By Ann Field (at the Workers Liberty website)
A few weeks ago we carried a series of articles arguing for a Labour vote rather than a Green vote in the general election.
The arguments in the articles were all very calm, cool and collected, a series of reflections on the fact that whatever the apparent attractiveness of – at least some – Green policies might be, this did not justify calling for a vote for the Greens.
But when it comes to arguing with people like yourself – socialists who are calling for a vote for the SNP in the general election – I don’t think that the same measured and moderate approach is justified.
That’s because I think you’ve simply lost the plot.
It’s true, I admit, that this isn’t a conclusion I’ve reached overnight. It’s a conclusion which I began to reach during last year’s referendum campaign, when your eyes started to glaze over at the prospect of Scottish independence.
From a socialist point of view, your arguments made no sense at all. You seemed to argue – in fact, you did argue – that the referendum was an opportunity to pass judgement on all the bad things British imperialism and the British state has done over the past 300 years.
(As part of the imperialist centre, Scotland had been just as “guilty” of all those bad things as Britain. But that basic historical fact, like so much else, simply passed you by.)
You also argued that the very existence of the British state was an obstacle to democratic and working-class advance in Scotland. (It was the only time that the working class got even a passing mention in your delirious pro-independence outpourings.)
I don’t know if you came up with that argument yourself, or whether it’s something you picked up from the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) website: “The single biggest obstacle to the Scottish people building a better society is the British state, the Westminster regime, the Crown powers.”
(If you did pick it up from the SSP website, I’m surprised that someone who prides himself on being a class-struggle socialist didn’t find anything odd about this statement. Such as the reference to “the Scottish people” rather than the Scottish (or British) working class. Or the vague reference to “a better society” rather than to workers power and socialism.)
Either way, your argument didn’t make sense.
The British state and the “Westminster regime” can hardly be said to be impervious to reform. In fact, they’ve been subject to quite a lot of reforms over the past 300 years.
How else, for example, could there be such a thing as the universal franchise? Something of a step forward, I’m sure you’d agree, compared with the franchise which existed in Scotland (and England) in 1707.
Sure, the British state is an obstacle to achieving workers power. And it certainly does contain feudal leftovers, such as the Crown powers, which are absent in other states.
But the reason why the British state is an obstacle is not because it’s British or because the Houses of Parliament are located in Westminster rather than Milton Keynes. It’s because it’s a capitalist state, and that’s why capitalist states exist.
It’s not really a difficult argument to get your head around.
Your argument – and that of the SSP – that Scottish independence was a necessity because of the nature of the British state struck me at the time as being about as logical as arguing for independence for Bavaria because Article 14 of the German constitution guarantees private property.
Or arguing for independence for Texas because: a) it has a lot of oil (cf. Scotland); b) it would be a blow against US imperialism (cf. blow against British imperialism). In fact, I do recall some members of the SSP advocating independence for Texas for precisely those reasons.
But there was one thing you were crystal-clear about during the referendum campaign.
You did NOT support the SNP. You had NOTHING IN COMMON with the SNP. You were a socialist, NOT a nationalist. It was a GROSS SLANDER to suggest that you were accommodating to the SNP and to nationalism in calling for a ‘Yes’ vote.
But now you’re calling a vote for the SNP.
I will say, however: credit where credit’s due. At least you’re open about calling for a vote for the SNP. Unlike all those people in and around the ‘Radical’ Independence Campaign who are backing the SNP but too shamefaced (and dishonest) to admit it.
Some people might regard it as an impolite way to put it, but I’ll say it anyway: your arguments for a vote for the SNP for garbled, incoherent and completely off-the-wall. (In that sense, I would concede, they are a ‘logical’ extension of your call for a ‘Yes’ vote.)
Argument number one: Labour are Red Tories. There’s no difference between Labour and the Tories.
Not much to say in response to this. Other than that it shows just how far removed you are from reality. To say that Labour’s policies are woefully inadequate is true, and I’d agree with you if that was your argument. But to argue that there’s simply no difference is really quite whacky.
In fact, given Labour policies such as increasing the higher rate of income tax, increasing corporation tax, introducing a mansion tax, taxing bankers’ bonuses, and limiting the use of zero hours contracts, the difference between Labour and Tory policies is probably greater than it has been at any point over the last twenty years.
(I agree to your inevitable objection: Given how far to the right Labour shifted under Blair, it’s not difficult to move to the left from that starting point. But that shift has taken place and needs to be registered.)
And even if there really was no difference between Labour and the Tories – as if trade unions have 50% of the vote at Tory Party conferences! – this would, at most, be a reason not to vote Labour. It would not be a reason to vote SNP instead.
Argument number two: Getting more SNP MPs to Westminster would keep a Labour government on the left and ensure it implemented what the SNP calls its progressive policies.
Logic never was your strong point, was it?
If Labour are Red Tories (argument number one), then there is no way the SNP could push them to the left (argument number two). And if Labour are Red Tories (argument number one), then how could they have progressive policies which could be implemented only thanks to a contingent of SNP MPs (argument number two)?
There’s also the obvious point that you don’t get a Labour government unless lots of people vote Labour (including voting for Labour candidates far removed from socialist politics). Voting SNP instead of Labour makes the chances of a Labour government (which the SNP would supposedly push to the left) less likely.
Yes, the Labour right wing in Scotland is making a big thing out of this argument. And yes, you and the SNP can accuse them of scaremongering (just as in the referendum anyone who pointed out that the SNP’s sums did not add up was accused of scaremongering).
But that does not alter the fact that more seats for the SNP mean less chance of a Labour government and more chance of a Tory government.
Your argument number two also has no more in common with reality than your argument number one.
Example one: Since last September Labour has had a policy of increasing corporation tax (unfortunately by just 1%). SNP policy throughout the referendum campaign was that an independent Scotland would cut corporation tax by 3%. This policy was abandoned by the SNP only last month.
A straightforward question: Has Labour adopted a policy of increasing corporation tax under pressure from the SNP? Or has the SNP dropped its policy of cutting corporation tax to con Labour voters into believing that a contingent of SNP MPS would ensure a Labour government implement its progressive policies?
(In this case: a progressive policy which the SNP still does not support, even if, for the last four weeks, it has abandoned support for a cut in corporation tax.)
Example two: In January 2014 Labour announced that it would restore the 50% rate of income tax for top earners. The SNP has consistently rejected that policy: there would be no tax rises in an independent Scotland. This policy of no 50% tax rate was dropped by the SNP just one week ago.
Another straightforward question: Did Labour decide to restore the 50% tax rate under pressure from the SNP? Or is the SNP’s one-week old support for the 50% tax rate another attempt to con Labour voters into switching to voting SNP?
And the SNP’s promises to work with Labour in Westminster but – heaven forbid! – NEVER with the Tories does not sit very well alongside their record in Holyrood.
Or did you miss that interview with Annabelle Goldie (former Tory leader in Holyrood) in the “Daily Record”, the one where she said:
“They (the SNP) were quite happy to work with us when they needed to. Alex Salmond knew he could not get agreement from Labour. When he had to get support for his budget, I don’t remember him jumping up and down and saying he cannot do business with the Tories.
Alex Salmond took those Tory votes and Alex Salmond was glad to get them. What suited him in 2007 and 2008 and in the ensuing years of minority government is the very thing now he says he’ll have no truck with.”
The SNP is not a political force to push a Labour government to the left. In words of one syllable, John McDonnell (leader of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs) explained why not in an article in the “Daily Record” last week:
“Given their track record in Scotland of supporting cuts in public spending, their attempts to race to the bottom on tax and in privatising rail and now the ferries, there is a huge divide between what socialists in the Labour Party stand for and the nationalists of the SNP.
What we (the Labour Left) want are the exact opposite of the cuts and privatisation programmes inflicted on the Scottish people by the SNP. You can’t be an austerity party in Scotland and expect to be taken seriously as an anti-austerity party anywhere else.
A vote for the SNP is a vote for their version of austerity. Worse, voting for the SNP might help the Tories stay in power. That would be a massive blow for the working class in Scotland and England.”
In fact, it’s really quite sad – although I think a more aggressive expression would not be out of place – to see SSP members out on the streets campaigning to unseat Labour MPs who share John McDonnell’s politics.
Do you really think that unseating Katy Clark and replacing her by an SNP right-winger is going to: a) help bring about a Labour government; b) push that Labour government to the left?
Argument number three: Voting SNP and sending as many SNP MPs as possible to Westminster is a way to fight back against austerity.
That’s an odd argument.
Just seven months ago you were telling me that there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY that you could fight austerity at Westminster, that austerity was INSEPARABLE FROM the very existence of the British state, and that’s why Scotland HAD TO ACHIEVE independence.
But now you’re telling me that you can fight austerity at Westminster after all! It all depends on who gets elected and on the basis of what politics! I suppose I should be flattered that you now agree with one of my anti-independence arguments, even if it’s taken you seven months to get round to parroting it.
But now you’ve come up against a new problem: the SNP’s own record of ‘fighting’ austerity. Because, for all their demagogy, soundbites and rhetoric, their ‘opposition’ to austerity consists of implementing it.
Since 2007 the SNP have cut 130,000 places in Further Education colleges, the main route for working-class youth into Higher Education. That’s why class inequalities in Scottish education have remained unchanged under the SNP.
More cuts have been imposed on the fire service under the SNP than under any other Holyrood government. The SNP member who was the FBU’s Scottish Regional Secretary got his just rewards for agreeing to those cuts by being booted out of office last year, losing the election by 20% to 80%.
There is a chronic shortage of nurses in the Scottish NHS. Accident and Emergency (A&E) services in the Scottish NHS are in a state of crisis, performing even worse than in England. More people are waiting longer for A&E treatment.
But the SNP government’s spending on the NHS remains proportionately lower than the Con-Dem coalition’s. What has increased under the SNP is spending on private healthcare – up by 47% since 2011, amounting to £100 millions.
Since 2007 Scottish government funding of local authorities has been cut by 24% in real terms, even though, using the SNP’s own figures, the cut in the Westminster grant to Scotland has been less than half that (10%). SNP-controlled councils have passed on those funding cuts by axing jobs and services.
SNP-controlled Dundee Council is currently implementing £8 millions worth of cuts. The SNP-Labour coalition in Edinburgh is now imposing £22 millions worth of cuts, axing 1,200 council jobs, and withdrawing £11 millions of funding for voluntary sector organisations.
When the Procurement Reform Bill was going through Holyrood the SNP voted down Labour amendments requiring that at least the Living Wage was paid by any employer awarded a public contract (although, to better masquerade as the workers’ friend, the SNP has now changed its policy on the Living Wage as well).
This is not the record of a party committed to fighting austerity. It’s the record of a party which implements austerity.
And the SNP’s demand for Full Fiscal Autonomy for Scotland (FFA, which is what the SNP really wants from the next Westminster government) would mean more austerity.
The last Institute for Fiscal Studies report and the last Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland report both confirm that replacing the Barnett Formula by FFA would result in an annual shortfall of around £6.5 billions. This could be plugged only by tax rises or spending cuts involving massive job losses.
In the referendum campaign the SNP’s answer to this shortfall was: oil. But since last September the price of oil has fallen from $110 a barrel to $50 a barrel.
The SNP’s figures never stack up. But they carry on regardless. And when anyone points this out, the response from people like you is: Scaremongering!
Argument number four: Voting SNP, sending SNP MPs to Westminster instead of Labour ones, and the resulting hung Parliament will create new openings for working-class and socialist politics.
This is no more than your referendum refrain of ‘an independent Scotland will create openings for the working class’ applied to the general election. Now we’re supposed to believe that replacing Labour MPs by SNP ones is going to boost working-class politics.
It was nonsense then. And it’s even more nonsensical now.
The SNP is not a working-class party. It has no links to the trade unions. It is not a vehicle for working-class political representation. It does not claim to be any of these things. And it does not want to be any of these things.
Sorry to state the obvious, but the SNP is a nationalist party. That’s why its election material talks about Scotland, not class, and why it appeals to voters’ national identities, not their class identities:
“The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to make our voice heard loudly and clearly. Whatever the outcome in May, only one party is stronger for Scotland: the SNP. More SNP seats – more power for Scotland.”
That’s the message from SNP politicians as well. According to Stewart Hosie: “The general election is Scotland’s opportunity to hold real power at Westminster.”
(Scotland to hold real power at Westminster? Something you and the SNP were telling me only a few months ago was absolutely impossible! And yet the SNP claims that they are the one party you can trust!)
And that’s the message that people are buying into on the doorstep.
That this is not an election in which the different competing parties represent different class interests (however inadequately in the case of Labour). It is not an election in which you vote to decide which party will form the next government. It is an election in which you vote for which party will best represent Scotland.
(If you haven’t noticed that, you should get out more.)
Politics ceases to be a matter of conflicting class interests. Instead, it becomes one of competing national interests. And that is truly fatal to any prospect of advancing a specifically working-class political agenda.
You probably still have enough leftovers from your socialist politics in you to recognise that the statement “You’re a traitor to your country” is an inherently right-wing statement.
But when the SNP denounces Labour Party members as “traitors to Scotland” for having voted ‘No’, you delude yourself into believing that’s the stuff of a working-class break from Labour to the left rather than a collapse into nationalism.
The SNP is not a vehicle for your avowed socialist politics. It’s the object of your fantasies. And your fantasies are a measure of your own collapse into nationalism and your readiness to be a self-deluding satrap for the SNP.
In fact, when I wrote above that you had lost the plot, I was really being too charitable. Politically, you’ve clearly lost the will to live.
Yours, most certainly not in solidarity:
EXCLUSIVE: As it begins to dawn on everyone that Sony Pictures was the victim of a cyberterrorist act perpetrated by a hostile foreign nation on American soil, questions will be asked about how and why it happened, ending with Sony cancelling the theatrical release of the satirical comedy The Interview because of its depiction of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. One of the issues is this: Why didn’t anybody speak out while Sony Pictures chiefs Amy Pascal and Michael Lynton were embarrassed by emails served up by the media, bolstering the credibility of the hackers’ threat to blow up theaters if The Interview was released?
George Clooney has the answer. The most powerful people in Hollywood were so fearful to place themselves in the cross hairs of hackers that they all refused to sign a simple petition of support that Clooney and his agent, Bryan Lourd, circulated to the top people in film, TV, records and other areas. Not a single person would sign. Here, Clooney discusses the petition and how it is just part of many frightening ramifications that we are all just coming to grips with
DEADLINE: How could this have happened, that terrorists achieved their aim of cancelling a major studio film? We watched it unfold, but how many people realized that Sony legitimately was under attack?
GEORGE CLOONEY: A good portion of the press abdicated its real duty. They played the fiddle while Rome burned. There was a real story going on. With just a little bit of work, you could have found out that it wasn’t just probably North Korea; it was North Korea. The Guardians of Peace is a phrase that Nixon used when he visited China. When asked why he was helping South Korea, he said it was because we are the Guardians of Peace. Here, we’re talking about an actual country deciding what content we’re going to have. This affects not just movies, this affects every part of business that we have. That’s the truth. What happens if a newsroom decides to go with a story, and a country or an individual or corporation decides they don’t like it? Forget the hacking part of it. You have someone threaten to blow up buildings, and all of a sudden everybody has to bow down. Sony didn’t pull the movie because they were scared; they pulled the movie because all the theaters said they were not going to run it. And they said they were not going to run it because they talked to their lawyers and those lawyers said if somebody dies in one of these, then you’re going to be responsible.
On November 24 of this year, Sony Pictures was notified that it was the victim of a cyber attack, the effects of which is the most chilling and devastating of any cyber attack in the history of our country. Personal information including Social Security numbers, email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and the full texts of emails of tens of thousands of Sony employees was leaked online in an effort to scare and terrorize these workers. The hackers have made both demands and threats. The demand that Sony halt the release of its upcoming comedy The Interview, a satirical film about North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Their threats vary from personal—you better behave wisely—to threatening physical harm—not only you but your family is in danger. North Korea has not claimed credit for the attack but has praised the act, calling it a righteous deed and promising merciless measures if the film is released. Meanwhile the hackers insist in their statement that what they’ve done so far is only a small part of our further plan. This is not just an attack on Sony. It involves every studio, every network, every business and every individual in this country. That is why we fully support Sony’s decision not to submit to these hackers’ demands. We know that to give in to these criminals now will open the door for any group that would threaten freedom of expression, privacy and personal liberty. We hope these hackers are brought to justice but until they are, we will not stand in fear. We will stand together.
DEADLINE: That doesn’t sound like a hard paper to sign.
CLOONEY: All that it is basically saying is, we’re not going to give in to a ransom. As we watched one group be completely vilified, nobody stood up. Nobody took that stand. Now, I say this is a situation we are going to have to come to terms with, a new paradigm and a new way of handling our business. Because this could happen to an electric company, a car company, a newsroom. It could happen to anybody.
DEADLINE: You said everyone acts based on self interest. What’s yours?
CLOONEY: I wanted to have the conversation because I’m worried about content. Frankly, I’m at an age where I’m not doing action films or romantic comedies. The movies we make are the ones with challenging content, and I don’t want to see it all just be superhero movies. Nothing wrong with them, but it’s nice for people to have other films out there.
Above: Jerry Hicks
The following article from today’s Times requires little comment from me. I am by no means an uncritical supporter of Len McCluskey, but the developments described in the article (which, like previous pieces in the Murdoch press, has clearly been written with the full co-operation of Hicks) vindicate my assessment that Hicks was not worthy of support in last year’s Unite election and is entirely unfit to lead a trade union. If Hicks had any genuine concerns about the conduct of the election, he could have raised them within the union, which whatever its faults under McCluskey is at least a fairly open and democratic organisation. Those leftists (not just the SWP) who supported Hicks should now be hanging their heads in shame. Incidentally, anyone who knows anything about Unite will know that any “phantom voters” would have been, overwhelmingly, from the ex-Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency that Hicks was appealing to in his campaign. A shameful indictment of a man (Hicks) who can no longer be considered even to be a misguided part of the left:
Union leader faces re-election inquiry after ‘ghost’ vote claim
-Laura Pitel Political Correspondent
The head of Britain’s biggest trade union is to face a formal hearing over claims that his re-election to his post was unfair.
Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, has been accused of a series of irregularities by Jerry Hicks, his sole rival in last year’s contest.
Most serious is the allegation that ballot papers were sent to 160,000 “phantom voters” who should not have been allowed to take part.
Unite is being investigated by the independent trade union watchdog over the claims. The Certification Office has the power to order a re-run of the race if Mr Hick’s concerns are upheld.
This week it announced a formal hearing into the claims, provisionally scheduled for July.
Mr Hicks, a former Rolls-Royce convenor who was backed by the Socialist Workers Party, believes that Unite’s decision to include 158,824 lapsed members in last year’s vote was in breach of the rules. The charge emerged after the discovery that there was a mismatch between the number of people granted a vote and the number of members cited in its annual report.
It has been claimed that some of those who were sent a ballot paper for the election, which took place in April 2013, had not paid their subscriptions for several years and even that some of them were no longer alive. The Times revealed in January that fewer than 10 per cent of the disputed members had renewed their subscriptions.
The hearing will listen to eight complaints, including allegations that Unite resources were used to campaign for Mr McCluskey and that it refused to allow Mr Hicks to make a complaint.
All the charges are rejected by Unite, which says that the rules were adhered to throughout the contest. It argued that it sought legal advice on sending ballot papers to those in arrears with their membership and was informed that excluding those who had fallen behind with their payments would be against the rules.
If the complaint about the disputed voters is upheld, Mr Hicks will have to persuade the watchdog that it could have had a significant impact on the outcome if he is to secure a re-run. Failing that, the ombudsman may instruct the union to take steps to ensure that the breach does not happen again.
The outcome of the vote was that Mr McCluskey won 144,570 votes compared with 79,819 for Mr Hicks.
Mr Hicks said he was “very buoyed up” by the news that he had been granted a hearing. He lamented the low turnout in the race, when only 15 per cent of Unites 1.4 million members voted and said he hoped that his complaints would lead to a more democratic union.
The last time a re-run of a general secretary contest was ordered was in 2011, when Ucatt, the construction union, was found to have sent ballot papers to only half of its 130,000 members.
* the use of alleged “extreme tactics” by trade unions is to become the sole focus of an official inquiry into industrial relations, ministers have revealed (Michael Savage writes).
The investigation, announced last year, was originally ordered to examine bad practices by employers as well as the controversial “leverage campaigns” wages by some unions. However, it will now only focus on the alleged intimidatory tactics used by unions.
The Increasingly Awkward Conservative Crush on Putin: Mad about Vlad
All the way back in 1946, with Nazi Germany defeated and the cold war commencing, George Orwell wrote a brilliant essay on James Burnham. The author of The Managerial Revolution and a leading political philosopher, Burnham was a frequent contributor to the young National Review, and, more broadly, a leading voice of postwar American conservatism.
What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”
Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.
This variety of pessimism did not end with Burnham, unfortunately. During the nearly 50 year Cold War, Americans were informed time and again by rightwingers that the Soviet Union did not allow dissent, and could therefore pursue its desired policies without protest. While the Soviets were single-minded, we were, yes, decadent. Soviet leaders could fight wars as they pleased, but freedom-loving presidents like Ronald Reagan had to put up with what Charles Krauthammer laughably called an “imperial Congress.” (Some of the same type of commentary shows up about today’s China: look how quickly the Chinese can build bridges! And, as Thomas Friedman proves, it isn’t coming solely from the right.) But more unique among conservatives is the desire for a tough leader who will dispense with niceties and embrace power.
The reason for all this ancient history is the situation today in Ukraine, where an autocratic Russian leader who exudes manly vibes has ordered his armed forces into Crimea. It is unclear whether this move on Russia’s part will prove successful, but, amidst uncertaintly among western leaders over what to do, there has arisen a new strain of the Burnham syndrome. Conservatives don’t just see the west and President Obama as weak; they also seem envious of Putin’s bullying. “There is something odd,” Benjamin Wallace-Wells wrote in New York magazine, “about commentators who denounce Putin in the strongest terms and yet pine for a more Putin-like figure in the White House.”
Sarah Palin, for example, said this last night to Sean Hannity:
Well, yes, especially under the commander-in-chief that we have today because Obama’s — the perception of him and his potency across the world is one of such weakness. And you know, look, people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates. We are not exercising that peace through strength that only can be brought to you courtesy of the red, white and blue, that only a strengthened United States military can do.
Put aside the syntax for a moment and ask: is there not a bit of envy here? Isn’t Palin very clearly desirous of a tough-guy president who wrestles bears and drills for oil? (The swooning over Bush’s landing on that aircraft carrier was a telling sign.) Now read Rush Limbaugh:
In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
If only America wasn’t distracted by silly things like the Oscars, perhaps we would have the strength to stand up to the tough Russia. (On his web page, Limbaugh has a photo of a shirtless Putin.) In case the point isn’t obvious enough, Limbaugh continues:
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.
Limbaugh quite clearly wants this kind of leader.
Also on view over the past few days is the idea that Putin must be smarter and cagier and stronger: “Putin is playing chess and I think we’re playing marbles,” said Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. The Russians are thus necessarily craftier than our weak and vacillating (key word) democratic leader.
The silliness inherent in all this talk is that when American presidents have generally acted above the law, or engaged in stupid and immoral wars, or bullied neighbors, or cracked down on domestic dissent, it has backfired in the worst ways on them and the country. (The examples are too obvious to list.) Moreover, I notice that conservatives seem to view some of Obama’s domestic actions–appointing czars, for example–as being the result of a vindictive, bloodthirsty, and authoritarian mindset. However absurd the particular claims may be (Cass Sunstein as Stalin), it is proof that the people who seem to secretly pine for an American Putin don’t really want one.
Orwell’s response to this sort of thinking was to write, of Burnham, “He ignores the advantages, military as well as social, enjoyed by a democratic country.” Of course this is not a guarantee that this crisis will play itself out in a way that is beneficial to American or Western (or Ukrainian) interests. But the presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right. (Olga Dukhnich, in The New York Times, makes the point that this crisis may backfire just as the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan did. Whether correct or not, it is a nice counter to the reigning right-wing ultra-pessimism.)
Orwell closed his essay as follows:
That a man of Burnham’s gifts should have been able for a while to think of Nazism as something rather admirable, something that could and probably would build up a workable and durable social order, shows what damage is done to the sense of reality by the cultivation of what is now called ‘realism’.
It is now Team Obama that styles itself realist, in quite a different way than Orwell was talking about. And large chunks of the American right would now also scorn the term. What they haven’t scorned is the mindset, which is the problem in the first place.
The leadership of Stop The War find themselves in agreement with someone called Hitchens…
Lindsey German 02 March 2014. Posted in News at the Stop The War website:
The situation in Ukraine and the Crimea is developing into a new cold war, says Lindsey German, and the rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
- Who is the aggressor? The obvious answer seems to be that it is Russia, but that is far from the whole picture. At the end of the Cold War, as agreed with the western powers, Russia disbanded the Warsaw Pact, its military alliance. But the United States and NATO broke their word to Russia, by adding most of Eastern Europe and the Balkan states to their own military alliance, and by building military bases along Russia’s southern border. Ever since the end of the Cold War in 1991, the European Union (EU) and NATO have been intent on surrounding Russia with military bases and puppet regimes sympathetic to the West, often installed by ‘colour revolutions’. In military expenditure, the US and its NATO allies outspend and outgun the Russian state many times over.
- The war in Afghanistan, now in its thirteenth year, was fought after the West lost control of its erstwhile Taliban allies, who the US had supported in order to bring down a pro-Russian regime.
- US secretary of state John Kerry has made strong statements condemning Russia, and British prime minister David Cameron has argued against intervention and for national sovereignty. No one should take lessons from people who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq and bombed Libya. Last year, these war makers wanted to launch their fourth major military intervention in a decade, this time against Syria. They were only stopped from doing so by the unprecedented vote against military action in parliament, with MPs undoubtedly influenced by the widespread anti-war sentiment amongst the British public. Nor should we place any value on concerns for national sovereignty and international law expressed by people like Obama and Kerry, who launch illegal drone attacks against civilians in Yemen, Somalia, Pakistan and beyond.
- United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon’s statement that Russia is threatening the peace and security of Europe ignores a number of questions, such as the role of western imperialism in the region — including direct intervention in the formation of the latest Ukrainian government — and the role of fascists and far right parties in Kiev and elsewhere in the country. As in all these situations, we need to look at the background to what is going on.
- The European Union is not an impartial observer in this. It too has extended its membership among the east European states, expressly on the basis of a privatising, neoliberal agenda which is closely allied to NATO expansion. Its Member State foreign ministers, and its special representative Baroness Ashton, have directly intervened, seeking to tie Ukraine to the EU by an agreement of association. When this was abandoned by the former president Yanukovich, the EU backed his removal and helped put in place a new government which agreed to EU aims.
- The United States is centrally involved. It oversaw the removal of Yanukovich, and its neocons are desperately trying to develop an excuse for war with the Russians. Neocon former presidential candidate John McCain visited Ukraine and addressed the demonstrations in Kiev. As did Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs in the US state department. Nuland is most famous for her recently leaked phone conversation about micromanaging regime change in Ukraine, in which she declared ‘fuck the EU.’ Her husband is neocon Robert Kagan, who was co-founder of the Project for the New American Century, the ideological parent of the Bush/Blair war on Iraq.
- The talk of democracy from the west hides support for far right and fascist forces in the Ukraine. They have a direct lineage from the collaborators with the Nazis from 1941 onwards who were responsible for the murder of hundreds of thousands of Jews. Jewish sources in Ukraine today express fear at the far right gangs patrolling the streets attacking racial minorities. Yet the western media has remained all but silent about these curious EU allies.
- The historical divisions within Ukraine are complex and difficult to overcome. But it is clear that many Russian speakers, there and in the Crimea, do not oppose Russia. These countries have the right to independence, but the nature of that independence is clearly highly contested. There is also the reality of potential civil war between east and west Ukraine. The very deep divisions will only be exacerbated by war.
- Those who demand anti-war activity here in Britain against Russia are ignoring the history and the present reality in Ukraine and Crimea. The B52 liberals only oppose wars when their own rulers do so, and support the ones carried out by our governments. The job of any anti-war movement is to oppose its own government’s role in these wars, and to explain what that government and its allies are up to.
- The crisis in Ukraine has much to do with the situation in Syria, where major powers are intervening in the civil war. The defeat for intervention last year has infuriated the neocons. They are determined to start new wars. After the US failures in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, the neocons are looking for a defeat of Russia over Ukraine, and by extension, China too. The situation is developing into a new cold war. The rivalry between the west and Russia threatens to explode into a much larger war than has been seen for many years.
Source: Stop the War Coalition
By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)
The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.
It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.
It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.
Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.
The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.
In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.
The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:
“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.
That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.
Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.
Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.
It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.
Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.
It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.
Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.
The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.
But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.
The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.
And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.
Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.
At first it looked as though we were shouting into the wilderness: a few blogs (including us at Shiraz) drew attention to the outrage, and a small demonstration took place; just 8,000 people signed an online petition. It looked as though Universities UK (UUK) would get away with one of the most outrageous and craven capitulations to religious bigotry and misogyny in recent years: their so-called “guidelines” sanctioning gender segregation in UK universities.
Then the issue seemed to take off. To his credit, Shadow Business Secretary, Chuka Umanna declared that a Labour government would outlaw gender segregation at universities, and – belatedly – Cameron intervened, issuing a statement against segregation, and UUK backed down and withdrew its “guidance.”
A truly wretched and shameful performance by UUK’s Nicola Dandridge on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in which she stated that gender segregation was “not completely alien to our culture,” may well have been crucial. Listeners were outraged, especially when, in the same programme, one Saleem Chagtai of the so-called Islamic Education and Research Academy, claimed (under questioning from the excellent Mishal Husain) that “psychological studies” had shown that men and women were “more comfortable” when seated apart, and that “wanton depictions of women” were not allowed by his organisation.
In a ignominious climb-down, UUK has now withdrawn its guidance and says it will be seeking advice from the Equality and Human Rights Commission (which has already indicated that UUK’s “guidance” is almost certainly illegal). In our opinion, Nicola Dandridge should now be considering her position.
But we should also remember that the left-controlled National Union of Students supported the UUK “guidance” and that the SWP has helped organise and then defended, gender-segregated meetings. There was a time when the left would be at the forefront in defending secular, enlightenment values. But no longer: cultural relativism and “identity” politics infected sections of the “left” and the Guardianista “liberal”-“left” some years ago, and they are now, all too often, on the wrong side. But our defeat of UUK shows that cultural relativism can be beaten; our immediate and most dangerous enemies are not the clerical fascists themselves, but their “left”/”liberal” appeasers, of the Guardianista / SWP variety.
The fight-back begins here!
Universities UK (UUK) has issued guidance on external speakers saying that the segregation of the sexes at universities is not discriminatory as long as “both men and women are being treated equally, as they are both being segregated in the same way.
”UUK add that universities should bear in mind that “concerns to accommodate the wishes or beliefs of those opposed to segregation should not result in a religious group being prevented from having a debate in accordance with its belief system” and that if “imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely-held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.
”We, the undersigned, condemn the endorsement of gender apartheid by Universities UK. Any form of segregation, whether by race, sex or otherwise is discriminatory. Separate is never equal and segregation is never applied to those who are considered equal. By justifying segregation, Universities UK sides with Islamist values at the expense of the many Muslims and others who oppose sex apartheid and demand equality between women and men.The guidance must be immediately rescinded and sex segregation at universities must come to an end.
Initial List of Signatories:
A C Grayling, Philosopher
Abhishek N. Phadnis, President, London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Anissa Helie, Academic
Charlie Klendjian, Secretary of Lawyers’ Secular Society
Chris Moos, Secretary, London School of Economics Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society
Deeyah Khan, Film Director and Music Producer
Dilip Simeon, Chairperson of the Aman Trust
Faisal Gazi, Writer and Blogger
Gita Sahgal, Director, Centre for Secular Space
Harsh Kapoor, South Asia Citizen’s Web
Helen Palmer, Chair of London Humanists
Kate Smurthwaite, Comedian and Activist
Marieme Helie Lucas, Coordinator, Secularism is a Women’s Issue
Maryam Namazie, Spokesperson for One Law for All and Fitnah
Mina Ahadi, International Committee against Stoning
Nadia El Fani, Tunisian Filmmaker
Nahla Mahmoud, Spokesperson of Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain
Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs of the British Humanist Association
Peter Tatchell, Director of Peter Tatchell Foundation
Polly Toynbee, Journalist
Pragna Patel, Director of Southall Black Sisters
Richard Dawkins, Scientist
Rohini Hensman, Social Activist
Rory Fenton, President of The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies of the UK and ROI
Rupert Sutton, Lead Researcher of Student Rights
Terry Sanderson, President of National Secular Society
Yasmin Rehman, Women’s Rights Campaigner
Tisdall: a Paul Faure de jour
You don’t have to be a fan of US imperialism to wish the yanks well in hunting down al-Qaida and other such murderous fascists.
But, it would seem, Simon Tisdall, senior foreign correspondent of the Graun doesn’t share that feeling. In fact, attempts to apprehend and/or kill such people as Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai (wanted for the 1998 bombings of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania that killed over 250 people) and Ahmed Abdi Godane (who claims responsibility for the Westgate mall attack) are to be deplored and sneered at:
“The two raids may provide Obama with temporary relief from his domestic troubles, distracting attention from the government shutdown. But secretary of state John Kerry’s claim on Sunday that the operations showed terrorists they “can run but they can’t hide” was macho bombast straight from the George W Bush school of utter thoughtlessness.
“The raids yielded one wanted man. They shed yet more blood. They played the terrorists’ game. They invited further retaliation and escalation down the road. They reminded Muslims everywhere that the US, in righteous mood, has scant regard for other countries’ borders and national rights. And they did nothing to address the roots and causes of confrontation between Islam and the west.” Read the whole thing here, but prepare to be nauseated and/or infuriated..
I leave aside, for the moment, Tisdall’s apparent acceptance (in his final sentence) of the jihadists’ (and the anti-Muslim racists’) claim that the struggle against Islamist terrorism is, in fact, a war on Islam itself. And I won’t bother asking what, exactly, does Mr Tisdall think “the causes of [the] confrontation” are. For now, I’d merely ask, what does Mr Tisdall think should be done in response to outrages like Westgate? Anything at all?
One small cause for hope: judging by the below-the-line comments, even CiF readers seem to be appalled at Tisdall’s craven appeasement.
Finally (for now) I would urge readers to check out this fascinating comparison between present-day Guardianistas and the Paul Fauristes in France during WW2. All proportions guarded, I think the comparison is apposite and entirely fair.
How has it come to this? And how is that some who regard themselves as on the “left” not only tolerate religious bigotry and censorship of this sort, but actively promote it?
Statement from the British Humanist Association
LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society incident at freshers’ fair
October 4th, 2013
In a statement, the students have explained:
‘When the LSE security arrived, we were asked to cover our t-shirts or leave LSE premises. When we asked for the rules and regulations we were in breach of, we were told that the LSE was being consulted about how to proceed. After a period of consultation, Kevin Haynes (LSE Legal and Compliance Team) and Paul Thornbury (LSE Head of Security) explained to us that we were not behaving in an “orderly and responsible manner”, and that the wearing of the t-shirt could be considered “harassment”, as it could “offend others” by creating an “offensive environment”. We asked what exactly was “offensive” about the t-shirts, and how the display of a non-violent and non-racist comic strip could be considered “harassment” of other students.
‘At the end of this conversation, five security guards started to position themselves around our stall. We felt this was a tactic to intimidate us. We were giving an ultimatum that should we not comply immediately, we would be physically removed from LSE property. We made it clear that we disagreed strongly with this interpretation of the rules, but that we would comply by covering the t-shirts… After that, the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour. These two security guards were following us closely when we went in and out of the room.’
Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commented, ‘The LSESU is acting in a totally disproportionate manner in their dealings with our affiliate society. That a satirical webcomic can be deemed to be so offensive as to constitute harassment is a sad indictment of the state of free speech at Britain’s Universities today. This hysteria on the part of the SU and University is totally unwarranted; intelligent young adults of whatever beliefs are not so sensitive that they need to be protected from this sort of material in an academic institution. Our lawyers are advising our affiliated society at LSE and we will be working with them, the students, and the AHS to resolve this issue.’
The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies strongly condemns the actions of the LSESU. President Rory Fenton said, ‘Our member societies deserve and rightly demand the same freedom of speech and expression afforded to their religious counterparts on campus. Universities should be open to and tolerant of different beliefs, without exception. That a students’ union would use security guards to follow and intimidate their own members is deeply concerning and displays an inconsistent approach to free speech; if it is for some, it must be for all. The AHS will work with our partners at the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society to assist our affiliated society and seek engagement with both the LSESU and LSE itself. It is the duty of universities countrywide to respect their students’ rights, not their sensitivities.’
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.