Sheppard and Lyon of Vote Leave protest at the the CBI conference
On Monday of this week David Cameron addressed the CBI conference in London, and was mildly heckled by two posh young men from the Vote Leave campaign.
For those who don’t follow the intricacies of anti-European factionalism in the UK, Vote Leave is an outgrowth of Business for Britain and Conservatives for Britain, both set up by long-standing Tory anti-Europeans Matthew Elliott (founder of the Taxpayer’s Alliance) and Dominic Cummings (former special adviser to Michael Gove), which for years have been pressurising Cameron and the Tory leadership for a harder line against the EU, and have now come out for withdrawal. Vote Leave claims to be a “cross party” campaign, but is overwhelmingly made up of right wing Tories with just Douglas Carswell of Ukip, Kate Hoey and a handful of Labour right-wingers, mavericks and millionaire donors, plus the Green’s eccentric Baroness Jenny Jones, giving the outfit the excuse to call itself “cross party.”
What was interesting about Monday’s protest was that while the two posh boys were protesting inside the hall, outside a small gaggle of aging Stalinist little-Englanders calling themselves Trade Unionists Against The EU, held a simultaneous protest. The two protests were quite obviously co-ordinated, and indeed, the Morning Star(Nov 10) quoted one Robert Oxley (who turns out to be Vote Leave’s Head of Media) as saying: “we will be working together closely during the campaign to do more of these protests – particularly at the AGMs of big companies who try to scare the British people into voting to remain.”
The Morning Star seems to have interviewed the two posh boys as it named them as Phil Sheppard and Peter Lyon, and quoted Mr Lyon as describing their experience as “terrifying” but “worthwhile.”
This is all a bit odd, because back in June of this year, the Morning Star carried an editorial (“Left reasons to ditch the EU“) denouncing Conservatives for Britain and Business for Britain (ie the two main constituent parts of Vote Leave) as “neoliberal and nationalist extremists” and called on trade unions, the Labour Party and the left to “develop an independent position of their own, one which represents the real interests of workers and the mass of the people across Scotland, England and Wales.”
Yet now we have the Morning Star giving sympathetic coverage to Vote Leave, and frequent Star contributor (and CPB member) Brian Denny co-ordinating the activities of Trade Unions Against the EU (of which he is, apparently, an Organiser) with Vote Leave.
But even stranger is the position of the Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, which is to all intents and purposes, Mr Denny and a few of his friends like the ultra-nationalist little Englander (and fellow Morning Star contributor) John Boyd, just wearing different hats: the website of the other main anti-EU campaign, Leave.EU (presently battling it out with Vote Leave, for recognition as the official anti-EU campaign), set up by wealthy Ukip backer Arron Banks and virtually a front organisation for Nigel Farage and Ukip, carries the following endorsement:
“As a well-established Eurosceptic Labour movement organisation operating for nearly 30 years, CAEF is pleased to join an organisation that seeks to represent people from all walks of life and defend national democracy, which is clearly under threat from a corporate-dominated European Union that is accruing evermore powers at the expensive of member states. No country can truly decide its own future democratically without the sovereign power to make its own laws and run its own economy in the interests of its citizens free from outside interference”, Brian Denny
Lie No.1: Regarding “Andrew Murray’s support for the Syrian regime”
During the meeting Andrew Murray called for the support of the Syrian Army and the Iraqi Army in the fight against ISIS. This will be on record of the footage that Stop the War Coalition have yet to release of the meeting (unless they choose to edit it).
It should be noted that it is not the person of Assad himself which has caused the destruction in Syria, it is an entire military-security-intelligence apparatus of a fascist (self-defined nationalist-socialist) state. It is not Assad himself who has been dropping bombs every single day for the past 4 years, raped thousands of women and men, or tortured to death thousands of detainees, it an entire state set of apparatuses. Indeed, the long touted “political solution” supported by the International powers since 2012, whereby despite perceptions of “difference” between the US and Russia there has been a consistent unanimity on the necessary retention of the structures of the Syrian state and only disagreement on the fate of the person of Assad, has been rejected repeatedly by the revolutionary Syrian people. They can keep Assad if they think that they’ll maintain his regime. We only need see what happened in Egypt when a figurehead and some of his cronies were removed, only to be replaced by a worse one propelled by a vindictive ancien régime.
Andrew Murray’s support of the Syrian state is beyond dispute, as is wide swathes of the Stop the War coalition. They seek to play on “technicalities” of not directly stating “we support Assad”. Indeed President Sisi of Egypt says exactly the same thing when asked about his support for Assad in Syria, claiming “we must support the Syrian state, its not about the person”. The reader familiar with Stop the War coalition’s writings over the duration of the Syrian conflict, and their mocking writings about the Syrian resistance and existence of non-Assad Muslim “moderates”, will recognise this fact – never mind the absence of a (naive) outright “declaration” (which immediately opens up the movement to criticism as well as historical infamy), which is reserved for the Communist Party of Great Britain and the BNP, Stop the War’s leadership and outlets have (with rare exceptions) repeated close-to verbatim the narratives of the Syrian and Iranian governments.
Their rhetoric of a “sovereign Syria in which Syrians decide their fate”, for example, is taken right off the Russian manuscript. The irony of those proclaiming this maxim being entirely reliant on non-Syrian forces (Iraqi militias, Iranian revolutionary Guards, Hezbollah and now Russia’s airforce), whereby an independent regular “Syrian army” is practically no longer existent, entirely reliant on Iranian-sponsored militias, seems to be lost on those proponents.
Finally, it should be noted Andrew Murray’s (the Chair of Stop the War coalition) declaration of the necessity of supporting the “US-backed” (in fact US-created) Iraqi Army; this is another ironic contradiction for the “anti-imperialist” Stop the War coalition to support “Western-backed” forces in the Middle East, and is one from the few that will be seen in this article. Read the rest of this entry »
Abbott on The Daily Politics show. A shameful performance – the definition of a “car crash” interview. The young Syrian woman is superb:
h/t Paul Canning
Edited to add: On the Friday the Stop The War Coalition responded with a bizarre post entitled ‘Andrew Neil smears Stop the War’, thus dismissing both the scrutiny from the left and Syrians and denying the facts as ‘smears’. The documented dismissal of Syrian voices is called “organised disruption.” They flat out lie that despite the video, despite the statement’s of both Labour’s Catherine West and the Greens Caroline Lucas, Syrians were not prevented from speaking!
The several reports on the behaviour of the stewards, including their calling the police, is dismissed as a “lie”. Whoever called them the police arrived, so there’s a simple way to find out if it is infact a “lie” that STWC called them – ask the police. Should we do that STWC? Over to you …
Of interest is the fact that the first person they rush to defend (“Lie one”) is their Chair, Andrew Murray. This is because this post’s information on Murray, supplied by Andrew Coates, was raised by Andrew Neil on the BBC in his questioning of Diane Abbott. Again, they flat out lie that Murray’s Communist Party and hence Murray does not regard Assad as “legitimate” and supports the regime’s war, aka ‘bombing’.
In order to back their claim that they solely face “diehard opponents on the left” in their opposition to UK support for civilian protection (rather than, as I have already covered, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists) they fall back on the presence of a Tory MP
Are they rattled? Time will tell but the post ends in a classic of ‘projection’ – the Soviet and now Kremlin tactic of claiming that others are doing what you’re actually doing – “The lies of our opponents testify only to their desperation.”
Edited to add: Omar Sabbour has published a lengthy rebuttal to STWC’s post. He notes that the meeting was filmed and that unedited footage will show who is right about both the STWC claims on Syrians being allowed to speak and on who called police. It will also show what was said from the platform and Sabbour in his rebuttal goes into detail on why STWC’s arguments (“simply another form of Western narcissism and orientalism”) are so wrong – do go read.
On Monday night the Stop The War Coalition (STWC) held a public meeting at the House of Commons – Syria: the case against military intervention.
Diane Abbott MP was the Chair. There were the usual suspects as speakers plus Tory MP Crispin Blunt, whose Foreign Affairs Select Committee had just delivered a report against any British involvement in Syria. Plus Alex Salmond and Caroline Lucas. Conspicuous by their absence as speakers were Syrians, the STWC refused to give any a platform.
Salmond’s SNP did give a Syrian a platform, Dr Amer Masri, on stage at their recent conference (many in the audience wept). Praising this, the Syria Solidarity Movement (SSM) noted the STWC refusal this last Monday and that:
Nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria for the Labour Conference fringe in Brighton; nor were any Syrians invited to speak at Stop the War’s meeting on Syria in Manchester. When Syrian civil society activists wanted to speak at a Stop the War meeting on Syria in London in September, they were told it was “not appropriate”.
SSM were also blocked from speaking at an April solidarity with refugees march – by STWC. This led to an apology from the march’s organisers!
On Monday at the House of Commons, says Peter Tatchell:
Some Syrian victims of Assad’s brutalities turned up anyway but were not allowed to speak. They eventually shouted out in frustration, turning the meeting into momentary chaos, as they were jeered by some of the audience and as STWC stewards tried to eject them – allegedly threatening that they’d be arrested. The police turned up soon afterwards.
Order was eventually restored.
When it came to questions from the floor, other members of the audience were asked to speak but not the Syrians.
Near the end of the meeting, I personally appealed to Diane Abbott to let the Syrians have their say but she refused and closed the meeting.
To wind down the clock to stop Syrians speaking, Abbot literally allowed a history lesson by an old man (who said the Arab spring..was a fiction) to drone on, the license given him was so long (initially before panel was challenged only quickfire Qs were allowed) that even the crowd started to scorn, whilst Abbot sat listening with her head resting on her hand with her Umbridge-like smile.
(Dolores Umbridge is a Hogwarts villain in the guise of a respectable middle-class English lady).
Sabbour claimed that STWC had called police, that STWC stewards had threatened him with arrest and that ’emotional’ Syrians and other Arabs told STWC “you have become our oppressors.” The raucousness of the meeting was live Tweeted by the BBC’s Ross Hawkins.
Clara Connolly, an immigration lawyer and activist with Syria Solidarity UK, later told the STWC they were silent about Assad’s crimes but they didn’t care. I told the speakers they just wanted Assad to keep killing people. Clara kept trying to make the point to the speakers that they had nothing to say about what was happening on the ground. All she got in return was silence. Then some of the organisers went up to her and warned her that if she didn’t be quiet, she would be forced to leave.
I was shocked, surprised and saddened by Diane Abbott’s unwillingness to invite Assad’s victims to express their opinions. Not listening to victims of Assad’s war crimes is arrogant, insensitive and appalling. It has a whiff of ‘we know best’ and Syrian opinions ‘don’t count’.
Syrians are not allowed to have an opinion about their own country. Only Westerners are allowed to talk about Syria.
Yet in an increasingly angry back-and-forth on Twitter with Tatchell later on Monday evening STWC’s Lindsey German flat out denied that any of these events had happened, calling the Syrians ‘wreckers’. She even called the no-platforming of Syrians a, quote, “lie”!
The news from the meeting was the BBC saying that Labour Foreign Affairs Shadow Minister Catherine West (a speaker at the meeting) had promised to consult STWC on Syria policy, later headlined as Labour giving STWC a “veto”. This was untrue, she had been addressing Syrians in the room, as confirmed later by Syrians present and by her in a statement.
But it was highly noteworthy that as she addressed this the Labour PR team directly undermined her by saying that, yes, they would consult outside the party, specifically naming STWC. Labour PR is now run by Seumas Milne, a prominent ally of STWC working for a party leader who used to chair the group.
West was later reported to have spoken to Syrians before the meeting and to have expressed great concern to them that they be consulted by the Labour Party, which she confirmed in a tweet – She clarifies she wants to consult Syrians then Labour PR (Milne) clarifies will talk to STWC. What does that tell you?
Peter adds that it was ‘ironic’ that STWC would put Tory Crispin Blunt on their platform when Blunt has said “he would support military action in Syria in certain circumstances.”
Andrew Coates noted that Andrew Murray, another panelist and STWC Chair, is a leading member of the Communist Party (CPB) who “explicitly do support Russia “bombing” Daesh and backing Assad, explicitly!” Murray reportedly said at the Monday meeting that “only sovereign forces from Syria + Iraq” can defeat ISIS.
(See Andrew’s post on Murray and STWC’s ‘confused’ position on bombing.)
In a lengthy dialogue on Twitter the following day between myself and several others with a STWC treasurer, Stephen Bell, when pushed on why they refused to put a Syrian on their platform he claimed that all the Syrian solidarity groups support bombing, which is not true, and that STWC were within their rights to not give a platform to anyone who ‘supports bombing’.
To which SSM member Mark Boothroyd wryly noted that:
if you haven’t noticed Syria is still being bombed so your “victory” is meaningless for those actually affected.
The “victory” being claimed by Bell, of course, being news reports that Prime Minister David Cameron had delayed a vote on whether the UK would join in with bombing ISIS in Syria. This when Labour’s Catherine West had explicitly stated at the meeting that it was Russia’s intervention which had made the prospect of the UK’s intervention “more remote.”
But Bell’s emotive, deliberately simplistic and repetitive statement that STWC would not give an airing to anyone who ‘supports bombing’ was contradicted not only by the presence of Blunt and Murray but also by Lindsey German herself who in her Twitter exchange with Tatchell said that STWC would not have “speakers who support intervention.”
*Pic actually from German satire website
What ‘intervention’ might mean is, of course, something which the Syrian ‘Stop The War’ movement, Syrian civil society and Syrian socialists have widely discussed. There are a number of proposals, many of which, for blindingly obvious reasons, do not include ‘bombing’.
Yet German could not have been more obvious in saying that STWC does not want to hear any of them and will, in fact, as long experience has shown, use their leading role to silence any Syrian who does not support Assad, whose crimes STWC always cover up. Of course she won’t listen to Syrians when STWC continue to paint all opposition to Assad as Islamic fascists.
Too many leading figures in the British anti-war movement chose to view all these revolutions through their relation to the US/UK and its intentions. This approach erased the agency of the oppressed Syrian people engaged in struggle with the regime, and gave no responsibility to the role of imperialist powers like Russia in propping up the dictatorship. It served to obscure the complex reality of the multi-polar world system, split between competing imperialist powers, with no single dominant power overwhelmingly determining the course of events.
Instead of analysing the actual relationships of regional and global powers that were thrown into flux by the Arab Spring, the approach of the anti-war movement was shaped by a framework of Cold War power relations, massaged to fit leftist prejudices and domestic alliances developed during opposition to the “War on Terror” and Iraq War.
Syrian and pro-revolution Arab voices have been marginalised, while outright apologists for the Assad regime like George Galloway have been central to developing it and propagating the position of Stop the War.
Many, through social media, have this week witnessed the ugly true face of the so-called Stop The War Coalition in this rowdy silencing of Syrian voices.
It is to be hoped that this exposure does not get forgotten and that those drawn to them question harder how these people ever became leaders of the ‘peace’ movement. Already, Boothroyd notes, STWC inaction on supporting any solidarity with Syrians has alienated Muslims who have been engaged in humanitarian support.
However the news the following day was that another far-left project, ‘Stand Up To Racism’, which is a front for the Socialist Workers Party, has a ‘Refugees welcome here’ rally in London tonight. Thirteenth on the bill of speakers is a – faceless, nameless – ‘Syrian refugee’.
S/he’s inclusion is surely welcomed but plainly an afterthought.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
Thanks for input from Peter Tatchell, Andrew Coates and Bob from Brockley.
Salma Yaqoob and (behind her) Ger Francis “confront” Roger Godsiff MP in 2005
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.
For reasons that escape me Socialist Unity has chosen to publish this by Andy Newman: St Crispin’s Day.
Meanwhile the only remaining other member of Socialist Unity’s band of brothers John Wight, has published this stirring call to arms,
What we have seen take place is nothing less than a feral and unhinged scream from the swamp of reaction that resides in our culture, where every crank with a computer resides, consumed with bitterness and untreated angst, much of it in the form of self loathing over their own inadequacies and lack of talent – not to mention in some cases a jump from the extreme left to extreme right of the political spectrum, with all the psychological dysfunction such a metamorphosis describes.
So feral, so extreme has been this motley crew of first rate second rate men (and women) in their biblical denunciations of Seumas Milne, they make the McCarthy witchhunts seem like child’s play by comparison.
Wight ends this call to muster behind Milne with this remark,
“Ridicule is the tribute paid to the genius by the mediocrities.”
We learn that Corbyn has taken upon himself to appoint another genius to his team, who is, surely no-coincidence, a former Socialist Unity contributor (Telegraph– Thanks Jim…).
It can also be revealed that Mr Corbyn has employed a key aide to the disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman. Ger Francis, Rahman’s former political adviser, worked for Mr Corbyn at the Commons, a member of Mr Corbyn’s Westminster office confirmed last week. “He worked here on the leadership campaign,” she said.
Mr Francis moved to work for Mr Corbyn after Rahman was disbarred from office in April. An election court found the mayor guilty of “corrupt and illegal practices” including vote-rigging, bribery and lying that his Labour opponent was a racist. The judge, Richard Mawrey QC, said Rahman had run a “ruthless and dishonest” campaign which “drove a coach and horses” through electoral law.
Mr Francis, one of Rahman’s highly-controversial twelve political appointees, was at the heart of the mayor’s personal machine which saw millions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash channelled to personal allies and Muslim groups in return for political support.
He is a former member of the Trotskyite Socialist Workers’ Party who was expelled from the SWP in 2007 for being too extreme. He then became an organiser for George Galloway’s far-Left Respect party and was agent for the party’s then leader, Salma Yaqoob, at the 2010 elections in Birmingham. He joined Rahman after the collapse of Respect and Ms Yaqoob’s resignation as leader.
This is what Ger said on what he intended to do in Respect (from, surprise, surprise, Socialist UnityMarch 2008).
Our contribution to the international class struggle starts with the work we do to undermine British imperialism. In this context, the significance of the developments that have taken place around Respect, under the leadership of George Galloway and Salma Yaqoob, should not be underestimated. The demands made by Respect would probably have been accommodated by left social democracy in previous generations, but they have been given backbone by a resolute anti-imperialism, anti-racism and a critique of capitalism. This is the correct political orientation for mass politics.
Francis is particularly hated by Iranian and other exiles from Islamist countries for the role he played in Birmingham back in 2001-2 – preventing these democratic secular socialists from expressing their views in the Stop the War Campaign.
You can read about Francis’s activities in this text by respected comrades Sue Blackwell and Rehan Hafeez – the pseudonym of a greatly valued Iranian activist [actually, South Asian -JD] I have had close contact with (WHY WE WERE RIGHT TO LEAVE THE SWP).
On 4th April 2002, Rehan Hafeez (SWP member of 16 years’ standing) and Sue Blackwell (SWP member of 19 years’ standing) sent a joint letter of resignation to the Central Committee of the SWP. Our letter was sent by Recorded Delivery and we had expected some sort of response from the CC. Of course we didn’t expect them to take all our allegations at face value, but we did hope that they would at least investigate them. However, we never received a reply in any form whatsoever – not even an acknowledgement of our resignations. The only contact from the Centre was a couple of months later when we each received a phone call from the Membership Office enquiring why our subs had stopped! (Sue took great pleasure in answering that at some length to the poor sod at the end of the phone).
We therefore decided to post our letters on the web along with related documents, so that people can judge for themselves whether we made the right decision. Since we posted them in 2003, we have received dozens of supportive e-mails from others who have left the SWP under similar circumstances, and remarkably also from people who are still in the SWP suffering the same kind of abuses but haven’t yet plucked up the courage to leave. (I call it “battered comrade syndrome”).
In our letter we complained about the packing of the Birmingham Stop the War Coalition (BSTWC) meeting on 5th February 2002, where the SWP rode roughshod over the existing democratic procedures in order to kick Steve Godward out of his post as Vice-Chair of BSTWC and to end the practice of open committee meetings and regular elections. This event was exactly mirrored at the Birmingham Socialist Alliance AGM held on 1st July 2003, where – guess what – the SWP packed the meeting in order to kick Steve Godward out of his position as Chair, along with every other committee member who was not in the SWP, including Rehan who was voted out of his post as Press Officer.
One point we would mention: the texts of these letters make repeated reference to Ger Francis, the Birmingham SWP full-timer. Ger was finally sacked by the SWP around the time of the Party Conference in early November 2002, and we are confident that our complaints about him contributed in some measure to that welcome decision. However, it would be wrong to think that the problems began and ended with comrade Francis: he was the symptom, not the cause. After his replacement the SWP in Brum continued to behave in exactly the same sectarian, dishonest and undemocratic manner within the anti-war movement and the Socialist Alliance. The rot, as far as we can see, comes from the head: Ger was repeatedly backed by CC members such as Chris Bambery, Lindsey German and John Rees and those individuals have not changed their positions. We have seen no real improvement in the internal democracy of the SWP.
We also note that no explanation was given to the rank-and-file as to WHY Ger was sacked, and why at THAT PARTICULAR TIME given that complaints against him had been made since the beginning of 2002. Ger carried on behaving in the exactly the same way, still taking a leading role in the BSTW Coalition for instance, but nothing was done to stop this. We considered this to be further evidence of the contempt the leadership had for ordinary members. Eventually Ger was expelled from the party itself as part of the fall-out from the split in Respect in 2007, when he sided with the Salma Yaqoob / George Galloway faction after the SWP had apparently seen the light.
For those involved in Palestinian solidarity in Birmingham, its university has long felt like some weird Zionist outpost. For years Israeli apologists, through bureaucratic bullying and intimidation via the Student Union Guild, have been able to hinder and stifle debate.
George Galloway is simply the most eloquent advocate of the Palestinian cause in the English speaking world.
To follow Henry the V is a hard task.
But this is what Sue said about Ger when he was finally booted out of the SWP (here),
Sue sent this as an e-mail to various comrades on hearing in early November 2002 that Ger Francis, the cause of so much of her misery, had been sacked from his post as full-time organiser for the SWP in Birmingham. Steve Godward replied “well said brother Wordsworth”.
In hindsight, however, this proved to be overly optimistic. Ger Francis remained very much in the driving seat of the Bham Stop The War Coalition, the “clumsy desperation” continues with a vengeance and there are still plenty of “madding factions” needing to be tranquilised ….
By the way – I shouldn’t need to say this but I’ll say it anyway – I do not in any way condone or encourage acts of individual violence and I do not wish anyone dead, even my worst enemies. In any case my worst enemies are the governments of the USA, the UK and Israel, not anyone on the British left. The “rivers of blood” here are strictly metaphorical (and nothing to do with Enoch Powell either!)
… but the foremost of the band As he approached, no salutation given In the familiar language of the day, Cried, “Robespierre is dead!” – nor was a doubt, After strict question, left within my mind That he and his supporters all were fallen.
Great was my transport, deep my gratitude To everlasting Justice, by this fiat Made manifest. “Come now, ye golden times,” Said I forth-pouring on those open sands A hymn of triumph: “as the morning comes From out the bosom of the night, come ye: Thus far our trust is verified; behold! They who with clumsy desperation brought A river of Blood, and preached that nothing else Could cleanse the Augean stable, by the might Of their own helper have been swept away; Their madness stands declared and visible; Elsewhere will safety now be sought, and earth March firmly towards righteousness and peace.”
Then schemes I framed more calmly, when and how The madding factions might be tranquilised, And how through hardships manifold and long The glorious renovation would proceed. Thus interrupted by uneasy bursts Of exultation, I pursued my way …
William Wordsworth, The Prelude, Book
It is, frankly, outrageous that Ger Francis should be working for any Labour MP.
“Why the interest? It’s a psychological detective story. Why should clever men at the very heart of the Establishment, who enjoyed its trappings, seek to betray it? Why did they devote their lives to a known totalitarian regime, abandoning friends and family, ending their lives in lonely exile in Moscow? How did they get away with it given their drunkenness, drug-taking and sexual promiscuity? Are there other spies still to be uncovered? (Andrew Lownie, International Business Times)
The release of over 400 previously unrevealed MI5 and Foreign Office files provides some fascinating insights into the psychological and personal motivations of Burgess, Philby, Maclean and the rest of the Cambridge spy ring and their associates, as well as the sometimes hilarious incompetence of the British security services. However, the underlying political motivation of these upper class Stalinists who’d started out as genuine anti-fascist idealists in the 1930s, has been evident to astute observers for many years, and carries important lessons for serious socialists to this day. Sean Matgamna describes the political background in this 2004 article:
From left: Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Kim Philby.
In The Climate of Treason Andrew Boyle recounts a conversation which took place amongst a group of young communists in the summer of 1933, in Cambridge. Some of them would become the famous traitors who would be exposed in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, after having served the USSR as double agents within the British secret services for decades.
Kim Philby had just come back from Germany, and he reported to his friends on what he had seen. There, at the beginning of the year, Hitler had been allowed to come to power peacefully. The powerful German Communist Party (KPD) could rely on four million votes; it had hundreds of thousands of militants; it had its own armed militia, and the strength to physically crush the fascist groups in most of the working-class districts of Berlin — and yet it had put up no resistance at all to the Hitlerites. It had allowed itself to be smashed, without a struggle.
In the years when the Nazi party was burgeoning, the KPD had refused to unite with the Socialists (who had eight million votes) to stop them; and now that the capitalists had brought the Nazis to power, the KPD slunk into its grave, without even token resistance.
It is one of the great pivotal events in the history of the labour movement, and in the history of the 20th century. The Second World War, Stalin’s conquest of Eastern Europe the decline and decay of the revolutionary working class movement — all of these things grew out of Hitler’s victory over the German working class movement. Unexpected, and enormous in its consequences, the collapse of the KPD was almost inexplicable.
In fact, the KPD acted as it did on Stalin’s direct orders. Stalin had decided that it was in the USSR’s interests to let Hitler come to power because Hitler would try to revise the Treaty of Versailles and “keep them busy in the West while we get on with building up socialism here”, as he put it to the German Communist leader Heinz Neumann (who he would later have shot).
In Cambridge in that summer of 1933 the young men who listened to Philby’s report tried to make sense of the German events. The Communist International was still denying that any catastrophe had occurred at all, denying that the KPD had been destroyed. It was still playing with idiotic slogans like: “After Hitler, our turn next.” Those who wanted to stay in the Comintern had to accept this way of looking at it. But was the International correct?
More daring than the others, one of the Cambridge group suggested that, maybe mistakes had been made. Maybe they should have fought. Maybe Stalin’s critics — Trotsky, for example — had been right. Maybe, after all, Stalin did not quite know what he was doing.
“No!”, said Philby, very heated. He denied that the KPD had made mistakes, or that Stalin had got things wrong: further, he denied that, where the affairs of the labour movement were concerned, Stalin could be wrong. As the infallible Pope cannot err where “matters of faith and morals” are concerned, so Stalin could not err where the affairs of the left were concerned. He denied that there was any left other than Stalin. “W…why,” the future KGB general stuttered, “W…what-ever Stalin does — that is the left.”
It is a statement which sums up an entire epoch in the history of the left. What Stalin did, that is, what the Stalinists in power did — that was the left! The official accounts of what they did; the rationalisations and fantasies which disguised what they did; the learned “Marxist” commentaries on the “reasons” for what they did; the deep “theoretical” arguments which were concocted to explain why “socialism” in the USSR was so very far from the traditional hopes and goals of the revolutionary left; the codification of Stalinist practice, written over and into the basic texts of socialist learning, turning them into incoherent Stalinist palimpsests — that was now “the left” and “Marxism”. The left was restyled out of all recognition.
A movement rooted historically in the French Revolution, whose drive for democracy and equality it carried forward against the shallow, empty, and false bourgeois versions of these ideas, now championed a tyrannical state ruled by a narrow intolerant elite.
A movement dedicated to collective ownership and therefore needing democracy because collective ownership is, by definition, not possible unless ownership is exercised collectively, and thus — there is no alternative — democratically, nevertheless championed the idea of ownership by an undemocratic state, itself “owned” by a narrow elite, and confused it with collective ownership. Read the rest of this entry »
Shiraz doesn’t know very much about Kate Godfrey (KateVotesLabour) but she’s absolutely right about this appalling appointment:
So Mr Corbyn, what made you appoint fascism-apologist Seumas Milne?
I’m told the new politics is based on honesty.
So fine, here’s an honest question for Jeremy Corbyn.
How could you?
How bloody could you? How could you appoint Seumas Milne to be your voice, your eyes, your hands?
How could you think that not enough, and by appointing him Labour’s Director of Strategy, outsource your thinking to him too?
Mr Corbyn, you say that you want to listen to us, the people; and then you pick Seumas Milne – the one journalist who always knows better than the people who were there.
You pick a man who never heard an opinion that he didn’t filter; a truth that he didn’t dismiss as an orthodoxy, or a story of pain on which he didn’t have superior information.
As a columnist, Seumus Milne likes to write about foreign affairs.
Mr Corbyn, over the last months and in truth, years, I have tried to meet with you, or with your advisors time and time again.
Because I too like to write about foreign affairs.
As you take up your heavy responsibilities, I wanted to tell you what I know.
Mr Corbyn, I have spent my life in conflict zones. Prior to becoming a Labour PPC I worked in Somalia, in Sudan, in Libya, in Algeria, in Lebanon when the Israelis were shelling the passes, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Georgia, in Azerbaijan and in the DRC.
I worked in Syria, only there really is no Syria now, only the wreckage, and the hungry, and when the winter cold bites, the dead. Oh, and the barrel bombs. I would say the sarin — but your new advisor knows better.
I worked as part of international investigations, collecting evidence while the people around me collapsed from hunger.
I have seen a two year old dying, because all the frantic love and desperation of his mother, two aunts and grandmother could not make the medicines affordable.
I have seen clinics in refugee camps where patients cry with pain, and there is no-one to bring pain medication, and no-one to pay for it, and anyway, no pain medication to bring.
I’ve seen a bit bloody more than Mr Winchester-and-Balliol Milne.
And yet, it is Seumas Milne who is the expert on foreign affairs. And although, somehow, his is always the foreign affairs of dictators misjudged, and chemical weapons unused — until the bodies fell; of pure ideology and never of people — it is on the basis of that knowledge that you have promoted him.
It is Mr Milne’s knowledge of the world that befits him to be the voice of all those good, decent, careful Labour folk I love.
So let’s look at some of the things that Seumas Milne knows.
He knows that the West shouldn’t ‘demonise’ Putin — while Russian jets are scrambled by Assad, and responsibility for six of every seven deaths in Syria lies with the Russian-backed regime.
He knows that Assad had ‘no rational motivation’ for the worst chemical attacks since the Iran-Iraq war, and so that they probably didn’t take place.
He knows that the Iraqis who worked with the US in Iraq were ‘quislings,’ and that the right of it was with the ‘armed resistance.’
He knows that Lee Rigby fought in Afghanistan, and so that his murder ‘wasn’t terrorism in the normal sense.’
These are the truths that only Seumas Milne upholds.
Mr Corbyn, these are the truths that you have bought into.
These are the stocks that the leader of the Labour Party has seen, and shouted, ‘buy!’
We are ashamed in front of the world.
The decision to appoint Seumas Milne devalues everything that Labour stands for, and everything that Labour is. It is morally and ethically wrong.
Seumas Milne might act for you, Mr Corbyn. He might speak for you.
The Morning Star’s coverage of the EU has always been rabid little-Britain nationalism dressed up with a few “left wing” phrases about “social dumping” and the like. It recently reached a nadir with this shameful letter and this disgusting editorial.
So it came as a refreshing change to read something sensible and recognisably left wing on the subject of the EU; even so, the editors gave the piece a thoroughly misleading title, which I strongly suspect wasn’t chosen by the author, ‘Corporate campaign worries labour right’; and I doubt that this strap-line was chosen by him, either:
SOLOMON HUGHES finds even the Blairites are concerned about the businessmen that have come to dominate the official In campaign
THE Britain Stronger In Europe campaign for an In vote at the EU referendum has jumped straight into a strategy that I heard even top Blairites say is doomed to failure. They’ve made ex-M&S boss Stuart Rose campaign chief, cementing the bad strategy into the heart of the organisation.
It looks like both the main pro- and anti-EU campaigns think that because the EU is an economic union, then this is a question of “economics” which is best addressed by “businessmen” lecturing us about what “business” needs.
So the EU debate is going to be a lot like a bad episode of The Apprentice, with people rushing around talking about “business” and “markets” and “sales.”
It’s hard to think of a worse voice for Europe than Rose. He is currently on the advisory board of Bridgepoint Capital, an investment firm profiting from NHS privatisation by its ownership of leading health contractor Care UK. Rose is also a senior adviser to HSBC European — he works for a bank busy trying to blunt EU regulation of finance.
Britain Stronger In Europe is fronted by businesspeople such as Rose, Karren Brady and Richard Branson. Their first video was all about “deregulation” and “business benefit” and “consumer benefit,” although — blink and you miss it — there was a brief reference to the EU-backed right to maternity leave and holidays in their promo video.
But at the Labour conference I heard Chuka Umunna argue: “If we are going to win this debate it has got to be a grassroots campaign. And actually it will not be won by the CEOs of companies that make up the members of the CBI writing letters to the Financial Times and the Times, telling people from on high about what they need to do when the referendum comes.”
Chuka also said — ironically from an all-male, all-posh panel — that “those making the argument also need to reflect modern Britain, so we need to make sure we have all of the regions (and) both genders” making the case.
Chuka argued that the In campaign “mustn’t be a Westminster or corporate elite telling everybody what they should do, because if it looks like that we are going to lose.”
It looks like Britain Stronger In Europe took Chuka’s warning as a recommendation and decided that lectures from business execs was a good idea.
Similarly Emma Reynolds MP — one of the refuseniks who left the shadow cabinet when Jeremy won — argued from another panel that the pro-EU campaign should be about “getting the message out through local people, not just us on the top table.”
The top table she was on was about as Establishment as it could be. She was speaking at a fringe meeting organised by Chatham House, a foreign policy think tank deeply wedded to the status quo. The meeting was paid for by Citibank, who had its man on the platform too.
Which points to the big weakness of the pro-EU campaign. They know that if it is all business-y it might lose. But they just can’t help themselves. So Reynolds calls for a grassroots campaign from a platform paid for by Citibank, a company that helped blow up the world economy with self-destructing financial investments and now fights against EU banking regulation.
Similarly, when Umunna gave his speech about an EU campaign not being a “corporate elite” campaign, he did so from a platform funded by the City of London Corporation. He spoke next to the City’s chief lobbyist for deregulation, Mark Boleat, and Peter Mandelson — who used the occasion to give a big speech in favour of the TTIP trade treaty.
There is a social bargain at the heart of the EU — capital can move freely within the EU borders, but so can labour. Money can move freely inside the EU, but so can people.
Equally the EU imposes some deregulation, but it also imposes some regulations. The EU encourages privatisation of services but it also imposes some regulations of working hours and holidays. The EU limits some government social spending, but it also directs some EU funds to deprived areas.
Arguably it is a pretty bad bargain, which is weighted much more to capital than labour.
There are two responses on the left — either argue for a better bargain, Syriza-style, and say: “Another Europe is possible.” Argue for an In vote and change within Europe. Or say we can strike a better national bargain for working people by breaking with the EU bureaucracy.
Personally I favour the former, because I think that the Out campaign is so dominated by the right it would direct how we leave — any exit as it stands would be shaped by the right, who would exit in favour of worse migration rules and a faster race to the regulatory bottom. It isn’t a great choice.
But I do think that we can make the choice better by shifting the debate from rival “businessmen” lecturing us on whether we can have less regulation and more bigotry inside or outside the EU. And, oddly enough, Umunna and Reynolds agree.
Even though they are thoroughly keen to do what capital wants, they know that in current circumstances people won’t just sit and be lectured by “businessmen.”
There might be room for a less-corporate In campaign under Labour Yes — except that is run by Alan Johnson, who was so thoroughly committed to New Labour’s business-friendly consensus that it is hard to see him making any noise.
Johnson didn’t really think another Britain was possible when he was a minister, so it is hard to see him arguing another Europe is possible.
This leaves a lot of room outside the supposedly official In and Out campaigns to argue that precisely because the EU is an economic institution that the debate should not be led by businessmen.
It’s an opportunity, but also a responsibility. We need to make the case that economics in the EU means how we run our schools or hospitals or welfare state. It means how we regulate banks, not how some ageing executive pleases the banks while lining his pockets.
Follow Solomon Hughes on Twitter @SolHughesWriter.
Accuse any member of the Communist Party or supporter of the Morning Star of being a “Little Englander” or even just a nationalist, over the EU and they’ll get very hot under the collar. Robert Griffiths, general secretary of the CPB recently wrote a self-righteous letter to the New Statesman to complain about the magazine having quoted yours truly describing the MS “plumb[ing] the depths of reactionary Little England nationalism” in its coverage of the EU.
Now, I don’t know for sure whether or not John Boyd is a member of the CPB, but the MS certainly gives him a lot of coverage, regularly printing his anti-EU rants on their letters page, and quoting him approvingly in articles blaming the EU for the decimation of British industry, the undermining of British democracy, the war in Ukraine and the very existence of neoliberal capitalism, etc, etc, etc. Mr Boyd is secretary of the so-called Campaign Against Euro-Federalism, one of a number of interchangeable Stalinist/nationalist anti-EU outfits which evidently meet with the approval of the CPB and the MS.
Yesterday’s Morning Star published Mr Boyd’s latest letter, which I think is worth reproducing for posterity here at Shiraz, if only because letters published in the print edition don’t appear on the MS website. It is a chemically-pure statement of the fanatical, laughably ignorant, and utterly preposterous nationalism and isolationism that lies at the diseased heart the supposedly “left” anti-EU movement. The anti-EU ‘left’ should have this ludicrous, rambling, non-sequitur-ridden missive thrown in their faces at every opportunity. I presume, by the way, that Manu Bazzanu had written a letter attempting to assert elementary socialist internationalism, thus enraging the pro-patriotism Mr Boyd:
The nation state must come first for socialists MANU BAZZANU (M Star September 25) brushes aside the fundamental importance of nations, nation states and their right to self determination. In fact the signs are that there will be more nation states.
Why side with capitalist interests, the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and its secret investment court system (ICS/ISDS) whose aims are to cull the powers of national governments, democracy and independence?
The main cause of wars is one nation state’s interference in the internal affairs and right to self-determination of another.
The Middle East is in turmoil, with the resultant mass movement of refugees, because governments of Britain and other countries have used military force to destroy infrastructures, change regimes with no respect for nation states’ governments, the nations or the peoples within them.
The objective of Islamic State (Isis) is to bring about a worldwide caliphate which does not recognise international borders, nation states and a lot more. Readers of the Morning Star vehemently oppose this.
Is it not correct that support that support should be given to a united Ireland where the Irish nation has been struggling for over 800 years to get rid of English imperialism?
Is it wrong for the French Communist Party congress to sing the Marsellaise before the Internationale? That is patriotism and internationalism in the correct order.
Dockers in the past carried out international solidarity with workers in other nation states by refusing to load or unload particular ships. That is just one example of internationalism.
Even within the EU, and in light of the refugee and Eurozone crises, national governments on behalf of their nation states have rocked this reactionary prison-house of nations to its foundations.
We are currently subjects of the British monarchy, but this does not preclude writing English, Scottish and Welsh patriotic national anthems. They should reflect the national patriotic history and aspirations, clearing us of a few obstacles!
JOHN BOYD, Secretary, Campaign Against Euro-Federalism
August was the seventy-fifth anniversary of the murder of Leon Trotsky by an agent of the Stalinist USSR’s secret police (remembered by his grandson, here). Workers’ Liberty is publishing a second volume of documents from the movement which kept alive and developed the revolutionary socialist politics Trotsky fought for. Just before Trotsky’s death, the American Trotskyist organisation split after a dispute triggered by Stalin’s invasion of Poland. The majority was led by James P Cannon, the minority by Max Shachtman. Shachtman’s “heterodox” side, would later repudiate Trotksy’s analysis of Russia as a “degenerated workers’ state”; but that was not their view at the time of the split. Cannon’s “orthodox” side continued to hold onto the degenerated workers’ state position and from that would flow many political errors. This extract from the introduction to The Two Trotskyisms Confront Stalinismby Sean Matgamna, puts the record of the two sides into perspective:
Above: Shachtman and Cannon, on the same side in 1934
The honest critic of the Trotskyist movement — of both the Cannon and Shachtman segments of it, which are intertwined in their history and in their politics — must remind himself and the reader that those criticised must be seen in the framework of the movement as a whole. Even those who were most mistaken most of the time were more than the sum of their mistakes, and some of them a great deal more.
The US Trotskyists, Shachtmanites and Cannonites alike, mobilised 50,000 people in New York in 1939 to stop fascists marching into Jewish neighbourhoods of that city. When some idea of the extent of the Holocaust became public, the Orthodox responded vigorously (and the Heterodox would have concurred): “Anger against Hitler and sympathy for the Jewish people are not enough. Every worker must do what he can to aid and protect the Jews from those who hunt them down. The Allied ruling classes, while making capital of Hitler’s treatment of the Jews for their war propaganda, discuss and deliberation on this question endlessly. The workers in the Allied countries must raise the demand: Give immediate refuge to the Jews… Quotas, immigration laws, visa — these must be cast aside. Open the doors of refuge to those who otherwise face extermination” (Statement of the Fourth International, The Militant, 3 April 1943).
We, the Orthodox — the writer was one of them — identified with the exploited and oppressed and sided with them and with the labour movements of which we ourselves were part; with people struggling for national independence; with the black victims of zoological racism. We took sides always with the exploited and oppressed.
To those we reached we brought the basic Marxist account of class society in history and of the capitalist society in which we live. We criticised, condemned, and organised against Stalinism. Even at the least adequate, the Orthodox Trotskyists generally put forward proposals that in sum meant a radical transformation of Stalinist society, a revolution against Stalinism. Always and everywhere the Orthodox Trotskyists fought chauvinism. When some got lost politically, as they sometimes did and do, it was usually because of a too blandly negative zeal for things that “in themselves” were good, such as anti-capitalism and anti-imperialism. We mobilised political and practical support for movements of colonial revolt.
French Trotskyists, living in a world gone crazy with chauvinism of every kind, set out to win over and organise German soldiers occupying France. They produced a newspaper aimed at German worker-soldiers: some twenty French Trotskyists and German soldier sympathisers lost their lives when the Nazis suppressed it. The Orthodox Trotskyists even kept some elements of feminism alive in a world in which it was long eclipsed: Michel Pablo, in a French jail for helping the Algerians in their war of independence, applied himself to studying and writing about “the woman question”. Large numbers of people shared the view of the Trotskyists on specific questions and worked with them or in parallel to them. The Trotskyists alone presented and argued for a whole world outlook that challenged the outlook of the capitalist and Stalinist ruling classes. We embodied the great truths of Marxism in a world where they had been bricked up alive by Stalinism. We kept fundamental texts of anti-Stalinist Marxism in circulation.
Read the accounts of the day to day mistreatment of black people in the USA in the mid 20th century – Jim Crow in the South, where blacks had been slaves, segregation in the North, all-pervasive humiliations, exclusions, beatings, burnings, mob lynchings, the systematic ill-treatment of children as of grown-up black people. Work through even a little of that terrible story and you run the risk of despairing of the human race. The Trotskyists, challenging Jim Crow, championing and defending the victims of injustice, showed what they were. To have been less would have been despicable. That does not subtract from the merits of those who did what was right and necessary, when most people did not
James P Cannon and Max Shachtman, the main representatives of the two currents of Trotskyism, were, in my judgement, heroes, both of them. Cannon, when almost all of his generation of Communist International leaders had gone down to Stalinism or over to the bourgeoisie, remained what he was in his youth, a fighter for working-class emancipation.
I make no excuses for the traits and deeds of Cannon which are shown in a bad light in this volume. It is necessary to make and keep an honest history of our own movement if we are to learn from it. After Trotsky’s death Cannon found himself, and fought to remain, the central leader of the Trotskyist movement, a job which, as the Heterodox said, he was badly equipped politically to do. He did the best he could, in a world that had turned murderously hostile to the politics he worked for and the goals he fought to achieve. More than once he must have reminded himself of the old lines, “The times are out of joint/O cursed spite that ever I was born to set it right”. James P Cannon remained faithful to the working class and to revolutionary socialism. Such a book as his History of American Trotskyism cannot be taken as full or authoritative history, but it has value as what Gramsci called a “living book”: “not a systematic treatment, but a ‘living’ book, in which political ideology and political science are fused in the dramatic form of a ‘myth’.”
Socialists today can learn much from both Shachtman and Cannon. In his last decade (he died in 1972), Max Shachtman followed the US trade unions into conventional politics and dirty Democratic Party politicking. He took up a relationship to US capitalism paralleling that of the Cannonites to Stalinism of different sorts and at different times. Politically that was suicidal. Those who, again and again, took similar attitudes to one Stalinism or another have no right to sneer and denounce. Shachtman got lost politically at the end of the 1950s; the Cannonites got lost politically, in relation to Stalinism, twenty years earlier! When Trotsky in 1939-40, living under tremendous personal strain, reached a crossroads in his political life and fumbled and stumbled politically, Max Shachtman, who had tremendous and lasting regard for Trotsky and a strong loyalty to what he stood for, had the integrity and spirit to fight him and those who — Cannon and his comrades in the first place — were starting on a course that would warp and distort and in serious part destroy their politics in the decade ahead and long after.
The Prometheus myth has been popular amongst socialists, supplying names for organisations and newspapers. As punishment for stealing fire from the gods and giving it to humankind, the Titan Prometheus is chained forever to a rock in the Caucasian mountains and vultures eternally rip at his liver. Shachtman picked up the proletarian fire Trotsky had for a moment fumbled with and carried it forward. Generations of mockery, obloquy, misrepresentation, and odium where it was not deserved, have been his punishment for having been right against Trotsky and Cannon.
This book is intended as a contribution to the work of those who strive to refurbish and renew the movement that in their own way both James P Cannon and Max Shachtman tried to serve, and served.