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).
Run the film to see Corbyn, Murray and the celeb wadicals at the StWC beanfeast
Jeremy Corbyn’s attendance at lest night’s Stop The War Coalition (StWC) dinner, and his continuing refusal to sever links with – or even criticise – the group, causes some of us who generally wish him well, a real problem.
There can be no doubt, and there hasn’t been for several years, that the StWC is not primarily anti-war per se, but opposed to Western wars, whilst remaining at best indifferent to wars and interventions by non-Western forces.
StWC’s Lindsey German complains in today’s Morning Star, that “there are accusations that we are pro-Assad, pro-Isis, don’t support the Syrians. Every war we have opposed has seen these accusations raised. We were accused of supporting the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Gadaffi in Libya and now Assad. It has never been true, and it is the weakest of arguments for those supporting war that their opponents of necessity support the other side.”
Now, of course, German is right that opposing a war being waged by your own ruling class does not of necessity involve supporting the other side: but German is lying when she denies that StWC does just that. She’s lying because she, like most of the rest of the StWC leadership subscribe to a crude version of Lenin’s strategy of revolutionary defeatism, which in their hands amounts to little more than “the main enemy is (always) at home”, or indeed, “my enemy’s enemy is my friend.”
German and her partner John Rees know this (and lie about it) because they were in the leadership of the SWP in 2001 and were responsible for Socialist Worker‘s gloating response, to 9/11 and for the SWP’s “line” of refusing to condemn the atrocities. It is a methodology that has informed the approach of the StWC ever since, even if the likes of German, Rees and Murray lie about it and/or resort to evasion. Surprise, surprise: a lot of the more ‘interesting’ articles (including anti-Semitic stuff) have mysteriously disappeared from StWC’s website over the last few days: fortunately, a public-spirited citizen has made sure that they’re preserved for posterity.
Above: the Murray worry
A classic example of such dishonest evasion can be found in StWC Chair Andrew Murray’s answers to John Harris’s uncharacteristically probing questions, published in today’s Guardian – for instance:
“I suggest that the Assad regime has to go, and ask Murray if he agrees. But he doesn’t directly answer the question. We bat the point around for a few minutes, before we arrive at the reason why: as a staunch anti-imperialist, he says it’s not his place to call for the toppling of regimes overseas: a strange position for an avowed internationalist, perhaps, but there we are.”
The fact that Andrew Murray is StWC chair, and a Communist Party of Britain (CPB) member raises some further interesting questions about the underlying politics of the StWC.
On the 19th of October Murray expressed this judgement:
The clear need is not for Britain to jump further into this toxic mix. It is for a negotiated diplomatic end to the dreadful civil war which has laid waste to Syria. Ultimately, only the Syrian people can determine their own future political arrangements.
But the foreign powers could assist by all ending their military interventions, open and clandestine, in Syria – ending the bombing and the arming of one side or another.
They should further promote peace by abandoning all the preconditions laid down for negotiations. Such preconditions only serve to prolong the conflict and to give either government or opposition hope that foreign military and diplomatic support could somehow lead to all-out victory.
On the CPB’s site he has added this, (no date),
Our bipartisan armchair strategists are obviously riled by Russia’s escalating military involvement in Syria. But it is a fact. What form of military intervention could now be undertaken which would not lead to a clash with Russia they do not say. Even the head of MI6 has acknowledged that “no-fly zones” are no longer a possibility, unless the NATO powers are prepared to countenance conflict with Moscow.
This is the CPB’s view, expressed on the 14th of October.
In a statement today Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths said:
The Communist Party maintains its opposition to US, NATO and British military intervention in Syria. Whatever the pretext – whether to defeat the barbaric ISIS or to rescue civilian populations – the real aim is clear: to strengthen the anti-Assad terrorist forces (Islamic fundamentalists who have largely displaced the Free Syrian Army ‘moderate opposition’), create areas in which these forces can operate freely (in the guise of ‘no-fly zones’ and ‘safe havens’) and ultimately to partition Syria and replace the Assad regime with a compliant puppet one.
Russian military forces are now attacking all the anti-Assad terrorists, including Isis, at the invitation of the Damascus government – which has every right to issue such an invitation as the internationally recognised political authority in Syria.
- Is Andrew Murray saying that his comrades in the CPB should change their ‘line’ that Russia has “every right” to bomb in Syria?
- Does he genuinely support, against the policy of the party to which he belongs, the formal, avowed (if generally disregarded) policy of the StWC?
The fact that Murray, and the StWC as a whole, apparently feels no need to address that question, let alone answer it, is further proof of what a dishonest, hypocritical and politically bankrupt organisation it is. They seem to have a fig leaf, formal, position of opposing Russian bombing in Syria that can be called upon when they’re under pressure in the media, whist in reality doing nothing about it and appointing as their chair someone who, as far as can be judged, supports both the Assad regime and the Russian bombing campaign.
The difficulty those of us who understand this, but are generally in the Corbyn camp, have, is how to make this point whilst not lining up with the right wing who just want to use this as part of their campaign to undermine and eventually remove Corbyn. Not an easy balancing act to maintain, but an essential one.
Above: James Bloodworth exposes the lies and evasions of StWC’s hapless Chris Nineham
Jon Lansman, one of the founders of Momentum, responds to allegations of bullying of MPs (from Left Futures):
Following the Syria debate on Wednesday and the prior lobbying and demonstrations, media descriptions of the abuse and bullying tactics directed at MPs reached a crescendo. Thursday’s Daily Mail, for example, under a double-page headline “hard-left hate mob target MPs“, carried a picture purporting to show them outside the home of Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow with the caption “Menacing: protesters against air-strikes marching last night outside the home of pro-war MP“. The Daily Mirror reported that “Hundreds, including vicars and imams, marched on Stella Creasy’s constituency base“. As the Guardian reported this morning, many other media outlets not to mention social media ran with the story.
It is perhaps not surprising in this context that on the BBC Today programme Friday morning, Tom Watson warned that any Labour members who joined an anti-war protest outside the home of the Labour MP Stella Creasy should be thrown out of the party. Except that there was no protest outside her home. Stella Creasy confirmed that the protest had not gone past her home at all.
Tom Watson’s comments were reasonably measured (“They look like a bit of a rabble to me but I don’t think they are particularly a problem for the Labour party”) but his comments unwittingly contributed to the false image which is being created of Momentum. Sue Wheat in Red Pepper describes the truth which, with their permission I quote almost in its entirety:
I just want to set the record straight for anyone reading or listening to the news about Walthamstow and Stella Creasy, which as far as I can tell is totally untrue.
On Tuesday a local resident Sophie Bolt and Rev Steven Saxby organised a family vigil, which myself and others helped to publicise quickly on social media. No one asked me to do it, I just did it.
It was a beautiful, calm meet-up of for anyone who wanted to show our MP Stella Creasy that we wanted her to vote NO on air strikes in Syria. We met at the Queen’s Road mosque with candles in jam jars and walked quietly to Stella’s Labour office on Orford Road, where there were speeches by religious and community leaders.
It was a beautiful, community, inspiring family event of people trying to make their voices heard against the airstrikes and trying to influence Stella, even though we knew she was in Westminster.
We took post-it notes and thought it would be powerful to write messages of peace and stick them on the office window. It looked beautiful and powerful.
The next day we realised someone had put up a Facebook post with a picture of the start of the vigil, which was outside the mosque. You can see the mosque on the right if you zoom in, but mostly it’s just the houses next to it. He claimed we were outside Stella’s house and said something incendiary about her not having children to worry about. (His exact post was: ‘outside [her] house… apparently she has still to make up her mind – and she has no children to upset’.) He managed to get some police in the pic which made it look like a demo and it was dark and blurry. In fact the very low police presence were very helpful and friendly throughout.
Then we went to her office about half a mile away. There were about 200 people including children and various community and religious leaders spoke – it was a very inspiring peace rally. The police were laid-back and friendly there was no intrusive police presence.
Now for the most worrying thing: the picture and Facebook post was found by the Independent newspaper and used in an article. This started off a mass media misinformation story about constituents bullying Stella. It was then picked up by LBC radio, the Standard and many other media and went viral on social media. I tried to counteract lots of it, especially with journalists following up the story.
When I realised that the Independent had used his picture and post to create their story stating Stella was targeted I contacted the journalist but she wouldn’t retract it. Then it went all over the world. I was sobbing with frustration.
Another local resident, a local vicar and Labour member, Rev Steven Saxby, one of the organisers of the vigil, added:
At the same time as I condemn intimidation of MPs or their staff, I reiterate that the vigil was not intimidation, and condemn those who seek to portray democratic, peaceful actions as such. This is also is a form of intimidation. For my part, I shall not be intimidated into not speaking on issues about which I am passionate and alongside others within and beyond the Labour Party.
I refute the erroneous allegations about me and about our peaceful vigil, and look forward to continuing to support Stella Creasy as MP for Walthamstow, and the campaigns to elect Sadiq Khan as mayor and Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister.”
There are many factors that appear to have contributed to distorted coverage, misrepresentation and downright lies including:
- agents provocateurs on social media, hiding behind fake identities, who may be Tories or perhaps even Labour members engaged in ‘black ops’;
- hostile or opportunistic members of other parties like Linda Taafe of the Socialist Party who stood against Stella Creasy in May (winning 394 votes for TUSC, good for them but, at less than 1%, an utterly pathetic vote for anyone who lives in the real world) but goes on BBC Daily Politics to demand her deselection;
- exaggerated claims by hard right Labour MPs determined to discredit Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn.
However, there undoubtedly are also some people, probably a small number, who think of themselves as being supportive of Jeremy Corbyn and against war in Syria who are guilty of inappropriate behaviour towards MPs – using inappropriate language or photos, abuse, intimidation and even bullying. Many will not be members of Momentum or the Labour Party, but some are which is why Momentum has issued the following statement.
Momentum is disappointed that Parliament voted for Syrian airstrikes. We do not believe that David Cameron made the case that bombs will defeat Daesh or improve the lives and security of Syrians, the UK or our allies, and we fear that they may have the opposite effect.
Nevertheless, we are pleased that the majority of Labour MPs and the shadow cabinet did oppose David Cameron’s proposal, reflecting the policy of the party conference and the wishes of its members, whilst also respecting the right of all MPs to vote as they have done.
Members of the Labour Party and the public have a right to be heard. Momentum is proud that we assisted over 30,000 people email their MP asking them not to vote for bombing. We believe these messages from the public helped convince some of the 153 Labour and 72 non-Labour MPs who voted against bombing to do so. It can never be a threat to express your views to your elected representative
Momentum strongly disapproves of anyone who engages in abusive behaviour towards MPs or anyone else, and threatening or bullying, whether they are outside the Labour Party (as most are) or inside it. We specifically asked our supporters to emulate Jeremy Corbyn, and to keep their messages about the issues and to refrain from any personal attacks.
Nor is Momentum a threat to MPs who voted for bombing. We have made clear that we will not campaign for or support the deselection of any MP and will not permit any local Momentum groups to do so. The selection of candidates is entirely a matter for local party members and rightly so
…writes a former adviser to Alex Salmond, Alex Bell:
The SNP’s model of independence is broken beyond repair. The party should either build a new one or stop offering it as an alternative to Tory cuts …
There is a strange moment in the TV coverage of the 2015 UK general election. Nicola Sturgeon is in a debate and a member of the audience admits to liking the new SNP leader but not supporting independence. She asks if she should join the party. Sturgeon listens and answers in what seems like perfect modern politicalese – you are welcome, she says. The audience in the studio and at home are comforted by the generosity, the non-tribalism of Nicola. It seems like a perfect example of our political leaders mending fences after a divisive campaign.
Consider what actually happened in that exchange. The leader of a party whose first tenet is independence is asking a person who openly admits she doesn’t want independence not just to vote for her, but to join the party. She is saying, implying at least, that the SNP is for people who are for Scotland – and that alone. There is no prescription to sign up for independence – just sign up for the SNP and its success. (Watch from 0930 onwards)
This shift in the party’s purpose from independence to being ‘Scotland’s party’ is often read as a simple tactic. The leadership are disguising their main aim, sovereignty, until a referendum victory looks likely. In fact something else is at work. The SNP is shifting its emphasis because the leadership can find no way of achieving the core aim safely.
Cut Nicola and no doubt she still bleeds independence, but what she means by that is far less clear than before the referendum. The doubt arises because the campaign towards the 2014 vote, and the economic information since, has kicked the old model to death. The idea that you could have a Scotland with high public spending, low taxes, a stable economy and reasonable government debt was wishful a year ago – now it is deluded.
A lesson of the referendum is that many arguments around independence are simply redundant. We can all agree you can have a nation of any size, governed in any way, seeking to do whatever it wants within the tolerance of the international community. Tranches of what occupied both sides up to September 2014 are simply distractions.
The only thing that matters in Scotland’s argument is this – what will be the likely economic health in the short to medium term, and what will that mean for government spending and borrowing? Dull, but it determines everything else.
2014 was an economic sweetspot for two reasons. It was a good year for oil, and it came after thirty good years. Thus the Scottish economy looked healthy and was able to boast that it had chipped in more to the UK treasury than it had got back over recent times.
That is not the same as being able to say the Scottish economy could afford British levels of spending, which was a significant plank of the Yes promise. That debatable point could be obscured by lots of noise, and the SNP is accomplished at shouting.
But Nicola Sturgeon knows the SNP is good at misdirection. The party’s success has been built on hard work and spin. Behind the scenes she isn’t gullible. It may work in public to rubbish claims by the Institute of Fiscal Studies that there is a gap between what Scots pay into government and what they get out in services, but only fools believe their own propaganda. The fact is a gap exists – Scotland does not earn enough to pay for its current level of spending.
Once you accept that, you acknowledge that the SNP’s model is broken. That model, as expressed in the White Paper and numerous speeches, is that it was possible to move from the UK to an independent Scotland and keep services at the same level, without either borrowing a lot more or raising taxes. It isn’t.
As sure as death and taxes, there will be an economic jolt in the road to independence. Scotland will have to pay to either increase borrowing, raise taxes or cut services to bridge the gap between revenue and spending. And that’s not the only bump.
The second shock to the system will be the cost of borrowing. A new state will inevitably attract higher borrowing costs. Thus the price of the debt we inherit from the UK will go up on independence day. There’s more.
The appeal of the SNP is that it resists austerity. It promised to reduce budgets by (fractionally) less during the 2015 election. In other words, it would borrow more. So on top of the higher cost of borrowing, you would have more borrowing to pay for. It doesn’t end there.
SNP fine print makes it crystal clear that it will not reverse the dastardly Tory cuts on independence. It will not reverse the privatisations or the anti-union legislation of Thatcher and nor will it repair the cuts of Cameron and Osborne. However, it does give the impression that, come sovereignty, it will restore things to what they were. Its central message in Westminster is that the state need not be dismantled. It is therefore reasonable to expect, voters certainly will, that spending goes up on independence. Which will add even further to borrowing.
However, Scotland may not be allowed to borrow that much. A currency Union, either Sterling or the Euro, would come with limits. A brand new currency may not be trusted by lenders. So taxes would have to go up to meet the spending gap and the extra money it takes to ‘repair’ the state.
But there is of course one more bump to overcome – the cost of transferring to an independent state in the first place. Recall all the problems associated with merging eight police forces into one and multiply this by a hundred. What price the transfer to sovereignty? £1 billion, maybe £2 billion.
Thus an economy which couldn’t afford existing spending will be hit by several significant new demands on the Treasury. Without a thorough, independent understanding of those additional charges, you can make no promises on what independence will be like. It is reasonable to assume that all these obstacles can be overcome, but it is stupid to deny they exist. Read the rest of this entry »
The death yesterday of Robert Conquest, author of The Great Terror, reminds us of the pathetic attempt by public school Stalinist hack Seumas Mine to challenge Conquest’s facts about the death-toll brought about by Stalinism.
The following article by Milne, written shortly before the final collapse of the USSR, appeared in the Guardian of March 10 1990. Until we republished it here at Shiraz (29 September 2012) it was not available anywhere else online, nor is it included in the 2012 book, wonderfully entitled The Revenge of History, made up of the “cream” of Milne’s Guardian columns. Conquest was a right-winger and virulent anti-communist: but he was an objective and thoroughly scupulous historian. Milne’s desperate attempt to challenge Conquest’s estimated death-toll (later verified as substantially correct when the Soviet archives were fully opened in 1991) is, perversely, a tribute to an honest man:
In the preface to the 40th anniversary edition of his pioneering work, The Great Terror (first published in 1968) Conquest stated that in the light of documents released since 1991 from the Presidential, State, Party and Police archives, and the declassification by Russia’s Federal Security Service of some 2 million secret documents:
“Exact numbers may never be known with complete certainty, but the total of deaths caused by the whole range of Soviet regime’s terrors can hardly be lower than some thirteen to fifteen million.”
From THE GUARDIAN Saturday March 10 1990
The figure of 25 million deaths that is being attributed to the Stalin regime should be revised in the light of glasnost reports. Seumas Milne analyses new Soviet data that records much lower gulag populations
Stalin’s missing millions
All over South-east of England billboards have appeared in the past week declaring: “Once upon a time there was an uncle who murdered 25 million of his children.” Next to this startling slogan is a photograph of the man who was the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union for a generation, hugging an Aryan-looking Young Pioneer with pigtails.
The advertisement is a trailer for Thames Television’s block-buster documentary series on the life of Stalin, which begins on Tuesday. Forthcoming press publicity will follow a similar theme, setting out the kind of absurdities which could have led to arrest and execution at the height of the Soviet Terror in the late 1930’s.
The programmes come as glasnost has provoked a stream of new information and memoirs about the Stalin era in the Soviet Union itself, 30 years after Khruschev’s secret speech denouncing his former boss led to the first phase of revelations and rehabilitations. For the most part attention in the Soviet media has turned to more pressing problems. But the flood of new horror stories has emboldened an academic and political current which is bent on overturning the consensus view of Hitler and Nazism as the supreme evil of 20th century history.
Not only is it increasingly common for Stalin to be bracketed with Hitler as the twin monster of the modern era, even in the Soviet Union, but in West Germany and Austria a significant “revisionist” academic trend — represented by historians like Ernst Nolte, Andreas Hilgruber, and Ernst Topitsch — goes on to argue that the Stalinist system was actually responsible for the Nazis and the second world war.
Central to these debates is the issue of the number of Stalin’s victims. Controversy about the scale of repression in the Stalin era has rumbled on in Western universities for many years, and has now been joined by Soviet experts who are equally divided. Thames Television, with its 25 million deaths, has opted for the furthest extreme.
Hitherto, the British writer Robert Conquest who in the 1950’s worked for the Foreign Office propaganda outfit IRD, led the field with his view that Stalin was responsible for 20 million deaths. Phillip Whitehead, one of the Stalin series producers, says he is not to blame for the advertising campaign but thinks a 25 million figure can be defended if the Soviet dead in the first three months of the Nazi invasion of 1941 are included on the grounds of Stalin’s negligence.
But even that is not enough for Thomas Methuen, publishers of of the companion book to the series, who bid up the figure to 30 million in their publicity and — in an echo of the German revisionists — describe Stalin as “the greatest mass killer of the 20th century.” The record estimate so far has been 50 million, made in the Sunday Times two years nago.
There are three basic catagories of people usually regarded as Stalin’s victims: first there are those executed for political offences, most of whom died in the Terror years of 1937-8. Then there are those who died in the labour camps or in the process of mass deportations. Finally — and almost certainly the biggest number — there are the peasants who died during the famine of the early 30s.
In the complete absence of any hard evidence from the Soviet Union, estimates for a grand total of all three have been made by extrapolating the number of “excess deaths” from census figures. This process is fraught with statistical problems, including the fact that the 1937 census was supported, and the 1939 census is thought to have been artificially inflated by terrified Soviet statisticians.. Add to that disputes about the size of peasant families and the possibilities for discrepancies multiply.
Among Soviet specialists and demographers in the West, the majority view appears to be that the kind of numbers used by Robert Conquest and his supporters are wildly exaggerated. Prof Sheila Fitzpatrick, of Chicago University comments: “the younger generation of Soviet historians tend to go for far lower numbers. There is no basis in fact for Conquest’s claims.”
Some of the most recent Western demographic analysis, by Barbera Anderson and Brian Silver in the US, estimates that the most likely figure for all the “excess” deaths — whether from purges, famine or deportations — between 1926 and 1939 lies in a range with a median of 3.5 million, and a limit of eight million.
Estimates of that order have found support across a broad range of academic work, from Frank Lorrimer’s pioneering post-war analysis to Prof Jerry Hough’s 1979 study to the 1980s research by the British academic, Stephen Wheatcroft, now at the University of Melbourne. But this growing consensus has been thrown on the defensive by Soviet specialists like Roy Medvedev, who — using the same data — have apparently backed Conquest’s position, or something like it.
When it comes to the famine deaths, an exact figure will almost certainly never be known. But suddenly, after years of working in the dark, specialists are obtainingv some hard Soviet data. Last month, the KGB published for the first time the records of the number of victims of the Stalin purges.
Between 1930 and 1953, the report states, 3,778,234 people had been sentenced for counter-revolutionary activities or anti-state crimes,of whom 786,098 were shot. From his office at the Hoover Institute in California yesterday, Conquest said it was difficult to say whether the figures were right, but he thought “they could be true.”
Even more remarkably, the records originally made by the NKVD (forerunner of the KGB) of those held in labour camps and penal colonies during the Stalin years are now becoming available. An article from a “restricted access” Soviet Interior Ministry journal has been passed to the Guardian, which lists the total Gulag populations during the 1930s and 1940s.
Originally collated for Khrushchev in the 1950s, the figures show how the camp numbers rose relentlessly from 179,000 in 1930 to 510,307 in 1934, to 1,296,494 in 1936, to 1,881,570 in 1938 at the height of the Terror. The population fell during the war, but reached its peak in 1950 when 2,561,351 people are recorded as detained in camps or colonies.
These figures published openly here for the first time are huge: but they are a long way from the 19 million camp population estimated by Robert Conquest. The Soviet report records that an average of 200,000 were released every year, and puts the death-rate in the camps at 3 per cent a year per on average, rising to more than 5 per cent in 1937-8. The camps were mostly emptied of political prisoners after Stalin’s death.
Are the figures credible? In the context of the current political atmosphere in the Soviet Union and the fact that they were in a restricted publication, it seems improbable that they have been tampered with. Of course, they do not cover the famine and other disasters. But they do begin to add credence to the mainstream academic view that the deaths attributable to Stalin’s policies was closer to 3.5 million than 25 million.
Why do numbers matter anyway? After all Robert Conquest may be out by a factor of five or 10, but the repressions were still enormous.
If, however, a figure of 20 million or 25 million becomes current currency, it adds credence to the Stalin-Hitler comparison. Already, anyone who questions these figures — even in the academic debates — is denounced as a “neo-Stalinist.”
As the Irish writer Alexander Cockburn who started what turned into a highly emotional exchange last year in the American journal, the Nation, puts it: “Any computation that does not soar past 10 million is somehow taken as being soft on Stalin.” And by minimising the quantitative gulf between the Hitler and Stalin killings, it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war.
JD adds: This last comment (“it becomes easier to skate over the uniqueness of the Nazi genocide and war”), suggesting that Conquest’s aim was to down-play Nazi genocide, is a simply despicable piece of Stalinist guilt-by-innuendo against Conquest, a proven and consistent anti fascist (which is more than can be said for the tradition Seumas belongs to). It demonstrates just how well the contemptible Milne has leaned from the filthy, lying methodology of Stalinism.
On the 29th anniversary of the Sebrenica massacre/genocide, we re-publish this important critique of the role of much the international left towards the Bosnian war at the time. First published by Workers Liberty, June 2011:
31 March 2003: Relatives of some of the 8,000 Muslim men and boys slaughtered in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre search rows of coffins next to freshly-dug graves for loved ones
Ratko Mladic, who commanded Serb forces during the Bosnian war of 1992-5, was arrested on 26 May in a Serbian village, and will now face a war-crimes tribunal in The Hague.
In July 1995, two of the areas which the United Nations declared “safe havens” in the midst of a fierce war were overrun by Serb forces under Mladic’s command. In Zepa, some 200 lives were killed, and the bulk of the population of 40,000 fled.
In Srebrenica, over 8,000 civilians were massacred. In classifying the massacre as an act of genocide the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia outlined what happened:
“They stripped all the male Muslim prisoners, military and civilian, elderly and young, of their personal belongings and identification, and deliberately and methodically killed them solely on the basis of their identity.”
Srebrenica was only the most infamous of the atrocities by Serb forces in the Bosnian war. Like the wars conducted by the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic in Croatia in 1991-5 and in Kosova in 1999, that war was an imperialist war in the most straightforward sense: a war by a dominant power to gain control over other nations, conducted without regard to the wishes or the lives of the subject peoples.
By now Milosevic’s wars have few defenders. Although many people in Serbia mourned Mladic’s arrest, Serbia’s government is in no danger of being toppled by protest against it handing over Mladic to The Hague. In Britain, even the Morning Star has reported the arrest in a manner suggesting neutrality or approval.
At the time, though — and the scandal should be remembered, and learned from — large chunks of the left betrayed the left’s basic values of consistent democracy and freedom for oppressed nations. Some sided with Mladic and Milosevic explicitly. Others, including the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), gave them backhanded support by way of a form of pro-imperialism posing as “anti-imperialist”. They claimed there was nothing to choose between the forces in conflict within Yugoslavia. The only “imperialist” thing, to be opposed with vigour, was the police actions against Serbia which NATO took to contain the conflict, in 1995 and in 1999. Thus they presented the Serbian state as not imperialistic, but the fighter against imperialism. Read the rest of this entry »
Above: genocide denier Chomsky
Above: Rahman and a supporter
By Martin Thomas (at Workers Liberty)
Pretty much all the left press other than Solidarity [Workers Liberty’s paper] has denounced the election court decision against Lutfur Rahman, mayor of Tower Hamlets in East London, and most of the left has backed Rabina Khan, Rahman’s ally, for the new mayoral election on 11 June.
Does the left press reckon that Rahman didn’t do what the court disqualified him for doing? Or that he did do it, but it was all right? It’s hard to tell. I don’t know if the writers in the left press even read the judgement.
If they did read it, then probably, like me, they were annoyed by the style of the judge, Richard Mawrey – pompous, self-satisfied, arrogant. The judgement is full of show-off side comments. The Labour Party leadership has suspended left-winger Christine Shawcroft on the basis of one side comment in the judgement suggesting (wrongly, and irrelevantly to the case before Mawrey) that Shawcroft supported Rahman in the polls against Labour.
But probably most judges are pompous, self-satisfied, and arrogant. It goes with their social position. Yet often they can sum up evidence competently. Often they know that if they don’t do it competently, they will be rebuked when the case is taken to appeal, as Rahman, a lawyer himself, is taking his case.
In a previous case, Mawrey found in favour of George Galloway’s Respect group and against the Labour Party. Galloway’s speech applauding that judgement is published in full on the Socialist Worker website. Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand.
Mawrey found that charges of intimidation at polling stations, payment of canvassers, and impersonation of voters were not proved “beyond reasonable doubt”. But other charges were. Rahman had made false allegations against his opponent (the offence for which Labour right-winger Phil Woolas had his election ruled invalid in 2010). Rahman was guilty of “bribery of the electorate” via redistribution of grants to Bangladeshi community groups which would back him. And he had organised “undue spiritual influence”.
The left press has dismissed the last charge as anti-Muslim prejudice. But the judgement is explicit that there is nothing unlawful about imams, in their capacity as citizens, publicly backing Rahman. Unlawful is saying or suggesting that it is a religious duty to vote one way, or a damnable sin to vote the other way – the sort of thing which Catholic priests in Italy did, to boost the Christian Democrat vote after 1946 and until the decay of religion made it counterproductive.
The British law against “undue spiritual influence” dates from 1883. Its previous uses were in Ireland when still under British rule. The law was not, as some in the left press have suggested, a means to avoid the election of Catholic-backed nationalists. The British government had made its peace with the Irish Catholic church long before that. The conciliation is usually dated from the Maynooth Grant of 1845. The charges brought under the law were of priests declaring it a religious duty to vote against nationalists less in favour with the Church, such as the Parnellites (1890-1900) or Healy’s All for Ireland League (1910).
If Rahman’s clerical allies did something like the priests did in Ireland back then, or in Italy in the 1950s, then there is good reason to find the election invalid. If there is strong counter-evidence, on that charge or the others, then Rahman and his allies should publish it.
We know that Rahman has a soft-left Labour background, that Labour expelled him in a rigged-up summary execution, that he is close to the hierarchy of the East London Mosque. We know that the East London Mosque is one of the biggest in the country, built with large Saudi aid, and linked to the Islamic Forum of Europe and the Young Muslim Organisation, which are in turn linked to Bangladesh’s Islamist party, Jamaat e-Islami.
Those facts are documented in many books such as Innes Bowen’s Islam in Britain, reviewed by Matt Cooper in Solidarity 233.
It is also a fact that more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in the area find the religio-political power of the ELM/ IFE/ YMO complex overbearing.
Those background facts mean that Mawrey’s findings cannot be dismissed out of hand. To dismiss them out of hand is to let down the more secular-minded Muslims and Bangladeshis in Tower Hamlets.
The playwright and TV script-writer Dennis Potter would have been 80 today. As it is, he died aged 59, on 7th June 1994. Less than three months earlier, he’d given this extraordinary interview to Melvyn Bragg on Channel 4.
By then Potter was diagnosed with inoperable, terminal cancer and spent the interview swigging from a hip flask of morphine (possibly laced with whisky). He called his cancer ‘Rupert’, as in Murdoch: “I’d shoot the bugger if I could”.
I still cherish a 2007 pamphlet published by the Guardian, which contains a slightly edited and tidied-up transcription of the interview.
The pamphlet starts with a wonderful Foreword by the Graun‘s veteran TV critic Nancy Banks-Smith (who once worked with Potter on the old Daily Herald). It’s no surprise that Potter was an agnostic who tended to the atheistic end of the agnostic scale; nor that he was a (utopian, I’d say) socialist.
Those of us who saw the interview when it went out on Channel 4 on April 5 1994 will never forget it. For those of you who didn’t, here’s a taste (and you can watch part of it here):
“I grieve for my family and friends who know me closest, obviously, and that they’re going through it in a sense more than I am. But I discover also what you always know to be true, but you never know it till you know it, if you follow (sorry, I’ve got…my voice is echoing in my head for some reason).
“We all, we’re the one animal that knows that we’re going to die, and yet we carry on paying our mortgages, doing our jobs, moving about, behaving as though there’s an eternity in a sense. And we forget or tend to forget that life can only be defined in the present tense; it is is, and it is now only. I mean, as much as we would like to call back yesterday and indeed yearn to, and ache to sometimes, we can’t. It’s in us, but we can’t actually; it’s not not there in front of us. However predictable tomorrow is, and unfortunately for most people, most of the time, it’s too predictable, they’re locked into whatever situation they’re locked into…Even so, no matter how predictable it is, there’s the element of the unpredictable, of you don’t know. The only thing you know for sure is the present tense, and that nowness becomes so vivid that, almost in a perverse sort of way, I’m almost serene. You know, I can celebrate life.
“Below my window in Ross, when I’m working in Ross, for example, there at this season, the blossom is out in full now, there in the west early. It’s a plum tree, it looks like apple blossom but it’s white, and looking at it, instead of saying ‘Oh that’s nice blossom’…last week looking at it through the window when I’m writing, I see it as the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it. Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous, and if people could see that, you know. There’s no way of telling you: you have to experience it, but the glory of it, if you like, the comfort of it, the reassurance…not that I’m interested in reassuring people – bugger that. The fact is, if you see the present tense, boy do you see it! And boy can you celebrate it”.
Credit to the Morning Star; they published my letter today:
The editorial of April 27 (An attack on democracy) defending Lutfar Rahman, was a disgrace. It was factually wrong on almost very point, and – worse – politically wrong.
Election Commissioner Mawrey’s report was not (as the editorial claims) based only on the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, but upon detailed evidence provided by the four petitioners, who risked bankruptcy had their case failed, and the evidence of a large number of witnesses. Did the author of the editorial even read the 200 page report, easily available online?
Many of those now denouncing Mawrey (eg George Galloway) were only too happy to praise him in March 2007, when he exposed Labour Party misuse of postal votes in both Tower Hamlets and Birmingham. Similarly, I do not recall anyone on the left denouncing the election court’s 2010 judgement removing Phil Woolas as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, and barring him from standing again.
As for “spiritual influence”: it is true that in the not-so-distant past the Catholic church used its influence in Liverpool and Glasgow to tell people how to vote: but the left had no hesitation in denouncing and fighting such religious interference in democracy. How is it that the Morning Star now seems to be defending such an outrage in Tower Hamlets?
Rahman has been found guilty by Judge Mowrey (whose impartiality was once hailed by Galloway) of corruption, vote-rigging, intimidation, using religious influence and making false allegations of racism and “Islamophobia” against all who dared oppose him. He and his cronies ran their own version of Tammany Hall in Tower Hamlets – and the Morning Star defends him!
As at least one commentator has noted, there is real racism at work in the reaction of some people to Mawrey’s judgement: the racism that believes the immigrant poor deserve no better. Shame on you!
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