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, 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 subject of a four year legal case for 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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Joe Columbo, the Mafia and ethnically-based politics

April 25, 2015 at 4:50 pm (AWL, communalism, crime, history, Italy, multiculturalism, populism, posted by JD, religion, strange situations)

Organized crime boss Joseph Anthony Colombo Sr. in 1971.

By Sean Matgamna (2006; very minor changes and additions made by JD, April 2015):

The story of Joe Columbo, the Mafia boss who briefly turned ethnic politician, is one of the most frightening stories I’ve come across. An instructive story, too. It sheds some light on [certain recent events in Tower Hamlets ]

Perhaps significantly, the year is 1970. In the USA there is a huge anti-Vietnam-war movement. The USA has also experienced the black civil rights movement and the black ghetto uprisings. It is a highly political period in American history.

When the gangster Joe Columbo, boss of one of the Mafia “Families” feels the pursuing FBI breathing down his neck, he reacts “politically”. He starts the “Italian-American Civil Rights League” (IACRL) to campaign against the FBl’s “harassment” of Italian-Americans!

IACRL’s message is simple and clear cut, the lie big and direct. The Mafia does not exist. There is no such thing as the Mafia. There never was. The Mafia is a myth invented by a racist police force less concerned with justice or with fighting real criminals than with self-publicity. The FBI has invented the Mafia and thus stigmatised and smeared the entire Italian-American community.

The Mafia myth is a burden and an affliction for every Italian-American, and it is time to fight back, says the mafioso Joe Columbo. The Italian-American Civil Rights League exists with Joe Columbo as its leading personality, to fight for justice, truth and the Italian-American way. It slots easily into the American system of ethnic politics, and it mushrooms into a powerful movement able to get tens of thousands to demonstrate on the streets.

They boldly picket the FBI, demanding that it should stop victimising and persecuting good Italian-Americans like Joe Columbo. They demand such things as more public recognition that it was an Italian who first discovered America for Europe, Christopher Columbus. The image of the Italian-American has to be changed.

Politicians, judges, entertainers, flock to get a piece of Columbo’s action. At $10 per member, the Italian American Civil Rights League becomes a nice little earner for Joe Columbo and his Mafia friends.

The IACRL is a political force for about a year, and then one day in 1971, just as Joe Columbo is starting to speak to a big audience of thousands of demonstrating Italian-Americans, to tell them once again that the mafia does not exist, a mafia guman shoots him in the head, blowing part of his brain away. The gunman is immediately killed by Columbo’s Mafioso bodyguards.

You see, the other Mafiosi hadn’t had Joe Columbo’s faith in the power of the big bold lie to protect them. Columbo had broken their traditional modus operandi of anonymous, background manipulation, and as little publicity as possible. They thought Columbo’s political operation would only get the FBI to intensify the heat on them. So they had him shot.

They didn’t quite kill Joe Columbo outright: he survived for seven years, incapacitated. What they did kill was the Italian American Civil Rights League. One irony of this strange all-American tale is that what Columbo said — the mafia is a myth — was what FBI Chief J Edgar Hoover had said for decades, until the late 50s. Hoover hadn’t wanted to admit that there were criminals and a criminal network too big for the FBI to bring down.

Joe Columbo would be the basis of one of the characters in Francis Ford Coppola’s Godfather Part 3 (1990) He had, it seems, paid a visit to the Producer of the first of the 3 Godfather films,”The Godfather”, to threaten him out of too-close an identification of the film’s charaacters with their Italian background.

The story of Joe Columbo and his Italian-American Civil Rights League illustrates the ease with which politics can be faked and vast numbers of people fooled and led by their noses — the power of pseudo-political demagogy to drum up unreasoning movements around real grievances.

Marx said truly that ideas become a material force when they grip the masses. A big problem for socialists and people concerned to promote rational politics in general is that all sorts of ideas can grip the masses.

There are no political or ideological vacuums: it has to be either the ideas of the ruling class, even if in some “wild” varient like Columbo’s, or the ideas of Marxism, that prevail.

More than that: the emotion of resentment and rebellion can be hooked to many different ideas about the world in general — about what’s wrong with it and what needs to be done about that.

Democratic political processes are routinely corrupted and perverted not only by ruling-class political machines, but also by radical and pseudo-radical demagogues. Isn’t that what fascism — with its pretend anti-capitalism and its vicious scapegoating of Jews, black people, Muslims (in Britain now) and others — is all about: focusing the resentment of poor and ignorant people on nationalist and racist and cultural myths, and in binding them to the status quo by way of political mysticism and irrational leader cults?

Isn’t that what Stalinism was, with its reduction of the Marxist critique of bourgeois society to mere negativism, to “absolute anti-capitalism”, and its substitution for the democratic socialist Marxist alternative to the capitalism it criticised of advocacy for the totalitarian Russian Stalinist system?

Isn’t that what we see now in the bizarre combination by the SWP [and others on the] kitsch left with a supposedly “Marxist” critique of bourgeois society, combined with — to put it at it mildest — softness towards Islamist clerical-fascism?

One thing the Joe Columbo episode shows is the way that the expansion of democracy has separated the techniques of mass agitation and organisation from any necessary connection with serious politics or sincerely held ideas.

This deadly decadence of politics is nowhere more plain than in America, where politics is to a serious extent a branch of show business. In the years of Tony Blair’s “Presidential” premiership, Britain has taken giant strides in the wake of the USA.

When he was accused back in 1900 of exaggerating the power of socialist ideas to shape events, Lenin replied that the difference between the then Catholic trade unions of Italy and the class-conscious trade union movement of Germany was that in Italy the workers’ instinctive drive to combine together and fight for better wages and conditions had been corrupted and taken over by priests, who, naturally, brought to that workers movement, not the consciousness of socialists, but “the consciousness of priests”.

One and the same instinctive drive could produce either a fighting socialist working class movement, given ‘the consciousness of Marxists’, or, given the consciousness of priests, a sectarian, class-colaborationist working class based movement. The decisive thing is the battle to make ‘the consciousness of Marxists’ central to the labour movement and to movements of those —like many of the Italian-Americans who rallied to Columbo’s fake League — who feel themselves to be oppressed.

Examples of Lenin’s principle are very numerous. One is the emergence of the “revolutionary” Irish Republican movement,the Provisional IRA, which is now sinking into its natural place as part of the spectrum of Irish bourgeois nationalist politics.

If there: had been a sizeable Marxist movement in Ireland in the late 60s, when the Provisional IRA began to emerge, the consciousness of traditional physical-force Republicans, which permeated the Northern Irish Catholic community, kept alive in legend, reminiscences, songs and popular verse, would not have dominated and shaped the Catholic revolt; and that revolt would not have entered the blind alley of the Provo-war on the Northern Irish protestants and on Britain.

The existence and activity of a socialist group can make all the difference. The creation, education in authentic Marxism, and maintenance of such a force is the decisive immediate, practical question for serious socialists.

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Armenian genocide: a crime that Turkish nationalists and Islamists still deny

April 24, 2015 at 11:31 am (genocide, history, islamism, posted by JD, truth, turkey)

A crowd looks on as Armenians are hanged in the street in Constantinople before their forced removal to the desert had begun after April 1915

A crowd looks on as Armenians are hanged in the street in Constantinople before their forced removal to the desert had begun after April 1915

By Dan Katz
The Ottoman Empire existed from 1299 until its abolition by Mustafa Kemal’s Turkish nationalists in 1923. At the height of its power, during the 16th and 17th centuries, the Empire spread from the Atlantic coast of Morocco to the Persian Gulf and from southeastern Europe down to the Red Sea.

A long period of decline followed, characterised by the loss of territories, fragmenting centralised authority and attempts at reform from above. In the 19th century the backward, stagnant Empire faced the rise of nationalisms inside its European boundaries as the constituent peoples rose to national consciousness. Britain, France, Russia and Austria detached territories.In response the Ottomans attempted to reform along Western lines. They modernised the army, abolished guilds, and somewhat reformed banking and the legal codes.

But a measure of the Empire’s continuing backwardness was that the trade in slaves continued until the early 20th century.

Groups began to emerge amongst the elite demanding more radical change. In 1876 a military coup forced the abdication of the Sultan, Abdulaziz, and the new Sultan was allowed to assume power on condition he declared a constitutional monarchy and convened a parliament.

The genocide of the Armenians, which started in April 1915, was orchestrated by nationalists, but had been prepared by Islamic-Turkish domination within the old Empire.

Modern Islamist groups such as Hizb-ut Tahrir, campaigning for the refounding of the Caliphate (religious authority which existed within the Ottoman state), claim that Jews and Christians were simply obliged to pay a tax to the Ottomans in order to practice their religion freely. In fact non-Muslim religious groups were subjected not only to a special tax but to a range of discriminatory, deliberately humiliating laws:

“[Non-Muslim] men were forbidden from marrying Muslim women. Testimony [from non-Muslims] against Muslims was not accepted in court… [Non-Muslims] were forbidden from conducting their religious observance in a way that would disturb Muslims. The ringing of church bells or the construction of churches of synagogues were forbidden… [Non-Muslims] were forbidden to ride horses or carry arms and were obliged to step aside for approaching Muslims” (Taner Akcam, A Shameful Act). In some periods the non-Muslim groups were forced to wear clothes of particular colours (Armenians wore red shoes and headgear, Greeks wore black, Jews turquoise).

Armenians and others were expected to abide by this religious “agreement”, which had been imposed on them. When the Armenians and other nationalities began to demand equality in the 19th century, they were seen as violating Islamic custom.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Günter Grass on Israel: what Norm said at the time

April 13, 2015 at 8:09 pm (anti-semitism, blogosphere, censorship, From the archives, history, intellectuals, iraq, israel, literature, poetry, posted by JD)

The announcement today of the death of Günter Grass brings to mind the late Prof Norm‘s wise words following the Israeli government’s decision to declare Grass persona non grata in the light of the poem published below. This row erupted in 2012 – six years after Grass confessed to having been drafted into the Waffen SS as a teenager.

What Must Be Said

by Günter Grass

But why have I kept silent till now?

Because I thought my own origins,

Tarnished by a stain that can never be removed,

meant I could not expect Israel, a land

to which I am, and always will be, attached,

to accept this open declaration of the truth.

Why only now, grown old,

and with what ink remains, do I say:

Israel’s atomic power endangers

an already fragile world peace?

Because what must be said

may be too late tomorrow;

and because – burdened enough as Germans –

we may be providing material for a crime

that is foreseeable, so that our complicity

wil not be expunged by any

of the usual excuses.

And granted: I’ve broken my silence

because I’m sick of the West’s hypocrisy;

and I hope too that many may be freed

from their silence, may demand

that those responsible for the open danger we face renounce the use of force,

may insist that the governments of

both Iran and Israel allow an international authority

free and open inspection of

the nuclear potential and capability of both.

*****************************************************************************************

Wisdom from Norm on the  Günter Grass row:

Yesterday Eamonn McDonagh posted about the Israeli government’s decision to declare Günter Grass persona non grata. With the aid of a couple of counterfactual analogies, he argued that Israel was ‘entirely justified’ in excluding Grass from its territory for representing the country as a danger to world peace. As Eamonn also wrote:

There’s no reason for the victims of genocide and their descendants to feel themselves obliged to allow Grass or anyone with a similar history or views to enter their country to lecture them on their immorality and how they continue to pose, just like when he was a young man, a special danger to the world.

Also yesterday, Nick Cohen put up a post of contrary tendency. ‘The only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’, Nick wrote, ‘is if his words will be a direct incitement to crime.’ It was, he added, an insulting assumption on the part of the Israeli government that its citizens ‘cannot listen to arguments they do not like and respond to them with better arguments’. This was a logic of censorship and cultural boycott:

To the Israeli government’s mind, Grass is wicked and therefore cannot be heard.

I have intimated here that the feature of Grass’s poem that was most repugnant was not the world peace stuff but his suggestion that Israel might be contemplating an attack on Iran which could wipe out the Iranian people – so making the Jewish state, on the basis of nothing but his own fancy, an agent of nuclear annihilation. In any case, in what follows I shall argue – though not in this order – that the Israeli government should not have banned Günter Grass as persona non grata; but that Eamonn is right (subject to one reservation) and Nick is wrong on the fundamental principles at stake.

Let’s begin with the opinion of someone else altogether – Salman Rushdie, who said on Twitter:

OK to dislike, even be disgusted by #GünterGrass poem, but to ban him is infantile pique. The answer to words must always be other words.

This sounds good, and of course it’s only a tweet, which doesn’t allow room for contextualization and qualification; but it isn’t true. Generally it is a good principle to meet words with words, and governments certainly shouldn’t prohibit people’s views (unless they incite violence) simply on account of disliking them. But there are other ways that people may legitimately choose to deal with opinions they find odious: for example, they may decline to keep company with those who propagate such opinions, decline to host them in their homes, decline to publish their writings when they have this power of decision, and so forth. Not every exclusion of someone from a space – whether physical, literary or virtual – amounts to censorship.

A government should not ban opinions which don’t constitute incitement; but, to the best of my knowledge, the Israeli government has not done this with respect to Günter Grass’s views. It has not done it on its own territory, where presumably anyone is free to articulate those views, publicize them, support them, criticize them, or whatever; and it has not done it anywhere else for obvious reasons, since it does not have that authority. It has simply declared that Grass is no longer welcome in Israel – and this is a matter that Israel may, with perfect legitimacy, decide. When Eamonn says, therefore, that Israel has no obligation to admit Grass, he is right: as a country it has a definite right to decide on who is and who isn’t welcome to visit. This is not the same thing, however, as saying that Israel is entirely justified in excluding Grass. It has a right to exclude him, but there may be reasons why it should not do so nonetheless (reasons I will come to shortly). It’s the same as saying that someone has the right not to let another into her house, but that she was wrong on the specific occasion to insist on her right, because (say) the putative visitor was cold, wet and exhausted and needed shelter for a short spell to get out of the raging storm.

On the other hand, Nick’s ‘only legitimate reason for banning a writer or speaker’ – namely, direct incitement to crime – applies to the opinions that should be expressible within a government’s territorial jurisdiction, but not necessarily to the admissibility of persons. It strikes me as not at all unreasonable for national communities to decide that there are individuals whose ideological track record renders them unwanted as guests. At the same time, contrary to what Nick suggests, by the exclusion of Grass the Israeli government is not preventing its citizens from listening to arguments they do not like or suppressing Grass’s views. Neither is his exclusion from the country comparable to the logic of cultural boycotts. The latter target whole categories of people independently of anything they have done or of what they have said or may think, simply on the grounds of their national identity.

Why, then, do I say that the Israeli government is wrong to have declared Grass persona non grata? I say this because it has made it a matter of authoritative political decision who is welcome as a guest in Israel, when (or at any rate so I assume) it does not actually know whether there would be a national consensus to this effect. If it had security and intelligence reasons for the exclusion that it could not disclose, this would be a relevant consideration. But I cannot believe Israeli intelligence would back the view that a visit from Günter Grass could pose a serious threat to Israeli society or public order. In free and democratic polities, who may be invited into the country as a guest is generally left to private individuals and organizations. The interests of Israel would have been better served by leaving it so in the present case. If some group of Israelis should be stupid enough to think the opinions expressed in Grass’s latest ‘work’ are worth hearing out of his own mouth, then bevakasha, let them host him and enjoy the privilege of hearing him malign their country, just like numberless Jew-haters the world over, as exterminationist and genocidal. The political health and reputation of Israel will likely suffer less from indulging this stupidity than from putting in place a ban which may be entirely pointless anyway.

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Billie Holiday, born April 7 1915, died July 17 1959

April 6, 2015 at 2:04 pm (civil rights, culture, history, jazz, Jim D, music, protest, Racism, Sheer joy, song, Soul, The blues, truth)

The woman who was simply the greatest singer in the entire history of jazz was born 100 years ago. Apart from her extraordinary voice (limited but highly expressive), she tends to be remembered for her “tragic” life, bad choices in lovers and her clashes with the authorities (she was even arrested on narcotics charges as she lay dying in hospital).

She made an extraordinary impression on all who met her, or even just heard her records. The British jazz critic Max Jones who met her and got to know her when she visited Britain in 1954 and then just before her death in 1959, is typical:

“Soon reports were coming in regularly of her deteriorating condition. At the end of May she collapsed and was taken to hospital, suffering from liver and heart complaints.

“Still harried by the authorities, she died in degrading circumstances at 3 a.m. on 17 July 1959, with 70 cents in the bank and 750 dollars in large notes strapped to her leg. She was, by her reckoning, only 44 years old. And I was halfway through a letter to her when friends telephoned to say she was dead. Though half expecting it, I was devastated by the news.

“But still, we have those many lovely or disturbing recorded performances. They will be a pleasure to my ears for the rest of my life and those of future generations for all time, I guess.” 

The actor, Billy Crystal  (who, it turns out, is the nephew of Commodore Records’ Milt Gabler, who recorded Billie singing ‘Strange Fruit’ in 1939), still remembers her.

Billie is well represented on Youtube, including her incredibly moving 1957 TV recording of ‘Fine and Mellow’ , a reunion with her old (platonic) friend and confidant Lester Young, after some years of estrangement. Then there’s the cry of pain and protest that is ‘Strange Fruit.’

But I prefer to remember the young, joyous and careless Billie of the mid-to-late 1930’s, as can be heard on this little gem from 1936 (below):

Billie even (playfully) puts drummer Cozy Cole in his place in the opening banter. Bunny Berigan on trumpet, Artie Shaw on clarinet.

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Marx on free speech

March 19, 2015 at 7:44 pm (Free Speech, history, Marxism, NUS, posted by JD, students, truth)

Comments on The Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction [39]


Written: between January 15 and February 10, 1842;
First published: in Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publicistik, Bd. I, 1843;
Transcribed: in 1998 for marx.org by Sally Ryan; what appears below is an extract. The complete article is here. We publish this extract in the hope of educating some young radicals, especially in the student movement, who seem to think it is the role of the “left” to support censorship and that freedom of speech is a right-wing concept.


Karl Marx

“According to this law,” namely, Article II, “the censorship should not prevent serious and modest investigation of truth, nor impose undue constraint on writers, or hinder the book trade from operating freely.”

The investigation of truth which should not be prevented by the censorship is more particularly defined as one which is serious and modest. Both these definitions concern not the content of the investigation, but rather something which lies outside its content. From the outset they draw the investigation away from truth and make it pay attention to an unknown third thing. An investigation which continually has its eyes fixed on this third element, to which the law gives a legitimate capriciousness, will it not lose sight of the truth? Is it not the first duty of the seeker after truth to aim directly at the truth, without looking to the right or left? Will I not forget the essence of the matter, if I am obliged not to forget to state it in the prescribed form?

Truth is as little modest as light, and towards whom should it be so? Towards itself? Verum index sui et falsi. Therefore, towards falsehood?.

If modesty is the characteristic feature of the investigation, then it is a sign that truth is feared rather than falsehood. It is a means of discouragement at every step forward I take. It is the imposition on the investigation of a fear of reaching a result, a means of guarding against the truth.

Further, truth is general, it does not belong to me alone, it belongs to all, it owns me, I do not own it. My property is the form, which is my spiritual individuality. Le style c’est l’homme. Yes, indeed! The law permits me to write, only I must write in a style that is not mine! I may show my spiritual countenance, but I must first set it in the prescribed folds! What man of honour will not blush at this presumption and not prefer to hide his head under the toga? Under the toga at least one has an inkling of a Jupiter’s head. The prescribed folds mean nothing but bonne mine a mauvais jeu.

You admire the delightful variety, the inexhaustible riches of nature. You do not demand that the rose should smell like the violet, but must the greatest riches of all, the spirit, exist in only one variety? I am humorous, but the law bids me write seriously. I am audacious, but the law commands that my style be modest. Grey, all grey, is the sole, the rightful colour of freedom. Every drop of dew on which the sun shines glistens with an inexhaustible play of colours, but the spiritual sun, however many the persons and whatever the objects in which it is refracted, must produce only the official colour! The most essential form of the spirit is cheerfulness, light, but you make shadow the sole manifestation of the spirit; it must be clothed only in black, yet among flowers there are no black ones. The essence of the spirit is always truth itself but what do you make its essence? Modesty. Only the mean wretch is modest, says Goethe, and you want to turn the spirit into such a mean wretch? Or if modesty is to be the modesty of genius of which Schiller speaks, then first of all turn all your citizens and above all your censors into geniuses. But then the modesty of genius does not consist in what educated speech consists in, the absence of accent and dialect, but rather in speaking with the accent of the matter and in the dialect of its essence. It consists in forgetting modesty and immodesty and getting to the heart of the matter. The universal modesty of the mind is reason, that universal liberality of thought which reacts to each thing according to the latter’s essential nature.

Further, if seriousness is not to come under Tristram Shandy’s definition according to which it is a hypocritical behaviour of the body in order to conceal defects of the soul, but signifies seriousness in substance, then the entire prescription falls to the ground. For I treat the ludicrous seriously when I treat it ludicrously, and the most serious immodesty of the mind is to be modest in the face of immodesty.

Serious and modest! What fluctuating, relative concepts! Where does seriousness cease and jocularity begin? Where does modesty cease and immodesty begin? We are dependent on the temperament of the censor. It would be as wrong to prescribe temperament for the censor as to prescribe style for the writer. If you want to be consistent in your aesthetic criticism, then forbid also a too serious and too modest investigation of the truth, for too great seriousness is the most ludicrous thing of all, and too great modesty is the bitterest irony. Read the rest of this entry »

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Eve Garrard: Antisemitism is on the rise, and “a very notable role in Western culture” …

March 10, 2015 at 3:10 am (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, fascism, history, Judaism, Middle East, posted by JD, terror, zionism)

This is a brilliant statement of principle that you all must read:

An edited speech given by Eve Garrard, Honorary Research Fellow in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Manchester, to the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism’s event ‘Israel and Antisemitism in Britain: Now and in the Future’; first published in Fathom:

The murders in France of four innocent Jewish shoppers, connected arbitrarily but not accidentally with the killings of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists, make the claim that antisemitism is once again on the rise in Europe seem depressingly plausible. Here in the UK the Community Security Trust thinks there’s been an increase in antisemitism, and since they monitor such things carefully, I for one am inclined to believe them. The Guardian even devoted a whole page (on 5 January 2015) to this resurgence, so I think we can take that as strong evidence that the phenomenon is a real one.

Some of us, perhaps many of us, thought that the Second World War, and the huge and ravenous killing of the European Jews which was so distinctive a part of that tremendous blood-letting,  would have put an end to serious antisemitism in Europe; we thought that shame and horror would effectively preclude its resurrection from the grave of the death-camps.  Well, if we did think that, we were wrong, and more fool us. We shouldn’t have expected so long-standing and deep-rooted a hostility to melt away in the post-war spring sunshine, such as it was.

People sometimes say that if we’re to understand the phenomenon of antisemitism we have to look at its root causes, and the root cause of its current increase is, supposedly, the behaviour of Israel, particularly in the Gaza war it fought last summer. Well, we can all agree that we should look at the root causes of outbreaks of racism in order to understand them better. But if we’re to find out what’s really going on we may need to spread our cause-catching net a little wider than is usual, in order to identify the various forces which are at work. What counts as the root cause may itself be a matter of dispute, and very often the identification by an observer of a cause as being the ‘root’ of the problem in hand is actually the result of prior political commitments and pre-judgements which ensure that the blame for the problem lands exactly where the observer has already decided it belongs. (Think of those people who regard immigration as the root cause of all social unrest in the UK, or who think that women’s immodest dress and behaviour is the root cause of rape. Their prior hostility to what they identify as root causes is often remarkably clear.)

People who think of antisemitism as being the result of the behaviour of Israel, or more widely the behaviour of Zionists, are concentrating on what we might call a push factor: the way Israel has fought its most recent war, or perhaps the fact that she fought it (or any other war) at all, is seen as pushing people, however reluctantly, into the otherwise unwelcome embrace of antisemitism. But the push explanation is in many ways very unsatisfactory. It’s supposed to work like this: people are horrified by what Israel has done in Gaza, where about 2,500 people were killed last summer, and that horror leads them to feel hostility towards Jews here in the UK, since they’re inevitably associated with Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. On this story the arrow of causation, so to speak, runs from Israel’s horrifying crimes to a resulting antisemitism.  Perhaps those who are horrified may not feel actual hatred towards Jews, but the hostility aroused in them by Israel’s activities leads them to repeat some very familiar antisemitic tropes. These include the blood libel – that is, the charge that Jews, in this case Israeli Jews, callously and deliberately aim at the blood-letting of non-Jews, especially their children; and the trope that there exists a shadowy but powerful Zionist lobby (aka the Jewish lobby) which exerts a malign and well-nigh total control over international and especially economic affairs. Israel’s behaviour, so it is claimed, has pushed people into embracing these and other prejudicial and discriminatory responses. Or it has led them to say, as Ken Loach did, that they’re not antisemitic themselves, but they can understand why some people are – Israel’s behaviour feeds feelings of antisemitism. Read the rest of this entry »

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Morning Star’s ‘anti-fascist’ label for rebels in East Ukraine crass and niave

March 3, 2015 at 6:43 pm (anti-fascism, democracy, fascism, history, imperialism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism)

Ever since the Maidan uprising against Putin’s stooge Yanukovych just over a year ago, the Morning Star (indirectly controlled by the British CP and funded by many UK trade unions) has persisted in referring to the Kiev government and its forces as “fascist” and the pro-Putin rebels as “anti-fascists.” The M Star‘s circulation is small, but it carries some weight within the trade union movement and sections of the left. This makes its grotesque misrepresentation of what’s going on in Ukraine, and its uncritical repetition of Putin’s propaganda, so politically poisonous. No article or letter published in the paper has challenged their version of events, until this letter, published today. Shiraz Socialist has no idea who the author is; we’re republishing here because we broadly (but not in every detail) agree with it and because letters published in the M Star‘s print edition do not appear on its website:

IMAGE CREDIT: PREDICTHISTUNPREDICTPAST.BLOGSPOT.COM

Naïve ‘anti-fascist’ label for rebel Russians breathtaking in its error

YOUR description of the eastern Ukrainian rebel soldiers as “anti-fascist fighters” is breathtaking in its crassness and naivety.

They’re no more fighting fascism than Mussolini was.

As ethnic Russians whose ancestors were moved in during the Soviet era (and possibly before), they have simply spotted an opportunity to have the area they live in returned to Moscow’s control.

In this we have seen the encouraging hand of Vladimir Putin, just as in Crimea and Georgia.

Please don’t insult our intelligence by describing Putin as some sort of defender of the left — he is a dictator who maintains his position by imprisonment and assassination of political opponents and by strict control of the media to ensure re-election.

At least in the (later) Soviet era there was some sort of brake by the Communist Party on excesses by the leadership.

Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, Pinochet and their like were fascists.

You are simply losing all credibility by desperately trying to tar the Ukraine government with the label. Shame on you.

I am considering ceasing to buy the Morning Star, despite your support (with which I agree) for the Jack Jones Square campaign in Madrid.

PETER CARR, Sawbridgeworth

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“There’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories…”

March 2, 2015 at 8:39 pm (class, comedy, film, history, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, Socialist Party)

David Osland writes:

There’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories. Apart from 25 hours free child care, £8 minimum wage, abolishing the bedroom tax and the NHS Act, a freeze on energy bills, a million new homes, a job guarantee for NEETs, £3000 reduction in tuition fees, the introduction of a national care service, reduced GP appointment and cancer test waiting times, thousands of extra nurses and doctors, mansion tax, a ban on MPs taking second jobs, an end to the Free School programme, bankers’ bonus tax and 50p top rate for the rich. But other than that, there’s no real difference between Labour and the Tories.

JD adds: Socialist Party members and (the few) others involved in the rather pathetic ‘T.U.S.C”, should take note.

And as someone in the pub after last Saturday’s Unite The Union United Left meeting (at which the SP/T.U.S.C received a well-deserved hammering), noted, listening to the SP on the subject of the Labour Party, you can’t help thinking of this:

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Auschwitz: 70 years on, 70 stories

January 27, 2015 at 6:30 pm (anti-semitism, Europe, fascism, genocide, hell, history, posted by JD, Racism, USSR, war)

70 years on from the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz, where at least a million died, Steven Spielberg’s film, which includes testimonies from survivors is essential viewing; put aside 15 minutes to watch:

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