This article also appears in Solidarity and at the Workers Liberty website
A report by Amnesty International released on 7 February 2017 says that between 5,000 and 13,000 people were murdered in a secret prison in Syria from 2011 to 2016. Inmates at the prison were mostly civilians who supported the opposition to President Bashar al Assad. The information comes from interviews with 84 people who were former prisoners, guards, judges and doctors.
The report describes killing and torture on an industrial scale, “trials” lasting between one and three minutes, mass hangings of between 50 and 80 people that took place twice a week. The hangings were conducted extremely cruelly, with those who weighed less taking hours to die. The beatings that took place were extremely severe, and psychological torture was also employed, including forcing prisoners to rape each other.
Prisoners were also denied food and water. Many suffered from scabies, but were denied healthcare. Amnesty says that it is likely that “thousands more” people have been murdered by the regime since 2016, as there is nothing to suggest that the practices have been stopped: the field court is still in operation and people are still being transferred to Saydnaya prison.
A former guard stated in his interview: “Saydnaya is the end of life, the end of humanity.” The accounts of Saydnaya are reminiscent of the accounts of survivors of Auschwitz. This is not the first report of its kind on the practices of the Syrian regime. As the report notes, people have been arbitrarily arrested, tortured and “disappeared” since the 1980s under former President Hafez al Assad.
Since the popular uprising in 2011, and as the crisis in Syria worsened “tens of thousands” of citizens have been arrested and detained. Viewed in this context, the soft approach of much of the British left to the Russian and Syrian governments’ actions is both inexcusable and sickening.
In December last year, Peter Tatchell wrote in the Independent: “Stop the War Coalition has betrayed the Syrian people who protested peacefully for democracy in 2011 and have been massacred by Assad ever since. The principles of internationalist solidarity have been dumped. Responding to critics it its own ranks, the coalition belatedly, and somewhat mutedly, condemned the Assad and Putin bombing of civilians but has never organised a march against them.
“Indeed, although quick to demonstrate in opposition to any and all Western interventions, the coalition has failed to even once rally against the military intervention in Syria by Russia, Iran and Hezbollah.”
Workers’ Liberty have been a long-standing critic of the left’s Stalinised “two-pole” view on imperialism. Chris Nineham’s response as Vice Chair of Stop the War Coalition was that the organisation had to “focus on what our government is doing” as protests wouldn’t “make the blind bit of difference” to what Putin does to prop up Assad’s regime. Yet STWC protests against Trump, another leader whom Brits do not have democratic control over.
Tatchell wrote, “STWC has refused requests to have Syrian democrats and left-wingers opposed to Assad speak at its Syria events; but it has offered a platform to Syrians Issa Chaer and Mother Agnes, who have respectively defended the Damascus regime and claimed that allegations of chemical attacks by Assad’s forces are fabricated.”
The report from Amnesty shows the extent of the brutality of the Assad administration. The left should stand against this torture and murder of Syrians and not be silent.
Illustration: Martin Rowson (Guardian)
By John Rogan
It amazes me that there are many Labour MPs who say there is a “Tory Brexit” and a “Labour Brexit”. The implication is that the present Govt can somehow choose and implement whatever Brexit conditions they want with the EU27. This helps feed the delusion, on both the Left (Corbyn) and Right (Watson), that Labour could, somehow, negotiate a Soft Brexit. That the EU27 would be much kinder to a Labour government for some reason.
A Soft Brexit is just not going to happen. The leadership of EU27 have enough internal headaches (Le Pen, AfD and Freedom Party) this year to ensure that, if they wish to hold the line against the eurosceptic Far Right, there will be no concessions to the UK. Brexit means Brexit means Hard Brexit.
Now we have Trump whose possible EU Ambassador, Ted Malloch, seems to gleefully want to see the EU finished. After all, a much weakened EU (or no EU) would help the “America First” agenda of Trump.
This would also help the agenda of Putin who wishes to exert greater control in Eastern Europe.
The Trump-Putin Pact (wanting to split, weaken and carve up Europe) is another perfectly good reason for EU27 sticking to a Hard Brexit – especially a need for the defence of Eastern Europe.
Theresa May is actually correct in her sucking up to Trump and Erdogan. If we leave the EU on a Hard Brexit (which we will) then grovelling for some crumbs at their tables is all we will be good for.
And that is the question Corbyn, Watson and McDonnell have to answer. After a Hard Brexit, who should the UK deal with in trying to get good trade deals? How will we be able to do it?
If you oppose Trump, you have to oppose Brexit.
From PBS Newshour
Above: Trump’s news conference
On Tuesday evening, CNN reported unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence compiled a dossier on the president-elect during his visits to Moscow; BuzzFeed later published 35 pages of content from the alleged dossier. But Mr. Trump dismissed the developments as “fake news.” Judy Woodruff speaks with former NSA lawyer Susan Hennessey and former CIA officer John Sipher for analysis.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Good evening. We are having some guests join me here at the “NewsHour” anchor desk in the coming weeks. Tonight, it’s Steve Inskeep, who many of you recognize from NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Welcome, Steve.
STEVE INSKEEP: I’m delighted to be here. It’s an honor. Thank you.
JUDY WOODRUFF: We’re so glad to have you.
And we are devoting much of tonight’s program to our lead story, and that is the Donald Trump news conference today.
It came amid a swirl of stories about the president-elect and Russia.
DONALD TRUMP (recording): Its all fake news. It’s phony stuff. It didn’t happen. And it was gotten by opponents of ours.
JUDY WOODRUFF: At his first news conference since the election, Donald Trump flatly denied the Russians have any compromising information on him.
DONALD TRUMP (r): But it should never have been released, but I read what was released. And I think it’s a disgrace. I think it’s an absolute disgrace.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The bombshell burst Tuesday evening, when CNN reported the president-elect and President Obama were briefed on the matter last week. The report included unsubstantiated claims that Russian intelligence compiled a dossier on Mr. Trump during visits to Moscow.
The Web site BuzzFeed then published a 35-page cache of memos from the alleged dossier, including a claim of sexual activity caught on a Moscow hotel room surveillance camera. The New York Times and other major news organizations said they had been aware of the information for months, but could not verify the claims.
Today, Mr. Trump insisted he wouldn’t put himself in such a position.
DONALD TRUMP (r): I told many people, be careful, because you don’t want to see yourself on television. There are cameras all over the place, and, again, not just Russia, all over.
Does anyone really believe that story? I’m also very much of a germaphobe, by the way, believe me.
JUDY WOODRUFF: From there, the president-elect lit into the news media again. He condemned BuzzFeed.
DONALD TRUMP (r): It’s a failing pile of garbage writing it. I think they’re going to suffer the consequences.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And he accused CNN of being fake news, and brushed off persistent attempts by its correspondent to ask a question.
Later, CNN’s parent company, Time Warner, defended its reporting, and BuzzFeed said it published what it called a newsworthy document.
As for the leak itself:
DONALD TRUMP (r): I think it was disgraceful, disgraceful that the intelligence agencies allowed any information that turned out to be so false and fake out. I think it’s a disgrace, and I say that. And that’s something that Nazi Germany would have done, and did do.
JUDY WOODRUFF: On Russian hacking more broadly, the president-elect suggested an upside to the probing of Democratic Party computers and e-mails.
DONALD TRUMP (r): The hacking is bad and it shouldn’t be done. But look at the things that were hacked. Look at what was learned from that hacking, that Hillary Clinton got the questions to the debate and didn’t report it? That’s a horrible thing.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Likewise, he acknowledged the intelligence verdict that President Vladimir Putin ordered the hacking, but he didn’t leave it there.
DONALD TRUMP (r): I think it was Russia, but I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.
JUDY WOODRUFF: And looking ahead, Mr. Trump suggested the hacking will not necessarily hinder future cooperation with Putin.
DONALD TRUMP (r): If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what, folks? That’s called an asset, not a liability. Now, Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I’m leading it than when other people have led it. You will see that. Russia will respect our country more. He shouldn’t have done it. I don’t believe he will be doing it more.
JUDY WOODRUFF: There were also questions about the Trump Organization’s business ties to Russia, and he denied there are any.
DONALD TRUMP (r): We could make deals in Russia very easily if we wanted to. I just don’t want to, because I think that would be a conflict. So I have no loans, no dealings and no current pending deals.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Mr. Trump has not released tax returns to verify his claims, and he said again he won’t do so until a federal audit is finished.
He also declined to say whether his associates or campaign staff had contact with Russian officials during the campaign. An ABC reporter tweeted later that the president-elect denied any such contact after the news conference ended.
We take a closer look at Russia, the president-elect, and these latest revelations with former attorney at the National Security Agency Susan Hennessey. She is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution and is managing editor for the Web site Lawfare about the intersection of the law and national security. And John Sipher, he served almost 30 years at the CIA, both in the agency’s clandestine service and executive ranks. He was stationed in Moscow in the 1990s and he ran the CIA’s Russia program for three years. He’s now at CrossLead, a consulting firm.
And welcome to both of you.
So let’s start, Susan Hennessey, but I just want to ask both of you in brief, what do you make of this report?
SUSAN HENNESSEY, Former NSA Lawyer: Right.
So, for the moment, the real story is the allegations themselves are unverified. They’re obviously quite salacious in nature. The real story is that the intelligence community thought it was appropriate to brief the president of the United States and the president-elect.
That means that serious people are taking this seriously. That’s different than saying that the intelligence community believes the allegations or has substantiated them. But this is a matter that is not just simply a matter of fake news or something that we should disregard.
It clearly passes some degree of preliminary credibility.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, your take?
JOHN SIPHER, Former CIA Officer: I think the question is, is this real?
And there are things on the positive side and the negative side on that. On the positive side, for those of us who have lived and worked and worked in Russia and against the Russians, it does feel right. It does feel like the kind of thing that Russians do. A lot of those details fit.
Also, I think, the author has some credibility, which is on the positive side.
JUDY WOODRUFF: This is the former British intelligence officer.
JOHN SIPHER: That’s right. Yes.
On the negative side, it really is hard to make a distinction if we don’t know who those sources are. He talks about his sources providing various information. In the CIA, before we would put out a report like that, an intelligence report, there could be, you know, hundreds of pages of information on that person’s access, on their suitability, on their personality.
We don’t have that. And, secondly, the fact that a lot of this reporting is the presidential administration in Russia and the Kremlin is a little bit worrying, because, I mean, that’s essentially a hard nut to crack. And U.S. intelligence agencies have been trying to do that for years, and the fact that he has this much data about them does put it into question a little bit.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, let’s talk about your organization, Lawfare.
You had a copy of this, what, several weeks ago. And you started looking into it, decided not to put it out, but you did look into it. How did you go about figuring out or trying to figure out what’s real and what isn’t here?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Right.
So, the document was shared with us to — so that we could provide some professional input as to whether or not it was credible. As we were satisfied that the relevant government entities were aware of the documents, and then like everybody else, we attempted to talk to people in various communities to see whether or not the allegations seemed credible to them.
I think the point that we’re at now, it’s really not about our organization or anyone else verifying the specific facts. The FBI is conducting an investigation. We will expect — there are very specific allegations in this document. Those allegations can either be proven true or proven false.
And so we should expect some answers that provide some additional clarity. One important note is just because a single fact in the document is true, it doesn’t mean the rest of the document is true. And just because a single fact in the document is false, that doesn’t mean the rest of the document is false.
JUDY WOODRUFF: That the entire thing is false.
Well, John Sipher, let’s go back to what you said a minute ago. You said there are parts of this that are credible, and you said it’s the way the Russians operate. What did you mean by that?
JOHN SIPHER: It must look odd to views or anybody who has read this thing. It’s such a different world.
But Russia is a police state. Russia has been a police state for much of its history. And this is the way they often do business. They collect blackmail on people. When I lived there, we had audio and video in our houses. We were followed all the time. Restaurants and places, hotels like this are — have video and audio in them. They collect this.
They do psychological profiling of people to try to see who might be sources for them. This is just the way the Russians operate. So when you read this, it smacks of the kind of thing that we would believe is credible. That doesn’t mean it is.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The methods.
JOHN SIPHER: Right, the methods, right, and the — right.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But you went on to say that the precise details in here are not borne out, are not verified by any individuals outside of this report, the British — the British office.
JOHN SIPHER: Right.
And in that sense, it’s difficult because of the hyperpartisan atmosphere here. The fact that this is now in the public is going to spin up on the salacious details and these type of things, whereas I think the FBI does have a lot of experience doing very sensitive investigations like this, working with partners overseas and others to try to put this together, because there are a lot of details that we as citizens can’t follow up on.
Did people travel during those certain days? Who are these people? And that’s the kind of stuff that we just can’t do, and the FBI can and will.
JUDY WOODRUFF: For example, Susan Hennessey, there’s a reference in here to an attempt to get the FISA court, the court that has to OK investigations, surveillance of individuals, permission for them to look at four different people who were working for the Trump campaign, the Trump Organization. How unusual would something like that be?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, certainly, it’s highly unusual in the context of a political campaign or a presidential election.
That said, there is news reports that perhaps there were additional attempts to secure a FISA warrant, and that the FBI reportedly obtained one in October. If the allegations in the documents are true, are accurate, those are the kinds of things that would fall within FISA.
That’s the type of warrant that the government would pursue. That said, just like everything else, we’re a step away from actually verifying the substance of that.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Verifying.
John Sipher, if you’re in charge of the investigation to figure out what is and what isn’t right, if anything is accurate in here, what do you need to do now?
JOHN SIPHER: What you need to do is take each piece of this document and run it to ground.
So, you need to find out — they talk — the issue here is not the salacious details, the blackmail piece. The issue here is the criminal behavior if people in the Trump campaign were working with Russian intelligence to collect information on Americans.
If that’s the case, there’s a lot of detail in there that needs to be verified. And we have to find out, did the people travel on the days they said they traveled, those type of things? So, there are a lot of things to run down that you can run down with your partners and information that you can collect as part of an investigation in U.S. travel records, all these type of things.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, what would you add to that? If you were involved in trying to determine if any parts of this are accurate or to verify that they’re not accurate, how would do you that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Right.
So, certainly, the FBI is going to be calling on all of their resources to investigate the specific allegations, things like travel records, things like financial documents. They’re also going to need to draw on intelligence sources. And so there are specific sort of comments about meetings between Putin and others, very sort of high-level, high-value intelligence targets.
They would really need to reach very deeply into their intelligence networks and the networks of allied intelligence agencies in order to see if anything to lend credibility or substantiate these very serious allegations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: John Sipher, we saw that Senator John McCain had a role, the Republican senator, of course, from Arizona, had a role in this. How did he come into this, and does that tell us anything?
JOHN SIPHER: Well, Senator McCain, obviously, has a lot of experience working with the government on sensitive things and has always been a hawk on Russia issues. And I’m supportive of that. I think he’s been good in that case.
My understanding is the author of this himself provided information, this information to get to the FBI, through Mr. McCain, who got the information through the FBI.
And, obviously, other news places had it. What’s interesting is President Trump, President-elect Trump seems to think that the intelligence agencies themselves leaked this information, whereas it doesn’t seem to me that that’s the case.
The fact that you and others have had this for so long and actually held off on putting it suggests to me that this information has been out there for a while, and I think that’s why General Clapper and others briefed the president-elect on this last Friday.
JUDY WOODRUFF: What would you add to that?
SUSAN HENNESSEY: So, I think this is an incredibly important point.
So, when President-elect Trump today seemed to suggest that he believes the intelligence community leaked this, saying it would be a blot if they had done so, there’s absolutely no indication that the intelligence community is the source of the documents.
BuzzFeed, the organization that published this document, this is actually not even an intelligence community document. It is a private company. It’s not even classified material. And so a little bit, there is a suspicion that once again Donald Trump is using his personal attacks on the intelligence community a little bit to divert attention away from the substance of the allegations.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Very quickly to both of you, how confident are you that we’re going to know eventually whether this is — whether any of this is accurate?
JOHN SIPHER: I have confidence.
Yes, I have confidence that the FBI is going to follow this through. My nervousness is that these kind of things are going to dribble and drabble out for the next several years and cause a real problem for this administration going forward.
SUSAN HENNESSEY: Because this is so important to the credibility of the president, we would really want to see him establish some kind of independent commission or council in order to really get to the bottom of these facts and provide some reassurance to the American people, not only that this is being investigated, but also that President-elect Trump himself is taking this matter very seriously.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Susan Hennessey, John Sipher, we thank you both.
JOHN SIPHER: Thank you.
Above: some useful idiots at a ‘Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine’ meeting, London 2014. Present to hear a message from Borotba were Richard Brenner (Workers Power), Andrew Murray (then of the CPB) and representatives of Socialist Action and the RMT.
By Dale Street
Workers Power (now rebranded as Red Flag) hailed them as their “Ukrainian allies” and as “revolutionary socialists” who had taken the lead in “mobilising workers and youth on the streets to defy the neo-liberals and the fascist gangs.”
Scarcely a meeting of the “Campaign in Solidarity with the Anti-Fascist Resistance in Ukraine” (SARU) took place without a Skype link to one of their members. They provided “the most moving contributions” to SARU meetings, which were “rightly met with a standing ovation”.
For Socialist Appeal it was “the revolutionary organisation that is playing a leading role in the struggle against fascism in the (sic) Ukraine.” Articles by this “left-wing group” were published on the Socialist Appeal website.
Andrew Murray (formerly of the Communist Party of Britain, but now a member of his local CLP) shared platforms with its members. The Morning Star hailed them as part of the “left-wing forces” fighting back against “the neo-Nazi juggernaut” and the “fascist-coup-installed President Poroshenko”.
But e-mails from the office of Putin aide Vladislav Surkov – dating from 2014 and published by Ukrainian hackers at the close of last year – reveal that leaders of the Ukrainian supposedly-socialist organisation Borotba were nothing more than propagandists for Putin.
According to an article on the Ukrainian “Reft and Light” website (covering the blurring of differences between sections of the right and left internationally):
“This mass of e-mails contain documentary confirmation of the co-operation of all leading figures in Borotba with the Kremlin – or, to be more exact, the work undertaken by Borotba for the Kremlin.”
And the Ukrainian journalist Denis Kazansky writes:
“It is now an established fact that Borotba, the left-wing party of Manchuk, Kirichuk and co., was working for Surkov. They claimed they were combating the oligarchs and big capital. In fact, they were working for oligarchs and big capital – not of Ukraine, but of Russia.”
The copious material released by the hackers contains e-mails sent in the summer of 2014 to Aleksei Chesnakov, a long-standing associate of Surkov with a record of promoting the Kremlin’s politics through media outlets. In 2014 his remit, like that of Surkov, included Ukraine.
Documents attached to the e-mails include lists of journalists and activists whose writings pursued an unremittingly pro-Kremlin line during the still unresolved conflict in Ukraine.
Names on the lists include the Borotba leaders Shapinov, Albu, Manchuk, Kirichuk and Bliuminov, as well as the lesser known Ivan Zelensky (who writes under the name Nikolai Lenivtsyn).
Kirichuk is on a list entitled “High Profile Individuals”. Manchuk and Albu are on the “Not-High-Profile Individuals” list. Shapinov and Bliuminov are on the “Individuals of Medium Effectiveness” list, as too is Zelensky.
The different headings under which the Borotba leaders are grouped are themselves evidence that these are not lists of individuals whose pro-separatist writings had been stumbled across by some petty Kremlin bureaucrat.
In fact, the list which includes Manchuk’s name goes a step further and refers to him as “kustovoi”, meaning, in this context, that Manchuk was a ‘cluster leader’ of the group around him and that he exercised an influence over it.
Some of the e-mails also contain “temniki”: bullet-point prompts about how particular issues should be written about (from a pro-Kremlin point of view). Articles written by Borotba leaders correspond to the “temniki”.
The clearest example are articles by Kirichuck about the shooting down of a civilian plane (by separatists, using Russian-supplied military equipment) in July of 2014. Almost word-for-word Kirichuk repeats four of the eight bullet points in the relevant “temnik”.
Kirichuk’s only innovation is that whereas the final bullet point in the “temnik” proposes drawing a historical analogy with the assassination of the Emperor Franz Ferdinand, Kirichuk prefers to draw an analogy between the conflict in Ukraine and genocide in Rwanda.
One of the documents – of no relevance to Borotba at all – published by the hackers is almost certainly a fake. The rest have been authenticated by experts. The hackers also went to the trouble of publishing copies of the Surkov family’s passports as proof they had hacked the e-mail account of Surkov’s office.
In one sense, the authenticity of the hacked e-mails is almost irrelevant. The e-mails only confirm now what was obvious then.
Throughout 2014 Borotba peddled the Kremlin line on the conflict in Ukraine, even going so far as to organise joint campaigns with overt Russian nationalists (Rodina) and anti-semitic and anti-immigration pan-Slav chauvinists (Slavic Unity).
One (ex-)member of Borotba – Zelensky – has responded to the scandal provoked by the release of the hacked e-mails with a “So what’s all the fuss about?” response:
“Find just one, JUST ONE, article, you bastard, where we breached communism and its ideas, bearing in mind that from the outset, you bastard, we said that the whole fucking Maidan would lead to civil war and the current sorry state of Ukraine.”
“Did we accept donations? Yes, we did. From whom? From everyone. We took donations from everyone, including Kremlin political functionaries. So what?”
“The ‘temniki’ listed the main events of the week, but we explained them in the only way possible for us. So what if it coincided overall with the Kremlin discourse? What all anti-imperialists in the world said (about Ukraine) coincided as well.”
Borotba itself has disappeared. Its paper is no more, and neither is its website. Kirichuk is based in Berlin, Bliuminov is somewhere in Asia, and Shapinov and Albu have found a home for themselves among Russian Stalinist-nostalgics.
Borotba had its moment of glory in 2014. Not in Ukraine, where it was always more of a name than an actual organisation. But on the western European ‘left’, where a plentiful supply of useful idiots boosted its counterfeit ‘anti-fascist’ credentials while ignoring its pro-Russian-imperialist politics.
From Tendance Coates, but with my headline (above):
Ali’s Latest Wistful Musings….
Dead Centre; The Year in Shock with Tariq Ali.
Art Forum begins:
THE STUNNING RISE OF NATIONALISM, populism, and fundamentalism has roiled the world. It is tempting to imagine that we are witnessing just another rotation of political modernity’s cycle of progress and backlash. But we can situate the undoing of the demos in democracy’s longue durée while rejecting the false comfort of the idea that what’s happening is not new, that we’ve seen it all before. How did we get here? How did we create the conditions for Trump, for Brexit, for Mosul, for a daily sequence of devastating events, whether shootings or strikes? Is shock, that quintessentially modernist avant-garde strategy of instigating mass perceptual—and therefore political—change, somehow more prevalent than ever, albeit in radically transformed ways? Does shock, in fact, go hand in hand with apathy and desensitization?
Indeed, masses of perpetual longue durées is a must for the quintessentially modernist avant-garde demos.
In this roiled (I have no idea of what this means but it suggests rolling all over the place) piece the Sage of Islington replies with his musings on this rotational cycle.
Speaking of Brexit and Trump the veteran pundit, awake from a much needed twenty year doze, admits,
…what strikes me as unexpected is the speed with which this right-wing recrudescence has taken place. Suddenly, in every major European country, you have right-wing groups developing along anti-immigration lines, saying, “We’ve got too many foreigners in our country,” trying to unite voters around populist xenophobia.
On the wars and deaths that have led people fleeing from the conflicts in Iraq and Syriya he is clear where the blame lies.
Not with Assad at any rate….
we confront the fact that the US and its EU allies uprooted these populations in the first place. When you bomb Arab cities and Arab countries, reduce them to penury, destroy their social infrastructures, and effectively create a vacuum in which religious fundamentalists come to the fore, it is not surprising that millions of people want to run away.
Honesty compels him to admit,
We waged a left-wing campaign called Lexit, Left Exit from Europe, which was very small and had limited impact, but our position certainly did chime with the views of a number of people we talked to on the streets, etc., who said that the country was wrecked and that staying in the EU would prevent us from doing anything to fix it.
Brexit was far from the only recent instance in which far Left and Right have found unlikely common ground.
Apparently the real problem is what Ali (and nobody else) calls the “extreme centre”.
I wish I could say that I think the extreme center has been put on notice by the past year’s turmoil and by Trump’s election, that new prospects for the Left and for direct democracy have opened up in the wake of Corbyn’s and Sanders’s campaigns. Unfortunately, I can’t. In the 1960s and ’70s, there was a great deal of optimism. There were few victories, but the defeats weren’t of such a nature that we thought they were going to be permanent or semipermanent. We live in bad times, I feel—the worst through which I’ve ever lived. There was a ray of hope during the height of the Bolívarian experiment in South America, where Chávez’s incredibly moving idea to unite the continent against the empires was very heartening. His death and the dramatic drop in the price of oil have of course brought Venezuela to a dire state. While Ecuador and Bolivia are doing somewhat better, people feel that we are going to be defeated there. And then, with the economic changes that the United States wants in Cuba, one is wondering how long it will be before Cuba becomes a US brothel again. I hope that doesn’t happen. But if it does, I won’t be surprised…
Nothing would surprise Ali…
But thankfully Good News and Merry Cheer is on the way,
Given the state of the world, I’ve been revived somewhat by working on a new book for the centenary of the Russian Revolution next year, The Dilemmas of Lenin. Lenin was a visionary inspired by utopian dreams, a man of practical action and ruthless realism. Rereading him and related works has been a real treat, so much so that my dedication is actually quite optimistic. “For those who will come after: The road to the future can only be unlocked by the past.”
Alan Partridge could not have expressed these thoughts with such a deft touch.
The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.
Let Battle Commence!
The path to what’s coming starts from the beginning what went before
By Rabbil Sikdar (reblogged from Medium, here)
I wear my socialism on my sleeves and will never shy away from that. Every Political Compass test has me basically nailed down as a ‘hard left’ person. The things I believe in, radical to some, sensible to others define my sense of socialism: fair wages, fair taxes, strong public sector, social housing and a compassionate welfare system. My socialism comes from my experiences and values, in growing up in east London and seeing a community fall victim to poverty and gentrification.
In an age where compromise is needed to move forward, I won’t apologise for that. But I will for being so slow to realise how Morning Star was positioning itself across a wide variety of issues.
I’m not a factional socialist; I’d happily write for the Morning Star and at the same time agree with people from Progress. Mostly though, when I initially began writing for the Star I did so as someone so happy to be writing for a newspaper. I did not know Star’s history but I would come to learn of it later; I waved it away thinking these were different times. Besides, at the start we had more in common. We both wanted a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party.
That was then. I no longer write for the Star and for a while had been winding down my contribution. By the end it was just sport content because of my respect for the sports editor. For the other part, I have a lot of things to be angry about with the Star.
For a newspaper that subscribes to left wing values, that should include free speech and right to criticise politicians. Unfortunately this never extended to criticism of Corbyn’s failing leadership, or Diane Abbott; it didn’t include the ‘Lexit’ vote — and where it mattered most crucially, it did not include Russia and Assad.
The paper has never criticised the Assad regime or Putin. Lines that go along with “we’re no fans of the Assad regime but…” are poor condemnations. In fact, they’re not condemnations at all. Someone recently described it quite well as imagining defenders of the British Empire dismissing the Amritsar Massacre. Likewise, saying “we condemn all bombings” gravely misunderstands who is doing the bombing and draws a false equivalence between aggressive actors and those responding to the violence. The Syrian Network for Human Rights reported in 2015 that the Assad regime was responsible for more than 10,000 deaths. ISIS, for all their barbarism, had killed just over a thousand. Since then, those statistics have continued in underlining the basic fact that Assad — backed up by Russia — has been responsible for the brutal carnage.
This is the humanitarian war crime of our time, a genocide that we watched live on television Facebook for years — and we did nothing. We have witnessed ethnic cleansing, repeated breaking of ceasefires and remorseless ruthlessness towards civilian population. The Syrian resistance against a fascist dictator desperately needed solidarity from the international community, and especially the left.
Some gave it; I’ve seen some fantastic leftist activists bravely holding everyone to account; Oz Katerji, Idrees Ahmad and James Bloodworth being some of them. The late Jo Cox was a strong supporter of the inspirational White Helmets. Read the rest of this entry »
The front page of the paper that claims to represent the British labour movement:
While the UN and all reputable news sources report on pro-government forces in Aleppo executing dozens of civilians including women and children, British Stalinists hail the massacres as a “liberation”.
The Morning Star‘s uncritical support for Assad and parroting of Putin’s propaganda throughout the Syrian war has been a disgrace that must call into question the financial support that this filthy, lying rag receives from major unions.
The only – small – thing to be said in the rag’s favour, is that it has published a few letters from a couple of readers who retain some shreds of human decency and critical thinking. As they don’t appear on the rag’s website, we reproduce them here:
December 3-4 2016
GIVEN that the United Nations estimated in October 2016 that there were no more than 900 Nusra Front fighters in Aleppo out of a maximum of 8,000 rebels in total, I’m confused by the recent Morning Star headline: “Thousands freed from jihadist grip in eastern Aleppo” (M Star November 30)
I realise the make-up of rebel groups in Syria is complex but I’ve not seen any evidence to suggest the rebels in Aleppo are all jihadists.
Furthermore, rather than cite the Kremlin and the Russian Defence Ministry as the article does, perhaps it would be wiser to focus on reports from NGOs such as Amnesty International which has called on Russia to “end indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks” in Syria, including the “use of cluster munitions and dropping unguided bombs on civilian areas.”
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
December 7 2016
I HAVE read recent reports and an editorial on Syria in our paper with dismay. I note the use of such expressions as “solidarity with the nation’s struggle against foreign-backed aggression” but never is there any mention of the people of Syria’s struggle against the hated and feared Assad regime.
Has everyone forgotten that the conflict in Syria started when the people came out on the streets, in the tail end of the Arab Spring, in revolt against the brutal repression of President Bashar Assad and his torturers?
Of course, much has changed since then, with the intervention of many other forces in this complex war but there is overwhelming evidence that the Assad regime, aided by the Russians, has been bombing civilians, hospitals and schools: murdering Syrian civilians because they oppose the regime and then describing them as “terrorists”.
It seems convenient for some to forget what the Assad regime stands for, the repression and brutality, the torture used not just to extract information but to put fear into the population so that no opponents of the regime will challenge it.
Perhaps readers are not aware that, to give just one example, a 13-year-old boy was arrested in 2011 during a protest and then tortured, castrated and his body mutilated while in the custody of the Syrian government.
I support the position of the Stop the War Coalition which I believe is that there should be no intervention or bombing, including by Russia and that we must do everything possible to achieve a negotiated settlement.
There is no easy solution but surely we must not gloss over decades of appalling human rights abuses in Syria and express solidarity with the regime at the expense of the Syrian people?
DAVE ESBESTER London SW19
December 9 2016
IN A RECENT editorial the Morning Star argued “there would be no advantage for Assad in carrying out atrocities” such as bombing hospitals and schools (M Star November 29).
If one is trying to force a large city into submission through the application of overwhelming and deadly force, as the Syrian government is doing in Aleppo, then it is logical to target hospitals in an attempt to make life unbearable for the rebels and the population they are living amongst. Furthermore, bombing hospitals significantly reduces the fighting capability of the opposition relying on the hospitals to patch up their wounded.
Surely it is the duty of all thinking and humane people to raise their voice in opposition to this illegal, murderous and morally depraved military tactic — whether it is carried out by Western/Western-backed forces or Syrian/Russian forces?
IAN SINCLAIR London E15
NB: see also Comrade Coatesy, here.
Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell joined with supporters of Syria Solidarity to intervene at a speech by Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday. The reason was obvious: Corbyn and the Labour front bench have remained silent while Assad and Putin have bombed hospitals, aid convoys and civilians in Syria. This has been the biggest massacre of a civilian population since World War Two.
East Aleppo has been besieged for months, with Assad using his favourite tactic against civilians (after barrel bombs, that is): starvation and the denial of water, shelter and medical treatment. The UN has predicted that Aleppo will become “a giant graveyard” if Assad and Putin continue to refuse a cease fire.
Yet the so-called Stop The War Coalition, which Corbyn continues to support, says nothing. Perhaps because its current Chair supports the Russian bombing.
The politically bankrupt and morally depraved Morning Star (reflecting the policy of its political master, the Communist Party of Britain) openly supports Assad’s attacks and cheer-leads for Putin’s intervention, parroting his propaganda.
Now, the Morning Star (a paper, remember, funded by the subs of Unite members and other rank and file trade unionists, without their knowledge or consent) attacks Tatchell for disrupting Corbyn’s speech and, supposedly, “diver(ing) attention away from the crucial issue of women’s rights and domestic violence”. The M Star goes on to quote the repugnant pro-Assad convenor of the so-called “Stop The War Coalition” and professional liar, Ms Lindsey German, spreading her typically dishonest poison about Tatchell: “He claims to be on the left and a supporter of Stop the War initially but the reality is that he has supported every war since we were established”.
In the face of these Stalinist lies, and pro-Putin/Assad apologetics, we republish below, Peter Tatchell’s statement about this incident:
Syria Solidarity UK activists were joined by Peter Tatchell when they protested during a speech by Jeremy Corbyn at Westminster Central Hall on Saturday 10 December. They urged the Labour Party to pursue “actions not words” to save civilians in Aleppo and other Syrian cities.
Jeremy Corbyn was outlining the Labour Party’s commitment to fundamental rights on Human Rights Day. Syria human rights campaigners walked to the front and stood in front of him with placards saying: “Action not words: Back UK aid drops now. Protect civilians.”
Protest participant, human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, said:
“The protest was organised by Syria Solidarity UK. It was not against Jeremy Corbyn or Labour. It was an appeal for them to act, to defend the human rights of Syrian civilians, by actively campaigning for a parliamentary vote on humanitarian aid drops, sanctions and war crimes charges against the Assad and Putin regimes, UN-supervised evacuation of civilians and White Helmet rescue teams to safe havens, and for Syria to be suspended from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire and stops blocking aid deliveries. Neither Labour nor Jeremy are actively campaigning for any of these initiatives.
“We urged Jeremy Corbyn to press for a parliamentary debate and vote to mandate UK aid drops of food and medicine to besieged civilians in Aleppo and other cities. He declined to give that commitment when I asked him. Why isn’t he holding the government to account for its inaction, and publicly demanding that it agree to a vote in parliament on air drops of humanitarian aid?
“Labour has never organised even one event in solidarity with Syrian democrats, socialists and civil society activists. It never promoted or campaigned for the passage of Canada’s UN Syria resolution under 377A – Uniting for Peace – which called for the immediate cessation of hostilities, humanitarian aid access and an end to all sieges.
“The protest was polite and lasted five minutes. Jeremy was briefly delayed but not stopped from speaking. He addressed all the issues he originally planned to speak on.
“It was initially a silent protest until Labour officials indicated they wanted to know what it was about, which is when I spoke.
“Jeremy thanked us for raising the issue of Syria and we will now be pressing him for dialogue and action to help save lives in Syria. I will continue to support much of what Jeremy is striving for. Both of us remain friends.
“Jeremy’s speech rightly condemned Saudi war crimes in Yemen but made only a passing reference to Syria and offered no proposals to remedy the humanitarian crisis there. This has a whiff of double standards.
“What action has Labour taken to protect civilians in Syria? Nothing, so far. Aleppo is the Guernica of our age. Labour’s fine words need to be backed up with deeds. It is not listening to the appeals for action from democratic civil society activists inside Syria. We heard their cry for help and acted at their request. Our protest gave effect to their appeal for action.
“On Human Rights Day, Labour gathered to celebrate the noble sentiments in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But in Aleppo, the Syrian and Russian military are targeting fleeing refugees, children in schools, doctors in hospitals and civil rescue teams from the White Helmets. Hundreds of boys and men have allegedly gone missing from the areas seized last week by Assad regime forces. At least 100,000 civilians are being deliberately starved in Aleppo and a million others elsewhere in Free Syria.
“Labour must act, not just speak. So too must the Conservatives – and all parties. We call on Theresa May and Boris Johnson to also heed our call. We will protest against them in due course. There must surely be a cross-party consensus on humanitarian air drops. Why aren’t they happening? Labour should give a lead by initiating a House of Commons vote to make them happen,” said Mr Tatchell.
Clara Connolly from Syria Solidarity UK added:
“Do Syrian civilians have human rights? If so, why are we allowing this to continue? Western diplomats have conceded that there are no technical obstacles to delivering airdrops of food and medicine to Aleppo using a GPS-guided parachute system. What is lacking is the political will. If we stay silent, if Western politicians refuse to take what actions are available to them, then they are complicit in these massacres.”
Syria Solidarity UK are calling on Jeremy Corbyn and Labour Party MPs and members to publicly and vocally:
• Support calls for humanitarian access to besieged areas in Syria.
• Push for a parliamentary vote on unilateral UK aid drops.
• Demand the suspension of Syria from the UN until it agrees to a ceasefire, and stops blocking aid to besieged areas.
• Request UN-supervised evacuations of the White Helmets and the civilian population.
From Avaaz (6 Dec):
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“Heil Trump!” This is what “respectable” conservatives are kowtowing before
“Everywhere you look you see conservatives sniffing the air and catching the scent of the radical right. It tempts them with the most seductive perfume in politics: the whiff of power. Populists are rewriting the rules and conservatives have seen they can break the old taboos, assault the constitutional order and lie with ease. Their suppressed thoughts now look like election winners.”
On the principle of avoiding living in a political echo chamber, I’ve been a subsciber to the right of centre UK magazine Standpoint since shortly after its launch in 2008. Although I’ve never agreed with its editorial ‘line’ (broadly neo-Conservative) it was well-written, intellectually challenging and contained some excellent coverage of literature and music as well as politics. But it’s become noticeably more stridently right wing over the last couple of years. It went seriously down in my estimation when it backed Brexit. The present (Dec/Jan) issue urges readers to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt“. This is a step too far even for me.
I’ve even taken the trouble to send the editor my thoughts:
So, Standpoint urges us to give Trump the “benefit of the doubt”; so much for all the dire warnings about the Putin threat and Obama and the “EU elite”‘s reluctance to confront him. So much for the evocations of “Western civilisation” and basic democratic norms. What a craven sell-out, apparently because “several American contributors to Standpoint … are close to or even part of the new administration.” I note that your execrable pro-Trump editorial closes with an appeal for funds. You will not be receiving any from me. In fact, please cancel my subscription.
For intelligent right wing commentary I’m switching to The Spectator. It would be excellent if some of Standpoint‘s less craven/swivel-eyed contributors (eg Nick Cohen, Julie Bindle, Maureen Lipman) walked out over this.
I’m hoping Cohen, at least, will walk, given his excellent piece in last Sunday’s Observer (from which the quote at the top is taken), on the capitulation of “respectable” conservatives to the radical right. Theresa May and the Daily Mail are two obvious examples. Standpoint is another.