This statement also appears in the present issued of Solidarity:
After the Momentum national committee on Saturday 3 December voted that Momentum should have a decision-making delegate conference — the big controversial decision! — figures on the fringes of Momentum, and some within it, have launched a social-media and mass-media outcry against Workers’ Liberty and Solidarity.
This outcry should be resisted with an insistence on unity, a focus on positive campaigning, and a refusal to let the mass media or the Labour machine’s notorious Compliance Unit split us.
Although we were only a small part of the 3 December meeting, the whole majority is being denounced as manipulated, controlled, or even bullied by the few Workers’ Liberty people there, and the decision to have a democratic conference as a “Trotskyist takeover”.
Some people are signalling that they want to split Momentum on this issue. Our reply is clear: the majority is much broader than us. It is not controlled by us.
We, and as far as we know all the majority, are totally for unity and against a split. Momentum should unite to fight the Tories and the Labour right wing.
We are not even “hard-liners” on the organisational issues. We, and the majority, do want democracy in Momentum: we believe democracy is necessary for stable unity. But we always have been, and are, open to dialogue and compromise about modalities, details, forms.
We have kept our tone comradely. We have repeatedly sought off-the-record discussions with those who led the minority on 3 December to explore adjustments, common ground, maximisation of consensus.
The ones who are reluctant to compromise, and who run their debates in tones of violent denunciation of those disagree with them, are elements in the minority, and, even more, their media outriders, who are not even active in Momentum.
The writer Paul Mason told the BBC Daily Politics on 8 December that, although he had “never been to a Momentum meeting”, he demanded a purge. “If Jill Mountford [a National Committee member of Momentum]… remains basically an expelled member of the Party and remains in Momentum, I will not remain in Momentum”.
Labour “auto-excluded” 618 members during the Labour leadership contest this summer, and 1038 members are still suspended, according to figures at the last Labour NEC. Thousands more leftwingers (no-one knows exactly how many) were expelled or suspended during the 2015 leadership contest. Many of those expelled are long-standing Labour Party members, whom no-one talked of expelling during the Blair, Brown, or Miliband years.
Until now the left has agreed that we do not trust the Compliance Unit’s decisions on who should or shouldn’t be allowed in the Labour Party. Momentum has voted to oppose the purge. Other left groups like the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy have a long-standing policy of including unjustly expelled left-wingers.
The Compliance Unit wants to split the left. We should not allow them to do that.
Remember: the Compliance Unit could well expel Paul Mason — he is an ex-member of a Trotskyist group, and surely has said unkind things about Labour right-wingers on social media.
Owen Jones, another figure on the fringe of Momentum, another one who could well be expelled by the Compliance Unit if they choose, has used the Guardian to claim that the issue in Momentum is “a takeover bid by Trotskyist sectarians”.
Mason, Jones, and others should put aside their megaphones. They should come and discuss the best way to build unity and effective campaigning for Momentum.
Voting was quite closely divided on 3 December, but delegates agreed on a decision-making national conference, to be on 18 February, 25 February, or 4 March. Both local groups and individuals (via the online platform MxV) will be able to submit motions to the conference. The existing Steering Committee will remain in place until after the conference. The 3 December meeting elected a conference arrangements committee.
We were not in the majority on everything, but we are confident that the 3 December decisions will command a broad consensus in most of Momentum’s local groups.
As Michael Chessum, a Momentum Steering Committee member (and not one of us), has said: “[if the meeting was polarised] The Steering Committee has to accept the lion’s share of the responsibility … By bypassing and undermining the national committee – a body to which it was technically subordinate – the Steering Committee substantially overreached its mandate and infuriated grassroots activists. As a result, attitudes hardened and
the regional delegates, who make up a majority of the NC, almost all arrived mandated to vote for a purely delegate-based conference.”
More calm, more space for discussion and appreciation of the hard voluntary work of comrades in the national office and in local groups, fewer meeting-cancellations, fewer attempts to pre-empt decisions, would have helped improve the atmosphere on 3 December. Whether it would have stopped the recent Trotskyist-baiting, we don’t know.
In the media storm, our ideas on imperialism, on Israel-Palestine, on Europe have been misrepresented, and the great warehouse of Stalinist slurs against Trotskyists has been called into use.
Yes, we are Trotskyists. We say what we think, and we organise openly for our ideas. We believe Momentum is a tremendous opportunity for the left. We have played a constructive role in it since it started, in local groups, nationally, and in initiatives like Momentum NHS.
20,000 people have joined Momentum as members since it launched. There are 150 local groups.
Those groups must be allowed the means to develop a democracy — a continuously thinking, adjust, rethinking process of debate and decision-making which evolves a collective majority opinion — and that needs a conference, not just decision-making via online plebiscites run by the Momentum full-time staff.
At the 3 December meeting we supported a successful motion from Momentum Youth and Students for a campaign to make Labour stand firm on freedom of movement and to fight against the Tories’ post-Brexit plans. Momentum should be uniting to put such policies into action, not using the mass media to stir a storm against
the 3 December majority.
Some in the 3 December minority oppose a decision-making conference because they think Momentum should not have policy beyond being generically left-wing and pro-Corbyn. There is a case, and we accept it, for moving quite slowly and gently on many policy issues in a new movement like Momentum. But without policies — on issues like freedom of movement, for example — Momentum cannot campaign coherently in local Labour Parties or on the streets (or, as we found this September, at the Labour Party conference).
Otherwise Momentum can only be a support organisation for the current Labour leadership, a database or phone bank for exercises like the leadership elections.
Let’s go forward to build Momentum, build the Labour Party, resist the Compliance Unit’s purges, fight the Tories, and argue for socialist policies.
Those who disagree with the decisions at the National Committee should discuss within Momentum: on our side, they will find no closed doors, and a strong will for unity.
Above: Syria Solidarity campaigners outside Stop The War’s conference today
It’s come to something when it takes a Guardian columnist to call the supposed “left”, the lying wretches of the so-called ‘Stop The War Coalition’ and Jeremy Corbyn to order on their elementary duty towards the people of Aleppo:
We’re watching as Aleppo is destroyed. Where is the rage?
Where are the demonstrations in western capitals to denounce the brutal onslaught on Aleppo? Around 300,000 people are exposed to carpet bombing, including bunker-busting and fragmentation ordnance. Is the weather so bad that no one wants to stand on a square, or in front of a Russian embassy? Or does no one care? Does no one think protesting would make a difference? (read the rest here)
Statement from Syria Solidarity UK:
250,000 people live in East Aleppo, including an estimated 100,000 children. These people are not terrorists; they simply don’t want to live under a leader, Assad, who has killed, raped and tortured their kin.
On Wednesday the Syrian military warned these civilians to flee or meet their “inevitable fate.” Russian and Syrian airstrikes are targeting hospitals, schools, bakeries, and underground shelters. This policy of deliberately targeting civilians is a war crime that will cause trauma for generations.
The leaders of Britain, America, Russia, Iran, etc. have done nothing to protect Syria’s civilians; it falls to us who do care to organise and speak out on their behalf.
Please join us to call for an immediate end to the bombing in Aleppo and a properly enforced UN ceasefire.
Syria is the worst war of this decade, even of this bloody century so far.
What will you do to stop the war in Syria?
Below: Syria activists leafleting outside today’s Stop The War conference in London.
By John Cunningham (this article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website)
Although I’ve never had had warm feelings towards the media, I also dislike the tendency to blame the media for every ill or woe in the world; it just doesn’t work like that. The media isn’t all bad all the time.
Personally, I have regularly turned to the journalism of people like Andrew Rawnsley, Nick Cohen, Polly Toynbee, John Harris and others, not because I agree with them (this rarely happens) but because of a desire to read some occasionally intelligent — or moderately intelligent — viewpoints put forward in a clear and articulate manner. However, within the last year or so, the commentaries and analysis coming out of even the middle-ground “liberal” press has descended to unprecedented levels of odious bile which has little, if any, connection with reality. They have descended in a very short time to “a superficial and dismal swamp” (to paraphrase Frederick Engels).
At times the abuse has been astonishing. Increasingly it is directed not just at Corbyn but also at his supporters, often referred to, in the most childish manner, as “Corbynistas” or “Corbynites” as if somehow, those supporting Corbyn were the followers of a boy band or, as alluded to on occasion, attendees at a Nuremburg rally.
A list of these abuses, insults and smears would make lengthy — and dismal — reading; so here are just a few examples from a variety of sources: Polly Toynbee (Guardian 18 July) claimed that the “incomers” [to the Labour Party] are “fronted by a small handful of wreckers armed with political knuckledusters.” Also from Toynbee we have her measured description of Corbyn as “dismal, lifeless, spineless…” (Guardian 25 June). Carole Malone (Daily Mirror 16 July): Corbyn supporters are “Lenin style bully boys who’d send women to the Gulag.” John Harris (Guardian 12 August) deserves a special mention for his article entitled “If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead”, which not only raises infantilism to an art form but contains an “explanation” of Trotsky’s notion of transitional demands which is so laughable that it wouldn’t pass muster in a third rate pub quiz.
Probably the worst example, so far, that I have come across is worth quoting at more length: Nick Cohen (Observer, 31 July) “…after the killing of Jo Cox by an alleged right wing extremist, Angela Eagle and Jess Phillips and all the other anti-Corbyn MPs who are speaking out know that the death and rape threats from left-wing extremists may not just be bluster.” There you have it — if you are a Corbyn supporter you are (a) automatically a “left-wing extremist” and (b) a potential rapist and/or murderer!
I wrote to the Readers’ Editor of the Observer pointing out this slander. Initially, he did not respond but after a second e-mail merely drew my attention to an article by Cohen in the Spectator and remarked that he obviously wasn’t talking about people like me! While I am mightily relieved that the Observer’s Readers’ Editor thinks I am a decent sort, what, might I ask about all the other thousands of Labour members who will be voting for Corbyn, murdering and raping all the way to the ballot box? A third e-mail from me calling for an apology drew no response at all (surprise, surprise). What is it that drives journalists like Cohen and Toynbee, who are by no means stupid people, to descend into this gutter? After all, life for the Cohens and Toynbees of this world will not be drastically altered by the continuance of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, nor would life be suddenly rosier if, by some Potterish intervention, Owen Smith were to win.
Toynbee has already shown her propensity for jumping ship if things don’t go her way. My guess is that for the educated snobs of this liberal and not-so-liberal commentariat the thread that binds them together is a sense of elitism, a dislike, a repugnance of ordinary people doing things for themselves. It is, more-or-less, the same elitism, the same distrust of the masses, that drove some of the early socialists like Charles Fourier and Saint Simon to condemn the emerging trade unions, while slightly later the Webbs and the Fabians were to embrace similar ideas about the untrustworthiness of ordinary workers.
This trend dominated the Parliamentary Labour Party for years and it manifests itself, for example, in the way that routinely, throughout the history of the Party, conference resolutions have been ignored if the Party leadership didn’t agree with them. Whether we are talking about Tony Blair, Ramsey MacDonald, Hugh Gaitskell, Polly Toynbee, Anne Perkins, Nick Cohen or ex-Stalinists such as the Times journalist David Aronovich; the approach is top-down, “we know best and if you don’t agree with us shut up or bugger-off”.
Clearly, the wisdom of these sages is being ignored, sometimes by the very people who would normally listen to them… and they don’t like it one bit; hence a peevish and prolonged bout of name-calling and the sneering dismissal of thousands of ordinary people who are making their voices heard and trying to shape a new political agenda. In short they sound like nothing but spoilt schoolchildren who have had their ball taken away.
In any other place in the world the massive increase in Labour Party membership would be shouted from the rooftops. No Social Democratic party in history, with the possible exception of the pre-First World War German Social Democratic party, has seen such exceptional growth. Yet the newcomers are cast in the role of the biblical Gadarene swine, rushing headlong to a certain death while the comfy, smug, complacent ladies and gentlemen of the press tut-tut their displeasure. As a certain London-based political exile of Jewish origin once remarked, “…they confess they are striving to replace the old aristocracy with a new one. To counter the existing oligarchy they would like to speak in the name of the people, but at the same time avoid having the people appear in their own person when their name is called.”
There are journalists and commentators whose views I don’t agree with (and in some cases, hate), who are nonetheless interesting, intelligent and worth reading. John Harris of the Guardian is not one of them.
I first came across Mr Harris in 2001 or early 2002, when he first started writing for The Guardian. He was, then (like many other Guardian coumnists), an uncritical supporter of the Stop the War Coalition (STWC), and keen to defend it against any suggestion that it was led, or politically dominated by the SWP.
This was shortly after the STWC’s first conference in October 2001, when the SWP and its allies like George Galloway and Andrew Murray had ensured the defeat of calls to reject ‘Muslim fundamentalism’ as well as US imperialism. The slogan “No to fundamentalism” indicated that opposition to war did not mean support for the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban reactionaries: but the SWP, Murray, Galloway & co were determined not to alienate Islamists and cared nothing for the anti-fundamentalist views of Iranian and Afghani socialists in Britain, or the only Iraqi socialist organisation (the WCPI) active in Britain, all of whom were horrified by STWC’s alliance with Islamists.
In fact the leading members of the STWC were, and remain, soft on political Islam. This is clear from a footnote in Andrew Murray’s history of the STWC which says: “Political Islam… has expressed, in however warped a fashion, some of the anti-imperialist demands which were once the preserve of Communist and nationalist movements of the region.”
Harris wrote a column in the Guardian at the time defending STWC and denying that the SWP, etc, ran the campaign. I sent a comment to CiF calling Harris a “useful idiot” which apparently upset him at the time. Unfortunately, Harris’s 2001 (or 2002 ?) column does not seem to be available anywhere on the web, but this 2008 article gives a taste: http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2008/feb/15/iraq
Since then, I haven’t spent much time reading the banal outpourings of this rather stupid ex-New Musical Express journalist, but I have noted that he claims to have been in the Labour Party Young Socialists in the 1980’s, before being driven “to despair” by the Militant Tendency and subsequently leaving the Labour Party for fifteen years.
Now, it’s a matter of record and straight fact, that those of us around in the 1970s and ’80s, can vouch for, that the Militant Tendency were a bunch of thugs, bullies, homophobes and sexists. But they’ve been out of the Labour Party since 1991 when they abandoned entryism and decided to establish themselves as a separate party. Ted Grant, the group’s founder and leading theoretician, was expelled, and his breakaway minority, now known as Socialist Appeal, continued in the Labour Party. The majority changed its name to Militant Labour, and then in 1997 to the Socialist Party. Their leader, Peter Taafe, is now making ridiculous noises to the bourgeois media, suggesting that his group now expects to be readmitted to Labour – having spent more than twenty years denouncing the Party as irreformable and the past eleven months trying to stop his members leaving to join Labour.
The idea that the hundreds of thousands of new (and, in some cases, re-joining) members of the Labour Party who’ve signed up since Corbyn’s victory last year, are doing so under the influence of the Socialist Party, the Alliance for Workers Liberty (AWL), or any other ‘Trotskyist’ organisation, is a preposterous conspiracy theory put about by Tom Watson in a desperate attempt to undermine Corbyn and boost the hapless nonentity Owen Smith. But the wretched Harris asks Guardian readers to believe this nonsense in a truly ridiculous article entitled If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead. This idiot’s ignorance and stupidity knows no bounds: and while there’s no requirement upon Guardian columnists to have any knowledge of (let alone sympathy with) Trotskyism, someone writing about it might be expected to have at least an elementary grasp: Harris clearly hasn’t.
To give one simple example, Harris describes Trotskyist transitional demands thus:
The practice of Trotskyist politics has long been built around the idea of the “transitional demand”, a rather cynical manoeuvre whereby you encourage people to agitate for this or that – a hugely increased minimum wage, perhaps, or the end of all immigration controls – knowing full well it is unattainable within the current order of things, but that when the impossibility becomes apparent, the workers will belatedly wake up. In other words, the herd gets whipped up into a frenzy about something you know it won’t get, while you smugly sit things out, hoping that if everything aligns correctly, another crack will appear in the great bourgeois edifice.
The reality (as explained by the AWL) is this:
These are not catchpenny demands designed to capture or mirror back an existing “mood”. In some cases, such as open borders, they are ideas that are positively marginal and currently rejected by most working-class people. Others, such as the demand for a democratic federal republic (rather than secession for Scotland and Wales), or opposition to withdrawal from the EU, are marginal even on the far-left.
But we cannot hope to popularise them or make them less marginal except by raising them consistently, within the context of a programme which starts from the logic of our current struggles. The boldness required is the difference between attempting to create a political “space”, through the hard work of agitation and education in our workplaces and communities, and cynical attempts to manoeuvre into some existing space where people are already imagined to be by mirroring back to them slightly more radical versions of the ideas we presume them to already hold.
These wouldn’t be demands that we’d orient towards the state, necessarily, as if we expect a Tory government to implement them. They are demands that make up part of our own political narrative, our own plan for remaking society, just as the Tory policies of cuts and privatisation make up theirs.
Capital make concessions to labour either when we are strong enough to simply overwhelm it and impose ourselves, or when it is too scared of the consequences of not making concessions. For either condition, a conscious programme – a working-class socialist alternative to austerity – is necessary.
Floppy-haired ex-pop music journalist Harris is, indeed, an idiot (whether “useful” or not): first on behalf of Galloway and the SWP; now on behalf of Tom Watson and Labour witch-hunters.
Letter published in The Guardian 10/06/16:
Polly Toynbee is right (There is still time for hope – Brexiters can be persuaded, 7 June). Brexiters can be persuaded if they realise what British politics could be like after a vote to leave. Here’s a realistic scenario.
On 24 June Brexit begins. Cameron resigns. Boris Johnson becomes prime minister, Michael Gove becomes chancellor. With Ukip’s role over, Nigel Farage and company join the Tory party. Scotland leaves Britain. The rump gets a new name (as it can’t be called the UK) – KEWNI – and a new flag
Anti-democratic developments begun under the pre-Brexit government are extended. The Tories form KEWNI’s governments for decades to come. The post-EU economic shock is compounded by the structural problems derived from KEWNI’s dysfunctional capitalism (low productivity, weak innovation etc) and its semi-feudal state. Excluded from the European single market, KEWNI is forced closer to the US and China. Having no choice, it accepts a version of the TTIP with the US. Having shunned the EU’s collective sovereignty, it has no power to insist on safeguards. US companies begin to take over the NHS; Chinese companies, manufacturing and real estate.
Accelerated economic decline inevitably follows. The Johnson/Gove response is even more austerity. The xenophobia currently directed at EU migrants becomes directed inward – against people of colour. Inequality and poverty escalate and dispossessed KEWNIs mobilise in struggle. The government response is repression, both covert and overt. Gradually, KEWNI becomes dominated by an ultra-rightwing nationalism: a version of fascism with “gentlemanly” English characteristics.
Is this what Brexiters seek for our country?
Professor of international development, University of Bristol
By Champagne Charlie
Last Friday’s Guardian carried a piece by Education editor Richard Adams headlined “Ofsted Inspectors upgrade Birmingham school in ‘Trojan horse’ scandal to good”.
The piece begins “The school at the centre of the Trojan horse scandal has been given a clean bill of health by Ofsted inspectors, two years after allegations of an Islamist plot to infiltrate education made national headlines.”
The inattentive reader could be forgiven for thinking that it has now been shown that there was no Islamist plot and the allegations against senior teachers and governors at the school have been disproven. It is only when you read on, that it becomes apparent that Adams is writing about the school as it now is, under a new leadership team, the previous Islamist leadership having been removed. Even so, Adams feels it necessary to throw in one of his typical weaselling half-truths: “allegations of a city-wide plot were never substantiated and are thought to be a hoax.”
It’s time the facts of the ‘Trojan Horse’ affair that have been established beyond reasonable doubt (sources can be checked on Wikepedia, from which I’ve drawn extensively) were set out clearly, if only to counter the torrent of downright lies, half-truths and obfuscation that continues to emanate from Mr Adams, the SWP and elements within the NUT.
The ‘Operation Trojan Horse’ letter was leaked to the press in early March 2014. It is an anonymous document, purporting to be from an Islamist in Birmingham, advising a fellow Islamist in Bradford, on how to take over schools and impose an Islamist agenda. Early on, most informed commentators expressed the opinion that the letter was probably a fake, created by someone who wished to draw attention to alleged Islamist influence in Birmingham schools.
The author of the letter claimed responsibility for installing new headteachers at four schools in Birmingham, and identified 12 others in the city which would be easy targets due to large Muslim attendance and poor inspection reports. It suggests encouraging parents to complain about a school’s leadership with accusations of sex education, forced Christian prayer and mixed physical education, with the aim of obtaining a new, Islamist, leadership. It was also suggested that once successfully taken over, schools should apply for Academy status so as to have a curriculum independent of the Local Education Authority. The author described the plan as “totally invisible to the naked eye and [allowing] us to operate under the radar”.
Despite widespread doubts about the provenance of the letter, Birmingham’s education commissioner Sir Mike Tomlinson stated his belief that what the letter described was happening “without a shadow of doubt”. Read the rest of this entry »
The ‘Panama Papers’ is without doubt the biggest and most important story (so far) of the century, and Shiraz will be keeping a sharp eye, in particular, on how Putin’s fans and apologists on the supposed “left” deal with it. The Mossack Fonseca documents were initially passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, which then shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The fact is that the Guardian is just one among 109 media organisations in 76 countries that have helped break the story – which makes this message from Deputy Editor Paul Johnson a bit of a damn cheek. I don’t think I’ll be sending them any money just yet:
The “Panama Papers” is the biggest leak in history: 11.5m documents – which would take one person 27 years to read – describing in the finest detail, for the first time, how rivers of money are moved around the world, hidden from sight by secret offshore banking operations.
The scale of the story is staggering: inside those papers 113,000 shell companies were discovered – helping hundreds of national leaders, politicians, celebrities and business people hide their money.
If the scale of the leak was enormous, the journalistic effort to bring it to full exposure was just as big: 370 journalists from 70 different countries worked in an unprecedented scale of co-operation. At the Guardian, we had five journalists dedicated to the investigation for six months, in conditions of tight secrecy, working through the dozens of stories and an exhaustive legal process.
Readers can support such journalism by making a financial contribution to the Guardian. Make a contribution here.
Today’s investigation has created a much-needed worldwide debate about tax and fairness. There are another four days of stories to come. We think they are of vital public importance. We hope you agree.
Thank you for your support and for reading the Guardian.
Deputy Editor, Guardian News and Media
Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
We write as previous strong supporters of the Stop the War Coalition and applaud its mobilisation against the disastrous UK and US attack on Iraq. Sadly, since then, on the issue of Syria, StWC has lost its moral compass and authority (Green MP Caroline Lucas steps down from Stop the War Coalition role, 8 December). Stop the War has failed to organise or support protests against the Assad dictatorship and the regime’s massacre of peaceful democracy protesters in 2011 – and since. Nor has it shown solidarity with the non-violent Syrian civil society movements for democracy and human rights and with the millions of innocent civilians killed, wounded and displaced by Assad’s barrel bombs and torture chambers. It portrays Isis as the main threat to Syrians, despite Assad killing at least six times more civilians.
StWC has repeatedly refused to have anti-Assad Syrian democrats and leftwingers on its platforms at events where Syria is being discussed; whereas it has offered a platform to pro-Assad speakers such as Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes. Moreover, StWC intervened to stop a Syrian Solidarity UK speaker from addressing the Migrant Lives Matter rally in London in April. It has one-sidedly failed to support demonstrations against the escalating Russian, Iranian and Hezbollah military interventions in Syria.
As well as systematically ignoring war crimes committed by the Assad regime, StWC often misrepresents the opposition to Assad as being largely composed of jihadi extremists and agents of imperialism; marginalising the non-violent, secular, democratic, local community and non-aligned opposition to his tyranny. It also misrepresents the call by Syrian civil society organisations for civilian safe havens and humanitarian corridors; claiming they are calls for western bombing, when they are actually bids to stop Assad’s bombs and save lives. We urge StWC to take on board these constructive criticisms and change its stance to support the Syrian people’s struggle against the war being inflicted on them by both Isis and Assad.
Abdulaziz Almashi Syria Solidarity UK
Peter Tatchell human rights campaigner
Yasmine Nahlawi Rethink Rebuild
Dr Rupert Read University of East Anglia
Dr Amer Masri Scotland4Syria
Darren Johnson Green party London assembly member
Zaki Kaf Al-Ghazal Syrian Association of Yorkshire
Dr M. Alhadj Ali Syrian Welsh Society
Andy Wilson Founder, Reservists Against The War
Muzna Al-Naib Syria Solidarity UK
Dr Odai Al-Zoubi Syrian exile and journalist
Shamira A Meghani scholar
Mark Boothroyd Syria Solidarity UK
Ayob Rahmani & Sattar Rahmani International Alliance in Support of Workers in Iran
Javaad Alipoor Iranian socialist activist
Sam Charles Hamad writer
John Game independent researcher
- Related comment from Paul Canning, here: http://paulocanning.blogspot.co.uk/2015/12/deselect-stop-war-coalition.html