Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement, Uri Avnery, gives a considered response to the recent Israeli election. Two points strike me: firstly, that this is much more pessimistic in tone than his immediate response, and – secondly – that the Morning Star (which also republished this article today) seriously and deliberately misrepresented what Avnery is saying, in they way they headlined and introduced the piece. Judge for yourselves, here. Below we reproduce Avnery’s piece exactly as he wrote it:
|The Israeli Salvation Front|
THE 2015 election was a giant step towards the self-destruction of Israel.
The decisive majority has voted for an apartheid state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, in which democracy will slowly disappear.
The decision is not yet final. Israeli democracy has lost a battle. It has not yet lost the war.
If it does not draw the lessons, it will lose the war, too.
All the justifications and alibis of the Israeli Left are useless. It’s the bottom line that counts.
The country is in existential danger. Not from the outside, but from the inside.
An Israel Salvation Front is needed now.
We have no other country.
FIRST OF ALL, the full extent of the debacle must be acknowledged and full responsibility must be taken.
The leaders who lost must go. In the struggle for the life of the state, there is no second opportunity.
The struggle between Isaac Herzog and Binyamin Netanyahu was a match between a lightweight boxer and a heavyweight.
The idea of a National Union government must be rejected and roundly condemned. In such a government, the Labor Party would again play the contemptible role of a fig leaf for the policy of occupation and oppression.
Now a new generation of leaders is needed, young, energetic and original.
THE ELECTION pitilessly exposed the deep chasms between the different sectors of Israeli society: Orientals, Ashkenazis, Arabs, “Russian”, orthodox, religious and more.
The Salvation Front must encompass all sectors.
Every sector has its own culture, its own traditions, its own faith(s). All must be respected. Mutual; respect is the foundation of the Israeli partnership.
The foundation of the Salvation Front needs a new authentic leadership that must emerge from all sectors.
The State of Israel belongs to all its citizens. No sector has exclusive ownership of the state.
The huge and growing gap between the very rich and the very poor, which largely parallels the gap between the ethnic communities, is a disaster for all of us.
The salvation of the state must be based on a return to equality as a basic value. A reality in which hundreds of thousands of children live under the poverty line is intolerable.
The income of the upper 0.01%, which reaches to the heavens, must be brought down to a reasonable level. The income of the lowest 10% must be raised to a humane level.
THE ALMOST total separation between the Jewish and the Arab parts of Israeli society is a disaster for both and for the state.
The Salvation Front must be based on both peoples. The chasm between them must be eliminated, for the good of both.
Empty phrases about equality and fraternity are not enough. They lack credibility.
There must come into being a sincere alliance between the democratic forces on both sides, not only in words but in actual daily cooperation in all areas.
This cooperation must find expression in frameworks of political partnership, joint struggles and regular joint meetings in all areas, based on respect for the uniqueness of each partner.
Only a permanent joint struggle can save Israeli democracy and the state itself.
THE HISTORIC conflict between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian Arab national movement now threatens both peoples.
The country between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River is the homeland of the two peoples. No war, oppression or uprising will change this basic fact.
If this conflict continues without end, it will endanger the existence of both peoples.
The one and only solution was and is their co-existence in two sovereign states: a free and independent State of Palestine side by side with the State of Israel.
The two-state solution is not a recipe for separation and divorce. On the contrary, it is a recipe for close co-existence.
The 1967 borders, with mutual agreed changes, are the basis of peace.
The co-existence of the two states in the joint homeland does necessitate frameworks of partnership at the highest level, as well as open borders for the movement of people and goods. It also needs solid security arrangements for the good of both peoples.
Jerusalem, open and unified, must be the capital of both states.
The painful tragedy of the Palestinian refugees must find its just solution, agreed upon by the two sides. This solution will include return to the Palestinian state, a limited symbolic return to Israel and the payment of generous compensation by international funds to all.
Israel and Palestine shall work together so as to achieve a return of Jewish property left in Arab countries or the payment of generous compensation.
The State of Palestine will keep its affinity with the Arab world. The state of Israel will keep its affinity with the Jewish people in the world. Each of the two states will have sole responsibility for its immigration policy.
The problem of the Jewish settlers in Palestine will find its solution in the framework of agreed border changes between the two states, the inclusion of some settlements in the Palestinian state with the agreement of the Palestinian government and the re-settlement of the rest of the settlers in Israel.
Both states shall cooperate in the creation of a democratic regional partnership, in the spirit of the “Arab Spring”, while resisting anarchy, terrorism and religious and nationalistic fanaticism throughout the region.
The masses of Israelis and Palestinians will not believe in the chances of peace and co-existence if there is no real and open partnership between the peace camps of both peoples.
To establish such a partnership, organizations and individuals of both sides must start right now to conduct joint political action, such as constant consultation and joint planning on all levels and in all areas.
THE JEWISH character of the State of Israel finds its expression in its culture and its affinity with the Jews throughout the world. It must not express itself in its interior regime. All citizens and all sectors must be equal.
The democratic forces within the Jewish and the Arab public must join hands and work together in their daily actions.
International pressure by itself will not save Israel from itself. The salvation forces must come from within.
World-wide pressure on Israel can and must assist the democratic forces in Israel, but cannot take their place.
BASIC VALUES do not change. However, the ways of talking about them with the public must change.
The old slogans are ineffective. The values must be re-defined and re-formulated in up-to-date language, in line with the concepts and language of a new generation.
The two-state vision was defined after the 1948 war by a small group of path-blazers. Since than, huge changes have taken place in the world, in the region and within Israeli society. While the vision itself remains the only practical solution of the historic conflict, it must be poured into new vessels.
There is a need for political unity, a unifying salvation front that brings together all the forces of peace, democracy and social justice.
If the Labor Party is able to re-invent itself from the bottom up, it can constitute the basis of this camp. If not, an entirely new political party must be formed, as the core of the Salvation Front.
Within this front, diverse ideological forces must find their place and engage in a fruitful internal debate, while conducting a unified political struggle for the salvation of the state.
The regime within Israel must assure complete equality between all Jewish ethnic communities and between the two peoples, while safeguarding the affinity of the Israeli-Jewish public with the Jews in the world and the affinity of the Israeli-Arab public with the Arab world.
The situation in which most of the resources are in the hands of 1% of the population at the cost of the other 99%, must come to an end. A reasonable equality between all citizens, without connection with their ethnic origin, must be restored.
There is no social message without a political message, and there is no political message without a social message.
The Oriental Jewish public must be full partners in the state, side by side with all other sectors. Their dignity, culture, social status and economic situation must be accorded their proper place.
The religious-secular confrontation must be postponed until after peace is achieved. The beliefs and ceremonies of all religions must be respected, as well as the secular worldview.
The separation of state and religion – such as civil marriage, mass transportation on Shabbat – can wait until the struggle for existence is decided.
The protection of the judicial system, and above all the Supreme Court, is an absolute duty.
The various associations for peace, human rights and social justice, each of which conducts its laudable independent struggle in its chosen field, must enter the political arena and play a central role together in the unified Salvation Front.
Jim Denham writes:
I have, personally, been through what might be called a “dark night of the soul“, agonising over whether to support Left Unity in the general election. The Shiraz team has been in emergency session all day, thrashing out our considered position. We’d have liked to have got the news to you all earlier today (we aimed for 12 noon), but it hasn’t been possible, due to the intense and sometime heated nature of our internal debate. Anyway, this inspirational report (below) in today’s Morning Star clinched it for us – we’re backing Left Unity!
Filmmaker Loach launches Left Unity manifesto at squat
LEFT Unity is contesting the election to keep socialist ideas alive, Ken Loach said yesterday as he launched the party’s manifesto at a London squat.
The filmmaker, whose spirit of 1945 documentary celebrated the achievements of Labour’s post-war government, said his party now carried that flame.
He said: “Left Unity is against the logic of the market. It’s for the interests of the people. And therefore it’s different.
“It’s so important that we keep these ideas alive.”
Despite insisting that he was “only a rank-and-file member,” Mr Loach is Left Unity’s highest profile supporter.
He set out the case for the party he helped form in 2013 in a polemic at a Soho squat, where journalists sat on the floor to listen alongside activists.
It could have provided a set for one of Mr Loach’s cult social-realist films and was chosen to highlight Britain’s social housing crisis.
Squatters cheered a manifesto pledge given by principal speaker Kate Hudson to legalise squatting as part of the solution.
Mr Loach said Left Unity would draw strength — and votes — from the “huge anger, alienation, fear and hunger” felt by people outside the Westminster bubble.
He said they had been abandoned by Labour in a wide-ranging attack on Ed Miliband’s party.
The Bectu member also cited Labour’s failure to restore trade union rights stolen by Thatcher as “another reason why we need a separate party.”
He said: “We need stronger unions with a leadership that represents the interests of the workers and doesn’t just give money to the Labour Party for the Labour Party to cut its throat.”
His criticism came as Labour launched it’s work manifesto with a pledge to ban bosses keeping workers on zero hour contracts for more than 12 weeks.
Labour MP Ian Lavery, chair of the party’s Trade Union Group, said the announcement “put aside all doubt” about its commitment to working people.
He told the Star: “To state that unions and the Labour party do not represent working people is an insult when the labour movement fights to protect workers’ rights, stop exploitation and generally better the lives of working people on a daily basis.
“The reality is that the trade union movement is not only part of Labour’s past but also the future – as is proved by today’s announcement.”
Left Unity candidates will be on the ballot paper in 10 constituencies.
The Star asked four of squat’s residents whether they would vote for the party, but none confirmed they would.
Paul, who voted Lib Dem in 2010, said he was “completely disillusioned” by the Lib Dems’ tuition fees U-turn, while Elise said she hadn’t decided which party offered the most “radical change.”
“I’m not convinced Labour is are a left-wing party – Ed Miliband isn’t working class,” she said. “But I haven’t made up my mind who to vote for yet.”
Veteran Israeli leftist and founder of Gush Shalom, Uri Avnery, offers a surprisingly optimistic assessment of the prospects for the Israeli left in the aftermath of Netanyahu’s shock victory. I’d recommend reading it together with this and this.
THE MESSIAH HASN’T COME and Bibi hasn’t gone.
That’s the sad outcome.
Sad, but not the end of the world.
As the American saying goes: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.”
I would say: “Today is the first day of the battle for the next elections!”
The battle for the salvation of Israel must start right now.
SOME PEOPLE say that the best course now is a so-called National Unity Government.
Looks like a nice idea. Unity always sounds nice.
I can muster some good arguments for it. The combination of the two major parties creates a bloc of 54 seats (of 120). Such a coalition needs only one other party to form a majority. There are several possibilities, headed by Moshe Kahlon’s 10 seats.
The advocates of this choice have one good argument: it’s the Lesser Evil. The only other possibility is an extreme right-wing-religious government, which will not only stop any step towards peace, but also expand settlements, enact more laws to choke democracy and impose reactionary religious laws.
It’s a good argument, but it has to be rejected outright.
The Unity Government would be dominated by the Right. At best it would be a government of total immobility. It would be unable and unwilling to make even the slightest move towards ending the historic conflict, terminating the occupation and recognition of Palestine. Settlements would expand at a frantic pace. The chances of an eventual peace would move even further away.
It would do a lot of harm. The Labor Party would be obliged to justify and beautify this disastrous course, disarm the Obama administration and progressive Jewish forces throughout the world. It would be a huge fig leaf for evil.
It would also leave Israel without an effective opposition. If the government coalition broke up somewhere along the way, the Labor party would be too besmirched to constitute a credible alternative. The initial success of Yitzhak Herzog in rousing the old party from its comatose state cannot be repeated a second time. Labor would become a spent force, a vegetable.
Fortunately for the Labor Party, this possibility died almost immediately after the election. Netanyahu killed it with one stroke.
BY THE way, a curious side effect of a National Unity Government would have been that the leader of the (Arab) Joint List, Ayman Odeh, would have become Leader of the Opposition.
By law, the title is bestowed automatically on the chief of the largest opposition party. It confers on its holders many of the privileges of a cabinet minister. The Prime Minister is obliged to confer with them regularly and share government secrets with them.
But even if there is no Unity Government, and Herzog becomes Leader of the Opposition, one outstanding result of the election is the changed situation of the Arabs in the Knesset.
There is a certain humor to this. It was Avigdor Lieberman, the almost pathological Arab-hater, who induced the Knesset to raise the minimum threshold to 3.25%. This was intended to eliminate the three small Arab parties (including the Communists, who also have some Jewish voters), who responded by overcoming their mutual disagreements and animosities and forming the joint list. Lieberman had great difficulties in crossing his own threshold, and Eli Yishai’s party, which includes the heirs of the fascist Meir Kahane, was – thank God – left outside the Knesset. Read the rest of this entry »
Scottish commentator Chris Derin notes the rise of anti-Semitism, and the fact that in Scotland it’s not coming from Islamists or the traditional far-right, but from elements of the supposed “left”:
Unthinkably, anti-semitism is once again on the rise across Europe. Benjamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that the continent’s Jews should move to Israel, following the attacks in Paris, Belgium and Copenhagen, has angered many of his co-religionists, but the fact he felt able to say it should give the rest of us pause.
A timely article published yesterday in Scotland on Sunday by the journalist Dani Garavelli showed concern about their safety is growing among Scotland’s Jews. Giffnock’s long-established community has seen security stepped up outside Jewish buildings, including police patrols at the synagogue and at Scotland’s only Jewish primary school. The children are no longer allowed to line up in the playground in the morning.
The number of anti-semitic attacks in Glasgow rose ten-fold last year, according to Garavelli. A woman selling Israeli cosmetics from a stall is said to have had a ‘burning’ substance thrown in her face, while a rabbi was taunted with shouts of ‘Sieg Heil’. A sheltered housing complex in East Renfrewshire was daubed with a swastika and the words ‘Jewish Cunts. Jews Out’.
It seems to be politically hip to adopt an anti-Israel stance. What used to be the preserve of the far-Right now sits more easily with the far-Left, which is currently undergoing a modish revival in Scotland. Criticism of Israel’s government, a perfectly reasonable thing to do, all too regularly shades into the dark prejudice of anti-semitism. There’s nothing cool or modern about this. Anti-semitism is the most ancient of hatreds, and it was only 70 years ago that Europe’s Jews were nearly destroyed in a mass extermination programme. Anti-semites: think of the company you’re keeping.
JD adds: here at Shiraz we’ve had cause to comment on the anti-semitism of the Scottish PSC before now: “A little bit anti-Jewish”.
By Dave Osland
Above: Rosa Luxemburg, free speech advocate
Free speech: an apology:
Throughout my 30 years of political activity, I consistently contended that free speech was a core leftist value.
Readily did I bandy about Rosa Luxemburg’s insistence that ‘freedom is, always and exclusively, freedom for the one who thinks differently’. Shockingly, sometimes I even trotted out that cliched crap from Voltaire!
Willfully and deliberately, with malice aforethought, did I listen to a range of opinions on all topics and tried to think logically about issues of contemporary political disputation.
I was, shamefully and utterly, wrong wrong wrong. I now realise that insistence on free speech at all costs is the preserve of liberals and – worse! – the right.
I have learned my lesson and pledge never again to say anything beastly or that anybody could claim to be offended by, even potentially.
There is only one correct position on any issue within feminism or the LGBT movement, as may be determined by Twitter from time to time. It simply falls to me to discover what the line is on any given day.
Likewise, I renounce all my earlier statements to the effect that religious fundamentalism is a threat to workers, women or LGBT people who misunderstand why they are being thrown off tall buildings by anti-imperialists.
9/11 conspiracy theories are unquestionably true, and the ruling class reptilian blood line thesis is at least worthy of serious consideration.
I am junking 90% of the DWEM books that have falsely persuaded me to hang on to outdated metanarratives and will retain only those volumes of Derrida and Foucault that are admissible in public discourse.
All that remains now is to prostrate myself at the feet of those who arbitrate on such matters and beg forgiveness.
Identity politicians of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your brains!
A thought-provoking article By Levi Tazir:
Two weeks ago, four Jews were killed in a kosher supermarket for being Jews. Anti-Semitism was in the news once again. The headlines confirmed what everyone in a minority has known for some time: racism, in all forms, is on the rise.
Right-wing Jewish groups like Campaign Against Anti-Semitism seized on it as an opportunity to feed paranoid dogma. Zionist groups used it as an excuse to promote immigration to Israel. Conservatives pulled together awful policies, saying it meant we needed more police.
We, on the Jewish Left, struggled to articulate ourselves, to say that Jews did of course have a future in Europe, to reject right-wing opportunism, to say that we would be stronger if we united with all other groups facing bigotry, to express our concerns about Islamophobic and anti-immigrant backlashes, to offer our best arguments for socialist, anarchist and democratic solutions to anti-Semitism.
And we did it alone. We did it alone.
If you read any of the left-wing news sources or subscribe to any of the UK’s leftist parties, you wouldn’t even know an attack on Jews had happened. You’d know about Charlie Hebdo. You’d know about the attacks on mosques in the aftermath. You could read deep and insightful histories of French colonialism in North Africa and interesting accounts of the problems in the Parisian banlieus. But nothing about Jews.
On Counterfire: nothing. On Left Unity: nothing. From the Greens: nothing. Red Labour: nothing. On the Revolutionary Socialists Network: nothing.
My Facebook and Twitter feeds filled up with Jews offering their thoughts. But from other, non-Jewish leftists, I just heard nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I want to know why. I want to ask some questions to the rest of the Left.
Do you think it doesn’t matter?
Maybe you thought it wasn’t newsworthy. But it’s not every day that Jews get killed in a supermarket for being Jews. That felt pretty important, to us at least.
Didn’t you care?
You must have cared. You’re leftists because you care about other human beings. You worry about people’s lives and want to see them do well. Surely a public execution of Jews warrants something. Just your condolences. Just your acknowledgement. That’s all.
Do you think anti-Semitism isn’t an issue?
In that case, how many Jews need to die before it is?
Did you think that Islamophobia mattered more?
The gunman was a Muslim. We were all worried that the attack would result in a backlash against Muslims. It has. It’s been terrifying. We’re adamant that we must stand together with Muslims and support our comrades and neighbours through all that’s happening. But surely – surely – the attack on Jews warranted enough to worry a little bit about anti-Semitism too. Just enough to say it was happening.
Do you believe the lies they tell about us? Do you believe we’re all rich and doing fine?
It’s an old distraction tactic from the right-wing elites to scapegoat Jews as wealthy. They think that if they point the finger at us, nobody will notice that the ruling class is overwhelmingly white, Christian and from the same schools. The truth is Jews are evenly spread across all classes, mirroring almost exactly the rest of society. As a religious group, we are no more wealthy or poor than any other religious group.
Do you think we’re all white?
Most of France’s Jews come from North Africa. The murdered came from Tunisia and Algeria. The Jews of Paris come from the same cities as the Muslims of Paris. Most Jews in Europe come from the Middle-East and North Africa. Not centuries and centuries ago. They and their parents were born in Morocco, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Yemen and Afghanistan. We’re overwhelmingly not white.
If we were all rich and white, would it mean it mattered less?
Perhaps it would. But surely it wouldn’t mean it mattered so little that anti-Semitism didn’t deserve a mention.
Do you think Israel’s occupation of Palestine justifies anti-Semitic attacks in Europe?
One BBC reporter, Tim Wilcow, said exactly that.
Israel is occupying Palestine. It’s inexcusable and unjust. It gives anti-Semites an excuse. It makes people everywhere angry. But the Jews who live in London, Paris and the rest of the world don’t have any control over that. We are not Israel’s military occupation any more than Christians are the Pope. Of course we’re not. A people can be oppressed in one space and oppressors in another. That shouldn’t mitigate against mentioning their oppression where you see it.
Do you think support from Tories is enough?
Theresa May and Eric Pickles were snapped holding up signs saying “Je suis Juif” [French: I am a Jew], in solidarity with those killed. Conservatives and right-wing Labour leaders made statements. The Spectator and The Telegraph wrote articles about the worrying growth in anti-Semitism. But we didn’t want, need or ask for their support. It’s the support of our comrades – the people who stand with us on anti-cuts and anti-war demonstrations – that matters. We needed to hear something from you.
Do you know that your silence is driving Jews to the right?
When you ignore Jewish suffering, you hand undecided Jews over to fundamentalist religious movements and Zionist political groups on a plate. They see no place for themselves on the Left, so go in any other direction. One of the main reasons that groups like the reactionary street movement Jewish Defence League are growing is that the organised Left hasn’t stepped in to offer an alternative. It’s not enough for Jewdas to write articles and organise vigils. We need you on our side.
I hate it, I really do, when anyone starts a conversation with “the problem with the Left is…” It’s an act of separating yourself from the rest of the Left, giving up and saying that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to change.
Only in this case, we didn’t separate ourselves from the Left. The Left separated itself from the Jews. You did that when you didn’t acknowledge that four Jews were murdered in a supermarket for being Jews.
And I want to know why.
The people tried to overthrow the memoranda between 2010-13, but they couldn’t overcome the state’s reaction, the brutality of the police and legal system, the betrayals or lack of planning from their own trade union leaders. It was natural that they started moving away from their political and trade union leaders (from the neo-liberal parties) and place their hopes on Syriza. Their interest was elevated towards the question of power, even in a “distorted” parliamentary way, as a next means of tackling the crisis.
Increasingly, since 2012, it has been up to Syriza to direct the people’s attention towards a reconstruction of the movement on a higher basis, with a friendly government on its side. A Syriza victory and the implementation of some of its urgent measures, could encourage the workers to fight for all they have been deprived of.
There are struggles still going on, such as the laid-off public servants (teachers, janitors, school guardians [caretakers]). Nevertheless demonstrations and strikes have weakened and people in struggle are also are waiting for the elections, at least temporarily. Yet all these struggles (and the recent victorious one, against the lay-offs in the public sector, against the “redeployment” process) have created a mood of public exasperation. That hindered the next memorandum planned by the former government and forced them to resign in the hope that a “left-break” would be short-lived.
If Syriza wins the urgent measures for the first 100 days will, as set out in the Thessaloniki declaration, consist of some measures that we, as DEA, find useful or critical to give confidence to the labour movement. These are:
• Restoration of the minimum wage (up to 751 euros, a 30% raise),
• Restorarion of all the labour laws and the collective labour contracts
• A €12, 000 tax-threshold
• Free health care for all the uninsured
• Abolition of socially unjust taxing
• Free electricity for 300,000 households
• A programme for 300,000 new jobs in the public and private sector.
Not every issue is fully addressed. The question of unemployment and even more urgently that of the evaporated pension funds need more immediate and determined attention. We hope that the movement will push for the most radical solutions, the ones Syriza’s majority faction try to overlook or postpone. But the overall programme of priorities is very promising. Many people hope for half of it to be realised as fast as is being promised. Read the rest of this entry »
From Mediapart, 11 January 2015:
By Olivier Tonneau.
Three days ago, a horrid assault was perpetrated against the French weekly Charlie Hebdo, who had published caricatures of Mohamed, by men who screamed that they had “avenged the prophet”.
A wave of compassion followed but apparently died shortly afterward and all sorts of criticism started pouring down the web against Charlie Hebdo, who was described as islamophobic, racist and even sexist. Countless other comments stated that Muslims were being ostracized and finger-pointed. In the background lurked a view of France founded upon the “myth” of laïcité, defined as the strict restriction of religion to the private sphere, but rampantly islamophobic – with passing reference to the law banning the integral veil. One friend even mentioned a division of the French left on a presumed “Muslim question”.
As a Frenchman and a radical left militant at home and here in UK, I was puzzled and even shocked by these comments and would like, therefore, to give you a clear exposition of what my left-wing French position is on these matters.
Firstly, a few words on Charlie Hebdo, which was often “analyzed” in the British press on the sole basis, apparently, of a few selected cartoons. It might be worth knowing that the main target of Charlie Hebdo was the Front National and the Le Pen family. Next came crooks of all sorts, including bosses and politicians (incidentally, one of the victims of the shooting was an economist who ran a weekly column on the disasters caused by austerity policies in Greece). Finally, Charlie Hebdo was an opponent of all forms of organized religions, in the old-school anarchist sense: Ni Dieu, ni maître! They ridiculed the pope, orthodox Jews and Muslims in equal measure and with the same biting tone. They took ferocious stances against the bombings of Gaza.
Even if their sense of humour was apparently inacceptable to English minds, please take my word for it: it fell well within the French tradition of satire – and after all was only intended for a French audience. It is only by reading or seeing it out of context that some cartoons appear as racist or islamophobic.
Charlie Hebdo also continuously denounced the pledge of minorities and campaigned relentlessly for all illegal immigrants to be given permanent right of stay. I hope this helps you understand that if you belong to the radical left, you have lost precious friends and allies.
This being clear, the attack becomes all the more tragic and absurd: two young French Muslims of Arab descent have not assaulted the numerous extreme-right wing newspapers that exist in France (Minute, Valeurs Actuelles) who ceaselessly amalgamate Arabs, Muslims and fundamentalists, but the very newspaper that did the most to fight racism. And to me, the one question that this specific event raises is: how could these youth ever come to this level of confusion and madness? What feeds into fundamentalist fury? How can we fight it? Read the rest of this entry »
Forty years ago tonight, two bombs exploded inside busy pubs in the centre of Birmingham, killing 21 people and injuring another 182. In the light of atrocities that have happened since, this may not seem such a shocking incident, but at the time it was traumatic – we in mainland Britain had not experienced such an attack upon civilians since the Second World War. There never was any serious doubt that (with or without the knowledge of the Army Council) members of the Provisional IRA were responsible, though to this day Sinn Fein and their now-mainstream representatives have failed to acknowledge it.
An additional six people can be added to the tally of victims: the innocent men who were each deprived of 16 years of their liberty for a crime they didn’t commit.
I was living in Birmingham at the time, a young student member of the International Socialists. The bombings made a major and permanent impression upon me, but I’ll come to that later. First, I’ll deal with what happened within the working class in Birmingham, then with the response on the left.
There was a massive and vicious backlash against all Irish people in Birmingham. Anyone of Irish extraction or with any known Irish connection, was immediately put in fear of their life. A worker who was known to have played the pipes at an IRA funeral was strung up at Rover Solihull (he survived, but only by luck). Johnny Bryant, a member of ‘Workers Fight’ (forerunner of the AWL) was driven out of his job at Lucas, never able to return. In shops, offices and factories throughout Birmingham, people of Irish extraction or with Irish names were terrified and quite a few went into hiding. A massive march took place from the Longbridge car plant to the City Centre. Socialist activists at Longbridge had to make a quick decision as to how to react. The Communist Party who dominated the Longbridge Joint Shop Stewards Committee simply went to ground. The International Socialists, who had a few shop stewards and supporters in the plant, decided to join the march in order to argue against any anti-Irish backlash and to prevent the National Front taking the lead. They were surely right to do so. Immediately after the march, IS students (including myself) joined Frank Henderson and others in leafleting the city centre against any backlash.
To the best of my knowledge, no-one actually died as a result of the backlash in Birmingham, but that was purely a matter of luck. The atmosphere was murderous and Irish people, and those of Irish extraction, were living in real fear for their lives.
The left was in a state of shock, just like everyone else. The Communist Party and their Irish-in-Britain front, the ‘Connolly Association’, simply waited for things to blow over. The IS, which had shop stewards in major factories like Longbridge and Lucas, was in political disarray, though individual IS militants (notably Frank Henderson at Longbridge), often played principled and even heroic roles. As stated above, Frank and the other IS shop stewards and activists at Longbridge joined the protest march and argued against the anti-Irish backlash. IS members with Irish names simply went into hiding – and who can blame them?
But despite the brave and principled role of IS industrial militants like Frank, the organisation as a whole was disorientated and incoherent. No-one knew what the “line” was – whether we continued to give “critical but unconditional” support to the Provos or not. The following week’s Socialist Worker didn’t help: the headline was “STOP THE BOMBINGS – troops out now”, which didn’t really clarify matters. Was “STOP THE BOMBINGS” a demand on the Provos? Were we suggesting that the bombings were, in reality, a just and/or inevitable consequence of the presence of the troops? What the hell were we saying?
About a week after the bombings IS held an emergency meeting for all Birmingham members in the upstairs room of a city centre pub. Duncan Hallas did the lead-off, and quoted extensively from the Official IRA paper, denouncing the bombings. Inevitably, several comrades responded by asking why, therefore, we supported the Provos, instead of the Officials, whose ‘line’ on individual terrorism seemed much closer to ours. My recollection is that Hallas didn’t really have an answer to that, and the meeting ended in a sullen and resentful atmosphere of dissatisfaction. We all knew that Hallas had been talking bollocks, but we didn’t know what the answer was. The reaction of many IS industrial militants was that it was best to steer clear of any involvment with “difficult” issues like Ireland, and to stick to “pure” industrial work.
For myself, the bombing was a sort of political coming of age. It taught me that the IS was incoherent and unprincipled on the question of Ireland, and nationalism more generally. It taught me that international issues cannot be divorced from industrial work. Most importantly, it taught me that politics is not a game or a pass-time: working class people had died and we had to have something to say. Ultimately, it taught me that simplistic “anti-imperialism” that costs working class lives is no way forward. It helped me to grow up politically – but at a terrible price.
PS: an untold story: The role of the firefighters and cabbies.
Fire engine driver Alan Hill was on duty at Birmingham Highgate station that night, and was called to the scene of the first bomb, at the Mulberry Bush pub. He told Birmingham historian Carl Chinn (in the Birmingham Mail five years ago) the following:
“There was now complete gridlock in the city. The only option I had was to do a reverse run down the full length of Corporation Street against the one way traffic pouring out of the city centre. It was totally against brigade policy but I really had no alternative.
“When I reached the bottom of Corporation Street, I turned left into New Street.
“Talk about out of the frying pan into the fire. Seconds before, another bomb had expolded at the Tavern in the Town basement pub in New Street..
“The street was a scene of utter devastation.
“We sent a radio message to Fire Control explaining the position and requesting another four fire engines and forty ambulances to assist us. There was only the four of us. There were around 150 casualties. Many were trapped inside the dark basement.
“The officer in charge of the fire engine, John Frayne, who at the age of 28 was the oldest member of the crew realised it would be ages before assistance arrived.
“John explained our position to the crowd and asked for volunteers. Twelve brave men stepped forward to assist us.
“The other two firemen, Nigel Brown and Martin Checkley, were already down in the basement.
“Although I had requested 40 ambulances I realised we would be lucky to get any. It was a case of first come first served and I knew the firemen at the Mulberry Bush had already requested every available ambulance in the city. My stomach sank to my fire boots.
“With every alarm bell in the street ringing, it was difficult to hear yourself think, but about 12 minutes into the incident someone behind me was clearly shouting ‘Alan.’ I turned around. It was George Kyte.
“George was a taxi owner driver who lived in Corisande Road, Selly Oak. I knew George well I had worked with him in the past as his night driver.
“With typical understatement George said ‘I know you’re busy. I am on a rank in Stephenson Place. A couple have asked me to take them to hospital. Can I do that and will you need their details?’
“I could have kissed him.
“I told George, ‘Get on your radio. Make an emergency call. I need every available cab in the city here at this address now URGENT.’ Within seconds the message was sent via the TOA radio system.
“Access into New Street had been blocked by a cordon set up in St Martins Circus so the street was claer of passing traffic. Within a matter of moments the glow of an orange taxi sign became clearly visible in the darkness at the end of the street. It looked like a stretch limo. It turned out to be 25 black cabs nose to tail moving slowly towards us.
“It was the start of the ‘scoop and run’ method. As many casualties and carers as possible were packed into each cab and taken immediately to the Accident and General hospitals. Almost 100 casualties were removed from the scene outside the Tavern on the first taxi run.
“Other cabs appeared on the scene soon afterwards and were joined by cabs returning from the first run. Even two ‘black and white’ cars that shared the TOA radio scheme turned up.
“Considering that there would have been no more than 50 black cabs working the entire city at that time of a Thursday night, the reponse was overwhelming… without any shadow of a doubt there would have been far more fatalities that night from trauma and blood loss had the taxi drivers not responded in such a magnificent and selfless manner.”