Distinctions on left antisemitism

November 29, 2017 at 8:42 pm (anti-semitism, AWL, israel, labour party, left, palestine, posted by JD, Racism, stalinism, zionism)

Left antisemitism

By Martin Thomas (also published in the present issue of Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website)

Workers’ Liberty has been debating theories of racism and their relationship to left anti-semitism. This contribution is a response to Carmen Basant (Solidarity 454).

Modern political antisemitism consists in damning the very existence of the Israeli state (however modified) as inescapably racist and imperialist, and thus damning all Jews who fail to renounce connection to or sympathy with Israel (however critical) as agents of racism and imperialism.

More traditional racial antisemitism consists in damning Jews, as a hereditary supposed “race”, as constitutionally malevolent and disruptive.

There is no Chinese wall between these forms of antisemitism, or indeed between either of them and other forms of antisemitism in history (Christian, reactionary anti-capitalist, etc.) However, there are distinctions, and it is important to understand these if we are to convince left-minded people influenced by strands of antisemitism rather than only cursing them.

I adduce five reasons for distinguishing between political antisemitism and racial antisemitism.

1. The term “racism” has acquired a diffuse width of meaning, and at the same time come to be cognate with crimes and immoralities rather than with erroneous (or hurtfully erroneous) ideologies. When we are arguing with people who have strands or traits in their thinking of political antisemitism, but who (by their own lights) abhor racial antisemitism, to call them “racist” cuts short the argument. It conveys to them that we do not wish to dispute political ideas with them, but instead to brand them as criminal.

2. Antisemitism is much older than racism. It is possible, of course, to stretch the term racism by back-defining it to cover many phenomena from centuries before the term existed. But to do that blurs rather than clarifies. In particular, it blurs the ways in which antisemitism operates quite differently from general racism (or, if you insist on putting it that way, from other racism).

3. It is indeed, as Carmen points out, disorienting to identify racism exclusively or overwhelmingly as an offshoot of European colonialism. But it is equally disorienting to identify it as a characteristic offshoot of nationalism, presumably of irredentist and revanchist Arab nationalism. Political antisemitism has a dynamic different from both nationalism and racism.

4. Being Jewish does not license antisemitic views, any more than being a woman licenses hostility to feminist demands. But the high-profile Jewish political antisemites are clearly not “self-hating Jews”, either.

5. If we abandon the distinction between political antisemitism and racism, then that makes us no longer able to point out and denounce where people drift over the line. Read the rest of this entry »

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China: “new era” but same old repression

November 27, 2017 at 10:07 am (China, Human rights, nationalism, posted by JD, stalinism)

CCP congress

By Carman Basant (this article also appears in the current issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website):

In October, the 19th national China Communist Party (CCP) congress took place in Beijing. China’s president, Xi Jinping, used the propaganda event to push his distinct brand of CCP rhetoric, which sounded vacuously futuristic and echoed the party’s nationalistic and imperially ambitious past.

To achieve the “Chinese Dream” would be “no walk in the park”, he declared, it would require “more than drum beating and gong clanging to get there” (Xi Jinping, cited in Phillips, 2017).

The CCP announced power in 1949 under the leadership of Mao Zedong. This came after a civil war with the main political rival and party-in-power, Chinese Nationalist Party or Guomindang (led by Chiang Kai-shek). At that moment, the CCP had popular support because of its more consistent and passionate anti-Japanese position (China’s main imperialist threat) and its promise to alleviate pervasive poverty and hardship and end exploitation by landlords. The Nationalist Party fled to Taiwan while proclaiming its intention to return at a future point to retake mainland China, whilst the CCP claimed sovereignty over Taiwan. The present-day geopolitics of this region continue to the shaped by historical tensions between China and US-backed Taiwan and Japan; moreover, Chinese nationalism has both “enemies” close in mind.

Under Mao, the CCP dragged China’s population through various traumas. In the 1950s and early 1960s, the Hundred Flowers Campaign was followed by the Anti-Rightist Movement, which purged critics of the state that were first encouraged to speak out, and the Great Leap Forward — a campaign to launch China as an industrial equal to the West that resulted in tens of millions of deaths. Mao’s initiative in 1966 of the Cultural Revolution was intended to reassert his authority and reflected a fanatical cult of personality (particularly amongst the youth cadre) to eliminate both internal and external critics of the Party, so-called bourgeois elements. China descended into a decade of chaos, destruction, loss of life, and widespread human rights abuses. The Cultural Revolution came to a close in 1976, the year of Mao’s death.

Post Mao, China entered a new period under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, known as opening and reform. In the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution a spontaneous grassroots space opened up in Beijing for the public airing its emotional trauma and the social and political questioning of the Party, known as the Democracy Wall Movement. This was generally seen to be tolerated by a “new era” Party, but that was a mistake. Deng Xiaoping’s new era of openness and reform meant a pragmatic approach to the economy: a recognition that China’s economic development would come from moving away from a closed economy and plugging into the global economy. Deng’s vision did not include political openness.

The Democracy Wall Movement, which begin in 1978, was shut down in 1979. The balancing act presented by Deng’s CCP then is one that continues: the State opens China’s doors to global capital and acts as the guardian at the door to protect the populous from foreign bad elements.

An earlier example of this is the Anti-Spiritual Pollution Campaign of 1983. The growing desire amongst the students and workers of China’s cities for political change amidst its economic opening and reform proliferated into the extraordinary grassroots democracy movement of 1989 Tiananmen Square.

The image of a courageous student attempting to block a line of tanks moving in to crush this movement is one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century, and a reminder of what so-called “Chinese socialism” actually is – a gross betrayal of its namesake.

Xi Jinping announced the beginning a “new era” at the 19th national CCP congress, promising to transform China into a “mighty force” and to rid the Party of corruption (cited in Phillips, 2017); in earlier times, both Mao and Deng pushed the same discourse, seeking economic and imperialist power alongside tight political control.

Director for Asia Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, Elizabeth Economy, sums up Xi’s vision well: “Xi Jinping sits on top of the Communist world, the Communist party sits on top of China, and China sits on top of the world” (cited in Phillips, 2017).

Xi’s “socialism with Chinese characteristics” never had a grassroots democratic basis, nor did it ever have a parliamentary basis: this was and remains an authoritarian state.

Still today, Chinese political dissidents navigate a precarious existence – amid an insidious second Cultural Revolution — in which the Party can quite simply, as some of my personal contacts in China put it, “make disappear”.

Reference
Phillips, Tom (2017) “Xi Jinping heralds ‘new era’ of Chinese power at Communist party congress”. The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/18/xi-jinping-speech-new-era-chinese-power-party-congress?CMP=share_btn_tw

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In loving memory of George Avakian

November 24, 2017 at 12:22 pm (culture, good people, jazz, love, music, posted by JD, RIP)

By Ricky Riccardi at The Wonderful World of Louis Armstrong

The way I feel about this record can be summed up in this way. When I die, I want people to say, ‘That’s the guy that it if it hadn’t been for him and Louis Armstrong and W. C. Handy, there wouldn’t have been that great record, Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy.” — George Avakian, 1954

George Avakian passed away this morning [Nov 22] at the age of 98. I can’t believe I just typed that sentence. It really felt he would live forever. It goes without saying that the music he created will most assuredly last forever. And for those fortunate enough to know him, our memories of being in his company will linger as long as we have memories.

Louis Armstrong, WC Handy and George Avakian

When a loved one passes, it’s tempting to eulogize the departed by talking solely about one’s self. I’m not going to lie, I’m probably going to do that right now. You have to forgive me: George Avakian’s albums changed my life. The fact that I got to know him and call him a friend is something I never, ever took for granted and as I process the fact that there’ll be no more visits to see “Uncle George,” I feel like I need to write my memories down.

If you don’t know who George Avakian was (is), Google him and prepare to spend the next several hours reading about his rich history. While still a student at Yale, George practically invented the concept of a concept album with Chicago Jazz on Decca, then pioneered in Columbia’s influential series of reissue albums shortly after, digging up some previously unissued Hot Five and Hot Seven masterpieces from the Columbia vaults. After the war, George continued to move up the ladder at Columbia, eventually heading the pop music album department after long-playing 33 1/3 albums exploded in the 1950s. Into the late 50s, he produced essential recordings by Louis, Miles Davis, Erroll Garner, Eddie Condon, Dave Brubeck, Buck Clayton, Duke Ellington….what more do you need? Even after leaving Columbia, he continued to have the master touch, helping to discover Bob Newhart and later overseeing Sonny Rollins’s fantastic RCA Victor recordings, plus managing young talent like Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett.

My life would not be the same without the music described in the previous paragraph. Around September of 1995, I had my first run-in with Louis Armstrong when he unexpectedly showed up in the middle of The Glenn Miller Story to steal the film with a hot version of “Basin Street Blues.” My curiosity was piqued. Shortly after, I told my mother to take me to the local library in Toms River because I needed to check out some more of this Satchmo fellow. I don’t remember how many choices there were but there were many. Perhaps my life would have changed if I grabbed some inferior-quality bootleg. But no, there was one cassette that looked appealing and I liked the concept: 16 Most Requested Songs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Never forget the “left” apologists for Serb genocide

November 22, 2017 at 8:09 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, Chomsky, crime, Europe, genocide, hell, history, Human rights, murder, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", serbia, Stop The War, SWP, terror)

The war criminal Ratko Mladic has finally tasted justice: today at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, he was sent down for life, having been found guilty of crimes including genocide for the massacre at Srebrenica in July 1995, when more than 7,000 Muslim men and boys were murdered, and sniping and shelling attacks on besieged civilians in Sarajevo.

The cowardly thug shouted “I’ll fuck your mother” before being forcibly removed from the courtroom.

Mladic was indicted in 1995, but went into hiding in Serbia where he was sheltered by the army. But it’s worth remembering that it wasn’t just Serb nationalists who supported and excused him, Karadzic and Milsosevic: a lot of the so-called “left” have some answering to do, as Stan Crooke explains below. The particular culprits here are the SWP, who a few years later started puffing themselves up as “fighters for Muslims”. At the time they refused to side with the Bosniac and Kosovar Muslims fighting Serb conquest, focusing their sympathies on Serbia as the victim of  NATO. They quietly went along with those who anathematised the Bosniac Muslims (mostly secularised) as the catspaws of Islamic-fundamentalist conspiracy.

It’s come to something, hasn’t it, when (not for the first time) “communists” ally with fascists…

We’re talking SWP and their equally shameful, Chomskyite offshoot ‘Counterfire’… and perhaps most notoriously, the so-called ‘LM‘ outfit (since reborn as ‘Spiked Online’ and ‘The Institute of Ideas’).

We republish, below, an article by Stan Crooke written just after the arrest of Mladic in May 2011, and published in Workers Liberty’s paper Solidarity:

Above: Mladic (left) and Karadzic in Bosnia, April 1995

The “safe haven” of Sarajevo was besieged for 44 months by Serb forces, the longest siege in modern warfare. Serb forces stationed on the surrounding hills used artillery, mortars, tanks, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine-guns, multiple rocket launchers, rocket-launched aircraft bombs, and sniper rifles against the civilian population.

An average of 300 artillery shells a day hit Sarajevo during the siege. On just one day in 1993 more than 3,500 shells hit the city. Overall, an estimated 10,000 people were killed and another 56,000 wounded during the siege. 35,000 buildings were destroyed, including 10,000 apartment blocks.

Ethnic cleansing and war crimes were also carried out by the forces of the Croatian Republic of Herzeg Bosnia.

In February 1994 an American-brokered deal, the Washington Agreement, brought an end to the fighting between Bosnian and Croatian forces. In September 1995, NATO finally moved against Milosevic and his allies, in a month-long bombing campaign.

Workers’ Liberty commented: “Yes, the Western powers are hypocrites… But to reckon that NATO’s bombardment of Mladic’s siege guns calls for protest meetings, and Milosevic’s atrocities do not, is to condone Serbian imperialism… Sarajevo relieved by a NATO offensive designed as a lever for an imperialist carve-up is bad; Sarajevo still besieged is worse.”

Others on the left rallied to a “Committee for Peace in the Balkans” focused on denouncing NATO. They said NATO action was about “enforcing Western interests” on Serbia. Back in 1991, the SWP had disdainfully said “neither of the nationalisms currently tearing Yugoslavia apart has anything to offer”. It had maintained the same disdain towards the Bosniacs’ struggle against Serbian conquest and ethnic cleansing. It backed the anti-NATO campaign.

In fact, the NATO bombing paved the way for an American-brokered peace deal, the Dayton Agreement. It ended the massacres, and set up Bosnia-Herzegovina as a quasi-independent state, for most purposes a loose confederation between Serb and Croat-Bosniac units, with an external “High Representative” as overlord.

In the course of the war between 100,000 and 176,000 people had been killed. More than 2.2 million had fled their homes. 530,000 of them had managed to reach other European countries, despite the European Union responding to the outbreak of war by imposing a visa regime on Bosnians.

After the end of the fighting Mladic continued to live openly in the Serb-controlled area of Bosnia. In the late 1990s he moved to Belgrade. Only after the overthrown of Milosevic in 2000 did Mladic go more or less underground.

Meanwhile Kosova, an area under tight Serbian control but with a 90% Albanian-Muslim majority in the population, was stewing.

The Kosovar majority organised a virtual parallel society, with underground schools, hospitals, and so on, beside the Serbian-run official institutions.

The big powers opposed Kosovar independence, but pressed Milosevic to ease off. From mid-1998 Milosevic started a drive to force hundreds of thousands of Kosovars to flee the province. The big powers called a conference and tried to push Milosevic into a compromise deal.

Milosevic refused. NATO started bombing Serbian positions, apparently thinking that a short burst of military action would make Milosevic back down. Simultaneously the Serb chauvinists stepped up the slaughter and driving-out of Kosovars. After two and a half months of bombing (March-June 1999) the Serbian army finally withdrew. By then around 850,000 Kosovars had fled.

From 1999 to 2008 Kosova was under UN rule. During that period there were a number of persecutions of the small remaining Serb minority in Kosova. In 2008 Kosova declared independence.

Far from being converted by the war into a crushed semi-colony of some big power, Serbia benefited from its defeat. In October 2000, following rigged elections, Milosevic was ousted by mass protest in the streets, and Serbia’s chauvinist frenzy began to dissipate.

Dispute on the left over the Kosova war was sharper than over Bosnia. Workers’ Liberty said that, while we could not and did not endorse NATO, the main issue was Kosovar self-determination. The SWP and others threw themselves into a “Stop The War Campaign”, later recycled for use over Afghanistan and Iraq and still in existence.

“Stop The War” here meant “stop NATO and let Milosevic have his way”. On Milosevic, their main message was that he was not as bad as painted; and on Kosova, that the reports of massacre were probably exaggerated, that nothing could be done about it anyway, and that the Kosovar revolt was undesirable because it could destabilise the whole region.

Michael Barratt Brown, a veteran socialist economist, was typical of a whole school of thought on the left claiming that the driving force in what he called “The Yugoslav Tragedy” was a conspiracy by Germany in particular, and the West in general, to gain “control over the oil supplies of the Middle East”.

He wrote “Once Croatia’s independence was recognised … war between Serbs and Croats was assured inside Croatia.” In fact the big powers pressed the subject peoples of Yugoslavia not to declare independence. Germany was less convinced about that than other states, but even Germany did not recognise Croatia until six months after the outbreak of war. And why shouldn’t states recognise Croatian independence demanded by over 90% of the people?

Consistently, Brown wrote of the actions of Milosevic and the Serbian government as if they were mere responses to the actions of Bosnian and Croatian nationalists, rather than the expression of an aggressive regional imperialism.

“Nationalists in Serbia followed enthusiastically where Slovenes and Croats had led”, he wrote, but he praised the “federal” army, which had already committed a succession of war crimes by the time Brown wrote his book, as “the one remaining force representing Yugoslavia”, and one which was engaged in “a state-building project.”

In To Kill a Nation: The Attack on Yugoslavia, published in 2000, Michael Parenti argued that the West’s hostility to Milosevic was triggered by the Serbian government’s commitment to the defence of the country’s “socialist heritage”:

“After the overthrow of Communism throughout Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia remained the only nation in that region that would not voluntarily discard what remained of its socialism and install an unalloyed free-market system… The US goal has been to transform Yugoslavia into a Third World region, a cluster of weak right-wing principalities.

“As far as the Western free-marketeers were concerned, these enterprises [in Serbia] had to be either privatised or demolished. A massive aerial destruction like the one delivered upon Iraq (in the first Gulf War) might be just the thing needed to put Belgrade more in step with the New World Order.”

In fact, the Serbian government pursued privatisation and pro-market policies of its own volition from the late 1980s, imposing cuts in public services and increasing social inequalities. And its old reformed-Stalinist structure was nothing to cherish.

After the arrest of Slobodan Milosevic in 2001, the International Committee to Defend Slobodan Milosevic said:

“Crimes were committed in Yugoslavia, but not by Milosevic. … His real offence was that he tried to keep the 26 nationalities that comprise Yugoslavia free from US and NATO colonisation and occupation.”

The chapter on the Bosnian war in The Liberal Defence of Murder, written by the SWP’s Richard Seymour and published in 2008, has similar arguments: Milosevic’s regime and its war crimes were not as bad as they were made out to be; the Bosnian and Croatian governments were not only at least as bad as that of Milosevic but were also guilty of the same kind of atrocities.

“In the run-up to that atrocity” [the Srebrenica massacre], he claimed, “a wave of terror, including rape, by Bosnian Muslim forces in surrounding areas had killed thousands of Serbs”.

The SWP itself, mostly, did not bother discussing the atrocities one way or another. It simply stated that NATO was “imperialism” and the job was to oppose “imperialism”. In other words, it put its opportunist concern to “catch the wind” of miscellaneous disquiet about or opposition to NATO military action in a region which most people knew little about above any internationalist concern for lives and freedoms in the region … (read the full article here).

. Chomsky’s culpability and apologetics

Dossier on the Kosova war, Workers’ Liberty 2/3.

Introduction to that dossier.

Review of the SWP’s pamphlet on the Kosova war.

. The SWP and fake-pacifism

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Zimbabwe: how Mugabe and ZANU rose to power

November 16, 2017 at 1:56 pm (africa, history, Human rights, liberation, Marxism, national liberation, nationalism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", war)

Above “Comrade” Mugabe in characteristic pose

A useful and well-researched background article by Stephen O’Brien (first published in Links, 2008)

His Excellency Comrade Robert: How Mugabe’s ZANU clique rose to power

Towards the end of 1975 a movement of young radicals organised in the Zimbabwe People’s Army (ZIPA) took charge of Zimbabwe’s liberation war. ZIPA’s fusion of inclusive politics, transformational vision and military aggression dealt crippling blows to the white supremacist regime of Ian Smith. However, it’s success also paved the way for a faction of conservative nationalists led by Robert Mugabe to wrest control of the liberation movement for themselves.

The fact that Mugabe, a former rural school teacher, and his cronies would become the ruling capitalist elite of Zimbabwe by crushing a movement of young Chavista-style revolutionaries doesn’t sit well with their anti-imperialist self-image.

The ZIPA cadre emerged from the wave of young people who, experiencing oppression and discrimination in Rhodesia, decided to become liberation fighters in early 1970s. Unlike many of the first generation of fighters, they volunteered to join the respective military wings of the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU)[i]

In 1975, key nationalist leaders — such as Robert Mugabe, Joshua Nkomo, Ndabiginini Sithole, Jason Moyo, Herbert Chitepo, Abel Muzorewa, James Chikerema and Josiah Tongogara — had become entangled in factional rivalry and long-running and fruitless peace talks with the Smith regime. The young recruits who would shortly form ZIPA sought to reinvigorate the struggle as the war stalled and as the old leaders became marginalised.

A group of ZANU officers based at training camps in Tanzania consulted widely among the liberation forces. They approached President Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Samora Machel, soon to be president of newly liberated and independent Mozambique, for support to restart the war against Smith. Both Machel and Nyerere had initially supported peace negotiations and the resulting ceasefire with Rhodesia, but by October 1975 had lost patience with the whole process, and listened with sympathy to the ideas of the young officers.

ZIPA formed

The ZANU officers also sought unity with ZAPU, the long-standing rival organisation from which ZANU had split in 1963. ZAPU agreed and in November 1975 ZIPA was formed with a combined High Command composed of equal numbers from both ZAPU and ZANU. The alliance with ZAPU disintegrated after a few months partly because ZAPU leader Joshua Nkomo had continued to negotiate with Smith. Nevertheless, it was an important attempt at unity which defied the prevailing trend of division.

ZIPA’s nominal head was Rex Nhongo (later known as Solomon Mujuru he would become head of the Zimbabwe Army under Mugabe), but strategic and tactical leadership came to be held by his young deputy, Wilfred Mhanda.

Wilfred Mhanda

Mhanda had been a typical recruit to ZANU and its military wing, the Zimbabwe National Liberation Army (ZANLA). He had been involved in school protests and on leaving his studies helped form a ZANU support group. Like many who were to become part of ZIPA, Mhanda had been influenced by the youth radicalisation of the 1960s. In 1971, with the special branch in pursuit, Mhanda’s group skipped the border into Botswana and joined ZANLA. He took the war name of Dzinashe Machingura. He was later sent for training in China and progressed through the ranks to became a military instructor, political commissar, commander of the Mgagao camp in Tanzania and then member of the High Command.[ii]

ZIPA theory, tactics

Theory influenced ZIPA’s tactics. Its fighters were not regarded as cannon fodder, lines of retreat and supply were secured, counter-offensives anticipated and strategic reserves made ready. Senior ZIPA commanders visited the front. ZIPA’s aims went beyond winning democracy, to the revolutionary transformation of Rhodesia’s social and economic relations. The previous conception of the old-guard nationalists had tended to regard armed struggle as a means to apply pressure for external intervention to end White minority rule.

The Zimbabwe People’s Army relocated its troops from Tanzania to Mozambique and in January 1976, 1000 guerrillas crossed into Rhodesia. The entire eastern border of Rhodesia became a war zone as the guerillas launched coordinated and well-planned attacks on mines, farms and communication routes, such as the new railway line to South Africa.

ZIPA established Wampoa College to help institute its vision and ran Marxist-inspired courses in military instruction and mass mobilisation for its fighters. It educated its cadre against the sexual abuse of women and sought to win the support of the Zimbabwean peasantry through persuasion rather than coercion.

Historian David Moore’s study of ZIPA notes: “The students made their political education directly relevant to the struggle, so that Marxism could better direct the war of liberation.’’[iii] ZIPA’s political approach lead to it becoming known as the Vashandi, a word which means worker in the Shona language, but which, according to Mhanda, took on a broader meaning as the revolutionary front of workers, students and peasants.

Smith’s regime reeled under the offensive. Repression was intensified, “psychopathic’’ counter-insurgency units such as the Selous Scouts were deployed, so called “protected villages’’ intensified control over the population and raids were launched against refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Rhodesia was forced to borrow 26 helicopters from apartheid South Africa, and in order to deploy 60% more troops, increased the military call-up for whites. In his memoirs, Ken Flower, head of the Central Intelligence Organisation under Smith (and later under Mugabe), recalls that by July 1976 “Rhodesia was beginning to lose the war.[iv] Read the rest of this entry »

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Were the Mensheviks a real alternative?

November 15, 2017 at 12:07 pm (democracy, Eric Lee, history, imperialism, Marxism, national liberation, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, trotskyism, USSR, war)

Eric Lee is a journalist and historian who has spent over thirty years researching independent Georgia, and has himself been active in trade union and political struggles in both the US and UK. His previous works include Saigon to Jerusalem: Conversations with Israel’s Vietnam Veterans (1993) and Operation Basalt: The British Raid on Sark and Hitler’s Commando Order (2016).

Paul Vernadsky reviews The Experiment: Georgia’s Forgotten Revolution 1918-21 by Eric Lee; followed by a response from Eric (the review first appeared in the AWL’s paper Solidarity, which will also carry Eric’s reply)


Eric Lee’s mischievous new book, argues that the Georgian Menshevik republic was an alternative to the Bolshevik-led workers’ government, which came to power in October 1917.

This is absolute fantasy, which confuses discussion of working-class politics at the time and the importance of the Russian revolution for today’s class struggles.

Russia annexed Georgia in 1798 and the Transcaucasia region remained a largely underdeveloped part of the tsarist empire until the discovery of oil in the late nineteenth century. In 1892, Noe Zhordania founded the first Georgian Marxist circle, the “third group”. It played a key supporting role in the Gurian peasant uprising between 1902 and 1906. Lee’s book explains the origins of the revolt over grazing rights, as well as its limits (its courts dwelt heavily on punishing adultery). Zhordania’s social democrats won a wide base of support during the struggle.

In 1903, Zhordania took part in the second congress of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, joining the Menshevik faction against the Bolsheviks. Georgian social democrats backed the central tenet of Menshevism: that the Russian revolution would be bourgeois and the socialists’ primary task was to promote a bourgeois republic. In Georgia, the Mensheviks won landslide victories in elections to the tsarist Duma. Most of the prominent Menshevik leaders became Duma members, including Zhordania, Irakli Tsereteli and Noe Ramishvili. Zhordania led the social democratic faction in the short-lived First Duma, while Tsereteli headed the much larger united social democratic faction in the Second Duma.

Lee’s book is strangely reticent about the First World War.

He says that a number of Georgian Mensheviks including Zhordania were sympathetic to the Allied cause. However the picture was worse than that. Tsereteli and other Mensheviks took a more internationalist position — at least until the tsar was overthrown. Zhordania fought for a “defencist” position and even wanted the Menshevik Duma fraction to vote for war credits.

Lee’s book also brushes over the importance of Georgian involvement in the events of 1917. Tsereteli was freed by the February revolution and went to Petrograd, where he was the architect of Menshevik participation in the provisional government (he became a minister) and support for the war, known as “revolutionary defencism”. Carlo Chkheidze promoted the same politics as chair of the Petrograd Soviet until September. As such they were responsible for the disastrous Menshevik orientation during the revolution.

Lee reports that in Tiflis after the February revolution, the local tsarist official Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaievich announced that he would be leaving, but expressed confidence that Zhordania and other social democrats could be trusted with power. As he put it, they were “on the side of order”. On 16 March 1917, the Tiflis Soviet was established. Zhordania was elected chair and promoted class collaboration.

The Georgian Mensheviks were united in their opposition to the Bolshevik-led seizure of power in October 1917. It was their visceral hostility to the Russian socialist revolution that dictated their course in the years afterwards. Lee admits that Georgia’s separation from Russia was not part of socialist agitation before 1917. The rejection of separatism was so strong that Georgian social democrat speeches would end with “Down with Georgia! Long live the Russian Social Democratic Workers’ Party!” Nevertheless, Zhordania and the Mensheviks embraced separatism.

On 22 April 1918, Georgian, Armenia and Azerbaijan proclaimed their independence, forming the Democratic Federative Republic of Transcaucasia. It dissolved five weeks later and the National Council of Georgia, chaired by Zhordania, made its declaration of independence on 26 May 1918. Immediately faced with attacks by Turkey, the new Georgian government turned to Imperial Germany for support. Lee argues that Georgia had no choice, because “small nations can only defend themselves if they have strong allies”. But Georgia could have remained part of Soviet Russia, rather than run into the arms of the imperialist powers. Read the rest of this entry »

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Uber decision in the EAT: drivers win!

November 10, 2017 at 11:17 am (GMB, Human rights, law, posted by JD, transport, workers)

Barrister and employment law specialist Daniel Barnett reports:

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has just handed down its decision in the Uber decision, upholding the employment tribunal’s ruling that Uber drivers are ‘workers’ and thus qualify for workers’ rights.

* BBC report here

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Machover cites a Nazi as a reliable source against “the Zionists”

November 9, 2017 at 5:56 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, CPGB, fascism, history, labour party, Livingstone, posted by JD, zionism)

Moshe Machover’s expulsion from the Labour Party has been rescinded and he is once again a member. The expulsion was not due to the contents of the leaflet discussed below, and neither is his re-instatement. His expulsion was due to concerns about his relationship with the so-called ‘Labour Party Marxists’, the CPGB and the Weekly Worker paper: these concerns have now been cleared up.

Reinhard Heydrich worldwartwo.filminspector.com
Above: Machover’s source

Dale Street comments on the leaflet:

Had it not been distributed as a leaflet at this year’s Labour Party conference, Moshe Machover’s article “Anti-Zionism Does Not Equal Anti-Semitism” would have been just another turgid and distasteful article which had found a natural home for itself in the pages of the Weekly Worker.

A longer version of the same article – entitled “Don’t Apologise – Attack” – had been published in the Weekly Worker four months earlier. According to that article:

• Anyone who thought that a retweet by Naz Shah MP – which had suggested that Israel (and, presumably, its population) should be relocated to the USA – “was anything but a piece of satire should have their head examined.”
• Jackie Walker “has been suspended for saying that there was not only a Jewish holocaust but also a black African one too.” (Wrong: that was not the reason for her suspension.)
• There was nothing antisemitic about NUS President Malia Bouattia describing Birmingham University as “something of a Zionist outpost”.
• Ken Livingstone was “certainly inaccurate” in having said that Hitler supported Zionism until he went mad. At the same time, “the point he was making was basically correct”.

The inclusion of a shorter version of the article in a “Labour Party Marxists” bulletin distributed at Labour Party conference rescued it from obscurity.

Overnight, Machover’s article became a cause célèbre for left antisemites (and antisemites in general).

Zionism is essentialised. Machover unceasingly refers to “the Zionists … the Zionists … the Zionists.” Unlike any other nationalism, Zionism is portrayed as a uniformly negative monolith.

Legitimate complaints about antisemitic arguments and ways of thinking are dismissed as a Zionist concoction: “And so the Zionists and their allies decided to launch the ‘Anti-Zionism equals Anti-Semitism’ campaign.”

This “campaign” is an international (cosmopolitan) one: “The whole campaign of equating opposition to Zionism with antisemitism has been carefully orchestrated with the help of the Israeli government and the far right in the United States.”

Antisemitism is defined in such a way that its existence in the labour movement can simply be denied as being of no account:

“The handful of people of the left who propagate a version of the ‘Protocols of Zion’ carry no weight and are without any intellectual foundation.”

Unlike others who share his current politics, Machover does not define Zionism as a form of antisemitism. But he does portray collusion with antisemitism as inherent in Zionism: “You can also attack Zionism because of its collusion and collaboration with antisemitism, including up to a point with Nazi Germany.”

This brings Machover round to the trope of Zionist-Nazi collaboration: “Let us now turn to the Zionist-Nazi connection. … The Zionists made overtures to the Nazi regime, so how did the Nazis respond? … In other words, a friendly mention of Zionism, indicating an area of basic agreement it shared with Nazism.”

The “friendly mention of Zionism” cited by Machover is a quote from an article written in 1935 by Reinhard Heydrich, published in the Das Schwarze Korps, the in-house magazine of the Nazi SS:

“National socialism has no intention of attacking the Jewish people in any way. The government finds itself in complete agreement with the great spiritual movement within Jewry itself, so-called Zionism.”

Heydrich was a hardened antisemite from the early 1930s onwards. He was one of the architects of the Final Solution. Only a few months earlier he had made clear his attitude towards Jews in another article in Das Schwarze Korps:

“In order to preserve our people, we must be harsh in the face of our enemy, even at the cost of hurting an individual or being condemned as rabble-rousers by some probably well-meaning people. …

“If someone is our enemy, he is to be vanquished subjectively and without exception. If, for example, out of false compassion, every German should make an exception for ‘only one decent’ Jew or Freemason whom he knows, we would end up with 60 million such exceptions.”

Ten years before Heydrich’s article Hitler had already dismissed a Jewish state as “a central organisation for their (Jews’) world swindling … a haven for convicted scoundrels and a university for budding crooks.”

Thus, to illustrate the “basic agreement” which Zionism supposedly shared with the Nazis, Machover quotes an architect of the Holocaust, from an article in the magazine of the organisation which played a leading role in carrying out the Holocaust.

It is not about supporting the Palestinians. Machover says explicitly: that’s not enough. You must also demonise “the Zionists” as an evil essence running through history to link Jews today back to the taint of the Nazis.

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Hal Draper: an eye witness account of the Russian Revolution

November 7, 2017 at 4:17 pm (history, Lenin, Marxism, posted by JD, revolution, Russia, socialism, war)

The following discussion by the American Marxist scholar Hal Draper is of a book written by a non-Bolshevik member of the government that took power in October 1917, I N Steinberg. Steinberg was a leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, of the faction known as the Left S-Rs, who were in coalition with the Bolsheviks for a few months after October 1917, from soon after the establishment of the Soviet Government.

Steinberg’s book, In the Workshop of the Revolution, was published in 1954 long after he left Russia. Despite the Left S-Rs’ split from the Bolshevik-led Soviet Government, Steinberg tells the truth about the Bolshevik seizure of power and about the early months of Soviet Government.

Even when he subscribes to anti-Bolshevik propaganda about the period after the S-R-Bolshevik coalition broke up, he does it in such a way that the truth, as Hal Draper demonstrates in the following article (Labor Action, 14 and 21 June 1954), is still visible.


In the “Workshop of the Revolution”, Steinberg presents the 1917 upheaval not as a conspiracy but as a real people’s revolution. And he is very inconsiderate of the myths about the “democratic” Kerensky regime which the bad Bolsheviks overthrew, as well as the Menshevik and Right Socialist Revolutionary allies of Kerensky.

Actually Steinberg’s language about the “moderate socialist parties” (Menshevik and Right SRs) is very mild, but the outline of the picture he pains is damning enough. That picture is of an elemental revolutionary upsurge of the masses from blow, determined to throw off all oppression and equally determined to end the war, which the rights and moderates tried to oppose, and which the Bolsheviks (and left SRs) supported. This was the simple difference between the historic reality and the anti-Bolshevik myth of a “conspiracy”.

Of the right wing socialists, Steinberg writes that they believed “that the necessary conditions were not yet in evidence to realise the programme of the people. They conceived it impossible to end the war without the co-operation of the Allied powers. They thought it utopian to transfer political power to the working classes since, in their view the capitalist order in Russia was inevitable. Their interpretation of the revolution as only a democratic bourgeois succession to Tsarism, demanded, of course, a corresponding strategy — the strategy of class compromise and political compliance. This strategy put the moderate two parties (Mensheviks and Right Socialist-Revolutionaries) halfway between the bourgeois and the working-class programmes, gave their activities an air of vacillation and, in fact, fortified the position of the bourgeois camp.”

Now to be sure, the anti-Bolsheviks argue strenuously that anything beyond a bourgeois revolution was indeed impossible, but what Steinberg point up sharply is that this line meant that the right-wingers had to set themselves against and get ready to suppress the revolutionary dynamism of the people. It is because the anti-Bolsheviks have to get around this inconvenient fact that the myth of a “conspiracy” was born.

By the time of the new Kerensky government of 10 July, Steinberg relates, “Kerensky had lost hold of the ties of confidence which once had bound him to the people.” Discreditment rebounded not only against Kerensky but also against the Menshevik and Right SR ministers who joined his cabinet.

“The main speaker for an exponent of this rootless coalition”, writes Steinberg “was the Social-Democrat (Menshevik) Tseretelli. As minister of the interior, he dispatched a circular to the whole country designed to redouble the power of the government commissars against the active local soviets. He ordered these commissars to block the ‘illegal distribution of landed properties,’ the ‘appropriation, ploughing and sowing of other people’s lands.’ He thus sustained the policy of his predecessor, Prince Lvov. Every circular of this kind was like a match thrown into the powder keg of the revolution.”

Being highly concerned with the democratic forms of the revolution, Steinberg especially emphasises the transformation of the Kerensky regime into a “quasi-dictatorship” — with the consent and support of the very democratic Mensheviks and S-Rs who were later to issue howling blasts of anguish at every step the Soviet government took even to defend itself against armed insurrection.
Steinberg’s general sketch of the whole development, of course, contributes nothing new to historical knowledge, its main interest lying the character of the narrator. There are vignette touches here and there. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ralph Sutton: strider supreme

November 4, 2017 at 4:10 pm (good people, jazz, posted by JD, Sheer joy)

Ralph Sutton, surely the most accomplished post-Waller stride pianist, born (Hamburg, Missouri) Nov 4 1922 (died Dec 30 2002).

I once shook hands with Ralph; my knuckles are still crushed:

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