Dave K writes:
Readers may have seen interviews with Katy Morgan-Davies who escaped from the Brixton Maoist cult of “Comrade Bala”. Her story is horrifying and she is also very impressive in her own right. However though there isn’t much on this in the interview she obviously sees the links between the violence and abuse in the cult and its political worship of Stalinist leaders. It’s also heartening to learn that rather then rejecting politics (which would be entirely understandable) she has joined the Labour Party.
Jack Purvis, 11 Dec 1906 – 30 Mar 1962 (?)
Purvis must surely be the strangest, most picaresque and mysterious figure in the entire history of recorded jazz. As well as being a phenomenal trumpeter (one of the first – if not the first – of the white players who were obviously influenced by Armstrong), he was also a compulsive liar, con-man, gun-runner and drug smuggler. Naturally, he was also a jail-bird: but one who once, having been released, broke back in, so that he could continue to direct the prison orchestra for their radio debut.
He made no records after 1935 and seems to have committed suicide in 1962 (but even that is in some doubt: there was, according to Richard M. Sudhalter, at least one reliably attested encounter with a man claiming to be “Jack Purvis … I used to play trumpet” after that date). He had a wife and daughter, both of whom were reduced to broken-hearted despair by his antics and absences.
Many jazz musicians could be called “eccentric”, but Purvis’s lifestyle and behaviour went well beyond that: he was almost certainly mentally ill, which makes the title of this 1929 record especially appropriate: ‘Mental Strain At Dawn’:
By Eric Lee
There can be little doubt that the murderous ideology of Islamic State is a form of fascism. In discussing how the Left should react to it, it is therefore necessary to return to our sources, to learn how earlier generations of socialists understood – and fought – fascism.
In that fight, Trotsky was of course an inspiring and authoritative figure. As opposed to the Stalinists, who saw no difference between the Nazis and the Social Democrats (and indeed sometimes preferred the Nazis), Trotsky understood fascism to be a mortal danger to the working class.
And while Trotsky’s deconstruction of the Stalinist argument was brilliant, like most socialists of his time, he understood fascism as a form of bourgeois society, one in which one section of the ruling class crushed all others. The classical Marxist understanding of fascism, however, could not explain, and sometimes did not even try to explain, the tremendous appeal of fascism to the working class itself.
Which brings us to the brilliant Austrian Jewish psychologist Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957). Reich was one of Freud’s outstanding disciples, but in the 1920s he moved increasingly to the left, eventually joining the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). There he engaged in theoretical work in an attempt to bridge the gap between Marxism and Freudianism. By 1929, he was able to get the official KPD journal, Under the Banner of Marxism, to publish his essay “Dialectical Materialism and Psychoanalysis.”
Reich also moved beyond theory with field work in working class communities, setting up clinics, carrying out sex education, and on, in the course of which he created a mass movement of young people engaged in a new politics of sexual liberation.
Reich grasped that fascism had its basis not only in the economic contradictions of a decaying, over-ripe capitalism, but also in the psychology of the masses.
His 1933 book, The Mass Psychology of Fascism, was an attempt to find out what made millions of workers who should have been a bulwark against fascism into its most fanatical supporters. Reich’s book was so outrageously controversial that it led to his expulsion from the KPD. A year later, he was kicked out of the International Psychoanalytical Association as well. It goes without saying that the Nazis too banned the book.
So what explained the appeal of fascism to people who would be its victims? Reich looked for what could make a child “apprehensive, shy, obedient, afraid of authority, good and adjusted in the authoritarian sense” and he found it in the family.
In particular, Reich linked the development of this kind of personality to the “suppression of the natural sexuality in the child”. He explained the lack of rebelliousness in such children – and later in adult life – by this. Sexual repression, he believed, “paralyses the rebellious forces because any rebellion is laden with anxiety; it produces, by inhibiting sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child, a general inhibition of thinking and of critical faculties.”
“In brief,” he wrote, “the goal of sexual suppression is that of producing an individual who is adjusted to the authoritarian order and who will submit to it in spite of all misery and degradation.”
This was the basis for authoritarian society. “At first the child has to submit to the structure of the authoritarian miniature state, the family,” he wrote, and “this makes it capable of later subordination to the general authoritarian system. The formation of the authoritarian structure takes place through the anchoring of sexual inhibition and anxiety.”
Reich’s expulsion from both the Communist and Psychoanalytical movements left him isolated, and over the remaining two decades of his life he drifted far away from both the Marxism and Freudianism which he had worked so hard to bridge.
But his work over the course of a decade made a real and enduring contribution to a socialist understanding of fascism and how to fight it. That contribution can teach us much about the sources of Islamo-fascism today and how to defeat it.
Vulgar Marxists (and Trotsky was not one of those) are quick to point to simplistic class analyses to explain the rise of groups like Islamic State. Imperialism and colonialism left a legacy of poverty and inequality, and it was from a sense of powerlessness and despair that Islamism arose. This argument has been somewhat undermined by the fact that so many of the more prominent terrorists (such as the 9/11 murderers) were educated, middle class Muslims who lived in the West. Even today, there is no evidence linking young Muslims who run off to Syria to join IS with a personal experience of poverty or even oppression.
Wilhelm Reich’s description of the patriarchal, authoritarian family as the incubator of fascism was correct in Germany in 1933 and it is correct today. There can be little doubt that the suppression of “sexual curiosity and sexual thinking in the child” is part of the reactionary character of most Muslim societies.
Muslim societies are obviously not the only sexually repressive societies in the world, which is why fascism can find roots in other places as well. But Islamism is today a particularly aggressive and expansionist variant of fascism, one which threatens the entire world.
If Reich’s analysis is correct, what can socialists do to defeat fascism? Obviously, it is not enough to simply propose “class against class” as the answer. This was the view of the German Communists and it failed miserably as millions of ordinary Germans either supported the Nazis or accepted their rule with barely a murmur of protest.
Instead, the Left should directly confront the sexually repressive character of Islamo-fascism and prioritise the fight on that level. That means that it should no longer be possible to say that our first task is building support for, say, workers organisations in Iran and that support for gay rights in that country is secondary.
Gay rights, women’s liberation, and sexual freedom are not by-products of the revolution that is coming to that part of the world – they are the revolution.
Because of Reich’s later decline, a result in part of his expulsion from the both the Left and the psychoanalytical movement, his works have been largely forgotten and ignored, certainly by socialists. This is unfortunate, because a book like The Mass Psychology of Fascism can contribute so much to our understanding of Islamism and how it will be defeated in the end.
Photograph: Adam Scourfield/BBC/AP Photo/AP
The neurologist and author Oliver Sachs died yesterday aged 82. I read his most famous book, The Man Who Mistook his Wife For A Hat, a few years ago, but beyond that know little about him. According to the obit in today’s Guardian, he was criticised for writing “fairy-tales” in that his case histories lack the meticulous detail that contemporary science expects of practitioners. He was also accused of breaching patient confidentiality, although as far as I am aware, he took care to protect patients’ identities and certainly never used their real names in his writing.
What I do know about him is the sheer humanity he demonstrated in everything I’ve read by him, not least the very moving essay he wrote in the New York Times on learning of his terminal illness in February of this year:
It is up to me now to choose how to live out the months that remain to me. I have to live in the richest, deepest, most productive way I can. In this I am encouraged by the words of one of my favorite philosophers, David Hume, who, upon learning that he was mortally ill at age 65, wrote a short autobiography in a single day in April of 1776. He titled it “My Own Life.”
I urge you to read the whole thing, here.
By Alan Theasby
When he took the boring “centre right” LibDems by the scruff of the neck and carved out a position as an independent “radical” party to the left of New Labour (at least to appearances), the result was a massive electoral swing in 2005, and LibDems were still seen by many as “left of Labour” in 2010 (how many thousands left in disgust at their role in the Coalition?)
When the LibDems presented radical, left politics – against the Iraq War, for EMA, against tuition fees, even anti-cuts to some extent – they got lots of support.
In Scotland the SNP is posing “left” and taking advantage of Scottish Labour’s abysmal policies: cuts, attacks on Unite union, and in bed with the Tories in “Better Together” etc. No wonder they swept the board, it’s a total indictment of Blairism and the likes of Jim Murphy!
In England the Greens are taking up the mantle that the LibDems had until 2010; this has not yet translated into votes but that’s a serious posibility if Labour contimues on its current “middle of the road/neither owt nor nowt” course or moves even further rightwards.
Lots of activists & “lefties” I know have massive illusions in the SNP & Greens, and write off the Labour Party as dead. I disagree on both counts: the SNP & Greens can pose as “left” under the Tories and with a Labour Party looking to “middle England”/ the “middle classes” (etc), but I have no illusions in them; and (although I like the word “Pasokification” – and now “Pascotification”) this is not Greece and Labour has deep roots unlike PASOK, and thewre is no sign in Britain of anytrhing like Syriza (which did not spring from nowhere but was created through splits & fusions in the existing strong Greek Communist Party, left union activists and other left groups).
So what do others think? Given that there is not even a vaguely left candidate for Leader, will Labour become a pathetic rump – or can it recover? Meanwhile, it’s come to something, hasn’t it, when the record of a former SDP’er and leader of the Lib Dems, is much braver and more left-wing than any candidate for leader of the Labour Party?
JD adds: and, at a human level, a thought from Gaby Hinsliff in today’s Graun:
All those people getting cheap laughs on social media out of Kennedy’s last erratic performance on the BBC’s Question Time, or rejoicing in his defeat on election night, were just a visible example of a culture which not only stigmatises people with mental health problems but treats public figures – politicians or otherwise – as if they were somehow less than human. If Charles Kennedy’s death leads one or two to pause before unleashing mob scorn or fury, if it prompts an ounce more compassion for people whose lives might well be more complicated than they look – well, a fine liberal legacy that would be.
The Left Unity conference on Saturday is debating Kurdistan. There is a motion which describes ISIS as having “progressive potential” because it breaks down the imperialist-drawn boundaries of Middle Eastern states and literally – literally – calls for support for a caliphate in the region, describing this as representing “internationalism”, “protection of diversity and autonomy”, “accountability and representation” and “effective control of executive authority”. I honestly don’t think I’ve misrepresented it. Luckily there are a number of other decent motions supporting the Kurds and working-class and socialist forces, including one which highlights the nature of Western imperialism but argues for the Kurds’ right to get weapons and air support in their battle against ISIS (not proposed by Workers’ Liberty funnily enough).
NB: the motion, in pdf form, is p.41, amendement Ba2
Service users and supporters rallied in Cambridge on 5 April
By Matt Wells (via Workers Liberty)
Lifeworks is a Complex Cases Service drop in centre which currently supports over 70 people with complex mental health problems in the Cambridge district and has supported many, many more over several years.
Following a deeply flawed decision to close the Lifeworks centre, taken behind the backs of those using it, a group of service users decided to occupy it. That was six weeks ago and the occupation is still holding out. This short video interview from inside the occupation with one of the participants gives a flavour of the resolve being shown by those fighting to save the service.
Please visit their Facebook page and sign their petition: see here.
They are seeking donations to sustain their campaign. Cheques to Cambridge & District Trade Union Council, marked Lifeworks. Send to Ian Beeby, Treasurer, CDTUC, 55, Station Road, Whittlesford, Cambridge, CB22 4NL.
A surprisingly fair and sympathetic piece by Spectator editor Fraser Nelson, who appeared on Channel 5’s The Big Benefits Row last night. The standard health warning about re-blogs here at Shiraz (ie don’t assume we agree with all of it) applies:
Katie Hopkins, Matthew Wright and Spectator reader White Dee
My night with White Dee — and Channel 5’s Big Benefits Row
What do you get if you mix the Jeremy Kyle show with Question Time? Channel 5 tried to find out this evening in a one-off debate about benefits and I was one of the 25 – yes, 25 – guests they asked along. Matthew Wright tried to keep the order, and the debate ranged (or, rather, raged) from the morality of benefits for immigrants to high MTR rates for welfare. It was more of a verbal explosion than a debate – you’d have working single mums screaming (“give me a job, innit!”) at benefit-dependent single mum. Edwina Currie baiting the lefties, with visible enjoyment. Even a mini protest (“every mum’s a working mum”) and Katie Hopkins who, with her ‘you’re all evil scroungers’ act, wound up the audience perfectly. And Jack Monroe, of the austerity recipe fame, who was admonished for using the f-word. It was kind of political panto.
Even Peter Stringfellow was present- in his capacity as a pensioner on benefits. He was very keen to touch the hem of Rachel Johnson, there as she’d recently spent a week living on £1 a day and has (as she put it) “friends with benefits”. The ex-Guardian journalist, Sarfraz Manzoor, was there to heckle Katie Hopkins and just when you though the evening couldn’t get more bizarre, up pops Terry Christian (ex-The Word) to stick the knife into Ms Hopkins as well. Margot James, a Tory MP and member of the 10 Downing St policy group, was watching all this, open-mouthed, from the front row.
But the star of the evening, for my money, was White Dee. She was then, as she is in Benefits Street, calm, articulate and funny – and making more sense than the rest of the guests put together. When the show closed, everyone came to to her asking for autographs and taking selfies. She kindly said that she was a Spectator reader (all the best people are) and that she liked our coverage of the Benefits Street debate.
I’m not sure what was learned this evening, given the variety of angles the topic was approached from – and the brave attempt to mix the Jerry Springer-style fights with the likes of myself jabbering on about marginal tax withdrawal rates (see below). But one thing’s for sure: after years of being an incredibly dull policy area, welfare reform is now one of the hottest topics in Britain. It is capable of breaking out of the normal confines of Westminster debate, and into a wider realm where wilder beasts roam and many more millions pay attention. And where poll after poll (including one taken for the show) makes clear that the public still backs reforms – still, that is, on the side of the government.
PS Here’s the point I was trying to make. White Dee doesn’t work because if she found part-time work and wanted to increase her hours, she’d find herself trapped in a system that would, in effect, tax her at 100 per cent for the work that she does. There is so much poverty in Britain because we have destroyed the economic function of work for the low-paid. Below is the Marginal Deduction Rate (i.e., benefits withdrawn, as a percentage of money earned) for someone in White Dee’s situation (i.e., a lone mother with two children).
Those of us old enough to have been active on the student and petty-bourgeois left in the 1970’s will remember the various Maoist sects who then infected that milieu. Us Trotskyists may sometimes have looked and sounded a bit wacky, and one or two of the ‘Trot’ sects (ie: the WRP and the Sparts) were downright sinister. But it was the various ultra-Stalinist Maoist sects (whose names invariably ended with the initials ‘M L’) who really brought the left into disrepute with their ludicrous slogans, bizarre posturing and denunciations of “revisionists,” “social fascists,” “running dogs of imperialism” etc, etc (believe me: I am not joking).
As Comrade Coatesy points out, the “slavery” case is in many respects a dreadful tragedy. There is also, of course, the risk that it will put serious young people off the idea of becoming involved with the organised left. And the idea that these Maoist lunatics had anything to do with Marxism is, of course, preposterous.
Some reactions today from comrades who remember these crackpots:
* “These people were total fruitcakes (if I may use that term). I recall them appearing at a Tim Wohlforth meeting where their speaker said that Chairman Hua, Mao’s successor, could control the weather and was responsible for blizzards then raging on the coast of the USA. They also claimed the British fascist police unjustly persecuted one of their members driving through a red light (red meant go on Chinese roads during the Cultural Revolution). As Coatesy says, tragic and also dangerous for the rest of the left after Martin Smith, etc.”
* “Oh, the Workers Institute of Marxism-Leninism Mao Zedong Thought … I had actually concluded, looking back on them, that they must have been a joke. Aside from a leaflet I was once handed promising that the ‘day of revolutionary victory is nigh’ because the Chinese CP was digging a tunnel from which the Red Army would triumphantly emerge (soon) in London, I remember a campaign in defence of ‘Comrade Norman Rajeeb’ (maybe this was the guy who drove through the traffic light). As I recall he denounced not only the imperialists but ‘revisionists of all hues’ from the dock, and you could ‘literally see the representatives of the fascist imperialist state quaking in their shoes.’ Okay, these are quotes from memory and it was a long time ago, but, well, I laughed so long and hard it sort of stuck, I think.”
* “I presume they split from the CPE(ML) because of the Albanian turn of the latter. I think the avant garde composer Cornelius Cardew may have had something to do with them at one point. Cardew himself (who wrote the legendary book ‘Stockhausen Serves Imperialism’) moved away from Maoism towards the end, and then was killed in a road accident, which of course fuelled all sorts of conspiracy theories on the Maoist ‘left.'”
Above: the Tsarnaev brothers (Tamerian on right) immediately before the bombs went off
There’s something thoroughly distasteful about the way elements of both left and right attempt to use terrorist incidents to bolster their predetermined agendas. Fox News (etc) will immediately point the finger at Islamists. Socialist Worker (UK) and their ilk will respond by reminding us that it’s not always Islamists who do these things, usually name-checking Timothy McVeigh and/or Anders Behring Breivik and concentrating upon the dangers of “Islamophobia.” As far as I’m aware, the “blowback” explanation/justification for terrorism is the exclusive preserve of a certain kind of leftist but I may even be wrong about that.
So I’m not about to draw sweeping conclusions from the revelation (to be aired on BBC Panorama tonight) that one of the (suspected) Boston bombers was simultaneously a militant Islamist and a subscriber to publications espousing white supremacy and anti-government conspiracy theories.
According to the BBC, Tamerian Tsarnaev possessed articles arguing that both 9/11 and the 1995 Oklahoma bombing were US government conspiracies, and another on “the rape of our gun rights.”
He also possessed material condemning US drone attacks and the plight of Guantanamo Bay prisoners.
I opened by criticising those who use terrorist outrages to justify a simplistic political agenda, so I’ll try to avoid doing that myself. The motives of the Tsarnaev brothers are not obvious, and mental health may well be a factor. They were not members of any Islamist network. As ethnic Chechens, they spent their early years in a troubled and violent region. In the US, Tamerian lived a relatively comfortable and apparently conventional life, but seems to have become a militant Islamist when his boxing ambitions were frustrated due to his lack of citizenship.
The BBC quotes a friend of the brothers, saying: “He (Tamerian) just didn’t like America. He felt like America was just basically attacking all Middle Eastern countries…you know, trying to take their oil.”
And on the all-important (but too often overlooked) distinction between Islam and Islamism, it’s worth noting the words of Nicole Mossalam, spokesperson for the mosque that Tamerian occasionally visited:
“As far as connecting with the Islamic community here, to actually praying, being involved, doing acts of charity .. all these were pretty much lacking.
“I would say he was just a Muslim of convenience.”
* Panorama – ‘The Brothers who Bombed Boston’ will be screened tonight, Monday 5 August on BBC One and then on the BBC iPlayer in the UK.