AWL statement: Yes, antisemitism *is* an issue!

July 29, 2017 at 3:59 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, labour party, Livingstone, London, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, wankers)


Above: antisemitic protest by some local Momentum people (not backed by national Momentum) at Haringey Council meeting

By Ira Berkovic (also in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Controversies have arisen in some local Labour Parties and Momentum groups around whether to endorse definitions of antisemitism proposed by various civil society organisations. Two main definitions have been promoted in the labour movement, one from the European Union Monitoring Centre (EUMC) and one from the International Holocaust Remembrance Association (IHRA). Both include short “definitions”, supplemented by lengthier “guidance”.

Some local government bodies, including Haringey Borough Council in north London, are due to debate (or already have debated) endorsement of the IHRA definition and guidance. The local Momentum group in Haringey organised a protest to lobby councillors to vote against endorsement. The protestors claimed such policies are a part of a “Zionist” campaign to restrict “free speech on Israel”.

Some believe that, in all the controversies around antisemitism in the Labour Party, there is no actual antisemitism at all, but only an effort to silence critics of Israel. It seems not to have occurred to them that in almost none of the prominent cases (Jackie Walker, Ken Livingstone, and others), the things said or written were not “criticisms of Israel” but comments about Jewish financiers funding slavery and comments that alleged Jewish complicity in the Holocaust. In cases where the charge relates more directly to comments about Israel (that of Vicki Kirby, for example, who tweeted that Islamic State should attack “the real oppressor”, Israel), no-one claims that those in question are sincere Palestine solidarity activists with track records of important advocacy and solidarity work for Palestine who are somehow being targeted or silenced because of this.

Quite how the “Free Speech on Israel” campaign serves the cause of Palestine by devoting its energies to defending the likes of Walker and Livingstone on these matters is not clear. Neither the occupation of the West Bank nor the siege of Gaza have been much threatened by these people’s fervent insistence that there is no antisemitism in the British Labour Party (or, as some argue, in society at all). The Palestinian people are not one inch closer to freedom because some Labour Party activists in north London have worked themselves into a lather defending Ken Livingstone’s right to spout toxic lies and misleading half-truths in the national media.

The alternative lens for understanding antisemitism proposed by the “Free Speech on Israel” campaigners is that antisemitism can only ever consist of direct, implicitly racist, hostility to Jews as Jews. As it is rare to find anyone on the left guilty of this, there cannot be any antisemitism on the left. And attempts to combat antisemitism within the movement are therefore addressing an almost non-existent problem, and must have an ulterior motive. The real issue, they argue, is the fabrication of antisemitism to bolster Israel. Labour Parties and Momentum groups should be passing motions about that, not ones which attempt to mobilise opposition to antisemitism.

It is true that antisemitism is no longer, in most of the world, a “cutting edge” form of racism and bigotry, experienced primarily materially. It has largely receded to the level of ideology, but socialists should still understand how an idea can, in Marx’s phrase, “descend from language into life”. The global rise of a right-wing nationalist populism that draws on antisemitic tropes about “globalist financiers” shows how antisemitism could easily regain a material form, as such movements grow on the streets. Governments informed, at least in part, by such ideologies are in power in Russia, Hungary, and the United States.

There is also the continued existence of a powerful global Islamist movement, steeped in antisemitism. Against such a backdrop the desire to discuss, understand, and guard against antisemitism is a perfectly legitimate one. And yet antisemitism remains the only form of bigotry which most of the left responds to not by simply opposing it and sympathetically investigating any complaints, but by immediately impugning the motives of the plaintiff and ascribing bad faith and ulterior motives. Whatever the precise details, a Momentum demonstration outside Haringey council chambers against the council adopting a firm stance of opposition to antisemitism will appear to almost everyone who notices it as a demonstration against the idea that antisemitism should be firmly opposed.

Undoubtedly there are instances in politics where allegations of antisemitism are manipulated for factional ends. This can be true of any bigotry: for example, the Bengali-background socialist Ansar Ahmed Ullah has noted how political Islamist forces have manipulated the concept of “Islamophobia” to stifle criticism of their politics and legitimate secularist-atheist criticism of Islam (Solidarity 308, 8 January 2014). But just as such manipulation does not negate the existence of real anti-Muslim racism, neither do any instances of political manipulation and instrumentalisation of antisemitism mean that the issue of antisemitism is not real.

The IHRA guidance, which is now more current than the EUMC’s, is imperfect, as any attempt to distil so complex and varied an ideological edifice as antisemitism down to a few bullet points will be. One of its points, certainly, is politically dubious: it defines any attempt to “deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination” as antisemitic: this definition would include anyone, including members of Workers’ Liberty, who do not see all Jews, wherever they live, as part of a singular nation capable of expressing a unitary self-determination through the state of Israel. We believe that the Israeli-Jewish nation currently living in historical Palestine does constitute a national group, which does have a right to self-determination. And it is true that denials of that right to the only majority-Jewish national group on earth by people who extend it as a principle to every other national group cannot but tend towards exceptionalisation and discrimination: that is, towards antisemitism.

The guidance’s assertion that claims that “the State of Israel is a racist endeavour” are antisemitic is perhaps also ambiguous: any serious historical analysis of Israel’s foundation must identify elements of ethnic cleansing in the 1948 war, and conclude that much of the Zionist movement and early Israeli state policy was informed by racist ideas. Certainly, the contemporary state of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Arab minority within Israel is racist. Such political assessments are patently not antisemitic. However claims that Israel, uniquely amongst world states and even amongst states whose foundation was based entirely or in part on colonial settlement and the displacement of an indigenous population, is so profoundly racist that it requires dismantling (rather than, say, radical upheaval and reform), do indeed suggest, at the very least, a remarkable double standard.

Workers Liberty has long argued that a form of political antisemitism exists in some sections of the left, consisting in an implied hostility to Jews, based on an exceptionalising and essentialising ahistorical attitude to Zionism. This left antisemitism can be traced back to the industrial-scale denunciations, antisemitic show-trials, and conspiracy-mongering about “Zionism” conducted by the Stalinist ruling class of the USSR. We have argued that this left antisemitism is distinct from the racialised antipathy towards Jews on which Hitlerite antisemitism is based.

If the IHRA guidance can be criticised on any more thoroughgoing basis, it is that it collapses these distinct categories into one, which risks obscuring as much as it clarifies. That is an argument for further discussion, better education, and further clarification of terms and concepts. It is certainly no argument for the approach Haringey Momentum has taken.

Those who propose its adoption in the labour movement out of a desire to clarify the understanding of antisemitism, and deepen opposition to it, have far better instincts than those whose political antenna are (mis)tuned to detect the shadowy Zionist plot to defend Israel behind every attempts to discuss antisemitism in the labour movement. Workers’ Liberty sides with those people and their better instincts against those who would downplay or dismiss the issue of antisemitism.

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Venezuela, honesty and the left

July 28, 2017 at 1:48 pm (Andrew Coates, apologists and collaborators, BBC, civil rights, Cuba, cults, Human rights, Latin America, liberation, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reblogged, solidarity, stalinism, thuggery)

Once again we borrow an excellent piece from Comrade Coatesy’s blog:

Time for the Left to Defend Human Rights in Venezuela.

Many people will have watched yesterday’s report on Venezuela on  the BBC  Newsnight.

It was deeply disturbing.

“In Venezuela, activists say the government is using torture and imprisonment without trial against those who oppose it – a claim the government denies. So who are the people hoping to overthrow President Maduro? Vladimir Hernandez reports.”

The programme showed evidence of repression that would shock all supporters of human rights.

I am not in a mood to listen to those who will try to cast doubt on the BBC report.

There are plenty of other reliable sources of information which confirm their facts begining with, La represión de Maduro se salda con al menos 36 muertos en un mes.  El País (May 5)

The Guardian reports today, “It takes a lot of courage’: Venezuelan protesters tell of rising police violence.As general strike begins, more than 100 have died and hundreds more arrested in anti-government protests since April. Spanish language media takes the same angle, Una huelga general endurece el pulso contra la Constituyente de Maduro. Tres muertos, 367 detenidos, calles desiertas y barricadas en el paro organizado por la oposición a una semana para la Asamblea Nacional Constituyente. El País (Today). The mass emigration of the population is also startling, Les Vénézuéliens s’exilent en masse vers la Colombie. (le Monde)

The splits inside the Chavista side (signaled in the Newsnight film) are well known: La procureure générale du Venezuela critique la répression de l’opposition.

Here is some more of the BBC coverage:

How is the left reacting?

First of all we have the Morning Star’s ‘reports’ which say nothing of state repression.

VENEZUELA’S right-wing opposition launched a 48-hour “civic strike” yesterday, calling on workers to stay at home in its latest campaign to derail plans to convene a new constituent assembly.

President Nicolas Maduro has confirmed that Sunday’s elections will go ahead to choose the members of the assembly, despite the Democratic Unity Roundtable (Mud) coalition’s three-month campaign of rioting which has led to hundreds of deaths.

The CTV union federation, which supported the 2002 coup against late president Hugo Chavez, said its 333,000 members would join the strike.

On Tuesday, Mr Maduro said Venezuela would “choose between peace and war, between the future or the past and between independence or colonialism.” He has said that the new constituent assembly will promote peace and reconciliation.

Foreign Minister Samuel Moncada has demanded answers from the US over “systematic” efforts to overthrow its elected government. He said there was a “campaign of intelligence operations at the highest level to overthrow the constitutional government of President Nicolas Maduro.”

The Foreign Ministry accused Washington of providing “finance and logistical support to the Venezuelan opposition as an integral part of its destabilising efforts against democracy.”

It also condemned former president Barack Obama for extending his 2015 decree designating Venezuela an “extraordinary threat to US national security” before leaving office in January.

It also attacked Mr Obama’s successor Donald Trump for additional sanctions imposed since he took office.

This is what Cuba said….

Cuban Communist Party second secretary Jose Ramon Machado denied claims Havana would mediate between the government and opposition.

He said it was up to the Venezuelan people and government to overcome their challenges “without foreign meddling in their internal affairs.

“Those who from the outside try to give lessons on democracy and human rights while encouraging coup-mongering violence and terrorism should take their hands off that nation.”

Counterpunch,

Time for the “International Left” to Take a Stand on Venezuela    July the 17th

Venezuela is heading towards an increasingly dangerous situation, in which open civil war could become a real possibility. So far over 100 people have been killed as a result of street protests, most of these deaths are the fault of the protesters themselves (to the extent that we know the cause). The possibility of civil war becomes more likely as long the international media obscure who is responsible for the violence and as long as the international left remains on the sidelines in this conflict and fails to show solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement in Venezuela.

So, instead of silence, neutrality, or indecision from the international left in the current conflict in Venezuela, what is needed is active solidarity with the Bolivarian socialist movement. Such solidarity means vehemently opposing all efforts to overthrow the government of President Maduro during his current presidential term in office. Aside from the patent illegality that the Maduro government’s overthrow would represent, it would also be a literally deadly blow to Venezuela’s socialist movement and to the legacy of President Chávez. The international left does not even need to take a position on whether the proposed constitutional assembly or negotiations with the opposition is the best way to resolve the current crisis. That is really up to Venezuelans to decide. Opposing intervention and disseminating information on what is actually happening in Venezuela, though, are the two things where non-Venezuelans can play a constructive role.

Socialist Appeal (17th of July) continues in this vein,

Defeat reaction with revolution

The reactionary opposition represents the interests of the oligarchy (bankers, capitalists and landowners) and imperialism which stands behind them. If they were to take power they would launch a massive austerity package on the Venezuelan workers and the poor, with brutal cuts in public spending, the abolition of the Bolivarian social programs, the privatisation of social housing, the privatisation of expropriated companies, the privatisation of re-nationalised utilities, the abolition of the main rights and protections in the Labour Law, etc. At the same time, they would launch a political purge of all state institutions, ministries and state-owned companies and  an all out assault on democratic rights, unleashing a lynch mob against chavistas and their organisations.

For this reason we must oppose their reactionary campaign and stand in solidarity with the Venezuelan working people.

But,

As we have explained elsewhere, this does not mean giving support to the present policies of the Maduro government, which are ineffective in combatting reaction and by making constant concessions to the capitalist class undermine the social base of support of the Bolivarian movement. Even now, during the campaign for the Constituent Assembly elections, the so-called “patriotic businessmen” are advocating the privatisation of expropriated companies as well as the use of the Assembly to “strengthen private property rights”. This is the main plank of the campaign of Oscar Schemel, for instance, with the full backing of businessman and minister Perez Abad, which has been given ample time in all the state media. That road leads directly to disaster.

The only way to defend the conquests of the revolution is by unleashing the revolutionary self-activity and organisation of the masses of workers, peasants and the poor. An example of what is possible can be seen in the campaigns organised by groups like the Bolivar Zamora Revolutionary Current (which has organised Popular Defence Brigades) or the Alexis Vive Patriotic Force (which is calling for a new revolutionary leadership).

The offensive of the oligarchy must be defeated, but it can only be defeated by revolutionary means.

The duty of revolutionaries and consistent democrats internationally is to oppose the insurrectionary attempts of the reactionary opposition and defend the gains of the Bolivarian revolution. Taking a “neutral” position puts you objectively on the side of counter-revolution. We must wage a relentless campaign against the lies of the international media, to denounce our own imperialist governments which support reaction in Venezuela in the name of “democracy” and “human rights”. At the same time we must support and encourage those in Venezuela who are beginning to draw the correct revolutionary conclusions from this crisis: we cannot make half a revolution.

These might be fringe leftist groups but more seriously El Pais has accused Podemos of complicity with Maduro: Cómplices de Maduro (28th of July). That is, “guardan silencio, cuando no justifican a Maduro y acusan a la oposición de antidemocrática..” (ie: Podemos leaders have kept silent, when they are not justifying Maduro and accusing the opposition of being antidemocratic).

Others are beginning to ask broader questions.

Being honest about Venezuela. Socialist Worker (USA, no relation these days to SW UK).

The world’s media, overwhelmingly hostile to the Bolivarian process, sneer at President Nicolás Maduro’s rhetoric while presenting the right-wing parties, which certainly launched this wave of violence, as defenders of democracy. This definition of democracy apparently allows whole populations to fall into poverty and illness, with nearly 100 people left to die in the streets.

Meanwhile, the international left has accepted the explanations government spokespersons offer, still believing that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, when a helicopter attacked government buildings on June 28, some observers simply added the event to the catalog of right-wing violence.

It is, unsurprisingly, far more complicated than that.

Oscar Pérez, a retired officer of the state security services, piloted the helicopter. Pérez has close ties to ex-Interior Minister Miguel Rodríguez Torres, whom Maduro dismissed in 2014. Torres, like the majority of the current cabinet and around half of Venezuela’s state governors, belongs to the military. He also leads one of a number of Chavista factions angling for power.

Behind a façade of governmental unity, another struggle is developing, but none of the groups are fighting to continue the revolutionary project or to reconstruct the mass movement that saved it after the attempted coup and the bosses’ strikes of 2002-3.

The opposition is also split into rival factions. Some advocate dialogue with the president, while others, especially the group that Leopoldo Lopez and his partner Liliana Tintori lead, almost certainly support the most violent street fighters. They aim not only to get rid of Maduro but also to destroy Chavismo itself.

Most Venezuelans know the major players on the right: they belong to the wealthiest and most powerful families, who controlled the economy until Chávez arrived. Since the first street barricades went up, Maduro has tried to work with representatives of these right-wing sectors. In 2014, for example, he called in Lorenzo Mendoza, head of the Polar multinational and one of the richest Venezuelans.

Gustavo Cisneros, another member of that exclusive clan, has remained untouched in the nearly 20 years of Chavismo. He recently claimed that Venezuela needs a Macri, referring to the militantly neoliberal Argentine president, who is currently working to dismantle that country’s public sector. Cisneros likely speaks from knowledge of the right’s strategic thinking.

As the economic and political crisis deepens, it’s become obvious that neither the government nor the opposition will offer any real solutions. While Maduro betrays the revolution by courting the bourgeoisie and sliding backwards into neoliberalism, right-wing forces have brought in violent mercenaries to try and disrupt the country even further. As these two groups struggle for power, ordinary Venezuelans are watching the gains of Chavismo slip away.

It must have been hard for the comrades of the ISO to say the above, but it needed to be said.

Nobody can accept the state version of what is happening in Venezuela, or its claim to ‘defend’ anything resembling socialism.

We have to defend human rights.

It is time for those in this country who are close to these issues to speak out.

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Matgamna’s picture of the revolutionary left in disarray

July 19, 2017 at 3:24 pm (AWL, left, liberation, Marxism, political groups, posted by JD, publications, reactionay "anti-imperialism", revolution, Shachtman, socialism, stalinism, trotskyism)

Paul Hampton of the AWL reviews The Left in Disarray by Sean Matgamna

Why is the revolutionary left in such a mess today, despite the economic problems of the last decade, the crises of many neoliberal states, the enormous size of the global waged working class, the potential power of the trade union movement and the signs of revival in left politics? The answers to why the Marxist left is in such a state are comprehensively hammered home in this collection of essays. The book is a tour de force history of the revolutionary left over the past one hundred years. The short answer is: Stalinism.

But the syphilis of Stalinism is not only about the states that were or still are ruled by Stalinists. It is also about how the ideology of Stalinism has taken root even among the anti-Stalinist and social democratic left. Sloughing off this Stalinism is an essential prerequisite for reviving the authentic Marxist left.

Why disarray? Matgamna tells the story of the degeneration of the revolutionary left with great verve. The revolutionary left that emerged from the 1917 Russian revolution was essentially healthy. It had opposed the First World War and arose triumphant to lead the Russian workers to power. These revolutionaries formed the Communist International, a school of revolutionary strategy that by the early 1920s had built mass communist parties made up of the finest working class militants internationally.

The principal blow came with the isolation of the Russian workers’ state, already depleted by three years of bitter civil war and compounded by the backwardness of the inherited Russian social formation. Concomitantly, no communist party was able to lead the workers to power outside Russia.

The result was the bureaucratisation of the Russian workers’ state. The bureaucratic tentacles strangled the organs of soviet democracy, the trade unions and finally the Bolshevik party — the last living mechanism through which the Russian workers could exercise their rule. The Stalinists “revolution from above” defeated the Left Opposition, imposed forced industrialisation and collectivisation, and destroyed democratic, national and civil rights. After 1928 the new bureaucratic ruling class held the levers of control over the surplus product and inaugurated a totalitarian semi-slave state. After that, the Communist Parties acted as the overseas agents of Russian foreign policy, as well as incipient bureaucratic ruling classes in places where they got a foothold.

The monstrous form of the Stalinist counter-revolution threw most of the revolutionary left back to a state of reactionary anti-capitalism, shorn of working class agency and of the consistently democratic programme they had once espoused. The tiny forces that coalesced around Trotsky put up a spirited rearguard action, keeping alive the flame of authentic Marxism during the 1920s and 1930s. But the Trotskyist movement itself was wrecked on the cusp of the Second World War, its main forces unable to explain the expansion of Stalinism outside of the USSR and later to understand the revival of capitalism in the post-war epoch. Most of the post-Trotsky Trotskyists embraced the Stalinist advance into Eastern Europe, China and beyond as somehow creating “workers’ states” (without the active intervention of workers), or painted despotic post-colonial regimes as somehow the embodiment of permanent revolution.

Matgamna itemises the bitter array of failures in the years after the Second World War. Among the litany of terrible errors were: • Support for North Korea’s war in 1950 • Failure to support the East German workers uprising in 1953 • Uncritical support for the Vietnamese Stalinists • Uncritical support for the Castro Stalinists in Cuba after 1960 • Soft backing for Mao’s Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution • Opposition to Israel’s right to exist after the 1967 war • Backing Catholic chauvinism in Northern Ireland • Opposition to the UK joining the European Union from 1971 • Fantasies about the murderous Khmer Rouge in Cambodia • Support for clerical-fascist theocracy in Iran from 1979 • Support for Russia’s murderous war in Afghanistan in 1980 • Support for Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands in 1982 • Backing Iran against Iraq in their sub-imperial conflict during the 1980s • Siding with Saddam Hussein after his invasion of Kuwait 1990-91 • Support for Serbia’s assault on the Kosovars in 1999 • Softness and refusing to condemn Al Qaeda in 2001 • Support for Saddam in the 2003 war • Uncritical backing of Islamist Sunni and Shia militias in Iraq, even as they slaughtered workers.

Matgamna eviscerates the justifications used by sections of the left for these stances. He is scathing about the “anti-imperialism of fools”, a species of “my enemy’s enemy is my friend” that leads to support for despotism under the cover of anti-Americanism. He also denounces “left antisemitism”, defined as the exceptional denial of fundamental national rights to Jewish people (including the right to their own state) and demonisation of all Jewish people for the crimes of the Israeli state.

Sloughing off these rationalisations for reactionary politics is essential for renewing the revolutionary left. Matgamna’s descriptions of the practices and ideologies of the post-Stalinist left are often thought-provoking. The left Stalinist embalming of Lenin is described as the work of a “Leninolator” and of “Lenin-olatry”. The Stalinist picture of the world is “totalitarian utopianism” and the former Trotskyists who capitulated to Stalin “self-depoliticised ex-Bolshevik social engineers”. Liberal interventionist are dubbed “mañana third campists”, their “socialism” always for the distant tomorrow.

The text also has engaging cultural references — tales of Prester John, Kim Philby, slaves crucified on the Appian Way, Marlon Brando and others. Avid followers of the left will enjoy Matgamna’s pen portraits of the principal leaders of the post-war Trotskyist groups in Britain.

Gerry Healy led the SLL and WRP until it exploded after his sexual abuse of members was made public in 1985. By then Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan, Iraqi, and other Arab states, as an agency to spy on the left and refugees. The Healyites were characterised by their millenarian catastrophism, their frozen words of Trotsky used to justify political lurches, and by gangster politics.

Ernest Mandel was the principal theoretician of the post-Trotsky Fourth International, responsible for rationalising its adaptation to the Stalinist “workers’ states” in Eastern Europe, China, North Korea, Cuba and Vietnam. Mandel died in 1995, a few years after the collapse of Stalinism had destroyed his theoretical edifice, leaving a movement clinging to a venerable name while desperately wondering where the “revolutionary process” had gone.

Ted Grant spawned the current Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal. He redefined socialism as “nationalise the top 200 monopolies” and an enabling act. He peddled the fantasies of “proletarian Bonapartism”, the military substitutes for working-class agency under Stalinism, but also in Syria, Portugal and latterly Venezuela. Grant’s supporters eulogise the capitulation of Liverpool city council while evading concrete political questions with fantasy sloganeering. Grant did not teach his followers to think, but to do political parrot work.

Tony Cliff was a purveyor of toy-town Bolshevism, a man who bent the stick so far on the revolutionary party that the SWP came to represent a parody of third period Stalinist mono-factions. Cliff joked about trying to find your way around the London Underground with a map of the Paris metro, but the legacy he left was more akin to a map of the Moscow sewers. For the SWP, nothing is forbidden in pursuit of organisational advantage. This makes for an increasingly incoherent group that is now a galaxy away from the Marxism of its origins.

If the history of the left is so miserable, what examples of hope are there? There is much to learn from the small third camp Trotskyist tradition around Max Shachtman and Hal Draper which survived during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of the left have sobered up over Syria, where few socialists could support the Daesh terror even by implication, and where most recoiled from any support for the barbarous Assad regime. Similarly, the Brexit vote saw sections of the left abandon their previous nationalist positions. There is something of a revival in social democratic reformist projects.

The bigger picture includes some disarray among our main enemies, the ruling classes, as illustrated by Trump and May. Most of all, the politics of the AWL provides the most important embodiment of hope.

The AWL has forged a living tradition of rational Marxist politics, with realistic assessments of the great global events of the last half century and a series of interventionist political conclusions aimed at mobilising the working class and transforming the labour movement.

The AWL has renewed the great Marxist tradition from a century ago. We do not start from scratch. All is not lost. Much of the left may be in disarray, but the forces of independent, third camp Marxism are alive. With our help, the new generation of socialists will make this politics their watchword.

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Syria: Reflections on the collapse of solidarity

July 15, 2017 at 11:17 am (apologists and collaborators, democracy, fascism, Human rights, internationalism, liberation, Middle East, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", solidarity, stalinism, Syria)

Assad electionAnderson claimed that Bashar Assad -who inherited his throne from his father – had been voted to power in an “election.”

By Michael Karadjis (at Syrian Revolution Commentary and Analysis)

On the evening of June 29, I went up against Dr. Tim Anderson, Australia’s most well-known and prolific propagandist for the murderous Syrian dictatorship of Bashar al-Assad, at the Gaelic Club’s Politics of the Pub evening. A packed house, and, as might be expected at a drinking gathering, stormy enough, the evening highlighted the severity of the challenge of reconstructing a viable, credible, emancipatory political left able to confront today’s neo-liberal capitalist disaster.

Some may well say the issue is “only Syria” and we shouldn’t generalize about the bad politics that some people have on only one issue. That is a valid enough point. Nevertheless, confronted with close to the greatest humanitarian catastrophe of our era – not just “any issue” – a dogged section of the western left has thrown overboard the politics of elementary human solidarity, without which, the bigger task I outlined above would appear to be a very long way away.

As usual, I had too much to say and didn’t get round to making a number of important points, particularly about the role of US imperialism, though I did get to it a little at the end, and in discussion. Some might say that is the most important issue, but given that the US has had very little to do with the dynamics of the Syrian revolution and counterrevolution, it quite simply is not – therefore I believe I was correct to focus more on the actual dynamics of what is going on in Syria rather than abstract geopolitical schemas and prejudices beloved by many western “analysts” who often couldn’t care less about what happens to real people.

Yassin al-Haj Saleh: Syria’s “internal First World” v the “black Syrians”

Before going on, I will first produce the lines I opened with, quoting Syrian Communist dissident Yassin al-Haj Saleh (who spent 16 years in Assadist torture chambers for holding an opinion), because he so eloquently sums up the political method I support on this issue:

“That Syrians have been subject to extreme Palestinization by a brutal, internal Israel, and that they are susceptible to political and physical annihilation, just like Palestinians, in fact lies outside the clueless, tasteless geopolitical approach of those detached anti-imperialists, who ignorantly bracket off politics, economics, culture, the social reality of the masses and the actual history of Syria.”

“This way of linking our conflict to one major global struggle, which is supposedly the only real one in the world, denies the autonomy of any other social and political struggle taking place in the world.

“The anti-imperialist comrade is with the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt for the same reason that led him to “resist” alongside the Syrian regime. Whether in Tunisia, Egypt, or Syria, people are invisible, and their lives do not matter. We remain marginal to some other issue, the only one that matters: the struggle against imperialism (a struggle that, ironically, is also not being fought by these anti-imperialists, as I will argue below).

“The response to this discourse need not be to point out the truth, that the Assadist state is not against imperialism in any way whatsoever. First and foremost, the autonomy of our social and political struggles for democracy and social justice must be highlighted and separated out from this grand, abstract scheme.

“A better starting point would be to look at actual conflicts and actual relationships between conflicting parties. This could involve, for example, thinking about how the structure of a globally dominating Western first world has been re-enacted in our own countries, including Syria. We have an “internal first world” that is the Assadist political and economic elites, and a vulnerable internal third world, which the state is free to discipline, humiliate, and exterminate. The relationship between the first world of Assad and the third world of “black Syrians” perfectly explains Syria’s Palestinization.

Only then would it be meaningful to state that there is nothing within the Assadist state that is truly anti-imperialist, even if we define imperialism as an essence nestled in the West. Nor is there anything popular, liberatory, nationalist, or third-worldly in the Syrian regime. There is only a fascist dynastic rule, whose history, which goes back to the 1970s, can be summed up as the formation of an obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has proved itself ready to destroy the country in order to remain in power forever.”

Support Assad?? Why not Pol Pot, the Taliban or ISIS?

As I then explained, this is what the Syrian revolution is about: the struggle against this “obscenely wealthy and atrociously brutal neo-bourgeoisie, which has reacted by destroying its country to remain in power forever.” By contrast, this ivory-tower anti-imperialism, which supports this monstrously repressive dictatorship as it bombs its entire to country to bits for six years, is the same kind that would support Pol Pot, or ISIS, or the Taliban, on the basis of alleged “anti-imperialism,” regardless of what they do to their own peoples. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bosnia genocide denial – then and now

July 12, 2017 at 7:51 pm (apologists and collaborators, Bosnia, capitulation, Chomsky, conspiracy theories, From the archives, genocide, grovelling, Guardian, Human rights, Jim D, reactionay "anti-imperialism", reformism, serbia, stalinism)

Jeremy Corbyn’s ill-advised choices of people to be seen associating with, continues:

It seems incredible that anyone should deny that the siege of Sarajevo happened or that it claimed the lives of thousands of people.

Yet Corbyn’s pizza-chomping companion Marcus Papadopoulos tweeted this in December of last year:

Corbyn’s weakness on foreign affairs, and especially the former Yugoslavia, can be ascribed to his general political primitivism and the influence of Stalinism on the Bennite reformist tradition he hails from (as well as the influence of the Stalinists now in his inner sanctum). In 2004, for instance, he signed an Early Day Motion backing crazed my-enemy’s-enemy-is-my-friend conspiracy-theorist (once, long ago, a serious journalist) John Pilger  over Kosova.

Denying that Sarajevo was under siege, or that there was genocide at Srebrenica, remains frighteningly common on the Stalinist and Stalinist-influenced left and liberal-left, as this 2011 article by Michael Deibert makes clear:

With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologise to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.


Mladic, Chomsky and Srebrenica: Time for an apology

By now the word that wanted war criminal Ratko Mladic has been arrested in Serbia has traveled around the globe. On the run for nearly 15 years, the former Bosnian Serb general accused of overseeing that massacre 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 will face justice. But will the apologists for the violent Serbian expansion of the 1990s in the international community – the linguist and MIT professor Noam Chomsky chief among them – finally apologize to his many victims for seeking to scuttle their calls for justice all these years?

I first became aware of Chomsky’s, shall we say rather unorthodox, views of the Bosnian conflict in connection with a campaign he and his supporters launched against the talented young British journalist Emma Brockes, whose October 2005 interview with Mr. Chomsky in The Guardian caused a great deal of controversy. Among other tough questions, it asked about Chomsky’s relationship with what The Times (UK) columnist Oliver Kamm quite accurately described as “some rather unsavoury elements who wrote about the Balkan wars in the 1990s.”

The furor at the time centered around Ms. Brockes confronting Chomky with the fact that he had lent his name to a letter praising the “outstanding” (Chomsky’s own words) work of a journalist called Diana Johnstone. Johnstone’s 2002 book Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO and Western Delusions (Pluto Press), argues that the July 1995 killing of at least 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys by Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica was, in essence (directly quoting from her book), not a “part of a plan of genocide” and that “there is no evidence whatsoever” for such a charge. This despite the November 1995 indictment of Bosnian Serb leaders Mladic and Radovan Karadzic at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for “genocide, crimes against humanity and violations of the laws or customs of war” stemming from that very episode and the later conviction by the same tribunal of a Bosnian Serb general of aiding and abetting genocide in Srebrenica.

Johnstone also states that no evidence exists that much more than 199 men and boys were killed there and that Srebrenica and other unfortunately misnamed ‘safe areas’ had in fact “served as Muslim military bases under UN protection.” In 2003, the Swedish magazine Ordfront published an interview with Johnstone where she reiterated these views. Chomsky was also among those who supported a campaign defending the right of a fringe magazine called Living Marxism to publish claims that footage the British television station ITN took in August 1992 at the Serb-run Trnopolje concentration camp in Bosnia was faked. ITN sued the magazine for libel and won, putting the magazine out of business, as Living Marxism could not produce a single witness who had seen the camps at first hand, whereas others who had – such as the journalist Ed Vulliamy – testified as to their horror.

In fact, as recently as April 25, 2006, in an interview with Radio Television of Serbia (a station formerly aligned with the murderous and now-deceased Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic), Chomsky stated, of the iconic, emaciated image of a Bosnian Muslim man named Fikret Alic, the following:

Chomsky: [I]f you look at the coverage [i.e. media coverage of earlier phases of the Balkan wars], for example there was one famous incident which has completely reshaped the Western opinion and that was the photograph of the thin man behind the barb-wire.

Interviewer: A fraudulent photograph, as it turned out.

Chomsky: You remember. The thin men behind the barb-wire so that was Auschwitz and ‘we can’t have Auschwitz again.’

In taking this position, Chomsky seemingly attempts to discredit the on-the-ground reporting of not only Mr. Vulliamy – whose reporting for the Guardian from the war in Bosnia won him the international reporter of the year award in 1993 and 1994 – but of other journalists such as Penny Marshall, Ian Williams and Roy Gutman. In fact, Vulliamy , who filed the first reports on the horrors of the Trnopolje camp and was there that day the ITN footage was filmed, wrote as follows in The Guardian in March 2000:

Living Marxism‘s attempts to re-write the history of the camps was motivated by the fact that in their heart of hearts, these people applauded those camps and sympathized with their cause and wished to see it triumph. That was the central and – in the final hour, the only – issue. Shame, then, on those fools, supporters of the pogrom, cynics and dilettantes who supported them, gave them credence and endorsed their vile enterprise.

In his interview with Brockes, Chomsky stated that “Ed Vulliamy is a very good journalist, but he happened to be caught up in a story which is probably not true.”

In a November 2005 column, Marko Attila Hoare, a Senior Research Fellow at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, University of Kingston (London), wrote thusly:

An open letter to Ordfront, signed by Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and others, stated: ‘We regard Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.’ In his personal letter to Ordfront in defence of Johnstone, Chomsky wrote: ‘I have known her for many years, have read the book, and feel that it is quite serious and important.’ Chomsky makes no criticism here of Johnstone’s massacre denial, or indeed anywhere else – except in the Brockes interview, which he has repudiated. Indeed, he endorses her revisionism: in response to Mikael van Reis’s claim that ‘She [Johnstone] insists that Serb atrocities – ethnic cleansing, torture camps, mass executions – are western propaganda’, Chomsky replies that ‘Johnstone argues – and, in fact, clearly demonstrates – that a good deal of what has been charged has no basis in fact, and much of it is pure fabrication.’

Pretty astounding stuff, huh? But, faced with a relentless campaign by Mr. Chomsky and his supporters The Guardian, to its eternal shame, pulled Brockes’ interview from its website and issued what can only be described as a groveling apology that did a great disservice not only to Ms Brockes herself, but also to former Guardian correspondent Vulliamy and all those journalists who actually risked their lives covering the Bosnian conflict, to say nothing of the victims of the conflict themselves.

The caving-in focused on three points, the chief of which appeared to be the headline used on the interview, which read: “Q: Do you regret supporting those who say the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated? A: My only regret is that I didn’t do it strongly enough.”

Though this was a paraphrase rather than a literal quotation, the fact of the matter was that it did seem to accurately sum up the state of affairs: Chomsky had actively supported Johnstone, who in turn had claimed that the Srebrenica massacre was exaggerated and not part of a campaign of genocide. The Guardian brouhaha prompted, Kemal Pervanic, author of The Killing Days: My Journey Through the Bosnia War, and a survivor of the Omarska concentration camp, to write that “If Srebrenica has been a lie, then all the other Bosnian-Serb nationalists’ crimes in the three years before Srebrenica must be false too. Mr Chomsky has the audacity to claim that Living Marxism was “probably right” to claim the pictures ITN took on that fateful August afternoon in 1992 – a visit which has made it possible for me to be writing this letter 13 years later – were false. This is an insult not only to those who saved my life, but to survivors like myself.”

Chomsky complained about that, too, forcing The Guardian to write in its apology that, ignoring the fact that it was Chomsky’s characterization of the Serb-run camps that seemed to outrage Pervanic the most, “Prof Chomsky believes that publication (of Pervanic’s letter) was designed to undermine his position, and addressed a part of the interview which was false…With hindsight it is acknowledged that the juxtaposition has exacerbated Prof Chomsky’s complaint and that is regretted.”

So Emma Brockes (whom I have never met), in this instance, at least, was silenced.

But the history of what happened in the Balkan wars should not be so easily silenced and re-written. With Ratko Mladic, predator and killer, now in custody, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, Arundhati Roy and the others who have sought to deny justice to the victims of Bosnia’s killing fields should apologize to those victims for working so long to make the justice they sought less, not more, likely.

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Naz Shah subjected to anti-semitic heckling

June 2, 2017 at 3:47 pm (anti-semitism, campaigning, elections, israel, labour party, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", zionism)


Naz Shah was taunted with anti-Semitic abuse after defending the Jewish state, during a hustings in Bradford.

An audience member during the event appears to shout “Jew Jew Jew” at the Labour candidate for the Bradford West, after she reiterated her belief in Israel’s right to exist.

The MP, who is campaigning to retain the seat at the general election, was suspended by Labour last year for an anti-Semitic Facebook post. She has since apologised and been widely praised for her efforts to learn more about the Jewish community and Israel.

Shah said during the hustings, after being branded a ‘Zionist’ for her reformed views: “Do I believe in Israel’s right to exist? I continue to stand by my statement that I believe in Israel’s right to exist”.

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The Front National and fascism

May 4, 2017 at 5:56 am (AWL, elections, Europe, fascism, France, history, identity politics, nationalism, populism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism")


Above: Le Pen v Macron TV debate

By Martin Thomas
(This article also appears on the Workers Liberty website and in the present issiee of Solidarity)

France’s Front National, which now has a real though outside chance of gaining the country’s powerful presidency, is not a fascist movement comparable to the Nazis or Mussolini’s Fascist Party when they were on the eve of power in the 1920s and 30s. Neither, however, is it a conventional hard-right party like UKIP or Germany’s AfD. The makeover the FN has given itself since 2011 is a makeover.

When Jean-Marie Le Pen founded the FN in 1972, it took the Italian party claiming to represent Mussolini’s heritage, the MSI, as a model. In the 1990s, the MSI renounced its fascist heritage, and eventually merged into a mainstream right party. The FN has not done that. The FN still has a fascist core cadre and a fascist ideology. It functions as the electoral-political wing of a broader fascist current. It softens and dresses up its message to win votes, but it fits the characterisation of fascism outlined by Leon Trotsky in the 1930s: “a plebeian movement in origin, directed and financed by big capitalist powers. It issued forth from the petty bourgeoisie, the slum proletariat and even to a certain extent, from the proletarian masses… with its leaders employing a great deal of socialist demagogy. This is necessary for the creation of the mass movement”.

Fits it, except that it is still way short of being a mass movement. Its ideology is structured by characteristic themes of fascism:

• Exaltation of “the nation”, against mysterious global elites and against individuals, as the guiding value of politics. Marine Le Pen denounces the legacy of France’s great general strike and near-revolution of May-June 1968 in these terms: “May 68 promoted individualism. An individualism which has upended the foundations of our society”. Her social demagogy, pretending to stand up for the worse-off and for social provision, is tied into that exaltation of “the nation” and an insistence that social provision must first be for real French people.

• A leader cult. Both under Marine Le Pen, and under her father Jean-Marie, the FN has promoted its leader above all else, and given that leader absolute powers within the party.

• A cult of the state. In her closing speech at the FN congress where she was made leader, in 2011, Marine Le Pen declared: “Today, when globalisation rages and everything is collapsing, we still have the State… When things have to be regulated, protected, innovated, one naturally turns to the State”.

Since its foundation the FN has operated in conditions of bourgeois democracy and capitalist economy more stable than in the 1930s, when Trotsky and other Marxists plausibly believed that political and economic collapse was certain, in one country after another, unless a socialist revolution could be made within a few years or so. Its active base remains small compared to that of the 1920s and 30s fascist movements. It has 50,000-odd paid-up members, who function almost exclusively as electoral campaigners. Its “stewarding squad”, the DPS, had a fearsome reputation in the early years, but even then was cautious and weak compared to the street-fighting squads of 1920s and 30s fascism. Today the FN instead contracts out its stewarding to a commercial security firm, Colisée.

The Nazis at the start of 1933 had 1.5 million members in their party, and 425,000 (some not party members) in their paramilitary SA. Mussolini’s Fascist Party was formed from his “fighting squads” at the end of 1921, and then had 300,000 members. The twist, however, is that Colisée is not just any security firm. It was founded by Axel Loustau, a former cadre of the brazenly fascist student group GUD (Groupe Union Défense). Loustau also runs a printing company, Presses de France, which has produced the FN’s publicity materials since another company, Riwal, run by Fréderic Chatillon, a former comrade of Loustau’s in the GUD, was banned from doing so in a court case over political-finance laws.

Although Loustau and Chatillon have no high posts in the FN, they and other GUD-ers are among the closest advisers of Marine Le Pen. They also keep links with the GUD. division of labour The division of labour which FN leaders see between their caffe latte and a varying range of France’s espresso fascist grouplets was candidly summed up by Jean-Marie Le Pen — become, at the age of 87, garrulous and reckless — in November 2015. The Parti Nationaliste Français was being revived to regroup the members of L’Oeuvre Française, a brazenly fascist group active since 1968 but now banned by the government. Jean-Marie Le Pen wrote to the PNF conference: “Jeune Nation and Oeuvre Française, behind their founder Pierre Sidos, have led an independent national struggle for several decades in parallel to the Front National of which I was president. We have the same goal: to save our homeland and its French people from a decadence which we know to be deadly.

“The tsunami of immigration calls for a general mobilisation of patriots and the coordination of all national movements. Each one of these movement should be stronger and stronger in its own sector”.

How much Marine Le Pen can do if she wins the presidency, we still don’t know. A part of the mainstream right, led by Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, has rallied to her. Will others? If she wins, how will the FN do in the June legislative elections? Mussolini, even with his 300,000 members and with an Italian ruling class anxious for revenge after the factory occupations in 1920, took four years to impose a full fascist regime. If details of history had turned differently, it might have been overthrown in that time.

Le Pen cannot move as fast as Mussolini. But it is entirely imaginable that she can do harm in France on the lines of what Putin, Erdogan, or Orban have been doing recently in Russia, Turkey, Hungary.

The FN’s official line on the trade unions is that its desired changes in the law will make them bigger and better but needing fewer strikes. But Nazi leaders before 1933 such as Gregor Strasser declared: “We consider the organisation of workers into trade unions an absolute necessity… As a workers’ party, National Socialism recognises the right to strike without restriction”. The FN’s opinion of France’s biggest union confederation, the CGT, is: “The CGT shows its true face: still the transmission belt for a far left which is moribund but still pseudo-revolutionary and often ultra-violent”.

Jean-Marie Le Pen, the founder of the FN, first came into politics as a teenager in the late 1940s with Action Française. AF had been founded in 1899, as part of the agitation around the Dreyfus affair: monarchist, Catholic-traditionalist, obsessed with hostility to Freemasons, for whom it blamed such events as the French Revolution of 1789-94. In 1956, he became an MP for the quasi-fascist Poujadist movement. He served in the French army in its colonial wars in Indochina and Algeria. He did not join the Organisation Armée Secrète, a group of French army officers and Algerian settlers who sought by terrorism to stop France ceding independence to Algeria in 1962, and killed thousands in Algeria and some dozens in France; but in 1965 he was the campaign manager for the presidential campaign of Jean-Louis Tixier-Vignancour, a veteran fascist who denounced the “abandonment” of Algeria.

After May 1968, new fascist groups sprouted, like the GUD and L’Oeuvre Française, focused on fighting the left and “communism” rather than the older enemies. They were mainly student-based. What they did is illustrated by a May 1969 episode recounted in a left-wing pamphlet of the 1970s.

Some 40 fascists set out from their base in the law faculty in the rue d’Assas in Paris to leaflet a high school. They trashed the student union office. The students gathered in the school canteen and pelted the fascists with missiles. The fascists retaliated with a hand-grenade. One school student had to have a hand amputated, but the fascists lost the battle. They lost more battles than they won, and in 1972, some of the fascist groups decided to create an electoral wing. Le Pen, who had been running a small business, had the electoral experience to impose himself as leader.

The FN did poorly in the 1970s, but survived. In 1977 Le Pen inherited a palace and a large fortune from a plutocrat whom he had befriended. He kept the fortune for himself rather than ceding it to the FN, and it helped him raise himself as a political figure above the formal structures of the FN (which were authoritarian enough, explicitly modelled on those of the Stalinised Communist Party). In 1983, the FN made a breakthrough, winning control of a small town in northern France in alliance with a section of the mainstream right. Some of the mainstream right excused their alliance with the FN by saying it was anyway not as bad as the then Socialist Party government including Communist Party ministers. The Socialist Party president, François Mitterrand, helped the FN get media coverage so as to make trouble for the mainstream right.

The FN has had ups and downs since then, and is still relatively weak in most of France’s big cities — only 5% of the vote in Paris. But it has gained in smaller towns, particular in “rust-belts”. Since becoming FN leader in 2011, Marine Le Pen has publicly campaigned to “de-demonise” the FN. Some FN leaders are openly gay. One leader, Louis Aliot, Marine Le Pen’s partner, boasts of his part-Jewish background. That makes her a canny fascist, and one born in 1968 rather than focused on the battles of long-past decades.

Her father made most of the big shifts in the FN’s profile — to try to distance it from lost causes of the past, and to align it to a broader electorate in an era when the threat of USSR “communism” no longer scares, when an increasing majority of France’s Muslim population are French-born and French-speaking. Jean-Marie Le Pen went for the FN: • describing itself as “neither left nor right” rather than “far right” • defining itself as “republican” and “secular”, and as respecting the heritage of the French Revolution • coming out for social provision and welfare (for the French, not immigrants) rather than as hardline free-market, and making a specific pitch to workers • accepting that a large chunk of the North-African-origin population is now French, and in France to stay.

He deliberately installed Marine Le Pen as his successor, pushing aside the old-fascist, Catholic-traditionalist, Bruno Gollnisch, explaining it thus: “I am tied by solidarities which I can’t break, from the [World] war… from my mates in [the colonial army] in Indochina and Algeria, from the pied-noirs… Marine is much more free”. He started a sustained attempt to build bridges to conservative Jews and to Israel. He blew it up with a notorious statement on TV about the gas chambers being only “a detail” of World War Two, but that may have been more off-hand garrulousness and stubborn refusal to apologise than deliberation.

Marine Le Pen’s new focus on France being threatened by twin “totalitarian” dangers, “globalism” and the EU on one side, “islamisation” on the other, sharpens the fascist edge of FN ideology.

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Counterpunch columnist Diana Johnstone defends Le Pen

April 22, 2017 at 4:45 pm (Andrew Coates, anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, elections, Europe, fascism, France, identity politics, immigration, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism)

Andrew Coates draws attention to the supposedly “left wing” commentator Diana Johnstone’s defence of Le Pen – a warning to all those on the idiot-left (eg the UK SWP, Socialist Party and CPB/Morning Star), who think there’s something potentially progressive about an anti-EU, pro-sovereignty stance.

Johnstone has form, and has previously been backed by the likes of Chomsky and Pilger, as her Wikipedia entry describes:

“After the 2003 publication of her Fools’ Crusade: Yugoslavia, Nato, and Western Delusions, Johnstone became the centre of controversy over her claim in the book that there is “no evidence whatsoever” that the Srebrenica massacre of the Bosniaks was genocidal.[2] The historian Marko Attila Hoare called it “an extremely poor book, one that is little more than a polemic in defence of the Serb-nationalist record during the wars of the 1990s—and an ill-informed one at that”.[3]

“The book was rejected by publishers in Sweden,[3] prompting an open letter in 2003 defending Johnstone’s book—and her right to publish—that was signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy, Tariq Ali and John Pilger. The signatories stated, “We regard Diana Johnstone’s Fools’ Crusade as an outstanding work, dissenting from the mainstream view but doing so by an appeal to fact and reason, in a great tradition.”[4][5] Ed Vulliamy, who reported for The Guardian during the Bosnian War, called Johnstone’s book “poison” in response to the letter from Chomsky and the others.[6] In her own defence, Johnstone has said her critics “reduce [her] book, as they reduce the Balkan conflict itself, to a certain number of notorious atrocities, and stigmatise whatever deviates from their own dualistic interpretation”.[7]

“Richard Caplan of Reading and Oxford University reviewed the work in International Affairs, where he described the work as “a revisionist and highly contentious account of western policy and the dissolution of Yugoslavia. [… It] is insightful but overzealous […] well worth reading—but for the discriminating eye.”[8]

“In April 2012, she wrote about the first round of the French Presidential elections a few days earlier and identified Front National leader Marine Le Pen as “notably” “basically on the left” while also labelling Le Pen as “demagogic”.[9] She also rejected claims Le Pen is antisemitic: “There is absolutely nothing attesting to anti-Semitism on the part of Marine Le Pen. She has actually tried to woo the powerful Jewish organisations, and her anti-Islam stance is also a way to woo such groups”.[10]

Johnstone: Cannot “reduce” Marine Le Pen’s anti-Immigrant stand to “racism”. 

Diana Johnstone is a columnist for the American left site, Counterpunch.

She has, to put it mildly, ‘form’ on French Politics saying that the Front National is “basically on the left”. And indeed on British Politics, where she warmed to UKIP’s views on European immigration (Diana Johnstone’s poisonous nativism) (1)

In her most recent contribution (21st of April)  to the favourite journal of ‘wise-guys’ who want the ‘low down’ on politics, this is her view on tomorrow’s French Presidential election.

The Main Issue in the French Presidential Election: National Sovereignty 

Johnstone is torn in the French elections,

A most remarkable feature of this campaign is great similarity between the two candidates said to represent “the far left”, Mélenchon, and “the far right”, Marine Le Pen.  Both speak of leaving the euro.  Both vow to negotiate with the EU to get better treaty terms for France. Both advocate social policies to benefit workers and low income people. Both want to normalize relations with Russia. Both want to leave NATO, or at least its military command.  Both defend national sovereignty, and can thus be described as “sovereignists”.

Left-wing internationalists may protest at this side of Mélenchon’s politics (La chevènementisation de Jean-Luc Mélenchon Philippe Marlière).

She ignores such critics

The main divide appears to be racism.

But…

In a country suffering from unemployment, without jobs or housing to accommodate mass immigration, and under the ongoing threat of Islamist terror attacks, the issue cannot be reasonably reduced to “racism” – unless Islamic terrorists constitute a “race”, for which there is no evidence. Le Pen insists that all French citizens deserve equal treatment regardless of their origins, race or religion. She is certain to get considerable support from recently nationalized immigrants, just as she now gets a majority of working class votes. If this is “fascism”, it has changed a lot in the past seventy years.

So that’s all right then.

Human rights bleeding hearts and internationalist globalisers  might remarks that giving national preference to the French in jobs and housing, chanting “on est chez nous”, claiming that the French have fewer rights than foreign residents(,les Français ont parfois moins de droits en France que des étrangers, même clandestins) restricting free schooling to French citizens, and systematically linking terrorism to immigration is about as racist as you get.(Immigration et terrorisme : Marine Le Pen multiplie les intox.)

Then there is this,

The globalist media are already preparing to blame the eventual election of a “sovereignist” candidate on Vladimir Putin. Public opinion in the West is being prepared for massive protests to break out against an undesired winner, and the “antifa” militants are ready to wreak havoc in the streets. Some people who like Marine Le Pen are afraid of voting for her, fearing the “color revolution” sure to be mounted against her.  Mélenchon and even Fillon might face similar problems.

Against the views of the “globalist media” Johnstone concludes,

By far the most fundamental emerging issue in this campaign is the conflict between the European Union and national sovereignty.

That  Counterpunch claiming to be on the left, publishes Johnstone’s  defence of the ‘nation’ against the EU is, well, not unexpected.

A section of the former French ‘republican’ and anti-EU  left has moved from  ‘sovereigntism’ to active involvement in the Front National. From the “regulation” heterodox economist Jacques Sapir (a former supporter of the Front de gauche) to Thibaut Garnier (former youth secretary of the  Mouvement républicain et citoyen (MRC) and many others, they have found in Marine Le Pen a defender of National Sovereignty (Ces chevènementistes séduits par le FN).

This little gang obviously has its admirers in the US.

*******

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‘Free Speech on Israel’: a bunch of incompetents unwilling to challenge antisemitism

April 14, 2017 at 5:49 pm (anti-semitism, apologists and collaborators, conspiracy theories, fascism, Guardian, Human rights, israel, labour party, Livingstone, Middle East, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", stalinism, zionism)

Greenstein: claims “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism

By Dale Street

Yesterday’s Guardian (13th April) published a statement from the so-called ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign. The text of the letter and the full list of signatories is at:

http://freespeechonisrael.org.uk/letter-guardian-reject-call-expulsion-ken-livingstone/#more-3000

According to the letter:

“There is nothing whatsoever antisemitic about this [i.e. Livingstone’s statement that Hitler was supporting Zionism before he went mad].  Francis Nicosia, the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University wrote in his book “Zionism and Anti-Semitism in Nazi Germany” (p. 79):

Throughout the 1930s, as part of the regime’s determination to force Jews to leave Germany, there was almost unanimous support in German government and Nazi party circles for promoting Zionism among German Jews’   

Is telling the truth also antisemitic?”

But Nicosia’s book does not corroborate Livingstone’s claim that Hitler supported Zionism in the 1930s (nor his other recent claims, such as that there was “real collaboration” between German Zionism and the Nazis “right up until the start of the Second World War”).

Nicosia writes that by the beginning of the twentieth century most German antisemites “had come to view Zionism as representative of much of what they considered the more dangerous and abhorrent characteristics of the Jews as a people.”

He further writes: “For most antisemites in Germany, including the Nazis prior to 1941, their willingness to use Zionism and the Zionist movement was never based on an acceptance of the Zionist view of itself, namely that it represented a force for the common good and for the renewal of the Jews as a people in the modern world.”

He is explicit that the purpose of his book is not to “equate Zionism with National Socialism, Zionists with Nazis, or to portray that relationship as a willing or collaborative one between moral and political equals.”

He dismisses as “ahistorical assertions” arguments which “simplistically dismiss Zionism as yet another example of racism, the substance of which has not been very different from German National Socialism.”

He rejects claims that “Zionists collaborated with the Nazi regime in Germany in an effort to secure their own narrow self-interest at the expense of non-Zionist Jews before and during the Holocaust.”

The ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement quotes a single sentence from page 79 of Nicosia’s book. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the author of the statement has also read pages 1-78.

But all of the above quotes are taken from pages 1-78 of Nicosia’s book. The author of the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement has therefore ignored everything in Nicosia’s book which does not suit his own political standpoint and instead picks on a single sentence.

People who engage in selective quoting are not telling the truth. They are lying. In this case, they are lying for a political purpose.

The first signatory to the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement is Tony Greenstein, who is also probably the author of the statement itself.

Ever since the early 1980s – when he was a member of the ‘British Anti-Zionist Organisation’, which claimed that Zionists collaborated with the Nazis and encouraged antisemitism to benefit Israel – Greenstein has claimed that there was an “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism, and that Zionism was “a movement of collaboration” with Nazism.

Like Livingstone himself, Greenstein is a great admirer of the writings of Lenni Brenner, another charlatan who specialises in the art of selective quoting. According to Greenstein, Brenner’s Zionism in the Age of the Dictators is “the most complete account, from an anti-Zionist perspective, of Zionist collusion with the Nazis.”

Greenstein has written a review of Nicosia’s book, tellingly entitled “Review – Francis Nicosia and Zionist Collaboration with Nazi Germany”. Greenstein’s review denounces the book:

“[The book is] an appalling apologia for the collaboration of the Zionist movement in Germany with the Nazi government. …

Nicosia is an author at war with his own evidence. He is determined to reach conclusions at variance with the evidence. …

His thesis that the Zionist movement had to do deals with the Nazis in order to rescue German Jews fails to explain the ideological symmetry between them. …

Nicosia’s problem is that he has little understanding of Zionism, past or present, still less how its racial theories translated into practice in Palestine. …”

So, on the one hand, says Greenstein, Nicosia has little or no understanding of Zionism. He is at war with his own evidence. And he fails to explain the “ideological symmetry” between Zionism and Nazism.

But now, in April of 2017, the same Tony Greenstein puts his name to a statement (which he probably wrote as well) which cites the same Francis Nicosia as a credible historian (“the Raul Hilberg Professor of Holocaust Studies at Vermont University”) and invokes the same book  (albeit by way of total misrepresentation) in support of Livingstone’s statements.

The ‘Free Speech on Israel’ statement argues that Livingstone is not under attack for having made antisemitic statements – Livingstone has merely been telling the truth.

The statement concludes with the unsubstantiated claim: “What the campaign against Livingstone is really about is his long-standing support for the Palestinians and his opposition to Zionism and the policies of the Israeli state.”

It is therefore reasonable to assume that the statement’s signatories can distinguish between antisemitic statements and statements of legitimate criticism of Zionism and Israeli policies. (Leaving aside the fact that a number of the statement’s signatories do not just criticise Israeli policies but the very existence of Israel).

But signatories to the statement include Paisley Labour councillor Terry Kelly. Kelly is clearly incapable of making that distinction. He is the author of statements such as:

“Israel decided that the children and old and sick would continue to suffer and die, this is being done by the survivors of the Holocaust, it beggars belief that the Jewish people who suffered so much could treat innocent children this way but that’s what they are doing.”

“What I would like to see (but won’t) is justice done by restoring pre-1948 Palestine, the return of all refugees and an end to the crime that is Israel. Jews along with anyone else who applies successfully to live there would be welcomed, as Palestinians.”

“Have you stopped to ask why [the Obama White House is silent]? It’s because the American Jewish Lobby is extremely powerful and it has its boot on Obama’s neck that is why America still bankrolls Israel despite its crimes against humanity.”

“There is a powerful Jewish lobby campaigning against the film [The King’s Speech] because of its historical inaccuracy about Hitler and the antisemitism which it studiously ignores.”

“[The American academic] Finkelstein was also fired from a university in that apparent home of democracy America following a vicious campaign by the all-powerful American Jewish Lobby.”

Kelly now has a piece on his blog entitled “Ken Livingstone is Innocent and So Was I”.

But in Terry Kelly’s political universe, accusing the Jewish people of collective guilt, advocating the elimination of Israel, and repeated references to ‘the American Jewish lobby’, ‘the powerful Jewish lobby’ and ‘the all-powerful American Jewish lobby’ are all examples of ‘innocence’.

In another sense, though, Kelly is correct: Livingstone is as innocent (or as guilty) as Kelly himself.

And the fact that the ‘Free Speech on Israel’ campaign includes Kelly as a signatory to its statement is itself a measure of that campaign’s own competence and willingness (or incompetence and unwillingness) in matters of recognising and challenging antisemitism.

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George Szirtes: The Immigrant at Port Selda

April 2, 2017 at 4:55 pm (anti-fascism, Anti-Racism, democracy, Europe, Human rights, identity politics, immigration, internationalism, literature, Migrants, poetry, populism, posted by JD, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism")

Picture by Clarissa Upchurch

George Szirtes was born in Hungary and emigrated to England with his parents—survivors of concentration and labor camps after the 1956 Budapest uprising.

George’s address to the recent symposium at Southampton University, ‘The legacy of Brexit and citizenship in times of uncertainty’  is posted here with his permission:

I must confess I have no qualification for speaking on this subject and am keenly aware of speaking to those who do. I can only speak in my character as an unwitting child refugee to these shores, a poet and translator, and as an occasional writer of articles in the press, on, among other things, the issue of Brexit: about the campaign itself, the impact of the campaign and its likely future impact.

On that last, of course, I can only speculate. We are not out yet, we don’t know anything about the terms of disengagement, and we have no clear idea of how this or that set of terms may impact our lives.

I did in fact campaign for Remain but my role and experience was very minor. In asking Leavers why they intended to vote as they did the two answers I repeatedly got were: ‘So they won’t tell us what to do any more,’ and, ‘Things were better before’. These words will be familiar to most people here and seemed to me to be perfectly rational responses to the two major arguments of the Leave campaign regarding sovereignty and free movement of people. The way those arguments were presented elicited precisely these responses.

As I have already said I am not qualified to address those questions because I am not an expert in any of the relevant areas and because I am, by birth, parti pris on one side of the question, in that I am a foreigner and therefore one of those factors in things somehow being better before my arrival.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign. I don’t want to call those who voted differently from me stupid, or simple, or racist. Life is far more complicated and I did have some intelligent conversations with people who wanted to leave the EU, particularly those on the Chomskyite left of the political spectrum, whose arguments centred on globalisation, capitalism and high finance as expressed, occasionally, in terms of sovereignty.

I don’t want to caricature the Leave campaign but the day after the referendum there was an incident in Norwich, a city that had voted to remain in a region that had voted to leave, in which a small Romanian supermarket was firebombed. Students at the university from which I had retired immediately set up an appeal to raise £500. By the next morning it had raised over £20, 000, so the field was not altogether lost. Despite what we are continually told about the clear will of ‘the people’ there were enough people willing to raise money for a minor indirectly demonised enterprise.

I don’t think demonisation is too harsh a word, in that Leave rhetoric called forth certain demons, or rather that it quite consciously opened the trapdoors where such demons were hiding. It legitimised them. It called forth the firebombers. It called forth those who immediately set upon elderly widows of French and German birth who had lived in the country for decades and taunted them by asking when they were going home. It called forth the teenagers on the Manchester tram who demanded a black American get off it. It called forth the murderer of Jo Cox.

By the time that happened a certain madness had set in. All the Leavers rushed to distance themselves from the murder, of course. This was nothing to do with them. None of those xenophobic incidents, and there have been and continue to be plenty of others, had anything to do with them. It was nothing to do with their presentation of sinister foreigners in Brussels, and sinister gangs of Albanians hanging round Dover and Boston, or with the sinister cheap labour of mushroom pickers and chicken packers who were taking much-coveted jobs from true Brits. No! they protested. That was not what they meant. They had nothing to do with encouraging the taxi driver we met who had moved from Kings Lynn because there were too many Lithuanians and Poles there, foreigners whose rather marvellous supermarket down a side street was, as he put it, ‘taking the place over’.

Perhaps I could go back in time and take a more personal line in order to think about what it is that might make one properly British or, more problematically, a foreigner.

2
My family of four, along with some 200,000 others, that is one-fiftieth of the population, left Hungary in the months following the defeat of the 1956 Revolution. I am not entirely sure why we left. My parents had taken no part in the fighting and were unlikely to be arrested in its repercussions. My father, as the leader of a department within the Ministry of Building, would have been exposed in the revolution itself, as much as a Jew as a member of the apparatus, but I think he would have stayed. It was my mother who insisted we leave.

Why did she do so? I don’t think it was for ideological reasons. Neither my mother nor my father hoped to feel more comfortable among free-market liberal capitalists than in a restored post-Stalinist state. They were both of the left, my middle-class mother further to the left than my working-class father who actually worked in a ministry. Ideology would, if anything, have kept them at home. They lived quite well in the given context and weren’t economic migrants.

The truth is that my mother was afraid, not so much for herself as for us, her children. She had survived two concentration camps, my father had survived forced labour. They had history gnawing at their nerves. Neither of them could have demonstrated that their lives were in immediate danger. Instead they took the dangerous impromptu risk of walking out of the country at night in wholly arbitrary party of a dozen or so, across the Austrian border, arriving there with one suitcase of clothes and nothing more. At that stage I had just three words of English — A A Milne’s AND, BUT, SO as read in my bilingual copy of Now We Are Six. We also had a bilingual edition of Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. In this poem based on the memory of crossing the Hungarian-Austrian border by night, Milne’s characters — the owl and the ass in the hundred-acre wood — serve as forms of familiarity.

My father carries me across a field

My father carries me across a field.

It’s night and there are trenches filled with snow.

Thick mud. We’re careful to remain concealed

From something frightening I don’t yet know.

And then I walk and there is space between

The four of us. We go where we have to go.

Did I dream it all, this ghostly scene,

The hundred-acre wood where the owl blinked

And the ass spoke? Where I am cosy and clean

In bed, but we are floating, our arms linked

Over the landscape? My father moves ahead

Of me, like some strange, almost extinct

Species, and I follow him in dread

Across the field towards my own extinction.

Spirits everywhere are drifting over blasted

Terrain. The winter cold makes no distinction

Between them and us. My father looks round

And smiles then turns away. We have no function

In this place but keep moving, without sound,

Lost figures who leave only a blank page

Behind them, and the dark and frozen ground

They pass across as they might cross a stage.

We might well have been moving into extinction. My parents would never again be what they had been and what they might have become. Once in Austria the process of unbecoming became relatively easy. Refugee services were waiting for us, both in Austria and, a few days later in Britain, after we had been offered a flight there. Reception was efficient and kindly. We were regarded as victim-heroes of a failed but heroic Uprising against the Cold War enemy. Sentiment was with us.

So was our historical baggage. In Metro, the longest poem of my career, there are a couple of verses in which I try to sum up what we had left behind in Budapest. The physical city described in it stands in for history: the empire of the living becomes the empire of the dead.

[Metro 2 2/3]

The empire underground: the tunnelling

Begins. The earth gives up her worms and shards,

Old coins, components, ordnance, bone and glass,

Nails, muscle, hair, flesh, shrivelled bits of string,

Shoe leather, buttons, jewels, instruments.

And out of these come voices, words,

Stenches and scents,

And finally desire, pulled like a tooth.

It’s that or constancy that leads us down

To find a history which feels like truth.

That baggage of old coins, components, bits of lace and so forth is the kind of thing any refugee brings with them. It is an emblem of the real baggage of those who leave without much deliberation or calculation simply because of what appears as a pressing necessity. The children and teenagers in the jungle at Calais carry something similar. They bring their foreignness with them to squat in the mud of an alien port.

England was not our intended destination. That was Australia where my father had a cousin: we had no one in England. But Australia rejected us because of my mother’s health so we had to remain. Altogether some 28,000 Hungarians chose to remain in the UK.

What did we offer our kindly hosts?

My father had some English before we came. The rest of us — my mother, brother and I — had none. The English my father possessed made him useful in helping to process other refugees, which is what he did while we spent four months along with those others in various off-season boarding houses in or near Margate, attending English classes. My father interpreted for fellow refugees who were sent off to jobs in Wolverhampton or Luton or wherever their skill and experience would come in handy. My father’s particular skill lay in plumbing, heating and ventilation at managerial level so they found him a first job in London and, remarkably enough, enabled us to put down a deposit on a first house there. Starting from zero that was nothing short of a miracle, a remarkable act of generosity that was enough to make life-long anglophiles of us all. Meanwhile my mother, a press photographer, found work in a photographer’s studio and shop in Oxford Street.

Having settled in we set about assimilating. First of all we were to speak English, not Hungarian at home. We would never go back, very few people in the world spoke Hungarian so the language would be redundant and only slow down the rate at which we, the children, learned English and made a go of school. Budapest was no longer home. My father anglicised the pronunciation of his name to Surtees, as in the racing driver, even altering the spelling for strictly work purposes when visiting building sites to make life easier for foremen and site managers. His face and accent did not accord with the adopted name of course, and the accent was thick.

But it was a reasonable, relaxed ambience. By the time we began our English school careers there were other immigrant issues to think about. The Notting Hill Riots of 1958 for example and, ten years later, Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech. Then, just four years after that, in the wake of Idi Amin, came the Ugandan Asians. We might have been foreign but at least we were white.

And because we were white and less conspicuous we did not experience the resentment that met West Indians or Asians. We took the mild if diffident benevolence of England for granted. We had melted in hadn’t we? And the country into which we had melted was a stable, powerful force in the world, a safe place, ever less powerful now perhaps, ever less imperial, but still safe.

In 1984 I returned to Hungary for the first time as an adult. And kept returning. In 1989 my family and I spent almost the whole year there watching the state fall apart. Ten years later, after several books I changed publishers for the second time and my work to that date was sorted into two distinct volumes: The Budapest File (2000) dealing with work that had a Hungarian interest (by which time I had written a good deal on that) and one titled An English Apocalypse (2001), that dealt with settling in England and simply being here. In this way my work — and self — was neatly divided for public consumption.

An English Apocalypse was chiefly written in Ireland while I was a fellow at TCD, Dublin, and contained many memories of the seventies but also registered what I sensed was a mounting crisis in English identity and self-confidence. There were five apocalypses at the end of the sequence. This is one of them.

Death by Deluge

I have seen roads come to a full stop in mid-

sentence as if their meaning had fallen off

the world. And this is what happened, what meaning did

that day in August. The North Sea had been rough

and rising and the bells of Dunwich rang

through all of Suffolk. One wipe of its cuff

down cliffs and in they went, leaving birds to hang

puzzled in the air, their nests gone. Enormous

tides ran from Southend to Cromer. They swung

north and south at once, as if with a clear purpose,

thrusting through Lincolnshire, and at a rush

drowning Sleaford, Newark, leaving no house

uncovered. Nothing remained of The Wash

but water. Peterborough, Ely, March, and Cambridge

were followed by Royston, Stevenage, the lush

grass of Shaw’s Corner. Not a single ridge

remained. The Thames Valley filled to the brim

and London Clay swallowed Wapping and Greenwich.

Then west, roaring and boiling. A rapid skim

of Hampshire and Dorset, then the peninsula:

Paignton, Plymouth, Lyme, Land’s End. A slim

line of high hills held out but all was water-colour,

the pure English medium, intended for sky, cloud, and sea.

Less earth than you could shift with a spatula.

Something important began in the seventies that more-or-less coincided with the time of Britain’s EU entry: a process that involved the fuel crisis, the three-day week, the winter of discontent, and the rise of Margaret Thatcher which was followed by the destruction of old mass industries that had sustained stable communities and provided social cohesion. Britain had become the sick man of Europe. And despite an economic recovery through the later eighties and nineties, the cohesion had vanished. The economic body was no longer sick, but the social soul was.

Somebody had to be blamed for all this and the EU was the easiest scapegoat. If Britain was falling apart by 2001 in the way An English Apocalypse suggested that can’t have been Britain’s fault, can it? Who took away our pounds and ounces, our twelve pence to the shilling and our pride? Our image of sinister, faceless foreign bureaucrats — so beloved by the right wing press — conjured our own long resentful demons. The foreigners kept coming. They were after our jobs, after our benefits, after our houses, changing our ways of life, the ground of our very being. These foreigners were not all the result of the EU’s free movement policy, more to do with globalisation beyond Europe, with the disasters of wars or famine, with Britain’s own colonial history.

The concerns associated with large numbers of immigrants were masked by what people — and increasingly the popular press — called ‘political correctness’ (Political Correctness Gone Mad) by which they meant the control of language and manners, and in some cases of law, of the means of even beginning to address the concerns. That was seen as repression and, in some ways, for the best of reasons, so it was.

What I am suggesting is that that which was successfully suppressed after Notting Hill in 1958 was inarticulate and still struggling for manoeuvre in 2016 when it finally found an outlet in the referendum campaign. The end of empire had found its cry. Hence the fury. Hence the demons.

Two or three years ago I was chairing a small literary festival in the small Norfolk town where we live. In order to publicise the event we decided to read poems in the marketplace on market day. That was fun. Somebody there decided to read John Betjeman’s A Subaltern’s Love Song, that begins: ‘Miss Joan Hunter Dunn, Miss Joan Hunter Dunn / furnished and burnished by Aldershot sun…’, a poem that wonderfully conjures an England of the 1930s. After the event the sweetest and nicest person on the committee said to me, ‘I don’t suppose you will ever fully understand that poem, George’.

Maybe he is right. Maybe, even to the nicest of men, a foreigner can never be truly of the atavistic tribe. That wouldn’t be peculiar to the English, of course: that is, I suspect, a general truth about specific historical moments when tribes come under pressure. Maybe the English tribe is ay such a point and has decided to wash its hand of foreigners. I started out by saying that I am not, for now, directly affected by Brexit and the tide of emotion it has loosed. But the conversation with the genuinely nice man who pointed out that I could never truly understand the heart of Englishness in the Betjeman poem — and he may be right, of course — is a salutary reminder that, in subtle ways, I remain a foreigner. Maybe the door to Brexit is the door out for some of us.

I will finish with a short poem titled Port Selda. There is a much loved popular poem by the Anglo-Welsh poet, Edward Thomas, titled ‘Adlestrop’ In Thomas’s poem of 1917, it is a sunny day during the war when his train makes a brief unscheduled stop at a tiny station, Adlestrop, by an empty platform where no one gets in or out. It seems quiet there until suddenly the poet hears “all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”. What we know, as readers, is that the poet himself was very soon to die in the war. For many people this poem this represents a sense of England at war, England as the elegiac quiet place sensed as if by accident.

My title, Port Selda is in fact the word Adlestrop spelled backwards. It is about the beauty of the country and the inevitability of rejection. Many of us are at Port Selda now.

The Immigrant at Port Selda

I got off at Port Selda and looked out for the harbour

but it was quiet, nothing smelled of the sea,

all I saw was a station by a well-kept arbour

with a notice pinned to a tree.

It said: Welcome to Port Selda, you who will never be

our collective unconscious nor of our race.

This is the one true genealogical tree

and this the notice you will not deface.

It was beautiful there. It was Friday in late

autumn and all the birds of the county sang

their hearts out. I noted down the date.

The sun was shining and the church-bells rang.

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