Lutfur Rahman and communalism in Tower Hamlets

November 6, 2014 at 3:50 pm (Bangladesh, communalism, democracy, Jim D, London, populism, Respect)

Re-elected Mayor Luftur Rahman

Eric Pickles has taken over the administration of Tower Hamlets council for two years after an inquiry commissioned by his department found wholesale mismanagement, questionable grant-giving and a failure to secure best value for local taxpayers.

Pickles plans to dispatch three commissioners to administrate grant-giving, property transactions and the administration of future elections in the borough.

The commissioners, who will be answerable to Pickles, will be in place until March 2017 and are tasked with drawing up an action plan to improve governance in the council, including the permanent appointment of three senior council officers including a chief executive.

The PwC report alleges corruption, cronyism and improper, communalist (though it doesn’t use that word) distribution of grants.

Among the key findings:

  • Poplar Town Hall, a Grade II listed building, was sold for £875,000 to a political supporter of Mr Rahman even though the bid arrived late, and after rival bids had been opened, which created a “risk of bid manipulation”. A higher offer was rejected, contrary to independent advice, and the winner was later allowed to change his contract.
  • Grants were handed out to organisations that were “ruled ineligible”, with some £407,700 given to groups that failed to meet the council’s own minimum criteria. Council officers were over-ruled in many cases.
  • The council appeared to show “a tendency towards denial or obfuscation rather than an inclination to investigate concerns raised”.  It did not properly investigate issues raised in a BBC Panorama programme that alleged Mr Rahman intervened to increase grants paid to some local Bangladeshi organisations.
  • Public money was spent “inappropriately” on political advertising for the Mayor.

Comrade Coatesy has done an excellent job of summarising the report and the media response. He concludes with these words of wisdom, with which we heartily concur:

“Pickles is a one-man anti-democratic foul abusive swine.

“But before protesting at this those on the left should avoid saying that Rahman’s administration and satellites (are) innocent  because they say so.”

Some background information (drawn up by a comrade before the publication of the PwC report):

Rahman was previously the leader of the Labour group on Tower Hamlets Council.  However, he lost this position in 2010.  The same year he was selected as the Labour candidate to stand as the directed elected mayor of Tower Hamlets before being removed by the party’s NEC.  The reason for him losing both positions were accusations that the Islamic Foundation of Europe (IFE) had signed up some hundreds of members to the Labour Party to advance Rahman’s cause.  The IFE is part of a network of groups around the East London Mosque aligned to the Jamaat-e-Islami (aka Maududists), which has its origins in India but is now more significantly is a force in Pakistan and were chief amongst the anti-secessionist forces in the civil war that created Bangladesh.  They are Islamist in that they support an Islamic state based on Sharia law, but are (on the whole) social conservatives not jihadists.

Rahman won the 2010 mayoral election as an independent although Tower Hamlets is by no means a majority Muslim borough, less than 40% are Muslims but they do constitute the bulk of Labour’s electoral base and once Rahman was able to win this no-one could beat him.  Rahman’s position was strengthened by the party formed around him, Tower Hamlets First (THF), winning 18 of the 45 council seats in 2014 and under the mayoral system Rahman can run the administration drawing on only these councillors.  THF is entirely drawn from Tower Hamlets Bangladeshis (and one would assume, Muslims), although six have previously been councillors of both the Labour Party and Respect.  One of these, Abjoi Miah, was a key member of Respect and appears to have been the key link person between Respect and IFE/Jamaat.  He is now the central organiser of THF and a power behind Rahman’s throne.  The turn to the Labour Party and Rahman appears to have been because IFE/Jamaat lost confidence in the Respect MP for Bow and Poplar (in Tower Hamlets), George Galloway, after he made a complete fool of himself on Celebrity Big Brother.

There are three important points to make about the Rahman/THF rule in Tower Hamlets and the possibility of other councils becoming Muslim run:

First Rahman and THF do not present as Islamists.  For example, the council maintains an LGBT policy.  It might be the case that Rahman and many of the THF councillors are not Islamists but communalists who wish to promote the interests of those of Bangladeshi origins, something that is not without precedent in local government politics in Britain.  The most notable feature of Rahman/THF rule is not the establishment of an Islamic state in the East End, but the creation of a version of the millet system that existed under the Ottoman Empire whereby everyone is related to as a religious group.  It is common for local councils to run a layer of social services through local voluntary groups and charities.  In Tower Hamlets these are becoming increasingly demarcated on religious lines, that strengthens the links between people of Bangladeshi origin.  Through its Community Faith Building Support Scheme the council gives direct support to faith based groups, the budget for 2014 being £1.3 million.  Of the 2013 funding, although funding went to a variety of Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Sikh groups, two-thirds went to Muslim groups.  It is such communalism and setting of religious identity into policy structures that is most problematic here, not any overt militancy.

Second, what is notable about Tower Hamlets First is their relative youth. These are not bearded elders in traditional attire, but young men in suits and whose beards are either neatly clipped or absent.  In sharp distinction to older generations, there are women amongst THF’s councillors.  This group has coalesced around three factors: the shutting down of channels in the Labour Party to their advancement, the rise of Respect in Tower Hamlets showing the potential to mobilise Muslim voters in a new way, and the organisation hub of Jamaat-e-Islami based on the East London Mosque.   The last of these is probably the most important, but one that might not be readily replicated elsewhere.  As Innes Bowen has shown in her recent book, Medina in Birmingham, Najaf in Brent, while most mosques in Britain are affiliated to the conservative quietism of the Deobandi and Barelwi strands of Sunni Islam, the East London Mosque is affiliated to the Islamist idea of Jamaat-e-Islami, with IFE being part of this stable too.

Third, success for Tower Hamlets First was tied up with the mayoral systems.  Tower Hamlets First do not have the spread across the borough to win the majority of the council seats, and have only 40 per cent.  Their control is thus based on winning the direct elections for mayor that Rahman did comfortably in 2010 where he took much of Labour’s vote, and more tightly in 2014 against a strong Labour challenge.

 Rahman’s links with the Islamic Forum of Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami are described on pages 27-29 of this booklet.

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Samira Ahmed on the Rotherham scandal

August 29, 2014 at 8:47 pm (child abuse, communalism, cops, crime, Guardian, Human rights, law, misogyny, posted by JD, Racism, relativism, thuggery, women)

The horrors exposed by the  Jay report into child exploitation in Rotherham are so sickening, so angering, so distressing, that I’ve deliberately refrained from commenting. I’m simply not qualified to do so on an issue that seems at once so simple and yet so complex. What I am sure about is that those refuse to seriously address the racial aspect to this outrage are nearly as culpable as those who would use it to demonise Asian/ Muslim people and stir up racial hatred.

So, for now, I’ll simply recommend this piece by Samira Ahmed. I know quite a few of you will have already read this, as it was first published in yesterday’s Guardian. But it’s by far the best and most sensibly nuanced commentary on the subject I’ve yet encountered and it deserves to be as widely read as possible.

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Sarah Khan on ‘Trojan Horse’

July 30, 2014 at 5:09 pm (Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, communalism, Education, Islam, islamism, misogyny, reblogged, relativism, religion, religious right, sexism, women)

This article first appeared at the Telegraph‘s website. It makes a refershing change from the waffle and evasion that’s been published in the Graun on the same subject. I do not have Sarah’s permission for republishing this, but it’s so good I thought it simply deserved the widest possible audience, and I suspect most Shiraz readers don’t read the Telegraph in either print or electronic format:

Trojan Horse plot: we must not excuse bigots on the grounds that they are Muslim

Bigotry is bigotry, whether it’s religious or not.

By Sarah Khan, director of Inspire

As a Muslim, I object to hardliners and apologists who try to excuse bigotry on the grounds that it’s “Islamic”
One of the most shocking findings, from both Birmingham City Council’s report and from the Government’s own investigation into the Trojan Horse affair, was the incredulous hate peddling promoted to young children by fundamentalist Muslims who attempted to infiltrate a number of schools. Children had been told not to listen to Christians because they were “all liars”; and how they were “lucky to be Muslims and not ignorant like Christians and Jews.” Schools put up posters warning children that if they didn’t pray they would “go to hell” and girls were taught that women who refused to have sex with their husbands would be “punished” by angels “from dusk to dawn”. One of the ringleaders of the Trojan Horse plot told an undercover reporter that “white women have the least amount of morals”, white children were “lazy” and that British people have “colonial blood.”

Let’s be clear. These bigoted views are exactly that – bigoted. As a Muslim I object to those hardliners who aggressively suggest such views are Islamic. They are not. Yet this hate peddling was done in the name of Islam. I have seen over the years how sexist, homophobic and intolerant Muslims deliberately manipulate my faith to justify sexism, homophobia and intolerance to other faith communities. They hide behind the excuse of “Islam”, and argue they are within their religious rights to hold such bigoted views – and British society too often acts as if these are the natural rights of all Muslims. Such an attitude was seen, frustratingly, in the Muslim Council of Britain’s statement in response to the Trojan Horse findings, but also from Birmingham City Council, who did little to stop such practices as there had been a culture within the council which was more concerned about potential allegations of “Islamophobia”. This paranoia incredibly took precedent over the welfare and well-being of children in our schools.

How did it come to this? Part of the reason is the lack of a clear understanding within society of what actually constitutes anti-Muslim prejudice which is then manipulated fully by Muslim hardliners who know this only too well and who gleefully run circles around liberals. But another reason is also because of the confusing messages that are emitted which treat Islam and all Muslims as if they are a homogenous block, and the refusal by Muslims in authority to call out bigotry when they see it being committed by Muslims themselves. Despite their attempts of speaking out in favour of Islam, they refuse to separate the bigoted views of some Muslims from Islam itself.

Take the Muslim Council of Britain. In their statement they complained that Mr Clarke was “conflating conservative Muslim practices to a supposed ideology and agenda to ‘Islamise’ secular schools.”

For the record, I’d like to know: what exactly does the MCB define as conservative Muslim practice? Does the MCB believe homophobia, sexism, intolerance and the “inferiority” of other faiths are conservative Muslim practices? The religious conservative Muslims I speak to tell me they are offended that this could ever be justified as such. Yet predictably, Muslim representative bodies like the MCB at best sound wishy-washy, and at worst continue to defend and justify such bigotry under the guise of “conservative Muslim practice.”

H/t: Howie

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The Guardian prepares itself for ‘Trojan Horse’ Ofsted humiliation

June 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm (apologists and collaborators, Brum, children, communalism, Education, Guardian, Islam, islamism, Jim D, misogyny, relativism, religion, religious right, secularism, truth)

Picture of Richard Adams

Adams of the Graun: evasion and waffle

When Ofsted publishes its reports into the Birmingham schools involved in the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ allegations of the islamisation of nominally secular state schools in that City, it will censure six schools for failing to provide a “rounded education” or prepare pupils “for life in modern Britain.” In other words, the essential claim of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document – that Islamists have been organising to impose their fundamentalist agenda on schools in Birmingham – is true.

Since the ‘Trojan Horse’ document appeared in March, and the Ofsted inspections were ordered, Tim Boyes, the Head of Queensbridge School in Moseley, Birmingham, has come forward to claim that in 2010 he warned the Department of Education that in some Birmingham schools, pupils and staff were displaying “racist, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour” and that “I and a whole series of colleagues … were reporting concerns about governance and things that weren’t going well … tensions and politics have exploded and as a result head teachers have had nervous breakdowns, they’ve lost their jobs, schools have been really torn apart.” Gove’s department failed to act, says Boyes.

Very similar claims have now been made by a prospective school governor, Keith Townsend, who told Monday’s Radio 4 Today programme that a small group of governors had “infiltrated” the governing body of an un-named Birmingham school (thought to be Golden Hillock School in Sparkbrook), demanded a stricter Muslim regime, and set about driving out the non-Muslim headteacher. Townsend says he reported his concerns to Birmingham City Council in 2008 (when it was controlled by a Tory-Lib Dem coalition) but received a “dismissive reply.” Labour MP Steve McCabe says he can recall having a conversation with Mr Townsend at that time and taking his concerns to an assistant director at the City Council.

All of which puts the Guardian in a bit of a spot. All the Graun‘s coverage to date has concentrated upon suspicions about the provenance of the ‘Trojan Horse’ document, rather than the question of whether or not the allegations of an organised Islamic fundamentalist campaign to take over some Birmingham schools, are actually true. The logic put forward by the Graun is that because the ‘Trojan Horse’ document may well be a hoax, therefore the claims made in it must, of necessity, be untrue: an argument that simply doesn’t follow, if you give it a moment’s thought. At times, the Graun and its Education editor Richard Adams, seem to have been acting as little more than a mouthpiece for the ultra-reactionary Islamist Tahir Alam, Chair of governors at Park View School, and influential at its sister schools Golden Hillock and Nansen. Adams even wrote a glowing report of a visit to Park View, that was clearly arranged, organised and supervised by Alam himself!

How will Adams and the Graun react when the Ofsted reports show them to have been so completely and egregiously wrong about what’s been going on in Birmingham?

Well, we were given a foretaste yesterday, in a typical piece of evasion, double-speak and waffle from Adams. The article’s wretched nadir must surely be this:

“The tranche of reports on 21 state schools, which could be published as early as this week, say there was scant evidence of religious extremism on a daily basis in classrooms, with most criticism reserved for school management and cases of overbearing behaviour by school governors.

“Ofsted’s inspectors appear to have been unable to find much evidence of claims of homophobia or gender discrimination, which have been alleged by anonymous former teachers at some of the schools” (my emphasis  -JD).

Now, try a little experiment: try substituting the word “racism” (or, indeed, “Islamophobia”) for “religious extremism” in the first paragraph, and, again, for the words “homophobia or gender discrimination” in the second: then see how it reads.

This isn’t exactly a new low for the Graun (there’ve been too many of them to keep up with), but it’s one more depressing example of that paper’s miserable descent into relativism, pro-Islamism and a complete betrayal of secularism and enlightenment principles.

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Matgamna on Gerry Adams and the Provos

May 2, 2014 at 7:33 am (AWL, communalism, crime, elections, From the archives, history, Ireland, populism, posted by JD, republicanism, tesco)

Gerry Adams

Shiraz Socialist is not in a position to express any opinion on the alleged involvement of Gerry Adams in the 1972 murder by the Provisional IRA of Jean McConville. Adams denies any involvement. Certainly, the timing of his arrest raises the possibility that it was politically motivated. However, this 2002 article by Sean Matgamna casts a useful light on Adams’ relationship with the Provos and the “physical-force” tradition within Irish republicanism:

I once knew a man who was shot by a Provisional IRA gang which included Adams

“Ireland occupies a position among the nations of the earth unique in… the possession of what is known as a ‘physical force party’ – a party, that is to say, whose members are united upon no one point, and agree upon no single principle, except upon the use of physical force as the sole means of settling the dispute between the people of this country and the governing power of Great Britain…

“[They] exalt into a principle that which the revolutionists of other countries have looked upon as a weapon… Socialists believe that the question of force is of very minor importance; the really important question is of the principles upon which is based the movement that may or may not need the use of force to realise its object…”
James Connolly, 22 July 1899

Seeing pictures of Gerry Adams grinning his Cheshire-cat-who-has-eaten-six-mice grin in triumph at SF/PIRA’s latest success reminded me that I once knew a man who was shot by a Provisional IRA gang which included Adams.

His name was John Magennis. Who was he? A British soldier? A member of the Royal Ulster Constabulary? A member of an Orange paramilitary group? One of the Northern Ireland workers shot by the Provisional IRA in the early 1990s for doing repair work on RUC stations?

No, John Magennis was a Republican. He belonged to the then mainstream Republican movement from which the Provisionals split away in December 1969. Those who remained were thereafter called the “Officials”. They seemed to be the left wing of the Republican movement. They talked about class and about socialism. But in fact their leaders were Stalinists.

The Provisionals were traditionalist Catholic right wing Republicans. They recoiled from the Officials for a number of reasons – their leftism, their Stalinism, their feebleness in responding to the communal fighting in Northern Ireland in August 1969, but, most of all, their turn to politics in general. The split was triggered by the decision of the IRA leaders that Sinn Fein would henceforth take any Dail seats which they might win in an election.

The split led to conflict between the two Republican groups over control of weapons and to a shooting war in which people on both sides died.

John Magennis, a member of the Official IRA, refused to surrender his gun to the gang of Provisional IRA men. They shot him, leaving him paralysed. He survived in that condition for some years and then died.

I met John Magennis only once or twice, about the time the IRA split was taking place. John Magennis was not yet an IRA member. He had come to Manchester to visit his uncle, John-John, a one-time Belfast Republican and later a prominent trade union militant on the Manchester docks, where he worked closely with a small group of Trotskyists, of whom I was one.

A big debate on Ireland had been going on in the IS group (now SWP), at that stage a democratic organisation in which such issues could be debated and of which we were members, since the deployment of British troops on the streets of Northern Ireland in August 1969, when serious sectarian fighting broke out in Derry and Belfast. Were we for or against British troops in Northern Ireland?

The discussion was very heated. Those of us who rejected the IS majority’s tacit support to the British state in Northern Ireland were denounced as bloodthirsty “fascists” at the September 1969 IS conference.

John Magennis came with one of his uncles to one of the debates in Manchester. He said he couldn’t see any acceptable alternative to “troops in”.

I remember something he said which later took on a special meaning. He expressed it in the jargon of Catholic nationalism, which idealises patriotic self-sacrifice “for Ireland”, the so-called “blood sacrifice”: “I don’t want to die for Ireland”.

Back in Belfast, he joined the “left-wing” Republicans. I heard he had been shot and paralysed, and later that he had died. It was many years before I saw him again – on TV on a home video, filmed in a nursing home, trying to learn to walk again – staggering painfully, spastically, a poor wreck of the vigorous young man he had been.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Matgamna on Irish Catholics, Muslims, and the Left

November 14, 2013 at 10:35 pm (AWL, Catholicism, communalism, From the archives, history, immigration, Ireland, Islam, islamism, left, Marxism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", relativism, religion, stalinism)

Sean Matgamna.jpg

My friend and comrade Sean Matgamna has lately been the target of an ignorant and/or malicious campaign of largely synthetic outrage and accusations of “racism” (described and analysed here) from sections of the “left” who don’t like his militant secularism and anti-clericalism. The following short piece (from 2002) explains some of the background to Sean’s stance:

The Communist Party with Catholic Irish immigrants then, and the Left with Muslims now

There are striking parallels between the conventional Left’s attitude to Islam now and the way the Communist Party used to relate to Irish Catholic immigrants in Britain. I had some experience of that.

For a while, over forty years ago, I was involved in the work of the Communist Party among Irish people of devout Catholic background in Britain, people from the nearest thing to a theocracy in Europe, where clerics ruled within the glove-puppet institutions of a bourgeois democracy.

Hundreds of thousands of us came to Britain from small towns, backward rural areas, from communities of small commodity-producers that were very different from conditions we encountered in Britain. We spoke English and were racially indistinguishable from the natives, but we brought with us the idea of history as the struggle of the oppressed against oppression and exploitation, derived from what we had learned from teachers, priests, parents and songs, and from reading about Ireland’s centuries-long struggle against England.

Such ideas had very broad implications. It needed only a small shift – no more than a refocusing of those ideas on the society we were now in, and which at first we saw with the eyes of strangers not inclined to be approving – for us to see British society for the class-exploitative system it is, to see our place in it, and to reach the socialist political conclusions that followed from that.

Vast numbers of Irish migrants became part of the labour movement. Quite a few of us became socialists of varying hues, a small number revolutionary socialists. Catholicism was the reason why large numbers of Irish immigrants, whose mindset I have sketched above, did not become communists.

The CPGB ran an Irish front organisation, the Connolly Association. Instead of advocating socialism and secularism and working to organise as communists those being shaken loose from the dogmatic certainties we had learned in a society ruled by Catholic “fundamentalists”, the Connolly Association disguised themselves as simple Irish nationalists. They purveyed ideas not seriously different from those of the ruling party in Dublin, Fianna Fail, except for occasional words in favour of Russian foreign policy.

The real history of 20th century Ireland, and the part played by the Catholic Church and the Catholic “Orange Order”, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, in creating the conditions that led to Partition, were suppressed by these supposed Marxists. Instead, they told a tale in which only the Orange bigots and the British were villains. The concerns and outlook of narrow Catholic nationalism were given a pseudo-anti-imperialist twist. All that mattered was to be “against British imperialism”.

The CPGB thus, for its own manipulative ends, related to the broad mass of Irish Catholic immigrants – who, in the pubs of places like South Manchester, bought the Connolly Association paper Irish Democrat, in large numbers – by accommodating to the Catholic nationalist bigotries we had learned from priests and teachers at home and battening on them.

We had, those of us who took it seriously, a cultural and religious arrogance that would have startled those who did not see us as we saw ourselves – something that, I guess, is also true of many Muslims now. The CPGB did not challenge it. (If this suggests something purely personal to me, I suggest that the reader takes a look at James P Cannon’s review of the novel Moon Gaffney in Notebook of an Agitator.)

For the CPGB this approach made a gruesome sense entirely absent from the SWP’s antics with Islam, because Moscow approved of Dublin’s “non-aligned” foreign policy, which refused NATO military bases in Ireland. Russian foreign policy, and the wish to exploit Irish nationalism against the UK – that was the CPGB leader’s first and main concern.

In this way the Connolly Association and the CPGB cut across the line of development of secularising Irish immigrants: large numbers became lapsed Catholics, but without clearing the debris of religion from their heads. It expelled from its ranks those who wanted to make the Connolly Association socialist and secularist. Instead of helping us move on from middle-class nationalism and the Catholic-chauvinist middle-class interpretation of Irish history, it worked to lock us back into those ideas by telling us in “Marxist” terms that they were the best “anti-imperialism”. What mattered, fundamentally, to the CP leaders was who we were against – Russia’s antagonist, Britain.

(from the Workers Liberty website)

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Enemy intelligence: ban the word “community”

May 27, 2013 at 8:51 am (Anti-Racism, communalism, London, media, multiculturalism, politics, populism, reblogged, secularism, terror)

Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.

We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…

By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)

Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?

Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.

When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.

The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.

From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.

Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.

I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?

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Galloway on North Korea…and God

April 10, 2013 at 8:56 am (Asshole, Beyond parody, communalism, Galloway, grovelling, insanity, Iran, Jim D, populism, religion, Respect, stalinism, surrealism, wankers)

I keep promising myself (and readers) that I’ll never write another word about that posturing charlatan Galloway. But for a blogger, he’s the gift that just keeps on giving:

George Galloway: “But there have been achievements in North Korea. They do have a satellite circling the earth. They have built a nuclear power industry even though they suspended it on false promises from President Clinton and other U.S. statesmen. They do have a cohesive, pristine actually, innocent culture. A culture that has not been penetrated by globalization and by Western mores and is very interesting to see. But I wouldn’t like to live there. And I’m not advocating their system. Not least because they certainly don’t believe in God in North Korea…”

H/t: Pete Cookson

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Orwell and today’s left

January 21, 2013 at 11:08 am (apologists and collaborators, AWL, class, communalism, From the archives, Galloway, history, internationalism, Jim D, literature, Orwell, socialism, stalinism, Stop The War, SWP, trotskyism, truth)

Today is ‘Orwell Day’, the 63rd anniversary of the author’s death (additionally, he was born 110 years ago this June 25th) . To mark the occasion (even though ‘Orwell Day’ seems to be largely a stunt by Penguin Books), we publish below a ten year-old article from the AWL’s paper Solidarity. It was written just as the SWP was cosying up to George Galloway (then still – just – a Labour MP), and had discovered the supposedly “progressive” nature of Islamism. The dreadful abomination that would be ‘Respect’ was about to come into being…

Author: Sean Matgamna

“Revolutionary ardour in the struggle for socialism is inseparable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth”.
Leon Trotsky, “Trotskyism and the PSOP”

“There is not the slightest doubt, for instance, about the behaviour of the Japanese in China. Nor is there much doubt about the long tale of Fascist outrages during the last ten years in Europe. They happened even though Lord Halifax said they happened. The raping and butchering in Chinese cities, the tortures in the cellars of the Gestapo, the elderly Jewish professors flung into cesspools, the machine-gunning of refugees along the Spanish roads – they all happened, and they did not happen any the less because the Daily Telegraph has suddenly found out about them when it is five years too late”.

George Orwell, Looking Back On The Spanish War, 1942

The centenary of George Orwell’s birth is being widely celebrated in the bourgeois media. To these professional liars, Orwell, the man who told awkward and untimely truths, is a hero!

Apart from a few unteachable pickled-in-the-lies old Stalinists, most people who think of themselves as being of the left, for example the Socialist Workers Party, also see Orwell as a hero.

It wasn’t always so. When he was alive, Orwell, who died in 1950, was regarded by the dominant forces ‘on the left’ of the 1930s and 40s as a “right-winger”, a crank, an “anti-Soviet renegade”, an agent or a “dupe” of fascism, and an all-round enemy.

The only exceptions in Britain then were those whose ideas were informed by Trotsky’s writings on Stalinist Russia, the Stalinist “Communist” International, the Spanish Civil War of 1936-9, and other related questions.

Numerically those were few. The largest group was the declining Independent Labour Party, which Orwell joined in the mid-1930s. Then there were the organised Trotskyists, in the 1930s a handful of them. Their maximum number, in the mid 1940s, was never more than about 400.

The Trotskyists were shunned, hounded, persecuted, and where possible suppressed by the “left” of that time. They were the targets of the approach advocated in, for example, a witch-hunting wartime pamphlet of the Communist Party (the CPGB) entitled “Clear Out Hitler’s Agents”. Its message was: “Treat a Trotskyist as you would a fascist”.

Orwell was regarded as an enemy of “the left” because he shared some of the Trotskyists’ ideas. Orwell, like the Trotskyists, did not believe that an honest and serious person could be guided in politics, or in his attitude to the conventional left, by WB Yeats’ injunction: “Tread softly, for you tread on my dreams”.

Socialists “dream” about a world transformed. We do not spin consoling dreams about the world we live in. If we cannot bear to define that world as it actually is, then we will never manage to transform it. Our “socialism” will for us be only a consoling quasi-religion.

Orwell, like the Trotskyists, trampled with large hobnailed boots on the self-poisoning fantasies, dreams and sacred myths of that left.

On Spain, for example.

In July 1936 the fascist-minded generals revolted against the newly-elected Popular Front government, unleashing a terrible civil war. Spain became the great cause of the “anti-fascist” left, as indeed it should.

But the very “anti-fascist” Stalinist movement was wholly controlled and in part financed from Moscow by people whose main concern was to convince the Paris and London governments that their “communism” posed no threat to capitalism, and that they could control the working class for them, and, “for a consideration,” would. They wanted imperialist allies against Hitler’s Germany. These “anti-fascists” suppressed the workers who had seized power in Catalonia and set up a Stalinist-bourgeois police state in the anti-fascist Republican areas.

They, not the fascist armies which by March 1939 controlled all of Spain, suppressed the revolutionary Spanish labour movement.

Throughout the world, the Stalinist press, and most of the socialist and liberal press, which at that point saw the Stalinists as allies against fascism, suppressed news of what was actually happening in the real Spain.

They substituted heroic half-truths and myths about the “anti-fascist struggle” there. To do anything else, the “knowing” people said, would be to “undermine the anti-fascist fight” and “play into the hands of” the Spanish fascists and, ultimately, of Hitler.

You had to take sides and respect and defend the official truths of your “side”. You had to accept an entirely negative definition of what was “anti-fascist” and therefore “working-class”, “progressive”, “left”. You could not afford to concern yourself much with what the “anti-fascists”, whether bourgeois liberals or totalitarianising Stalinists, positively were, in their own right and what they were actually doing.

This was the time of the Popular Fronts, when the Communist Parties sought allies on the right. The Stalinists set the pace and tone here, and their social-democratic and liberal fellow-travellers acted as outriders and enforcers for them. Trotsky called these Stalinising “Liberals” “the priests of half-truth”.

In Britain, for example, the Liberal News Chronicle (which was twinned with a London evening paper, The Star) had fallen under Stalinist influence – its correspondent in Spain was Arthur Koestler, then a Stalinist – and seconded the lies of the Communist Party’s Daily Worker. So did such Stalinist-influenced labour papers as the then very influential New Statesman, and Tribune, which at its start in 1937, was a Stalinist-Popular Front paper.

When Orwell, who went to Spain politically naive, came back disabused of illusions about the “official” left and tried to break the “left front” of lying in the cause of “anti-fascism”, he found he could not get the truth past the “anti-fascist” and leftist “priests of half-truth”.

These were days of the Left Book Club (LBC). Published by Victor Gollancz – under an editorial committee of Stalinists and pro-Stalinists – the LBC was churning out large editions of its orange-jacketed volumes. One measure of that time was that Fate of a Revolution, an account of the USSR by Victor Serge, the old communist who had been in the USSR until 1936, was published in Britain by a rather feeble competitor of the Left Book Club, the Right Book Club, which also published such honest eye-witness left-wing accounts of the USSR as the American journalist Eugene Lyons’ Assignment In Utopia.

Orwell described the situation like this:

“The Spanish war has probably produced a richer crop of lies than any event since the Great War of 1914-18, but I honestly doubt, in spite of all those hecatombs of nuns who have been raped and crucified before the eyes of Daily Mail reporters, whether it is the pro-Fascist newspapers that have done the most harm. It is the left-wing papers, the News Chronicle and the Daily Worker, with their far subtler methods of distortion, that have prevented the British public from grasping the real nature of the struggle. The fact which these papers have so carefully obscured is that the Spanish government (including the semi-autonomous Catalan government) is far more afraid of the [working-class] revolution than of the fascists…

The New Statesman, having previously refused an article of mine on the suppression of the POUM [quasi-Trotskyists, allied to the ILP] on the ground that it would ’cause trouble’, also refused to print the review as it ‘controverted editorial policy’, or in other words blew the gaff on the Communist Party… Whatever you do don’t believe a word you read in the News Chronicle or Daily Worker. The only daily paper I have seen in which a gleam of truth sometimes gets through is the [Daily] Express…”

It was the same with many things other than the Spanish Civil War. Orwell found himself like the “undersocialised” boy in Hans Andersen’s story who noticed that the Emperor, whose clothes everyone else wholeheartedly admired, was in fact naked.

Today we look back with respect and some gratitude to the Orwells and pioneer Trotskyists, and with contempt and revulsion on the broad “left” of that time. The untimely truths which Orwell and the Trotskyists told about Spain, the USSR, etc., are today commonplaces understood by most people who think of themselves as ‘left’.

In Orwell’s case, the pattern is not too far from what the Irish socialist-republican James Connolly wrote of the pioneer Republican Wolfe Tone on the centenary of the Republican rising of 1798 in which Tone lost his life: “Apostles of freedom are ever crucified when living, and idolised when safely dead”. Their once inconvenient ideas come to be “received” wisdom for the sort of people who most likely would, when they lived, have been among the persecutors of those ideas’ pioneers.

Orwell was made of less malleable stuff. He registered what he saw, thought about it honestly, and reported it accurately, believing with Karl Marx that the truth is a great revolutionary force.

Right now, the ideas of Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty are unpopular with most of the left on many contemporary questions – for example, on the attitude socialists should take to a Labour MP who acted for many years as a political agent (paid or unpaid makes little difference) for the quasi-fascist dictatorship in Iraq – people who for decades did in Iraq what the fascists Orwell fought in the Spanish Civil War did when they won that war. We are so much at odds with the conventional left that it is no exaggeration to say: if the SWP and its political satellites like the ISG, the CPGB, WP, etc are left, then we aren’t. And the other way around.

It would be foolish to claim that because our ideas are unpopular with the contemporary mainstream left, therefore they are correct. The opposite claim, however, can safely be made. Today, as in Orwell’s time, we have a mainstream pseudo-left that has lost its way. For most practical purposes, it is not a “left”, still less a Marxist “left”, at all.

It makes no difference that the ABCs of Trotsky’s politics, and not, as in the 1930s and 40s, of Stalin’s, form the received truths of our left. “Tradition” in politics is only as good as those who try to give it current relevance and life. And in fact in today’s “Trotskisant” but eclectic and incoherent left, much of the Stalinist politics against which Orwell and the Trotskyists fought in the 1930s has been revived.

Popular frontism, for example. But, above all, negativism in self-definition.

Not now “anti-fascism”, but “anti-imperialism”. Never mind what a given political current, or a given regime in a given country, is “in itself”. If it is in conflict with “imperialism”, or targeted by imperialism, then nothing else matters. It is in the “camp” of the left. It is in “our” camp; “on our side”. Let it be!

In this way ideas against which the Trotskyists in Trotsky’s time, and Orwell, counterposed independent working-class politics have again become dominant on the left. Today’s left is swamped and waterlogged with the politics and the prejudices that went into the making of 1930s’ Stalinism.

It is shrouded in the vapours given off by various “anti-imperialist” chauvinisms (Catholic-Irish national-chauvinism, anti-Jewish Arab and Muslim chauvinism, etc). Even narrow British nationalism: purely negative opposition to the British ruling class and its governments, saying no when they say yes and yes when they say no, has for 30 years and more made the British left into boneheaded “little Britishers” opposed to the unification of Europe.

Solidarity has devoted much space to the pro-Iraqi politics of many on the anti-war left. It was not enough for them to oppose Britain and the USA, as we did. To feel whole, they needed to embrace the quasi-fascist Iraqi regime and the reactionary Islamic opponents of Bush’s and Blair’s war, notably the Muslim Brotherhood (MAB). Thereby they crossed the line separating working class from populist, cross-class politics. Is there a precedent for this? Yes.

In 1938 Maurice Thorez, the leader of French Stalinism, offered to extend the hand of Popular Front friendship all the way to “patriotic fascists”-to French fascists who were not bought or hypnotised by Nazi Germany and would in the coming war defend France. He did not manage to realise such a Popular Front. During the recent anti-war movement, the major forces on the British left realised something very close to it. They established a Popular Front with the Islamic near-equivalent of Thorez’ “patriotic fascists”, the ultra-reactionary Muslim Brotherhood.

Like Orwell and the Trotskyists of the 1930s, Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty have been howled down and are shunned by ‘the left’ for our opposition to such practices. As well as outright hostility, we have met with incomprehension, from good-willed people who unknowingly let their attitudes and ideas here be shaped by pressure of the “norms” on these matters established by the dominant “left”.

For ourselves, we have great difficulty understanding how people who call themselves socialists can accept as a comrade someone who has, as a government minister put it in the House of Commons recently, acted as a “mouthpiece” for the quasi-fascist Iraqi regime, and who on his own admission was financed by Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, and a Ba’thist businessman.

Orwell, and the Trotskyists of the 1930s and 40s, are better examples for serious socialists to follow than their equivalent of our conventional ‘left’.

He found the philistines, like the editor of the New Statesman, Kingsley Martin, bowing down to the “left public opinion” created by the Stalinists and their fellow-travellers. He found himself trying to gain foot-room for the truth in the pestilential swamp of lies and corruption created by the Stalinists and those who, for their own reasons, tolerated them.

He was confronted by a world in which the Labour ‘leftists’ who let the Stalinists influence their thinking, like Aneurin Bevan and Stafford Cripps, advocated an alliance of the working class with Liberals and “progressive Tories” in a Popular Front. As Trotsky pointed out, they were in real political terms to the right of Labour right-wingers like Herbert Morrison. The Labour right rejected the Popular Front and wanted a Labour government.

Just so today when the left gives credence to Saddam Hussein, the butcher of Iraqi workers and Kurds, allies with the MAB, the advocates of an authoritarian clerical regime in all Islamic countries, and sees no reason to distance itself politically from Saddam Hussein’s admirer George Galloway. This pseudo-left is in basic class terms to the right of decent-minded reformist. anti-conventional left, workers, including Islamic workers in Britain and elsewhere.

It would, as above, be foolish to claim that because our ideas are unpopular on the “left”, therefore they are right. But those who follow “left-wing” fashion, and don’t dare question the “left consensus” will almost certainly go wrong. That is the point about George Orwell and the Trotskyists of his time.

The root source of the corruption of the “left” in Orwell’s time was the Stalinist ruling class in Russia which presented itself as “communist” and argued that the defence of their interests was the proper first concern of workers all over the world. Siding with the Russian “workers’ state” exerted a malign, corrupting and disorienting influence on the left for many decades, including the Trotskyist left who “critically” “defended the Soviet Union”.

But the USSR is long gone, and those who are the most corrupted now, the SWP, were once distinguished by their refusal to have illusions in the USSR or to see themselves as in the USSR’s “camp”. They were proud to define themselves as “Third Campists”, people working to develop the “camp” of the working class and oppressed peoples against both the US and USSR-led “camps”.

Today we have the SWP purveying the sort of politics which the Stalinists, the quasi-Stalinists, and the worst of the kitsch Trotskyists once purveyed about the USSR “workers’ state”.

As with the “anti-fascist” degenerates of George Orwell’s time who forgot all about class politics and working-class self-interest, defining themselves only negatively by what they were against-fascism, and, fundamentally, German fascism-and could therefore ally even with French anti-German fascists, so with the “anti-imperialism” of today.

There is, however, an important difference, and it is not the 1930s Popular Frontists who come out worse in the comparison. The Stalinists in the 1930s believed that the USSR was evolving towards socialism and that, in the long run, all their dirty dealings, in the interests of the USSR – as defined by its rulers – would serve the cause of progress and socialism. They were defined negatively as “anti-fascists” in practical politics, but not only negatively. By serving the USSR they served socialism. Or so they thought.

The SWP believes no such thing about those in whose camp it has rushed to place itself in the last 15 years-the Islamic fundamentalists in Iran (against Iraq); Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf war; Slobodan Milosevic’s genocidal primitive Serbian imperialism in Kosova (1999); the Taliban in Afghanistan; the Muslim fundamentalists and Saddam Hussein in the recent war.

The left today is entirely negative. It has no “historical perspectives”, no idea of and seemingly no concern with historical progress, no belief that those like Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic with whom it allies “against imperialism” can, if they survive, help the cause of humanity, of socialism or of the working class.

For a whole vast range of the world they are – to put it in the basic ideas of the Communist Manifesto – “reactionary socialists”. They recoil against those forces in the world today-the capitalist bourgeois democracies-which are pushing forward the conditions out of struggle against which the working class can advance to socialism. They ally against them with regimes flatly reactionary both for their own peoples and for neighbouring peoples (Kosovars in the case of Milosevic, Kurds in the case of Saddam Hussein).

This is a left that has, in its blinkered negativism, turned the norms of socialist working-class politics inside out, back to front, upside down. No wonder it has stumbled into such long-discredited Stalinist patterns as Popular Frontism.

The example of Orwell, and of Trotsky and the Trotskyists of the 1930s and 40s, is therefore of great importance today to those who want the post-Stalinist left to go forward, not, as most of it has in Britain, to collapse in a heap on the poisoned ground of Stalinism. For ourselves we subscribe to and will continue to try to live up to Trotsky’s guiding principle: “Revolutionary ardour… is inescapable from intellectual ardour in the struggle for truth.”

[This article was an Editorial in Solidarity in July 2003.]

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Galloway’s Song for Croydon North

December 4, 2012 at 8:29 am (Asshole, Beyond parody, communalism, conspiracy theories, cults, elections, Galloway, gloating, Jim D, Respect)

I thought this was a nasty, racist spoof created by Galloway’s enemies to make him and ‘Honeyglaze’ Jasper look and sound like a pair of total jerks (not that it’s difficult to do that). But apparently it’s genuine. If you haven’t already seen it, brace yourself and prepare to cringe:

Hopefully, the humiliations at Croydon North and Rotherham, coming hard on the heels of the resignation of Salma Yaqoob, will finally kill off the reactionary, communalist vanity project that is/was ‘Respect.’

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