‘Jazz hands’, the NUS, and identity politics ad absurdum

March 28, 2015 at 5:09 pm (Beyond parody, comedy, post modernism, posted by JD, relativism, strange situations, students, surrealism, wankers)

I thought this was satire at first: specifically, an exercise in reductio ad absurdum directed against identity politics. But, depressingly, it isn’t. This is what lies behind the widely-ridiculed NUS Women’s Conference decision to replace conventional applause after speeches with so-called “jazz hands”:

From Gay Star News :

UK students’ union passes policy to stop white gay men acting like black women

Cross-dressing and drag is banned as delegates use jazz hands instead of applause

Do you find this offensive?

Photo via Will & Grace/NBC.

UK’s National Union of Students has passed a policy to stop gay men appropriating black female culture.Delegates at the Women’s Conference today, many of them self-identified feminists, have passed plenty of motions.Just one of them was ensuring everyone at the conference understood that some behaviors were damaging.On Twitter, they announced: ‘Some delegates are requesting that we move to jazz hands rather than clapping as it’s triggering anxiety. Please be mindful!’

A later motion passed was 503: ‘Dear White Gay Men: Stop Approprirating [sic] Black Women’. Put forward by the NUS LGBT Committee, they believe the appropriation of black women by white gay men is prevalent within the LGBTI scene and community. ‘This may be manifested in the emulation of the mannerisms, language (particularly AAVE- African American Vernacular English) and phrases that can be attributed to black women. White gay men may often assert that they are “strong black women” or have an “inner black woman”,’ they said.

‘White gay men are the dominant demographic within the LGBT community, and they benefit from both white privilege and male privilege. ‘They claimed the appropriation is ‘unacceptable and must be addressed’. Passing the motion, they agreed to eradicate the appropriation of black women by white gay men and to raise awareness of the issue.

A second motion passed was the banning of cross-dressing or drag as it could be offensive to trans women: ‘To issue a statement condemning the use of crossdressing as a mode of fancy dress,’ they pledged.

‘To encourage unions to ban clubs and societies from holding events which permit or encourage (cisgender) members to use cross-dressing as a mode of fancy dress’.

This ruling was given an exclusion to queer students who want to use cross-dressing in their everyday lives as a mode of expression and to those who want to cross-play by flipping the gender of a fictional character in fancy dress.

A NUS spokeswoman told Gay Star News: ‘We’re a democratic society, and if members voted for it, these are our policies’.

Several have mocked the policies online, with the New Statesman calling into question the second motion for being ‘remarkably conservative’ for a group ‘otherwise so much at pains to stress the variety and fluidity of gender’.

Others on social media also questioned the first, saying inspiration for the slang like ‘shade’ and ‘spill the T’ was taken from the underground drag culture in the 70s and 80s, Paris is Burning and modern shows like RuPaul’s Drag Race.

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More on this nonsense over at Comrade Coatesy’s, and a particularly interesting comment from someone with a genuine anxiety condition,  here.

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Marx on free speech

March 19, 2015 at 7:44 pm (Free Speech, history, Marxism, NUS, posted by JD, students, truth)

Comments on The Latest Prussian Censorship Instruction [39]


Written: between January 15 and February 10, 1842;
First published: in Anekdota zur neuesten deutschen Philosophie und Publicistik, Bd. I, 1843;
Transcribed: in 1998 for marx.org by Sally Ryan; what appears below is an extract. The complete article is here. We publish this extract in the hope of educating some young radicals, especially in the student movement, who seem to think it is the role of the “left” to support censorship and that freedom of speech is a right-wing concept.


Karl Marx

“According to this law,” namely, Article II, “the censorship should not prevent serious and modest investigation of truth, nor impose undue constraint on writers, or hinder the book trade from operating freely.”

The investigation of truth which should not be prevented by the censorship is more particularly defined as one which is serious and modest. Both these definitions concern not the content of the investigation, but rather something which lies outside its content. From the outset they draw the investigation away from truth and make it pay attention to an unknown third thing. An investigation which continually has its eyes fixed on this third element, to which the law gives a legitimate capriciousness, will it not lose sight of the truth? Is it not the first duty of the seeker after truth to aim directly at the truth, without looking to the right or left? Will I not forget the essence of the matter, if I am obliged not to forget to state it in the prescribed form?

Truth is as little modest as light, and towards whom should it be so? Towards itself? Verum index sui et falsi. Therefore, towards falsehood?.

If modesty is the characteristic feature of the investigation, then it is a sign that truth is feared rather than falsehood. It is a means of discouragement at every step forward I take. It is the imposition on the investigation of a fear of reaching a result, a means of guarding against the truth.

Further, truth is general, it does not belong to me alone, it belongs to all, it owns me, I do not own it. My property is the form, which is my spiritual individuality. Le style c’est l’homme. Yes, indeed! The law permits me to write, only I must write in a style that is not mine! I may show my spiritual countenance, but I must first set it in the prescribed folds! What man of honour will not blush at this presumption and not prefer to hide his head under the toga? Under the toga at least one has an inkling of a Jupiter’s head. The prescribed folds mean nothing but bonne mine a mauvais jeu.

You admire the delightful variety, the inexhaustible riches of nature. You do not demand that the rose should smell like the violet, but must the greatest riches of all, the spirit, exist in only one variety? I am humorous, but the law bids me write seriously. I am audacious, but the law commands that my style be modest. Grey, all grey, is the sole, the rightful colour of freedom. Every drop of dew on which the sun shines glistens with an inexhaustible play of colours, but the spiritual sun, however many the persons and whatever the objects in which it is refracted, must produce only the official colour! The most essential form of the spirit is cheerfulness, light, but you make shadow the sole manifestation of the spirit; it must be clothed only in black, yet among flowers there are no black ones. The essence of the spirit is always truth itself but what do you make its essence? Modesty. Only the mean wretch is modest, says Goethe, and you want to turn the spirit into such a mean wretch? Or if modesty is to be the modesty of genius of which Schiller speaks, then first of all turn all your citizens and above all your censors into geniuses. But then the modesty of genius does not consist in what educated speech consists in, the absence of accent and dialect, but rather in speaking with the accent of the matter and in the dialect of its essence. It consists in forgetting modesty and immodesty and getting to the heart of the matter. The universal modesty of the mind is reason, that universal liberality of thought which reacts to each thing according to the latter’s essential nature.

Further, if seriousness is not to come under Tristram Shandy’s definition according to which it is a hypocritical behaviour of the body in order to conceal defects of the soul, but signifies seriousness in substance, then the entire prescription falls to the ground. For I treat the ludicrous seriously when I treat it ludicrously, and the most serious immodesty of the mind is to be modest in the face of immodesty.

Serious and modest! What fluctuating, relative concepts! Where does seriousness cease and jocularity begin? Where does modesty cease and immodesty begin? We are dependent on the temperament of the censor. It would be as wrong to prescribe temperament for the censor as to prescribe style for the writer. If you want to be consistent in your aesthetic criticism, then forbid also a too serious and too modest investigation of the truth, for too great seriousness is the most ludicrous thing of all, and too great modesty is the bitterest irony. Read the rest of this entry »

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A rejoinder to the AWL’s detractors

November 14, 2014 at 8:57 am (AWL, islamism, Marxism, mccarthyism, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, secularism, socialism, solidarity, students, trotskyism)

Pete Radcliff writes:

There are some particularly unpleasant sectarians in important positions on the left, in Nottingham and elsewhere, who vilely denounce my friends in the AWL (as well as me) as ‘Zionist’ or ‘pro-imperialists’ – because whilst supporting the Palestinians they advocate a 2 states solution for Israel/ Palestine – or they accuse the AWL of being ‘racists’ because they have always criticised ‘Political Islamism’.

There was a recent attempt by student union officers, under the influence of a group called the ‘Student Broad Left’ in UCL, to ‘no platform the AWL’. They basically argued that the AWL was a physical threat to Muslims because the AWL supported a motion to the NEC of the NUS written by a Kurdish student officer from Edinburgh. It is pretty bizarre stuff – to support a campaign against ISIS makes you Islamophobic and a physical threat to Muslims. Here is my friend and comrade Omar Raii‘s response: http://uclu.org/blogs/omar-raii/rejoinder-to-awls-detractors

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Oxford University Palestine Soc: “We are All Hamas”

October 20, 2014 at 6:49 am (anti-semitism, conspiracy theories, Guardian, intellectuals, islamism, israel, Jim D, Middle East, palestine, reactionay "anti-imperialism", students)

I have been asked, by a regular reader, to carry more material explaining our position on antisemitism – and, in particular our allegation that a lot of contemporary antisemitism comes from the “left” and takes the form of Palestinian solidarity (a cause that, in principle, Shiraz supports). I intend to write at some length on this subject soon, but as a starting point I’d refer readers to Galloway’s recent refusal to support Palestinian statehood (and his explanation, here) and the following account of a meeting at Oxford University. Note that one of the main speakers is an Oxford academic who frequently writes for the liberal-left Guardian. In other words, these people are not fringe elements within the pro-Palestinian movement in the UK. Support for the total destruction of Israel (ie the Hamas position) and  casual comparisons between Israelis and Nazis, are now commonplace in the pro-Palestine movement. Even placards stating “Hitler was Right” are allowed on pro-Palestine demos, apparently unchallenged by the organisers or other marchers. As usual, when we re-publish material, it should go without saying that we don’t necessarily agree with all the article’s contents or endorse all the politics of the author.:

From Richard Black (via Facebook)

15 October 2014:

Tonight I had the misfortune to attend the inaugural Palestine Society event here in Oxford. I went with Sapan and Jonathan out of a mixture of open mindedness and intellectual curiosity.

What I heard and saw genuinely shocked me. I’ve heard a lot in my time but this was by far the worst event I have ever attended. I can only describe it as a two hour hate fest of the variety described in George Orwell’s ‘1984.’ It went from the downright idiotic to the explicitly anti-Semitic – and often both. I heard a girl complain about the evils of ‘Zionist’ control in her native America – she even attacked ‘Zionists’ for controlling the make up she wore! No one challenged this girl’s delusions: they only reassured her that fighting Zionism must remain paramount. I heard numerous people glorify the ‘right of the resistance’ and reject non-violent tactics, even including an Oxford academic on the panel (Karma Nabulsi).

I had a question of my own. I read to the panel a quotation from John Molyneux, a theorist from the Socialist Workers’ Party;

“To put the matter as starkly as possible: from the standpoint of Marxism and international socialism an illiterate, conservative, superstitious Muslim Palestinian peasant who supports Hamas is more progressive than an educated liberal atheist Israeli who supports Zionism (even critically).”

I then added – “I’d be interested to know what the members of the panel think about this mode of analysis. Do they support what I consider to be a totally irrational – and dangerous – position?”

Not only did the panelists evade my question – Avi Shlaim, Karma Nabulsi and Barnaby Raine – to my horror, they actually agreed with its sentiment. Mr Raine, a student at Wadham College and a student activist, mocked me by saying that “anyone would stand up for the oppressed against an oppressor.” It should also be noted that Mr Raine noticeably hesitated when I put up my hand – he looked everywhere around the room before reluctantly taking my question. This person excuses the most morally reprehensible actions. He practically fetishises totalitarianism.

It got worse. Near the end of the talk, a local PSC activist defended Molyneux’s remarks by arguing that he’d rather be a Medieval, backward Chassidic Jew in the Warsaw Ghetto than a cultured German in a Nazi uniform. A sizable proportion of the room – hundreds of people – applauded this awful anti-Semitic distortion of history and trivialization of the Holocaust.

I am aware this status is long and most students couldn’t care less about student politics. However, I think it’s important that all students know that here, in 21st Century Britain, at one of the best universities in the world, political extremism is flourishing. Whereas far right fascists are, rightly, tarred and made into social pariahs, their equivalents on the far left get away with it time and time again. These are the totalitarians in our midst.

I have done what I can. I tried exposing rampant anti-Semitism in the Palestine Society at the start of this year and I was treated with ridicule. It’s time to take this stuff seriously. I saw many freshers at this event – freshers whose minds have been poisoned and given a wholly false narrative which demonises one people at the expense of the other, one that demonises the forces of peace and rewards the actions of hate and terrorism. I saw a room of intelligent, perhaps highly naive students, express the most hideous and morally warped trash. I saw no effort to condemn outright anti-Semitic prejudice when it was expressed. I saw pure intellectual fascism – people attending a talk to confirm their prejudices, and actively ostracising those that disagree with them.

I cannot think of a worse introduction to Oxford for incoming students to this University. Anyone who genuinely cares about Palestinians – whether in the West Bank or Gaza, or elsewhere in the Middle East or the diaspora – should stay the hell away from Oxford University’s Palestine Society. And remember that all it takes for the triumph of evil is for good people to do nothing.

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The politically degenerate NUS leadership refuses solidarity with those fighting ISIS

October 11, 2014 at 4:53 pm (apologists and collaborators, Beyond parody, conspiracy theories, fascism, Human rights, iraq, islamism, israel, kurdistan, Middle East, palestine, posted by JD, reactionay "anti-imperialism", students)

By Daniel Cooper

Two motions debated at NUS NEC

The meeting then turned to motions submitted by NEC members. Unfortunately this part of the meeting was no feast of reason. There are two motions I want to focus on: Iraqi solidarity and Israel/PalestineI urge you to read the motions before continuing.

The “Iraqi solidarity” motion had been worked on with Roza Salih, a Strathclyde university student of Kurdish descent (she submitted an almost identical motion to the Scottish equivalent of the executive, the Scottish Executive Council, which I will post later, which, incidentally, did pass! One must ask Scottish executive members why vote for a motion in Scotland, but not in England?!).

The motion was opposed by Malia Bouattia, the NUS Black Students’ Officer, for astonishing and bewildering reasons. Bouattia argued that the motion was “Islamophobic” and “pro USA intervention” – (see Aaron Kiely, a fellow NUS NEC member’s, tweet during the meeting as reflective of the position). The motion then fell as large numbers of NEC members either abstained or voted against (including the bulk of the political Left on NEC). I think this says a lot about the current state of the student movement.

(I must also put on record that after only a single round of speeches, Toni Pearce moved the debate on. This was wrong: there was no opportunity to respond to Bouattia’s allegations. I had my hand up to speak in response, but was not called.)

Let us look at Bouattia’s arguments: is the motion anti-Muslim or pro US intervention?

The motion was partly written by a Kurdish student activist, and presented by the International students’ officer, Shreya Paudel. I have looked again and again at the contents of the motion, yet I cannot track any Islamophobia or racism.

Pro-intervention?

The US occupation, and its aftermath, has been an utter disaster for the people of Iraq. Resulting governments, led by Nouri Al-Maliki, have been authoritarian and carried out virulent Shia sectarianism. A civil war in the mid 2000s killed 34,000 civilians. Today there are 1.6 million refugees.

The dynamics in 2014 are complex. ISIS, who have grown out of Al-Qaeda, have seized huge swathes of the country; there is a new, shaky, shia-sectarian government; and a Kurdish regional government, whose self determination I believe we should support.

The ultra-Islamist group ISIS is a threat to all the people of Iraq. It is repressing and persecuting minorities, including Christians, Yazidis, Kurds, and Sunni Muslim Arabs. On the 29th June it declared a “caliphate” (a religious dictatorship). It has carried out rape and other forms of sexual violence are being used as weapons against women in IS-occupied areas.

These developments have been exacerbated and driven by US policy deliberately fostering sectarianism.

The situation is desperate.

In this situation, it is fundamental that the political Left, trade union and student organisations, like NUS, show our solidarity with the Iraqi people, in particular the hard-pressed student, workers and women’s organisations, and those fighting for democracy and equality.

It is unclear whether Western forces (which congregated in Paris the day before the NEC meeting, on the 15th of September, to announce a “game plan” to defeat ISIS) will send boots onto the ground in Iraq. We know already that French aircrafts have begun reconnaissance flights over Iraq; and that US aid has assisted the Kurds and Yazidis. However it is unlikely they will want a re-run of a war that even they believe to have been a colossal failure. It may be more likely that the USA assists established forces from afar to defeat ISIS.

However, the motion cannot be clearer in saying that such forces cannot be relied upon to deliver democratic change in Iraq: “no confidence or trust in the US military intervention.” If one were to believe it is not sufficiently clear or that the motion is not worded strongly enough, fine: make an amendment to the motion; or seek to take parts to remove or strengthen a particular aspect. Instead, the whole motion – which calls for solidarity with oppressed forces in Iraq – was argued as wrong. This is a grave shame!

It is also true – and Left-wingers should think this over – that the Kurds and Yazidi’s thus far would not have been able to survive if it had not been for aid from the Americans. Calling simply for an end to this intervention is the same as calling for the defeat of the Peshmerga forces by ISIS. The policy is based on a negative criteria – opposing the US and UK – instead of positive critera – solidarity with the oppressed.

Perhaps this is what Bouattia meant when saying that the motion is pro-intervention? Such a suggestion is arrived at only when one’s “analysis” becomes an issue of principle: that even within limited parameters, that to suggest that imperialism is not the only problem is somehow to “support” imperialism. This is the basis of “Stalinist” politics on international questions: that one considers forces that oppose the US as either progressive or, at worst, not the real issue -no matter how barbaric and reactionary and fascistic that force is. This is not a useful or effective way of looking at the world.

The debate

Two interrelated issues struck me about this debate.

Firstly, there is a stranglehold of “identity politics” on the student movement. This is an issue which needs to be discussed in more depth, but essentially the idea is widespread that if a Liberation Officer opposes something, it must be bad. Of course this idea is not applied consistently (and could not possibly be) – eg the majority of the NEC has not accepted current and former Black Students’ Officers’ defence of Julian Assange or the SWP. But I think it was a factor here, perhaps because people see or claim to see debate on the Middle East as something that the BSO should somehow have veto power over, regardless of the issues and the arguments made.

Combined with this, there seems to be a low level of political education and even engagement and interest in the NEC. Some appear not to research issues, work out what they think, engage and take ideas forward. Instead, some are not very interested and vote on basis of who they want to ally with on NEC. In other words, many people who voted against didn’t seem to care about is happening in Iraq.

Positive Solidarity 

Another motion I believe deserves some discussion was on solidarity with an organisation, Workers’ Advice Centre/WAC-Ma’an, that organises Jewish and Arab workers in both Israel and the Palestinian territories. This was voted down by both the Left and Right on NEC, for different reasons.

At the last NEC policy was passed favouring Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions policy (BDS) – which I voted against. Policy was also passed favouring a two states settlement for the region, which I proposed.

For the Right on NEC (the “Right” on NEC are not Conservative party members but are certainly on the “Right” of debates on the NEC), the possibility of giving a tiny sum of our national union’s money to anyone – whether that is a student attacked by the police on a demonstration, or striking college workers, is unthinkable. We must challenge this! According to NUS estimates at national conference, there is a cumulative £4 million expenditure for 2014/15. Offering our resources to those that share our morals is important and potentially highly useful.

Unfortunately, this argument was also pursued by the Left-winger opposing the motion. Left-wingers: this is not something we should be in the business of doing. If left-wingers disagree with a motion, they should argue it on those grounds, not on the basis the right-wing argument that NUS “doesn’t have enough money”.

WAC Maan was established in the 1990s. It is one of the rays of hope in a bleak situation in Israel/Palestine. It’s an independent, grassroots trade union centre which organises in sectors and industries often neglected by the mainstream trade unions.

It shows that organisation and politics that unite Jewish and Arab workers on the basis of internationalism, anti-racism, opposition to the occupation, and basic class solidarity, are possible.

Currently WAC Maan are set to enforce the first collective agreement against bosses in the West Bank, in the industrial zone of Mishor Adumim, at the Zafarty Garage. This is precedent setting. It is also important as it is forcing the courts to look at how Israeli employers manipulate entry permits as a way of getting rid of militants.

If workers across the occupied territories were organised, they would be able to exert considerable influence over the Israeli government, and over the future of the occupied territories.

To conclude: there are clearly disagreements amongst the NEC, and political Left, about international politics. I hope we can continue to have those discussions openly and frankly. I would certainly encourage those on the NEC to write down their opinions on the subject, particularly if they disagree.

I will continue to write reports of NUS NEC activities, and can be contacted on: dancooper13@hotmail.com

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Religious bigotry and censorship at LSE

October 6, 2013 at 10:39 am (academe, atheism, capitulation, Christianity, Civil liberties, Free Speech, grovelling, humanism, Islam, Jim D, relativism, religion, secularism, strange situations, students)

How has it come to this? And how is that some who regard themselves as on the “left” not only tolerate religious bigotry and censorship of this sort, but actively promote it?

anti

Statement from the British Humanist Association

LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society incident at freshers’ fair

October 4th, 2013

 
Representatives of LSESU Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society have been threatened with removal from their University’s freshers’ fair by their Students’ Union after refusing to remove t-shirts depicting the online comic ‘Jesus and Mo’. The society’s members were threatened on the basis that the t-shirts were could be considered  ‘harassment’,  as  they  could  ‘offend  others’  by  creating  an  ‘offensive environment’.

In a statement, the students have explained:

‘When the LSE security arrived, we were asked to cover our t-shirts or leave LSE premises. When we asked for the rules and regulations we were in breach of, we were told that the LSE was being consulted about how to proceed. After a period of consultation, Kevin Haynes (LSE Legal and Compliance Team) and Paul Thornbury (LSE Head of Security) explained to us that we were not behaving in an “orderly and responsible manner”, and that the wearing of the t-shirt could be considered “harassment”, as it could “offend others” by creating an “offensive environment”. We asked what exactly was “offensive” about the t-shirts, and how the display of a non-violent and non-racist comic strip could be considered “harassment” of other students.

‘At the end of this conversation, five security guards started to position themselves around our stall. We felt this was a tactic to intimidate us. We were giving an ultimatum that should we not comply immediately, we would be physically removed from LSE property. We made it clear that we disagreed strongly with this interpretation of the rules, but that we would comply by covering the t-shirts… After that, the head of LSE security told us that as he believed that we might open the jackets again when was going to leave, two security guards were going to stay in the room to monitor our behaviour. These two security guards were following us closely when we went in and out of the room.’

You can see their statement of events on the second day.

Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commented, ‘The LSESU is acting in a totally disproportionate manner in their dealings with our affiliate society. That a satirical webcomic can be deemed to be so offensive as to constitute harassment is a sad indictment of the state of free speech at Britain’s Universities today. This hysteria on the part of the SU and University is totally unwarranted; intelligent young adults of whatever beliefs are not so sensitive that they need to be protected from this sort of material in an academic institution. Our lawyers are advising our affiliated society at LSE and we will be working with them, the students, and the AHS  to resolve this issue.’

The National Federation of Atheist, Humanist and Secular Student Societies strongly condemns the actions of the LSESU. President Rory Fenton said, ‘Our member societies deserve and rightly demand the same freedom of speech and expression afforded to their religious counterparts on campus. Universities should be open to and tolerant of different beliefs, without exception. That a students’ union would use security guards to follow and intimidate their own members is deeply concerning and displays an inconsistent approach to free speech; if it is for some, it must be for all. The AHS will work with our partners at the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society to assist our affiliated society and seek engagement with both the LSESU and LSE itself. It is the duty of universities countrywide to respect their students’ rights, not their sensitivities.’

Notes

For further comment or information, please contact Andrew Copson on 07855 380 633 or Rory Fenton on 07403141133.

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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Workers Liberty students’ statement on the SWP at ULU

July 13, 2013 at 10:39 pm (AWL, Jim D, misogyny, reblogged, Socialist Party, students, SWP, trotskyism, women)

Marxism 2013

By Daniel Cooper, ULU Vice President, and Rosie Huzzard, NUS National Executive, on behalf of AWL Students

This year a large part of the SWP’s “Marxism 2013” event is taking place at University of London Union. This has led to controversy among ULU activists concerned and angry about the SWP’s handling of recent rape allegations against one of its leading members, including on the ULU executive. ULU has issued a statement.

The AWL is involved in ULU; Daniel is one of its four sabbatical officers, sitting on the executive as Vice President. Most of the rest of the ULU leadership is made up of comrades we work with closely, and whose anger at the SWP leadership’s recent conduct we entirely share. We therefore want to make our position clear. It is particularly important we do so as it has become evident that our thinking on this issue represents a minority position within the ULU executive.

The booking for “Marxism 2013” was made commercially through ULU’s booking department, which does not require prior authorisation from ULU’s political leadership to take bookings. We were the first ULU activists to notice this, about a month ago, and Daniel proposed to the ULU executive a) that the booking should not be cancelled and b) that ULU should issue a statement explaining this decision while also criticising the SWP’s record.

We did not argue against cancelling the booking on the grounds that it would be impossible or difficult to do so. We argued explicitly on the grounds that, while cancellation was possible, it was not the right thing to do. While there was eventually a majority against cancellation, most exec members did not share our broader thinking.

Our draft for the ULU statement linked the SWP leadership’s behaviour in the rape case to the organisation’s more general political trajectory – what the AWL has elsewhere called “apparatus Marxism”, ie putting perceived organisational advantage and organisational self-defence above assessing things in the world clearly and above political principles, in this case the principles of transparent and democratic functioning, accountability of leaders and women’s rights. Read the rest of this entry »

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Galloway exposes himself …

February 21, 2013 at 5:15 pm (anti-semitism, Asshole, Galloway, israel, Jim D, Racism, Respect, students)

… as a racist and antisemite

It’ll be interesting to see whether anyone who is not an avowed or obvious antisemite is prepared to defend Galloway over this:

From Cherwell.org (Oxford students’ online magazine) Wednesday 20th February 2013:

George Galloway has been accused of ‘pure racism’ by his debate opponent after ‘storming out’ of Christ Church.

George Galloway, the Respect MP for Bradford West, has been accused by Oxford students of anti-semitism.

Mr Galloway “stormed out” of a debate at Christ Church on Wednesday evening, upon finding out that his opponent, Eylon Aslan-Levy, a third-year PPEist at Brasenose, was an Israeli citizen.

Mr Galloway had spoken for ten minutes in favour of the motion ‘Israel should withdraw immediately from the West Bank’, before giving way to Aslan-Levy.

Less than three minutes into Aslan-Levy’s speech against the motion, Galloway was made aware that his opponent was an Israeli citizen.

“I have been misled,” Mr Galloway then commented, interrupting Aslan-Levy’s speech. “I don’t debate with Israelis”. He then left the room with his wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, and was escorted out of Christ Church by a college porter. When prompted to explain why Aslan-Levy’s nationality prompted him to abandon the debate, Galloway stated that “I don’t recognize Israel.”

In a statement late on Wednesday evening Galloway explained that “I refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the Apartheid state of Israel.

“The reason is simple; No recognition, No normalisation. Just Boycott, divestment and sanctions, until the Apartheid state is defeated.” Mr Galloway is a leading political proponent of the campaign to ‘boycott’ Israeli goods, services and – it emerged tonight – people.

After the debate Aslan-Levy said that “I am appalled that an MP would storm out of a debate with me for no reason other than my heritage.
 
“To refuse to talk to someone just because of their nationality is pure racism, and totally unacceptable for a member of parliament.”
 
Mahmood Naji, the organiser of the debate, told Cherwell that he “condemned Mr Galloway’s walkout, on the basis of his opponent’s nationality.”
 
He went on to deny that he had “misled” the MP. “At no point during my email exchange with Mr Galloway’s secretary was Eylon’s nationality ever brought up or mentioned.” He added, “nor do I expect to have to tell the speaker what his opponent’s nationality is.”

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Bring back the pamphlet!

October 28, 2012 at 6:07 pm (AWL, Education, internet, literature, Marxism, publications, socialism, students, trotskyism, youth)

By Martin Thomas of Workers Liberty

THE COMMUNIST MANIFESTO - KARL MARX FREDERICK ENGELS - INTRO BY LEON TROTSKY P/B

Material conditions for socialist education and self-education are better than they’ve ever been. Much socialist literature which previously you could read only if you could get into a good library is now freely available on the web. Vastly more has been translated.

Thanks to second-hand book sales moving onto the web, printed books which you’d previously find only by searching second-hand shops are now also easily available.

Thirty years ago, if a newcomer started reading the Communist Manifesto, and wondered who Metternich and Guizot were, they were on their own. These days the Workers’ Liberty website alone has more study guides and aids, available free on any internet-connected computer, than the whole of the left could offer then anywhere or at any price.

Even without a study guide, Google will tell you in seconds who Metternich and Guizot were. And Marx’s declaration, “the emancipation of the working classes must be conquered by the working classes themselves” — maybe you thought it was in the Manifesto? You can check in a minute where he wrote it, what the context was, how exactly he put it.

Today 52% of young women, and 42% of young men, go through university. Not so long ago, many new recruits to the socialist movement would have left school at 14 or 15, and would at first find the language of the Marxist classics difficult.

Today many socialists have been trained as teachers, learning techniques which they can bring over from their paid work into our study sessions. In the old days it was often the straight lecture, or just collectively reading aloud.

It’s a lot easier to be a well-read socialist now than it used to be. Yet active, intelligent, university-educated young people in the AWL today usually read less than our young activists did 35 or 40 years ago. (We collected statistics).

Even the better-read young activists do not own their own little library of the classic Marxist texts, ready to lend out to new people who show interest, as they automatically would have done decades ago.

To do better, I think, we have to make a deliberate effort to bring reading pamphlets back into daily political life.

The root of the problem, I think, is that social science and humanities university education today often works to deter people from serious study rather than help them towards it.

I have a daughter about to finish a university degree in psychology. She is a conscientious and competent student. Yet her course has never required her to read a single book on psychology, rather than bits and pieces from the web.

Her university campus has a good library. The newer campus of the same university has a library with hardly any books. Most of its space is taken up by computers.

With the huge expansion in academic publishing, no university degree can cover more than a small fraction of the literature in its subject. So lecturers go for the easily available, the quick summary, the overview, the extract, the digest.

Research shows that on average people reading things from the web take in only one-sixth as much as when reading print. So what? The skill of quickly skimming a range of material, taking in a suitable one-sixth of it, and rehashing it fluently in an essay or assignment, is what employers want, not deep specialised knowledge.

The system thus works to deter people from deep study of substantive texts, rather than processed rehashes, and to train them in the idea that the deep study is too difficult.

Then, if the student comes into the socialist movement, the way to seem on top of the current debates is to skim blogs and Facebook, not to read books.

In the 1960s, by contrast, socialist meetings would have stalls piled with pamphlets. For Trotsky and Luxemburg we depended on pamphlets printed in Sri Lanka, which at that time had the world’s strongest English-language Trotskyist movement, but we had them.

The serious activist would always have one or another pamphlet in her or his bag or coat pocket; anyone who attended socialist meetings at all often would check out at least the main pamphlets.

There is no cause to idealise the system of socialist education which depended on pamphlets. Still, pamphlet-reading did something. It inserted serious study into the main flow of socialist activity. The pamphlets were in every activist’s bag or coat pocket, on every stall. If you wanted to know more than the minimum, your course of action was clear and ready to hand, and involved serious study, not one-in-six skimming. It gave a frame of more-or-less known references for debates.

We should use the new possibilities, but also bring back the pamphlet.

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NUS to ‘no-platform’ Benn and Galloway?

September 26, 2012 at 8:34 pm (AWL, Feminism, Free Speech, Galloway, Jackie Mcdonough, men, misogyny, strange situations, students, SWP)

The Last WikiLeaks Supper

Above: the Messiah Julian and his rape-denying disciples, including Benn and Galloway

The expression “hoist with one’s own petard” springs to mind:

(from the Counterfire‘ website):

Leading anti-war campaigner and socialist Tony Benn will be ‘no platformed’ like Tommy Robinson of the racist EDL and Nick Griffin of the fascist BNP if a motion to the National Union of Students gets passed this week. If local student unions follow the national union then Tony Benn may be refused a platform in any student union in the country.

Refusing to allow fascists a platform has long been the policy of the left and the student movement. But in a remarkably ill-thought out move the National Executive of NUS is about to apply the same policy to Tony Benn and Respect MP George Galloway.

The reasons given for this unusual step are comments they made about the charge that Wikileaks whistleblower Julian Assange raped two women in Sweden. The motion states that Galloway ‘referred to a man inserting his penis into a sleeping woman as, “bad sexual etiquette’ and that Tony Benn said of the Assange case, “the charges are that it was a non-consensual relationship. Well that’s very different from rape”.’

Tony Benn has since, at the request of Goldsmith Students Union, of which he is the honoury president, retracted his remarks, apologised and restated his life-long commitment to women’s liberation. But still the NUS is persisting with its resolution.

The comments in both Galloway’s and Benn’s cases are of course wrong. It is wrong to state that non-consensual sex is not rape, and it was wrong to try to defend Assange from extradition by dismissing the claims of the women involved.

But beyond this, there is a fundamental problem by responding to these comments by trying to no platform Benn and Galloway. ‘No platform’ is an exceptional position that the Left has typically campaigned for Unions and other organisations to adopt in the fight against Fascism.

It is an unprecedented departure from the left’s defence of freedom of speech on the grounds that there can be no free speech for those who would deny such freedoms to others. There can be no democracy for those who would use genocide and extermination to end democracy.

These conditions clearly do not apply in this case. It is the exceptional danger posed by Fascism that prompted the tactic of no platform to be applied exclusively to fascists. To apply it indiscriminately to other political views we oppose means fascists cannot be isolated by the no platform policy as an exceptional threat.

Backward ideas about rape are profoundly upsetting and damaging to the fight against women’s oppression. However, the prevalence of these ideas (which the motion acknowledges) points to the fact that they stem from the sexist society in which we live. Therefore it is within society that we have to fight these ideas.

Surely it is much better to have Tony Benn, a figure that many people look up to as an inspiration, apologise and restate his commitment to women’s liberation as he has done, than to let damaging remarks remain unretracted where they can continue to damage and distract our movement. This is a fight we can win – we can change people’s minds, we can challenge sexism in our movement.

Astoundingly, if the writers of the motion genuinely believe these remarks have put Benn and Galloway beyond the pale, then there are a lot of people missing who should be named in this motion.

While the motion makes brief reference to Roger Helmer (UKIP MEP) and Andrew Brons (an MEP for the fascist BNP and a former leader of the fascist National Front), why are the members of the Coalition government who are overseeing massive cuts to rape crisis and domestic violence services not in this motion?

Why not the whole of the Cambridge Union Society who invited Dominique Strauss-Kahn to speak there earlier this year? Why not those government ministers whose refusal to demand that Assange will not be extradited from Sweden to the US is effectively prolonging the injustice to the women involved? All these people have gone far further than to make an offensive remark.

What’s more, the NUS would not dream of no platforming war criminal Tony Blair. And the NUS quite regularly opens its platforms to Zionists. In this context the attempt to no platform Tony Benn and Galloway looks absurd.

And why is the NUS, which has let its members down so badly over the fight against fees and cuts, not organising against the closure of rape crisis centres? Where are the leaflets, the posters, the protests, the pickets and the demos?

Tony Benn was a wholehearted supporter of the student movement of 2010. Which is more than the NUS executive can claim. It would be better if the NUS spent less time either censuring or no platforming Tony Benn and George Galloway and more time actually defending its members.

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A response from AWL students, here.

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