This article appears in today’s Morning Star:
We need to talk about homophobia
LGBT education is needed now more than ever in the wake of the Orlando shootings, argues RABBIL SIKDAR
FIFTY people killed because of their sexuality in Orlando. It’s clear that though 21st century is here with increasing legislations in support of LGBT people, there is still an entrenched camp of bigots who have nothing but seething hatred for these people.
What struck me the most wasn’t the incident itself. Jihadist violence against innocent people is becoming increasingly common. The appeal of Islamic State (Isis) is far-reaching.
What particularly struck me was the grief and rage of Owen Jones later on Sky News when he was trying to explain this to two heterosexuals.
This wasn’t violence against humanity, as they blindly insisted. It was violence against one of the most viciously oppressed and marginalised groups in the world, who face varying degrees of discrimination, prejudice and violence.
What happened was a terrorist attack, but it was also an attack on LGBT people. The killer’s father would come out and say his son was openly repulsed by the sight of two men kissing.
With any terrorist incident there come the inquests. Why did it happen, the motivations, the factors, who to blame, who not to blame?
Muslims often find themselves dragged into that blame game as the far-right brigade come out in their numbers.
Atrocities become shamelessly hijacked for right-wing propaganda. With the attacks in Orlando, we had Donald Trump praising himself and the EU Leave rightwingers warning about Islamism.
The issue of gun control and the easy access that mentally deranged lunatics and terrorists have to weapons has not been addressed.
It’s a failure of Barack Obama that he has been effectively blocked from gun reforms by an NRA-backed Republican Party.
The country has shifted in its opinion, but Republicans remain firmly wedded to the free access to guns. Even as violence rips through the US, the second amendment is fiercely protected.
But those who place the biggest problem from this at gun reforms are wrong. The biggest problem is homophobia.
It’s still rampant. Within the US, the LGBT community faces immense prejudice and discrimination. The right to marry and adopt is fiercely contested.
Though many states have now legalised gay marriage, the US faces a battle with homophobia.
The Orlando killer was also a Muslim. That doesn’t automatically mark Muslims out as being uniquely homophobic, as many are claiming.
But people need to be honest: the stances towards the LGBT community within parts of the Muslim community are often extremely regressive and troubling.
It’s why gay Muslims rarely come out. In the Muslim world, the punishment for homosexuality is often death.
In Britain, polls have shown that over half of Muslims believe homosexuality is wrong.
And of course at the extreme end of the scale Isis punishes homosexuals by throwing them off towers.
This despite the Koran itself never prescribing a punishment. Homosexuality is often treated as some sort of sin that’s as morally corrupt as murder or rape.
Countries such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan have institutionalised and rationalised homophobia rather than showing tolerance.
Within Britain, it’s not talked enough about in households or in schools. LGBT Muslims face huge identity conflicts, fear of being marginalised and treated as freaks, unable to find mosques welcoming them.
Conservative Muslims have insisted that whatever their stance on homosexuality, murder is wrong. But it misses the point.
When you treat homosexuality as a sin and LGBT people as abominations, you strip them of their humanity and empathy and forge a scenario where acts of violence can be inflicted upon them because they are regarded as lesser beings who have strayed wildly.
When the media continuously demonises Muslims or black people, we immediately point out how the antagonist was radicalised by the social environment of hatred and poisonous bile and bigotry towards these people.
Homophobia isn’t exclusive to Islam and, indeed, polls show that overall Roman Catholics tend to be more negative towards homosexuality than ordinary Muslims.
Historically, it wasn’t always the case that Muslim society reacted like this to LGBT people.
Under the Ottoman empire, homosexuality was not treated as a crime. But right now religious authorities have to act.
Within the Muslim world, Muslims who are politically, culturally or sexually different from others are treated as deviants and heretics. Their punishment is often execution.
LGBT people still have to live in fear of being who they are. Homophobic attitudes are harder to defeat in later stages of life. So start early. LGBT education is needed now more than ever.
And acknowledging that there are huge swathes of the Muslim community that do not tolerate homosexuality, peaceful though they may be, is one of these tasks.
The truth about the Hillsborough disaster and the police cover-up (aided by The Sun) has gradually emerged over the years since 1989, but today’s inquest verdict of Unlawful Killing is a brilliant vindication and a tribute to the families’ resolute campaigning. The blog Guy Debord’s Cat carried this article in September 2012, as the truth became undeniable:
Liverpool is a unique city in many ways. It is a city that is divided by football but also united by it. My family is like a lot of Scouse families: we’re split between the red and the blue halves of the city’s footballing divide. I’m a Liverpool supporter, so was my grandfather, my mum and one of my aunts who’d married a Kopite. The others, my uncles (one of whom played for Tranmere) and aunt, are/were Toffees. You’d always find Blues and Reds at Prenton Park on Friday nights to watch Tranmere Rovers before going to their respective side’s matches the following day. What other city would you find supporters from rival sides getting on so well? Only in Liverpool. Hillsborough affected not just the city of Liverpool but the rest of Merseyside.
It was 1989 and I was in the final year of my undergraduate degree at Newcastle Poly. I’d gone to the Student Union bar with some of my friends with the intention of watching a cracking tie. Within minutes of the kick-off it was obvious that something wasn’t right, the camera had panned to the Leppings Lane stand and we could see people clambering over the bars at that end of the ground. After a lot of end-to-end action, police and officials appeared on the pitch and the match was stopped. Within minutes we got the news that people were being crushed to death. I started sobbing; it was uncontrolled sobbing. I told my mates that I could have been there. I could have been one of those supporters who’d been crushed. I felt the unfolding tragedy. I can still feel it today.
In the days that followed, stories emerged in the press that pointed the finger of blame, not at the police’s lack of crowd management skills, but at the fans. The Sun, as we know, was the worst of the lot, with its editor, Kelvin Mackenzie, standing by its front page splash.
Mackenzie was unrepentant. In the years following Hillsborough and the subsequent Taylor Report, he repeated his version of the ‘truth’ on each and every occasion when he has been asked to retract his lies. To this day, no one on Merseyside buys The Sun. Mackenzie has apologized but it’s 23 years too late. We don’t want his apology. He can go to hell.
Today, the truth behind that tragic day has been revealed when documents were released which includes letters of complaint to the Press Council , the local press agency story from which The Sun’s ‘truth’ was derived (Tory MP Irvine Patnick was also a source), the coroner’s reports and the shocking revelations that 41 of the 96 victims could have survived and the 3.15pm inquest cut off point that sealed the fate of the unfortunates.
Thatcher also believed the lies told her by a senior office of the Merseyside Constabulary. Many documents and CCTV footage have mysteriously disappeared leaving plenty of unanswered questions. What was Bernard Ingham’s role in all of this? As Thatcher’s press secretary, Ingham was a master practitioner of journalism’s dark arts. He accepted the police’s version of events and went on record as saying,
“You can’t get away from what you were told,” Ingham said. “We talked to a lot of people; I am not sure if it was the chief constable. That was the impression I gathered: there were a lot of tanked-up people outside.”
Ingham was asked about the Taylor report and said rather tellingly,
“I think the police are a very easy target.”
We now have the truth about what happened on 15 April, 1989. What we now need is for those responsible, and I include The Sun and Kelvin Mackenzie for their smear campaign, to face justice. The liar Patnick should also be stripped of his knighthood.
Then perhaps we can get some proper closure.
Justice for the 96!
Don’t buy The Sun!
Above: the trailer for Vaxxed, promoting the discredited claims of a quack
Robert De Niro’s support for the fraudulent quack Andrew Wakefield, struck off by the GMC in 2010 for “callous disregard for the distress and pain of children” has raised fears that American parents will be unwilling to give their children the MMR -measles mumps and rubella – jab, needlessly putting thousands of children at risk.
Although De Niro has withdrawn Wakefield’s film Vaxxed from the Tribeca Film Festival, De Niro has continued to back Wakefield and told the Today show: “I think the movie is something people should see … There is a link [between the MMR jab and autism] and they are saying there isn’t and there are … other things there.”
In this age of conspiracy theories (especially prevalent, it seems, in the US), the very fact of the film being withdrawn in response to an outcry against it by the scientific and medical “establishment” may well only serve to give publicity and credibility to the dangerous, dishonest fraud and quack Wakefield and his discredited claims of a link between the MMR jab and autism.
Below is an open letter by film director Todd Drezner, who is himself (like De Niro) the father of a boy with autism, to the distributors of Vaxxed. It was first published at left brain right brain:
Dear Cinema Libre,
I’m writing to explain why I’m so disappointed in your decision to distribute “Vaxxed.” I have three main objections:
1) Perhaps of most relevance to Cinema Libre is that Andrew Wakefield has assembled his film using unethical and dishonest editing techniques. As documented here, the “Vaxxed” trailer splices excerpts from two different phone calls together and then inserts a narrator giving an interpretation of those calls that is not supported by the facts. And this is merely one example from a brief trailer. Who knows how many misleading edits Wakefield has made in the full film?
Given Cinema Libre’s commitment to the idea that documentaries can make a social impact, I would think you would want to be associated with filmmakers who follow ethical practices and journalistic standards when making documentaries. When a dishonest filmmaker like Wakefield receives distribution and a theatrical release, it undermines all documentary filmmakers. We depend on the trust of our audiences. Your decision to support a dishonest film like “Vaxxed” destroys that trust. Documentary filmmaker Penny Lane outlines these issues nicely here.
2) Cinema Libre’s blog post about “Vaxxed” refers to “the suppression of medical data by a governmental agency that may well be contributing to a significant health crisis.” This is, I’m sorry to say, no more than a fever dream. First, as you will remember from watching “Loving Lampposts,” the autism “epidemic” can be explained by a combination of changing diagnostic criteria, increasing awareness of autism, and the benefits of receiving a diagnosis (in terms of the access to services and support the diagnosis provides).
Secondly, the CDC “whistleblower” around whom the trailer (and I assume the film) revolves did not reveal anything nearly as sinister as the trailer suggests. It is true that William Thompson of the CDC revealed to Dr. Brian Hooker that a 2004 study of the possible link between the MMR vaccine and autism supposedly found an association between the vaccine and autism in African American males.
Before I say anything about that finding, let’s note what that finding rules out: any association between the MMR vaccine and any other group besides African American males. Even if Thompson’s assertion were true (it’s not), it still doesn’t support the idea that the MMR vaccine causes autism in the many people who are not African American males.
But what about the supposed link between the vaccine and African American males? It’s nothing. Basically, the original study of the association between the vaccine and autism did not leave out African Americans on purpose. Rather, it did so to eliminate “confounders” — that is, any factor other than the vaccine that could have been associated with autism. The authors of the study wanted to be sure that any effect they saw was caused by the MMR and not something else. Dr. Hooker’s “re-analysis” of the study does not account for confounders properly and even if it did, the population of African American males in the study is too small to support any broad conclusions. And one more time, even if the supposed link between African American males and the MMR vaccine were significant, it still rules out any link between the vaccine and all other groups. You can read about these issues in much more detail here and here.
It’s well known that Andrew Wakefield’s research into the MMR vaccine and autism was fraudulent. His film is based on equally poor science.
3) Despite Richard Castro’s statement on your blog that the Tribeca Film Festival succumbed to “pressure to censor” “Vaxxed,” there was no censorship. As I’m sure you’re aware, the First Amendment guarantee of freedom of speech prohibits the government from restricting speech. The Tribeca Film Festival is not government. It is a private organization that is free to screen, or not screen, any film it chooses for any reason. Indeed, Tribeca rejects the work of thousands of filmmakers every year. I’m sure Cinema Libre rejects many filmmakers as well. Are they being censored? Of course not.
On the “Vaxxed” website, Andrew Wakefield and Producer Del Bigtree claim that they were “denied due process” when Tribeca decided not to screen “Vaxxed.” This is absurd. There is no such thing as due process when it comes to the decisions of a film festival selection committee. Nor should there be. If such a thing existed, every prestigious film festival would spend all its time sifting through complaints from unhappy filmmakers. There will always be unhappy filmmakers who are denied admission to film festivals. Andrew Wakefield is now one of them. But he is not a censored filmmaker.
On a personal note, I was and remain grateful for the work Cinema Libre did to promote “Loving Lampposts” when it was released. You got the film screened at venues I could not have and publicized it through news coverage I did not have access to. I hoped and believed that along the way, you came to appreciate the film’s message that autistic people can thrive when they are accepted and when they receive the support they need to function in a world not built for them. Apparently, and much to my dismay, this message did not sink in.
By releasing “Vaxxed,” Cinema Libre is actively harming thousands of autistic people. While we should be discussing ways to best support autistic people and help them lead fulfilling lives, you would instead have us follow a discredited scientist and dishonest filmmaker down a rabbit hole that leads only to long debunked conspiracy theories. I am profoundly disappointed.
I don’t expect that Cinema Libre will change its decision. But given our long business relationship, I felt I owed you this explanation of where I stand. I hope that sometime in the future you may find ways to undo the damage you are about to cause.
The pro-Brexit “left” (such as it is) has a big problem dealing with the fact that many workers’ rights enshrined in UK legislation would not exist but for the EU. The best they can come up with is flat denial of facts (“TUPE has nothing to do with the EU”), straw-man evasion (“workers’ rights have been attacked without a peep from the EU”) and banality (“it was the trade union movement that won workers’ rights in Britain”).
If you want a taste of this kind of disingenuous little-England garbage, decked out with fake-“left” phraseology, read any day’s edition of the Morning Star.
Fortunately for the UK labour movement, we now have a report from the TUC proving beyond reasonable doubt that rights such as paid annual leave and fair treatment for part-time workers are due to the EU and will be in danger if Britain leaves.
Rights and protections including TUPE, paid annual leave, time off for antenatal appointments and fair treatment for part-time and agency workers, are “used every day by millions of workers”, the TUC said. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, “no one can say what will happen to these rights”.
The TUC highlights the likelihood that following a Brexit the Tory government would be emboldened to roll back rights and safeguards brought in and protected by the EU. The authoritative report – UK Employment Rights and the EU was released today.
The report says there has been some recent concern among union members that Brussels has increasingly restricted the scope of EU social policy by placing limits on the ability of unions to organise industrial action in cross-border disputes. It says that, in some eurozone countries, the European commission has undermined collective bargaining agreements that cover whole industries: “However, set against these concerns are the significant employment rights gains that continue to accrue to UK workers as a result of our EU membership.”
“These are wide-ranging in scope, including access to paid annual holidays, improved health and safety protection, rights to unpaid parental leave, rights to time off work for urgent family reasons, equal treatment rights for part-time, fixed-term and agency workers, rights for outsourced workers, and rights for workers’ representatives to receive information and be consulted, particularly in the context of restructuring.”
TUC general secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Working people have a huge stake in the referendum because workers’ rights are on the line. It’s the EU that guarantees workers their rights to paid holidays, parental leave, equal treatment for part-timers, and much more.
“These rights can’t be taken for granted. There are no guarantees that any government will keep them if the UK leaves the EU. And without the back-up of EU laws, unscrupulous employers will have free rein to cut many of their workers’ hard-won benefits and protections,” she said.
The report warns that the government has already succeeded in reducing workers’ rights, when in 2012 the qualifying period for unfair dismissal rights was increased from one to two years, along with new caps on compensation.
“And in 2013, much higher fees were imposed on workers seeking to enforce their rights at employment tribunals,” it says.
Ms O’Grady added: “The current government has already shown their appetite to attack workers’ rights. Unions in Britain campaigned for these rights and we don’t want them put in jeopardy. The question for everyone who works for a living is this: can you risk a leap into the unknown on workplace rights?”
The British Medical Association (BMA) has announced three further 48-hour strikes of junior doctors. The BMA also announced that it is to seek a judicial review into the government’s plans to impose new contracts.
The dates planned for industrial action are 9 March, 6 April and 26 April. All are scheduled to begin at 8am. Emergency cover will be maintained.
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt’s controversial push to impose new terms and conditions on all 45,000 junior doctors has exacerbated the bitter and long-running dispute.
We publish, below, a detailed critique, by science writer Les Hearn, of Jeremy Hunt’s “evidence” of excess deaths at weekends, used to justify imposing the new contract. This article first appeared in Solidarity:
Lies, damned lies, and Jeremy Hunt’s statistics
The government’s argument in their attack on junior doctors’ pay and conditions has been that they had a manifesto commitment to introduce seven-day access to all aspects of health care and that this was necessary to reduce excess deaths among weekend hospital admissions.
The government’s approach seems to amount to forcing junior doctors to work more at weekends for less pay. But, unless they also force them to work longer hours, this must reduce the number of doctors on weekdays. If the original problem of excess deaths was due to a lack of junior doctors at weekends, the result would be to equalise death rates by lowering death rates following weekend admissions and raising those following weekday admissions. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt was very keen to talk about the evidence of excess deaths to justify his actions and, of course, evidence is very important. He claimed “We now have seven independent studies showing mortality is higher for patients admitted at weekends.” We will look at this evidence.
The DH says there is significant evidence of a “weekend effect” where patients admitted over the weekend have higher rates of mortality.1 The DH lists eight pieces of what they call research in support. 1. The major study cited by DH is from the British Medical Journal (Freemantle et al., 2015):2 one of its co-authors is Bruce Keogh, National Medical Director of NHS England. It found that death rates were higher for patients admitted on Fridays (2% higher), Saturdays (10% higher), Sundays (15% higher) and Mondays (5%) than on other days. Since the overall death rate within 30 days for all admissions is 1.8%, this means that the 15%-higher Sunday rate is 2.1% or 3 in 1000 “extra” deaths. We need to understand why and this is where it is important to look at how ill patients are on the day of admission. Risk The study informs us that, while 29% of weekday admissions are emergencies, on Saturdays the figure is 50% and on Sunday 65%. Using another criterion, mortality risk from all factors except day of admission, while 20% of weekday admissions were in the highest category, 25% on Saturdays and 29% on Sundays were in this highest risk of dying group. On these bases, we would expect an increased death rate for weekend admissions of anywhere between 25% and 125%. The observed “excess” of 15% on Sundays should be a cause for congratulation.
This paper is an update of the previous study by Freemantle et al. (2012)3 (see 5 below), also including Keogh. The findings were broadly similar except that the death rate on Saturdays and Sundays were very significantly lower than the average for weekdays. In the update this curious fact, which certainly needs discussion and explanation, is barely mentioned. To summarise, death rates for admissions on Saturdays and Sundays are increased by 10 to 15% but death rates for those already in hospital are reduced by 5 to 8%. Thus, the main source of support for the government’s Seven Day NHS plans does not provide any evidence for it. The weekend death rates for all patients are in fact far lower than one would predict from the seriousness of their illness. Read the rest of this entry »
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.
Next page »