Stalinist iconography is not acceptable

July 24, 2017 at 8:10 pm (AWL, labour party, left, posted by JD, reformism, stalinism, thuggery, youth)

Groups help banners with Stalin’s face on

By Cathy Nugent (of Workers Liberty)

In the recent past there has been a minor craze in and around the Labour left for using 1930s Stalinist iconography. This craze, based in social media, ranges from the use of Stalinist socialist realist “art” to images and memes attacking Trotskyists, including ice-picks emojis etc. Some people, so we understand, who volunteer for Momentum like to use jargon attacking Trotskyists, taken from these social media exchanges, such as “Clear Them Out”. They mean that people who support Workers’ Liberty or Socialist Appeal should be expelled from the Labour Party.

In an effort to draw attention to this phenomena, we commented here on a recent example of Stalinist “theatre”, where a prominent member of the Labour left wore a badge saying “Goodnight Trotskyite”, showing a figure being stabbed with an ice-pick — a reference to the murder of Trotsky by Stalin’s assassin Ramón Mercader.

That person apologised. Others, some “satirical Stalinists” around the Facebook page “Red London”, in an attempt, I guess, to defend their right to wield the virtual ice-pick, responded with something more toxic and slanderous in character. They made claims (and not for the first time) of paedophilia against the AWL, based on selectively quoting from two of our articles, both of which were serious discussions about how the tackle the problem of child abuse! They also tried to make fun of a 15-year old comrade of ours by posting a nasty comment about his fundraising activity. Apologising shortly afterwards, they continued to maintain that the dog-walk, advertised on a charity crowdfunding site, was intrinsically funny, thus continuing to ridicule this young man’s endeavours. The Labour left platform Red Labour commented here on this, arguing effectively why Red London are really very unfunny.

We are not thought police, we have no wish to, nor could we, ban this iconography and group-think. Jokes and memes have their place in the movement, as they have in life. However, we believe it is time to spell out the political implications of the Stalinist craze.

It has been said that real Stalinists – people that adhere to the state ideology of the Soviet Union from the1930s onwards – no longer exist. That very few people in the UK labour movement believe the Soviet Union was a socialist utopia. Pretend Stalinism is therefore fairly “safe” silliness. Not so.

There are small groups of people who are proudly Stalinist. Some of them are very influential: ex-Guardian journalist Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray, chief of staff of the Unite union, are both central to the Labour leadership’s inner circle. Both were members of a former Stalinist sect “Straight Left”, and they have not changed their views. Then there are groups like Red London, and individuals who operate at a very different level to Milne and Murray. (And, to be clear Corbyn himself is not a carbon copy of his advisors, and, always deals with political disputes in a comradely way.)

The likes of Red London use hateful trolling because they know it will be both tolerated and feared, or rather it will be tolerated because it is feared. Nobody wants to get in their way of their slanders. But they get their tactics of abuse and slander, some of it very personal, straight out of the High Stalinist playbook.

Many of today’s Stalinists and semi-Stalinists are inculcated into their views, and an operating policy of slander and lies, through a simplistic world view. For example, that the Soviet Union was a mighty power against Hitler and against American imperialism. That the Soviet Union was a great ally of small and oppressed nations. People, such as ourselves, Trotskyists in general, some anarchists and left libertarians, or anyone who challenges these views are regarded as being on the “other side” of a political binary. We are enemies, collaborators, sometimes we “have right-wing handlers” etc, etc.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what and abuse.

Simplistic views are often seductive. Moreover “campist” views have many ways to become operational in contemporary politics. In the Stop the War Coalition, for instance, which for many years, under the influence of George Galloway, refused to make solidarity with Iraqi trade unionists because, they did not show sufficient “vigilence” against the US occupation. The Stalinist “register” can be a useful way to dress-up right wing ideas in left-wing garb, e.g. when taking up an anti-migrant line. As we argued elsewhere: “The Article 50 fiasco, and the Labour leaders’ waffle about a ‘People’s Brexit’, cannot but have been shaped by nationalist anti-EU prejudices in the Stalinist-influenced left. Stalinist bureaucratic manipulation fits with the Blairite heritage: “policy development” means not debate in the rank and file leading up to conference decisions, but formulas handed down by clever people in the Leader’s Office.”

Stalinism was the ideology of ruling-classes which for over fifty years had a powerful influence in the world. That is why it still has historical weight, still shapes political consensus on the left and is still grasped at by people trying to make sense of the world. It is one of the reasons why it is difficult to make arguments against Stalinism, and why Trotskyists look like “outsiders”, who, by not accepting this consensus, are trying to make life difficult for everyone else.

These views are seductive in another way. Unfortunately, because today’s Stalinist current is associated with people who have some power who have some influence in the labour movement, it has becomes popular, or tolerable to some newer people seeking to integrate themselves or to win positions in the labour movement.

Much more can be said, and should be said about how the Soviet ruling class brutally repressed the working-class and cauterised labour movements around the world using the language of Marxism and socialism as it’s ideology. To repeat, it was a powerful movement and the residual notion that it was somehow the champion of the oppressed not only lingers on, but is being renewed and can be renewed further through by helping to give Stalinist iconography currency. Unfortunately, that is how history works: residual ideas, the action plans of the dead, come back into circulation to serve the purposes of the living. As Marx said, “The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”

We must continually remind ourselves what this Soviet ruling class was and what it did: of the gulags it built, how it systematically murdered all its political opponents, its callous indifference to mass starvation as a result of its economic plans, at the licensed mass-raping of German women for revenge at the end of the Second World War. And so on. All of these historical events and many more are backed up by serious research and evidence; we have no excuse not to be clear on these points.

Workers’ Liberty often works with people who were members of or influenced by the Communist Party (Morning Star) in labour movement campaigns. Twenty years ago we worked closely with such people, and for a long-time very productively, in the Welfare State Network. But we never told ourselves lies about their political views, nor stood back from stating what is wrong with those views. Therefore we think we are in a good position to appeal to people on the left, people who maybe regard themselves as “not Leninist”, or who are not sure about whether there is a role for Marxist ideas in the Labour Party, not to laugh along with the anti-Trotskyist jokes, but rather, to try to encourage debate on the underlying issues.

There is a wide spectrum of political traditions and current political beliefs among the people who now want to change the world and see it cleansed of oppression and exploitation. Many of us, including ourselves, see a great opportunity to fight back against oppression in a Corbyn-led Labour government. To make a good job of that opportunity we do need to unite, but not by way of dealing with our differences through abuse and puerile behaviour. Fighting to make the most of these opportunities means opening up thoughtful and comradely debate at every level, including on social media.

We need a movement that takes the historical crimes of Stalinism seriously and recognises its current manifestations. We need to be able to debate the historical record, from whatever our point of view, without fear of slander and abuse.

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Corbyn’s weakness on Brexit endangers Labour’s revival

June 30, 2017 at 8:51 am (Europe, Jim D, labour party, reformism, TUC, unions, Unite the union, workers, youth)


Cartoon: The Economist

Corbyn and his team risk jeopardising Labour’s election success because of their backwardness over Europe and de facto commitment to supporting the Tories over Brexit.

It was always a fundamental political weakness waiting to be exposed, although during the general election campaign the Corbyn team skilfully maintained a policy of studied ambiguity.

Corbyn’s capitulation to the Tories over Brexit and the sacking of three front benchers who voted for the amendment to stay in the single market and customs union, is a big mistake, because:

  • It will dismay and disillusion the overwhelmingly pro-EU internationalist and anti-racist youth who rallied to Labour and Corbyn at the election
  • Labour’s mistaken but just about plausible argument that it is bound by the referendum result to support leaving the EU has been stretched to arguing that the referendum also binds it to oppose the single market and customs union
  •  This position has enabled opportunist right wingers like Chuka Umanna and Meg Hillier to take a different stance from Corbyn and thus generate headlines about Labour division just at a time when the Tories are weak
  •  Newly-elected left Labour MPs like Lloyd Russell Moyle and Alex Sobel have been put in a position of going against Corbyn alongside right wingers
  • This risks alienating unions like Unite, which are acutely aware that their members’ jobs in manufacturing will be put at risk outside the single market and customs union: Unite has policy to stay in both, as does Usdaw and the TUC.

Labour MPs, MEPs and peers have launched a group opposing hard Brexit and in favour of staying in the single market and customs union. They’ve signed a statement arguing, amongst other things, that young voters backed the party in the general election because they wanted it to “stop the Tories in their tracks” over Brexit. Some of us here at Shiraz might disagree with some aspects of the statement, but it’s considerably better than Corbyn’s position.

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Tory victory is not inevitable

June 1, 2017 at 7:34 am (AWL, democracy, elections, labour party, posted by JD, reformism, Tory scum, youth)

From the the Alliance for Workers Liberty:

No automatic alt text available.

Graphic from The Clarion: an unofficial magazine by Labour and Momentum activists

“If 38% of voters genuinely go for pro-IRA anti-nuclear pro-mass-nationalisation Corbyn, UK voters are no longer mature enough for democracy.”

The Twitter comment from Andrew Lilico of the right-wing Institute of Economic Affairs sums up how a section of the British ruling class views even the outside chance of a Corbyn victory on 8 June.

For a whole era after Neil Kinnock quelled Labour’s rank and file revolt of the early 1980s, Labour was a “safe pair of hands” for the ruling class. Tony Blair set out to identify Labour as “unequivocally pro-business”, and on that, anyway, he succeeded.

Millions of working-class people became politically demoralised and unable to see Labour as representing their interests even minimally. Voter turnout among under-25s was estimated at 89% in 1964. By 1992 it had gently slid to 75%. It crashed to 38% by 2005 and had recovered only to 44% by 2015.

Policies in the Labour manifesto like a £10 per hour minimum wage and nationalising the railways as franchises come up for renewal have brought Labour denunciation or derision from the wealthy and their ideologues, and a big lead over the Tories among younger voters. The outcome on 8 June depends on how many of those younger voters get to the polls. The outcome after 8 June, if Labour wins or if Labour loses, depends on whether left-minded young people organise, mobilise, become a dynamic factor in the labour movement.

A YouGov Poll from 24-25 May showed the gap between Labour and the Tories down to 5% (and a subsequent poll shows the gap narrowing further). Polls since the Manchester bombings indicate that the Tories’ attempts to smear Corbyn as a “threat to national security” are not paying off. As the polling agency YouGov reports: “If the election were held only among the under-fifties, Corbyn could beat May. And Labour policies are supported across the whole electorate. Capping rents, nationalisation and abolishing tuition fees are popular policies, as indeed are most of Corbyn’s manifesto pledges.

“Scorning Corbyn and his supporters could be perilous… If Labour after this election ejects not only Corbyn but his mission, without a clear idea of embracing both the centre of politics and the frustrated margins, they could be even worse off.”

Taking £50 billion extra a year from the rich, out of their many hundreds of billions in revenues, is not going to create the fractures that they say it will. But modest measures in the manifesto which have enthused Labour activists and voters will require a fight to push them through, even if Labour should win a landslide on 8 June. A real fight over the minimum wage and banning zero hours contracts will mean gearing up trade unions and the labour movement to organise in workplaces currently unorganised, where workers are hyper-exploited and where a revitalised labour movement backed by a left-wing Labour government could begin to initiate real change.

Scrapping the Trade Union Act will help, but Labour’s omission anything on the older anti-union laws pushed through by Thatcher is a glaring gap. Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are in favour of the repeal of all those laws against solidarity action, flying pickets, workplace ballots. So, on paper at least, are all the major trade unions. Right-wing Labour MPs have blocked repeal from the manifesto. Union leaders have been silent, and we suspect that some half-secretly prefer “having their hands tied” by laws which limit rank-and-file action. A Corbyn government, or a strong Corbyn-led opposition, will be effective only if they link with organising, mobilising, and action in workplaces and on the streets. The support gained by the Labour manifesto must be translated into real action, and not be drained away in behind-closed-doors battles in the right-wing-dominated Parliamentary Labour Party.

Tens of thousands of activists have been on the streets campaigning for Labour. The campaigns have certainly been a mixed bag, varying from constituency to constituency. A few have been resolutely run and well-organised, with the manifesto and Corbyn’s pledges front and centre. Young people have been drawn in to new activity, new members have been recruited on the doorstep, and many previously disengaged have been brought into the campaign. In other areas the campaign has been long-term activists only, often working with MPs virulently hostile to Corbyn who scarcely mention Labour, let alone the manifesto, or who openly decry the Labour Party’s direction. After the election, there will be a fight both within the Labour Party and about fighting for the manifesto policies on the ground. We need clarity on some of the manifesto promises. What does the commitment to local energy production mean, beyond what is happening already under the Tories?

We should fight for the wholescale nationalisation of the big six energy companies, under workers’ control. How can Labour look two ways on Brexit? We need a Labour Party that really stands by the manifesto promises to secure the same advantages as the single market, and thus fights the Tory Brexit all the way. On freedom of movement, or its emphasis on expanding the security services, the Labour manifesto is wrong.

Activists will fight on the ground and in the run up to Labour’s conference in September to get clear left-wing policies passed and implemented. Despite all that is good about the manifesto, the last two years have been marked by confusion and the old Blairite way of policy-making. Policy should not be the property of wonks, think tanks, or officials in the Leader’s Office. The fundamentals of the ideas and actions we fight for a Labour Government to take up should be formed by democratic debate through the whole labour movement and the institutions of the Labour Party. The Party Conference must be sovereign, democratic, and a real decision-making body.

YouGov and the other polls still predict a Tory victory. Even if Labour’s vote is up on 2015, we could lose seats because of ex-UKIP votes going to the Tories After 8 June, the Labour right wing will seize on any pretext to challenge Corbyn’s leadership and try again, as they did in 2016, to turn the Labour Party backwards.

The fight to transform the Labour Party is still at an early stage. Most of the work remains to be done. We have to work systematically in wards, CLPs and Young Labour groups to discuss and debate policies, and take them out on the streets. That is necessary whatever happens on 8 June.

John McDonnell recalls that in 1992, when he lost his constituency to the Tory Terry Dicks, he and other activists made a point of organising a stall in Hayes Town Centre the very next Saturday. They showed the constituency that they had not gone away and would continue to fight. Whatever the outcome is on 8 June, we must go forward in that spirit.

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Young people and mental health – a political issue

March 30, 2017 at 8:07 pm (Cuts, Human rights, LGBT, mental health, posted by JD, youth)

Image result for picture young people mental health

By Joe Booth (this article also appears in the present issue of Solidarity and on the Workers Liberty website)

Statistics show that help for young people with mental health issues is dramatically decreasing. A 2016 investigation by the Guardian and 38 Degrees showed that trusts around England were “drawing up plans for hospital closures and cutbacks” in an attempt to avoid a £20 billion shortfall by 2020. This means that young people aren’t getting the help they need or deserve.

Some 75% of mental health issues begin before the age of 18. The charity, MQ, estimates that on average, there are three children in every classroom with a diagnosable mental illness or unrecognised mental health problems. In January, a 16-year-old friend of my family committed suicide: she was severely depressed, and the problems in the world were hard for her to cope with.

She was not alone. 26% of young people in the United Kingdom experience suicidal thoughts. Likewise, the 44% of 16-24-year-old LGBT+ people who are frequently bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-mutilation and/or depression. Looked-after children and care leavers are between four and five times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. 18.9% of looked-after children below the age of five (19.3% of boys and 17.4% of girls) showed signs of behavioural or emotional problems.

These statistics emphasise that there are too many young people — and adults — who kill themselves, harm themselves or suffer from depression because of living under an oppressive and alienating society. Depression and self-hatred may come from loneliness or pessimism, or from alienation and oppression. We need improvements in facilities to help young people. YoungMinds is the UK’s leading charity committed to improving the emotional wellbeing and mental health of children and young people.

According to them, more than 850,000 children and young people in the UK have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. YoungMinds do the best they can as the leading organisation committed to philanthropically helping people, but they are limited by being a charity. Young people may receive help from this charity, or from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services), but we also need to discuss and address why young people are suffering, and the ultimate solution to it.

I want to respond to the death of my family friend by learning from her and campaigning for the politics that will prevent it happening again.

We need not just philanthropy but political demands and a significant change. I think we need help groups or services to become politically radical and open to the prevention of young people harming themselves or become depressed. We need a fund or organisation that is socialistic, with an overall objective to understand why young people with mental health issues, and neurodivergent young people, commit suicide, harm themselves and/or suffer from depression, and to consider the solution to it. We need solidarity against the causes of mental ill-health and low self-esteem; we need activism and revolutionary socialist politics.

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Guilt, race and class politics: “Where are the people of color?”

March 4, 2017 at 5:11 pm (Anti-Racism, campaigning, class, left, political groups, posted by JD, solidarity, Trump, United States, women, workers, youth)

Republished, with permission, from Jacobin; a very important piece, I think, about race, guilt, and class politics (albeit from a US perspective):

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion — and it won’t help us build a more diverse left.

It could be any meeting — an ad hoc general assembly, an emergency gathering for immigrant defense, a planning session for an upcoming strike. The speaker is usually white, but not always — and depending on this, their tone is guilty or accusatory.

On the rare occasion that this query is accompanied by a positive proposal, it is abstract, likely no more than a call for reflection. When the speaker is white, it often functions to absolve them of the need to actually do something about it.

Sometimes, on its face, the question is reasonable. Any political collectivity in the age of Trump which consists only of white people is an example of an abject failure — a failure of outreach, at the simplest level, but also a political failure, a failure to challenge the white supremacy which is threaded through American history.

But sometimes the question reveals nothing more than sanctimonious ignorance. It would be hard for me to count how many times I have sat in a meeting, often right next to several other people of color, and watched as someone righteously declared, “Everyone here is white.”

In the moment, it makes my blood boil. As a Muslim American, I have been detained at airports and verbally abused in public places. When I heard the news of Trump’s Muslim ban, I wondered whether I would be able to see my parents again. And I am one of the lucky ones.

Given the opportunity to cool down, I have to reflect on the strange psychology of these statements. Could it be simply the racist assumption that anyone who attends a political meeting and can speak English well must necessarily be white? It is hard for me to read it otherwise, and it is disturbing to imagine the potential consequences of this white practice of speaking for others. We should hope that this does not become a self-fulfilling prophesy, alienating and driving away people of color whose presence is erased by guilty whites.

The question is itself exclusionary, in its reliance on the empty abstraction of “people of color.” In your city, wherever it is, there is likely a young white male who is addicted to Vicodin, struggles to support his children on fast-food wages, and is on the verge of eviction. Where is he during this political meeting?

Middle-class activists are adept at deluding themselves with complicated explanations. But it is not a difficult question to answer. Like many people of color and many other whites, he is doing what he can to make it to the next day.

As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor writes, “the privileges of white skin run very thin in a country where nineteen million white people languish in poverty.” Every day in a capitalist society is a struggle for the poor. Attending a meeting called by some unknown organization — and we all know how excruciating these meetings can be — will not put food on the table for your children. It will not help you recover from long hours of monotonous, draining work. It will not compel your landlord to fix your broken toilet. It will not stop the collection agency from calling.

This is not an appeal to holding up some mythical “white working class” as the abandoned core of the American masses. It is a simple recognition of lived reality of the working class, which contains white people and people of color, people of all genders and sexualities, the employed and the unemployed — a multitude of people irreducible to any single description.

Many socialists argue that across these differences, all of these people have a common interest — a point easily skewered by the identitarian liberal who asks how the young woman seeking an abortion and the evangelical protester, the undocumented immigrant and the salaried worker, can possibly have the same interest.

But this challenge is afflicted by the same condition it claims to diagnose. It mistakes the casual description of a shared trait with a claim about identity. We all have numerous interests, which are related to our identities but also where we work and where we live. To say that these different spheres of life interact and intersect is a banal truism which neither explains how our society is structured and reproduced, nor how we might formulate a strategy to change this structure.

A meaningful common interest does not somehow exist by default. We cannot reduce any group of people and the multitudes they contain to a single common interest, as though we were reducing a fraction. A common interest is constituted by the composition of these multitudes into a group. And this is a process of political practice.

White supremacy is the phenomenon whereby the plurality of interests of a group of people is reorganized into the fiction of a white race, whose very existence is predicated on the violent and genocidal history of the oppression of people of color. The self-organized struggles of oppressed people against white supremacy managed to significantly undermine, though not eliminate, this kind of organization. The likes of Trump, Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and Milo Yiannopoulos now attempt to restore its earlier strength.

Those of us who seek to change the world will have to fight against this effort, and this will require us to put forward an organization of resistance — one which collectively constitutes a common interest.

This common interest is beginning to take shape as the opposition to Trump. But it must be built further than that, to an opposition to the whole capitalist system. Because it is the structure of the capitalist system which prevents all people who are dispossessed of the means of production, regardless of their identities, from having control over their own lives, and thus from pursuing whatever interests they may have in all their particularity. Monsters like Trump only bring this ongoing tyranny of capital to the surface.

To merely criticize the composition of a political meeting is a defeatist practice. Yes, any anti-capitalist organization must reach out to the most disenfranchised and marginalized of our population. Yes, it is unacceptable if they are unable to speak for themselves.

But what is most important of all is that you are there, whoever you are. What is important is that in a society which steals our free time, leeches our energy, and crushes any hope for an alternative, you have decided to commit yourself to the revolutionary possibility of that alternative.

Guilt is a sad, passive emotion. Its foundation is the wish that the past was different, and the failure to recognize the possibility of acting to change the future.

It is crucial for all socialist organizations, which today find themselves experiencing rapid growth, to formulate means of incorporating the excluded, in all their forms. The current composition of many of our organizations is a result of our lack of a social base — it’s a problem that we must overcome through organizing. But this will mean going beyond guilt and constructing ways to meet the needs unfulfilled in capitalist society, and the means of asserting popular power.

You showed up. You are at a meeting. Your presence is an indication that it is possible to initiate the process of change. Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by guilt. Instead, sharpen your analysis and enhance your organization, until your ranks grow so large as to include everyone.

Jacobin: our next issue, “Journey to the Dark Side,” is out now. Subscribe for the first time at a discount.

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Chris Birch: eyewitness account of Hungary 1956

October 18, 2016 at 1:37 pm (CPB, history, liberation, posted by JD, protest, stalinism, students, tragedy, truth, USSR, workers, youth)

Image result for pictures Hungary 1956

As the 60th anniversary of the heroic anti-Stalinist uprising in Hungary approaches, Chris Birch – one of the few surviving eye-witnesses – replies to a request for further information in a letter to the Morning Star:

Chris Gould asks (M Star October 11) for an analysis of the 1956 Hungarian uprising and its effects. I was working in Budapest before, during and after the fighting and met Matyas Rakoski, the general secretary of the Hungarian Working People’s Party and the man largely responsible for the crimes and policy mistakes that led to the uprising in October 1956.

It started with a student demonstration at the Petofi memorial, demanding to be allowed to travel to Western countries. It had been banned, then the ban was lifted and I went to look.

During the afternoon the demonstration grew to immense proportions, and the party’s first secretary went on the radio to denounce the demonstrators, many of whom were communists, as “counter-revolutionaries.”

He said that the policies of the party and the government were correct and would not be changed. I was in Parliament Square listening to the broadcast, and the good humour of the crowd visibly turned to anger. A fortnight later I found myself trying to bandage Soviet soldiers.

Soon after my comrade Charlie Coutts and I returned to London, we had a meeting with Communist Party of Great Britian (CPGB) general secretary Johnny Gollan, and presented him with a 19-page document simply headed “HUNGARY: Charlie Coutts and Chris Birch.”

It covered our views on party democracy in Hungary, Hungarian and Soviet party relations, democracy and corruption. Gollan passed it on to the Soviet ambassador in London and he sent it on to the central committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and to the Soviet foreign office in Moscow. It was eventually published in a Soviet journal.

John Callaghan in his “Cold War, Crisis and Conflict: The CPGB 1951-68” gives a brief account of what was happening in Hungary in 1956 and a fuller account of their effects on the British party. I hope the above may help Mr Gould.

CHRIS BIRCH London SW6

JD recommends some reading and resources:

1956: the Hungarian revolution – A short and clearly written history of the Hungarian workers’ revolution against the Communist dictatorship.

Other recommended reading

Other media

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The story of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq, on BBC Radio 4

August 15, 2016 at 4:58 pm (BBC, good people, humanism, iraq, iraq war, Jim D, Kurds, Middle East, music, youth)

BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week is Upbeat, Paul MacAlindin’s inspiring account of the creation of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

I’m proud to recall that back in 2009 Shiraz Socialist publicised and supported this initiative and its brave young founder, Zuhal Sultan, then 18.

Inevitably, an “anti-imperialist” idiot sent in a BTL comment to the effect that Zuhal and the Orchestra were collaborators: we were surprised and honoured to receive this reply from Zuhal herself:

I wonder, if creating a youth orchestra is a propaganda? As the one who created it, it took me a year of hard work and sacrifice, and yes, I needed help from abroad as my voice wasn’t heard by my own governement when this initiative was just an idea. I needed help from abroad as there were no coaches to teach those young musicians, I needed help for reasons beyond anything you can think of. Later on, the office of the deputy prime minister noticed and helped funding a large amount of the project. It has nothing to do with politics.

I really hope that you can appreciate all the hard work that went into this by myself, the team who pulled this through and the hard working young musicians rather than being cynical.

Bests,
Zuhal Sultan
Founder and Artistic Director of the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq.

Anyway, here’s what we posted back in August 2009; you can still follow the justgiving link to make a donation, as well:

Iraq: amidst the carnage, the music of hope

As the fascists who seek to deny the peoples of Iraq any form of reconciliation, stability or civil society strike again in Baghdad, it is easy to despair. Perhaps, then, this is the right moment to draw your attention to another face of Iraq, the inspiring  young Baghdad pianist Zuhal Sultan.

 

Zuhal - Music for a change

Zuhal, still just 18 years old, has formed the National Youth Orchestra of Iraq (NYOI), bringing together 35 young musicians from across the religious, racial and regional/national divides. It includes Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds. The orchestra’s repertoire includes Beethoven, Haydn, Gershwin, a commissioned piece by NYOI’s composer-in -residence Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, and new pieces by Iraqi Kurdish and Arab composers. They have toured throughout Iraq and Zuhal has visited the Wigmore Hall in London as a soloist and accompanist for the British tenor Andrew Staples. She would like nothing more than to take the orchestra on a similar tour. Internationalists, liberals, the left and humanitarians have, quite rightly, hailed the bridge-building work of Daniel Barenboim’s West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Zuhal Sultan and her young colleagues deserve similar support as they embark on their brave musical journey of hope and reconciliation: send a donation,  large or small, to the grassroots fundraising site  http://www.justgiving.com/nyoiraq/

You’ll not only be supporting a brave young woman and her colleagues, but putting another nail in the coffin of sectarianism, nihilism and fascism.

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Trojan Horse: The Graun’s Adams shows his hand – again

October 29, 2015 at 1:14 pm (anti-semitism, Brum, Champagne Charlie, children, Education, Guardian, islamism, misogyny, Pornography, Racism, religion, religious right, sexism, thuggery, women, youth)


Above: Adams
Park View school in Birmingham

Teachers and senior staff linked to the Trojan Horse allegations of “undue religious (ie Islamist) influence” in Birmingham schools, have been appearing before the misconduct panel of the National College of Teaching and Leadership (NCTL) since mid-October. The NCTL is the professional body for teachers and has the power to impose lifetime prohibitions on teachers.

As the hearing has not yet concluded (it is expected to last until December), Shiraz has taken a conscious decision not to cover the proceedings, even though the hearing is in public and the local Birmingham Mail has carried extensive reports of the disturbing evidence presented by witnesses. Most of the national press, including (until now) the Guardian, also seem to have decided not to cover the hearing in detail, or to be very circumspect in their coverage, while it is in progress*.

But today’s Guardian carries an article by the paper’s Education editor, Richard Adams, headlined Witness in ‘Trojan Horse’ case accused of religious slurs”.

Adams’s story is written entirely from the standpoint of the teachers and senior staff accused of misconduct, and seems to be based upon the ‘line’ of cross-examination being pursued by their lawyer, Andrew Faux, as he attempts to discredit one of the witnesses (‘Witness A’, a former teacher at Park View School) who has given evidence of malpractice. Faux has accused Witness A of herself making a series of racial and religious slurs.

Faux, as a lawyer acting for some of the accused teachers, is perfectly entitled to pursue this line of cross-examination. What is, however, quite outrageous, is for the Guardian, in one of its few articles covering the hearing, to report Faux’s attacks in detail, adding that the witness “faced an internal complaint in the wake of comments she was alleged to have made at an event.” No details whatsoever are given of the evidence presented by Witness A against the teachers and senior staff of the Trojan Horse schools.

Adams closes his article by repeating, once again, the tired old red herring that “The [Trojan Horse] letter is widely regarded as a hoax” – yes it is, but that’s not the point. The question is, are the claims of Islamist influence in Birmingham schools true or not? The answer to that question has nothing to do with whether the Trojan Horse letter was all it purported to be.

Whether Adams is acting directly on the wishes of Mr Faux and his clients, or whether he (Adams) is so committed to defending/excusing the accused teachers and senior staff that he simply cannot write an impartial article, we shall probably never know.

But he has form:

Here’s what  Adams, had to say about this matter  in June 2014, shortly after the story first sufaced: “Is the Trojan Horse row just a witch hunt triggered by a hoax?”

This shabby article by Adams was not a one-off: he had previously reported on Park View School  (the academy at the centre of the allegations) following a visit that was quite obviously organised and supervised  by the school’s ultra-reactionary Islamist chair of governors, Tahir Alam. In short, Adams has been a mouthpiece and conduit for the Islamist propaganda of people like Alam, Salma Yaqoob and the SWP throughout.

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  • * Adams has written two other articles covering some of the allegations, and emphasising that “The Department for Education said its case against Johirul Islam, a former teacher at Park View, ‘has been discontinued’ in the hearing’s fourth day… The decision suggests the NTCL may struggle to press its case against several other teachers facing similar allegations” (here)
  • * The Guardian website has carried another article reporting one of the allegations of misconduct: this was not, however written by Adams, but came from the Press Association. And as far as I’m aware (and I read the Graun every day) it did not appear in the print edition – C.C.

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Kenan Malik on Islamism and racist populism as identity politics

March 1, 2015 at 9:32 pm (intellectuals, islamism, Jim D, populism, Racism, reactionay "anti-imperialism", religion, terror, youth)

Kenan Malik

“Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam.

“These developments have shaped not just Muslim self-perception but that of most social groups. Many within white working-class communities are often as disengaged as their Muslim peers, and similarly see their problems not in political terms but through the lens of cultural and ethnic identity. Hence the growing hostility to immigration and diversity and, for some, the seeming attraction of far-right groups.

“Racist populism and radical Islamism are both, in their different ways, expressions of social disengagement in an era of identity politics. There is something distinctive about Islamist identity. Islam is a global religion, allowing Islamists to create an identity that is intensely parochial and seemingly universal, linking Muslims to struggles across the world, from Afghanistan to Palestine, and providing the illusion of being part of a global movement.

“In an age in which traditional anti-imperialist movements have faded and belief in alternatives to capitalism dissolved, radical Islam provides the illusion of a struggle against an immoral present and for a utopian future”.

Kenan Malik is always worth taking notice of. He was obviously too bright to stay with those idiots calling themselves the ‘Institute of Ideas’, and now seems to have broken with them and become a free-lance intellectual of considerable force. His article on Islamism in today’s Observer is outstanding, and if you haven’t already done so, you should read it now.

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Hope lies with the youth!

December 30, 2014 at 4:36 pm (Europe, Feminism, Human rights, immigration, Jim D, labour party, scotland, youth)

Opinium/Observer poll: what young people are thinkingOpinium/Observer poll: what young people are thinking. Click here for large version

While much of the media is entranced by Nigel Farage (The Times even naming him “Briton of the Year”), it seems that young people in the UK have seen through his unpleasant charlatan and his ultra-reactionary party.

According to a poll by ‘Opinium’, commissioned by The Observer, Farage is the least popular political leader among those who will be able to vote for the first time in the forthcoming general election.

Young people aged between 17 and 23 are overwhelmingly pro-European, socially liberal (eg in favour of gay marriage and retaining the Human Rights Act), and much more likely to call themselves “feminist” (40% of both genders) than older voters (25%). Nearly half (48%) regard immigration as a good thing. Only 3% would vote for Ukip, with the Lib Dems on 6%, the Greens on 19%, the Tories on 26% and Labour in a clear lead at 41%.

Sadly, 65% would retain the monarchy, but us old lefties can’t have everything our own way, can we? Hopefully, the youngsters will learn on that one.

And, it must be noted, things look much less encouraging in Scotland, where Labour’s election of the craven Blairite Jim Murphy has proved to be the gift to the SNP that many of us warned it would be: as things stand (according to a Guardian/ICM online poll) Sturgeon’s nationalist fake-leftists stand to take 45 of Scotland’s 59 Westminster constituencies reducing Scottish Labour to a parliamentary rump of just 10 MPs (presently it’s 41). With Murphy at the helm, it’s difficult to work up much enthusiasm for a Labour vote in Scotland, and we’re reduced to making the (true, but uninspiring) point that every seat won by the SNP will make it less likely that Labour will win a majority, and more likely that the Tories will be able to hang on in there.

Depressing eh? So let’s comfort ourselves, for now, with the knowledge that, on most issues at least, the nation’s youth are pro-European, socially liberal, have no time for Farage and are likely to vote Labour in May.

So there are some grounds for hope for 2015, and beyond, comrades!

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