Orwell, Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt-Left and … Skwawkbox

July 24, 2017 at 7:59 am (Andrew Coates, blogging, conspiracy theories, intellectuals, literature, media, men, Orwell, politics, populism, publications, socialism)

Comrade Coatesy has an important piece over at his blog (posted 22 July) and I know he doesn’t mind his stuff being republished here at Shiraz. We should also acknowledge the fact that we’ve used material from Skwawkbox in the past (having checked its accuracy), but like Coatesy and others, have become increasingly disturbed by its apparent preference for sensationalism over fact-checking.

Image result for Orwell essays everyman

Orwell and Fake News, Alt-Right, Alt-Right.

George Orwell never ceases being cited. These days he more often appears for good reasons than for bad ones.

Recently people have had recourse to Benefit of Clergy: Some Notes in Salvador Dali (1944) in order to defend his ability as a “ good draftsman” while being, “a disgusting human being”. That qualified support highlighted, few share the judgement that the Surrealist’s “Mannequin rooting in a taxicab’ as “diseased and disgusting”. The important idea, one, which Orwell repeats about Dickens as Bechhofer Roberts published an early version of what much later developed in the account of the Other Woman, Ellen Ternan, is the distinction between public work and “private life”. In this instance Dali’s alleged infidelity, and the search for his DNA to prove paternity, is irrelevant to the merits or otherwise of his products.

A more weighty issue is taken up in yesterday’s le Monde (Relire « 1984 » à l’ère de la post-vérité). Stéphane Foucart discusses Orwell as a reference in the era of “post-truth” (post-verité). He quotes Looking Back on the Spanish War (1942), “..for the first, I saw newspaper reports which did not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary life.” Life in Republican Spain was portrayed as “one long massacre” by the pro-Franco British press. Orwell went on to imagine a future in which “the Leader, or some ruling clique, controls not only he future but the past. If the Leader says of such and such an event “it never happened” – well it never happened. If he says that two and two are five – well, two and two are five.”

English speaking readers are more familiar with this passage, a premonition of the theme of 1984, than French, who, to Foucart, only began to register that dystopia in the 1980s, with intellectuals such as Michael Gauchet dismissing it. More recently there are those who have taken Orwell to their hearts, for his “common decency”. The idea that the over boiled cabbage and Thought Police of Ingsoc, and a planet divided into three rival Party-Oligarchies, has relevance today may seem to stretch a point.

That we know that the past is both so obviously not there, yet is worthy of objective inquiry in ways that other ‘not theres’ are not, is an old metaphysical difficulty. That the standard of objectivity was weakened by what used to be fashionable in the old days of ‘post-modernism’ is well known. But that there are different ‘truths’, a liberal, in the American sense, rather than a conservative principle has become less about controlling history than the present. Was the telly screen a rudimentary form of the Internet asks Foucart? Are Trump’s efforts to purge the Presidential archives of documents challenging his view on climate change? ‘Alternative facts’, reports that bear no relation to truth, have, with the sacking of the White House’s Sean Spicer is now a topic which has made the news.

The Media and State Power.

Orwell was concerned not just with Red Atrocity reports in the Daily Mail. He also wrote of the potential totalitarian effects of government control of the media, in his time the Radio. He defended freedom of expression against all forms of censorship, including the suppression of critical reports about the USSR which he believed was taking place post-war in favour of “uncritical admiration of the Soviet Union” (The freedom of the press – Animal Farm. 1945). As Orwell later wrote, “If you do not like the Communism you are a red-baiter, a believer in Bolshevik atrocities, the nationalism of women, Moscow Gold and so on.” (In Defence of Comrade Zilliacus. 1947. Intended for Tribune, not published…)

The Trump administration has power. But there is nothing resembling an effective state broadcasting monopoly outside of North Korea, despite accusations against the People’s Republic. Trump supporters have their networks, their web sites, the loud media outlets. The British right has the dailies, the internationally influential Mail, the declining Sun, the poor old Telegraph, the ageing Express and the Star, which few get beyond the front page to read. Its media imitations of the American alt-right, languish in obscurity. In Britain if these forces are capable of manufacturing truths, from the endless drip drip against migrant workers and Europe to scare-stories about left-wingers, and have an effect on opinion, they took a jolt at the last election. As the laughable Election Day front page of the Sun demonstrated so well.

The Alt-Left and Alternative Facts. 

Come the arrival of the ‘alt-left’. In Britain this means enthusiastic pro-Jeremy Corbyn people. Sites such as The Canary may not be to everyone’s taste but have a readership. But the debate over alternative facts has spread inside the left. Is it justified for Skwawkbox to engage in its own war of attrition with the arms of sensational, scaremongering, stories. The best known at the moment is their recent ‘scoop’ that claimed that everybody on disability benefit transferred to Universal Credit , who did not find a job in two years would be subject to sanctions? That is that they risk losing a large part (if not all) of their income?

This story has been demolished by Disabled People Against Cuts. (1)

Is their mealy-mouthed justification for running the tale acceptable?

They continue to publish wild stories.

That the Daily Mail has attacked the site with its own falsehoods does not give the author a free-pass when it comes to truth and accuracy. 

The writer of 1984 did not live in the age of click-bait. Nor of self-publishing on an industrial scale. But some things have not changed. It would not be to misuse Orwell to cite this, “the controversy over freedom of speech and of the Press is at bottom the desirability, or otherwise, of telling lies. What is really at issue is the right to report contemporary events truthfully. Or as truthfully as is consistent with the ignorance, bias and self-deception from which every observer necessarily suffers.” (The Prevention of Literature. 1947)

(1) The 2 year job rule for disabled people on Universal Credit is not true!

Disabled People Against Cuts.

Thank you to Gail Ward who put this together.

In the last few days it has been widely reported by various bloggers that those disabled claimants claiming Universal Credit are subjected to finding a job within two years or face a 1 year sanction. This is utter fabrication and feeding many claimants fears which could potentially cause harm. So today I called Welfare Rights, who called DWP while I remained on the phone, they denied that this information was correct and was downright alarmist and dangerous. That doesn’t mean I trust DWP and have submitted a FOI too given 7 years of shenanigans. So you see folks, you can take the fear project and destroy it with Facts!

All Orwell references in Essays. George Orwell. Everyman’s Library. 2002.

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Shiraz changes line on election: will back Left Unity!

April 1, 2015 at 5:19 pm (elections, left, politics, posted by JD)

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

Wednesday 1st
posted by Luke James in Britain

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.”

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Salmond and Farage: a pair of chancers

September 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm (Europe, politics, populism, posted by JD, reblogged, scotland, UKIP)

By Chris Deerin
(reblogged from From Zoo Ears)

Farage and Salmond: better together?

‘Leaving the EU is about making Britain more successful. At its most basic, it is the ability to take our own decisions. No one cares more about our success than the people who live here and that, ultimately, is why leaving the EU is the best choice for our future.

‘By leaving we can work together to make Britain a more ambitious and dynamic country. The big difference will be that Britain’s future will be in our own hands. Instead of only deciding some issues here in Britain, it will allow us to take decisions on all the major issues.’

These rousing passages are a straightforward encapsulation of the Ukip credo: the kind of thing that spouts easily from Nigel Farage’s lips. They represent the argument the party put before voters in the last European election, where it ended up with more MEPs than any other party.

However, the words aren’t Ukip’s. They are taken from the official website of the SNP. I have simply replaced ‘independence’ with ‘leaving the EU’, and ‘Scotland’ with ‘Britain’. Restore the originals and you have the exact beliefs of Alex Salmond.

As both the Scottish and EU referendum debates develop, the similarities in the cases being advanced by the SNP and Ukip become ever more striking. Both, for example, are at pains to insist their desire for a breach is not based on any suspicion towards or distaste for ‘the other’, whether that ‘other’ be French or English. The dark history of nationalism makes this a necessity.

An anti-EU campaigner will often tell you that he ‘adores Europe’, owns a cottage in the Dordogne and is married to a Belgian or a Luxembourger. A Nat will profess his love for holidays in Cornwall and point out that his favourite auntie lives in Corby.

EU better-off-outers will explain that a Briton has different political and cultural preferences to those of an Italian or a Dane, valid though those other preferences may be. There is no authentic common feeling between us. So why does it make sense to pool our decision-making? Similarly, an SNP politician will say that England and Scotland have taken different ideological paths – one a hop to the Right, the other a skip to the Left. Our shared identity has splintered. It makes practical and democratic sense to break apart the Union and create separate political entities.

Both like to talk of creating a new, smaller, sleeker nirvana-state – let’s be Sweden, or Norway, or Switzerland, they say. Let’s be anything other than what we are.

It may be painful for many Yes voters to accept, but the SNP and Ukip share a founding spasm. It is one that rejects the status quo, that sees only the negative in what exists, that backs away from the values of shared responsibility, fellow-feeling and solidarity, and it is one that could fundamentally change all of our lives. Both are willing to gamble our security, prosperity, influence and key relationships on the basis of a romantic, untested theory. Read the rest of this entry »

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“We do him no honour to subsume his politics, or his personal peculiarities, beneath an aura of sainthood”

December 7, 2013 at 1:21 pm (africa, Anti-Racism, AWL, civil rights, Cross-post, democracy, good people, history, Human rights, humanism, politics, posted by JD)

Above: Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela

By Robert Fine at the Workers Liberty website

Nelson Mandela was a big man and his long life was punctuated by huge personal and political achievements. Foremost among his personal achievements was the dignity and apparent lack of bitterness with which he emerged from 27 years of imprisonment by the apartheid regime in South Africa. He had the personal grace to embody the long struggle against racism and for democracy when he re-entered the public sphere in 1990 and by nearly all accounts he set an example of leadership during his own long years in gaol. During this period Mandela was himself rather forgotten for much of the time, out of sight in the 1960s, eclipsed in the 1970s by the Black Consciousness Movement and Steve Biko, denounced in the 1980s by various world leaders (including Thatcher, Reagan and Bush Senior) as a terrorist, but increasingly in this period lionised in political and cultural circles. Who can forget Hugh Masekela’s musical dedication to Mandela!

Foremost among his political achievements was of course the role he played in steering South Africa from apartheid to democracy, from a state in which to be black was to be less than human to one man, one woman, one vote. This was no easy road. There was violence from members of the old regime, from Zulu nationalists in the Inkatha Movement, from ‘white’ ultra-nationalist in the AWB, and not least from among some black radicals (including Mandela’s wife, WInnie) within the black townships. Once in power as the first President of the new South Africa Mandela formed a government of National Unity with the Afrikaner Nationalists and Inkatha, oversaw the drafting of the new constitution including a strong Bill of Rights, and gave the go-ahead for Bishop Tutu to establish his famous Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

One of the many iconic moments of the Rainbow Nation Mandela sought to establish was presenting the Rugby World Cup trophy, held in South Africa, to the Springboks captain Francois Peinaar. Rugby was a generally ‘white’ sport and those of us who remember the anti-apartheid demonstrations we held against the visiting Springboks will understand the great symbolism of this occasion.

Mandela was a human being and despite all the efforts to sanctify him we do him no honour to subsume his politics, or indeed his patrician personal peculiarities, beneath an aura of sainthood sometimes constructed for the narrowest of political purposes. Mandela came from a Christian, aristocratic and propertied African family – very different in culture and social status from the mass of ‘blanket’ Africans. He became involved in ANC politics in the 1950s, when he was active in the non-violent Defiance Campaign and then in organising the Congress of the People in 1955. It put forward the famous and at the time controversial Freedom Charter:

“We the people of South Africa declare for all our country: That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people”.

In a context of plural political movements vying for popular support, the notion of ‘we the people’ had obvious political advantages for the ANC, but what was more important was that it set a basically multi-racial path for the liberation movement.

There has been debate over whether Mandela ever joined the South African Communist Party, which had of course strong Soviet connections, but whether or not he did join, he worked closely with some of its members. What first thrust Mandela into international fame, his first moment of glory, was perhaps his least auspicious contribution. He was involved in the late 1950s in the turn to armed struggle, the establishment of an armed wing of the ANC, known as MK or Umkhonto We Sizwe, and the reorganisation of the party in accordance with the ‘M-Plan’, setting up a cell structure for military operations. Mandela was acquitted at the long drawn out Treason Trial of 1956-61, but he was then convicted of ‘sabotage’ at the Rivonia Trial in 1962 and sentenced to life imprisonment.

We should acknowledge that the so-called turn to armed struggle was a disaster. The bombing campaigns were ineffective and those involved in them were quickly rounded up. More importantly, the mass democratic campaigns, which rocked the apartheid regime in the latter half of the 1950s, all quickly collapsed as sabotage, secrecy and vanguardism took over. The murder by the police of 69 protesters at Sharpeville – a protest organised by the PAC, a rival organisation to the ANC – was treated by the ANC / SACP leadership as a sign that peaceful protest was no longer possible. However, it was also a sign that the mass democratic movement as a whole – which comprised community movements, trade union movements, women’s movements and even tribal peasant movements – was seriously impacting on the apartheid regime.

After the turn to armed struggle there ensued a decade of state repression and intensified racist legislation, marked by the defeat of popular struggles. I do not think this downturn can be separated from the ill advisedness of the ‘turn’ Mandela helped to implement. Mandela was inspired, as many radicals were in that period, by Castro’s 26th Movement, the example of Che Guevara, and by various armed African liberation movements. The long period of his prosecution in the Treason Trial may have cut him off from active involvement in the mass democratic movement (I am not sure of this). In any event the strategic turn taken by the ANC, which Mandela supported and personified, probably had more to do with the wider strategic turn enforced by leaders of the Soviet Union on most Communist Parties they supported, than with any local conditions. Mandela’s ringing speech at the Rivonia Trial – “I was the symbol of justice in the court of oppression” – was undoubtedly true but of course did not address the democratic and class issues involved in turning away from mass struggle.

There was always a patrician and intolerant edge to the ANC movement, but it was the turn to violence in 1961 that for many years broke its connection with grass-roots democracy. The protests that broke out in the mid-1970s, a decade and a half after Sharpeville, were conducted more in the name of Black Consciousness and Steve Biko than the ANC and Mandela. In the 1980s the ANC began to get back into the picture internationally as a largely exiled movement, but the internal movement of new non-racial trade unions (especially under the umbrella of FOSATU) and new community movements (especially under the umbrella of the United Democratic Front) showed a considerable degree of independence from the ANC–SACP alliance. In the UK I remember ANC-SACP people in the anti-apartheid movement denouncing in this period the new industrial trade unions and their solidarity supporters in the UK, including myself, as queering the pitch of the ‘official’ trade union wing of the movement, SACTU, or worse as collaborators.

Once Mandela was out of prison in 1990, his conciliatory strengths were manifold: he certainly deserved the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. There was at the time violence in the air – the murder of Chris Hani, massacres at Sebokeng and at Shell House, the AWB car bombs, the ‘necklacing’ of ‘collaborators’ committed by young activists in the townships, even the tortures and murders committed by the Winnie Mandela’s thuggish ‘United Football Club’. Directly or indirectly, Mandela helped to resolve tensions between the independent unions and the ANC and the former head of the Mineworkers Union Cyril Ramapoza led the ANC delegation into negotiations with the government. Mandela was a force for reconciliation but this did not mean that he simply gave in to stronger forces. He was strongly critical of de Klerk, the leader of the Afrikaner Nationalists, when the latter granted amnesty to the police and defended his old Defence Minister, Malan.

However, reconciliation meant not only reconciling oneself to the past but also reconciling oneself to the present – and to forces that would keep the great majority of ordinary black people in poverty and subjection. Strengths can turn into weaknesses and this is what happened to Mandela’s undoubted strengths. The ambitious social and economic plans of the ANC-SACP, articulated in the election campaign of 1994 in the Reconstruction and Development Programme, were frustrated by business friendly policies (tight budgets, fee trade, debt responsibility, etc.), the allure of unheard of riches corrupting all manner of officials, and an increasingly evident anti-pluralist streak within the ANC and SACP themselves. The trade union independence so carefully built up in the 1980s was compromised by its alliance with the ANC and SACP in the 1990s. By the time Mandela decided not to stand again as President in 1999, there were pronounced signs of growing unemployment, inequality and governmental authoritarianism – as well as the peculiarities of certain policy traits like Mbeki’s almost unbelievable refusal to recognise the existence of AIDS or the importance of anti-viral treatment.

Mandela was not uncritical of his own role, notably in relation to the whole question of AIDS, but whether or not he spoke out publicly on these issues, he remained a force for decency in the background of a state that was becoming disturbingly violent, anti-egalitarian and grasping. The police murder of 34 striking miners at Marikana mine, owned by a British company Lonmin, one of whose well paid directors is Cyril Ramapoza, the former leader of the Mineworkers Union and Deputy leader of the ANC, and its cover up and normalisation by leading figures in the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance, is just one exemplar.

Mandela will be missed today not because he was a perfect role model, and he was certainly no saint, but because he knew what is important in life and represented something authentic in the South African revolutionary tradition. Now that he has gone, I wonder what is in store for the revolution, which his presence did much to foster and civilise but which his aura served to insulate from the normal processes of intellectual and political criticism.

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Lobbying Bill: a threat to trade union freedom

September 3, 2013 at 7:41 am (Civil liberties, democracy, expenses, Free Speech, labour party, law, politics, protest, reblogged, unions)

The snappily-named ‘Transparency of Lobbying Bill Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill’ gets its second reading in Parliament today. It is ironic that a piece of legislation ostensibly intended to clean up politics, will, in reality undermine basic liberties and – in particular – trade union freedom.

Above: this would be effectively outlawed in the 12 months before an election

KEITH EWING explains the issues:

The TUC has expressed serious concerns about the far – reaching consequences of the government’s Transparency of Lobbying, Non Party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, due for a second reading next week.

Such concern is hardly surprising, for this is a Bill that not only represents a threat to basic liberties generally, but to trade union freedom specifically.   So much for the Illiberal Democrats, who promised that they would be the guardians of freedom when in government.

The Bill presents two major threats to trade unions.   Here the concern is with the consequences for trade union electoral freedom, which is not intended to diminish the other threat which relates to even greater – and yet more intolerable – State supervision of trade union membership lists.

But so far as electoral freedom is concerned, the strategy is clear – previous Tory governments having stripped trade unions of their industrial freedoms, the Coalition is now set on stripping trade unions of their political freedoms as well, continuing in the illiberal vein that has already produced secret courts and the harassment of journalists.

The proposed new restrictions are designed to silence union election campaigning, though as the TUC has pointed out, they have much wider implications.   It is a nasty and cynical attempt at self-preservation, the law being used purely as an instrument of partisan self-interest.

But although the impact on trade union political freedom is likely to be far-reaching and (as the TUC pointed out last week) wide – ranging, such concerns should not divert attention from the Bill’s central purpose, which is clearly and unequivocally to weaken trade union support for the Labour party at the election in 2015.

Trade unions take part in elections in a number of ways.  First, they make substantial donations to the Labour party to help it with its election campaigns.   But secondly, some trade unions – notably UNISON – may run their own national campaigns independently of the Labour party.

Other unions will provide grass – roots support to the Labour party at constituency level, helping with the national campaign and assisting Labour parliamentary candidates.  Some unions will also make contributions to organisations campaigning against racism and the BNP.

Where trade unions engage in their own campaigns nationally or locally they are already subject to tight legal controls.   As ‘third parties’ for the purposes of election law, these controls apply to ‘controlled expenditure’ – a term used to describe national election campaign costs, capped at just under £1 million for each union.

So far the law has not been a serious problem for trade union election activity.   That, however, is about to change, with an extremely densely written and confusing Bill proposing to expand the definition of ‘controlled expenditure’, while also reducing the amount of money unions can lawfully spend. Read the rest of this entry »

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Secrets and Lies

June 29, 2013 at 2:56 pm (film, Free Speech, politics, Rosie B, truth)

Front Row had an interesting interview last night with Alex Gibney who has directed the film We Steal Secrets: the Story of Wikileaks which will be released in the UK soon.

The link is here 1:36 on. Transcription of most of it below.

Interviewer:  The computer analyst Edward Snowden turned whistleblower  is believed to be holed up in the transit holding area in Moscow airport  evading espionage charges in the USA The unfolding story coincides with the release of the film We Steal Secrets, the new documentary from Oscar winning director Alex Gibney. His previous films include The Smartest Guys in the Room, which told the story of the collapse of the Enron corporation, Taxi to the Dark Side, which exposed torture by the US military and Silence in the House of God which about abuse within the Catholic Church. For his latest project Gibney set out to make a film which focussed not on the villains but someone he initially regarded as a hero, Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, the organisation which is currently aiding Edward Snowden. With Assange himself currently hiding out in the Ecuadorian embassy, the film includes interviews with hackers, activists and even the former director of the CIA and National Security Agency, Michael Hayden. . .  When I met director Alex Gibney I suggested that having made films about the abuses of power, he regarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a kindred spirit when he set out to make the film.

Gibney: Yes, that’s very much the case.  I think I was very impressed by the role that Julian’s organisation Wikileaks.- and it’s really Julian and a few other people. As somebody said in the film, I asked, is this Apple or IBM?  They said no, it’s a tiny gas station with a few very bright attendants.  That probably sums it up pretty well. But yeah, I was very sympathetic because what Julian was all about was exposing corruption,  exposing official lies,.

Interviewer: Stamping on the bastards, he says, doesn’t he?

Gibney: Crushing bastards. . . and Julian makes a joke about it. Somebody says, “Is that all it is about for you, crushing bastards?”  And he says, “”Well it depends on the bastards.”  That’s funny, but if you think about it really, the verb “Crushing”, if you take it seriously, is not such a pretty verb. And that sounds more like a powerful nation state than an idealistic person trying to make a difference by speaking truth to power.

Interviewer: Because it feels like he’s an heroic figure for the first half hour or so. And then we hear this phrase, he wants to crush the bastards. he wants to crush the bastards, and it sends a warning signal out there.  After that the narrative changes totally. What changed your perception of Julian Assange? Because in the end he is not a sympathetic character at all.

Gibney: I think in the end the mission of Wikileaks remains deeply sympathetic to me but he is a character I think who leaves his own mission behind, and that becomes deeply unsympathetic.. The aspect of the story that I didn’t really understand going in, in fact I assumed it was something different was the Swedish episode, the sex scandal that somehow between the Iraq war logs and the Afgham war logs suddenly Julian Assange is accused of rape in Sweden. and I thought from afar that this must be – the timing was too suspicious, it must be some kind of conspiracy. Well I dug deep into this and I’ve concluded that it was a personal matter. Why deal with a personal matter in this case then?  The reason is that Julian Assange, very intentionally and very cleverly, tried to make a personal matter part of the transparency agenda, to sort of say “no no no this is not a personal matter,” and all the people at Wikileaks were saying “You’ve got to go and deal with this yourself. Deal with it as a personal matter and leave Wikileaks out of it.”  He said, “Absolutely not.  What we’re going to do, is part of Wikileaks.” That’s the moment where he lost me, and it seems to me that Julian’s great fatal flaw is his unwillingness to be held to account. I think in some fundamental way maybe none of us really like to be held to account but he has a paranoia about being held to account, and so the idea that he would even be slapped on the hand for failing to take an HIV test struck him as so abhorrent that he concocted this huge conspiracy which then embroiled all his followers in the idea that the government of Sweden had become opposed to the transparency agenda.  That was a lie in my view and that turned me against what Julian Assange was doing.

There’s a great phrase in the film spoken by James Ball who worked for Wikileaks for a while and now works for the Guardian.

Interviewer: He looks about ten, actually, when he starts working for Julian Assange. He becomes the spokesman for Wikileaks.

Gibney; He becomes the spokesman. He’s on TV everywhere. It’s a great symbol for the organisation. Maybe a better symbol in a way than Assange because he looks so young and he looks so innocent. but there’s a phrase that he comes up with in the film – “Noble cause corruption”. It’s actually a phrase used by police departments who describe cops who plant joints on people , bad guys, who they can’t get any other way, the idea being that if you are a good guy, it’s okay for you to do bad things. .

Interviewer: To bend the truth.

Gibney: Well it’s a higher purpose to be served. And I think that was Julian’s view. So instead of speaking truth to power, Julian began to speak lies to power.

Interviewer: You make great play with this and the idea that as a young hacker he went under the pseudonym “Mendax”, part of a quote from Horace I think “splendide mendax” meaning “noble liar” and playing with that idea that it is okay to lie. So you’re saying that he is a liar?

Gibney: Yes. In a fundamental way I think Julian believes that it’s okay for him to lie so long as it is in the service of a higher truth and I think that’s a contradiction that is fundamentally untenable. .

Interviewer: You say you did your own investigations and you think there was absolutely no suggestion  whatsoever to say that that was a set up as his supporters were suggesting that it was a honey trap.

Gibney: I can find no evidence that that episode in Sweden was any kind of honey trap.

Interviewer: So this is a film about the internet, it’s about governments, about power, corruption, lies and war but at the heart of the story are two characters, Julian Assange and the far more tragic figure of Private Bradley Manning who is still in prison after dumping the data and he is a very conflicted character and you reveal that he is deeply uncomfortable with his own sexuality, uncomfortable with his role within the army and appalled by some of the things that he has seen.  Now of course you don’t get to interview him but we get a very intimate portrait of him through his email.

Gibney: On-line chats. On line chats with a man named Adrian Lamo, a Grade A hacker, who befriended Manning on line. And this is a really poignant episode because the other thing I thought this movie was about at the beginning was a leaking machine. This new device Wikileaks had, an electronic drop box that allows people to leak anonymously that neither the publisher nor the leaker know each other in any fundamental way and that they can therefore protect their anonymity. But Bradley Manning was in emotional distress. I think he leaked for political reasons akin to that of a whistle blower but he had a desperate need to tell somebody about what he had done. We never got to interview Bradley Manning but in a way I think for the film it is more interesting to see and reveal him through these chats.  Why? Because increasingly that’s how we’re all communicating. Girls and boys hook up and break up y’know via chats. We communicate the most intimate information over the internet on Facebook even though we know that everyone is spying on us.

Interviewer: You set out to make a film about the system but in the end you ‘remaking a film about people who are struggling. There’s a sense of human frailty and desperation really at the heart of all of these characters, Bradley Manning, Adrian Lamo who we see crying at the end. He’s very conflicted about how having in effect turned Bradley Manning in. And there’s a sense of desperation in the Julian Assange character even though he projects himself almost as a messianic character.  He refused to talk to you, Assange. He was asking for a million dollars for an interview?

Gibney: He said that the market rate for an interview with him was over a million dollars, but there’s no doubt he was asking for money.  I said, “I don’t pay for interviews.” I don’t., and he said, “Well, if you don’t pay for interviews, how about this then instead,” sort of like a scene out of Ed Wood. Why don’t you spy on all the other interview subjects and report back to me.” [Laughs] I found that actually a far more staggering suggestion from someone who is supposed to be so much about source protection that he wanted me to spy on the other people and give him intel  So there’s Julian now acting not as a transparency activist but a spy and  I was supposed to spy on behalf of Julian.

Interviewer: And the great irony is that you have a real spy there.  You have the former director of the CIA, and NSA, Michael Hayden, who gives the title of the film, We Steal Secrets. He’s proud of this. He says, “That’s what we do. There are secrets out there, this is our job, we steal secrets”. I mean the irony is, he is the spy who is apparently being more upfront and honest than the man who is supposedly revealing the corruption and the lies.

Gibney: That is correct.  And I titled the film We Steal Secrets because it sets this whole story in context. If governments are freely admitting, we steal secrets, and now you see it in the Snowden case, this is not so simple as to say, “Oh My God, Bradley Manning has leaked these secrets. Isn’t it terrible. He’s a traitor.” The key is to find the moral high ground and that’s not so easy to do.

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Enemy intelligence: ban the word “community”

May 27, 2013 at 8:51 am (Anti-Racism, communalism, London, media, multiculturalism, politics, populism, reblogged, secularism, terror)

Intelligent comment from behind enemy lines.

We occasionally publish worthwhile comment from unlikely sources. It should go without saying that this does not mean that we endorse the overall politics of the author, or indeed, everything in the article itself…

By Iain Martin (Daily Telegraph 24 May)

Above: can’t we go back to ‘Team GB’?

Tune into any BBC London programme at the moment and one word dominates. That word is community. Even on a normal day on the capital’s airwaves you will hear it a great deal, but in the aftermath of the Woolwich terror attack its use has gone into overdrive. On the BBC London news last night it – or the frequently used variant communities – was averaging 11 mentions per minute.

When did this word get such a grip that even passers-by vox-popped by a TV crew will deploy it a couple of times in a sentence when they are asked to asses the impact of a particular event? I wonder whether it really is widely used in everyday discourse or whether it is just what people feel they ought to say when tensions are high and a microphone is put under their nose. Having said that, yesterday I did overhear youngsters at a bus-stop discussing their horror at the Woolwich murder, and both used the word community, as in the perpetrators were a “disgrace to their community” (in the words of one). So perhaps it really has seeped into everyday speech through constant repetition in schools and on television.

The word took hold after the riots of the early 1980s, when there was a breakdown of trust, in certain inner cities, in the police and traditional institutions. After various inquiries, public policy was reconfigured to ensure that “communities” must be consulted on policing and much else besides. The traditional approach – in which people clustered together in a particular place voted for councillors and MPs who would then represent their interests – was out. With it went the widely held understanding that to live alongside each other none of us can get everything that we want.

From that point, other techniques were developed to make “excluded” people feel included. To facilitate this there suddenly emerged the “community leader”, someone unelected and usually possessing the gift of the gab. If they were smart they might get a well-paid gig with local government, or even national government, advising on “community relations”. Inevitably, under successive governments over three decades which all wanted to avoid tensions, this hardened into an orthodoxy, underwritten by third-rate academics in new disciplines. “Community” was the key word, used over and over again.

Of course, like many linguistic devices pushed by ultraliberals it actually has ended up with the opposite meaning from the one many people seem to intend when they use it. Rather than suggesting togetherness the term is actually highly divisive. Rather than emphasising common endeavour it sets one person’s alleged “community” against that of his neighbour.

I actively dislike the term and would refuse to be described as, say, a member of the claret-drinking community. Indeed, the traditional approach is still favoured by many, many millions of us in Britain of all creeds and colours. We think of life in terms of family, friends, neighbours, colleagues, perhaps religion, charity, hobbies such as sport or music and then the nation. Sometimes the various groups and circles involved are distinct and sometimes they overlap. We also accept common institutions as a bulwark of liberty, of course. And it is all wrapped up, ultimately, in that word that I used at the end of the list: the nation. How wonderful it was for a few weeks during the Olympics. The dreaded word “communities” disappeared. We heard instead of Team GB. Can’t we go back to that?

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The inspirational Prof Norm

May 22, 2013 at 5:51 pm (blogosphere, good people, humanism, intellectuals, Jim D, Marxism, philosophy, politics, socialism)


Above: “I tried to talk them out of it -so much work- but they insisted” – Norm

I don’t always agree with Norm, but there can be no doubting his integrity, wit and wisdom. His long-running blog is a must-read for anyone who values rigorous, original thinking from a critical-Marxist and always vigorously humanist standpoint. Like me, he also enjoys jazz and Westerns.

So it was with great concern that I read this, yesterday:

From a window on Nine Wells

Since starting this blog in late July 2003, I have tried to update it regularly, my aim being to have something new most days and, ideally, more than one post a day. I have succeeded in meeting this objective for much of the time, though with exceptions: when following the Ashes in Australia during the 2006-7 series (a wonderful lifetime experience); on infrequent holidays; during the odd weekend busy seeing family or friends; and some days just because I couldn’t think of anything I wanted to blog about. However, a different obstacle has lately arisen for me, which explains some of the falling off readers may have noticed, and I’ve decided to make the reason for it public because I can no longer guarantee the same frequency of posting as before.

Since March of this year I have become ill. I was first diagnosed with early prostate cancer at the beginning of 2003, not long before starting normblog. Though my initial treatment failed to cure the condition, I have remained asymptomatic and in good health for 10 years under the first-rate care of Christie Hospital in Manchester and the treatments recommended and implemented there. But this decade of good fortune ran out for me at the end of February this year when I learned that the cancer had now spread and, simultaneously, I started to suffer the effects of that. For the last few days I’ve been not only ill but also in hospital – though I hope it won’t be for very long. I am now under the outstanding medical eye and hand of Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge. I will just say here, in passing, that my own personal experience of cancer and the treatment of it (as also of my diabetic condition, which is a more longstanding one still) have shown me nothing but the excellence of the NHS.


This is what I see from the window of my ward at Addenbrooke’s. Just before the sky begins, in the centre ground of the picture (courtesy of Adèle, about whom no words of loving gratitude for her support in every sense could be adequate to what I owe her) is a place called Nine Wells, not far from where we now live…

… I mean to carry on blogging to the best of my ability for as long as I can. Blogging has become part of the work – or a kind of adjunct to it – and also of the play that are important in my life. But I can’t promise the same regularity as before. Sometimes I may manage it, but it will depend on the outcome of the treatments still available to me.

So for now, all of us at Shiraz join with Yer Man from Brockley in sending Norm our very best wishes, and via Bob, direct readers to two other admirers, who make their choices of the best of Norm’s blogging:


David Hirsh at Engage has posted a list of favourite Normblog links, all of which bear re-reading. The Soupy One posted a list of his favroutes on Twitter, which I reproduce below. I’m sure others are doing the same.

Back in 2010, I nominated Norm as a “good influence” on the left:

Norman Geras – a pioneer of political blogging (and therefore influential in opening up on-line audiences to left-wing cranks and crackpots like me), but also a profound thinker of Marxism and its limits, and an inspiration to those of us who like to think that left-wing values of justice and freedom are compatible with moral sense.

At the end of the year, I returned to the theme, with a post on influential left-wing ideas, to which Norm responded, so I’ll nominate that post as my special Normblog post, and reproduce it here:

Bob from Brockley has tagged me, among others, for the exercise of suggesting five ideas for the left that are a good influence, five that are a bad influence, and five that aren’t influential enough. I plead the season and the need to do some late Christmas shopping this afternoon as my reason for chickening out. As a token of goodwill towards the project, however, I comment below on one each of Bob’s own suggestions.

National sovereignty Bob has down as a bad influence, and he has no trouble alluding to bad usages of that concept, such as the notion of a ‘clerical-fascist’s right to use his country as a personal fiefdom’. However, I disagree with Bob that the idea of sovereignty is a bad influence. Pending the discovery of some better way for groups of people to band together for mutual protection, the sharing of other social aims, resources and facilities, and the voluntary pursuit of common cultural ways, states based on national (or sometimes multi-national) collectivities are the best way we have. Maybe one day they will be replaced by a more effective global community, but that doesn’t look like happening any time soon. Maybe some different institutions than the state will in due course take over its functions. Meanwhile statelessness threatens those afflicted by it with a nightmare. Bob’s opening implication that the idea of sovereignty presupposes some metaphysical national ‘self’ doesn’t have to be accepted. All that sovereignty requires is some reality to the idea of a community of individuals sharing a common territory.

Class analysis, Bob says, from once having been too all-encompassing on the left, at the expense of other types of identity, is now not influential enough. Without it the notion of social justice ‘goes adrift’. I agree.

The one-state solution... Bob gives it the thumbs-up. But, to my mind, he does so on the basis of a misplaced premise; which is (as I read him between the lines) that the idea could come to be accepted voluntarily by Israelis and Palestinians and thereby become consensual. If so, then well and good. But the two-state solution rests on the assumption that this consensus does not obtain, or obtain yet. While it doesn’t, a one-state solution can only be coercive and therefore violate the right to self-determination of one or both peoples. We need influential ideas for different possible states of affairs and not only for ones that look out of reach at the moment.

Norm always makes me think again.

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UKIP: how far from fascism?

May 4, 2013 at 5:18 am (elections, Europe, fascism, Jim D, politics, populism, Racism, UKIP)

The success of UKIP in this week’s local elections, hailed by Nigel Farage and his cheer-leaders in the right-wing press as a “game changer” means the left can no longer afford to shrug the party off as “just a distraction.” UKIP won 147 seats (of which 139 were gains) and averaged 25% of the vote in the wards where it stood. On the basis of these results, the BBC projected national share of the vote put Labour in the lead with 29% of the vote, the Tories second on 25% and UKIP third with 23%. The Lib Dems would trail with just 14%. Of course, these results may not carry over to a general election, especially as the vote was only in England (plus Anglesey), and excluded the main urban areas. Nevertheless, UKIP is clearly now a serious force in mainstream British electoral politics.

So now seems a good time to consider what social forces UKIP represents, and especially its place on the populist far right of British politics. We republish below a remarkably prescient article from Searchlight magazine of June 2012, analysing the rise of UKIP and its links with the fascist and semi-fascist far right. The headline above this post is ours, not Searchlight‘s, by the way: their title for the article was UKIP at the Crossroads.

Above: Farage triumphant

UKIP at the crossrooads

By Adam Carter

Recent events have created a seemingly perfect storm for the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the right-wing populist eurosceptic party that has supplanted the British National Party as the main electoral force to the right of the Conservative Party. The economic chaos in the Eurozone, pressures on public finances in the struggling UK economy, widespread disillusionment with the mainstream parties and growing criticism of the European Court of Human Rights for its handling of terror suspect Abu Qatada all suggest that the time might be ripe for UKIP to make the transition from single-issue pressure group to successful populist party. The fact that UKIP has recently been polling close to the Liberal Democrats with 8% in recent national opinion polls certainly suggests that it is in a stronger position than ever before to emulate other populist radical right parties in Europe.

There were however mixed fortunes for UKIP in the aftermath of the (2012) local elections. The eurosceptic party could draw some satisfaction from the results and the evident disquiet that its electoral prospects had provoked in the Conservative Party. But on the downside, it failed to gain representation on the London Assembly, largely as a result of a clerical error, and became enmeshed in more controversy about UKIP’s links with extremist groups and individuals. Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, UKIP’s Scottish leader and head of its policy unit, was criticised after he called for members of the extreme-right British Freedom Party (BFP), which has recently joined forces with the Islamophobic street thugs of the English Defence League, to “come back and join us”. Other accusations of extremism were levelled at UKIP candidates in Sheffield and Oxford. Read the rest of this entry »

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Thatcher parliamentary “debate”: the non-grovellers

April 11, 2013 at 12:02 am (grovelling, Jim D, labour party, politics, Thatcher, Tory scum, truth)

Recalling the Commons and the Lords for  “debates” on Thatcher yesterday was, of course, a grotesque act of political manipulation and well as an outrageous waste of money at this time of austerity. All 650 MPs were emailed with the message that they could claim up to £3,750 just for turning up. Peers could draw £300 for attendance. Then there are the tens of thousands for security and running costs as Parliament was not due back until Monday.

Former miner Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), one of many Labour MPs  who stayed away, may well have been right to say simply “I’ve got better things to do.”

But of those Labour MPs who did turn up, two were pretty good:

David Winnick (Walsall North)…

…and Glenda Jackson (Hampstead and Kilburn):

Well done, you two: proper, serious and honest, reformists.

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