Above: 9/11 commemoration, Paris 2011
Peter Wilby, writing in his First Thoughts column in the present edition of the New Statesman:
“In the wake of mass murder, comparisons may seem otiose and probably also distasteful. But the atrocities in Paris will, I suspect, disturb most Europeans more than the 9/11 atrocities in the US, even though the casualties were many fewer. It is not just that Paris is closer than New York and Washington DC. The 2001 attacks were on symbols of US global capitalism and military hegemony. The victims were mostly people working in them. This did not in any way excuse the gang of criminals who carried out the attacks. But is was possible, at least, to comprehend what may have been going through their twisted minds and the minds of those who sponsored and assisted them.
“The Paris attacks were different. France, to be sure, is a nuclear-armed capitalist state willing to flex its military muscles according to principles that are not always clear to outsiders. But this was not an attack on its political, military or financial centres. It was on people of various ethnicities and nationalities on a Friday night out, watching football, enjoying a concert, eating, drinking and chatting in restaurants and bars in a city that is famed (admittedly not always justly) for romance, enlightenment and culture. That is what makes these attacks so shocking…”
So it is “possible …to comprehend” the mass killing of cleaners, office workers and (yes) financiers in the Twin Towers (and the many civilian workers in the Pentagon) because of where they worked – but not the deaths of “people of various ethnicities and nationalities” (so the 9/11 victims were all white Americans?) seeking “romance, enlightenment and culture” (concepts alien to the 9/11 victims, of course) in Paris?
Later on in his piece Wilby states that it is wrong to resort to “glib attempts to explain what drives men to kill indiscriminately.” Yet he seems to be able to “explain” 9/11. So perhaps, according to Wilby, Paris was “indiscriminate” but not New York or Washington?
The editorial of the New Statesman of 17 September, 2001 appeared to blame Americans themselves for the 9/11 attacks — for “preferring George Bush to Al Gore and both to Ralph Nader”: the editor of the New Statesman at the time was one Peter Wilby.
What follows is a statement drawn up by myself. It is based in part upon the AWL’s statement in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. I have not discussed it or “cleared” it with anyone. Critical comments are welcome -JD:
To massacre ordinary workers enjoying a drink, a meal, a concert or a sporting event after work, is a crime against humanity, full stop.
What cause could the Islamist killers have been serving when they massacred 130 or more people in Paris? Not “anti-imperialism” in any rational sense — whatever some people on sections of the left have argued in the past — but only rage against the modem, secular world and the (limited but real) freedom and equality it represents. Only on the basis of an utterly dehumanised, backward looking world-view could they have planned and carried out such a massacre. Such people are enemies for the working class and the labour movement at least as much as the capitalist ruling class – In fact, more so.
Modern capitalism includes profiteering, exploitation, and imperialism, but it also includes the elements of civilisation, sexual and racial equality, technology and culture that make it possible for us to build socialism out of it.
Lenin, the great Marxist advocate of revolutionary struggle against imperialism, long ago drew a dividing line between that socialist struggle and reactionary movements such as (in his day) “pan-Islamism” [in our day, Islamism]: “Imperialism is as much our mortal enemy as is capitalism. That is so. No Marxist will forget, however, that capitalism is progressive compared with feudalism, and that imperialism is progressive compared with pre-monopoly capitalism. Hence, it is not every struggle against imperialism that we should support. We will not support a struggle of the reactionary classes against imperialism.”
We, the socialists, cannot bring back the dead, heal the wounded, or even (unless we’re present) comfort the bereaved. What we can do is analyse the conditions that gave rise to the atrocity; see how they can be changed; and keep clear critical understanding of the way that governments will respond. This must not be mistaken for any kind of attempt to excuse or minimise this barbarity or to use simplistic “blowback” arguments to suggest that it is simply a reaction to the crimes of “the west” or “imperialism.”
Immediately, the Paris massacre is not only a human disaster for the victims, their friends and families, but also a political disaster for all Muslims, refugees and ethnic minorities in Europe. The backlash against this Islamic-fundamentalist atrocity will inevitably provoke anti-refugee feeling and legislation, attacks on civil liberties and hostility towards all people perceived as “Muslims” in Europe: that, quite likely, was at least one of the intentions of the killers. The neo-fascists of Marine LePen’s Front National seem likely to make electoral gains as a result of this outrage.
The present chaos in the Middle East has given rise to the Islamic fascists of ISIS, and their inhuman, nihilist-cum-religious fundamentalist ideology.
Throughout the Middle East, the rational use of the region’s huge oil wealth, to enable a good life for all rather than to bloat some and taunt others, is the socialist precondition for undercutting the Islamic reactionaries.
In Afghanistan, an economically-underdeveloped, mostly rural society was thrust into turmoil in the late 1970s. The PDP, a military-based party linked to the USSR, tried to modernise, with measures such as land reform and some equality for women, but from above, bureaucratically. Islamists became the ideologues of a landlord-led mass revolt.
In December 1979, seeing the PDP regime about to collapse, the USSR invaded. It spent eight years trying to subdue the peoples of Afghanistan with napalm and helicopter gunships. It was the USSR’s Vietnam.
The USSR’s war had the same sort of regressive effect on society in Afghanistan as the USA’s attempt to bomb Cambodia “back into the Stone Age”, as part of its war against the Vietnamese Stalinists, had on that country. In Cambodia the result was the mass-murdering Khmer Rouge, which tried to empty the cities and abolish money; in Afghanistan, it has been the Islamic-fundamentalist regime of the Taliban. In Iraq the West’s bungled attempts to clear out first Saddam’s fascistic regime and then various Islamist reactionaries, and introduce bourgeois democracy from above, have been instrumental in creating ISIS.
Western governments will now make a show of retaliation and retribution. They will not and cannot mend the conditions that gave rise to this atrocity, conditions which they themselves (together with their Arab ruling class allies) helped to shape. Ordinary working people who live in war-torn states and regions will, as ever, be the victims.
Civil rights will come under attack and the efforts of the European Union to establish a relatively humane response to the refugee crisis will be set back and, quite possibly, destroyed.
These blows at civil rights will do far more to hamper the labour movement, the only force which can remake the world so as to end such atrocities, than to stop the killers.
Public opinion will lurch towards xenophobia. Basic democratic truths must be recalled: not all Middle Eastern people are Muslims, most Muslims are not Islamic fundamentalists, most of those who are Islamic-fundamentalist in their religious views do not support Islamic fundamentalist militarism. To seek collective punishment against Muslims or Arabs, or anyone else, is wrong and inhuman.
The first, and still the most-suffering, victims of Islamic fundamentalist militarism are the people, mostly Muslim, of the countries and regions where the lslamists are powerful.
The only way to defeat the Islamists is by the action of the working class and the labour movement in such countries, aided by our solidarity.
Refugees seeking asylum in Europe do not in any way share blame for this massacre. In fact, many of them are refugees because they are fleeing Islamic-fundamentalist governments and forces like ISIS. To increase the squeeze on already-wretched refugees would be macabre and perverse “revenge”.
We must remake the world. We must remake it on the basis of the solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality which are as much part of human nature as the rage, hatred and despair which must have motivated the Paris mass-murderers.
We must create social structures which nurture solidarity, democracy and equality, in place of those which drive towards exploitation, cut-throat competition and acquisitiveness and a spirit of everything-for-profit.
The organised working class, the labour movement, embodies the core and the active force of the drive for solidarity, democracy and spirit of equality within present-day society. It embodies it more or less consistently, to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how far we have been able to mobilise ourselves, assert ourselves, broaden our ranks, and emancipate ourselves from the capitalist society around us.
Our job, as socialists, is to maximise the self-mobilisation, self-assertion, broadening and self-emancipation of the organised working class.
We must support the heroic Kurdish forces who are fighting and defeating ISIS on the ground in Syria and Iraq, opposed by the Turkish government. We must demand that our government – and all western governments – support the Kurds with weapons and, if requested, military backup: but we will oppose all moves by the governments of the big powers to make spectacular retaliation or to restrict civil rights or target minorities or refugees.
The greatest scene from a great anti-fascist film:
Muslim organisation says Emwazi was ‘evil’
Mr Mohammed Shafiq, chief executive of the Ramadhan Foundation – a Muslim organisation based in Greater Manchester – said the reported killing was “a significant moment in the fight to get justice for David Haines, Alan Henning and all the victims of this evil man”.
The Ramadhan Foundation joins the victims of ISIS and their families in preferring him to have being captured alive so he would have seen justice in a court of law but understand why this wasn’t possible. Extra judicial killing over justice in a court of law should not become the norm in fight against terrorism.
Mohammed Emwazi manifested the evil and barbaric nature of this terrorist entity called [ISIS] which has killed thousands of Muslims, Christians, Yazidis. There is nothing he said or stood for which would justify his barbaric crimes and actions.
ISIS distort Islamic teaching to justify their violent crimes and it’s this ideology which we have been confronting and will continue to do. Terrorism has no religion and there can never be any justification or excuses for such actions.
But the death of Emwazi – excellent though it would be, if true – is not the best news today in the fight against the Daesh fascists. This is:
Kurdish peshmerga forces have entered Sinjar “from all directions” to begin clearing the northern Iraqi town of Isis militants, the Kurdistan regional security council said on Friday.
Heavy bursts of gunfire could be heard in the town, as fighters filed down the hill overlooking the town from the north, some with rocket-propelled grenades on their shoulders, said witnesses.
The regional security council said peshmerga forces had seized key buildings and Isis were “defeated and on the run”. The Kurdish regional president, Masoud Barzani, is to hold a press conference later on Friday.
‘Trade Unionists Against the EU’ allies with Tory right … and ‘Campaign Against Euro Federalism’ allies with UKIP
Sheppard and Lyon of Vote Leave protest at the the CBI conference
On Monday of this week David Cameron addressed the CBI conference in London, and was mildly heckled by two posh young men from the Vote Leave campaign.
For those who don’t follow the intricacies of anti-European factionalism in the UK, Vote Leave is an outgrowth of Business for Britain and Conservatives for Britain, both set up by long-standing Tory anti-Europeans Matthew Elliott (founder of the Taxpayer’s Alliance) and Dominic Cummings (former special adviser to Michael Gove), which for years have been pressurising Cameron and the Tory leadership for a harder line against the EU, and have now come out for withdrawal. Vote Leave claims to be a “cross party” campaign, but is overwhelmingly made up of right wing Tories with just Douglas Carswell of Ukip, Kate Hoey and a handful of Labour right-wingers, mavericks and millionaire donors, plus the Green’s eccentric Baroness Jenny Jones, giving the outfit the excuse to call itself “cross party.”
What was interesting about Monday’s protest was that while the two posh boys were protesting inside the hall, outside a small gaggle of aging Stalinist little-Englanders calling themselves Trade Unionists Against The EU, held a simultaneous protest. The two protests were quite obviously co-ordinated, and indeed, the Morning Star (Nov 10) quoted one Robert Oxley (who turns out to be Vote Leave’s Head of Media) as saying: “we will be working together closely during the campaign to do more of these protests – particularly at the AGMs of big companies who try to scare the British people into voting to remain.”
The Morning Star seems to have interviewed the two posh boys as it named them as Phil Sheppard and Peter Lyon, and quoted Mr Lyon as describing their experience as “terrifying” but “worthwhile.”
This is all a bit odd, because back in June of this year, the Morning Star carried an editorial (“Left reasons to ditch the EU“) denouncing Conservatives for Britain and Business for Britain (ie the two main constituent parts of Vote Leave) as “neoliberal and nationalist extremists” and called on trade unions, the Labour Party and the left to “develop an independent position of their own, one which represents the real interests of workers and the mass of the people across Scotland, England and Wales.”
Yet now we have the Morning Star giving sympathetic coverage to Vote Leave, and frequent Star contributor (and CPB member) Brian Denny co-ordinating the activities of Trade Unions Against the EU (of which he is, apparently, an Organiser) with Vote Leave.
But even stranger is the position of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, which is to all intents and purposes, Mr Denny and a few of his friends like the ultra-nationalist little Englander (and fellow Morning Star contributor) John Boyd, just wearing different hats: the website of the other main anti-EU campaign, Leave.EU (presently battling it out with Vote Leave, for recognition as the official anti-EU campaign), set up by wealthy Ukip backer Arron Banks and virtually a front organisation for Nigel Farage and Ukip, carries the following endorsement:
“As a well-established Eurosceptic Labour movement organisation operating for nearly 30 years, CAEF is pleased to join an organisation that seeks to represent people from all walks of life and defend national democracy, which is clearly under threat from a corporate-dominated European Union that is accruing evermore powers at the expensive of member states. No country can truly decide its own future democratically without the sovereign power to make its own laws and run its own economy in the interests of its citizens free from outside interference”, Brian Denny
Abbott on The Daily Politics show. A shameful performance – the definition of a “car crash” interview. The young Syrian woman is superb:
h/t Paul Canning
Edited to add: On the Friday the Stop The War Coalition responded with a bizarre post entitled ‘Andrew Neil smears Stop the War’, thus dismissing both the scrutiny from the left and Syrians and denying the facts as ‘smears’. The documented dismissal of Syrian voices is called “organised disruption.” They flat out lie that despite the video, despite the statement’s of both Labour’s Catherine West and the Greens Caroline Lucas, Syrians were not prevented from speaking!
The several reports on the behaviour of the stewards, including their calling the police, is dismissed as a “lie”. Whoever called them the police arrived, so there’s a simple way to find out if it is infact a “lie” that STWC called them – ask the police. Should we do that STWC? Over to you …
Of interest is the fact that the first person they rush to defend (“Lie one”) is their Chair, Andrew Murray. This is because this post’s information on Murray, supplied by Andrew Coates, was raised by Andrew Neil on the BBC in his questioning of Diane Abbott. Again, they flat out lie that Murray’s Communist Party and hence Murray does not regard Assad as “legitimate” and supports the regime’s war, aka ‘bombing’.
In order to back their claim that they solely face “diehard opponents on the left” in their opposition to UK support for civilian protection (rather than, as I have already covered, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists) they fall back on the presence of a Tory MP
Are they rattled? Time will tell but the post ends in a classic of ‘projection’ – the Soviet and now Kremlin tactic of claiming that others are doing what you’re actually doing – “The lies of our opponents testify only to their desperation.”
Edited to add: Omar Sabbour has published a lengthy rebuttal to STWC’s post. He notes that the meeting was filmed and that unedited footage will show who is right about both the STWC claims on Syrians being allowed to speak and on who called police. It will also show what was said from the platform and Sabbour in his rebuttal goes into detail on why STWC’s arguments (“simply another form of Western narcissism and orientalism”) are so wrong – do go read.
The ad in the Guardian
Today’s Guardian carries a full page advertisement, signed by 343 academics, calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions and conferences. The signatories also pledge to refuse to “act as referees in any of their processes.”
It follows pro-boycott motions being passed by a number of trade unions and student unions.
The mood for boycott reflects strong feelings of indignation and outrage against Israel, and a powerful sentiment that something –anything – must be done to help the Palestinians.
However the main forces behind the “boycott Israel” movement, and several of the signatories of the Guardian ad, want to go further than a just (probably “two state”) resolution to the plight of the Palestinians and an end to the illegal Israeli settlements and occupation of Palestinian lands: they are committed to the destruction of Israel and its replacement by an Arab state in which those Jews who survive the military conflict and its immediate aftermath would have religious but not national rights. (Or, if the destruction is accomplished by Islamist movements like Hamas and Hezbollah and their allies, and “victory” means an Islamic state, maybe not even religious rights). Read the rest of this entry »
You meet the nicest people … on facebook.
Pee Wee Russell, the eccentric poet-genius of jazz clarinet, has always been a personal favourite of mine.
I’m so grateful to Herb Gardner for sharing his memories of PWR in the course of a facebook exchange a few weeks ago. The exclamation mark after “milk” is significant. Milk was not known to be a favourite tipple of either PWR or Eddie Condon, even at breakfast:
JD: Herb: I’m presently reading Robert Hilbert’s ‘Pee Wee Russell: The Life of a Jazzman’ and have come across a reference to you playing in the ‘New York’ band led by Max Kaminsky, with Pee Wee Russell at the New Orleans ‘Jazzfest ’68’: “The band started off with a hard-hitting ‘Dippermouth Blues,’ with Kaminsky playing a fiery solo and Pee Wee sounding very inventive and self-assured.”
Have you written about this? I’d love to hear your thoughts about PWR, in particular.
Herb Gardner: Yeah, that was a memorable trip. I’ve always felt that I spent a month in NO that weekend. The Haggarts and I asked locals about secret good places to eat, so we had some of the best seafood ever. One evening I got to march in a parade with the Onward Brass Band, including Louis Cottrell and the Barbarins, playing bone next to Frog Joseph.
Pee Wee was always uniquely inventive and unpredictable. When he mumbled you couldn’t tell what he said, but when he played it was inspiring. I also worked a week with him, playing piano in an Eddie Condon Band up in the White Mountains of NH. This was near the end of his life, and my lasting image was of him and Eddie having milk (!) and doughnuts for breakfast in the coffee shop.
Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
Rest in Power, Grace Lee Boggs
Grace Lee Boggs passed away peacefully on Monday morning aged 100. We are so grateful for the vision of justice and human connection that she gave us and feel incredibly privileged to have been able to share her story with others [writes her namesake, film-maker Grace Lee]
JD adds: In her youth, Grace Lee Boggs was a member of the ‘Shachtmanite’ Workers’ Party and a key figure in the CLR James/Raya Dunayevskaya “Johnson-Forest Tendency”, playing a pioneering role in the development of ‘Third Camp’ revolutionary politics. She remained firmly and actively on the left for the rest of her life, though she moved away from Trotskyism, towards (as I understand it) a more “Third-Worldist’ political philosophy and community activism in Detriot, where she and her auto-worker husband lived from the 1950’s. Anyone who knows more about her is welcome to comment below.
New York Times obit, here
A more detailed appreciation from Comrade Coatesy, here
H/t Daniel R