
WAC Maan was established in the 1990s. It is one of the rays of hope in a bleak situation in Israel/Palestine. It’s an independent, grassroots trade union centre which organises in sectors and industries often neglected by the mainstream trade unions.
It shows that organisation and politics that unite Jewish and Arab workers on the basis of internationalism, anti-racism, opposition to the occupation, and basic class solidarity, are possible.
Currently WAC Maan are set to enforce the first collective agreement against bosses in the West Bank, in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, at the Zafarty Garage. This is precedent setting. It is also important as it is forcing the courts to look at how Israeli employers manipulate entry permits as a way of getting rid of militants.
If workers across the occupied territories were organised, they would be able to exert considerable influence over the Israeli government, and over the future of the occupied territories.
To conclude: there are clearly disagreements amongst the NEC, and political Left, about international politics. I hope we can continue to have those discussions openly and frankly. I would certainly encourage those on the NEC to write down their opinions on the subject, particularly if they disagree.
I will continue to write reports of NUS NEC activities, and can be contacted on: firstname.lastname@example.org
I was going to write a spoof article, loosely based upon the oeuvre of the Graun‘s Shameless Milne, blaming “the West” and the “fascist” Ukraine government for the MH17 atrocity. But I see that Mr John Wight of Socialist Unity (and Russia Today) has saved me the trouble. Only I fear Mr Wight’s piece is intended to be taken seriously. I republish it here as an (perhaps extreme) example of the crass stupidity, hypocrisy, pig-ignorance and wilful denial of reality that continues to infect sections of the so-called “left” when it comes to international affairs:
By John Wight (pictured above)
The downing of a Malaysian passenger aircraft over eastern Ukraine is a terrible tragedy. Almost 300 people have been killed in the most awful circumstances and though it is self evident that a full and thorough investigation must follow to find out what happened, its conclusions will be scant comfort to the families and loved ones of those who perished.
That said, the mind boggles that a civilian passenger aircraft should be flying anywhere near a war zone, especially one in which fighter jets, military aircraft, and military transport aircraft are playing such a key role in hostilities.
The alacrity with which Washington and its allies have sought to exploit this tragedy to attack Russia is as unedifying as it’s despicable. Whoever was responsible for downing the Malaysian passenger jet, it was clearly an accident. Moreover, the underlying causes of the conflict in eastern Ukraine, despite efforts to argue otherwise, is the toppling of the last legitimate democratically elected Ukrainian government of Viktor Yanukovich by an armed mob in Kiev in February, in which avowed fascists and neo-Nazis played a key role. Those fascists now occupy ministerial offices in the regime led by Petro Poroshenko and are prevalent in the violence that has been visited on the people in the east of the country, who have risen up in resistance to Kiev and its sponsors in the West.
The need for a political solution to the conflict is beyond dispute, and has been for some time now. The Russian government has been calling for a de-escalation in hostilities since the ill fated Geneva peace conference back in April, and has shown remarkable restraint in holding back from mounting a military intervention in response to the Poroshenko regime’s brutal military assault on Ukrainian citizens across its western border with tanks, artillery, fighter jets, and attack helicopters.
Let’s be clear: if Russia decided to deploy its military forces against those of Kiev it would crush them in a matter of hours. Sadly, though, when it comes to the US and its allies restraint when it comes to war and conflict is anathema. Indeed, the very word has been stricken from the dictionary where they are concerned. Consequently, Russia’s restraint has been taken for weakness, evidenced in a ramping up of the conflict since Poroshenko’s election as President of western Ukraine in May.
The recent signing of an association agreement between the EU and the regime in Kiev has brought the EU into disrepute. Just think about this for a moment: the EU has entered a state into its ranks which is bathed in the blood of its own citizens.
The pressure being brought to bear against Russia, exploiting this tragedy as a pretext, shouldn’t blind anyone as to the role of the West in fomenting and prolonging the ongoing military conflict for its own geopolitical interests. Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, Palestine – their crimes would shame all the devils in hell.
Only when Washington and its allies understand that their days of uncontested hegemony and unipolarity are over will there be a chance for a new global framework in which respect for national sovereignty and international law is returned to prominence and upheld as the non negotiable arbiter of international affairs and foreign policy. The alternative is more conflict and more of the chaos we are witnessing today.
Trust Galloway to revive the ultimate conspiracy theory:
Sadly, such filth and madness is still widespread on both the ultra-right and sections of the so-called “left”, promoted by the likes of Galloway and Atzmon. Sean Matgamna commented upon this sort of lunacy:
With Hitler on the road to Samara
Of course you know the story. A man is in the market place, and he sees Death, and Death looks at him intently, recognising him.
In a panic, the man runs to his horse and gallops away desperately, taking the road to the city of Samara.
As he gallops off, Death turns to his companion. “Strange,” he said, “that was so-and-so. I was surprised to see him here, because I have an appointment with him, tonight, in Samara.”
Death is all-powerful. There is no escape when he reaches your name on the list.
Consider now, and the association is appropriate enough, the fate of poor Adolf Hitler. This heroic son of the German people understood early in life that the Jews were responsible for all the evil in the world.
He knew that the Jews were behind everything! He knew that socialism and communism were Jewish, and that the Jews were also behind finance capital.
He knew that modern art was pornography and corruption, and modern culture decadent — and he knew that the Jews were responsible, as they were for everything decadent and evil in the world. This genius understood that Jewish Bolshevism and “Jewish capital” were all one. Despite the appearance of difference and antagonism between these things, Hitler could see that all of them — communism, socialism, finance capital, cultural and artistic decadence, etc. — were really one thing. They were aspects of one tightly organised and minutely directed world Jewish conspiracy.
And so Hitler fought the Jews. He roused much of Germany against them. In the middle of the 20th century, he re-created the medieval Jewish ghetto in some of the main cities of European civilisation.
When the Jews who ruled in London, Paris, Moscow and Washington declared war on the German Reich, Hitler set out to do the job properly: he organised the killing of six million Jews.
Guest post by Dale Street
A great day out for all the family, thoroughly enjoyed by one and all.
This was the verdict of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) on its “All-Russian Day of Action”, called “in Support of the People of Crimea and the Re-unification of Crimea and Russia, and Against the Persecution of Supporters of Friendship and Union with Russia by the Illegitimate Banderist Government of New-Ukraine.”
The nineteen slogans raised by the CPRF for the Day of Action, staged last Saturday (22nd March), included:
“We Will Not Abandon Our Kith and Kin!”, “Fascism Will Not Pass!”, “USA – Out of Ukraine!”, “NATO equals NAZI!”, “Berkut – an Example of Courage, Firmness and Righteousness!”, “Ukraine Will be Soviet!”, “Long Live the USSR!”, and “Let Us Defend the Victory of Our Fathers and Grandfathers!”
Given that the days of the USSR – when only state-sanctioned placards and slogans were allowed on demonstrations – are long in the past, participants in the Day of Action in different cities were able to “embellish” the official slogans with some of their own:
“Yankee Go Home!”, “We Went as Far as Berlin (i.e. in the Second World War) – We Will Go as Far as Washington!”, “EU, USA – Wipe Away Your Spittle!”, “We Defended Crimea – We Will Defend the Balkans As Well!”
Leaving aside the slightly tasteless “Crimea has Returned From Deportation to Russia” (given that it was actually the indigenous Crimean Tatars who suffered mass deportation from Crimea during the last war), other DIY slogans included:
“Crimea Was, Is and Will Be Russian!”, “Crimea – Welcome Home!”, “Long Live the Russian Spring!”, “No to the Euro-Banderists!”, “No to Global Capitalism in Ukraine!”, “One Country, One People!” “Victory Is Ours!” and “KPRF – For Russians! For Crimea!” Read the rest of this entry »
Compare and contrast:
Above: Grant Shapps’ poster, after yesterday’s budget (not a spoof)
Below: Orwell’s chilling prophesy:
H/t Carl Hetherington (via Facebook)
“It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now.”
Back in the 1970’s, when I was working at the British Leyland Longbridge plant, I began to feel strange. At first, my fingers, hands and feet began to feel weak and uncoordinated. Gradually it got worse, and I started falling over. For some time my GP didn’t take this very seriously (he understood that I normally only required his services for the purposes of sick note-provision), but I eventually persuaded him to send me to hospital. At the hospital, I overheard a doctor saying to a colleague, “I bet it’s Guillain–Barré syndrome” – and that was the first time I’d ever heard of the condition.
It was explained to me that it is a disorder affecting the nervous system, usually triggered by an infection, and that there is no treatment: it simply has to run its course. The hospital doctors assured me that I’d make a full recovery eventually, and so I did (as far as I’ve ever been able to judge), but it took about six months. What the doctors didn’t tell me (thank goodness) was that not everyone does, in fact, make a full recovery: some patients are left with severe motor and sensory damage and in rare cases it can be fatal. I only found this out years later when another victim, the Catch-22 author Joseph Heller appeared on Desert Island Discs and talked about it.
For several years after my experience, I never met, or heard of, anyone else who’d had the condition, until in 1981 Tony Benn had to interrupt his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party due to a mystery ailment that turned out to be … Guillain–Barré syndrome.
I remember thinking at the time that Benn must have had a much milder version of it than mine, as he was only out of action for a few weeks. But still, I liked to boast to my friends that with both myself and Benn as victims, it was clear that Guillain–Barré syndrome was a ruling class plot against their most dangerous enemies.
Now it seems that my old suspicions are shared by none other than Mr George Galloway, who writes in an exceptionally perceptive obituary of Tony Benn (over at the appropriately-named Socialist Unity blog):
“At the height of his campaign when he seemed to be about to carry all before him, Benn was struck down by an obscure illness The Guillain – Barre Syndrome which attacked his nervous system, confined him to bed, and left him shaky on his legs for the rest of his life. It seemed suspicious at the time, and it still does now. Especially after what happened to Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and other left-wing leaders in Latin America.”
That sound pretty conclusive to me – especially when in the below-the-line comments at Socialist Unity, the blog’s proprietor and Labour PPS for Chippenham, Mr Andy Newman, reveals that he too was once struck down by the “obscure illness”!
Disappointingly, Comrade Newman down-plays the conspiracy angle: “Dunno, people just get ill, and I imagine that it was a stressful as well as exhilarating time for him, and his body was susceptible to illness . I had a rare variant (chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy /CIDP) of Guillain–Barré syndrome myself, it does happen.”
Well, Comrade Newman may not see the obvious when it stares him in the face, but I do: Benn, Castro, Chavez, Newman himself – not to mention yours truly: it’s clearly a plot. Thank goodness the ever-vigilant and clear-sighted Comrade Galloway is on hand to cast light into the darkness, and expose yet another CIA/ Mossad conspiracy!
… here ’tis:
A A Gill on Autobiography by Morrissey
THE SUNDAY TIMES
AS NOËL Coward might have said, nothing incites intemperate cultural hyperbole like cheap music. Who can forget that the Beatles were once authoritatively lauded as the equal of Mozart, or that Bob Dylan was dubbed a contemporary Keats? The Beatles continued to ignore Covent Garden, and Mozart is rarely heard at Glastonbury; Dylan has been silently culled from the latest edition of the Oxford Companion to Modern Poetry in English.
The publication of Autobiography was the second item on Channel 4’s news on the day it was released. Krishnan Guru-Murthy excitably told the nation that Morrissey really could write — presumably he was reading from an Autocue — and a pop journalist thrilled that he was one of the nation’s greatest cultural icons. He isn’t even one of Manchester’s greatest cultural icons.
This belief in high-low cultural relativity leads to a certain sort of chippy pop star feeling undervalued and then hoitily producing a rock opera or duet with concert harpsichord. Morrissey, though, didn’t have to attain the chip of being needily undervalued; he was born with it. He tells us he ditched “Steve”, his given name, to be known by his portentous unimoniker because — deep reverential breath here — great classical composers only have one name. Mussorgsky, Mozart, Morrissey.
His most pooterishly embarrassing piece of intellectual social climbing is having this autobiography published by Penguin Classics. Not Modern Classics, you understand, where the authors can still do book signings, but the classic Classics, where they’re dead and some of them only have one name. Molière, Machiavelli, Morrissey.
He has made up for being alive by having a photograph of himself pretending to be dead on the cover. The book’s publication was late and trade gossip has it that Steve insisted on each and every bookshop taking a minimum order of two dozen, misunderstanding how modern publishing works. But this is not unsurprising when you read the book. He is constantly moaning about record producers not pressing enough discs to get him to No 1. What is surprising is that any publisher would want to publish the book, not because it is any worse than a lot of other pop memoirs, but because Morrissey is plainly the most ornery, cantankerous, entitled, whingeing, self-martyred human being who ever drew breath. And those are just his good qualities.
The book falls into two distinct passages. The first quarter is devoted to growing up in Manchester (where he was born in 1959) and his schooling. This is laughably overwrought and overwritten, a litany of retrospective hurt and score-settling that reads like a cross between Madonna and Catherine Cookson. No teacher is too insignificant not to be humiliated from the heights of success, no slight is too small not to be rehashed with a final, killing esprit d’escalier. There are pages of lists of television programmes he watched (with plot analysis and character criticism). He could go on Mastermind with the specialist subject of Coronation Street or the works of Peter Wyngarde. There is the food he ate, the groups that appeared on Top of the Pops (with critical comments) and the poetry he liked (with quotes).
All of this takes quite a lot of time due to the amount of curlicues, falderals and bibelots he insists on dragging along as authorial decoration. Instead of adding colour or depth, they simply result in a cacophony of jangling, misheard and misused words. After 100 pages, he’s still at the school gate kicking dead teachers.
But then he sets off on the grown-up musical bit and the writing calms down and becomes more diary-like, bloggish, though with an incontinent use of italics that are a sort of stage direction or aside to the audience. He changes tenses in ways that are supposed to be elegant but just sound camp. There is one passage that stands out — this is the first time he sings. “Against the command of everyone I had ever known, I sing. My mouth meets the microphone and the tremolo quaver eats the room with acceptable pitch and I am removed from the lifelong definition of others and their opinions matter no more. I am singing the truth by myself which will also be the truth of others and give me a whole life. Let the voice speak up for once and for all.” That has the sense of being both revelatory and touching, but it stands out like the reflection of the moon in a sea of Stygian self-justification and stilted self-conscious prose.
The hurt recrimination is sometimes risible but mostly dull, like listening to neighbours bicker through a partition wall, and occasionally startlingly unpleasant, such as the reference to the Moors murderers and the unfound grave of their victim Keith Bennett. “Of course, had Keith been a child of privilege or moneyed background, the search would never have been called off. But he was a poor, gawky boy from Manchester’s forgotten side streets and minus the blond fantasy fetish of a cutesy Madeleine McCann.”
It’s what’s left out of this book rather than what’s put in that is strangest. There is an absence of music, not just in its tone, but the content. There are emetic pools of limpid prose about the music business, the ingratitude of fellow musicians and band members and the lack of talent in other performers, but there is nothing about the making of music itself, the composing of lyrics, the process of singing or the emotion of creation. He seems to assume we will already know his back catalogue and can hum along to his recorded life. This is 450 pages of what makes Morrissey, but nothing of what Morrissey makes.
There is the peevishness at managers, record labels and bouncers, a list of opaque court cases, all of which he manages to lose unfairly, due to the inherited stupidity of judges. Even his relation with the audience is equivocal. Morrissey likes them when they’re worshipping from a distance, but he is not so keen when they’re up close. As an adolescent he approaches Marc Bolan for an autograph. Bolan refuses and Morrissey, still awkwardly humiliated after all these years, has the last word. But then later in the book and life, he does exactly the same thing to his own fans without apparent irony.
There is little about his private life. A boyfriend slips in and out with barely a namecheck. This is him on his early sexual awakening: “Unfathomably I had several cupcake grapples in this year of 1973… Plunge or no plunge, girls remain mysteriously attracted to me.” There is precious little plunging after that.
There are many pop autobiographies that shouldn’t be written. Some to protect the unwary reader, and some to protect the author. In Morrissey’s case, he has managed both. This is a book that cries out like one of his maudlin ditties to be edited. But were an editor to start, there would be no stopping. It is a heavy tome, utterly devoid of insight, warmth, wisdom or likeability. It is a potential firelighter of vanity, self-pity and logorrhoeic dullness. Putting it in Penguin Classics doesn’t diminish Aristotle or Homer or Tolstoy; it just roundly mocks Morrissey, and this is a humiliation constructed by the self-regard of its victim.