‘Manufacturing Muslims’

September 6, 2017 at 2:46 pm (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, culture, France, identity politics, islamism, literature, Middle East, post modernism, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", religion)

A review by Andrew Coates of what would seem to be a very important book – unfortunately only available in French at the moment.

From Tendance Coatesy:

La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa: ‘Manufacturing Muslims’

La Fabrique du Musulman. Nedjib Sidi Moussa. Libertalia. 2017.

In the wake of the Tower Hamlets foster care furore Kenan Malik has written of the “inadequacy of all sides to find an adequate language through which to speak about questions concerning Muslims and Islam.” (Observer. 3.9.17) This inability to talk seriously about these issues as shown in the prejudiced press coverage, risks, Kenan argues, shutting down criticism of outing people in “cultural or faith boxes” and “blurring the distinction between bigotry against Muslims and criticisms of Islam”.

La Fabrique du Musulman (Manufacturing Muslims) is an essay on very similar dilemmas about “La Question des Musulmans” in French political debate. Moussa tackles both the “box” theory of faith and culture, and efforts by those taken by the “anti-imperialism of fools” to align with the “petite bourgeoisie islamique” and form alliances with Islamist organisations starting with the issue of ‘Zionism’. In 147 pages the author does not just outline the left’s political bewilderment faced with the decomposition of the classical working class movement. He pinpoints the “confusionnisme” which has gone with its attempts to grapple with the problems of discrimination against minorities in the Hexagone – its relations with forces with ideologies far from Marxism or any form of democratic socialism.

Indigènes, Race War and the US left. 

Moussa is the binational son of revolutionaries who supported Messali Hadj in the Algerian War of National Liberation. As the offspring of those who backed the losing side in a war that took place before independence, between the Messalists and the victorious FLN, who will not be accepted as French, he announces this to underline that he does not fit into a neat ‘anti-colonial’ pigeonhole (Page 11). He  examines the roots and the difficulties created by the replacement of the figure of the ‘Arab’ by that of the ‘Muslim’. Furthermore, while he accepts some aspects of ‘intersectionality”, that is that there many forms of domination to fight, he laces the central importance of economic exploitation tightly to any “emancipatory perspective” rather than the heritage of French, or other European imperialism. (Page 141).

La Fabrique is an essay on the way the “social question” has become dominated by religious and racial issues (Essai sur la confessionnalisation et la racialisation de la question sociale). The argument of the book is that the transition from the identity of Arab and other minorities in France from sub-Saharan Africa to that of ‘Muslim’ has been helped by political complicity of sections of the French left in asserting this ‘heritage’. In respects we can see here something like an ‘anti-imperialist’ appropriation of Auguste-Maurice Barrès’ concept of “la terre et les morts”, that people are defined by their parents’ origins, and fixed into the culture, whether earthly or not. This, with another conservative view, on the eternity of race struggle, trumping class conflict, has melded with various types of ‘post-colonial’ thought. This is far from the original “social question” in which people talked about their exploitation and  positions in the social structure that drew different identities together as members of a class and sought to change the material conditions in which they lived.

In demonstrating his case La Fabrique is a critique of those opponents of the New World Order but who take their cultural cue from American enemies of the “Grand Satan” and descend into ‘racialism’.  (Page 18 – 19) In this vein it can be compared with the recent article, “American Thought” by Juraj Katalenac on the export of US left concepts of “whiteness” as a structure of oppression reflecting the legacy of slavery (Intellectual imperialism: On the export of peculiarly American notions of race, culture, and class.) No better examples of this could be found than Moussa’s targets –  former Nation of Islam supporter Kémi Séba, “panfricanist” and founder of Tribu Ka, condemned for anti-Semitism, and a close associate of the far right, recently back in the news for burning African francs, and the Parti des indigènes de la République (PIR).

The PIR’s spokesperson Houria Bouteldja, offers a picture of the world in imitation of US Black Power lacing, in her best known text, diatribes against Whiteness (Blanchité) and laments for the decline in Arab virility, more inspired by Malcolm X and James Baldwin than by the nuances of Frantz Fanon. In the struggle for the voice of the indigenous she affirms a belief that commemorating the memory of the Shoah is, for whites, the “the bunker of abstract humanism”, while anti-Zionism is the “space for an historic conformation between us and the whites”. Bouteldja is fêted in Berkley and other ‘post-colonial’ academic quarters, and given space in the journal of what passes for the cutting edge of the US left, Jacobin. (1)

La Fabrique outlines the sorry history of the PIR, highlighting rants against integration, up the point that Bouteldja asserts that the wearing the veil means “I do not sleep with whites” (Page 51). The discourse on promoting ‘race’ is, Moussa, is not slow to indicate, in parallel to the extreme right picture of ‘racial war’. He cites the concept of “social races” offered by Tunisian exile and former Trotskyist, Sadri Khiari on a worldwide struggle between White Power and Indigenous Political Power (“Pouvoir Blanc et la Puissance politique indigène”) (Pages 60 – 61). Moussa notes, is the kind of ideology behind various university-based appeals to “non-mixité”, places where in which races do not mix. One can only rejoice that Khiari has not fused with Dieudonné and Soral, and – we may be proved wrong – no voice on the left France yet talks of a “transnational Jewish bourgeoisie” to complement the picture, and demand that Jews have their own special reservations in the non-mixed world.

Many of the themes tackled in La Fabrique are specifically French. Britain, for example, has nothing resembling the concept of laïcité, either the recognition of open universalism, or of the more arid arch-republicanism that has come to the fore in recent years. The attempts at co-operation, or more formal alliances with Islamists, and the sections on various moves, between opportunism and distance of those in and around the Nouveau Parti anticapitaliste (MPA),  intellectuals of the ‘left of the left’,  and the ambiguities of Alternative Libertaire on the issues, though important in a domestic context, are not of prime interest to an international audience. (2) Other aspects have a wider message. The convergence between ‘Complotiste’, conspiracy theories, laced with anti-Semitism, circulating on the extreme-right and amongst reactionary Muslims, finding a wider audience (the name Alain Soral and the Site, Egalité et Reconciliation crops up frequently), including some circles on the left, merits an English language investigation. There are equally parallels with the many examples of ‘conservative’ (reactionary) Muslims who, from the campaign against Gay Marriage and equality education (“la Manif pour tous”), have become politically involved in more traditional right-wing politics, and the beurgeois, the prosperous Islamic market for Halal food and drinks. 

Islamogauchistes.

In one area there is little doubt that we in ‘Anglo-Saxon’ countries (a term in the book that jars), that is the English speaking world, will find the account of alliances between sections of the left and Islamists familiar, So familiar indeed that the names of the Socialist Workers Party, Respect and the Stop the War Coalition (StWC) are placed at the centre of the debate about these agreements, from the 2002, 2007 Cairo Conferences Against US and Zionist Occupation (Page 74), attended also by Hezbollah, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), to the definition of Islamophobia offered by the Runnymede Trust (Page 87).

If one can criticise Moussa in this area it is not because he does not discuss the details of the failure of the SWP and the forces in Respect and the StWC have failed to carry out Chris Harman’s strategy of being “with the Islamists” against the State. The tactic of being their footstools collapsed for many reasons, including, the SWP’s Rape Crisis, the farce of Respect under George Galloway, and was doomed in the Arab Winter not just after the experience of MB power in Egypt, Ghannouchi and Ennahda in Tunisia and, let us not forget but when the Syrian uprising pitted the Muslim Brotherhood against Assad, Daesh was born, and the British left friends of ‘reformist’ Islamism lapsed into confusion. If the Arab ‘patrimonial states’ remain the major problem, there is a growing consensus (outside of groupuscules like Counterfire) on the British left that actually existing Islamist parties and movements are “deeply reactionary”. (3)

To return to our introduction: how can we talk about Islam and Muslims? We can, Moussa suggests, do without the use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ to shout down criticism of the ‘sacred’. The tendency of all religious believers to consider that their ideas make them better than everybody else and in need of special recognition cannot be left unchallenged. They need, “libre examen…contre les vérités révélés, pour l’émancipation et contre l’autorité”, free investigation against revealed truths, for emancipation against authority (Page 143). There should never be a question of aligning with Islamists. But systemic discrimination, and economic exploitation remain core issues. It is not by race war or by symbolic academic struggles over identity that these are going to be resolved. La Fabrique, written with a clarity and warmth that gives heart to the reader. Whether all will follow La Fabrique and turn to the writings of Socialisme ou Barbarie and the Internationale situationniste to find the tools for our emancipation remains to be seen. But we can be sure that in that “voie” we will find Moussa by our side.

*****

(1) Pages 66 – 67, Les Blancs, les Juifs et nous. Houria Bouteldja. La Fabrique. 2016. In discussing Fanon few who read him can ignore his sensitive complexity. For example, did not just discuss the ‘fear’ of Black sexuality amongst whites, but the dislike of North Africans for “les hommes de couleur”, as well as efforts by the French to divide Jews, Arab and Blacks. Page 83. Peau noire masques blancs. Frantz Fanon. Editions du Seuil. 1995.

(2  La Fabrique du musulman » : un défaut de conception. Alternative Libertarire. Droit de réponse : « La Fabrique du musulman », une publicité gratuite mais mensongère. Alternative Libertaire.

(3) See on the history of the period, Morbid Symptoms. Relapse in the Arab Uprisings. Gilbert Achcar. Saqi Books. 2016.

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Contemporary Left Antisemitism – David Hirsh’s Manchester book launch

September 3, 2017 at 1:30 pm (anti-semitism, left, publications, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", socialism)

By Richard Gold (Engage)

Hear David Hirsh talk about the book, ask questions, buy a signed copy

Sunday, September 24, 2017 from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM

Follow this link for more details and to get your free ticket. (no admittance without a ticket).

Antisemitism on the left is difficult to recognize because it does not come dressed in a Nazi uniform and it does not openly proclaim its hatred or fear of Jews. This book looks at the kind of antisemitism which is tolerated in apparently democratic spaces.  It tells the story of the rise of the Jeremy Corbyn and his faction in the Labour Party; and it explains the controversy around Ken Livingstone. It analyses how criticism of Israel can mushroom into antisemitism and it looks at struggles over how antisemitism is defined. It focuses on ways in which those who raise the issue of antisemitism are often accused of doing so in bad faith in an attempt to silence or to smear. Hostility to Israel has become a signifier of identity, connected to opposition to imperialism, neo-liberalism and global capitalism; the ‘community of the good’ takes on toxic ways of imagining most living Jewish people.

The book combines narrative and case study with sociological analysis and theory to understand the controversial and contested phenomenon of antisemitism on the left.  It is not a critique of the left but a contemporary history of how things may go wrong.  It stands in the tradition of those on the left who have always understood and opposed the temptation to picture the evils of capitalism, modernity and imperialism as being intimately connected to the Jews and to their imputed behaviour.

Follow this link for some nice endorsements of the book

Follow this link to see details of other events David Hirsh is doing.  

Follow this link for Dale Street’s review of the book.

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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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