The Nightmare of Cologne: Denialism and Bigotry are not the only choices

January 9, 2016 at 10:55 pm (Anti-Racism, Germany, Human rights, immigration, islamism, misogyny, posted by JD, Racism, reblogged, religion, thuggery, women)

This article has been re-blogged from the Rambling Infidel:

A member of a German-Tunisian association handed out flowers Thursday near the site of scores of holiday assaults in Cologne, Germany. 

Above: a member of a German-Tunisian association hands out flowers near the site of the assaults

By The Rambling Infidel

Writing this article will be like walking through a minefield because this is a very sensitive issue. As it touches on sexual violence, multiculturalism, immigration and intergration, which are not easy subjects to talk about.Let me make one thing VERY clear from the start: I am not interested in spreading propaganda or spreading hatred and bigotry towards people. Nor am I interested in endorsing far-right narratives about immigrants, muslims or whatever group they wish to persecute. However, I believe we must have a serious and scrupulous discussion about this, as for too long now this issue has been swept under the rug, deflected and dodged. We cannot remain silent on this.

What happened?

In Cologne, there were reports of shocking sexual assaults taking place during the New Years celebrations prompting 90 legal complaints by women to the police. Dozens of young women in Cologne were groped: and in one case raped, by hundreds of men described in testimonies as having a “a North African or Arabic” appearance.

The attackers are believed to have organized themselves into gangs then stalked, molested and eventually mug women as they were enjoying New Years celebrations. The accounts of these assaults seem very reminiscent of the sexual molestation -with the intent to intimidate women- that went on in Tahir Square during protests that brought down President Mubarak and Morsi respectively in Egypt in 2011 and 2013.

Similar attacks were reported in Hamburg, Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Stuttgart on the same night. In a seperate incident a gang rape of two teenage girls in the southern German town of Weil am Rhein on New Year’s Eve is believed to have occured. Police have arrested four Syrians, aged between 14 and 21, as suspects.

Shocked German authorities called these assaults “unprecedented in nature” saying “hundreds of young men appeared to have participated”.

Who did it?

The identification through testimony of the attackers in Cologne as “North African or Arab men” will inevitably raise the question of whether they were refugees from Syria and Iraq or recent migrants from North Africa. As of now, we are not sure all the attackers were recent migrants into Europe, but it is clear that at least some will be if we go by suspects currently detained by German authorities.

German police initially claimed there was no evidence that asylum seekers were involved in the violence, only for it to emerge that they had in fact detained several (mainly from Syria) on the night.

This does not mean there have not been cases of sexual assault committed by migrants in Germany, never mind in other European countries and amongst refugee women also. We are seeing a growing number of anecdotal cases where this is happening. I stole my anecdotes from this piece.

In November a club in Bavaria started turning refugees away after a string of complaints of sexual harassment from female clients.

In Baden-Württemberg at least one hospital has hired guards to protect nurses who feel intimidated by the refugees they treat.

The Woman’s Council in Hesse claimed in an open letter to the state parliament in September that they have substantial evidence of sexual abuse, including forced prostitution, in refugee shelters.

In August a regional paper in North Rhine-Westphalia also reported police covering up a serious sexual crime. After hearing about the rape of a 13-year-old girl by a refugee, the paper enquired with police as to what crimes they knew of in the refugee shelters.

There have been other reported cases in Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Finland  and within refugee camps and shelters. This is a full blown European problem.

Why?

It is true refugees and migrants are no more likely to commit sex crimes or any other crimes than the local population. Sexual harrassment on the street is obviously not exclusive to Arabs and Muslims. In recent years India (last I checked it was a Hindu majority state) has had huge problems with sexual violence. However, there are certain truths that must be stated. This by no means discredits my previous points but it gives a more nuanced picture of this crisis. That is what is often missing from these debates- nuance.

One plausible reason why there is this sex crime phenomenon among migrants is because of a gender imbalance in favour of males among the migrants and refugees. According to the International Organization of Migration 66.26 percent of adult migrants registered through Italy and Greece over the past year were male. Many are young, unmarried, military aged males. Some are fleeing being coerced to join militias in Iraq and Syria, some have come from refugee camps in Turkey and hope to bring family members with them and others are simply fleeing the dangers of war.

Politico had a great article explaining why having such a massive gender imbalance is a problem. It argues a skewed gender imbalance in favour of males can lead to an increase in violence. It references the research of Valerie Hudson in her book which focused on China’s surplus male population which found an imbalanced sex ratio can lead to more violence, crime, rape and danger for women.

“There are also clearly negative effects for women in male-dominated populations. Crimes such as rape and sexual harassment become more common in highly masculinized societies, and women’s ability to move about freely and without fear within society is curtailed. In addition, demand for prostitution soars; that would create a deeply ironic outcome for Sweden, which invented the path-breaking Swedish abolitionist approach to prostitution.”

It is important to take this into account when dealing with the migrant and refugee crisis.

There is also a cultural dimension to this sadly.  Many of the men come from The Middle East and North Africa which are not exactly known for their exemplary treatment of women. I know this sounds like a racist thing for me to say, but it is absolutely true.
In many of these countries arcane and backward ideas about women and sexuality are widespread. Women’s bodies are shamed, women are taught as girls to revile their sexuality and to feel guilty if a man is “seduced” by their “fitna”. This then leads to men feeling  they have the total right to sexually harass any woman who is not in a burqa or the “correct hijab” or anything that does not meet the “modesty” standard. They are all asking for it. Hell! even women in burqas get harrassed so women never get a break from this oppression. Sexual harrassment for women in the Middle East and North Africa is so much a part of daily life that, for example, the Cairo metro is gender segregated in a reactionary measure to try to address this.

While a cultural element does undoubtedly exist, one has to be careful of not exaggerating it to the point of evoking old stereotypes of dark-skinned, foreign men out to prey on white women. This struggle will not be won by sinking down to racism and collective punishment. Like I said before a nuanced understanding is what we need not propaganda.

The responses

What I found particularly unhelpful was when the mayor of Cologne Henriette Reker was asked by journalists what women could do to protect themselves better from this. She said. “There’s always the possibility of keeping a certain distance of more than an arm’s length”and that she would soon be issuing a “code of conduct” for women “so that such things do not happen to them.”

Yeah…I intend to molest and mug a women, but shit! She’s an arm’s length away from me! therefore I can’t do anything. Reker’s comments reeks of utter stupidity. She is essentially saying “German women watch you behavior, dress modestly, dont look cheery and keep quiet”. I can’t believe I have to say this in 2016 but women are not to blame in any way for sexual assaults they expierience. The blame LIES exclusively WITH the creeps who violate a woman’s bodily integrity and no one else.

This is the same backward and medieval mentality used to excuse sexual harassment of women all around the world whether in Egypt, Nigeria or India.

There are two responses one often sees in reaction to events like this, both are unhelpful and feed off each other.

The knee jerk reaction from immigration sceptics was “I told you so, you PC Liberals were wrong”, therefore we should “shut the borders”, as  “they cannot adapt to a civilised society”.

Pegida and their likes will definitely be more mobilised as they have announced a protest on the 9th January where they will to spread their alarmism, bigotry and their Eurabia conspiracy theories which is very scary.

As you can see Pat Condell with his terrible shirts jumped with glee to “prove us all wrong” about “third world muslim men” invading Europe through sex Jihad of western women.

On the other hand, the extreme left wing spasm was “we do it too”, “we are no better”, embodied in articles such as this. This piece basically argues “white people also commit sex crimes”, which is true. No one is saying the west is perfect when it comes to sexual harrassment but all of a sudden it is a problem if you point out sexual harrassment done by someone of a different culture.

This wasn’t the only absurd reaction.

Laurie Penny I am afraid to say does have a whisk of a point here. Of course, anti muslim bigots like PEGIDA will faux concern for women so that they can exploit this in order to attack muslims. However, it is dangerous to imply that anyone who explores the plausible cultural phenomena behind sex crimes done by muslim immigrants is automatically a bigot.

Conspiracy theories like this certainly do not help. This is pure denialism and a refusal to face up to reality. A very common trope among the left these days.

Then we have this from The Independent which instead of blaming the specific people responsible for the crime, it blames all men and says to point out the “difference” is to play into the far right narrative. The problem is not about race. While gender is part of the problem there is also a cultural one. Cultures can have specific ideas within them that are harmful and can be changed for the better. It is not “racist” or “bigoted” to point that out as the slimy writer implies.

This piece in the Guardian by Gaby Hinsliff was marginally better than the various tepid responses from Liberals but still it veered into apologetics.

Again, we have this refusal to give the attackers any sense of autonomy and free will. Gaby is arguing these attacks happened as a result of German women being materially better off than their attackers. In fact many of the refugees have I Phones and the latest Samsung devices, even if they did not have them that is not excuse or an “explanation” for their action. There are many people around the world who are much poorer than the refugees from the Middle East who are capable of moral restraint. This is moral bankruptcy.

Maajid Nawaz’s take in the Daily Beast was so much better. His argument is we should take a level headed, sensible approach to this grounded in data and facts which does not stigmatize all refugees but also doesn’t pretend there is not a problem. For example, creating citizenship and employment courses to help these refugees intergrate better into European societies.

What was quite worrying about the Cologne case was how reluctant authorities were to give out information. This sparked accusations of a cover up done by the police which has lead to the Cologne police chief announcing his resignation.

Even the German public broadcaster, ZDF, on Wednesday apologised for delays in reporting on the wave of sexual assaults and for deciding to postpone a news segment until Tuesday.

This discrepancy will inevitably be noticed by right wing media outlets who will use it to feed their narrative that the mainstream media and the multicultural Liberals are liars who are not interested in protecting European citizens but rather in appeasing the “Islamic invasion of Europe” that will destroy western civilisation.

We are right to fear the far-right who will exploit this for their own despicable agenda. If you follow the faces of the “Counter-Jihad” movement like Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Tommy Robinson or Pat Condell on Twitter you will notice they had a field day with this story

In saying that, I do not think the response should be that we are held hostage by what the far-right may or may not do and just ignore the problem or not say anything about it in order to maintain the PC, so called “multi-cultural” status quo. I certainly do not think there should be any censorship under any circumstance. We should know the truth even if it is uncomfortable to us.

Germany is now at a stage where we want to be so sensitive that they will arrest people for hate speech against migrants. You can arrest as many people as you want for saying things you don’t like but it is not going make the sex attacks done by Arabs magically dissappear. This enforcement of political correctness using state coercion will backfire as it will just breed defiance; because you cannot punish people for simply having opinions.

Silence and suppression will only embolden racists, fascists and anti-immigrant/refugee propagandists. Their legitimacy only comes from the fact that they claim to “speak the truth” on the supposedly rapid “Islamization of the west”. As with all propaganda there are certain grains of truth to what they say and if Pat Condell or Anne Marie Waters is the only person you hear speaking on this then do not be surprised if considerable numbers of people sympathise with them even if it is only a little bit with their views.

What is to be done?

I don’t have all the answers but I am skeptical the anti-immigrant response of “keep out the muslims” will actually do anything. It doesn’t solve the problem, it just transports it somewhere else. It essentially says you can rape or harass “your women over there” and amongst “your people” but just dont’t bring it to “our women over here”. Of course, I am not suggesting we take all of them in, as that is impractical. But it is also wrong to have a “shut the borders” policy, not only is it impractical, it is plainly immoral as it punishes those who desperately need refuge from war, fascism, theocracy and anarchy.

We must firstly, affirm without excuse or exception the right of women to their bodily integrity and their right to public safety. Secondly, confront and refute these backward, medieval ideas about women, honour and shame that lies under these crimes. Thirdly, urgently address integration, citizenship and social cohesion. Until we do that, then this problem will fester which will lead to more racism, more hostility towards migrants and refugees and the bolstering of reactionary forces within Europe.

In Norway which has went through similar problems is now offering newly arrived migrants classes on sexual violence. You may think this isn’t perfect but it is certainly better than silence. I would suggest we make them compulsory for all refugees and migrants. In addition, we should have comprehensive citizenship and integration programs for these people to improve social cohesion.

I would also propose that we should prioritise families in particular women and children in order to achieve a gender equilibrium like Canada has done with its own refugee policy. This to me is a fair and balanced policy as we are able to help the very vulnerable fleeing the Middle East, not have an absolutist rejectionist stance but keep things under control.

We must be sensible, level headed and calm without giving in to populism and demagoguery . Denialism and bigotry are not the only choices we have.

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Migrant / refugee crisis: Cameron and Tory xenophobes shame Britain

September 2, 2015 at 7:54 pm (David Cameron, Europe, Germany, Human rights, immigration, internationalism, Jim D, Racism, Tory scum, UKIP)

Embedded image permalink

Above: yesterday’s Bild, Germany’s biggest-selling newspaper. The headline accompanying the picture of Cameron translates as “The slackers of Europe – they take far fewer refugees than they could.” First among the slackers, says Bild, is “Great Britain – it has so far taken 114 refugees for every one million residents, one third of the EU average. For comparison, Germany has taken 905 per million population and Hungary 3,322.”

Cameron’s increasingly xenophobic stance, as he seeks to appease the anti-EU Tory right and fend off UKIP, should be a warning to the anti-EU idiot-left: however you may wriggle and squirm, you’re giving “left” cover to some of the most reactionary forces in British politics. The forthcoming referendum is, in reality, going to be a vote on immigration, with the anti-EU forces standing for isolationism, little-Englandism and (in some cases)outright racism.

The principled left should stand for more European integration, not less. The following letter was sent to the Morning Star on 31 July, but (perhaps unsurprisingly) not published:

Dear Morning Star,

It is obvious that the only possibility of resolving the present migration crisis in a fair, humane and rational manner will involve more European co-operation, solidarity and integration.

Migrants should be allocated between EU member states on the basis of a country’s wealth, size and number of those of the same heritage already settled in a given country. This approach would involve abandoning the Dublin accord (which requires refugees to seek asylum in the first EU country they enter) and arranging any resettlement immediately after the application is made, to ensure a family or individual isn’t wrenched away from somewhere they’ve come to regard as home. It would almost certainly have to happen before an application is either approved or rejected, with all the difficulties that entails for cross-border information sharing and language barriers. It would also mean countries that have previously experienced low levels of immigration having to accept more.

As has been shown by both the deal forced on the Greeks and the unsuccessful attempt to establish such an agreement earlier this year, such solidarity is not always forthcoming: more EU integration is the only possible way forward. The main reason the British government would oppose any such arrangement is that it would mean taking in more people. For all the cost to the economy of Operation Stack and policing the tunnel, the Tories put cutting immigration figures and being seen to oppose European integration ahead of seeking a rational and humane solution. The anti-EU left need to take note. 

Jim Denham

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Debating the left’s stance on the EU

July 24, 2015 at 8:10 am (AWL, Europe, Germany, Greece, history, internationalism, left, Marxism, posted by JD)

By Sacha Ismail of Workers Liberty

Eighty people attended the London public meeting on Europe held by the socialist organisation RS21 on 15 July. RS21 should be congratulated for organising the event; the class-struggle left needs much more debate on these issues.

Workers’ Liberty members took part, distributed the call for a “Workers’ Europe” campaign we are supporting, and argued for a left, class-struggle “Yes” campaign in the coming EU referendum. It should be said that two of our comrades were taken to speak and that in general the atmosphere of the meeting was friendly and civilised.

There were four speakers: Dave Renton from RS21; Karolina Partyga from new Polish left organisation Razem; Eva Nanopoulos, who is a Syriza member and Left Unity activist in Cambridge; and an independent socialist, Christina Delistathi. Karolina argued to stay in the EU; Eva strongly implied we should argue to get out; Christina made the case explicitly for “No”; and Dave did not come down on one side or the other, arguing that the most important thing is political independence from the two bourgeois camps.

From the floor RS21 members argued a variety of positions, “Yes”, “No”, “Abstain” and no stance on the referendum vote as such. Probably a majority who spoke were for a “No”.

Rather than describe in detail the discussion at the meeting, we will answer some of the “No” arguments that were raised during it and after it.

The EU is imperialist, even colonialist – look at Greece. By dismembering and weakening it we help its victims.

There is an imperialist, big power bullying dimension to the EU, but it is not a colonial empire. It reflects the fact that capitalism in Europe long ago developed and integrated across national borders. Do we want to reverse that? Even in the case of Greece, the answer is not “national liberation” as such. What colonial empire threatens to “expel” its colony? We should demand the Greek government is not threatened with expulsion from the Eurozone or EU, but allowed to carry out its policies inside them. In any case, breaking up the EU would not lead to an end to big power bullying of weak countries in Europe: it would simply mean it happened within a different, probably even more aggressive, violent and unstable, framework.

The Greek radical left is right to argue for exit.

The only two Greek MPs to vote No in the first parliamentary vote on a Third Memorandum were supporters of the socialist organisation International Workers’ Left (DEA) or its Red Network of anti-capitalists within Syriza – who do not support Grexit as a goal but say “No sacrifice for the Euro” and argue to pursue a class-struggle policy even if the confrontation means being pushed out of the EU. The sections of the Syriza left who positively advocate Grexit are not more radical, simply more wrong – and their MPs did not vote against (that time: they did in the second vote). The problem with Tsipras et al is not that they did not immediately carry out Grexit but that they were unwilling to risk it – they did not prepare the Greek people for a struggle, that they did not want a struggle and that they abandoned attempts to win solidarity across Europe. The policy most appropriate for a struggle and for winning international solidarity is not demanding exit but “No sacrifice for the Euro” and “Make the Greek question a European question” – Syriza policies which eg DEA and the Red Network take seriously but Tsipras does not.

You say you are for freedom of movement, but the EU prevents freedom of movement. Look at what is happening in the Mediterranean.

Anyone who does not condemn “Fortress Europe” and argue for migrants to be welcomed to Europe is not left-wing, and betrays basic human solidarity, to say nothing of the interests of the working class. But a Europe of “independent” national states is unlikely to be more open to or welcoming for migrants. As for British withdrawal from the EU, it would not end Fortress Europe, but simply create a stronger Fortress Britain – not help migrants from Syria or Eritrea, but harm those from Romania and Poland. As an RS21 member put it on 15 July: “You can’t defend and extend rights for all migrants by restricting rights for some of them”. That is what a “No” vote in the referendum would mean.

The EU is not a benign institution. It is about creating wider capitalist markets and a bigger pool of labour to exploit. As socialists we oppose that.

Of course the EU is not a “benign institution”, any more than any capitalist state or federation. Who on the radical left argues it is? Of course we oppose capitalist exploitation – but oppose it in what way? We should oppose it by organising workers for a united struggle against the exploiters, not by objecting to the creation of larger units in which to organise.

The EU is not about the internationalisation of capitalism, it is about creating a regional bloc opposed to the rest of the world.

The whole history of capital becoming more internationally integrated is a history of it creating blocs – in the first instance, nation states. When the dozens of petty states in what is now Germany were fused into a united nation, it was done in a reactionary way, by Prussian imperialism – yet Marx and Engels, while denouncing the new regime, explicitly argued that German unification provided a wider, better framework for working-class organisation and struggle. Were they wrong? Why does the same not apply to Europe today? Is what the German Empire did in the world better than what the EU has done to Greece? Of course we oppose the development of EU imperialism – just as Marx and Engels opposed German imperialism – but by fighting the ruling class across Europe, not by seeking to reverse European integration. In addition it is hardly the case that France, Britain, Germany, etc, without the EU would not be imperialist in their relations with the rest of the world as well as each other.

We can perfectly well advocate breaking up the EU but reintegrating Europe once we have socialist states in each country.

Then why did Marx support – certainly not oppose, or try to reverse – the unification of Germany even by Prussia? Why did Trotsky argue that, if German militarism united Europe in World War One, it would be wrong for socialists to argue for a return to separate national states? The reason is that seeking to reverse the international integration of capital means seeking to reverse capitalist development, with all its exploitation and irrationality, yes, but also the new openings and possibilities it creates for workers’ organisation and struggle. It means putting up new barriers to building links with our brothers and sisters across the continent. It means strengthening backward-looking, nationalist political forces. It means weakening the labour movement and the left. That is why breaking up the EU into its constituent parts will take us further away from, not closer to, a united socialist Europe.

Where there is an issue of national self-determination – the democratic right of a people to live free from national oppression – that may trump these kind of considerations. We hope no socialist argues that Britain is nationally oppressed by the EU.

You cite Marx and Trotsky, but quoting scripture doesn’t settle anything.

Marx, or Trotsky, or whoever, might have been wrong at the time. Or they might have been right then, but their argument not apply to the EU now. Simply dismissing reference to their writings as “scripture” is not helpful, however. It lowers the level of discussion. We can and should learn things from the debates our movement had in the past.

There is a tactical case for an abstention or even a Yes vote, given the clearly dominant right-wing, nationalist character of the No drive, but it’s just tactical. In principle, we should vote to get out of the EU.

The character of the push to get out strengthens the case. But why should socialists favour a capitalist Britain separate from Europe to one more integrated into it? What is the “principle” involved?

The EU is a neo-liberal institution. It cannot be reformed.

That sounds very radical, but what does it mean? We need to break down and consider the meaning of terms like “neo-liberal institution”. The United Kingdom state is also a neo-liberal institution! Neither it nor the EU is a vehicle for socialism: only their replacement with new forms of state will make socialism possible. But both can be reformed in the sense of winning changes within them, including some changes to their structure, through struggle.

The EU is far more undemocratic than even the British state. Its structure is designed to be impermeable to popular pressure and make winning left-wing policies impossible.

For class-struggle socialists, the idea that the main barriers to winning reforms are not in the weighty, well-organised ruling class and capitalist state in Britain (France, Germany, etc) but the relatively lightweight bureaucracy of the EU is bizarre. In Britain democracy and workers’ rights have been curbed overwhelmingly by our British rulers, not by the EU. The policies, treaties etc of the EU reflect the fact that its integration accelerated at a time when the working class and left in most European countries are on the retreat and have been for a long time. They reflect the character and policies of its member states. The answer is to regroup, stop the retreat and fight back in each state and internationally, not to convince ourselves that the EU rules mean nothing much is possible. In any case, we can oppose particular EU policies without wanting to reverse European integration or imagining that a Britain outside the EU would provide better conditions for our struggle. As part of that struggle, we need to fight for more democracy – and that is necessary and possible at the local, national and European levels.

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Reply to Owen Jones on the EU

July 15, 2015 at 1:15 pm (capitalism, Europe, Germany, Greece, Guardian, internationalism, Jim D, populism, socialism, workers)

Dear Owen,

Despite your relative youth, you are (to judge by your piece in today’s Guardian) representative of an old UK left — and the left in a few other European countries, such as Denmark — who have for decades been anti-EU but in recent years have kept fairly quite about it for fear of seeming to ally with Ukip and the Tory right. They have suggested, though rarely said openly, that the left should welcome and promote every pulling-apart of the EU, up to and including the full re-erection of barriers between nation-states.

The EU leaders’ appalling treatment of Greece, and Tsipras’s capitulation has given a new lease of life to the anti-EU left despite the fact that while in Greece and Southern Europe the EU is a force for neoliberal austerity, in the UK no-one can point to a single attack on the working class that has originated with the EU against the will of a British government: indeed the EU has forced reluctant UK governments to enact limited but real pro-worker legislation.

You seem to think the left can have its cake and eat it: to chime in with populist-nationalist “anti-Europe” feeling, which is stronger in Britain than in any other EU country, but also cover ourselves by suggesting that we are not really anti-European, but only dislike the present neoliberal, capitalist character of the EU.

As if a confederation of capitalist states could be anything other than capitalist! As if the cross-Europe policy of a collection of neoliberal governments could be anything other than neoliberal!

In Britain more than any other country we have seen successive national governments, both Tory and New Labour, repeatedly objecting to EU policy as too soft, too “social”, too likely to entrench too many workers’ rights.

Even the threat of withdrawal that you propose is a soft-soap, “tactical” gambit. In principle Britain could quit the EU without disrupting much. It could be like Norway, Iceland, Switzerland: pledged to obey all the EU’s “Single Market” rules (ie: all the neoliberal stuff) though opting out of a say in deciding the rules; exempt from contributing to the EU budget but also opting out from receiving EU structural and regional funds.

That (as I presume you’re aware) is not what the serious anti-EU-ers of left and right really want. They want Britain completely out. They want all the other member-states out too.

What would then happen?

The freedom for workers to move across Europe would be lost. “Foreign” workers in each country from other ex-EU states would face increased hostility and racism.

Governments and employers in each state would be weaker in world-market competition, and thus would be pushed towards crude cost-cutting, in the same way that small capitalist businesses, more fragile in competition, use cruder cost-cutting than the bigger employers.

Despite your fantasy of a “populist”, independent left anti-EU movement, in reality nationalist and far-right forces, already the leaders of anti-EU political discourse everywhere, would be vindicated while the left – if not completely ignored – would be seen as complicit

The left should fight, not to go backwards from the current bureaucratic, neoliberal European Union, but forward, to a democratic United States of Europe, and a socialist United States of Europe.

Comradely,

Jim D

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George Grosz: artist, satirist and “cultural Bolshevik”

May 22, 2015 at 7:18 pm (anti-fascism, Art and design, capitalist crisis, culture, Germany, history, humanism, Jim D, modernism, satire, sex workers, war)

Between now and June 20th you have the opportunity to see ‘The Big No’, an exhibition of work of one by the greatest left-wing satirical artists of the 20th century: George Grosz. It’s at the London Print Studio (W10) and admission is free of charge.

Grosz was a founder of the Berlin Dadaist movement who created hundreds of drawings that savagely depicted the corruption, injustice and decadence of the Weimar republic. Along with Helmut Herzfeld (who became John Heartfield) he introduced photomontage to the mainstream. Many of his his drawings are composed like photomontages.

The drawings use superb fine-pen draftsmanship while the paintings are composed of bold brush-stokes, to convey shocking images of extremes of wealth and poverty, sexual exploitation and the broken survivors of WWI.

The Big No (named after Grosz’s autobiography A Little Yes and a Big No) features two portfolios of his drawings: Ecce Homo (Behold The Man), published in 1923 and Hintergrund (Background) from 1928. Ecce Homo was the subject of a four year legal case, with  Grosz and his publisher accused of both pornography and bringing the German military into disrepute. They were acquitted, but in 1933 the Nazis had all the plates destroyed and the drawings publicly burned. We are able to see the work now because in 1959, after Grosz’s death, his widow and sons licenced a facsimile edition of the portfolio.

The Nazis denounced Grosz as a “cultural Bolshevik” and his work (together with that of fellow modernists, Jews and leftists like Kandinsky, Kokoschka, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Otto Dix) featured in the notorious 1937 “degenerate art” exhibition organised by the Nazis. By then Grosz had fled with his family to the US, where he remained for the rest of his life and where his son Marty became a well-known jazz guitarist.

Grosz wrote, ‘In 1916 I was discharged from military service. The Berlin to which I returned was a cold and grey city. What I saw made me loathe most of my fellow men; everything I could say has been recorded in my drawings. The busy cafés and wine-cellars merely accentuated the gloom of the dark, unheated residential districts. I drew drunkards; puking men; men with clenched fists cursing at the moon; men playing cards on the coffins of the women they had murdered. I drew a man, face filled with fright, washing blood from his hands… I was each one of the characters I drew, the champagne-swilling glutton favoured by fate no less than the poor beggar standing with outstretched hands in the rain. I was split in two, just like society at large…’

This exhibition is simply unmissable. I don’t know whether or not it’s going to appear anywhere outside London, so even if you don’t live in capital, I’d recommend a special visit. And how appropriate that it’s appearing in one of the less affluent parts of London, at studio whose stated mission is to “empower people and communities through practical engagement with the visual and graphic arts.”

GROSZ - On the threshold 

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The fall of the Wall, 1989

November 8, 2014 at 8:47 am (AWL, democracy, From the archives, Germany, history, Human rights, liberation, posted by JD, revolution, stalinism, USSR)

The Berlin Wall, erected in 1961 by the East German state, was a symbol of the totalitarian Stalinist systems. The wall was a monstrosity and we are glad it was torn down by Berliners on the night of 9 November 1989. The collapse of Stalinism was a victory for freedom. Despite a wave of capitalist triumphalism that followed, the workers of the former Stalinist states are now able to meet, discuss and form their own organisations. Here, an editorial in Workers’ Liberty magazine of July 1990 examines the reasons behind Stalinism’s collapse in Eastern Europe.


For over 60 years the typical totalitarian Stalinist society — in the USSR, in the USSR’s East European satellites, in Mao’s China, or in Vietnam — has presented itself to the world as a durable, congealed, frozen system, made of a hitherto unknown substance.

Now the Stalinist societies look like so many ice floes in a rapidly warming sea — melting, dissolving, thawing, sinking and blending into the world capitalist environment around them.

To many calling themselves Marxists or even Trotskyists, Stalinism seemed for decades to be “the wave of the future”. They thought they saw the future and — less explicably — they thought it worked.

The world was mysteriously out of kilter. Somehow parts of it had slipped into the condition of being “post-capitalist”, and, strangely, they were among the relatively backward parts, those which to any halfway literate Marxist were least ripe for it. Now Stalin’s terror turns out to have been, not the birth pangs of a new civilisation, but a bloodletting to fertilise the soil for capitalism.

Nobody foresaw the way that East European Stalinism would collapse. But the decay that led to that collapse was, or should have been, visible long ago.

According to every criterion from productivity and technological dynamism through military might to social development, the world was still incontestably dominated by international capitalism, and by a capitalism which has for decades experienced consistent, though not uninterrupted, growth.

By contrast, the Stalinist states, almost all of which had begun a long way down the world scale of development, have for decades now lurched through successive unavailing efforts to shake off creeping stagnation.

The Stalinist systems have become sicker and sicker. The bureaucracies tried to run their economies by command, and in practice a vast area of the economic life of their societies was rendered subterranean, even more anarchic than a regular, legal, recognised market-capitalist system.

The ruling class of the model Stalinist state, the USSR, emerged out of the workers’ state set up by the October 1917 revolution by way of a struggle to suppress and control the working class and to eliminate the weak Russian bourgeoisie that had come back to life in the 1920s. It made itself master of society in a series of murderous if muffled class struggles. Its state aspired to control everything to a degree and for purposes alien to the Marxism whose authority it invoked. And it did that in a backward country.

In the days of Stalin’s forced collectivisation and crash industrialisation, the whole of society could be turned upside down by a central government intent on crude quantitative goals and using an immense machinery of terror as its instrument of control, motivation, and organisation.

When the terror slackened off — and that is what Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin essentially meant: he told the members of his bureaucratic class that life would be easier from then on — much of the dynamism of the system slackened off too.

To survive, the bureaucracy had to maintain its political monopoly. It could not have democracy because it was in a sharp antagonism with most of the people, and in the first place with the working class.

So there was a “compromise formation”, neither a self-regulating market system nor properly planned, dominated by a huge clogging bureaucratic state which could take crude decisions and make them good, but do little else. State repression was now conservative, not what it was in the “heroic” days either in intensity or in social function.

The USSR slowed down and began to stagnate. And then the rulers of the USSR seemed to suffer a collapse of the will to continue. They collapsed as spectacularly as the old German empire collapsed on 11 November 1918.

Initiatives from the rulers in the Kremlin, acting like 18th century enlightened despots, triggered the collapse of the Russian empire in Eastern Europe. But it was a collapse in preparation for at least quarter of a century.

The Stalinists had tried nearly 30 years before to make their rule more rational, flexible and productive by giving more scope to market mechanisms. Now, it seems, the dominant faction in the USSR’s bureaucracy has bit the bullet: they want full-scale restoration of market capitalism. Some of the bureaucrats hope to become capitalists themselves. But with its central prop — its political monopoly — gone, the bureaucracy is falling apart.

The fundamental determinant of what happened in Eastern Europe in the second half of 1989 was that the Kremlin signalled to its satraps that it would not back them by force: then the people took to the streets, and no-one could stop them.

It is an immense triumph for the world bourgeoisie — public self-disavowal by the rulers of the Stalinist system, and their decision to embrace market capitalism and open up their states to asset-stripping.

We deny that the Stalinist system had anything to do with socialism or working-class power. Neither a workers’ state, nor the Stalinist states in underdeveloped countries, could ever hope to win in economic competition with capitalism expanding as it has done in recent decades The socialist answer was the spreading of the workers’ revolution to the advanced countries; the Stalinists had no answer.

The Stalinist system was never “post capitalist”. It paralleled capitalism as an underdeveloped alter ego. Socialists have no reason to be surprised or dismayed about Stalinism losing its competition with capitalism.

The bourgeoisie has triumphed over the Stalinists, but it has not triumphed over socialism. And genuine socialism receives the possibility of rebirth as a mass movement from the events in Eastern Europe.

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Autogrill: Another successful LabourStart campaign

May 31, 2014 at 7:24 am (Eric Lee, Germany, LabourStart, posted by JD, solidarity, unions, workers)

Less than 24 hours ago, I wrote to you asking for your support in the struggle of Autogrill workers in Germany for decent wages.Your response was overwhelming.

Nearly 5,600 of you were quick to send off email messages to the company urging management to reach an agreement with the workers.

The reaction of Autogrill’s management was swift as well.

Within hours of the launch of our campaign, a representative of their Legal Department got in touch with LabourStart to demand that we stop sending them messages.

They specifically wrote that “we will not tolerate the sending of further messages“.  (That’s right — they actually said “will not tolerate” — as if we needed their permission).

And they added that if we didn’t stop at once “we will start the necessary legal proceedings to protect our interest“.

In other words, your voices were heard.

You overwhelmed the company with your messages of support.

And the striking workers know this as well, they know about the solidarity they’ve been receiving from thousands of workers around the world.

The NGG union in Germany had to take a decision what to do, because this is their campaign and it is their members on the picket line.

After consultation with their lawyers, the union has asked us to suspend this successful campaign and to thank you all for your support.

I am very proud of what we have done, and this is yet another demonstration of the power of online campaigning for the global trade union movement.

It is also important to emphasize that LabourStart only campaigns at the request of trade unions, and we are guided by those unions in decisions about when and if to close campaigns.

Now that you’ve gotten the attention of Autogrill management, please make sure that you’re supporting all our other current campaigns too — click here.

Solidarity forever!

Thank you.


Eric Lee

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Peter Lorre – a real star

March 24, 2014 at 9:32 pm (anti-fascism, cinema, comedy, culture, film, Germany, Jim D, United States, wild man)

Sorry folks: I missed the 50th anniversary of Peter Lorre’s death (23rd March, 1964).

I feel a particular closeness to this great character-actor, because he was one of the film stars that my dad (like many people of his generation) did impersonations of (the others, in my Dad’s case, being Sydney Greenstreet, Humphrey Bogart, Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney and Walter Brennan):

Here’s Lorre in a typical role

Here’s his best ‘serious’ performance in Germany before he fled fascism for the US and ended up in Hollywood::

…and my personal favourite:

Finally: the ultimate accolade:

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Putin’s Crimean Anschluss

March 16, 2014 at 11:22 pm (Europe, Germany, history, imperialism, Jim D, Russia, war)

Above: Crimean referendum. Below: Austria 1938:

https://i2.wp.com/static.newworldencyclopedia.org/thumb/3/37/Voting-booth-Anschluss-10-April-1938.jpg/250px-Voting-booth-Anschluss-10-April-1938.jpg

NB: the big, central circle was for “yes” votes

I was not the only, or the first, observer to notice the remarkable similarities between the strategy, tactics and justifications use by Putin in his his invasion of the Crimea and those used by Hitler in the Sudetenland in October 1938 – Hillary Clinton noted it as well. The comparison annoyed some of Putin’s sub-Stalinist apologists (including some who, against all the evidence, protest that they’re not that at all), and produced some sneering references to “Godwin’s Law” in the more worldly-wise sections of the bourgeois media.

What the wiseacres seemed not to notice was that nobody claims that Putin nurtures Hitlerian plans for world domination: just that his methods in Crimea bear a remarkable similarity to Hitler’s land-grabs in defence of “German-speaking peoples” and to restore historic borders before WW2. To point that out has nothing to do with “Godwin’s Law” and everything to do with having a grasp of history and an ability to draw appropriate analogies.

Today’s farcical referendum conjures up another highly apposite analogy: the Anschluss incorporation of Austria into Greater Germany, confirmed by a plebiscite in April 1938.

The description that follows is excerpted from the account given in Karl Dietrich Bracher’s The German Dictatorship (Penguin University Books, 1973):

The incorporation of Austria had not only remained the first and most popular objective of National Socialist expansionism … but …  [was also] its most promising starting point. The Greater German-nationalist demands for self-determination lent effective support to the strategy. Versailles was a thing of the past; an effective defence by the West for this relic of a broken system was hardly likely…

The pseudo-legal seizure of power in Germany served as a model for the planned peaceful conquest … the German Army was working on plans for the invasion of Austria … On 11 March followed the ultimatum from Berlin;  Seyss-Inquart [pro-Nazi Austrian Chancellor] after unmistakably clear telephone instructions from Goring in Berlin, opened the borders to the German troops on 12 March 1938, while the Austrian National Socialists took control of  the regional governments …

So the coup worked … Amid enormous jubilation of a partly National Socialist, partly mislead population, Hitler moved into ‘his’ Linz and then on to Vienna, where church bells rang out and swastika banners were hoisted on church spires. And on 13 March he proclaimed the ‘reunification of the Ostmark [East March]‘ with the Reich. In tried and true fashion, there followed a Greater German plebiscite on 10 April 1938, which yielded the routine 99 per cent ‘yes’ votes.

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Sudetenland 1938: where Putin got the idea from?

March 3, 2014 at 11:11 pm (Europe, fascism, Germany, history, imperialism, posted by JD, Russia, stalinism, war)

From the BBC’s ‘Higher Bitesize‘ history site:

Hitler’s plans for Czechoslovakia

Sudetenland Invasion, October 1938

map showing German territory and Sudetenland

In 1938, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia.

The nation of Czechoslovakia had been created after WWI. Two Slavic peoples, the Czechs and the Slovaks, came together to form the country along with three million German speakers from the Sudeten area on the border with Germany, and smaller numbers of Hungarians, Ukrainians and Poles. The 20 years since its creation had seen its democracy and economy flourish.

The main threat to the fledgling nation was from Hitler’s plans for expansion and from the Sudeten Germans who, used to being part of the German-speaking Austrian empire, were not happy at their inclusion in a Slav-controlled state.

By March 1938, Hitler had successfully invaded Austria without a shot being fired. With one major German-speaking territory under his control he then turned his attention to another – the Sudeten area of Czechoslovakia.

Hitler wanted to use the Sudeten Germans to create trouble in Czechoslovakia and, as he had in the Rhineland and Austria, use this as a pretence for invading and “restoring order”.

Not content with merely one piece of Czechoslovakia, Hitler planned to smash the country. The Czechs and Slovaks were of Slavic origin and, according to Hitler’s racial proclamations that the German/Aryan people were superior to other races, they were considered Untermenschen (subhuman).

Hitler builds the tension

map showing Czechoslovakia, bordered by (clockwise) Germany, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Austria

Czechoslovakia 1933

Hitler financed and supported the Sudeten German Party under Conrad Henlein. With Hitler’s backing the party became a force to be reckoned with in Czechoslovakia.

  • In March 1938, Hitler ordered Henlein to create a crisis in the country. The Sudeten Germans made increasingly bold demands from the government. When the demands could not be met they insisted that they were being persecuted.
  • In April 1938, Henlein announced his Karlsbad Programme for Sudeten self-government, and organised civil unrest.
  • In May 1938, Hitler moved his armies to the Czech border to intimidate the Czechoslovakian President, Benes. In response, Benes mobilised the Czech army into positions along the border.
  • In July 1938, Hitler promised Britain’s Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, that he would not invade Czechoslovakia if he were given control of the Sudetenland.
  • In September 1938, Hitler made an inflammatory speech against the Czechoslovakian President, Benes, at a Nazi rally at Nuremberg.
  • On the 12 September, the Sudeten Germans rioted and martial law was declared in Czechoslovakia.

Read the rest here

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