Dave K writes:
Readers may have seen interviews with Katy Morgan-Davies who escaped from the Brixton Maoist cult of “Comrade Bala”. Her story is horrifying and she is also very impressive in her own right. However though there isn’t much on this in the interview she obviously sees the links between the violence and abuse in the cult and its political worship of Stalinist leaders. It’s also heartening to learn that rather then rejecting politics (which would be entirely understandable) she has joined the Labour Party.
Opposition to Putin and his ultra-reactionary regime ought to be second nature for self-proclaimed leftists. Unfortunately, it isn’t: the Morning Star and former Guardian columnist (now a senior adviser to Corbyn) Seumas Milne, for instance, have a long record of defending and justifying Putin, especially (but not only) with regard to Russian imperialism in Ukraine.
So it was a welcome development when Guardian columnist Owen Jones recently admonished certain (unnamed) sections of the left for remaining silent about the reactionary nature of Putin’s regime. Even so, Jones’s piece was hedged about with embarrassed apologetics designed to appease the pro-Putin “left” and to excuse in advance his own half-hearted apostasy:
“Yes, there is something rather absurd about the baiting of the anti-war left for not protesting against, say, Putin or North Korea. The baiters are always free to organise their own demonstration (I would be happy to join), and protest movements can only realistically aspire to put pressure on governments at home, whether it be on domestic policies or alliances with human rights abusers abroad (whether that be, say, the head-chopping Saudi exporters of extremism, or Israel’s occupation of Palestine). In democracies, protests that echo the official line of governments are rare. If the west was actively cheering Putin on and arming him to the teeth, we might expect more vociferous opposition.”
Anne Field, writing in the present issue of Solidarity, is more straightforward:
Putin: a model of reactionary politics
The report of Britain’s official Owen Inquiry into the 2006 murder of former Russian security service agent Alexander Litvinenko was published on 21 January. It attributed responsibility for the murder to Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.
Putin ruled Russia as its President from 2000 to 2008. Barred by the constitution from seeking a third successive term of office, Putin was nominally Prime Minister between 2008 and 2012. In reality, he remained the ultimate source of authority in Russia. Amid widespread allegations of ballot-rigging, Putin was re-elected President for six years in 2012. (The presidential term of office had been increased from four to six years while Putin was Prime Minister). He is already on record as saying that he will seek re-election in 2018.
From the outset Putin’s rule has been based on “siloviki” (strongmen): former KGB agents and serving agents of the police and the FSB (the Russian successor to the KGB), and former and serving military commanders. According to a survey carried out by Olga Kryshtanovskaya in 2004, “siloviki” constituted around 25% of Russia’s political elite, and over 50% of Putin’s inner circle. Their influence has continued to grow since then. Putin himself is a former KGB agent. But, as Kryshtanovskaya wrote: “Putin brought ‘siloviki’ with him. But that’s not enough to understand the situation. The whole political class wished them to come. There was a need of a strong arm, capable from point of view of the elite to establish order in the country.”
One of Putin’s first acts was to incorporate Russia’s 89 regions into seven new federal districts. The districts are run by appointees personally selected by Putin as his representatives. They have control over the armed forces, the budgets and activities of the regional governors in their districts.
Five of the first seven appointees were “siloviki”. At the same time Putin weakened the powers of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament with representation from the country’s different regions. Putin also scrapped the election of regional governors (they too were to be personally appointed by Putin) and empowered local legislatures (dominated in practice by Putin’s supporters) to sack popularly elected mayors. Over the past decade and a half potential sources of opposition to Putin’s rule in civil society have been attacked, one after another. The media empires run by the oligarchs Vladimir Gusinsky and Boris Berezovsky were both effectively taken over by Putin and their owners forced to flee Russia. Dissident journalists have been sacked, programmes critical of Putin have been taken off the air, and attempts to create independent television channels blocked by the government. The only surviving independent channel is now run from an apartment in Moscow.
Under a law signed off by Putin in 2014, international organisations, foreigners and Russians with dual citizenship will be banned from owning mass media outlets by the end of 2016. Its main target is Vedomosti, jointly published by the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal. The internet in Russia is controlled by the government agency Roskomnadzor, created in 2012. Russian bloggers with 3,000 or more visitors a day have to register with Roskomnadzor, reveal their identities, and verify the accuracy of their blogs. Roskomnadzor can also block websites which “refuse to follow Russian laws”, which carry “extremist” political content, or which “encourage illegal activities and participation in public events held in violation of the established order.” Foreign-funded non-governmental organisations (NGOs), described by Putin as “jackals” and “Judases”, have been singled out for repressive legislation. They are required to register as “foreign agents”, submit quarterly reports on their funds and resources, and submit six-monthly reports on their personnel and activities. They are also subject to mandatory audits and can be fined for publishing anything not described as having been published by “a foreign agent”.
In the spring of 2013 alone, 2,000 NGOs, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, were raided by government authorities. After a wave of protests at Putin’s decision to seek re-election as President in 2012, he increased fines for taking part in unauthorised protests to 300,000 rubles, and fines for organising such protests to a million rubles. In 2014 Putin ramped up the penalties yet again. Repeated participation in unauthorised protests now attracts a penalty of up to a million rubles and up to five years of forced labour or prison. A law passed in 2013 banned the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships to minors”. Breaches of the law could result in fines or imprisonment. The following year another law banned all swearwords in films, on television and in theatre performances. And last year new rules for licencing the showing of films were introduced, banning films which “defile the national culture, pose a threat to national unity, and undermine the foundations of the constitutional order.”
Other laws have obstructed the registration of “non-indigenous religions” and prevented them from acquiring land and building permits. This has benefited the religious monopoly enjoyed by the Russian Orthodox Church, described by Putin as one of the two “pillars” of national and state security. The other “pillar” is nuclear deterrence. Reflecting Putin’s own views on Stalin (“his legacy cannot be judged in black and white”), Russia adopted Stalin’s national anthem (with different lyrics) in 2000, and Russian textbooks now explain that while the Stalinist and post-Stalinist USSR was not a democracy, it was “an example for millions of people around the world of the best and fairest society.” Putin has also regularly contrasted his authoritarian conservatism with western “decadence”, denouncing the west as “genderless and infertile” and guilty of “the destruction of traditional values from the top.”
This has provided a basis for political alliances between Putin and parties of the European far right: the French National Front, the Hungarian Jobbik, the Bulgarian Attack, the Slovak People’s Party, and various far-right parties in Germany. Putin’s endorsement of Donald Trump for US president last month was only a logical development of his support for political reaction at an international level. Putin’s record since 2000 has not been one of a failed attempt to establish a functioning democracy after the chaos and corruption of the 1990s. It is a record of success in establishing an authoritarian regime which has promoted itself as a model for far-right movements and regimes round the world. And it is a record regularly punctuated by the physical elimination of Putin’s critics and opponents: the journalist Anna Politkovskaya, the anti-corruption campaigner Sergei Magnitsky, and the opposition politician Boris Nemtsov, as well as Litvinenko.
This article has been re-blogged from the Rambling Infidel:
By Paul Canning
Book by STWC leader Andrew Murray. Cover picture shows the burning trade union building in Odessa “where 40 people died after supporters of the Kiev putsch government, Right Sektor activists and Chernomorets football ultras attacked.”
The past two weeks has seen a unprecedented amount of attention on the Stop The War Coalition (STWC), because of their association with the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Endless press stories and media appearances for a leadership under siege.
The STWC response to the spotlight has been to label every criticism a ‘smear’ or a ‘lie’, however it has also been to engage in some tragic PR tactics. When the focus has shifted onto what they publish on their website the STWC response has been to start cleansing the website – and firing the poor Web Editor.
At the instigation of ‘Soupy’ a blog has been set up to cover what STWC are trying to hide or may be about to try to hide.
The Real Stop The War launched at the weekend and here is the content on Ukraine which I contributed.
When Stop The War directs kids to war
The STWC website has a number of posts about Ukraine,. The most egregious by far are by John Pilger.
Pilger methodically repeats a series of Kremlin war propaganda* memes: That the 2014 Revolution of Dignity was a fascist coup (see the response to this pap by Ukrainian socialists and anarchists I link to in my post on Corbyn’s Ukraine fantasies); That there were pogroms against Russian speakers – a line lifted from Putin himself and a vicious fantasy.
The idea of NATO ‘expanding Eastwards’ and ‘threatening Russia’ – central to Pilger but also STWC more widely- not only ignores the agency of Eastern Europeans but also indulges one of the central myths used by Russia’s imperial rulers to maintain their rule.
It’s his post on the so-called ‘Odessa massacre’ that is the most dangerous. The violent events of May 2, 2014 were immediately seized on by Russia to paint Ukraine as fascist, Russia even toured exhibitions around Europe. Citizen investigations have shown that what happened was nothing like Russia says (and Pilger loyally repeats).
Among the mountain of falsehoods, Pilger includes the supposed eyewitness testimony of a doctor. This lie was very quickly debunked as Kremlin disinformation. There’s a weasel note on the post, copied from The Guardian, which fails to say that this information has been proven false.
The May 2 events have been widely used as propaganda and have led to a number of left-wingers (including Brits) traveling to Ukraine to ‘fight the fascists’. In reality they have arrived in ‘Republics’ where actual fascists wield power, anti-Semitism is endemic, homosexuality is illegal as are free trade unions and humanitarian agencies are banned because they might ‘foment counter-revolution’.
Those thug ‘Republics’ are backed by STWC leaders Lindsey German and Andrew Murray. They, along with Pilger, back war on ‘fascist’ Ukraine and couldn’t care less for the fate of any mugs encouraged by their website to participate.
*See this fantastic Lithuanian documentary for more on Russia’s war propaganda machine (in English).
Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago today.
He wasn’t the 20th century’s greatest singer: that accolade must go to either Enrico Caruso or Bing Crosby (or, maybe, Louis Armstrong).
But he was the first real pop star.
His unpleasant relationships with gangsters cannot, and should not, be ignored: but that should not prevent us from admiring his artistry in interpreting a song.
Despite stints with Harry James (his first band leader) and Tommy Dorsey (of whom Sinatra said something like, “He tought me everything about how to phrase a song”), Frank was never, really, a jazz singer. But this session with vibist Red Norvo, is probably the closest that Sinatra came to singing jazz:
Richard Williams in the Guardian: A Very Long Retirement
Ian Penman in the London Review Of Books: Swoonatara
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the Financial Times: Sinatra’s Way
Gary Giddins (always worth reading) on Jazz singers in general
Goldsmiths: Islamist Bullies try to intimidate this brave champion of freedom and secularism.
Reblogged (and slightly edited) from Tendance Coatesy:
Before reading this, the following statements by comrade Pierre Rousset, made in March in the wake of the murders at Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper-Casher, are important,
For many years now, sections of the Western radical Left, and not minor ones, have cast the strong rise of fundamentalism in the Muslim world in a very positive light – as a (more or less distorted) expression of anti-imperialism, whereas they are actually (as in other religions) reactionary and counter-revolutionary currents.
More broadly, a number of currents have adopted the detestable habit of only defending the victims of their “main enemy” (their government, their imperialism), without worrying about the victims of the “enemies of their enemies” – in this case, fundamentalist Islam. They do so in the name of exclusive “priorities” or, worse, on the basis that defending such victims amounts to an act of complicity with imperialism. We should note in passing that the same kind of reasoning can be applied to victims of a so-called “anti-imperialist” dictatorship such as the Assad regime in Syria.”
“The British SWP pushed things particularly far in this area. The Central Committee statement released following the Charlie Hebdo massacre is written from start to finish in such a way as to minimize the responsibility of the assassins, even if the attack is described as “wrong and completely unacceptable” and the killings as “horrific”. Alongside imperialism, Charlie Hebdo comes off as a major guilty party due to its “provocative and racist attacks on Islam,” adding for good measure that while “that does not justify the killings, but it is essential background.” The only task of the hour is therefore to “unite against racism and Islamophobia”.  It’s easy to understand why the SWP would react in this way, given that it has to erase its tracks and blind readers to its own responsibilities. It was one of the main organizations of the radical Left to describe the rise of Islamic fundamentalism as the expression of a new anti-imperialism. And when women in Britain itself called on progressive forces to support them against the fundamentalist threat, the SWP made it nearly impossible for them to get a hearing on the Left.”
March 2015. International Viewpoint.
Goldsmiths ISOC fails to intimidate and silence dissenters. Maryam Namazie.
From Freethought Blogs.
I spoke on 30 November 2015 at Goldsmiths University at the invitation of the Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society (ASH).
The night before my talk, the ASH president received an email from the president of Goldsmiths Islamic Society (ISOC) saying the following:
As an Islamic society, we feel extremely uncomfortable by the fact that you have invited Maryam Namazie. As you very well probably know, she is renowned for being Islamophobic, and very controversial.
Just a few examples of her Islamophobic statements, she labelled the niqab- a religious symbol for Muslim women, “a flag for far-right Islamism”. Also, she went onto tweet, they are ”body bags” for women. That is just 2 examples of how mindless she is, and presents her lack of understanding and knowledge about Islam. I could go on for a while if you would like further examples.
We feel having her present, will be a violation to our safe space, a policy which Goldsmiths SU adheres to strictly, and my society feels that all she will do is incite hatred and bigotry, at a very sensitive time for Muslims in the light of a huge rise in Islamophobic attacks.
For this reason, we advise you to reconsider your event tomorrow. We will otherwise, take this to the Students Union, and present our case there. I however, out of courtesy, felt it would be better to speak to you first.
On the day of my talk, the “ISOC Brothers’” Facebook Page [the ISOC Sisters’ have a separate closed page) posted the following, which has since been deleted:
Despite claims of “safe spaces” and concerns about “bigotry”, the Goldsmith ISOC never made any formal complaint to the Student Union, which had already approved my talk, showing that it was an attempt at intimidating ASH organisers.
After my talk began, ISOC “brothers” started coming into the room, repeatedly banging the door, falling on the floor, heckling me, playing on their phones, shouting out, and creating a climate of intimidation in order to try and prevent me from speaking.
I continued speaking as loudly as I could. They repeatedly walked back and forth in front of me. In the midst of my talk, one of the ISOC Islamists switched off my PowerPoint and left. The University security had to intervene and remain in the room as I continued my talk.
Eventually the thug who had switched off my PowerPoint returned and continued his harassments. At this point, I stood my ground, screamed loudly and continued insisting that he be removed even when the security said he should stay because he was a student. When he was finally escorted out of the meeting, discussions on many issues from apostasy, the veil to Islamism and Sharia laws continued, including with some of the ISOC “sisters” who remained behind.
In the Q&A, a women’s rights campaigner who had been kidnapped by Islamists in Libya and held for three days said that the attempts at intimidation reminded her of those dreaded days.
Another CEMB activist said one of the ISOC thugs disrupting the meeting threatened him by pointing a finger to his head.
The behaviour of the ISOC “brothers” was so appalling that a number of Muslim women felt the need to apologise, to which I explained that no apology was needed from those who were not to blame.
Absurdly, this very group which speaks of “safe spaces” has in the past invited Hamza Tzortzis of IERA which says beheading of apostates is painless and Moazem Begg of Cage Prisoners that advocates “defensive jihad.”
The ISOC’s use of rights language are clearly a cover to silence any critic and opponent of Islam and Islamism and to normalise the far-Right Islamist narrative under the guise of Islamophobia and offence.
Despite the many attempts of the ISOC “brothers,” the meeting ended successfully and raised critical issues, including that criticism of Islam and Islamism are not bigotry against Muslims who are often the first victims of Islamism and on the frontlines of resistance. The meeting also helped expose the Islamists for what they are – thugs who cannot tolerate dissent.
Nonetheless, the Islamists at ISOC will need to learn that apostates, and particularly women, have a right to speak and that we will not be intimidated or back down.
Freedom of expression and the right to criticise and leave Islam without fear and intimidation is a basic human right. We have a responsibility to fight for these universal values at British universities and also across the globe.
A video of the talk will be made available shortly.
WARNING: this film contains extremely disturbing images as a Saudi woman pleads for mercy before being beheaded.
By Pete Radcliff
For many decades the relationship between the Saudi Wahhabist dictatorship and the arms, oil and other companies in Britain has been ignored by the media.
Despite Bin Laden’s wealthy Saudi family background. Despite the majority of the 9/11 bombers being Saudi. Despite the Saudi Arabia’s brutal treatment of women and migrant workers. Despite Saudi having been second only to Iran in numbers of executions per head of population (this year it’s likely to overtake Iran).
Despite too, having a legal system run by religious reactionaries who execute people for being gay, an atheist, for fighting back against rapists or demanding democratic change. Despite having the fourth highest military expenditure in the world. Despite its record of imperialist intervention in the Middle East (Bahrain, Yemen). Despite the complete lack of trade union rights or free speech.
The media were no doubt intimidated and told criticism would disrupt profitable and politically influential UK businesses.
But over the last year, this has started to change, largely in response to the growth of Daesh (Islamic State).
For decades Saudi has exported its reactionary ideology through schools, mosques and other institutions they have financed. The aim was to create religious movements and political parties, to penetrate the civil services and state apparatuses of the countries they “aided”.
But the Arab Spring of 2011 shook the Saudi regime. Their allies in the ruling classes of the Middle East were challenged like never before.
The Saudis had to send in what was effectively an occupying army in support of the Bahraini dictators to suppress the revolt. Even in fiercely repressed Saudi Arabia, voices of criticism started to be raised, questions started being asked about how it was that the terror of 9/11 and of Al Qaeda had begun in Saudi Arabia.
Prominent amongst those questioning the Saudi state’s political ideology was a blogger in his late 20s, Raif Badawi.
Al Qaeda started breaking up in 2012 with the emergence of Daesh and the setting up of a geographical “Islamic state”, the centre of a claimed caliphate. This was an even greater challenge to Saudi Arabia’s standing within the international Sunni Islamist movement.
The response of the Saudi rulers was threefold.
Firstly, they reasserted the brutality of their regime in competition with the Daesh. The rate of executions doubled. Intimidation of the Shia minority in Saudi increased with their acknowledged figurehead, Sheikh Nimr Al-Nimr, sentenced to death. Provocative attacks on Shia were allowed to happen and protests in defence were brutally repressed.
Secondly, they stepped up their military activity in the region — launching a war on Yemen.
Thirdly, they have tried to forge an alliance with fellow Islamists, the Muslim Brotherhood and sections of Al Qaeda (itself formed in opposition to the Saudi regime), both militarily and politically. In Syria, with seeming US agreement they have attempted to reorganise non-Daesh Islamist militias.
But their repression and imperialist interventions are not going unnoticed. The start of the lashings of Raif Badawi triggered off protests throughout Europe. It led to a confrontation between the Saudi regime and the Swedish government and their Foreign Minister, Margot Wallström. She described the Saudi’s treatment of Raif as “medieval”. The Swedish government made threats to stop supplying the Saudi regime with arms. The Saudi regime and their close ally in the UAE blocked visas to Swedish people in an attempt to scare Swedish businesses.
However the UK Tory government has proved itself the most loyal of Saudi friends. Not only have they not spoken out against Saudi internal repression, they also helped ensure Saudi Arabia, possibly the world’s largest human rights abuser, was granted the chair of the UN Human Rights Council!
Jeremy Corbyn has demanded Cameron take action against the planned beheading and crucifixion of the nephew of Sheikh Nimr, the young Shia activist Mohammed Al-Nimr. Corbyn also called for the cancelling of the contract between the Ministry of Justice’s commercial arm and the prison system of Saudi Arabia. Parts of the press, particularly Channel 4 News also pursued Cameron on this. But Cameron refused.
There then followed press revelations about the Saudi-UK deal in the UN and the Tories buckled and cancelled the contract.
For months NGOs and campaigners had been campaigning on Raif’s behalf and against the Ministry of Justice contract. English PEN had been holding weekly vigils outside the Saudi Embassy; in June a day of action was held in support of Raif Badawi and his imprisoned lawyer. Parliamentary debates and interventions were organised.
A new coalition has been launched “We are Raif: for Free Speech and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia”. It has brought together many NGOs already active on human rights issues in Saudi Arabia. But it has also got the support of campaigns in protest against Bahraini repression as well as Hope Not Hate, and anti-Islamist campaigns One Law for All and the Peter Tatchell Foundation.
The main practical focus of the campaign is to “end the sales of UK arms and military equipment, including military support packages, to Saudi Arabia” and to “call for an end to any business relations with the Saudi regime…”
Saudi military and political tentacles are spreading across the Middle East; already 5,400 have died as a result of their war on Yemen. Britain is Saudi Arabia’s third largest military supplier.
The Saudi economy has been one of the fastest developing economies in the world, with one million un-unionised building workers. There will be a lot to campaign about.
Teachers and senior staff linked to the Trojan Horse allegations of “undue religious (ie Islamist) influence” in Birmingham schools, have been appearing before the misconduct panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) since mid-October. The NCTL is the professional body for teachers and has the power to impose lifetime prohibitions on teachers.
As the hearing has not yet concluded (it is expected to last until December), Shiraz has taken a conscious decision not to cover the proceedings, even though the hearing is in public and the local Birmingham Mail has carried extensive reports of the disturbing evidence presented by witnesses. Most of the national press, including (until now) the Guardian, also seem to have decided not to cover the hearing in detail, or to be very circumspect in their coverage, while it is in progress*.
But today’s Guardian carries an article by the paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams, headlined “Witness in ‘Trojan Horse’ case accused of religious slurs”.
Adams’s story is written entirely from the standpoint of the teachers and senior staff accused of misconduct, and seems to be based upon the ‘line’ of cross-examination being pursued by their lawyer, Andrew Faux, as he attempts to discredit one of the witnesses (‘Witness A’, a former teacher at Park View School) who has given evidence of malpractice. Faux has accused Witness A of herself making a series of racial and religious slurs.
Faux, as a lawyer acting for some of the accused teachers, is perfectly entitled to pursue this line of cross-examination. What is, however, quite outrageous, is for the Guardian, in one of its few articles covering the hearing, to report Faux’s attacks in detail, adding that the witness “faced an internal complaint in the wake of comments she was alleged to have made at an event.” No details whatsoever are given of the evidence presented by Witness A against the teachers and senior staff of the Trojan Horse schools.
Adams closes his article by repeating, once again, the tired old red herring that “The [Trojan Horse] letter is widely regarded as a hoax” – yes it is, but that’s not the point. The question is, are the claims of Islamist influence in Birmingham schools true or not? The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether the Trojan Horse letter was all it purported to be.
Whether Adams is acting directly on the wishes of Mr Faux and his clients, or whether he (Adams) is so committed to defending/excusing the accused teachers and senior staff that he simply cannot write an impartial article, we shall probably never know.
But he has form:
Here’s what Adams, had to say about this matter in June 2014, shortly after the story first sufaced: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”
This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP throughout.
- * Adams has written two other articles covering some of the allegations, and emphasising that “The Department for Education said its case against Johirul Islam, a former teacher at Park View, ‘has been discontinued’ in the hearing’s fourth day… The decision suggests the NTCL may struggle to press its case against several other teachers facing similar allegations” (here)
- * The Guardian website has carried another article reporting one of the allegations of misconduct: this was not, however written by Adams, but came from the Press Association. And as far as I’m aware (and I read the Graun every day) it did not appear in the print edition – C.C.
Above: the liar, sexist and bully Sheridan
By Ann Field
“The left in Scotland can’t look to the Labour Party for a way forward,” proclaimed Socialist Worker, paper of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), in one of a flurry of articles about Scotland published immediately after last year’s referendum.
Instead, the focus had to be on maintaining the momentum of the “Yes” campaign. As the SWP modestly put it in another article:
“The SWP in Scotland has fought magnificently in the Yes campaign. It has been imaginative, involved, determined and hardworking. We have sold thousands of copies of Socialist Worker and recruited dozens of people.”
What the Scottish left needed after the referendum was “its own political party – and urgently. Days and hours matter at such a time.” Tommy Sheridan – perjurer, misogynist, demagogue, ultra-nationalist populist and all-round charlatan (but not in the eyes of the SWP) – had a central role to play in this:
“Tommy Sheridan played an astonishing role in the [Yes] campaign, speaking to over 25,000 people at meetings and inspiring many more. He ought to play a leading role in building the left.”
The delicate matter of the SWP’s role in splitting the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP) – which the SWP helped destroy in 2006 by backing Sheridan’s demand that members of the SSP Executive Committee lie on behalf of his ego – was imperiously dismissed:
“This [new] party cannot be defined by the splits in the SSP a decade ago. Imagine you are talking to one of those thousands of 16 and 17 year-olds who voted yes. What would make sense to them now? Surely radicalism, activity, bold left politics – and unity.”
But a conference held in October by “Solidarity” – the Sheridan-cult set up by the SWP and the Socialist Party after their departure from the SSP – produced a split rather than unity. The SWP walked out after the conference backed a vote for the SNP in the 2015 General Election.
(Sheridan’s questioning of female witnesses about their sex lives in his very public perjury trial of 2006 had not been a reason for the SWP to break with him. But for Sheridan to advocate openly what the SWP would subsequently advocate implicitly was the SWP’s line in the sand.)
Unabashed by the debacle of the “Solidarity” conference, the SWP now declared: “Everyone should come to the Radical Independence Campaign (RIC) conference on 22nd November. Let’s not see this opportunity wasted.”
RIC had been initiated by members of the International Socialist Group (ISG), a 39-strong Scottish breakaway from the SWP in 2011. Given its origins in a breakaway from the SWP, RIC was unlikely to extend the hand of “unity” to their former comrades.
And so it proved to be.
The SWP hyper-ventilated about the numbers at the RIC conference. Over 3,000 in attendance! People had travelled from all over Scotland to be there!! “A phenomenal turnout!!!”
But it was downbeat about the outcome: “For all the talk of alternatives, there was no official call for a new organisation coming from RIC as many [read: the SWP] had hoped. Sadly, the prospect of a unified left seems as distant as it was directly after the referendum.”
In early 2015 the SWP began to enter general election mode. It was at least capable of reading opinion polls:
“Old political certainties are crumbling across Britain. In Scotland they barely exist any more. Many believe they are witnessing the death of Labour in Scotland. The latest poll of polls this week puts the SNP on 50% of the vote – a landslide. But the left could do well too.”
Although Labour in Scotland was standing in the same election, on the basis of the same manifesto, and with the backing of the same unions, as the Labour Party south of the border, the SWP made a point of not calling for a vote for Labour in Scotland:
“Where there isn’t a left alternative candidate, Socialist Worker is calling for a vote for Labour in England and Wales. Many working-class people still see it as the party with trade union roots. …
In Scotland this picture no longer fits. Labour’s role in blocking with the Tories to defend the union with Britain in the independence referendum has lost it the mass support of millions of workers.”
In a leaflet distributed in Scotland in the run-up to election day, the SWP implicitly called for a vote for the SNP.
The leaflet was unqualified in its hostility to Labour. By contrast, it praised the “many positive policies in the SNP manifesto”. Given the “mood to punish Labour”, it was “understandable” that so many people would be voting SNP.
But, the leaflet explained, “the SWP is not calling for a blanket vote for the SNP on 7th May.” This was because the SWP was standing a handful of its own candidates as part of the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC).
Not calling for “a blanket vote for the SNP” because you are standing some candidates of your own can only be read as: vote SNP where there is no TUSC candidate.
In its coverage of the election campaign in Scotland Socialist Worker was certainly enthusiastic about the SNP campaign, and Sheridan’s parallel campaign for a vote for the SNP:
“Hope filled the streets of Glasgow last Saturday. At two separate events a combined total of up to 10,000 people pursued a common purpose – building the SNP vote.” While SNP leader Sturgeon addressed 2,000 in Glasgow city centre, “socialist politician Tommy Sheridan was addressing a mass Hope Over Fear rally.” Read the rest of this entry »
Putin arrives to speak at a meeting in the Grand Kremlin Palace
Commentators in the mainstream media generally seem unclear about Putin’s strategic objective in Syria – some even claim he hasn’t really got one. Putin, they say, is a brilliant tactician but a poor strategist: keeping the west guessing by springing surprises (as in Eastern Ukraine) is an end in itself, but he has no long-term game plan.
Julian Borger, in a quite well-informed piece in yesterday’s Guardian subscribes to this view, noting that
“What appears to be unfolding goes beyond stabilising Bashar al-Assad’s regime. It looks like an effort, in coordination with Syrian and Iranian-backed ground troops, to inflict a lasting military defeat on the rebel coalition which had succeeded in carving out a growing patch of territory in the north-east.
“Although conducted under the banner of a campaign against Islamic State, the evidence suggests that the overwhelming majority of Russian targets have been non-Isis groups, some of them supported by the US, others by Turkey and the Gulf states”
This, you would have thought, gives us a very strong clue as to what Putin’s objective is, but Borger doesn’t seem to see it, concluding his piece thus:
“Putin’s mastery of surprise has put him in the driving seat, but there is little sign so far he knows where he’s going.”
Oh no? I should have thought it’s obvious: destroy the democratic non-Isis opposition forces so that the only significant forces in Syria are Assad and ISIS, thus facing the west with a stark choice, based upon the facts on the ground, as created by Russian imperialism: Assad or Isis? And to fight Isis, you’ll have to do a deal with me, on my terms. It has been reported by a credible source that to achieve this end, Putin has been boosting Isis by encouraging radicalised Russian Muslims to travel to Syria
Mark Leonard, in the current New Statesman spells it out in an excellent article that’s not yet available online (I’ll provide a link when it is). Here’s a key section:
Vladamir Putin’s military intervention is is less about defeating Isis than about establishing himself as the ultimate counter-revolutionary leader.
There is a parallel between Putin’s plans for Syria and the long war he fought in Chechnya from 1999 to 2009. The first war in Chechnya, from 1994 to 1996, was between a moderate, largely secular opposition and the Russian state.
In order to win the second conflict, however, the Kremlin started to marginalise the moderates – starting with the legitimate president Aslan Maskhadov – while at the same time helping the factions that did not obey Maskhadov, and which committed kidnappings and were linked to the Middle East. Then, after the 9/11 attacks, Putin sold the Chechnya war to the west as “a common struggle with Islamic terrorism.” In Syria, a similar dynamic was already in motion – Islamist groups having gained the upper hand over the moderate rebels of the Free Syrian Army who helped launch the revolution in 2011 – but now Putin is accelerating it, using familiar tactics.
Russian planes have been targeting all of the anti-Assad groups to ensure that there is no strong, non-ISIS opposition. At the same time it appears as though Moscow has been actively helping Isis to swell its ranks. A report in the independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta claimed that officers of Putin’s FSB (state security) have encouraged radicalised Muslims from Russia, and particularly the North Caucasus, to go to Syria, opening a “green channel” for travel that has made it possible for at least 2,400 fighters to make the journey (another 2,600 jihadis from central Asia are also believed to be in Syria). The newspaper claims that Russian agents are actively handing out special passports to jihadis to make it easier for them to travel.
As for Putin’s underlying -“philosophical” if you like – motivation, Leonard is equally clear and (for me, at least) convincing:
His biggest fear, I think, is not of colour revolutions in Damascus, nor even in Kyiv. It is of one taking place in Moscow. Putin is still haunted by the winter protests of 2012 that were provoked by his return to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Much of his foreign policy since has been driven by this experience. In February 2014, when Yanukovych was hounded into exile by protesters in Ukraine, Putin feared he could be vulnerable. If his Syrian gamble does pay off, it might just force the west to realise the benefits of autocratic stability.
NB: this confirms my analysis: ‘Isis seizes ground from Aleppo rebels under cover of Russian airstrikes’.
Paul Canning: ‘Russia painting Crimea’s Tatars as ‘ISIS supporters”
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