Now that Thatcher’s dead…

April 8, 2013 at 12:18 pm (gloating, history, James Bloodworth, left, politics, protest, reaction, reblogged, Thatcher, Tory scum)

James Bloodworth (writing at Obliged to Offend in December 2011):

Instead of celebrating … the left should reflect on what a
pig’s ear it’s made of the past 30 years

Ever since Margaret Thatcher stopped appearing in public due to poor health, the
fit and proper reaction to her eventual exit from the earthly realm has been
discussed with increasing regularity by the left.

That rolling news will gloss over her legacy with the empty platitudes of the obsequious is entirely  predictable. Nor will it surprise many to see the leading lights of the Labour
Party queuing up to shower the former Prime Minister with praise.

There  are, however, plenty of us who haven’t forgotten the lives she destroyed, the
dictators she championed or the unmitigated social disaster set in motion by her
particular brand of finance capitalism. We do not feel the need to do what many
formerly of the left now do, and parrot the dictum that we are ‘all Thatcherites
now’ (just a hint, but when a person says neo-liberal capitalism is ‘inevitable’
what they really mean is that it is desirable). Many of us are not, and never
will be Thatcherites, and we will continue to feel no shame in believing that
there is more to life than the winner-takes-all capitalism she so
unapologetically championed during her lifetime.

There are of course  also those, on the other side of the fence, who view Thatcher’s eventual demise  as an opportunity to get one over on her family, her friends, and her supporters
in a way that was not possible in an era when her ideas triumphed so
emphatically. In this regard, Margaret Thatcher’s death is not only to be
greeted with sullen contempt, but is to be actively celebrated.

The idea  of getting back at this almost mythical figure for the numerous defeats she
inflicted on the left is strong motivation for those planning to crack open the
Champers on learning of her passing. Considering that during her reign she
trounced us at every opportunity, revelled in her victories, and then did it
again, the desire to see the back of the woman is perhaps understandable, even
if the outright celebration of her passing is, to my mind at least, taking
things a bit far.

What we on the left would do well to remember, however,
is that the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher are not going to be dented, let alone
killed-off by the departure of their most famous living embodiment. ‘All the
forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come,’ Victor
Hugo once said, and if the left is to recover from the tremendous setbacks it
has suffered during the past 30 years, it is the ideas embodied by Mrs Thatcher
that must be replaced, not the worn-out figure of an elderly lady.

Rather than celebrating the death of a human being, even a not
particularly endearing one, the left should instead examine with
clear-sightedness where it has gone wrong, how it has behaved and how it can do
better – and boy, can it do better. Considering the complete failure to make any
political inroads since the 2008 banking crash, this should be clearer today
than ever.

Time and energy spent celebrating the deaths of those who
popularise ideas we dislike is time that would be better spent popularising our
own ideas. With this in mind, morbid celebrations are better left to the
psychologically unhinged. The media already does an effective job in portraying
us as morally detached from the values of the average person; they certainly
don’t need us serving up ammunition on a plate for them.

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The politics of Hugo Chavez – in his own words

March 8, 2013 at 12:02 am (celebrity, Guardian, Jim D, Latin America, politics, populism, Socialist Party, truth)

Chavez ali

Who’s that, talking to Tariq Ali?
That preening narcissist and ex-revolutionary Tariq Ali writes about his friend, ‘the Commandante’ in the Graun G2. Predictably, the piece is as much about Mr Ali as it is about its supposed subject. However, the article does contain a genuinely revealing statement from Chavez, about himself and his politics, which Ali quotes with obvious approval:
 ”I don’t believe in the dogmatic postulates of Marxist revolution. I don’t accept that we are living in a period of proletarian revolutions. All that must be revised. Reality is telling us that every day. Are we aiming in Venezuela today for the abolition of private property or a classless society? I don’t think so. But if I’m told that because of that reality you can’t do anything to help the poor, the people who have made this country rich through their labour – and never forget that some of it was slave labour – then I say: ‘We part company.’ I will never accept that there can be no redistribution of wealth in society. Our upper classes don’t even like paying taxes. That’s one reason they hate me. We said: ‘You must pay your taxes.’ I believe it’s better to die in battle, rather than hold aloft a very revolutionary and very pure banner, and do nothing … That position often strikes me as very convenient, a good excuse … Try and make your revolution, go into combat, advance a little, even if it’s only a millimetre, in the right direction, instead of dreaming about utopias.”
Now, that seems to me remarkably like a classic reformist “the inch we live in” /”dented shield”-type statement. A much more realistic and honest (self-) assessment that all the guff about a supposed Venezuelan “revolution” trumpeted by Chavez’s more deluded “Marxist” cheer-leaders.

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Mastermind: British Trotskyism to 1949

December 23, 2012 at 11:02 pm (BBC, geeks, Jim D, Pabs, politics, trotskyism, TV)

Dave Osler got seven. I got nine. Test your knowledge in this jolly quiz:

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Ukip on a roll – thanks to Rotherham Children’s Services

November 29, 2012 at 7:33 am (elections, Jim D, labour party, political groups, politics, populism, Racism)


Fruit-cakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly.” I don’t often agree with David Cameron, but his 2006 description of Ukip pretty well hit the nail on the head. It’s a vile, reactionary outfit led by a posturing demagogue. Unfortunately, it’s presently on something of a roll, due to the unpopularity of the government, the continuing ineffectiveness of Labour and its crude appeal to the worst prejudices of its chosen constituency (the white lumpenproletariat and disaffected petty bourgeoise).

But if, as seems likely, Ukip does well in  Rotherham today it will be for one reason above all others: the incredibly stupid, inept, arrogant and bureaucratic decision of Rotherham council’s Children’s Services to remove three children from their foster parents simply because of the couple’s membership of Ukip.

Ukip is a reactionary organisation, but it’s not the BNP or the EDL. It is possible to be a member of an organisation with racist policies without being personally racist. By all accounts the couple are decent, caring people and experienced foster parents. They have been  approved as suitable people under the (rightly) rigorous tests imposed on everyone wishing to foster children. But Rotherham Children’s Services took the children away and more or less called the couple racists because of their membership of Ukip.  What a coup for that loudmouthed opportunist Farage: it seemed to confirm everything he says about bureaucratic elites obsessed by ‘political correctness’ and petty regulations, and the fact that even he can’t blame Europe for this balls-up is neither here nor there as far as public perceptions go.

The dreadful, but all too predictable, combination of arrogance and incoherence demonstrated in radio interviews by Joyce Thacker, head of Rotherham’s Children and Young People’s Services, has only served to make matters worse.

There are three byelections taking place today (Croydon North and Middlesborough as well as Rotherham), and in all of them reactionary fringe parties led by demagogues seem poised to do well.  Indeed, in Rotherham at least, Ukip and Galloway’s Respect have formed a de facto alliance against Labour.

Serious socialists in all three constituencies should vote Labour today (despite the presence of  left wing candidates in Rotherham and Middlesborough) and by rights, Labour should romp home in all three. But there are worrying signs that the populist right in the form of Ukip – or even Respect – may spring some nasty surprises when the votes are counted.

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Red against Feds

October 20, 2012 at 9:59 pm (police, politics, populism, Rosie B)

I thought the Andrew Mitchell affair was a storm in a teacup, and was thoroughly irritated that it has been the lead item on the news for the last few weeks, displaced only by Jimmy Savile.  Chris Mullin’s take on it is that the real story is of the Police Federation showing their muscle.

Accusing those stoking the row of making a “mountain out of a molehill,” Mr Mullin described the Police Federation, which has repeatedly called for Mr Mitchell to be sacked, as a “bunch of head-bangers”.

Describing his own run-in with the Federation, which, he said, had sought to have him removed as chairman of the Commons’ Home Affairs Select Committee when he raised questions about the probity of the police disciplinary system, he said: “The Federation is a bully.

“It has a long track record of intimidating ministers, journalists and anyone else who gets in its way. It also has a track record of defending the indefensible.”

‘. . .

“The Police Federation is a mighty vested interest that has seen off just about all attempts to reform the least reformed part of the public service. They need to be taken on, not appeased.”

The former minister’s intervention follows claims from three Cabinet colleagues of Mr Mitchell that the Police Federation are seeking to exploit the row for political reasons, and in particular grievances about changes to officers’ pay and conditions.

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Police elections: use your vote!

October 10, 2012 at 11:53 am (cops, democracy, elections, fascism, Guest post, Pink Prosecco, police, politics)

Guest post by Pink Prosecco

The Police and Crime Commissioner elections: apathy aids extremism

Police and Crime Commissioner elections are due to be held on November.  A very low turn out is expected: people don’t seem that interested or aware – unless, that is, you venture into the far right/nationalist corner of the blogosphere.

In several areas far right candidates are putting themselves forward for the post.  In Bedfordshire, Kevin Carroll, co-founder of the EDL, is standing.  English Democrat candidates are being put forward in Cambridgeshire, Essex and Kent.  You can find more about the blandly named English Democrats here.

As the AV system is being used I will, for the first time in my life, be voting (somewhere down the list) for a Conservative candidate.  Find out who is standing in your area here

– and use your vote!

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Frank Newton: Eric Hobsbawm’s favourite jazz musician?

October 4, 2012 at 11:11 pm (black culture, Civil liberties, good people, history, intellectuals, jazz, Jim D, Marxism, music, politics, socialism, stalinism)

The late Eric Hobsbawm wrote about Jazz under the name ‘Francis Newton.’ The use of a pseudonym may have been because he wished to keep his academic work separate from his jazz criticism, and may also have been to do with the Communist Party’s hostility towards jazz in the 1940s and ’50s. But in any case, the choice of that particular name cannot have been a co-incidence: Frank (sometimes “Frankie”) Newton was a fine but neglected black US trumpet player of the 1930’s and 40’s, who was unusual amongst professional jazz musicians of that generation in being politically active. Newton was at the very least, a ‘fellow-traveller’ of the US Communist Party, and was probably a member. The occasion of Hobsbawm’s death seems an appropriate moment to remind (actually, to tell) the world about Frank Newton.

Frankie Newton, Sidney Bechet June8, 1939

Little has been written about Newton over the years (though Michael Steinman at Jazz Lives and Ben Greenberg at Hungry Blues have posted about him), so I’m re-publishing below, a slightly edited and amended version of the late Sally-Ann Worsfold‘s booklet-notes for the Jasmine double-CD set ‘Frank Newton – The Story Of A Forgotten Jazz Trumpeter’:

“Frank Newton had a special sound…he always believed in giving the people something different,” the trombonist Dicky Wells once observed. Jazz historian Al Rose described Newton as “… an exciting, inventive trumpet player.” Despite such acclaim, the career of  one of jazz trumpet’s most individualistic, dynamic stylists has been consigned largely to the footnotes and margins of the music’s history.

During his relatively short life (he died aged 48 in 1954) in a chequered career dogged by frequent bouts of ill health, Frank Newton still managed to record some 150 titles, fifty of which appear on the Jasmine double CD set. He often played in very disinguished company, something which makes his lack of proper recognition all the more puzzling. On various recordings he is to be heard performing alongside Sidney Bechet (see photo above), Pete Brown, Don Byas, Bud Freeman, J.C. Higginbotham, Dicky Wells, James P. Johnson, Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith and Teddy Wilson. He accompanied singers Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith and Maxine Sullivan.

The details of the trumpeter’s early life are very sparse, although it is known he was born in Emory, Virginia, in January 1906 and was christened William Frank Newton. Early professional musical experience included a spell with local band-leader Clarence Paige, then soon after leaving his home state, Newton joined an outfit lead by banjoist/guitarist Elmer Snowden. The trumpeter then joined the Cincinnati based Cecil Scott’s Bright Boys and, during the course of an engagement at New York’s presigious Savoy Ballroom in 1929, made his recording debut with them (‘Bright Boy Blues’).

Bill Coleman was the outfit’s principle trumpet soloist, but Newton held his own with what would become his trademarks: a burnished tone and an audacious bravado in the upper register, combined with a powerfully expressive, blues drenched approach. He could always create the maximum impact with just a few well chosen, judiciously placed notes.

The trombonist in the Scott band, Dicky Wells, another great jazz individualist who later came to prominence with the Count Basie Orchestra of the late 1930’s, remained a friend and occasional colleague of Newton’s over the years. After leaving Scott, they worked together in Charlie Johnson’s Orchestra at Small’s Paradise, a noted Harlem night-spot. From this point, the trumpeter’s career details are hazy, although it is known he had begun broadcasting regularly in in 1932 with the pianist Garland Wilson on the New York radio station WVED. He also participated on a Benny Carter recording session that year.

One year then elapsed before Newton returned to the recording studio in November 1933. The wealthy, influential jazz enterpreneur John Hammond, a great champion of the trumpeter’s work, selected him to play alongside the tenor saxophonist Chu Berry, trombonist Jack Teagarden and clarinettist Benny Goodman, to accompany the great Bessie Smith on what proved to be her final recording session, producing ‘Gimme A Pigfoot’ and ‘Take Me For A Buggy Ride.’

Ill health put Newton’s career on hold for a couple of years at this point, but in March 1936 he returned to the studios as part of a fine band organized by clarinettist Mezz Mezzrow, recording material intended for the jukebox. Newton provides many of the high spots of the session, notably his contribution to ‘The Panic Is On’ where his playing is forward-looking and boppish.

The trumpeter was reunited with his old friend Dicky Wells when he joined the Teddy Hill Orchestra in the spring of 1936, playing some challenging charts with distinctly “modern” overtones. Newton’s work on the band’s records shows him to be a commanding big-band lead without sounding either superficial over over the top.

But fate, it seemed, had decreed Newton to be one of jazz’s ‘nearly’ men: once again incapacity stymied his career. On  leaving the Teddy Hill Orchestra, he was succeeded by Dizzy Gillespie for whom the Hill band was, of course, the springboard to fame and fortune. The band also toured Europe where many of its members made recordings (in Paris) that established them as household names amongst European fans: but that was after Newton had departed.

Newton also appeared with the Charlie Barnett Orchestra spasmodically between 1935 and 1937. His presence as an Afican-American in this otherwise white aggregation drew far less attention than Benny Goodman’s employment of pianist Teddy Wilson, vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and guitarist Charlie Christian in various permutations of his small groups. Nevertheless, A souvenir of the trumpeter’s tenure with Barnet is the dazzling record of ‘Emperor Jones.’

In 1937 Newton worked regularly with various small groups in Harlem, often recording with other advanced swing players like altoist Pete Brown, pianist Don Frye and clarinettist Edmond Hall. He also accompanied the vocalist Maxine Sullivan on her big hit ‘Loch Lamond.’ Maxine was married to bassist John Kirby and Newton was a founder member of his highly influential and increasingly popular sextet. But just as the John Kirby Sextet had begun to establish itself as a major 52nd Street attraction at the Onyx Club, a severe back injury forced Newton to quit. With its new trumpet player, Charlie Shavers, the Kirby outfit enjoyed widespread success. Newton’s bad luck had stuck again.

Newton was largely out of action for over a year, but he did manage to participate in a short-lived, racially integrated fifteen-piece band known as the Disciples of Swing, organised by Mezz Mezzrow. In addition to Newton, the brass section boasted fellow trumpeters Sidney de Paris and Max Kaminsky, and trombonists George Lugg and Vernon Brown. The new band was launched at the Harlem Uproar House, a prestigious 52nd Street venue but a racist attack on the premises (the joint was smashed up and daubed with swastikas), combined with bad management and legal wrangles, put paid to a promising and exciting band.

The French jazz writer Hughes Panassie arrived in New York in late 1938 to organise some recording sessions for Victor. For some reason he appointed the eccentric Mezz Mezzrow to round up the musicians. Having recorded some New Orleans-born musicians like Sidney Bechet and the trumpeter Tommy Ladnier, Panassie selected Newton to lead a pick-up group of swing style musicians. Apart from Mezzrow the others included Newton’s long-term associate, the altoist Pete Brown, pianist James P. Johnson and guitarist Al Casey.

The six titles, originally released on the Victor subsidiary Bluebird, combined jazz-friendly standards with originals. All the participants are captured on top form, most especially Newton. His performances on this session cover all facets of his style, from his fiery, trenchent open horn on the up-tempos to his sometimes almost introspective, always lyrical muted vein. Few have equalled his melodic eloquence and profoundly moving blues expression on ‘Blues My Baby Gave To Me’, with its brief nod to the ballad ‘Willow Weep For Me.‘ His exuberant, assertive presence on ‘Rompin’ inspires the others to even greater heights. Even Mezz, not always the sharpest jazz tool in the shed, picks up the momentum to produce one of his better solos.

Newton’s luck seemed to be changing when two exciting opportunities arose simultaneously in the spring of 1939, both of which promised to bring him the acclaim his talent deserved. In early April that year he first recorded for the fledgling Blue Note record company, newly established by Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf as a ‘pure’ jazz operation and already showing every sign of becoming a highly prestigeous label . The other break was perhaps the most important of his career. A former show salesman, Barney Josephson, invited Newton to form a band to launch a new venue, Cafe Society. The club boasted a radical policy: it welcomed both white and African-American patrons. That the place was not tucked away in some obscure backwater but was out and proud in the heart of New York spoke volumes. The trumpeter readily agreed to come onboard and selected altoist Tab Smith, pianist Kenny Kersey and tenorist Kenneth Hollon for the band. Although officially called ‘Frank Newton and His Cafe Society Orchestra’, the club’s handbills described him as “Trumpet tootin’ Frankie Newton” and the name Frankie seemed to stick even though he always referred to himself as Frank. Again, the music (judging by the records) was hard-swinging and forward-looking, with Kenny Kersey using dissonant harmonies of the kind later to be associated with Thelonious Monk and Newton himself frequently using boppish phrasing.

Primarily devoted to presenting jazz artists, Cafe Society became a forum to promote left-wing ideals. The choice of Frank Newton to lead the house band was no accident: rare among jazz musicians of his generation, Newton took an active interest in politics and was a committed left winger and Civil Rights campaigner. An impassioned, eloquent spokesman for his beliefs, he loved to engage in debate. A philosopher with an interest in the arts generally, he was also, by all accounts, a talented painter. According to jazz historian Al Rose, Newton’s closest friends were the authors William Sarayon and Henry Miller, who were his near neighbours in Greenwich Village, New York’s ‘bohemian’ quarter.

The Newton band proved versatile in supporting various singers at Cafe Society. Billie Holiday was the first headline act, and contemporary recordings (principally for Milt Gabler’s Commodore label) illustrate how beautifully her voice was complemented by the Newton group. One of these sides, ‘Strange Fruit,’ proved to be a significant landmark in Lady Day’s career. Originally a poem written by Lewis Allen, then set to music, the song was brought to Billie’s attention at Cafe Society, conceivably by Frank Newton himself. An anti-lynching protest song, it was unlike anything Billie had recorded before. Initially wary of the contoversy it might cause, Billie then realised its sentiments should be widely heard.

On a darkened stage, with just her face bathed in a potlight, Billie began to perform ‘Strange Fruit’ as her closing number each night at Cafe Society – to have followed it up with a ballad or lightweight love song would have been incongruous. Billie wanted to record it but her label, American Columbia, refused. Columbia did, however, permit her to record it for the small Commodore label. The recording adheres to her stage presentation: Newton’s sombre, stark introduction gives way to the plaintively sparse piano chords from Sonny White, the singer’s regular accompanist. Billie then occupies centre stage to deliver her message without any further instrumental breaks or vocal reprise. The number remained in her repertoire for the rest of her life.

Newton’s associations with both Blue Note and Cafe Society were abruptly ended after just four months, probably because of his recurring health problems. By 1940, sufficiently recuperated, he formed a band with old friend Pete Brown at the New York club Kelly’s Stables. He also worked briefly with Sidney Bechet at Camp Unity in New York State, a holiday resort devoted to promoting racial harmony. Later, Newton moved to Boston where he worked in a band with another old sidekick, Ed Hall.

Five years after his last Blue Note recording, Newton returned to the studios – Savoy, this time – with an all-star band including Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo and Don Byas in 1944. Newton was, as usual on recordings, in excellent form, but the records did little to rescue him from obscurity.

There were to be just a handful more recordings added to Newton’s discography, including some with pianist Mary Lou Williams and a date featuring singer Albinia Jones on which he was teamed with Dizzy Gillespie. In addition to failing health, a fire at Newton’s home in 1948 claimed all his possessions, including his trumpet. Sick, disenchanted and dispirited, he made his final appearance at New York’s Stuyvesant Casino in the early 1950’s.

Frank Newton died aged 48 in November 1954. Despite prolonged ill health and many bad breaks, Frank Newton firmly secured his place in the pantheon of great jazz trumpeters.

Sally-Ann Worsfold, August 2002 (adapted/edited by Jim Denham).

See also:

‘The Elusive Frank Newton’ – Jazz Lives:

‘Frankie Newton’ – Hungry Blues:

Jasmine Records double CD, ‘Frank Newton – The Story of A Forgotten Jazz Trumpeter’:

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Open letter to the Editor of the Morning Star

September 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, Civil liberties, conspiracy theories, democracy, Feminism, Free Speech, Human rights, internationalism, Jim D, libertarianism, media, misogyny, politics, religion, Russia, secularism, stalinism, thuggery)

Dear Mr Bagley,

You are editor of the Morning Star, a paper that claims to stand for “peace and socialism.” It is the successor to the old Daily Worker and has close links with the British Communist Party. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union and its eastern european satellites, the Star has been largely dependent upon the British trade union movement for its funding and survival.

On Saturday September 22 this year the Morning Star published an article attacking the Russian punk-anarchist band Pussy Riot, supporting their imprisonment at the hands of the Putin regime. The content of the article was pretty vile and, frankly, had no place in any self-respecting socialist (or even liberal) publication. Your initial explanation (posted to the blog Tendance Coatsey) was unconvincing:

” The article was presented by the arts team as an alternative viewpoint on the Pussy Riot furore and appeared on our culture pages. The article did not appear particularly controversial in its own right. Its main focus was Pussy Riot and purported US State Department backing.”

The article states, with obvious approval, that the jailing of Pussy Riot “proves [that Russia] … cares for Christ as much as the French care about Auschwitz and this shocked the Europeans who apparently thought ‘hate laws’ could only be applied to protect Jews and gays.” It repeatedly and gratuituosly brings Jews into the argument, defends Putin against media criticism, describes Pussy Riot as “viragos” and supports the Orthodox Church’s role in Russian society, even accusing Pussy Riot of “blasphemy.” Now, I’d hardly call that “not … particularly controversial,” Mr Bagley. But maybe your criteria for what is “controversial” in left wing circles are different to mine.

But if that was all there was to it, I’d be (just about) willing to let the matter go, putting it down to a serious error of judgement from a paper whose instincts are evidently less democratic and secular than those of the milieu I move in.

But the content of the article is, in many ways, the least important aspect of this whole business. Even more important is the matter of the author of the piece – one Israel Shamir, a notorious holocaust denier, anti-semite and associate of numerous European neo-Nazi organisations. Surely it should be a-b-c that even in the highly unlikely event that Mr Shamir were to write something entirely unobjectionable, no self-respecting socialist publication should touch it with a bargepole.

Now, a crucial question arises: did the Star know who Mr Shamir is before deciding to publish his piece? You have stated that you and your colleagues did not – which given Shamir’s notoriety (easily revealed by a two-minute Google search) is in itself a damning admission from a publication that claims to be “steadfastly committed  to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice.”

Surely the content of the article alone should have set alarm bells ringing?

But it gets worse. It turns out that the article had first appeared in the US magazine Counterpunch and, in that publication, had included a passage that does not appear in the version printed in the Star: “Western governments call for more freedom for the anti-Christian Russians, while denying it for holocaust revisionists in their midst.” The absence of that sentence in the version the Star printed, raises an obvious question:

EITHER that passage had already been deleted by the time the article reached the Star’s editorial team;

OR it was edited out by the Star itself.

If it was the former, then your explanation / excuse of being unaware of who Shamir is and the nature of his views, is just (but only just) believable. If it is the latter, then clearly you must have had a pretty good idea of just how dodgy Shamir’s views are, yet went ahead and published the piece (albeit in a very mildly expurgated form) anyway. To be frank, neither explanation does you or the Star any credit, but the second (much more likely, in my opinion) scenario is very nearly unforgivable.

I say “very nearly” unforgivable, because a proper, fulsome retraction, apology and explanation, printed prominently in the Star might just about have retrieved the situation. Well, an “apology” of sorts did appear, not particularly prominently, on page 4 of the September 24 edition. It is wholly inadequate :

Clarification over Shamir article in Saturday’s Star.

A NUMBER of you have raised concerns over the decision to reprint an article by Israel Shamir on the Russian band Pussy Riot that appeared in the weekend’s Morning Star.
The paper would like to reassure readers that the piece was syndicated from Counterpunch in good faith without knowledge of the author’s background.
We would like to reiterate the paper’s commitment to publishing writers who reflect and remain steadfastly committed to the values of anti-racism, anti-fascism, international solidarity and social justice that the paper has campaigned for ever since its establishment.
It remains guided by those goals and will seek in future, wherever possible, to establish the full biography of writers before publishing their work.
In the meantime the Morning Star would like to distance itself from the opinions of the author of the piece, which do not reflect our position or those of the wider movement.
We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused.

This so-called “clarification” is entirely unsatisfactory, fails to address any of the central issues, and actually manages to compound the offence:

  • What exactly were the “concerns” and what was the “distress” about Shamir and his article? The Morning Star is silent. The very vivid anger that has been expressed on left-wing blogs and in (unpublished) letters to the Star at his anti-Semitism and far-right opinions is not even mentioned.
  • In the same vein: how far does the Morning Star wish to “distance itself from the opinions” of Shamir and precisely what opinions are you referring to?
  • If the Morning Star is committed to the “values of anti-racism” and “anti-fascism” why were they unaware of the fascist and racist views of one of the most notorious international propagandists for the far-right, Israel Shamir?
  • As numerous people have pointed out, it is hardly necessary to establish “the full biography”of Shamir before realising this: a simple Google enquiry would have done – assuming the staff of the Morning Star have, unlike most well-informed people involved in anti-fascist activity, not heard of Shamir.

“We apologise wholeheartedly for any distress caused” is the sort of thing that the bourgeoise press prints when they’ve lost a libel case involving a politician’s personal life. It is a wholly inappropriate phrase to use in this context. What I and many others feel is not “distress” but anger.

The ‘clarification’ does not condemn Shamir.

It does not condemn his fascist views or even mention anti-semitism.

It fails to ‘clarify’ anything that has come out in this controversy, except that the “decision” to “reprint” ultimately comes from an arrangement to “syndicate” material from the (dodgy) US publication Counterpunch.

This ‘clarification’ is not just evasive, it is a disgrace — almost as much of a disgrace as the publication of Shamir’s article. Until proper, honest accounting for this shameful episode appears in the Star, I and many other activists will continue to raise the matter and denounce the Star as unfit to represent the British socialist and trade union movement.


Jim Denham

(Unite member)

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Time to crush the Lib Dems – not to appease them

September 24, 2012 at 11:58 am (Jim D, labour party, Lib Dems, politics)

Above: “Pluralism” in action?

Jon Cruddas, head of Miliband’s policy review and the embodiment of the phrase “fake left,” was busy sucking up to the Lib Dems as they gathered in Brighton yesterday. In a “debate” organised by the Fabian Society on the topic of “Is the future Plural?“, he and the uber-Blairite Lord Adonis set about being nice to the Lib Dem’s Jo Swinson and Ming Campbell. Now I am well aware that all factions within the present Labour leadership are (to use the old phrase) class collaborators, but what exactly was the purpose of telling the Lib Dems that they’ve been a “benign force…checking the worst excesses” of the government? I could scarcely believe my ears when I heard it on the Today programme this morning.

Winning over Lib Dem voters and members is one thing: telling members of the Tory-led government that they’re a “benign force” is quite another. And Cruddas’s immediate reaction to Jo Swinson’s statement that politics is aready “plural” was also telling – enthusiastic agreement. the word “plural” in this context, of course, means a permanent state of coalition in both central and local government – something that has be the de facto objective of the Lib Dems and their predecessors for many years.

Adonis’s proposal for the Lib Dems to trigger a general election* sounds more radical, but in reality is a proposal to lock Labour into a Lib-Lab coalition – and of course, it’s pie-in-the-sky anyway: why would any Lib Dem in their right mind want an election just at the moment?

Perhaps the most extraordinary moment in the entire “debate” was Swinson’s rsponse to all this grovelling from Cruddas and Adonis: Labour has “a lot of work to do” before the Lib Dems would deign to consider a deal, especially as a lot of Labour MP’s are really very nasty people who’d displayed “vitriol” against the Lib Dems in Parliament…

Unbelievable, eh? 

But what the hell did Cruddas, Adonis (and presumably their boss Miliband) think they were playing at?

It’s time to crush the Lib Dems, not offer them a life-raft. Remember Professor Pongoo!


* Unfortunately, even some people on the Labour left are also advocating this foolishness.

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Occasionally Wrong

August 16, 2012 at 9:33 pm (poetry, politics, Rosie B)

Carol Ann Duffy does rise to her job as Poet Laureate by turning out occasional  poems, though she doesn’t always rise to the occasion.  In her poem for the Olympics she sank like a Lib Dem poll; like Tony Blair’s credibility; like the brotherly love in the Coalition – insert your own political metaphor.

Enough of the soundbite abstract nouns,
austerity, policy, legacy, of tightening metaphorical belts;
we got on our real bikes,
for we are Bradley Wiggins,
side-burned, Mod, god;
we are Sir Chris Hoy,
Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Kenny, Hindes,
Clancy, Burke, Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas,
Olympian names.

We want more cycle lanes.

Or we saddled our steed,
or we paddled our own canoe,
or we rowed in an eight or a four or a two;
our names, Glover and Stanning; Baillie and Stott;
Adlington, Ainslie, Wilson, Murray,
Valegro (Dujardin’s horse).

(No we aren’t and we didn’t.  Speak for yourself.  “We” mostly sat on the sofa.)

She has received a lot of derision for it , and nowhere more than at That Place, where some commenters complained that Betjeman would have done it better, and inquired how would Larkin have done it?

“Lamia” produced this fine pastiche, which caught the Larkin mood (glass three quarters empty and a fly drowning in the remaining liquid).

Prize-giving MMXII

by Philip Larkin

With a stern blazered smile the judge draws near,
Headmasterly, to where I loiter, bald
Bowing my head, and blinking behind my specs.
And then a velvet fumbling, a falling into place
As something heavy slithers round my neck
To hang in awkward gaudiness. A cheer,
And then the National Anthem strikes up gold.

Gold? Or something else? Stepping down slowly
From the podium to piss, I wonder
What it was all for. ‘Run for Team GB’
They said. But where does one run from here?
The crowds will quietly drift away,
The stadiums will crumble into pieces.
The asphalt lanes will gather weed and leaf.
This cycling Kraut, that weightlifting Bolivian,
That crew of sailing Japs, each year will sink
A little further into blank oblivion.

And poised between my thumb and finger
This cold token of autumnal grief.
In a bare wintry drawer it will linger,
for a while, gathering dust, unsold,
Among dead stamps and a leaflet about wine.
An old wives’ charm to ward away new failure.
Something to please the nephews and the nieces.
Something to taunt those pricks in Australia.

In the Olympic bar I stand a drink
For a Danish woman and some ass from Spain.
The hot triumphant evening turns to thunder,
And somewhere out beyond the finish line
The first small medals of rain. Strange to think
We will never be so happy again.

The theme “Lamia” has taken, that no happiness endures, is in the tradition of Pindar, the poet who wrote poems to celebrate the victories of the original Olympic athletes.  Here are the last verses of his Ode to Aristomenes of Aegina, the winner of the boys’ wrestling contest:.  He speaks of the humiliation of the losers as well as the joy of the winners:-

Now from on high on four young bodies
You hurled your strength with fierce intent.  For them
No happy homecoming from Pytho was decreed,
As that of yours, nor at their mother’s side
Could pleasant laughter ring a joyful greeting
For their return.  But shunning hostile eyes, they creep
By quiet paths, o’erwhelmed by their ill-fortune,

But he to whom is given new glory
In the rich sweetness of his youth, flies up,
Aloft, high hope fulfilled on wings of soaring valour,
In realms that brook no dullard cares of wealth,
But man’s delight flowers but for a brief moment,
And no less swiftly falls to the ground again, shattered,
By destined will that may not be gainsaid.

Creatures of a day!  What is man?
What is he not? A dream of a shadow
Is our mortal being.  But when there comes to men
A gleam of splendour given of Heaven,
Then rests on them a light of glory
And blessed are their days.

(Translated by Geoffrey S Conway)

Duffy of course is entitled to write about the Government’s economic policy with the fiercest anger – but a poem about the Olympics is not the best place to start, at least not in this tone – Yay Hoy! Boo Cameron! Inserting a local political message jars with the events and sounds ridiculous.  “Lamia” as Larkin and Pindar describe an event which becomes haloed with a universal theme.

When Larkin did write an occasional poem it was for the opening of the Humber Bridge, which became part of a broader theme of isolation and joining. If he’d been in Duffy mode he would have added something about more money should be spent on cycle paths, and damned transport policy generally.

The winds play on it like a harp; the song,
Sharp from the east, sun-throated from the west,
Will never to one separate shire belong,
But north and south make union manifest.

Lost centuries of local lives that rose
And flowered to fall short where they began
Seem now to reassemble and unclose,
All resurrected in this single span,

Reaching for the world, as our lives do,
As all lives do, reaching that we may give
The best of what we are and hold as true:
Always it is by bridges that we live.

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